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Bum-Rushed by the Past
Not dealing with my anger and anxiety is no longer an option

This is the story of a girl born in the projects, neglected by her parents and tormented by memories of families she’s no longer a part of. It’s about how I spent six years in foster care and got adopted. It’s not an easy story to tell. It leaves me feeling weak. But it’s a story that I must tell so that I can move on.

Here’s me in a nutshell: playful, strong-willed and in control. I’m motivated in school, and voraciously competitive. Well, that’s what people see anyway. Inside it’s quite different. I’m angry, emotional. Mostly I feel weak.

When I was young, I showed my anger. I was a problem child. I tried to stab a girl with a pencil, yelled at the teacher, threw temper tantrums and just walked out of the room. Then I moved. I wanted to change because nobody liked me when I acted like that, so I began to pretend to be a good girl, a happy girl. Now I’ve acted like this fictitious person for so long that I’ve literally forgotten how to be any other way.

But I still have this anger inside. I don’t want to go back to the way I was as a child. I would feel too ashamed, like I was letting myself down. I also feel that if I’m so good at pretending to be someone outside, I should become that person inside. But I can’t. This really ticks me off.

I don’t want to be one person on the outside and a completely different person on the inside. So I am constantly trying to think of ways out of it. First I tried hiding my feelings. That didn’t work. I only ended up with broken spirits and angry thoughts at night.

I also tried burying myself inside work, so as not to be stuck with myself. Inside my head was a mass of confusion and conflict that I didn’t want to deal with, because I knew it would slow my life down.

I was afraid that if I let my “real” self out that I might be sad. I would be giving up the identity that I’d been building up for so long. That might cause new problems. I didn’t know what to do, so I began to write.

It wasn’t hard for me to understand why I have so much anger, shame, and sadness inside. It was just hard for me to open up and let it out.

Growing up in my family, and then in foster care, gave me plenty to be upset about. My brother and sisters and I grew up in chaos. We looked atrocious. Our hair, while always braided, was knotty and full of lint. Our clothes were dirty and unkempt. We yelled at adults for reprimanding us. My sisters would come in at 11 at night without explanation. Multiply that times seven, because that’s how many kids lived in my house. We ranged from 4 to 13 years old.

People walked in and out as they pleased: Neighbors, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, my brother’s “business associates.” My father was never around. My mother seemed depressed and isolated. She barely left the house, or her bedroom. I didn’t know it then but she was using drugs. Maybe that’s why she failed to notice that when I visited family on vacations, my uncle sexually abused me.

The refrigerator was usually filled with air and peanut butter, and welfare checks went to silly items that didn’t last, like donuts and sodas or the occasional doll for us to share. I woke up wondering how I would get something to eat. Would I dare wake my mother to ask her for money? No, it wasn’t worth the beating.

image by Martell Brown

I don’t think that’s a normal thing to worry about at age 6.

I didn’t know what I was feeling back then. I just knew that something wasn’t right. I would act up in school, lash out at my peers, and get in trouble a lot. I got detentions and suspensions, and when that didn’t work the teachers gave up and ignored me. Once an aunt took me to her house for the weekend and I scratched up a man’s car. Through all this, no one once asked me what was wrong.

For as long as I can remember I always wanted a traditional family. I wanted to see a mother’s face that lit up a little when I walked in the room. I wanted to see a proud father looking on as his daughter grew. Instead I saw a mother with a look of pure malice in her eyes, and a father with a face of stone neglect.

When the police came the first time, there was no adult and little food in the house. The police told my sister (who was 13 and babysitting us) that if that didn’t change in 24 hours, they would come and take us. My mother came home and we told her what the police had said. (She didn’t do anything. Surprise, surprise!)

The next day, almost the exact same thing happened, with my mother stuttering out quick replies to save her ass… “Look officer, there’s no food because we just moved here…my furniture hasn’t come in yet… the heat hasn’t been turned on yet.”

“We moved in almost a year ago,” I told the cops.

My first foster family lived in a house with a front and back yard. I wanted so much to be a real part of that family. But there was an invisible wall between us. In that home, my siblings and I were not included in family activities. We were treated, well, like foster children. Complete with our own set of plates and spoons.

In that house, I felt jealous and timid, as if I were beneath the family, as if the abuse I’d endured had left me impure. The way they treated me made me feel like a parasite, a leech sucking up the family’s happiness. Then the mother left, and her daughter, Diane, moved into her house and became our foster mother. Her first act was to make my oldest sister leave.

When Diane took over, I had a feeling that I couldn’t identify—a feeling somewhere in my body that something big had changed. Months later I finally figured it out: it was a sense that my new foster mother was a threat.

At first she turned her anger on other children in the home. But soon I became the target. In the years that followed my foster mother labeled me a liar and a thief. I was rejected and isolated in a way that is indescribable. I was being cursed at and accused of crimes I hadn’t committed. Her attacks left me feeling worthless, and with confidence issues I still face today.

I didn’t want to be there, but I feared that if I spoke up I would be sent someplace worse. So at school and on visits with my mother I would always laugh and happily agree with everyone. I kept an optimistic smile on my face while I was feeling the exact opposite. I wanted to be strong for the other people in my family, and I wanted to be accepted.

image by Martell Brown

But it didn’t matter what I did. There was no love in my foster mother’s heart for me. She didn’t care. Diane decided to put me out of her house. Confused, frightened, and angry, I moved again.

Living with different foster families changed my personality. I am still the smart, friendly and accomplished person that I’ve always been, but over the years I gained something, like my fake perkiness, or lost something, like the gentle quietness I used to have. I thought changing myself was good because it made me OK to the people around me. But that calm is something I can’t get back, and looking back, I’m angry at my “guardians” for allowing me to change.

About four years ago, I moved to a new home and, last year, my new family adopted me. That has been working out best for me. The family is close, religious, and moral. My mother is not the type to sugarcoat things, but she is patient with me and my ideas. If I get in trouble at school, she doesn’t yell or curse at me. She speaks to me, and listens to what I have to say. No other “mother” has done that.

When I thought I’d finally found what I was looking for, I held back. I’d put my heart on my sleeve in my other foster homes and had it ripped out, so I kept my distance, not knowing how genuine their feelings were.

I did some stuff that would have had me out of any other foster home in a heartbeat. I would break curfew, and do things they told me specifically not to do. Surprisingly, they understood my need to vent. That made me like them more.

A few months after I came to live with them, we had a Thanksgiving dinner. Only family had been invited. So I was confused when I found myself sitting next to my foster sister saying prayers. Were they not able to find a babysitter? After a while it began to sink in. They considered me a part of their family. That made me feel what I hadn’t felt in a long time: wanted.

Feeling loved has given me a sense of security. That’s allowed me to look back at the past. I’ve figured out that what I thought was normal in my other homes was actually abuse. I’ve realized that the way I was treated made me feel intense anger, frustration, and fear of the world. Now that the abuse is over, I feel like I should be able to get over those feelings.

Yet I get the feeling sometimes that I’ve reached an invisible barrier, and that no matter how hard I try I cannot break it alone. How can I win the battle against fear and anger and move on to the next stage in my life?

This past year my emotions have been a roller coaster. In one day my feelings range from boredom to anxiety to anger to feeling like I’m going to cry. I think that’s because I have my past on my mind all the time now. It’s probably also because, this winter, my biological mom died. I wish I could’ve asked her why our lives had to be that way. Now I’ll never get the chance.

My new awakening to the feelings and memories of my past is uncomfortable and makes it hard for me to concentrate in school. My grades show that. But the worst thing is that I’ve been having flashbacks and panic attacks. That’s frightening.

When I panic, my head feels like it’s going to burst open, I can’t stop crying, I flashback and I shake, and I can’t get warm. I don’t know what to do but let it happen.

image by Martell Brown

When the panic attacks started a few months ago, I would shut myself up in my room and go through it alone. I was afraid to explain what I was going through because I didn’t want to be seen as crazy.

Then, one Saturday not long ago, I went over to a friend’s house. She and I had plans, but at the eleventh hour her mother suggested shopping. As 16-year-old girls we jumped at the chance. Her mother offered to give her daughter and niece $20 and me $10. I felt excluded. The headache started. Just around my eyes.

In a cab to the mall, her niece began making comments about the smell in the car. I felt those comments were directed at me because the sexual abuse I endured left me feeling polluted, like my body was full of a contaminating poison. The headache got worse.

At the mall I couldn’t find anything in my price range, so my friend’s mother abruptly asked for her money back. I felt insignificant. I became dizzy. As we roamed around, her son began kicking and hitting me. I could not return the favor because he was only 2. Now I was feeling anxious.

We found another cab home, and her niece began a song, “When you wake up in the mornin’ gotta wash.” The 2-year-old began rubbing my face with his dirty, sticky hands. I told him to stop. His mother also told him to stop. Then she asked me what he was doing. I told her he was touching my face and his mother said I shouldn’t mind because my face was already dirty. Then I couldn’t see straight.

I had to go. Now. So when the cab reached her house, I told my friend I had to leave and went home. As soon as I got into my bedroom I began to sob. Soon that turned into heart wrenching crying. My body began to shake, my head throbbed, I was having trouble breathing, my chest was getting tighter, and I felt as if I were going to pass out at any moment. I was panicking.

I didn’t know what to do. But this time I did know I couldn’t go through it alone. I began to call people that I thought could help. First I tried calling the friend I had just left. Her mother picked up. No help.

Then I tried another friend. She wasn’t home. Finally, with hesitations, I called my mother. She became angry, saying, “I can’t do anything for you. What do you expect, I’m at work!” We hung up. I called back crying but she got angry and said I was talking nonsense. She hung up.

I called another friend. She was baffled. Then my mother called back, telling me, “Lay down. Relax and try to lie down.” I tried. For about two hours I shook and cried, went hot and cold. My mind felt as if it wanted to drift into an abyss but my body couldn’t relax.

I called my mother and finally she told me to come to her job. Half an hour later I was there. My mother immediately began telling me that bottling up all my feelings resulted in these panic attacks. “You need to let all your feelings out. By bottling it in, it’s eating you away like a cancer,” she said.

That panic attack lasted three petrifying hours. But this time was different. I had called my mother and asked her for help. Although she seemed a bit overwhelmed, in the end she came through completely. She understood that it feels like I’m being bum-rushed with feelings I never knew I had.

My mother has also put me in therapy. I hope it will help. Dealing with all this anger and anxiety has had its consequences. But not dealing is not an option anymore. This is the story of my past, but I want to write the story of my future.

For help dealing with sexual abuse or to find the nearest rape crisis center, call 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit

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