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Never Too Late to Find Supports
Misty Stenslie, as told to Represent
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Misty Stenslie is a founding member of Foster Care Alumni of America, which brings together former foster youth of all ages. To find out more about FCAA, go to fostercarealumni.org.


Growing up, I was in foster care in eight different states. I was in the middle of North Dakota when I aged out. I had finished high school early and gone to college when I was 16, so for my first year in college I stayed in a foster home. After that, I was on my own.

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My last foster parents were good people and I learned a lot while I was there, but I wasn’t their child. Once I aged out, I wasn’t their responsibility anymore. I didn’t have anybody.

When I was 19, I tried to make Thanksgiving dinner for the first time, and I didn’t know how. I went shopping at the last minute and all the stores were closed. I ended up going to a gas station convenience store to try to get supplies and I broke down and started to cry. I wondered if I was always going to be alone.

I also didn’t know how to cook a turkey. Sitting in my tiny apartment, I saw there was a tag on the turkey with a phone number on it to call for help, so I called Butterball. I said, “I’m an orphan, I need help!” They talked to me for a half hour, and the lady told me to call her back later to tell her how it turned out.

That’s a small example of something I did throughout my life: find other people and other resources that could stand in the place of a family. Even now, I’m still really careful to keep things at my fingertips. For instance, I have a membership to AAA, the auto club, so I have someone to call if my car breaks down.

Accepting My Grief

Being resourceful has always been one of my strengths. And I think that has a lot to do with why my life has been as good as it has. I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity.

But I still went through times of deep despair. I came to realize that if I took the time out to actually experience that despair for a while, rather than push it aside, I could go through it and be done with it.

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In the old days I didn’t realize that I should do that. I’d be feeling increasingly sad and upset and I’d try to ignore it and it would just leak out anyway. Now I recognize that it makes sense that I would feel some lasting grief and sadness over these things, and there’s no shame in that.

Relationships and Peer Groups

Developing supportive relationships was tough. I spent a lot of time feeling and being very much alone, because I didn’t know how to go about having a truly reciprocal relationship.

I made mistakes when forming new friendships. When the first time came for a real conversation with a new friend, I’d tell my life story. Afterwards I’d feel vulnerable and exposed, and unsure how to relate to them now that they knew all this stuff about me. Then I wouldn’t follow through with the relationship.

It took a while to figure out how not to do that anymore. I was lucky to have a couple of friends who called me on it. Friendships became easier because I didn’t feel so vulnerable and the other person didn’t feel so overwhelmed. But those things didn’t come naturally. Therapy has been really helpful.

Seeing Me in Other Alumni

Some years after I aged out, I got involved in what became Foster Care Alumni of America. For the first time, I was able to look around and realize there are a whole lot of other people like me. Finally finding some role models and some peers was a great relief and a source of inspiration.

I think it’s part of the culture of foster care to always wonder if you’re worth it. You feel like you were never good enough for your original family, or for any other family. I carried those feelings around in my own heart without even realizing it.

Then I looked at these other people who I thought were so worthy, and found out they had the same feelings of worthlessness that I did. I could recognize that regardless of how they felt about themselves, they were good, they were loveable. Then I could finally extend that recognition to myself.

This is an edited version of a story that previously ran in Represent.

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(FCYU-2016-04-23)