Words, Not Fists – To get my daughter home, I had to change how I fight

I am 51 years old with four children—Adam, 31; Osman, 27; Julio, 17; and Samantha, 10. Samantha came home to me from foster care five months ago.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve struggled with depression and addiction.

My childhood was painful. My mother died when I was 7 years old. One day she went into the hospital, never to come back out. I remember the cops at the door to say that my mother had passed. I was in disbelief.

My mother’s first child, Dorothy, came and took us away from the stepfather that never loved us and that sexually abused my sister. (She even had a child by him.) We were finally free. But not even one year later, Dorothy passed away in the house with us.

There were no next of kin that could take us. My sisters and I were put in foster care. Life was not the way I thought it would be.

Fighting for Life

My childhood taught me that I had to be tough. I never talked about seeing my sister being sexually abused by my stepfather. I felt that no one would believe me. I learned to fight so that older children wouldn’t mess with me. To survive in foster care, I tried to hide my own feelings from myself.

They say that living by your own mistakes is the best way to find your way. But without guidance, you can be leading yourself to disaster.

The Mistake of My Life

Getting married at 19 years old to a man I didn’t love was the biggest mistake of my life.

I finally got the courage to leave with my sons but I had no clue what it would be like to live on my own, with two people that were depending on me. I tried until I couldn’t deal anymore. Then my sister came and took my sons, and I went from guilt into a deep depression. That made me start to use.

I know now that self-medicating is not the way to deal with any situation.

Garbage and Guilt

When my third son, Julio, was born, he went to live with my sister from birth. I went into treatment to give myself a chance at life, and I was clean for 10 years. But my first time in drug treatment, I didn’t get it right. I did not open up fully in treatment because of how I thought people would look at me, especially men. I left treatment still holding on to a lot of garbage and guilt.

Eventually ACS came in to my life and removed my youngest child, Samantha. That was the day that I thought I was going to die right on the spot.

It is said that God has a plan. I am a true believer that that’s true. In the end, losing Samantha to foster care made me take a deep look at myself and deal with the pain I couldn’t seem to stop carrying around.

I Did Not Want Treatment

It was not easy for me to stop using the drugs when Samantha went into foster care. I saw that, to get what I wanted in my life, I had to be clean. I had to learn not to run with hurt and pain. I couldn’t hide from myself any more. But I did not want to go into treatment.

Treatment seems never ending. I also did not like the treatment programs I was referred to. I left two programs. The first one was dirty and disgusting. The second one had a lot of active addicts and couldn’t see myself progressing there.

For 18 months I was visiting Samantha but I was not making progress on my case, and my case planner and I were always arguing. Believe me, we had clashes. Some people can be angry and not show it, but I’m not one of those people. The workers were not trying to accept that attitude from me. My worker would say to me, “We can end this visit!” I even felt that the workers wanted me to overreact so they could write it down in a report.

Not Coming Across the Right Way

As much as I felt like my caseworker would not hear that I really did need a different kind of program, I also knew that I was being too aggressive when I tried to talk to her and it was not coming across the right way.

Finally I spoke to the parent advocate, Peggy Gibbs. She took me to the side and we started talking about what was going on. Peggy told me, “Listen, I’m sending you to Greenhope.” When I went there, I realized that was just what I needed.

Greenhope is an all-women’s program. As it turns out, I needed a place where I could spill my guts without a guy trying to judge me, date me, or distract me from what I needed to do for me. (When you’re in a program and you’re around men, they know you’re vulnerable.) There were some women there that didn’t like me because I was still being very aggressive. But it felt like a safe place for me to really work on myself.

My Pain Went All the Way Back

It was a battle within a battle trying to hold on to my sanity while I opened up a Pandora’s box and let everything out that I’d kept in for so long. My therapist was the one who helped me be free with it. I was able to just spit it all out, and cry and cry.

My pain went all the way back. I would tell her how I hated my stepfather, and I had to get over the fact that he was a sick individual. That was not easy. Every time I would even read something about rape, I would throw up. When I thought about my past, I could not breathe.

Using My Brains and My Mouth

Greenhope also helped me with my anger. There was a group called “How Not to React.” Someone would act like a worker telling you, “You’re not going to get your child back.” We would role play. Not reacting is hard for me, but I was able to learn to simply respond, “You’re are not the judge.” It helped me stay calm to remember that the worker is not the judge, and they don’t make the decision, no matter what they write down on paper.

To get my daughter home from foster care, I had to learn how to not use my hands to fight. I needed to use my brains and my mouth to get my point across.

My Words Finally Had Power

Still, my relationship with my worker did not improve. She didn’t seem to believe that I was going to my program and complying with the agency.

Ms. Gibbs suggested that I go to the ACS Office of Advocacy, which helps parents and youth in foster care with their cases. I brought all of my paperwork with me. They did an investigation, and a new worker was put on my case.

My new supervisor tried to get me to see that things could be different—and she was right. I got unsupervised visits, then overnights and then weekends. Still, I didn’t see Samantha coming home to me. It seemed unbelievable. My case had seemed never-ending.

But finally, within 10 months of starting with my new caseworker, the moment I had worked really hard for actually happened. On October 10, 2015, by the grace of God, Samantha returned home.

For me, what made the biggest difference was being believed. Unlike when I was a child, I could speak up, and my words finally had power. Everything was starting to come together in my life without me putting my hands on anyone.

Doing the Right Thing

It’s a lot of hard work to continue with in my life. Everything is not easy. But the person that I am—who I have become—is much improved. I no longer have the blinders of addiction on. I am not overwhelmed by depression. I have learned to see things through other people’s eyes, not just my own. I’ve learned to fight with words.

Now, no matter what comes in my way, I feel that I can overcome it in the right manner.

Just the other day, my apartment flooded. My bathroom started flooding and then finally the bedrooms and the living room flooded and everything was messed up. In the past I would have been overwhelmed but I see myself in a happy place. I just told myself, “Thank God it’s not a fire.” I was able to stay calm.

New Year’s of 2015 was one of my life. I had Adam, Osman, Julio and Samantha all together. In 17 years, we hadn’t all celebrated a holiday all together. I don’t think anyone can truly know how good it feels to me to be doing the right thing.

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