Steps in My Shoes
Read an Excerpt
Steps in My Shoes
First Five Years
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I went into the foster care system with my oldest biological sister because we were severely neglected. I did not learn the specifics, but it was bad enough to be covered on the news in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I went to my first foster home when I was between two and three years old. My sister who I went into foster care with is two years younger than I am, so this move did not affect her in the same way. Our first foster home was meant to be a temporary placement for my sister and I until we went back to our biological family or got adopted.
Being removed from my biological family had a negative impact on my behavior. I had built strong bonds with some members of my biological family, so losing them caused me great pain that manifested itself in the form of anger. One member of my biological family I had strong bonds with was my maternal grandfather. He would give me a lot of attention and I would get very upset anytime he left. The manner I expressed my anger about being separated from my family were not acceptable. This resulted in punishment for me; I was made to stand in the corner.
My biological sister and I moved into our first adoptive home about a year after entering the foster care system. Our parents had their rights terminated and this was a closed adoption, so there was no further contact with our biological family after leaving our first foster home. Our first adoptive parents were amazing people who had their own biological daughter who was older than I was. The anger I developed within the last year intensified further and I became violent towards both of my sisters. My first adoptive parents tried their best to help me control my anger, but it was too intense for them to handle without professional help. My first adoptive parents tried many different strategies to help me improve before they resorted to professional help.
One of the main ways my first adoptive parents tried to help me manage my behavior was to provide incentives for good behavior and charting the progress to a reward. The incentives did not work as intended because I was not interested in the rewards, so I saw no reason to improve my behavior. I was also discouraged when I saw how much progress my sisters had made toward their reward compared to me. My first adoptive parents also tried improving my behavior by putting me on timeouts and having me take out my anger on a pillow.
I sometimes threatened to run away when I got angry, so my first adoptive parents would pack up my clothes in brown paper bags and set them on the front porch so I could leave if I wanted. I would take the bags of clothes down to the end of the driveway and stop there because I did not know where to go. I stood by the mailbox and got embarrassed which fed my anger further, so it took a while for me to calm down. I would eventually take my bags of clothes back to the house when I realized there was nowhere to run away to and my anger subsided.
I have had people suggest my first adoptive parents wanted my sister and not me. I don't think they would have tried so many ways to help me improve if they were trying to get rid of me. Most loving parents would remove a kid from their home if their children were in physical danger and they could not fix the source. I grew up thinking I would never give up on my children no matter how badly they acted because I did not understand the situation from a parent's point of view. My first adoptive parents decided to have me admitted to Charter Beacon to see if the professionals there could help.
Charter Beacon was a behavioral health facility where staff attempted to help me manage my anger and other issues. The staff were not able to help me much because I did not form bonds of trust with them due to my reactive attachment disorder (RAD). Having RAD meant I was resistant to forming bonds with people and did not trust caretakers to provide for my needs due to the neglect I experienced. My RAD was possibly an adaptation mechanism to protect myself from the possibility of caretakers leaving me. The symptoms of my RAD probably gradually worsened after I was taken from my neglectful biological family, lived with multiple families, and was placed at a facility at a young age. These are all known causes of RAD, so it is not clear if one or a mixture of these factors caused it since the diagnosis is considered between uncommon and extremely rare.
Another characteristic that influenced my behavior was sensory processing sensitivity (SPS). SPS caused me to feel and think deeper than others who are not highly sensitive. It is apparent that anger I felt from my experiences was far worse than other angry children because RAD and SPS are both known to intensify feelings. The staff at Charter Beacon most likely struggled to help me manage the anger amplified by SPS and RAD because my mistrust interfered. They overcame these challenges enough to teach me that violence was not appropriate, no matter how angry I got. I don't know how the staff accomplished this, but I never had anger blackouts, which was when I became violent, after this point. The improvements I made at Charter Beacon were not enough for my first adoptive parents to let me continue staying with them.
I had all my belongings packed in the back of a car and was driven to my second foster home. I did not understand exactly what was going on because the lady driving me was very vague about our destination. I kept looking at my stuff then looking out the window watching the landscape go by. I arrived at my second foster home and that was when I got hit with the reality that this was my new home and I was now separated from my biological sister. I became so angry that I closed my eyes and crawled around the kitchen, banging my head into the cabinet doors. My second foster mom held me and calmly talked to me until I settled down.
My second foster mom tried a new strategy to help me control my behaviors and they worked better than the incentives. She gave me activities such as chores to keep me occupied so I would focus on those tasks instead of my negative feelings. One of the more successful techniques for improving my behavior was running when I got angry. My anger gave me extra energy for running and my anger would weaken as I got tired from running. Giving me the responsibility to feed my pet turtle with worms I found outside also helped me not to focus on my negative feelings.
I had three teenage foster sisters at my second foster family and I looked up to them as role models. My foster sisters had been through a lot over the years before coming to this foster home and were well-adjusted, so they were good examples for me. My foster sisters gave me attention and there was a bond we shared of having passed through similar circumstances, which helped me feel a sense of belonging. This was not meant to be a permanent placement, which was unfortunate because I had improved my behavior while I lived there. One of my foster sisters had a bigger influence on me because she talked to me the most and she inadvertently influenced me through her desire to never be adopted again. I wanted to do the same, so I could be like her even though I did not understand yet that her being a teenager made her situation different from mine.CHAPTER 2
Second Adoptive Home
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My second adoptive mom had her hands full as a single mother with five children each with their own issues from traumatic pasts. My second adoptive mom worked as a physical therapist, so she could afford sending us to private school. She spent a lot of her time outside of work, dealing with our behavior problems with little to no progress to show for it. I had an older adoptive sister, two adoptive brothers from Texas, and one adoptive brother from Bulgaria. My two brothers from Texas were destructive, threw tantrums that required them to be restrained, and required a lot of our adoptive mom's attention.
I never stopped missing my oldest biological sister and for many years, would cry myself to sleep thinking about her. The only wish I ever had when blowing out candles for my birthdays was to see my sister again even though I knew how unlikely it was to happen. I was only able to visit with my biological sister a couple times after entering my second adoptive home at six years old. One scheduled outing was at a park where we had fun going down the slide together and the other was at a Nutcracker play. My second adoptive mom tried to set up more outings, but my first adoptive parents kept cancelling, so she stopped trying so I would not get my hopes up and be disappointed.
I attended a Catholic private school in Michigan City, Indiana while living with my second adoptive mom. One of my first memories at this school happened in first grade when I was told I needed to go back to kindergarten and I refused to go. The principal and janitor carried me to the kindergarten classroom with me fighting to get free the whole way. Moving back to kindergarten was a common consequence of foster care because kids lose an estimated four to six months of academic progress each time they are moved around. I was angry about being moved back to kindergarten because it was another example of not having control over my own life.
The deeper thinking and feeling I had from SPS helped me get into the heads of people and I used this to my advantage. I used this ability to manipulate people by accurately planning scenarios and conversations beforehand and twisting them to fit my selfish desires. I was too busy focusing on my selfish desires to notice how my actions were affecting the people around me. I felt that my suffering gave me an excuse to use people so I could make myself feel better and in control. I also felt that people owed me for all I had been through even though they had nothing to do with it.
One confusing and seemingly contradictory aspect of RAD is how I avoided making bonds with new people and yet was also clingy. It felt awkward yet natural when I would go from not caring if someone was my friend to trying to be around them as much as I could. This happened because I was protecting myself with apathy before the friendship started and protecting myself from the pain of losing the friendship by devoting a lot of attention to preserve the connection. I did not know how else to soothe my worries of potentially losing this new friendship even when it was apparent that I was probably smothering my new friend with attention. I eventually protected myself by finding an acceptable balance between emotionally distancing myself and strengthening the friendships I already had.
My grandmother at my second adoptive home helped me towards self-improvement even though her methods annoyed me because I thought she was just being mean. She would say things like "Poor trashcan Ronnie" when I complained about stupid stuff. I was trying to get other people to feel sorry for me and she did not put up with that nonsense when she was around. Later, I would repeat these sayings when I started feeling bad for myself. Internalizing these sayings helped me stop whining about my circumstances and putting that effort into further adapting to them instead. I figured out that I did not want the pity of those around me and found the inner strength to deal with challenges instead of using them for excuses to not accomplish my goals.
My intense enjoyment of a popular trading card game consumed my life when I became obsessed with collecting the cards. I stole my entire class' fieldtrip money out of the teacher's desk and spent all of it on these cards. I also used my lunch money to buy these cards and would have tried to steal them if they were not in a glass display. My obsession was so strong that my negative actions felt acceptable even though the cards were just pictures printed on cardboard. I lost my entire collection of trading cards when my second adoptive mom found out I stole the fieldtrip money.
My second adoptive mom would occasionally have a heart-to-heart talk with me to help me understand the negative impact of my behaviors. I had an overwhelming desire to make some self-improvements because of these talks, but the feeling faded when I realized I could not make the changes overnight. I eventually learned a process which helped me make permanent self-improvements after I accepted the fact that positive changes were going to take a lot of effort. My self-improvements were gradual changes that required a lot of determination and commitment. My obsession to continue making self-improvements over the years is one of the only times I have been thankful for how intense my obsessions can be.
The process I used to make long-term improvements started with deciding to become a better person because no one could make that decision for me. This part of the process was helped by the wonderful people I met in my life who I wanted to emulate. I saw how these selfless people had a fulfilling life and I wanted to be like them someday, so I challenged myself to keep working at improving. I had to overcome my stubbornness and the complacency developed from having negative tendencies for so long. One struggle I had with this process was a feeling that change was a bad thing because change had negative connotation in my life so far.
I developed confidence in my ability to make positive changes after I started making small improvements to my behavior. Interestingly, I discovered that these small steps of self-improvement worked together to improve my behavior more than I expected. The confidence I gained from small self- improvements fueled my determination to make further improvements and it became a snowball effect. I learned that no matter how confident I became or how many self-improvements I made, it was never enough because there were always more ways to improve. I did not lose confidence when I repeated the same stupid mistakes because I knew I would keep working at improving despite the setbacks.
I spent a lot of my time after school and during school breaks walking around my neighborhood and thinking. Walking up to houses and asking for work led to me helping with a garden, walking dogs, and mowing a yard for money. One day, I was walking through an elderly lady's yard when I stopped to ask her for work and started getting to know her. She was the kindest and most giving person I had ever known and I improved my behavior to fit in that environment. I was a much better person when I was around the elderly lady and did not want her to learn about all the negative things I was known for.
I never introduced the elderly lady to my family and I never told my second adoptive mom where I spent my time. I was put on probation for incorrigibility when I refused to tell my second adoptive mom where I went all day and refused to follow her directions in general. Being on probation did not stop me from spending time at the elderly lady's house or wandering around when I wanted. My behavior at home did not improve while I was on probation because I was too stubborn to let others see the good person I could be.
I waited until I moved to a new place to implement the self-improvements I had been working on for a while. Being guarded about myself was more important to me than being a better person even though I was secretly working on improving. I got the idea of starting with a blank slate when moving to a new place after I met the elderly lady while living at my second adoptive home. I figured out that I could use this method to implement my self-improvements without the embarrassment of letting other people know I was trying to be a better person. I started at a new school for seventh grade and took the opportunity to start with a blank slate but it did not work as intended.
I succeeded in implementing some self-improvements when I started seventh grade by not starting trouble, listening to teachers, and taking school work seriously. My self-improvements did not help because boys at school started bullying me daily and fighting back got me into trouble instead of them. I fought back against these boys every time and this just encouraged them because I was outnumbered and was not strong enough to beat them. The harassment got worse because the bullies learned they could get a reaction out of me and a group of boys even showed up at my house to harass me. I was stubborn about keeping different parts of my life separate, so I did not get my second adoptive mom involved with the harassment.