Content warning: This article mentions physical and emotional abuse and suicide.
When I was first adopted out of foster care at age 6, everyone in my new family was sweet to me. 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. I watched TV shows and played video games with my sisters. The house was three-stories with five bedrooms, a huge backyard, and a pool.
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 to freak out, sometimes getting into fights at school and with my brothers at home, especially when they started telling me, “You don’t belong here.”
My Adoptive Mother Becomes Abusive
Two years after being adopted, my adoptive mother began abusing me. My adoptive dad, who was always kind to me, did not know what was happening, as far as I know. She started to say things like “I can’t deal with you anymore,” and “You can’t live here anymore.” The abuse turned physical, too, but it was the emotional abuse that hurt the most.
She randomly came at me and hit me many times when I felt I did nothing wrong. It seemed like she was hitting me more than the other kids. 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.
2+2 = I’m the Problem
From what I can remember, the ACS visits didn’t lead to any real 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 else to act or express myself. I felt unwanted, and so I think I was giving my parents more reasons to not want me.
I was behaving so badly and 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. For me, it was as easy as 2+2=I’m 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, were better than the first two, because the workers actually seemed to want to help me, listening to me 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, for about a year, from 3rd grade to the end of 4th grade. Despite my adoptive mother’s cruelty toward me, her mother was kind to me the year I stayed there.
My Feelings of Guilt Intensify
For the next few years until the start of high school, there were a lot of changes in my family life. I moved in with my adoptive dad and his new partner, who I call my stepmom. My stepmom was kind to me, and my behavior improved significantly. My other siblings joined us at various times. I was also assigned a social worker who checked in with me periodically, which was helpful.
Then in 2018, my adoptive mom announced without warning 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 and I felt so bad for him.
Over the next few months, I could feel my dad’s sadness. He was usually energetic, the life of the house, but he had become quiet. The following summer, they were supposed to visit and stay with us for a month. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. My dad’s hope to see his daughters was shattered because there was no way for them to safely leave Puerto Rico.
“Speak to Us”
When I started high school in the fall of 2019, I was overwhelmed with stress. The more time that passed by, the more I felt 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 said to me: “We need to talk. This is serious.” They told me to come into their room.
My brother nosily tried to come, too, but my stepmom locked the door. 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?”
My dad said, “I know what you posted on Instagram. Speak to us. Do you need help?”
I sat on their bed listening, overwhelmed, and found myself unable to speak. I began to cry. Ten minutes passed before I asked my stepmom if I could speak to her alone. My dad seemed to agree, so my stepmom and I stepped into the bathroom.
In the bathroom, I tried my best to relay my feelings: “I just feel so guilty.”
My stepmom’s facial expression seemed to indicate “I understand.” I was going to continue speaking, but she interrupted me: “You feel guilty because of what happened with your father’s divorce, right?”
I nodded, and my stepmom hugged me.
“I know, papa, I know, but 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.” She was crying, too, as she said this. She hugged me tighter.
Once I learned that my adoptive mother had used a child to get out of a marriage she didn’t want to be in, I felt free of a grudge or sadness that I had been holding in. Letting it out allowed me to have peace within myself and no longer feel guilty.
I Stop Blaming Myself and Begin Living to Help Others
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 what my adoptive mom did to me. Especially not to a child.
Now I do things to put a smile on others’ faces. I open the door for strangers, help people carry things, assist old ladies and men to cross the road, and give extra tips to service workers just for the fun of it. It makes me feel good to see others smile. I want to live a life full of kindness and heart rather than the life I had previously of hate, anger, and guilt. Even on my worst days, I will plan to live my life in this way.
This piece was republished with permission from Youth Communication, a nonprofit publisher of teen-written stories and curricula that help educators strengthen the social and emotional skills of youth.