By: Savannah Snow
Trigger warning: The following story contains mentions of suicide, drug use, self harm, and physical abuse.
A common reaction I get when I divulge my childhood circumstances is, “Wow, I never would’ve expected that from you.” It always puzzles me, because as kids, we have no control over the circumstances we are in. We make the best of the situation and hope we make it out okay. At some point, we have a choice. We can allow ourselves to be the victim of circumstance, or we can rise above our past and create the future that we deserve. I’d like to include a trigger warning – the following story contains mentions of suicide, drug use, self harm, and physical abuse.
I was born here in Red Deer at the local hospital. My mother was very young – only 20 years old. My mother worked very hard – at this point in her life she had three different part-time jobs and was attempting to complete her pre-law courses at then-RDC. My arrival forced her to drop out. Shortly after, she became addicted to meth and cocaine. Things at home began to spiral.
My earliest memories are of parties, my mother putting on her makeup, and the big tall boots she used to love to wear. My mother and I were very close. We spent all of our time together; She had picked up a job as an escort and was happy with it because she got
to spend more time at home. We shared a room and even slept in the same bed. She told me I always had an uncanny ability to tell when she was high. I don’t remember this, but I would almost always call her out on it. I caused her a lot of guilt by doing so
Disaster finally struck. She was withdrawing from cocaine and didn’t realize that severe depression and even suicidal thoughts were side effects. In her mind, she was an awful mother, and I would be best off in the hands of the government. That night is one of my most vivid memories. I found her in the bathroom – stark naked, unresponsive and several bottles of pills and a bottle of vodka on the floor with her. I knew something was horribly wrong. I went to tell her roommate, but he was also high and didn’t want to call the authorities.
I called the ambulance, my grandma, and one of my aunts. My mother survived because I wouldn’t take no for an answer. Prior to this, we had CPS knock on our door a couple of times. This was the nail in the coffin; I was sent to live with my first foster family. It’s funny, the social worker always buys you a hash brown from McDonald’s when they’re taking you to a different home. I cycled through a few in my time in foster care, and it was always hash browns and always McDonalds. Must be written into their budget.
I am so grateful for my first foster family. I was their first foster child. They lived on a farm out by Trochu, lots of cows, cats, and dogs. They introduced me to routine, religion, and manners. No matter how many families I cycled through, they were always willing to take me back.
They showed me the unconditional love I needed to be okay later on in life.
When I was five, my younger brother was born. He was sent to a different foster home. At this point, I still had visitation with my mom. A social worker would pick us up and we’d go to a house and visit for a few hours. After about a year, I got moved in with my little brother. This family was incredibly abusive to me but wanted to adopt my little brother and separate us.
For my seventh birthday, my grandma picked me up and took me to Sylvan Lake to spend time with the family. I returned to my foster home with my gifts. My foster mom sat me down at the table and grilled me with questions about what was said during the day. When I didn’t give her an answer she liked, she would take a pair of scissors and cut up one of my presents. I received a teddy bear with angel wings from my grandma. Watching that woman cut the wings off that bear will haunt me forever. Shortly after this, she called my grandma to inform her that she was hitting me often, and there was nothing my grandma could do about it. Luckily, there was a happy ending to this particular story – my social worker rescued my brother and I from the home, terminated their foster license, and banned them from adopting any children from the welfare system. I returned to my original foster home with my little brother in tow.
Prior to this point, the whole goal was for my mother to get cleaned up and for my brother and I to live with her again. This never happened. She was incarcerated for smuggling drugs and we were officially up for adoption. There are these events in Alberta called foster fairs. It’s basically a cattle show but with kids. They dress up all of these foster kids and tag them with a number and set up a fun event for prospective parents to come watch the children play. I always hated these, and luckily my foster parents did too. My brother and I were also on an episode of Wednesday’s Child in hopes to get us adopted.
A family finally came along – a young couple with a son that was between my brother’s and I’s age. They came to the farm and spent lots of time with us. I adored them, and an end was finally in sight. Just a few weeks before the adoption was to be finalized, they decided they couldn’t afford to adopt both of us – a dealbreaker. It was back to square one and I had never felt more betrayed in my life.
A second family came along. The parents were significantly older, and already had two teenaged kids. From my first meeting with them I knew I didn’t like them. There was something… off. Even as an adult I can’t put that feeling into words. I told my adoption psychologist, my social worker, my foster parents – no one cared. The system did its job. My brother and I were adopted. I was 8 at this point, December of 2005.
Things were okay for the first couple months. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. I recoiled at their affection, didn’t wish to speak to them or spend time with them. At this point, I developed kleptomania to cope with the heavy trauma I had experienced. I swiped anything I could get my hands on, even if it didn’t make sense for it to be in my possession. My adoptive mother’s reaction to my thefts grew progressively more explosive, eventually developing into a physically abusive relationship.
She ostracized me from the rest of the family. I wasn’t allowed to eat meals with the family. I was fed after they had eaten with whatever was left at a separate table. If there was nothing I would get a sandwich. They barricaded me into my room with a bookshelf, a table top, a motion sensor, and a camera. I wasn’t allowed water or the bathroom unless I asked permission. I was subject to invasive pat-downs before and after school. When I was 11, my adopted mom attacked me one morning before school, and scratched my stomach so badly that I bled through my shirt. My friends noticed and dragged me down to the counsellor’s office. Social services were called and they sent a social worker to the house. She barely spoke to me and didn’t stay longer than an hour. I finally knew for sure that I was on my own.
My adopted mom took me to a psychiatrist when I was 13 to get me on medication. I was incorrectly diagnosed with bipolar and medicated for it. I actually have dysthymia (consistent cyclical depression) and still won’t go anywhere near medication. I went through several medications and combinations and two hospitalizations. The second was because the psychiatrist had put me on lithium at 14 years old and it caused me to auditory hallucinate.
When I was in the second time, I met a nurse named Regina. Prior to my hospitalization, I had sat my adopted parents down and asked them to contact the Alberta Government. I wanted to be put back in foster care. Anything would’ve been better than my current situation. Regina put my head back on straight when I told her: “That’s a damn fool thing to do. Right now, you got a roof over your head, food on your table, and a good school to go to. Take advantage of what you’ve got and do what you have to do to live.” I woke up that day. I realized she was right – I had to do what I had to do to survive this. I deserved to survive it.
My kleptomania had long subsided. My medication made me feel flat and colourless. I was finally the child they wanted. This whole time, I made great grades, I danced at the local dance company and often landed solos, I played piano and always pulled platinum at music festivals, and I was progressing steadily through the ranks of my swim league. My adopted parents loved to brag about me to friends and family – but god forbid they ever praise me to my face. I was a trophy kid. I still harbour a lot of resentment for that. I find it difficult to banish that critical little voice they instilled in me, even now.
The morning of my 18th birthday, I left. Perhaps it might be perceived that I was kicked out – they did indeed sit me down and inform me that I wouldn’t have a place in their home once I was 18. However, I didn’t want to be there if I didn’t have to be. I returned the following Christmas with gifts for the family; They wouldn’t let me inside and forced me to talk to my little brother on the front step. I haven’t spoken to them since. My brother is 19 now and though I did my best to keep in contact with him, he won’t talk to me now. I hope someday I get to explain myself and apologize for leaving him. Our adopted parents were very good to him, didn’t abuse him the way they did me, and are paying for his schooling. I’m glad they were there to take care of him.
It’s taken a lot of time and therapy to get to a place where I’m not vibrating with resentment every time I think of the lot I drew in life. Circumstances are just that. You cannot stress over that which you cannot control – it’s unproductive. I always like to say I live my life out of spite. I am successful out of spite. I am happy out of spite. I am motivated out of spite. I know in my heart it’s not really spite any more. I used to want to prove my adoptive parents wrong – I CAN be something in life! Now I realize I don’t have to prove anything to anyone.
Being happy with myself is finally enough. I AM successful, I AM happy, I AM motivated.
I know that lifting yourself out of a bad situation can be daunting. I believe in you: You can do it! Your biggest enemy will always be yourself if you let it be that way. You can be happy, no matter what awful cards life has dealt you. This is the true beauty of being a young adult – realizing your whole life is ahead of you and the steering wheel is in your hands. Take it. Your future self absolutely deserves it.