To Zoe’s Mom: I See You
I am not even sure where to start. But, I know I need to write about this. I need to give this to the world. Perhaps to another mother who is facing the darkness and can’t see her way out. Perhaps she is watching her children caught in the cyclone that is her life. I think she is who I am writing this for. And maybe for me too.
I am doing some amazing work with a community that is fast becoming dear to my heart. I look at the people who keep showing up that are trying to wrap their heads around the trauma-informed movement. People who are deeply committed to the lost, the marginalized, the addicted, the incarcerated, the foster kids, and the parents who have lost their children to the system. In the room where these gatherings take place, there is love and a desire to learn how to solve some of our most horrific societal problems. These champions are all bought into the concept that the people suffering beneath these stories are in desperate need of healing. That our communities and our systems are also in need of healing.
We unpacked the truth about the ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) science today. Collectively, we deepened our learning that trauma knows no socio-economics, no race, no geography. Trauma is universal and it is not about “them.” It is about “us.” The coalition is building and we are on the brink of spilling this movement into many circles. Into many families and into our own homes.
However, all of this is for another day. Another blog post.
In all raw honestly, I am at my keyboard tonight because, today, I actually revisited some of my own “stuff.” Stuff I thought I had healed from. Perhaps the darkness will always be available to me. Perhaps it will always sneak up on me out of nowhere.
My partner in this work sent me part two of a clip about abuse and the foster care system, called Removed: We had watched part one as a group a month ago. The question for the group was: did they see their agency or non-profit in the film? If so, what could have been done differently for the little girl Zoe and her brother who had been removed from the home?
Zoe had been taken because she had been beaten by her mom’s boyfriend for intervening when he was attacking her mom. Zoe’s life spirals farther out of control as she is taken into the system. Finally, Zoe ends up with a woman who truly “gets her.” In part two, things get hard as Zoe has to lose her brother for a second time as he is adopted out.
As I sat in my home this weekend and watched part two, I was mad. Not at anyone. But the character I found myself identifying with was Zoe’s mom. You watch as she gets ready for court. You see the boyfriend in the background. Zoe’s mom ends up on the stand and the courts are asking her if she even understands why she is there. Has she made any changes in her life to get her kids back?
The only reply she can muster is, “I love my kids.”
They respond with, “That is not the point. How have you changed? That is what we are asking.”
The tale continues and the little boy is removed permanently. The mom meets with Zoe on scheduled visits. The mom is broken and weak. She is “small” and gentle but incapable of being what Zoe needs. The foster mom fights for Zoe and at the end of the documentary, Zoe becomes a teacher. Zoe, while certainly scarred from all of her childhood wounds and disfunction, turns out ok. Her story is not her mother’s. Her story is her own.
After viewing part two, I was unsettled. I knew in my heart why. I felt my mind screaming, what about Zoe’s mom?! What about her?! I felt frustrated.
We met as a group today and showed part two of Removed. Afterward, we were in a corner handing out books for the book study. A police officer came up to me, and with gentle eyes, said, “So, I take it you were a Zoe?”
I stammered for a minute and then tears started streaming down my face, and I managed to choke out, “No, I was Zoe’s mom.” His strong and kind gaze did not change. He just nodded knowingly.
I managed to choke out, “But a group of people saved me. Saved me from that.”
By this time, he had his books and moved on, but I had lost it. I could not stop the flood gate of tears. Which is super unusual for me. I feel deeply and empathize quickly and often tear up. But losing it is a whole ‘nother deal. One of the women I work with came up and asked what was wrong. So in broken, rapid-fire bits, I spit it out, and she threw her arms around me and said, “No! You are not Zoe’s mom. You are wonderful and amazing and I love you so much!” I managed to collect myself after a few minutes and moved into the next meeting.
But I knew I needed to write this. I knew I needed to share. You see, while my boys never saw me be abused, (that fecal hurricane was the thirteen years prior to the birth of my first son), they did live in the cyclone. My cyclone. When my oldest was seven, my middle was three and my youngest was one, I was cycling in and out of hospitals from alcoholism. I didn’t have a drinking problem, I had a stopping problem. Every time I would quit drinking, I would go into DTs, (delirium tremens). It was ugly. My life was a horrible merry-go-round that I couldn’t get off. And the brutal price for continued admission was going to cost me, my children. For 5 years before I got sober, I watched my life play out like some strange movie that I felt powerless to stop. Powerless. I adored my kids. But I couldn’t stop the ride. I had no idea how.
I saw that in Zoe’s mom. I know the feeling she was experiencing on that witness stand. I relived my own powerlessness. From 2006 until 2011, I lived every day terrified that someone was going to find out just how sick I really was and rip my children away from me. In January of this year, I will celebrate my 7th year clean and sober. I will celebrate my release from slavery. I will celebrate my redemption. I will do it in a room full of people who picked me up out of the pit of despair and loved me until I could love myself.
Tonight, I sit in a warm home with three healthy kids and a husband who loves me. Christmas is covered and our annual traditions are planned and will be carried out. I know what will happen tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that.
But I also sit tonight with the memory of what it means to be Zoe’s mom. I sit with the burn of what it would have been like if I couldn’t have found the grace offered to me by people; the grace to get better. So, I am writing for all the moms and dads out there who are still spinning out from their own trauma and perhaps dragging their kids through the cycle. On the merry-go-round and you do not know how to get off.
I want you to know that I see you. I see you in the film Removed. I see you in Zoe’s mom. I see you out in front of the school picking up your kids. I see you walking to the Kwik Shop for milk. I see you. I do not judge you. I love you.
I want you to know that the only way I can repay the world for giving me the life I have now is to continue to fight for you. To relentlessly create a world where all of the moms like Zoe’s and like me have an opportunity to be met with love and grace and mercy. Have an opportunity to not be thrown away but to be saved.
There is a way out. And it doesn’t start with you being punished or discarded to teach you to do something different.
It begins with your community realizing that you are stuck. That you are powerless and that it is likely that you will not make it without our help. Our love, our support. Not our disdain. Not our consequences. You need love and resilience that is built through safe, supportive, and understanding relationships. You are not the enemy. You are just a Zoe that grew up. I will keep you close to my heart. For me, you will not be “removed.” You will be redeemed.
To Zoe’s Mom: I See You