Neil from Victoria, BC Feature

For over half a century I’ve been on a quest to discover the reason for my life turning out as it has. From the age of sixteen I was always in therapy (self-motivated) and participated in many self development workshops constantly hoping I could learn what happened in my life that made it go sideways so badly, hopefully finding the remedy, and believing that if I just knew what was wrong I could then seek its solution. I spent 20 years enrolled in austere, demanding Buddhist meditation retreats to gain a deeper understanding of self, and believed that through this kind of suffering I would find peace. I participated in a few ‘new thought’ churches along the way, hoping to find a spiritual peace while along the way also becoming a scholar in A Course In Miracles (a remarkable achievement in its self considering my learning and comprehension difficulties).

During one Vipassana meditation retreat I did, however, have a full-blown white Light experience, which I found glorious but it never happened again. But it did keep me returning to meditation retreats for another 2 decades hoping to have another encounter with the Loving Light. I’ll never forget that experience...being held in cosmic Wholeness.

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I wondered why my life had turned out so differently than my siblings. Why I was the black sheep (scapegoated) child and had become the buffer in a less than perfect family?

I came to understand what my learning disabilities, ADHD, depression, and PTSD were about, but these were just symptoms and not the cause.

I learned family systems theory and gained an understanding (and compassion) of the world and times my parents were raised in.

But still no answers!

I started considering FASD as the possible cause 5 years ago. But I didn’t have any of the physical disfigurement I thought was required (back then) nor did I come from a disadvantaged socio-economic group (another belief). Although I had run-ins with the law since age 12, and am fortunate today not to have a criminal record today, it was chalked up to a wild, misspent youth.

I didn’t have to look very hard to find evidence of my mother drinking during her pregnancy. She freely admitted to drinking through all of her pregnancies. This was also the justification that it must be my problem because the other siblings didn’t turn out as bad (by comparison).

Introduction of Valium: Compounding my early years of development, and apparently in an effort to ameliorate my ADHD-like behaviours, my mother put me on Valium at times (long car trip). However, it would be twenty years later when it was determined I am allergic to this tranquilizer and have a reverse reaction to it. The anxiety of this medication pushes me up, not down.

Nothing made sense. I looked normal, often sounded normal — my life should be normal! Perhaps I just needed to try harder. Of course, every attempt to try harder usually ended with even worse results, eg. cramming for school exams.

Employers and social groups never seemed to last long. At times I wished I had the features of a down syndrome person. Then at least people would have an obvious context to explain the complicated, and extreme range of behaviour I could display.

The conundrum was either to swallow all the low self esteem I’d acquired, or fight for something better...as solution, that lay just around the next corner. Maybe. I began living my life for the purpose of finding ‘my’ solution somewhere just around the next corner...the next workshop, the next retreat. All to no avail.

I’m exhausted.

I always thought it would be a great relief to finally have the answer, never realizing it may come without the solution. I never thought my life could get any more depressing but, now, knowing I have FASD (ARND?) and there is no cure brings on a whole new level of depression. Perhaps my psycho-spiritual pursuits all this time were preparing me for acceptance of this incurable fate. I have nothing else to guide me now.

So finally, as a hail Mary pass, I enlisted two therapists for guided, supervised psychedelic remedies, hopefully. It was in one of these experiences I came to acknowledge — say out loud to myself and others, that I suffer with an FASD. And it was also these experiences which released me to a cosmic Love I never thought possible, that I cherish and hold on to today. In another experience a voice, not from myself, but from the universe “thanked” me for my life. Huh? (I’ll take the support wherever I can find it)

My ‘expected’ reality is currently something that is changing rapidly. My hope today is to find a trusting partner who can Love and accept me as I am, and in spite of my plight is willing to live with me until my time is up here.

Thank you for listening.

Neil from Victoria, BC

Lauren Richardson Feature

A Baby’s Voice Trapped in a Bottle

Hello my name is Roxanna Gonzalez  ( Adopted name is Lauren Richardson)

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I was born in a little town called Santa Anna witch is the capital city of the country El Salvador. From what I have heard it has been a war torn country and at the time of my birth there was a ton of war going on. I don’t really know a lot about my birth, all I know is that when I took my first breath I had aspirated a lot of the amniotic sack and fluids. Due to the fact that I was born with a cleft lip and palate, at the time right after birth from what I have heard, my birth mother had told the hospital that she was going to be coming back for me and left. She had never shown back up for me & I was abandoned at birth. I also know that my birth mother was an alcoholic & had been drinking while she was pregnant with me.  I was then put into an orphanage that was where I started to become very sick. I started to become very dehydrated & malnourished because trying to feed a baby with a cleft lip and palate facial deformity can be very hard & very challenging. Also I some how contracted scabies while I had been in there. After 3 whole months of being alive and being in there my whole world changed and I was finally being adopted. I became the lucky one.

There was a lady from the adoption agency, (the adoption agency is called families for children) & her name was Sandra Simpson. She flew down to Santa Anna, El Salvador where she picked me up and jumped on a air plane and flew me to Toronto Ontario Canada. That was where I met my adopted mom & dad. I arrived in Toronto Ontario Canada weighing in at 5.0 pounds & covered in scabies. My adopted parents immediately took me from the airport straight to the hospital where the Dr's and nurses then took over getting me immediate medical attention.  I think at the age of 5 to 6 months of age was when I had my first surgery & that was to repair my cleft palate & also my cleft lip. Then from there the rest of my surgeries happened. I have had around 25 reconstructive surgeries all together in my life from ear tubes, nose jobs, jaw work, to bone graphs. I have had a lot of work done. I believe a few other things that were starting to show up as signs of difficulty for me were things like learning to roll over on my tummy as a baby.  Also learning to hold my head up and learning to crawl. I eventually learning to walk and talk which are usually very BIG mile stones for any human baby/child.

I was adopted into a very loving caring & supportive home. I have 1 older sister who is my adopted parents biological child. My adopted parents adopted my little sister who is from a different family, so there is 3 of us girls in the family and I am the middle child. I grew up and did most of my schooling in Hamilton, Ontario. I actually really loved school. Growing up at first I was very shy and reserved but I also learned to become very bubbly and out going. I learned that I could make tons of friends and make them laugh all the time. I hung out  and had tons of fun. I also had very supportive teachers while I was in school. While I was in school I guess the teachers were slowly starting to notice that I was struggling with the course work. I believe this was starting to show at around grade 2 and then heading into grade 3. I guess I was struggling with things like reading and writing and trying to keep up with the pace of the class room. Writing things down of the black board was such a challenge because I was always 8 steps behind everyone else especially if it was a huge lesson to be learned.  Eventually I started going to the learning resource room almost every day to just catch up. That was when my parents started to get pulled into these meetings and they started planning to have this thing called a IEP; which was a individual education plan where they would meet every so often and talk about my learning and ways to help me out.  At around grade 3 was when I started to go and have all these tests done on my learning. I went to go and see all these doctors and specialists who were going to run all of these tests on me to help determine if I even had a learning disability or not. It turned out that I was diagnosed with a non verbal learning disability at that time. That didn’t stop me in any way. I continued with my schooling trying my best right up until grade 5. That was when I really noticed that I was different than the rest of the students in my class. My teacher in grade 5 told the whole class a few weeks before we graduated elementary school that we were going to go have a field trip to go visit and have a tour of the middle school that all of my classmates were going to go attend. The next year my teacher told me that I was not going to be attending this field trip because I was not going to be attending this school next year and that I was going to be staying behind while the whole class went on this field trip. Right then and there was when I just  knew that I was very different from my classmates but I didn’t know what I did that was so different or wrong to not attend. The next year I had moved and started to attend grade 6 grade 7 & grade 8 downtown. That was where I started to attend the special education class where I succeeded and did very & extremely well. My grades were awesome. I participated in class. My spirits became high and I had a very loving devoted teacher who truly guided me and who believed in me and what I could accomplish. The atmosphere was such a positive change for me. I was able to get introduced to sports which I found out I was amazing at. I joined things like the swim team and track & field. I became able to focus on all the great stuff that I could do because of the positive reinforcement I got from my teachers and students. I graduated from grade 8 that was a huge accomplishment for me & my family.  I moved on to high school I ended up attending a regular high school with regular classes for my grade 9 year. It became very difficult and I started to struggle probably because I didn’t have the same structure and environment. The teachers were very different & the positivity was gone. So I began to struggle again. I got moved to another school that was more like a trades school. It was called a vocational school so you learned more trades like things like baking, automotive, hair dressing, woodworking courses, and that sort of thing. I went there for grade 10 & 11 then my parents ended up landing a job in Toronto so I moved and went to school in Toronto. I attended to another vocational school. We moved to London Ontario after 16 months of living in Toronto. I attended another vocational school along the way. I made tons of friends my grades were pretty good. I continued on with playing sports also at school which I really enjoyed still. After about a year in London Ontario, my parents got their dream job which was out on the West Coast of Canada. I was just getting my life together & settled and once again I was on the move. Once I got out west I enrolled in a high school. It was just a regular high school to hopefully graduate. I was only there for about 6 months or less before I had to leave the school due to the fact of my age the school system out west is only able to take you up until you are 19 years of age. I had just turned 19. I was having to leave where as if I had stayed in Ontario then I could of stayed in school and attended right up until I was 21 ears old. It was very hard for me because I felt I tried and worked very hard for it to all just fall apart like that. In the end I never ended up getting my high school diploma or ever graduating out of high school. I went straight into community college and ended up taking a school to work transition program where they introduced you to the work force and helped you get into a Co-Op placement and helped you get a job from that placement.

I always knew that I wanted to make a huge difference in this world and by doing that I knew that health care was the field I really wanted to be in.  My placement was at a nursing home as a house keeper. I then realized after about 4 or 5 months of working there that I really wanted to work as a health care aide so I then worked and saved up to go back to school and take the care aide course which was only 6 months long. I ended going to school to become a health care aide. I ended up doing fantastic on the written course work but where I did struggle a lot was actually on the practicums. I ended up failing the course 2 times due to the practicums but I completed it the 3rd time. The areas that I struggled were things like time management & speed which I was able to fix. I have worked in health care as a care aide for about 8 years now & I still have the love & the passion for it each and every day. Each and every day is different and it can be so very rewarding to be able to help people & see their smiling faces & like any job it has its great days and bad days.  So back in 2014 I was working at a nursing home as a on call care aide with a pretty big company & being on call all the time I never knew what floor I was working on until they called me in. Sometimes very short notice so one of the times I was on shift it was time to distribute the nourishment around to the residence rooms. I accidentally left a cookie on a resident's tray who just so happened to be diabetic. I ended up losing my job over that. The company that I was with was unionized so I went and fought for my job back. While I was going through that process I ended up getting retested for my learning disability again because the company wanted to understand how it was best to support me. I had never been retested as a adult the union and the company I was working for ended up paying the money for me to have the testing done.

Once the tests results came back in that was when my whole life changed. I remember sitting in the Dr's office. It was March 31, 2014 at 1:00 in the afternoon. The Dr. asked me to come into the room first to talk to me about the diagnosis while my mom and my Union rep, and someone from the company was there sitting in the waiting room. I sat at the opposite end of the table. I had no clue as to what she was about to tell me but when the Dr. told me that they are diagnosing me with having F.A.S Fetal Alcohol Syndrome I lost it. I remember whipping a cup of water at her and then I burst into tears. It was absolutely devastating. I remember so much rage and anger. It felt like as if I was getting sentenced to a life long jail sentence on a crime that I did not commit. I remember saying to the Dr. through all of the tears, "so is there medications that I can take to cure this thing?" Unfortunately, she tells me that there is no cure for this. I remember feeling very numb. She then brought my mother in and the union reps to break the news to them. By that point I had a million things going on in my mind. I must of looked glazed over. I was furious. I went home and I remember just feeling numb and very lost. I didn’t know anyone else at all with this condition. I also believe getting this diagnoses shocked my whole entire family & a lot of my friends.

I remember being alone one day a few days after being diagnosed and I just was curious to find out a bit on it so I jumped on YouTube. I just typed in F.A.S Fetal Alcohol Syndrome that was where I saw all of these videos pop up. I clicked on one of them. I finished watching the whole video. I thought wow I could relate to the gentleman in that video completely. I thought I would like to get into contact with him. I ended up trying to look him up on Facebook. His name is Myles. I ended up private messaging him and introducing myself to him. I informed him that I had just recently been diagnosed a few days ago and I told him just how lost and very confused I am. I asked him if there was any way he would be able to help me out even if it was to just talk. I sent the message & then I just had to play the waiting game to see if he was going to get back in touch with me or even reach out at all.  He did after a couple of days. He reached out to me with a great response. We got to know each other over a couple of months & then we decided to meet in person. We met in Vancouver BC. It was such a powerful day to be able to meet someone who is just like you. In a lot of ways you share a bond that no one can ever take away from you because it is at a cellular level. It's really powerful, well at least to me it was. He ended up inviting me to the international conference in Vancouver BC in April 2015. That’s where I got introduced to a lot of other young teens and adults who are living with F.A.S/F.A.S.D. It also opened up a whole new world that I had no idea even existed. I want people to know and understand that even though I have the same diagnosis as Myles and others that it plays out very uniquely in each of us. This whole thing is 100% preventable. Please educate yourself and others on this. There is no safe amount of alcohol to be consumed while pregnant. Please do not take the risk. I have been sober for 31 years next month. The day of my sobriety was the day I was born.

Thank you for taking the time to read my F.A.S Fetal Alcohol Syndrome story. I hope that by reading it you were a little inspired by me and my journey. I will try my best at everything that I do. I will never give up. I will forever be the voice for those fetuses and babies that don’t have a voice yet. I have never struggled with behaviors or have ended up in trouble with the law.

Written With Love From Lauren Richardson