Congregate Care Survivor- Ruth
Before I begin telling my story, you need to know about my family starting with my maternal grandmother, my Oma. Oma was a first generation Holocaust surviver who grew into a young woman in Wein Austria with her brother and parents before Anschluss and escaped to America just days before Kristallnacht. My Oma and Great Uncle had a close bond with their parents. After she and my great uncle escaped, my Great Grand parents soon followed.
After a few months of adjustment to the American way of life, to include learning a new language, my Great Grand father died from a stroke. Oma survived the trauma by keeping her emotions contained. First generations had experiences most of us will never understand nor connect with.
Several years later, my Oma met and married a controlling dominant man, my Opa. Opa was born and raised in Chicago. Opa did not experience the horrors of the Holocaust and Oma kept the painful memories to herself. Oma and Opa raised three daughters, my mother being the eldest.
My mother is a second generation Holocaust surviver. My mother grew into a rebellious teenager and left home at the age of 13. My mother claims her life was dysfunctional due to Opa’s verbal and physical abuse and Oma’s codependency.
My mother blames her dysfunctional upbringing for why she did not know how to care for her child, me. My biological father was not in my life much after the age of 5. My mother met and married the alcoholic stepfather when I was six.
During my infant and toddler years, my mother was not attentive to me and frequently had strangers look after me. My brother and I stayed with a strange family for one year and I was not happy. I begged my mother to take me home. She said, “I can’t take you right now. I pay Margie $50 a week to take good care of you.”
I said, “Please, mommy, please take me. I don’t like it here. The boys aren’t nice to me and I couldn’t breathe good when Linda put a pillow over my face and sat on me.” My mother said, “You know that never happened. Margie and her kids are good to you.” After she left that day, I went to my bed and cried myself to sleep.
After my mother’s younger sister married, she rescued me from Margie’s house. I stayed with my aunt and uncle for one year until my mother decided she wanted to take me home to Chicago to stay with her and the stepfather. We lived in an apartment in Franklin Park across the street from a Chinese restaurant with a fire breathing dragon.
I learned to play the violin in school. The band teacher told me he had never seen anyone learn as fast as me. I loved music and learning new songs. The experience was quite pleasant.
Unfortunately, my home life was not pleasant. My mother expected me to wash the dishes and clean the apartment right after school. After a few weeks, my skin was red, blistery and raw. The doctor told her I was allergic to the soap and I should not be washing dishes.
Back home, my mother stated, “What good are you if you can’t wash the dishes. I work hard and you need to help me.” She did give me a break from the dishes for a few weeks until my rash went away. When my mother was pregnant again I was 8 years old and she decided we needed to move to California.
We abruptly made our way towards the West and stayed in New Mexico for a few months. While in New Mexico I played the Cello in school. I learned the Cello just as quick as I had learned the violin. Again, the move was abrupt and we ended up on Los Angeles.
My sister was born within weeks. In my new school, I was not given an instrument to play. The music was gone from my life until 6th grade when I learned to play the clarinet. My menstrual cycle began when I was eleven years old.
The change my body was going through was difficult because the cramps were painful and I may have been histrionic. Since my mother did not know how to raise a child, she may have suspected something mental was wrong with me after I started my menstrual cycle. The stepfather, the alcoholic, physical and verbal abuser was protective of my little sister. The abuse I experienced was more frequent after I started my menstrual cycle.
The stepfather wanted me to keep the house clean; it was priority over everything, including playing with friends, practicing my clarinet or homework. If I didn’t clean the house, I was told I was bad. “Disrespectful, A piece of shit. Dreck, A Good for nothing,” My mother would say, “You don’t care about me. That’s why you don’t listen and do as you’re told. If you cared you would clean the house. And, You’re going to get fat, because all you do is eat.”
I was a swimmer and swum with the Mission Viejo Nadadores. Swim practice would be my escape from the emotional and physical abuse. To my fault, my appetite increased from competitive swimming workouts, therefore I did eat a lot and I was not fat. My muscular body wore a size 7.
I was active either running, riding my bike or swimming. I never sat around like kids do today, just watching TV or playing video games. One day my mother bought me a size 14 in corduroy pants. She knew I liked corduroy. She said, “You’re going to get fat so I bought you size 14.”
While running in my new pants at school, I tripped and fell. My new pants had a new hole in the knee area. When I told my mother, ‘I need clothes to fit me.” She said, “Well, if you keep eating like this you are going to get fat and I am going to have to buy you more clothes.”
Her logic was twisted. The daily abuse mixed with my histrionic moods made me want to run away from home but I didn’t know where to go. I ended up climbing onto the roof of the house. My mother and stepfather called the police to look for me.
I was scared and thought, “Oh no. I am in trouble now! The police are here!” I climbed down from the roof and told the police officer my stepfather was abusive. The Police didn’t believe me and told me they would take me to juvenile hall if I did that again.
Although the stepfather was an alcoholic, he had a charming personality and said, “Everything is okay. She’s making this up.” The police didn’t seem to care.
I went to Mission Viejo High School for my first 9th grade semester. I wanted to swim for the High School swim team. In order to be on the team, I needed to have a medical evaluation. I was given a specific date and time to see the doctor on campus.
My mother and I could not find the campus clinic and, therefore, my mother gave up easily and went back to her vehicle. I was upset because I knew I would not be on the swim team and that crushed me. Life just went downhill from there. My mother decided to seek help.
She spoke to a counselor at my school and they recommended I go to a shelter home. At the shelter home, there were other kids my age. I was there for a while but it didn’t work out because I was not happy. I do believe I had some emotional issues.
I remember I spat at one of the other kids due to my poor coping skills. I was an angry, hurt child who just needed a parent or parents to show love. My mother never showed love. She is narcissistic and co-dependent.
The guy who managed the shelter home said I wasn’t a good fit and suggested my mother seek out some type of counseling for me. Thereafter, my mother found a shrink and he was actually a good guy. I still remember Dr. Russel Christopher; he worked at the Santa Ana Psychiatric hospital, which is no longer in business.
Mental Institution No. 1
I was at Santa Ana psychiatric hospital for six months. Towards the end of my stay, Dr. Russel Christopher had a family meeting with my mother and stepfather. The only time I saw my mother was when Dr. Christopher asked her to come in. I was in the room and he told my mother, “You are the problem! You need help! Your daughter just needs a mother!”
He tried to do right by me. My mother did not want to hear the truth. She replied, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! You just don’t know! My daughter is crazy. She needs help!” Dr. Christopher told my mother, “No, lady! You are the one who needs help!”
My mother found another and more agreeable psychiatrist – Dr. SeaWright Anderson. My mother told Dr. Anderson I was schizophrenic. ‘Seems, he believed her and treated me as such. I was placed in another psychiatric hospital in Orange County, Canyon General.
My Biological Father
My father came to visit while I stayed at Santa Ana psychiatric hospital. He was the only person who visited me. He actually took me out on a day pass from the hospital. We rode on his motorcycle and I had never been on one before.
My father told me what I was supposed to do: I had to wear a helmet, hold onto him really tight and lean into the direction of his lean. When we got onto an open stretch of highway my father told me to place my hands on his head because he didn’t want to lose his beanie. It was difficult to maintain my balance and do as instructed.
I held onto his waist with one arm and held onto his head with the other. But then I got cold so I put my hand down and his beanie fell off. He stopped the bike and yelled at me, “I told you to hold onto my beanie!” And I said, “You’re a fool! I can’t believe you’re running after that thing!” He stopped the bike and ran after his beanie, then got back on the bike.
We went to his mother’s house, switched into a Cadillac and drove to his friend’s house. His friend was a drug addict but I didn’t know at the time what was going to happen. My father had a history of drug abuse but he explained he was going to help his friend with insulin. I had no reason not to believe him.
I waited in the smoky dark living room. There was a man lying on the couch and another guy who went into the bathroom with my father. My father said, “Stay out here until I come back!” He was in the bathroom for a long time so I opened the door.
My father had a belt around his arm and was injecting himself with something. I was speechless and he yelled, “Get out. I told you to stay out and wait for me!” Shortly thereafter, he brought me back to Santa Ana and I was begging him not to. I wanted to stay with my father and his parents.
He said, “No! No! They don’t want you! And I can’t take care of you! You see what I’m dealing with. I can’t handle you right now.” This would be the last time I would see my father. My father called to tell me he had moved to Florida. I later learned he moved because his parents moved to Florida.
He was a mama’s boy and didn’t want to be away from his parents. I spoke to my father a few more times by phone. In 2001, I hired a private investigator to find my father and learned my father expired in 1997 at the age of 65. My father was the only person who ever came to visit me for the purpose of spending time with me. In his own way, he cared.
Mental Institution No. 2
I believe I was at Canyon General for about 5 months. The adolescents were on the same floor as the adults. At the time we were allowed to smoke cigarettes inside the hospital. Adolescents were rationed five cigarettes a day. The adults could have as many as they wanted. When I ran out of cigarettes I asked an adult for one. The adult got up out of her chair. Next thing I knew, a nurse approaches me with a syringe and told me to pull my pants down. She did not ask me what happened nor get my side of the story. She just injected me with an unknown substance.
Next thing I know the nurse recruited five men to strap me down in five-point leather restraints (ankles, wrists, waist). I was in that position for 24 hours, all because I asked for a cigarette. I calmly tried to tell her what happened. There was no reason to do that to me. I was just standing there. Looking back, I understand how unethical it all was. Dr. SeaWright Anderson had declared I was schizophrenic and any behaviors would warrant an injection of Ativan. Back then, there were no rules for restraints.
Group Home No. 1
A social worker found a Group Home for me to transition to in the San Diego area called OakGlen 24 hour School For Girls. Previous to my transition to OakGlen, I wanted to be accepted into group home run by a Jewish organization in Los Angeles. Sadly, I was rejected due to my psychiatric history.
I believe I was at OakGlen less than a year. During my stay, I bonded with one of the house mothers who I am still friends with today. She was warm and motherly. She did not judge me and I felt she truly cared about me.
I can tell she still cares about me. Every time my former house mother and I talk she tells me, “I love you!” The word love is difficult for me to say but it’s nice to hear. After this particular house mother relocated to another state with her family, I became despondent.
I did not have an attachment to anyone else at the group home and so I ran away. After running away I was put into another psychiatric hospital for a few weeks and then released back to my mother.
Home but not for long
All I remember when I was home again with my mother and stepfather was when my mother began beating me. She had thrown me down and bashed my head onto the floor. She ripped my earrings out and my ears bled. With her hands around my neck she said, “I wish I never had you. You were a mistake. I wish I never had kids!” And she kept beating my head.
I went to high school at Silverado Continuation in Orange County. There I met a friend who I wanted to be my boyfriend. He invited me to go bowling with him and some other friends and we became close. One day before going to school, my mother told me she was going to take me to Albert Sitton Home because the stepfather’s other biological kids were coming to visit and she did not want me to ruin the visit.
I told my mother, “I am not going to ruin the visit. I need to go to school. You need to let me finish school.” My mother said, “No. I am taking you to Albert Sitton Home.” On my last day of school I told my friend, “You’re never going to see me again. Can you please come home with me. I am scared of what my parents are going to do.”
My friend did not believe me. He tried to comfort me by saying, “Everything is going to be okay. I will see you tomorrow.” I never saw him again. When I went home my mother told me to get into the car. She said, “I am going to take you.”
I said, “No, please! I promise I’ll be good. I want to go to school. I have friends now!” My mother dragged me into the car. I tried to get out while we were stopped at a gas station and she ripped my shirt and exposed my chest. I asked the people at the gas station to please help me. My mother told them, “Don’t listen to her; she’s crazy.”
My Inspirations growing up
My inspiration was Barbra Streisand. Barbra has been my inspiration since I was old enough to appreciate music. I was obsessed with Barbra and read everything about her. Barbra had deep and expressive thoughts, which are traits I felt I had and needed to deny.
I was not allowed to express my true self or if I did I would surely face the wrath of my mother and stepfather’s abuse. I allowed myself to feel only through Barbra’s voice. While she acted in the Movie Yentl she said, “Nothing is impossible!” If nothing is impossible then I can survive and thrive. I made my life possible and I thank Barbara Streisand.
Another person I take inspiration from is Anne Frank. Anne was a resilient young lady in her time. She desperately wanted to make it right between her and the other people even when they were not well intentioned. She believed everyone was good at heart no matter how bad things seem to be.
Anne Frank held onto life as long as she could and gave up when she thought her father had died in the gas chamber. I believe if she knew her father survived she would have fought to live. Anne was creative in her resolve and wrote everything down. “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.
I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the World gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”—Anne Frank
Sylvia Plath was a deep and thoughtful novelist and poet. I found inspiration in her writings as she was someone who enlightened me with why I was the way I was. After reading her biography, I thought, “This is me!” I related so much to what she had to say.
She perceived herself as a loudmouth puppy desperately seeking attention and wanting people to understand her. I craved attention to the point of being that loud mouthed puppy. I desperately wanted to be understood. Sadly, Sylvia committed suicide a few months before I was born.
Residential Treatment Center No. 1
When my mother brought me to Albert Sitton Home, the staff dragged me out of the car and put me in a quiet room where the bed was nailed to the floor. There was a wire mesh window in the door. I was in the quiet room for 3 days. I had no social interactions and just happened to be on my period.
I asked to go to the restroom several times before getting a response. I had to bang on the door to get someone’s attention. I kept telling the staff, “I am bleeding. I need help.” The staff did not seem to believe me.
I ended up having to show the bloody tampon. The experience was humiliating and emotionally painful. On the third day, I asked, “Why am I still in here? I need to get out. Are you going to keep me in here forever?” The staff did not respond.
The only thing I could think of to do was to break the window with my forehead. When the glass shattered the staff ran into the room and a nurse examined my forehead. Everyone worked together to tie me down with soft ties and I was left like that for an hour.
Shortly thereafter, I was transferred the Irvine Medical Center and placed in a psychiatric holding area. After a few hours of waiting for what I did not know another patient was walking around with blood over the front of his groin area. No one did anything to help him. Down the hall I noticed a psychiatrist was meeting everyone one-by-one.
During my time with the psychiatrist, I told him what happened. He asked me, “Where do you want to go? I will give you two choices. You can go home with your parents or can go to a juvenile facility up north.”
I did not know what facility he was talking about and said, “My parents don’t want me. They want nothing to do with me. So, what’s the other option?” He said, “The facility is in Camarillo State Mental Hospital.” I said,“I don’t know anything about it but I guess I have no choice.”
Mental Institution No. 3
The next day something like a paddy wagon and two men drove me along the coast highway. It was a chilly November day and all I had on was a dirty thin t-shirt and thin slacks. The ride was about two hours and I was freezing and was not offered anything warm to wear. I asked the men, “Can you please turn on the heater or get me something warm to wear?”
The men said the heater did not work and they did not have anything warm to give me. When we arrived at Camarillo State Hospital the administrative psychiatrist was waiting to speak with me. He closed the office door after I sat down in his office and then proceeded to molest me. While molesting me, he said, “Do you see and hear things that aren’t there.”
I was in emotional shock and could not talk. I did not know what was happening. I felt like the adults had the power and I was powerless. I was assigned to one of the psychotic units with other adolescents who were heavily medicated.
I looked around and thought, “Oh wow, this is not what I was expecting.” I asked one of the staff, “Is this where I belong? This does not seem right.” The kids were doing the Thorazine shuffle. I was not taking medications.
The staff member found a different unit for me to go to where the adolescents were not medicated. In this other unit, these particular teenagers were considered criminally insane because they had committed murder, accessory to murder, armed robbery, sex crimes, etc. And, I was locked up with them.
I stayed in the locked facility for nine months and I was not happy. I was bullied by the others. I was sensitive and they would say things to hurt my feelings. I guess there was nothing better to do.
They were just bored and so they found someone to pick on and that was me. My mother came to visit for a family meeting and brought my little sister who was about 6 years old. My sister ran through the halls and day room and I grabbed and held onto her to keep her safe. My mother never called just to speak with me or ask how I was doing.
By then I had severe PTSD. I would have a hyperactive response anytime someone would approach me in a quick manner. For example, when I stood in line for snacks, one of the boys stood behind me. He was tall and had his arm over my right shoulder.
I did not know how close he was to me. All I could see was a hand above my line of sight. I had a knee jerk response and did not intend to hurt him. I turned around fast and with my elbow broke one of his ribs.
I was disciplined for assault. The staff did not believe me when I told them I did not hurt him on purpose. The discipline for being violent or physical was to sit down facing the wall for 24 hours. They let me eat but I had to do so facing the wall.
I would get 5 minute bathroom breaks every few hours. A bed was placed in the day room next to the wall for me to sleep. I developed a kidney infection because I was sedentary without enough water to drink. After my punishment, I called my mother and pleaded with her to take me home.
I said, “Do you want me to die? They are trying to kill me here. If you don’t pick me up, I’m going to be dead and you’re not going to see me again!” My mother agreed to pick me up and said, “Okay, I will bring you home.”
I went back to my mother’s house and by then I was anorexic. I went from size 7 to size 3. The food at Camarillo State Hospital was not healthy. Although there was enough food, I just didn’t care for it.
Foster Home No. 1
During my stay at Camarillo State hospital, I bonded with one of the psychiatric technicians. She ended up being my foster mother for about six months. I tried living with my mother but of course that was never going to work out for long. I believe the social worker checked up on me through her because the social worker never checked in with me personally.
Unfortunately, my bond and stay with the Foster mother did not last long. She had accused me of sleeping with her ex-husband. I do not know why she assumed I would do something like that. Fortunately, I was able to stay long enough in school to earn my high school diploma.
Shortly after my Foster mother attacked me with a broomstick, I called my aunt who I had stayed with when I was six years old. I asked her to “Please help me! Please help me! This isn’t working and I don’t know what to do. I was just trying to get through school.”
I added, “I promise, if you will help me, I’ll join the military and I will get out of your hair.” My aunt agreed to let me stay with her and drove from northern California to take me to the home she shared her young family.
Kinship Care No. 1
While living with my aunt, uncle and cousins, I joined the swim team and worked at McDonalds. For the first time I was experiencing a “normal life.” I was working and I did not feel unsafe. I felt the safest I had ever felt in my life and I felt love and acceptance.
My aunt was family. She was calm. The house was beautiful. The food was amazing. I was on the swim team like I wanted to be and everything was great. I had everything I needed. I knew I could not stay there for long. My plan after I turned 18 years old was to join active duty military. Unfortunately, I did not have a good educational foundation. I barely received a high school diploma.When I took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) I did not score high enough for active duty. Although I would only be a reservist, I agreed to go. When I turned 18 years old, I joined the army just like I promised.
I was in the military for a short time and the experience actually helped me mature. I went through basic training when I was 18 years old not knowing anything about the World or myself. It was stressful and difficult in the beginning as you can imagine. I would get into trouble because I did not have social skills.
Luckily, my drill sergeants were supportive of me. The discipline helped me get through life. Basic training was the best experience and I highly recommend it.
After the Army
I tried to live with my mother after I had completed my training and of course that did not work. She ended up finding me another place to live. I rented a room from a lady while I was working at Winchell’s Donuts full time. I remember waking up early to make the donuts.
There was a strange coincidence about the lady who I was renting from. Her mother actually knew my brother. My brother was autistic and her mother worked with autistic children. She had a picture of my brother and gave it to me.
I did not stay long in this particular lady’s house. She told me she felt my mother dumped me and it was too much for her to deal with. My mother never came to visit me nor did I communicate with her while I was living there. The lady said she needed me to move and it was nothing personal.
I tried to get back into the military full time again and this time I scored high enough on the ASVAB to get into the Air Force. Sadly, I failed Air Force Boot camp. I had difficulty with Air Force discipline because it was so opposite from Army discipline. Everything I learned in the Army backfired in the Air Force. I had to leave after two weeks of training.
I stayed in San Antonio and was in touch with a Rabbi at the local Jewish Community Center. He helped me find housing with a church organization. The Rabbi asked me where my family was. I told him, “I didn’t have a family.” Well, it turned out my mother was looking for me.
The Rabbi told me she actually called the Jewish Community Center looking for me. ‘Strange how she knew where to find me. I was shocked. I called her and said, “I didn’t think you cared.”
I went back to stay with her for a short time and again that did not work. Trying to have a relationship with my mother just does not work. I don’t quite remember all the details. All I knew was since the military did not work for me, I was trying to just work and get through school.
I had an opportunity to collect disability after my near fatal accident. I was hit by a car while driving a moped when I was 20-years old. After the accident a county social worker helped me apply for the benefit. I was on disability for several years until I was able to convince the social security department I did not need it anymore.
When I was in my twenties, I received the Pell Grant for community college. I received student loans I actually used to fix my teeth. I had severely bucked teeth which did not help my self-esteem. People teased me about my teeth, especially in those congregate facilities I was in.
Disability helped me financially get through school. My first graduation was from a Community College, which I consider my High School Diploma. I was not a good student. At the time my GPA was 2.5.
One class I remember in particular was geology and a class field trip. I had sampled too many adult beverages therefore, I failed the field test, which kind of hurt my grade. I was experimenting with alcohol in my 20’s because I never drank when I was a teenager due to being locked up.
I never did hard drugs, just alcohol. After I earned my High School Diploma (first college degree), I worked in retail and I also taught swim lessons. I worked only part time and not enough to be financially independent. I decided to try for the military again.
I took the ASVAB again and was able to get in with my reenlistment code. I was given a chance with the California Army National Guard. I drilled my weekends which helped with my income. After four years, I took the ASVAB again and scored a 98.
I could get any military job I wanted. I decided to go to nursing school because it was the longest program and I would have a place to live. I was in San Antonio at first and then I was sent to Fort Bliss. Daily military life wreaked havoc on my sensibilities and the stress incapacitated me.
I was discharged from active duty school only two weeks before I would have graduated (68C school) the LPN program. I went home to Arizona and drilled as a reservist and was able to use the G.I bill for education. After earning my associates RN degree I worked full time.
Fifteen years later I enrolled in graduate school. I paid cash for school and also paid off my student loans from my first four year degree.
Not the end
I am in my late 50’s now. I own my own home with a backyard endless swimming pool and I am debt free. I have a masters degree in advanced practice nursing, own a Tesla and have a great job. My credit score never falls below 750.
I am married and I have a dog and a cat. I am a resilient and responsible person. I was fortunate enough to have the military discipline from Army basic training. If I did not have discipline, I probably would not be where I am today. I might have been a lost soul or nonexistent.
Listen to the children
One thing I wish people to take away from my story is it’s always important to listen to the child. The pain of a child is real and when a child isn’t being heard it can manifest into maladaptive coping. I did not have the coping skills as a child and into my young adult years. I was socially inept.
I had difficulty relating and connecting with people. I am sensitive and my heart is exposed although I try to hide who I am for fear of failure and rejection. My mother and stepfather had a way of putting me down and making me feel worthless. Those feelings would manifest because I did not think anything of myself.
I did not know how to defend myself. I believed I was worthless. It was sad for me to have to deal with strangers who thought the same thing. Well, I thought, “Wow, this must be true if they are going to talk to me like this!” At this time in my life if someone were to insult me, I would get a little bothered and know there must be something wrong with the insulter.
I know that now but when I was young I did not know. If a child is to reach their full potential as an adult, the child needs to feel unconditional love and support. I did not have the support but I am resilient. If I was not I may not have survived.
A child may feel suicidal, which is sadly unfortunate because circumstances change. The child will become an adult and be able to choose for themselves. It’s difficult when you do not have a good foundation to guide your life. Children should be seen and heard.
Adults need to listen to the children and believe in them.