If there is anything my life has taught me, it’s that words have the power to not only shape who we are but affect the course of our lives. My childhood was riddled with people telling me who I was likely to become. My mother told me I would be just like my father; my aunt told me I would be just like my mother; my cousins told me no one wanted me; my dad never stuck around long enough to tell me who I would be. By the time I moved into my foster home, I was already pretty lost and desolate, but I was still young enough to undo some of the damage caused by all the other people in my life. However, my foster parents stuck to the pattern, and I was once again met with harsh words and critiques by people who didn’t care enough to see the pain they were causing or who I might actually be underneath what they were seeing. 

Seven years of healing and searching have brought me to a place where I no longer let the words of others affect me. I know now that other peoples’ actions have little to do with me and everything to do with them, but that doesn’t change who I became all those years ago. Knowing who I truly am took time, patience, and rumination on the words of the people from my past, and what I’ve found is that it all further solidifies the fact that I have always been good. They were assigning labels of behavior to my person. Labels belong on packaging, not people. I am a perfect example of what happens when you tell a child they are rebellious instead of telling them they are acting rebellious. Confronting the behavior and not the identity of a child will save their life. It would have saved mine.

This Is Not Who You Are

I held certain beliefs about myself, not entirely at the fault of other people, but mostly. These beliefs heavily influenced the decisions I made. 

My foster parents constantly told me that I would be just like a foster child they had years before, Melissa. They described her as rebellious and worse. From the moment I set my bags down in their home, they had already decided who I would be. Eventually, I got tired of trying to show them that I wasn’t like that, so I gave in. I stopped giving excuses for my behavior, I stopped talking, I stopped caring if I fit in anymore. I put my headphones in and spent four years staring out of whatever window was closest to me. If instead they had taken my hand and said, “You are more than the decisions you make,” our lives would have been easier and there might have been love there. I needed guidance, just like any thirteen-year-old does, and instead of meeting me where I was, they brushed me off and fit me in a box they had already labeled. So, I did what I wanted and offered no explanations because there was no point. I lied, I picked fights, I skipped school, I snuck out with boys, I started doing drugs. I became who they said I would be. 

You Are Not Hard To Love

I have always felt like a burden. It seemed as if anytime I made a mistake, I would be kicked out of a house and moved to the next. I faced the silent treatment, a cold shoulder, a grown woman rolling her eyes more times than I care to count; I was denied anything I asked for (i.e. a snack, school events, a call to my friends, sports, work, etc.) whenever I had done something they didn’t approve of. I believed that love centered around conditions, and at the first sign of trouble, it disappeared. I believed that love had to be earned, and as much as I made mistakes, it’s no surprise that I started to believe that I was unlovable. If, instead of cold shoulders and eye rolls, they had communicated and responded proportionately, I might have found the true definition of love. Love, in its purest form, is not earned. If love is earned, that means it can be taken away, and that is not a characteristic of love. 

Don’t Talk To Her Like That

When I first moved into my foster home, I experienced animosity from the other kids. Two disagreements, in particular, set the tone for what my time there came to be. 

The first was a silly argument that turned serious when the boy I was arguing with told me that nobody wanted me there. Those words hurt because I had heard them before. He said it in front of the entire family and everyone stayed silent as I tried to hide my tears, my place in the pecking order confirmed. 

The second was a dispute over chores. I had done my half, but the oldest girl hadn’t. Nevertheless, we both got in trouble for it. We argued while cleaning, and she poured baby powder all over me. When I went and told my foster mom what had happened, she went and helped the other girl clean while they talked it out and I waited at the table. A little while later, my foster mom came out and said that she learned a lot about me by talking to the other girl. She was told that I talked back and rolled my eyes behind their backs. None of it was true, but my foster mother never gave me the chance to explain. That’s how it always went. The kids in our house were allowed to speak to me, however, and I just had to take it. I became guarded, cruel, and bitter. I spent five years of my life being tormented, during which if I stood up for myself–if I retaliated–I was the one punished. What would my life look like now if someone protected me? 

The life I have lived has made me into the person I am. I am strong and I stand up for people. I am not afraid of confrontation, and I will hold anyone accountable for their actions. I am independent, which can reach an unhealthy level at times, but not having to rely on people has saved me from a lot of heartaches. I love who I am, but I do not love how I got here. People require patience and compassion, and I pray that you do not get caught up in the behavior and forget the person beneath it. Odds are, the person you’re talking to needs it too.