OOPS! Wrong Family
by Debi Toporoff
Creation House

"All a foster kid wanted was just to be accepted for who she was... to have somebody to play with."

This heartbreaking memoir of mental and physical abuse is also a story of overcoming such mistreatment and the power of forgiveness and acceptance. The author shares the horrors of growing up with an abusive mother, who seemingly got joy out of mistreating her daughter. Meanwhile, her father spent almost all his time away working. Toporoff's mother frequently had men over to the house in affair after affair. Even though Toporoff had other brothers and sisters, it was she who bore the brunt of her mom's abusive and violently cruel nature. She was often tied up in a swing all day because she wasn't "good enough to play" with the other children. Her head was held for long periods of time underwater. There was always loud screaming in the home. At age two, her mom hit her and proceeded to throw her across the room, where she landed on cement and couldn't get up, breaking a leg. Like many other occasions, when her mom took her to the hospital after one of the abusive incidents, she lied to the nurses and doctors, making false claims such as she had fallen, not watching where she was going. During one fit of rage, her mom's wedding ring damaged Toporoff's left eye to the point of causing permanent damage, and the little girl had to wear an eye patch.

Toporoff describes throughout the memoir how she was made to feel like a nobody. She was forced, at a young age, to sleep outside the house in the forest, where she would cry herself to sleep, deathly afraid some creature or monster there in the woods where she was banished would attack her. There was only one good thing about this sick, twisted treatment: at least out there in the dark of night, her mom was not yelling at her or beating her.

Over the years, the author was visited by Miss Golda, a social worker, especially when one of her "accidents" landed her again in the hospital. The book describes several foster families that took Toporoff in, some of whom were more supportive of the young girl emotionally than others. And yet, her mom would often go to the courts, arguing untruthfully that her situation had improved, imploring the judge to send her daughter back with her biological family again. When she was back under her mom's roof, absolutely nothing had changed. The abuse continued. Toporoff describes how, even at the tender age of six, she was not like the other kids and had become socially withdrawn and hardened. "I somehow had created my own safe place away from the world of hurt, broken promises, and lies," she writes. "I had no laughter in my heart anymore."

It takes a brave and special kind of person, who has been through such hell emotionally and physically, to share this kind of story with the world. No doubt Toporoff is to be commended and admired for having done just that. In her particular case, she was introduced to Christianity by a family named the Abbotts, who ministered to hurting children all over the world. Toporoff discovered that through Jesus' death on the cross, she was cleansed and bound for heaven. Afterward, she says she was able to forgive the many ways her mother mistreated and neglected her in childhood, a fact that is inspiring. The author touches on the unfortunate truth that abuse—of differing kinds and degrees—occurs in many families. The key, she argues, is in "learning how to begin to change when abuse and fear have been a way of life."

Over time and with the unconditional love and support of a number of people in her life, Toporoff's journey became one of cultivating a healthy self-image and "replacing old hurts with new memories." She declares in inspiring language that the time finally came for her to let go of all the stored-up garbage and "begin being a person with real feelings and real self-worth." She concludes that even when an individual has experienced such a horrible background, that does not automatically mean she is locked into a rotten future. Noting that it will not be easy, it is crucially important and indeed possible to capture one's life back, knowing one's special value in the world—both in the eyes and mind of God as well as one's own. Toporoff says the purpose of her writing this book is to allow other survivors to know there is life after abuse. As she puts it, "We cannot change the past, but we… can become whole in God's sight and in our own right."

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