Over-identification As A CYC-P (A Letter To A Group Home)

Group Home,

I’m sorry I left without saying goodbye
I’m sorry I left without explaining why
I’m sorry I left and never came back
I’m sorry I turned my back on you
I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you
I’m sorry, in a sense, I neglected you

You were all curious about me; perhaps suspicious, too – about who I was, what I was about and most of all, why the heck I was SO quiet. Many of you straight-out asked me: “Why are you so quiet?” I didn’t know what to say or do, other than to reply in silence with a shrug. At the time, I didn’t know the answer to that question. I didn’t know why I was “so quiet”. I mean, I had been so quiet for so long that it became a part of my identity, of who Kate Morden was. Kate was quiet, private and perhaps withdrawn; everyone knew that. But, you see, nobody ever really questioned it; not even myself; not until you did.

But quiet didn’t get me too far then, did it? I was too quiet. Too quiet to have the ability to build relationships with you. Too quiet to have the ability to connect and engage with you. Too quiet to have the ability to speak with and to you. Too quiet to have the ability to feel a sense of connection and belonging with you. Too quiet to have the ability to make a difference in your life. I was too quiet. Period.

I know it’s too late now and you may not remember me, but let me try to explain why I was so quiet. You see, I feel extremely anxious in social settings, especially around strangers, new people and in new environments. I stay quiet as a way to: 1) observe my surroundings, 2) assess my surroundings, and 3) evaluate my surroundings. It is how I learn and it is also how I keep safe. To explain more in-depth, my mind works very primitively, and what I mean by that, is, it responds to fear – danger and threats – as if at a very early stage of development. Picture an animal. A squirrel or rabbit that freezes or flights (runs for their life) when they hear the slightest sound. A dog that barks at the top of their lungs when a stranger is at the door. A cheetah slowly preparing to pounce, attack and fight. A porcupine with quills. A skunk that sprays. These animals feel the emotion we call “fear” and then (re)act in a primitive nature as a result (by fighting, flighting or freezing). It is the only way that they know how to respond to fear, in order for them to keep themselves safe from danger. Similarly, the only way that I know how to respond to fear, in order for me to keep myself safe from danger, is to freeze or flight. That’s why, for example, on that Sunday night, when the home was chaotic-like and overwhelming for all of us, I wasn’t able to help. I couldn’t. To tell the truth, I was so unbelivably scared for our safety. I was scared shitless, like you. But I think all of you knew that. And that was why I wasn’t able to help calm any of you down…because I was too busy trying to calm my own Self down. My heart was beating so fast and I was shaking inside and out, and I knew that you were all feeling the same. I could see it. I could feel it. And I am sorry I did not, or rather, could not, help you feel any calmer or safer that night. I am sorry for reacting rather than responding that night. I am sorry about that night, Group Home.

Back to my quiet nature, it always takes me some time to truly feel comfortable and safe when I am with and around others; to be honest, it takes me a very, very long time. It has always been this way for me. Trust and safety isn’t easy for me to build and work on in relationships due to many reasons, including some of my own past trauma and abuse, hurt and betrayal. Secondly, I have a learning disability in language and communication (Autism, if you’ve heard of it). It is challenging for me to maintain eye-contact with you, socialize, comprehend readings, understand or produce spoken language, and organize or express my thoughts and feelings into written/verbal language. It is also difficult for me to retell stories, understand meanings of words, parts of speech, directions, humour, sarcasm, etc. Because of this, I am different and I can be slow at times. It usually takes me some time to respond to you the way that I would like to when I am socializing with you. By the time my brain processes what you have said and when I finally gather the words to say to you aloud, you have already moved on to say something else. And I never seem to be able to keep up with others for this reason. Add anxiety on top of this and socializing becomes that much more challenging for me; so, for these reasons, I keep quiet and stay observant of those around me. My thoughts and feelings always come to me after, later, when I have the time to process what everyone has said and done, and everything that has occurred around and within me. Do you understand?

But, Group Home, I didn’t leave because of my quietness. I left because of my triggers. I left because I did not have the ability to cope with and manage my triggers. Triggers – do you know what they are? It is when something someone says or does, or when something you see, hear, touch, feel, smell or taste, reminds you of a memory/flashback, sometimes to the point that it almost feels like you are reliving the experience (almost like when you rewind a movie that you have already watched, only to watch it again). This is what triggers are – and to be honest, I am still learning how to deal with them.

But when I was in the process of completing my placement here, I didn’t feel like a CYC worker or placement student. I felt like a young child. I felt like a new resident. I felt like an individual in the child and youth care system. I felt like I was you and you were me. I felt like we were the same; we were each other. You see, I had been through so much trauma and abuse, like you. I had been hurt and betrayed by so many people or adults, like you. I had had my boundaries crossed and violated, like you. I had dealt with severe mental illness, like you. I had been dealing with the aftermath of such my entire life, like you. I was anxious and depressed, like you. I was traumatized, sad and angry, like you. I wanted to be left alone, like you. I didn’t trust people or adults either, like you. I wanted to fight or flight, like you. I wanted to cry, like you. I wanted to yell and scream, like you. I wanted to lash out, throw and break shit, like you. I wanted to push, pull, kick and punch, like you. I wanted to hurt others, like you. I wanted to hurt myself, like you. I wanted to abuse substances, like you. I wanted to rebel, like you. I wanted to break the law, like you. I wanted to die, like you. I wanted to so bad, like you.

You see, as I watched you, I watched myself. And it hurt. It hurt me so, so much.

And every single time I tried to set boundaries, I was challenged by you. Having experienced trauma and abuse in the past, in which my boundaries were crossed and violated multiple times, caused me to develop unhealthy, blurry and weak boundaries with my Self and others as a child, adolescent and young adult. This made it extremely difficult and overwhelmingly stressful for me to set boundaries with you. When I attempted to set limits or apply disciplinary actions based on the rules and expectations of the agency, I lacked confidence, strength, firmness, assertiveness and consistency; this led to many unsuccessful attempts of boundary setting. Whenever I had tried to set a personal or professional boundary and was not successful in getting anyone to listen to or respect me, it would trigger flashbacks and painful memories of times in which I was not listened to or respected by others in my past. And when an individual responded to me with defiance, anger, resentment, or a raised tone of voice, I interpreted these altercations as strictly negative – that it was my fault, I was not loved, valued or appreciated, and it was because of who I was as a person/worker. There were also many moments where I was not able to assert myself to even attempt to set limits and boundaries, especially when my boundaries were crossed. In these situations, I typically froze and became extremely agitated and anxious. The meaning-making I made from these encounters was that I was weak, inadequate, broken, damaged, worthless and underserving, which brought back similar feelings that I experienced during and after my abuse – anger, pain, fear, powerlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, shame and guilt. This caused me to further believe that I was solely the reason as to why my boundaries were tested, crossed and violated. To be more blunt: the sexual abuse that I encountered was my fault.

Needless to say, it was one of the most shittiest times/feeling that I had ever experienced in my life, and emotionally I was only spiralling downwards. I needed to leave, for you and for me. I needed help – so much help. I needed to help myself before I could even begin to help anyone else. That is why I left, Group Home. And I knew what some of you were doing – you were pushing my buttons. You were pushing my buttons to see how much I could take, to see if I would leave you like every other adult has left you in the past. But I couldn’t take much then, so that is why I left, Group Home. And while my decision to leave was probably the best thing to do for the both of us, I am just sorry – truly – that I ended up being another adult who left.

But just because I didn’t speak and instead remained quiet, or just because I left and never came back, didn’t mean that I didn’t care about you. I cared about each and every one of you. I cared so much. Maybe too much. And I still care about you today. Believe me, I do. And I still think about you today. Believe me, I do.

And I still cherish all of the memories that I have of hanging out with all of you – going to the grocery store, going on road trips, driving to the Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge or the World’s Finest Chocolate Factory in Campbellford (I go every year now, since then), seeing the horses up-close on the farmland, playing cards, playing Uno, making bracelets, playing games, watching movies, going for short walks, visiting the Humane Society, helping some of you with your chores and homework, taking interest in your interests, doing your laundry, etc. I remember it all – no matter how big or small the moment was.

But I had to leave. I had to leave for you and I had to leave for me. Otherwise, more damage would have been done to you and to myself. I needed to help myself before I could help you. I needed to love and take care of myself before I could love and take care of you. I needed to face and deal with my own inner-demons before I could help you to face and deal with your inner-demons. I needed to heal myself before I could help heal you. That was and is the only way I would ever become an effective and successful CYC-P. That was and is the only way that I would and could ever make a difference in a child/youth’s life.

Fast forward now – that was then (March 2013) and this is now (March 2017). Time flies, doesn’t it? I have changed so much, but at the same time, so much of me has remained the same. I’m still Kate, you see. And I bet all of you are still you, but I bet all of you have grown, like me, too. But listen to me – even though all of this time has passed, I still haven’t forgotten about all of you. All of your memories live on in my heart.

I still wish nothing but the best for you.

Group Home, can I apologize one more time?

I’m sorry I left without saying goodbye
I’m sorry I left without explaining why
I’m sorry I left and never came back
I’m sorry I turned my back on you
I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you
I’m sorry, in a sense, I neglected you

Sincerely,

Kate Morden

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