September 12, 2017

John’s Story: My Road to Self Discovery

“They took me away from my mom assuming the State would do a better job of raising me. I still remember the hot pain from the burns on by body from my mom leaving me in the sun on the beach when I was just 16 months old. Maybe she thought I needed the vitamin D, maybe she thought it would feel good to feel the sun’s rays on my skin. But the truth is, I think she was too high to remember she had left me there. At 16 months, I entered the child welfare system –  my life of neglect, abuse and loneliness was just beginning.

When I entered foster care, my life was torn apart and kept becoming more unpredictable and unstable with each new placement. I moved from placement to placement; love and friendship was not ingrained in my early development. I am a very social person by nature and wanted to make friends, but my diagnosis was truly situational and eventually I owned the story I was being told was my mental health label and told everyone I met, ‘I have R.A.D. (Reactive Attachment Disorder)’ – It all sounded pretty cool.  It meant I couldn’t really trust people, I’d be all in when I met someone, then crushed when they walked out of my life. I would shut down for months when I was pulled away from people I got close to. My RAD diagnosis to me meant that I was angry and it was hard for me to trust people – a pretty natural outcome when an infant is placed in foster care and moved all the time to a new group home. For the most part, they all left. It’s not that I lost friends or connections every time I moved; I simply never made them.

By the time I was 15, I’d been removed, replaced, adopted, relinquished, placed in respite care and kicked out of so many foster homes, that it became impossible for me to fully trust anyone. I didn’t stay at any placement very long. I acted out because I didn’t trust anyone, because I was angry at being moved, abandoned and treated like a piece of trash that nobody wanted and I didn’t expect my life to change any time soon. I wanted to prove so many people wrong by graduating from high school. After awhile I could tell which foster parents were involved to help me and those who wanted the money from the state. The good ones never seemed to last very long. I know I had a lot to do with those moves – I was angry and I showed that anger when I was scared –  and I was always scared.

After attending more placements than I can remember and over five high schools, I was lucky enough to find a temporary placement that lasted over a year, allowing me to finish high school, immerse myself in sports and make some friends. The Roosma’s were an amazing family and taught me how to be vulnerable. They saved my life. I went to counseling and learned to attach to people, to trust people more that I ever had before. I was finally able to feel like I had a forever family. However, just before I graduated, I was told I had to leave and live on my own in an Independent Living Program. It was very lonely living on my own. I had very few life skills, no friends and no family in Lakewood, Colorado. I learned I needed to focus on my resilience to change my life, accept my past so I can give back to other kids who are facing a similar future.

I had to spend some time on my own, some time on the streets to learn what was important to me. Getting a college degree, advocating for other youth in foster care and having the opportunity to belong on a college campus and explore my interests is what I want for myself. It is a reachable dream and I want to take advantage of the resources out there for kids like me; kids helped by the efforts of The Colorado Teen Project. I would never be on this path without their help and persistence. I don’t think The CTP understands the word, ‘NO’ and they are always advocating for me and helping to open doors I thought were closed. I know it is my life path to take my experiences and use them to help others. I am studying Sociology and Sign Language and plan to become an advocate for youth in the system. Through my experiences I can better help kids like me who have been abused, neglected and some who have lost not only their hope, but their voice. I am determined to keep moving forward to transform my life and positively affect the lives of other kids in foster care after completing my undergraduate degree at University of Colorado @ Colorado Springs.”

~ John, age 22