My journey in life began in April of 1983. I was born into a family with two older brothers, later would come two younger sisters. We all had different fathers and we were born to a Mother who was addicted to drugs and alcohol. We lived in a daily routine of abuse and unimaginable neglect. There were days that we had no food to eat. As an example, we considered a spoonful of peanut butter “food”, and there were days when we didn’t even have that. The amount of physical, emotional and sexual abuse that I sustained was rationalized by the fact that I was the oldest female sibling. My rationalization was that if I kept the negative impact of our lives inflicted on me, perhaps I could protect my brothers and sisters from experiencing it. With that being said, a great deal of the “Mothering” responsibilities also fell on me at a very young age. Starting at about age 5, the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) started coming in and out of our lives. From age 5 until age 8, we were sent back and forth to Group Homes in Knoxville. At age 8, DCS decided that we needed to be away from our mother. One brother and I were sent to the same Foster Home, the rest of our siblings were separated and put into different homes. As the “Mother” figure and protector in the home, this was devastating to me. I felt like a complete failure. After years of my Foster parents working with me to become child-minded and to understand that I was not responsible for providing for or protecting my siblings I finally felt like a “normal” kid. At the age of 11, DCS came to us and told us that my Biological Mother had now done what she needed to do to re-gain custody of us.
This was a pivotal moment in my life. Had DCS, my Biological Mother, the Judge or my Foster Parents asked me; “Do you want to go back?” a lot of damage in my early teen years could have been avoided. Unfortunately, I was not given the option. In fact, my Foster Parents of 4 years, that I had built a loving, trusting relationship with, were bound by DCS rules to encourage us that this time things would work out and that my Mother loved us and would finally care for us. This emotional trauma, though un-intentional, solidified that no one cared to lose me, I was not worth fighting for and true love did not exist.
Within a year of my Mother regaining custody of us, she was back to drugs, alcohol and men. By God’s Grace and the love of my Foster Parents, my brother and I went back to live with them. Damage of depression, drug abuse and alcoholism had taken a toll on me in that year, as well. I was a different child from the child I was a year before. I was drunk, on drugs and driving a car around Knoxville at the age of 11. It was fair to say that my life was no longer important to me. I didn’t know if I would make it to my next birthday, and honestly, I don’t think I wanted to. When my Mother got arrested that year, we went to court, now I’m age 12, and the Judge, for the first time ever, asked me what I wanted. My brother and I gained our voice that day. We were aloud to stand up in Court and tell the Judge, my Mother and the whole courtroom that we never wanted to go back to our Mother. In addition, our Foster Parents, proclaimed that they loved us and wanted nothing more than for us to be their children forever. That was an empowering moment.
From 12 to 16 years old, life was great. I stopped using drugs and alcohol when we moved back into my now, Mom and Dad’s house. The difference in my schoolwork and socialization was night and day. I had a long-term boyfriend, I had two best friends who are still my best friends to this day, and I had a great relationship with my siblings. My oldest brother and his wife lived only a few minutes away from us and had built a loving, responsible home. My brother and I would go and spend weekends and summers with our brother and his growing family. During my Junior year in High School, I was applying for colleges, working part-time, building on a 3 year relationship with my boyfriend. My favorite times though were the afternoons after school and my weekends because I would go to my brother’s house and babysit my two young nephews so that their Mom and Dad could work and provide for them. Melissa, my brother’s wife, is the person who displayed to me what a Mother should be. She was an amazing confidant, we told each other that she was the older Sister I never had, but always wanted. Life was amazing. My relationship with my family, my friends and God were stronger than they had ever been. I knew I was on the right path for my purpose in life.
On November 4, 1999, my world came crashing down around me. I got the news that my brother had shot and killed his pregnant wife. I was in shock! There was no history of domestic violence there was no alcohol or drug abuse, just two people having relationship issues. My best friend, my Sister, my Mentor was gone. My nephews became my main focus at this time. They were 3 and 1 years old at this time. Because I had never developed acceptable coping skills, I did what any irrational, devastated and scared teenager does; I broke of all relationships, except with my nephews. I broke up with my long-term boyfriend, I stopped talking to my best friends and I became a hermit. I lost my job, I started skipping school, I got into legal trouble. I was screaming for help but hated anyone who tried to help me.
As a last resort, considering I had planned my suicide but backed out because it was against my religion, I requested to be moved to a Group Home. I decided to leave everyone that I loved for 6 full months. I was taken in by the Knoxville Florence Crittenton Agency. While there, I graduated from High School 6 months early so that I could focus on healing myself. I worked hard on learning coping skills, managing my attitude and anger and regaining the ability to confide in and trust others. At the stroke of midnight on my 18th birthday, I signed myself out of custody and became a homeless youth in the city of Knoxville. The State of Tennessee had been my guardian since I was 5 years old, now it was just me and the garbage bag of belongings that I carried.
After a few weeks of sleeping on couches, God sent an amazing woman into my life. She explained that she worked for a local Group Home and that she wanted to break the rules of their Independent Living Program and take a chance on me. I was the first young adult who didn’t go through this facilities program but took advantage of their Independent Living Program. I signed myself back into custody and was given help getting an apartment, getting back in college and getting financial, emotional and medical support. At 21 years old I left the Independent Living Program. At 22 years old, I bought my first home. At 25 years old, my partner and I had our first child and at 29 years old I had our Twins. It took hard work, determination and many compromises but we did it. At 31 years old, I was diagnosed with an Autoimmune Disorder called Hasimoto’s and at 32 years old my heart is not strong enough for me to work, at this time, but nothing can make me ungrateful for the life I have been blessed with. I am learning about myself as a person, as a woman and as a Mother everyday.
I still have a long way to go but my hope, my dream and what I believe my calling in life is, is to be that one person in someone else’s life that changes the trajectory of that young person’s life, for the positive.
I AM B.O.L.D!!