Letter from Kate:
August 18, 1990
Hi! I called to say goodbye to you girls but you were asleep. I got a bit of info that you guys were upset. I also heard that you were thinking of staying. Could you please write me and tell me what happened. I was so upset when I heard that things weren’t going so well. Why weren’t you allowed to stay? Please don’t hold a grudge on me because I’m staying. By the time I am finished University, you’ll be starting. You can come live with me and go to University, that would be a blast. I really hope you girls understand why I am staying. I love you all so very much it hurts to be parted from you, but I have to do this. You know that you should do is get a job and save your money so you can come up to Toronto and visit.
Jenn, I know you and I have been through alot but I love you so much. Just keep on prayin and believing in yourself and good things will come out of this all. Please write me and tell me what you are feeling inside. You can confide in me. Always remember I love you and I am behind you whatever you decide.
Good luck in grade nine and keep the high grades cuz hon, you’re going places. Keep up the art because that is a special talent that you are superb at. I am here for you, it doesn’t matter how many miles apart we are. You are in my heart and I am in yours.
P.S. Take pictures of you and Teresa and please send them- I didn’t get any.
P.S.S. Jenn, you are the oldest now. Please take good care of Teresa. Do a better job than I did. Remember they are going through what you are. I seemed to have forgotten that in Havasu and I am so very sorry. I should have been there to help you guys instead I distancing myself. I am sorry - I guess I just wasn’t good at handling those situations.
Love you lots,
It’s difficult to read some of these old letters and journals. They illustrate the various parts of our childhood – but mostly the difficult ones.
At this point in our lives, Kate had been kicked out of the house in Arizona and was given a one-way ticket back to Canada. She was living with my Mom’s youngest sister in Hamilton and was upgrading her schooling from her last two years of high school in the US. She wasn’t eligible for Canadian post-secondary yet. And as the summer winded down, the begging started.
I was literally begging my Dad to allow me to stay. Another one of my Aunt’s had offered to take me in. I had options and there was zero part of me that wanted to keep living with Mom in the US. I was beyond done. I craved stability, I craved normalcy, I craved supportive extended family, I craved a home without fear.
This letter is a tangible example of the effects of dealing with a traumatic childhood. We weren’t dealing with normal childhood issues. My friends weren’t thinking of the safety of their younger siblings; they weren’t taking care of their unwell parent when they couldn’t get out of bed, or didn’t have enough money to pay the bills or when their unhealthy coping mechanisms rendered them unable to stand, walk or talk.
Or talk too much….
I was thirteen years old and wanted so badly to run far, far, far away. But I didn’t want to leave my sisters behind. And these were the same feelings Kate grappled with. These were adult issues we were being forced to deal with due to Mom’s untreated and undiagnosed mental illness and her very unhealthy ways of coping with her reality.
We were forced to “grow up too fast”, a common term used when dealing with our situation.
“ ‘Growing up too fast’ is a euphemism because it is used to minimize the pain that the person felt as a child when their needs weren’t being met. What is frequently called growing up too fast or being mature beyond your years is simply neglect and abuse. Many children grow up in an environment where they are neglected and abused in such ways that they become little adults who, not only can take care of themselves better or are wiser than others, but also take care of their parents, siblings, or other family members.”
As an adult, I cringe at this euphemism now. it instantly takes me back to all the loneliness, frustration, anger and fear. It also infuriates me how strong we were made to be, or we were forced to be. It changes who you are and the effects don’t leave when you reach adulthood.
These are some common ways this can haunt you for the rest of your life.
“One, believing that you always have to be strong. This results in being disconnected from your needs, sometimes to the degree where you ignore being tired, hungry, full, depressed, and so on. Or, you become counter-depended, where you emotionally act in an overly protective manner and people can’t get close to you, which leads to unsatisfying relationships.
Two, believing that you can’t ask for help and have to do everything yourself. This often leads to you feeling lonely, isolated, unnecessarily distrustful, or that you’re alone against the world. It’s very hard for you to express your needs to others, or sometimes even recognize that you have needs.
Three, believing that if you recognize the trauma, abuse, or other injustices you suffered, that you will be weak, flawed, a victim and that’s totally unacceptable. This blocks empathy for yourself, and especially empathy for the child that you once were because you are unable to connect with the feelings you felt when you were a child, and by extension makes it impossible to fully heal the original trauma that led you to have these problems in the first place.
Four, feeling empathy for the people who hurt you before feeling empathy for yourself. This also makes it impossible to resolve childhood trauma for the same reason. It is vital to emotionally connect and empathize with your childhood experiences without justifying the people who failed to meet your needs. It also leads to relationships and social environments where you may be mistreated in the same ways you were mistreated as a child.”
And folks, like any trauma, it can be heavy baggage to carry.
“The most common general effects of it all are poor self-care or even self-harm, workaholism, trying to take care of everybody else, people-pleasing, self-esteem issues, constantly trying to do more than you are physically capable of, having standards for yourself that are too high or completely unrealistic, feeling toxic guilt and false responsibility, chronic stress and anxiety, lack of closeness in relationships, codependency, staying in or even unconsciously seeking abusive or otherwise toxic social environments.”
I see myself at different stages of adulthood here. Many I’ve managed to get through and some I’m still dealing with. It’s a process. And I know my sisters would say the same thing. We were forced to survive growing up under our Mom’s roof. Just survive.
The reason we have thrived as adults is due only to one thing – our own selves. No one else can do the work for you. It doesn’t matter what kind of support you have in your life – whether it’s your partner, your siblings, your family, your therapist. Only you can do what it takes to heal from the emotional and mental effects of being in survival-mode for your first eighteen years.
And no one else can put a mirror up to those parts. Only you can. Similarly, no one knows the mountains you’ve overcome to get to the other side.
BE YOUR OWN HERO.
NOTE: Information on article quoted. Source: PsychCentral (www.psychcentral.com). Titled ‘The Effects of Trauma From Growing up Too Fast’, written by Darius Cikanavicius, Dec 8, 2019. (https://psychcentral.com/blog/psychology-self/2019/12/trauma-growing-up-fast#1)