Sunday, December 02, 2007

The past is not through with you

There is a powerful quote from the movie Magnolia: "You might be through with the past, but the past is not through with you..."

During my involvement in Foster Care Alumni of America, certain people and situations come up from time to time that remind me of my past...

When I first aged out of foster care, I started college.

The year was 1989; I was sixteen years old. I had never been trained in independent living skills. I didn't know how to cook or budget or drive.

But, worst of all, I had no 'common sense.'

Common sense isn't born into most people. It is something that your mother or father teaches you.

And so, lacking all common sense, during my second year in college when I was 17 years old, I had a roommate named "Janice" (not her real name). We knew each other from an earlier group home.

Janice was hard as nails on the outside, with a fragile and broken interior that it seemed like only I could see.

I tried to rescue her, but I couldn't save her from her worst enemy: herself.

I couldn't keep her from numbing out on sex and drugs, becoming a prisoner to both, stealing to feed her habit, eroding her own conscience -- and eventually stealing from me.

Six months later, when I was broke and homeless, and she had stolen my last $50, I realized that I had to cut ties with her. I had to find a way to survive, and get back on my feet again. I needed to finish college, earn a graduate degree, establish a career, and build a future for myself.

So, I finally left Janice to sink or swim for herself. But she didn't make it. She sank like a stone.

Her life is a cautionary tale: Janice became a stripper, had several children out of wedlock and was eventually murdered by one of her 'clients.' Her children were placed in foster care. Did I mention that Janice's mother had been a prostitute? And, so the cycle repeated all over again.

It broke my heart to find out what had happened to her.

It was January 1996 when the story came out in the papers.
I was in graduate school at the time. I was wracked by survivor guilt.

I blamed myself for not giving her another chance. And so I became the Lisa that I am today. The Lisa who always wants to give people in and from foster care one more chance...

Sometimes that means that I get taken advantage of. And so, as an adult, I have to force myself to set limits with other people. This can be the hardest lesson. The book Boundaries has been invaluable to me.

Because there is a person in my life right now who is hard as nails on the outside, but through that shell, I can see a fragile interior. I can see the many times she has been wounded. I can tell the outlines of the scars.

And yet, she has been taking advantage of me - and I have to confront the situation, both for myself and for this other person. It's not healthy for either one of us.

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That has to be so hard. Wanting to help, but not letting it cross a line where it's detrimental to everyone involved. For what it's worth, I think it's wonderful how much of yourself you're willing to give. But boundaries are necessary and important.
I've been down that path, and deliberating when and where I should set boundaries of tolerance is something I've committed a lot of intense reflection to. The trouble with it all, is, of course, that we're inherently egocentric. Our own (lack of) experience tends to define what we see as 'normal' - and some of us just aren't 'normal' enough to know what we should be valuing and not. Learning those boundaries is usually (and has been, for me) a very painful process ; one that I've yet to fully come to terms with.

I'll be looking at this book you reference when finals are over. Maybe a gift to myself for the coming semester.

Stay well.
I have found myself in a similar situation. It happens in many ways and for me the route cause is my own "i can take it" issues, whcih arose out of surviving and maybe too there's some "I deserve it" stuff? When someone gets close and then over steps the mark, maybe I hadn't established the mark in the first place. I am not saying that it is my fault but I am saying one thing I didn't learn was boundaries. Common sense, such a simple term,too simple I think.
Hope you get clear in this thing. Just dropped by to say hello. Hope this doesn;t sound too.... angry?
Thanks to Maggie, Patrick and Lemn for the words of understanding and encouragement...

I drew a line in the sand recently with this person, and I am still waiting for the fall-out.

But I have decided to stand behind my decision.
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