FCYU128 cover image See all stories from issue #128, Spring 2017

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ISBN: 9781935552185
Introduction: Standing Up to Shame
Represent staff

Most youth in foster care have been through trauma. And as if dealing with abuse, neglect, or foster care itself were not enough, many of us also feel a deep sense of shame about these things. Shame is feeling like there’s something wrong with you, even if you understand that you didn’t do anything wrong. You know you didn’t cause your own abuse, for example, yet you believe deep down that “It was my fault” or “I am worthless” or “I deserved that.” Knowing you’re not to blame isn’t the same as fully believing in your own innocence and value.

(Shame is not the same as guilt. Most of us feel guilty when we lie, or cheat, or hurt someone. That guilt can be useful if it helps us identify what feels wrong and keeps us from doing those things.) Shame is harder to overcome—but not impossible. To move past shame it helps to let go of your secret and let other people in.

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The writers who deal with shame in this issue are in different places in their journeys. The author of “How I Heal” was molested from ages 9 to 13 by the uncle who raised her. She was stuck in self-blame and self-loathing until she told a foster mother who responded with an expression “that wasn’t pity or sympathy. It was a look of acceptance and love.” From there, the author found more comfort by talking with a girlfriend, a therapist, and a group of survivors, and by writing her story.

In “I Can’t Forget,” the author dates her first boyfriend in the 10th grade, but when they start to get physical, she flashes back to being raped in her childhood and runs away crying. She breaks up with the boy rather than explain her freak-out, and she still avoids intimacy.

Some people try to avoid their shame by getting high. Alesha M. turned to alcohol and drugs when her family spun out of control. She ran away and felt terrible about leaving her little sister behind, which led to even heavier substance abuse. When she hit bottom, one of her revelations was about her drug buddies, the only people she hung out with: “When I sobered up, I realized our connection wasn’t real. They weren’t my friends…. I was tired of feeling alone.” Getting clean, going to therapy, and repairing relationships have all helped Alesha value herself and connect with others.

In “Moving Past Shame,” therapist Jenny Kaufman explains how shame isolates you, especially if you were abused when you were very young. You think you must have made this bad thing happen to you. It must be your fault, because the world is a fair and good place.

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To move beyond shame, she says, you must revisit the trauma that created the shame, remembering and, especially, feeling what you went through. What makes this healing is telling what happened to someone you can trust. That person, a therapist usually, will support you at your most vulnerable. That shows you that trust can be worth it and helps you stop hiding.

Other stories in this issue explore shame about being in foster care, about early pregnancy, about debilitating anxiety and depression. The very act of writing these stories helped the writers vanquish their shame. We hope reading them inspires you to open up to the right someone, so you can move on, too.

Letter to the Editor

Author Mary Gaitskill responds to our writer’s review of her novel (edited for length)

Dear Mario Sanchez:
I was so happy and grateful to read your review of The Mare [in the winter 2017 issue]. The book got a lot of positive reviews from mainstream publications, but I was always haunted by the thought that I hadn’t understood Velvet enough to write about her….

I hoped that kids might read it and enjoy it and was afraid it might just seem ridiculous to them because I got certain words/details/feelings wrong. Or because the book was too soft to reflect reality.

I don’t mean to say you are “like Velvet”; you are a guy for one thing, and no one is “like” anyone else really. But I think you are a lot closer to a girl in that situation than most of the other book reviewers were, and so your praise means more to me. It was a very open-minded and open-hearted review and I really, really appreciated it.

Mary Gaitskill