FCYU134 cover image See all stories from issue #134, Fall 2018

How I Stopped Fighting
First, I figured out why I was angry

My mom and three of her boyfriends abused me from age 5 or 6 until I was 12 and went into foster care. Growing up, I always heard my mom and her boyfriends yelling and fighting, and it seemed like that’s how people solved problems.

Still, it was embarrassing that the neighbors could hear our business. I felt there was never a quiet place where I could go. I used to hang out in the library until it closed for the day; that was the only place I could get peace of mind.

Then, when I started school, the other kids bullied me. They didn’t even give me a chance to show them what kind of person I was before being mean and calling me names. The kids, who were mostly black and Hispanic, called me “ugly,” “white cracker,” and “anorexic.” They put gum in my hair and pushed me. I was scared because these kids were much bigger and older than me. It seemed too cruel that 5th graders would pick on a 1st grader.

I wished I was bigger or had super strength and could beat them up so they would never mess with me or anyone else again. The anger from home and the bullies I faced at school was building up so much that sometimes I felt that I would spontaneously combust. I told my teachers about the bullying, but as far as I could tell, they did nothing. The teachers said they’d “take care of the kids,” but those kids still bothered me. I did not want to tell my mom because I didn’t think she cared. She had her own problems, and I was pretty sure she would complain about having to come to my school for nonsense.

I grew angry at the world because I felt that life was not fair. “Why me?” I asked myself, and sometimes I wished on stars for a different life. I wanted a life with less stress, yelling, anger, hurt, disappointment, and physical abuse. I also wanted a life with more money; my mother often complained that she didn’t have enough food in the house or money to buy toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and hygiene products. (Yet my sister and I had clothes and toys to play with and my mother was able to support her drug habit.)

I felt that I couldn’t depend on anyone. My father told me over the phone several times a month that I was going to live with him and that things would be better soon. I believed him until I was 15, when I met him for the first time. He didn’t have a stable place of his own and was in and out of jail. I knew I couldn’t go with him because he didn’t have himself together. Other people in my life—friends and other family members—also made promises that they couldn’t keep.

Eventually I just gave up on everyone. I isolated myself from the world, and it made me cold-hearted and angry. I was sick of the teachers saying they would take care of my bullies and doing nothing. I was sick of my mother telling me when she was sober that things were going to get better, then getting high and screaming at me.

Weight Lifted Off Me

One day, when I was in the 1st grade, one of the kids from the group that always picked on me pushed me too far. I was hanging spring decorations up on the bulletin board with a stapler when a kid ripped my art down. He then tried to intimidate me by getting close to me and saying “What?” in a deep voice.

I felt the temperature in my body rise. As he was walking away, I ran behind him quietly, stapled the lower part of his bicep, and tripped him from behind. Then I got on top of him and started stapling his face. I was not thinking at the time; all I knew was how angry he and his friends made me. My mind was blank.

When my teacher pulled me off him, I came back to my senses. I felt like a monster when I saw what I had done to that kid’s face. I felt sorry for him. But I also felt better because I got most of my anger out.

After that, I got moved to a special education school. I got into fights a lot because many kids tried to pick on me and I had decided to defend myself. It felt good to fight. All the anger I held in from my home and school came out when I fought. I didn’t care if I won or lost; fighting still felt good. When I fought I felt weight lift off me.

Sometimes when a kid from school made a smart comment I would make it into a bigger deal just so I could fight. I didn’t feel sorry for anyone I fought, especially when I felt they had it coming, like bullies who picked on kids smaller than them or girls who talked about me behind my back. I didn’t care about anyone or anything anymore.

Worse in Care

Then, when I was 12, I went into care. My anger got worse. I moved around a lot from placement to placement and school to school. It was hard being the new kid: That is when people start with you and try to intimidate you the most.

I mostly hung out with boys. I only had one female friend, Nina. We were different from other girls—random and weird—so we got along perfectly. When I was 13 we became best friends and I was calm for a while because I had someone to talk to and laugh with. She was like a sister to me. But after two years, she moved away to a different state and I never saw her again. That made me hurt and depressed. I stopped trying to make friends—I felt I was going to lose them anyway, so why bother.

After Nina left, there was no one I could talk to, so I never talked about my life or my anger because I didn’t trust anyone. By the time I was 15, I had been admitted to psychiatric hospitals seven times for things like fighting, cutting, AWOLing, and refusing to take my meds.

I had been diagnosed with ADHD when I was 7. Then, when I was 15 I was told I had depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. I disagreed with the doctors: I was not hearing voices or seeing things. All the medication that doctors put me on only made me angrier or more depressed. I had horrible side effects like bed-wetting, increased appetite, weight gain, headaches, dizziness, dry mouth, locked jaw, and hallucinations. This made me angry, too.


When I was 16½, I got arrested for the first time. It was my first day at a new high school. I was walking down the hallway, and a big girl smacked my books out of my hands. I was furious because she was trying to belittle me in front of people.

She walked away with a smile on her face, and I shouted, “You better come back here and pick these books up before I make you swallow them!” She turned around and said, “I know you’re not talking to me like that!”

I said, “Are you so stupid you forgot what you just did?” She ran up to me and shoved me against my locker. She said, “You think you so tough? Meet me after school.”

“Why wait?” I said. Then I took her by her hair and slammed her face into the locker. We started fighting, and the last thing I remember before I blacked out was kicking her in the stomach while she gasped for air.

When I woke up from my blackout the gym teacher was pulling me off her. She sent me to the principal’s office and I saw that the police were there.

“I didn’t start it,” I said, scared. The girl and I had different stories so the principal and the police checked the security cameras to see what really happened. My stomach was in knots. I didn’t want to go to jail, but I held back my tears because I did not want to show weakness. The police put me in handcuffs. They took the other girl to the hospital because she said she was dizzy and couldn’t breathe. The police were going to arrest her too, but they wanted to make sure she was all right first.

Waking Up From Hazy Hatred

image by YC-Art Dept

The police officer who cuffed me asked if I wanted to go to the hospital. I said, “No, I’m good.” I sat in the precinct handcuffed to a desk, wishing I hadn’t been so tough and had just told a teacher about my books being smacked. Instead, I’d stooped to her level.

The precinct was cold and smelly, and the cops were rude to me. “Well, this is it,” I thought. “I’m going to jail.” An hour after my arrival at the precinct, my caseworker came to pick me up. I was confused. I had been mean to her and called her all types of names when she first became my caseworker. Yet she came to my rescue.

I gave her a big hug with tears in my eyes. She drove me back to my foster mother’s house. I didn’t know why she came to get me, but I was grateful that she did. After that incident, I started being more respectful to her. I slowly woke up from my hazy hatred against the world. I started listening more and not letting my anger get the best of me, because I didn’t want to go to jail.

Facing consequences for my actions helped me learn to control my anger over the years. Going to the precinct was one example, and another was caseworkers sending me to the psych ward when I refused to take my meds or went AWOL after a fight.

Another helpful thing was the bullsh-t game, which my guidance counselor taught me in junior high. The object of the game is to say everything that you want to a person who makes you angry inside your head instead of verbally. I preferred saying things out loud, but I didn’t want to go to jail.

I am 19 now, and I control my anger better than I ever have before. I still get angry about gossip and rude comments, but I have taught myself that I am better than that. Nobody is going to pull me out of character and get the reaction they want. I ignore ignorant people who want to cause drama or try to get under my skin. I play the bullsh-t game.

Since the 1st grade, when kids bullied me, I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I felt nobody liked or understood me because the abuse by my mother and her boyfriends made me feel like the whole world was against me. I’ve changed my attitude from angry to more calm and I’m happier. I’m more socially accepted now that I’m less aggressive. I have more friends than I did before, and that makes me happy. I don’t want to present myself as a thug or a hood rat; I’d rather be a lady.

I still feel out of place sometimes, and I’m still trying to figure out where I belong. I’m graduating high school soon, and I don’t know what I’m going to do afterward. But whatever I do, I know that I’ll be better off calm, educated, well-mannered, and with better coping mechanisms.

Talking to Teens About Their Anger

The writer of this story first explains why she fights so much, then how she stops. Both are useful aspects to explore with your teens, especially if they get in fights.

Why is this writer so angry that it feels like a release to fight?

• She is abused at home.

• She is bullied at school.

• Adults, especially her mother, let her down continuously.

• She loses her only friend.

• She is diagnosed with various illnesses and given medication with bad side effects.

What other emotions do you think she is feeling, besides anger?

• Sadness, loneliness, hurt, fear, and confusion.

Why does anger become the only feeling she expresses at school?

• When she expresses her anger through fighting, other kids back off and it makes her feel stronger and more powerful.

• Showing her other emotions (that she’s sad, lonely, hurt, afraid or confused) to her peers would make her more vulnerable, and she doesn’t have a safe person, like a trusted adult or caring friend, to express those feelings to.

What things help her feel more calm and stop fighting?

• She makes a friend she can talk to and laugh with.

• She is arrested and gets scared.

• A social worker surprises her by showing she cares, and she wants to preserve that relationship.

• The “bullsh-t game”: Say your angry words silently, not out loud.

• She chooses to behave in a way she finds more appealing: lady, not hood rat. Being calmer makes people like her more, so there’s less cause for fights.

Can you name a few things from your life that contribute to anger—not the immediate trigger of a fight, but longstanding things that frustrate you because they’re unfair or mean? What helps you feel more calm or in control? Are there any strategies you haven’t tried that you would like to try?