EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published by Youth Communications and is reposted here with permission. YC is a nonprofit publisher of teen-written stories and curriculum to help educators strengthen the social and emotional skills of youth.
When I was adopted out of foster care at age 6, everyone in my new family was sweet to me. At first, it seemed like there was a lot of love. In addition to my two adoptive parents, I had six new siblings. Nobody made me feel like I was different.
But about a year after being adopted, I started having behavioral issues. Even at a young age, I knew I was having trouble adjusting. I was so used to being moved around that I was unfamiliar with the idea of staying in one place. I started getting into fights at school and with my brothers at home—especially when they started telling me, “You don’t belong here.”
Two years after being adopted, my adoptive mother began abusing me. As far as I know, my adoptive dad—who was always kind to me—did not know what was happening. She started to say things like “I can’t deal with you,” and “You can’t live here anymore.” It turned physical, but it was the emotional abuse that hurt the most. She’d hit me when I felt I did nothing wrong. When my brother and I fought, she punished me but not him.
I confided in my school counselors, who ended up calling the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). I don’t remember the ACS visits, but I do remember my mom asking me why I reported her. She said, “What happens in this house, stays in this house.” I was scared of her, and I learned my lesson not to report her again. From what I can remember, the ACS visits didn’t lead to any positive changes. My parents were inspected, but I was allowed to remain in the home. After these visits, I started acting out even more. The situation got bad enough that I purposely broke furniture and televisions because I didn’t know how to act or express myself.
I felt unwanted, and I was giving my parents more reasons to not want me. My parents were constantly arguing. They usually seemed to fight over something I did. I couldn’t hold back my tears at seeing them fight, so I cried heavily as I heard them scream at each other. Three years after I moved in, my adoptive parents got divorced. My brain pinpointed me as the problem. Even if no one had directly blamed me, I would have felt responsible. But I remember my brother telling me, “This is all your fault.” Later, my dad told me that my mom had given him an ultimatum: Choose me or the marriage. She couldn’t deal with my behavioral issues anymore. When he chose to keep me, she left him.
Over the next year or so, I had a rough time. After being suspended from school almost half a dozen times, I was sent to a psychiatric hospital for a few weeks. The workers there didn’t seem to care about my emotional needs and were more focused on making me behave the way they wanted me to. When my behavior didn’t improve, I was hospitalized another three times. I was never told what the diagnosis was. I do know that my last two visits, at a different hospital, went better than the first two, because the workers actually seemed to want to help, listening and reassuring me that I wasn’t crazy.
I missed a lot of school. After the hospital stays, I was placed in three different houses among my adoptive family’s relatives until I was placed with my grandma from my adoptive mother’s side. That is where I stayed the longest—about a year, from third grade to the end of fourth grade. Despite my adoptive mother’s cruelty toward me, her mother was kind.
Before I started high school, there were a lot of helpful changes in my family life. I moved in with my adoptive dad and his new partner, whom I call my stepmom. My behavior improved significantly. At various times, my other siblings joined us. I was also assigned a social worker who checked in with me periodically.
Then, without warning, my adoptive mom announced that she was moving permanently to Puerto Rico with my three youngest sisters. They left for San Juan in August of 2019. My dad cried that night. Over the next few months, I could feel his sadness. My dad was usually energetic—the life of the house—but he had become quiet. The following summer, they were supposed to stay with us for a month, but then the Covid-19 pandemic began. There was no way for his daughters to safely leave Puerto Rico. My dad’s hope was shattered.
When I started high school in the fall of 2019, I was overwhelmed. The more time that passed, the more I felt as if it was my fault that my dad could not see his daughters. I thought to myself: “If I hadn’t come to this family, he wouldn’t have gotten divorced, and then I wouldn’t have ruined my dad’s life.”
When my dad tried to tell me how much he cared about me, he often reminded me that he was the one who chose to adopt me. Although he said this to make me feel loved, it just made me feel more guilty. The guilt overwhelmed me and I felt like I couldn’t live with myself anymore.
That’s when the suicidal thoughts started—faint at first, but more intense over time. One day I had enough. I posted on Instagram that I was done with life. Other relatives saw the messages and alerted my dad and stepmom. When they came home that night, my dad told me to come into their room. “We need to talk. This is serious.”
I was worried that I might get yelled at. But to my surprise, my dad and stepmom seemed more worried than mad. They started to ask me, “What’s wrong?” I sat on their bed listening, overwhelmed, and found myself unable to speak. “I know what you posted on Instagram. Speak to us. Do you need help?” I began to cry. Ten minutes passed before I asked my stepmom if I could speak to her alone. My dad agreed, so we stepped into the bathroom. I tried my best to relay my feelings: “I just feel so guilty.”
“His ex just used you as an excuse to get away. There were already problems between them before you came. They didn’t have a perfect marriage, and it was bound to happen either way.” As my stepmom said this, she began to cry too, and hugged me tighter. I felt free of the guilt that I had been holding in.
I’m grateful for my dad and my stepmom, and I try to show them both how much I appreciate them. We are all trying our best to make sure everyone feels endlessly supported and loved. My adoptive mom allowed me to believe I was the reason for my family’s unhappiness. I told myself I would never do that to someone else. Especially not to a child. Now I do things to put a smile on others’ faces. I open the door for strangers, help carry things, assist elderly people across the road, and give extra tips to service workers—all just for fun. It makes me feel good to see others smile. I want to live a life full of kindness and heart rather than the life of hate, anger, and guilt I had previously. Even on my worst days, I will plan to live my life in this way.