I Wanted a Better Life for Myself
How do children who have experienced traumatic childhoods heal and go on to lead productive and happy lives? I asked one of my older children (soon to be 23), Marie, “how did you turn out so great?!” :) Here is what she had to say:
- Clarifying my history helped: Marie’s mother died of sickle cell anemia a few days after her birth and for many years she carried a sense of guilt about that. In her teenage years, she was able to talk about this and came to understand that she was merely a tiny baby with no choice in the matter. Marie also learned more about sickle cell anemia and how it often shortens one’s lifespan.
- Participating in the Possibility Project, a drama program especially for teens, helped me understand that many others have had similar or worse experiences. It helped me control some of the negative thoughts I had about my current living situation and past; that’s where I was able to accept the past I had.
- I realized that I wanted a better life for myself after I had one episode of suicidal thoughts. And after meeting supermodel Selita Ebanks, who was also a “foster kid”, at a charity event when I was 17. I started making decisions that would help me have a functional and happy life.
Here are some things that I think also helped Marie:
- Sorting out her relationships with her birth family. Marie’s sister adopted her, ending almost 18 years of time in and out of foster care. This gave Marie stability and a sense of respect. It also allowed them to work on their relationship with support from us. Over the last dozen years, Marie has had many opportunities to also see her brother as well, and to work out a relationship that feels comfortable for her, with her father.
- Feeling loved by a second family, no matter what. I clearly remember early in our relationship being very angry at Marie for something (details are a little foggy but it involved being many hours late). She wrote me a letter saying, … If I’m late the way I was last night again then as much as it will hurt me, don’t bother talking to me or helping me. I felt really ashamed as it was clear that her behavior was unintentional and that she was so incredibly vulnerable. I never got so angry at Marie again. Marie has shared with me that in her early teens, I felt abandoned, unconfident, lonely, and couldn’t fit in. With having a history of people making me feel dispensable at any moment, it felt easier to want to just run away from issues instead of tackling them. We worked hard to make Marie feel loved, special and confident by spending time together and providing her with opportunities that were meaningful to her and supporting her so that she felt successful. In addition to a lot of hugs!
Thank you to Marie Estime for writing this with me. She hopes it helps others!
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