“I was a newly single 22-year-old who had decided to take a belly dancing class with one of my girlfriends and her mom. As we were checking out at the front desk of the rec center, I saw a flyer about co-ed volleyball. I had played volleyball in high school. It was a passion of mine, so I was interested in finding out more information. The lady working the desk had an open spot on a team and asked me to come to their next game to try-out. I went to that game and loved playing again. It was there that I met a guy named Mario, who also played on the same team. Mario told me that he played for another co-ed team at the local YMCA and asked me if I wanted to come play with them as well.
I met my ex-husband in a church gym and I was hooked the minute I laid eyes on him. The next 5 years were filled with lots of love, tears, addiction, abandonment, fear, strength, courage, and love. It all sort of fell into motion the day I rolled my ankle. My best friend Anna was there and I managed to hobble over to her, with some help. My ankle was pretty swollen so I knew I needed to get it checked out. Anna took this opportunity to play match-maker by blurting out, ‘Hey A’Jay, why don’t you walk Mandi to the car.’ And so he did. She gets me to the ER and I get a splint and as we’re on our way out we see A’Jay’s sister and her husband, walking out the doors. They said they were trying to see how I was, but they didn’t even know my last name to ask for any information from the front desk. After that night, we spent almost every day together.
Anna and Shavonne knew there was a connection between myself and A’Jay and tried their darndest to get us together. I can’t recall exactly how it all happened, but eventually it did. We moved from just friends into an actual relationship. At this point in my life I was living with my best friend, Anna, her husband and their twins. The five of us eventually moved into a house together and A’Jay and my relationship got a little more serious. October 15, 2009 was the day my life changed. During a Grey’s Anatomy commercial break we were in the garage for a smoke break.
I vaguely remember the conversation we were having, but I vividly remember my best friend Alison looking at me and telling me, ‘I’m going to need you to take a pregnancy test.’ So, we paused the show and went to the store to grab a couple of tests. We all crammed into the bathroom and I pee’d on the stick. I had never been so scared in my life. I was 23 years old, living with roommates. I could not have a baby with someone I had only been dating for a few months. I flipped the test over and just laughed. It was positive. I couldn’t believe it. I was freaking out, but I thought everything would be okay.
One of the first times I knew something wasn’t right was a couple months later on New Year’s Eve. We went out to a friend’s house and since I was pregnant, I was the Designated Driver. My partner drank a whole lot that night and he got really irritable. That night he ended up getting his brother-in-law’s car when we got back home and taking off. This was the beginning of a very long road. I should’ve heeded the red flags, but I waved them off. The following month I was able to get myself into a 1-bedroom apartment and he came to live with me. Valentine’s weekend my sister, her boyfriend, and my nephew came in town to visit. He had just gotten a new car so the three of them decided to go out to a bar and I stayed home with my 1-year-old nephew.
Fast forward to 1:00 A.M. and my phone rings. It’s my sister trying to get into the apartment complex, or so I thought. When I answered the phone, it was a police officer, and my heart sank into my stomach. She started asking me questions about A’Jay, like his name and date of birth. The three of them end up getting arrested that night. The next day, as I am 6 months pregnant and with a 1-year-old, trying to bail them out of jail, I find out that A’Jay can’t be bailed out of jail because he has a warrant for his arrest in New Mexico and he is going to be extradited. My heart is broken. My mind is blown. My world is crushed. I have no idea what I’m going to do. I didn’t tell anyone outside of family and a couple of friends what was really going on. I kept up a façade so that I didn’t have to explain anything.
The next few months were full of loneliness and lots of tears. In May 2010 his court date came, and my friend Anna drove with me and his mom to New Mexico for the hearing. The judge released him that day, but he couldn’t come home to Texas for a couple more weeks. Just in time for the birth of our son, Kayden, on June 28, 2010. This was one of the happiest days of my life. He was beautiful and perfect, and I thought the answer to all of the struggles we’d endured up to this point. However, after Kayden was born it seemed like the addictive behavior got worse. The next year was full of sleepless nights with keys and wallets hidden underneath my pillow. Still, I stayed and on April 2, 2011 we were married.
April 8, 2011 is another day I will never forget. This night we were having some drinks with family and he ends up getting my keys, jumping in my car and taking off. His sister and I jump in her car and follow him to a gas station. I walk up to the car and grab my wallet from him through the window and that sets him off, so he takes off from the gas station onto the highway. We follow behind him and see the cars are all at a complete stop due to road construction, but we see no brake lights from him. He ends up ramming into the back of a car full of six people. His hip is shattered, and he has to have surgery. We get through the surgery and the next couple of months of recovery and I’m praying that things get better. However, the next year is full of the same thing – sleepless nights and hidden keys and wallets. Still, I stayed.
The following January I ended up with a bad stomach bug in the ER, only to find out that I’m also pregnant. Another boy. Our sweet Kameron was born September 10, 2012. The next 2 years are probably the most stressful. Every week it seemed like I was having to get cash out to pay off some drug debt, which in most cases was just a gimmick to get more pills. Countless nights with no sleep and stomach in knots. Countless days of him being MIA. Broken promise after broken promise. In 2014 we decided to move to West Texas where my family lives. We thought maybe a change of scenery would do some good. And it did for a little bit, but the hold addiction has is so strong. Alcohol was a gateway for him, but he wouldn’t stay away from it and always said, ‘I have it under control.’
We weren’t able to run from the addiction. It followed us here. Ultimately, addiction won out. I wasn’t the perfect wife or the perfect mother, but I stuck by and took care of our family while also dealing with the stresses of addiction. Addiction isn’t something that just affects the addict. Addiction is something that an entire family endures. After 5 years, enough was enough. After a three day binge, he came home and I told him that he needed to choose. He could go to rehab and get sober or he needed to leave. That day he chose to leave. June 5, 2015 is the day our lives forever changed. Addiction had taken over our family and it was heart-wrenching. While it was probably one of the saddest days of my life, it was also the beginning of a beautiful journey of self-discovery and strength. They say you can’t love someone out of addiction, and that is so true. I loved that man so much. Over the next year I struggled with my decision to break up our family, but I knew that I couldn’t continue down the road we were on. He tried multiple rehabs, but he relapsed each time.
I was now a single parent, and it was tough. I was feeling emotions that I couldn’t control or understand, but I also had two boys who were confused, and feeling those same emotions at such a young age. For the next 2 or 3 years, there were a lot of tears shed. They didn’t understand why their dad was gone. He would call every now and then, and was consistent for a few weeks, but then all contact would stop. To this day, he still reaches out every now and then, but he hasn’t been active in their lives since 2016. We grew together, we survived together, and more importantly, we overcame together. Addiction is what broke our family, but it didn’t break us. We are stronger today than we have ever been, and our story isn’t even close to being over.
Fostering is something that I had thought about for years. I always knew there were kids out there going through really hard times, and I just wanted to help somehow. I knew what my boys and I had experienced, and I thought that maybe we could help others overcome their circumstances as well. I was a single mom of two boys, doing it 100% on my own. Why in the world would I even consider being a foster parent? It wouldn’t only affect me, so I had to make sure it was right. We talked about it a lot and I told them what we might experience if we went down this road. Lord bless them, their hearts are so big and they were 100% on board. Our entire world would be turned upside down and completely changed. I prayed hard and often, and I just kept feeling a tug to jump in. My family thought I was crazy.
I went to an informational meeting in October 2018 and started training in November 2018. I officially became a licensed foster parent in February 2019. I was so scared. The idea of fostering was no longer just an idea…it was becoming a reality. The first call I got sent my heart racing. How would I make a decision? What questions should I ask to help me make that decision? What if it doesn’t work out and I become just another person who let these kids down? I was overwhelmed. I started second guessing myself. I started letting those thoughts of being unworthy or not good enough take over my mind and my heart. But in March 2019, we went from a family of three, to a family of five, overnight. I went from having two boys to having four. This was our very first placement, as well as theirs. Neither of us knew what to expect from each other. They were scared. I was scared. But the first night went well.
It was an emotional and trying 9 months. There were tantrums and fights and some sleepless nights. For 9 months, all of our lives were intertwined. They are a part of our story forevermore, and we are a part of theirs. Reunification is ultimately the end goal for every foster situation, as long as it’s in the best interest of the kids. On December 21,2019 these boys were reunited with their family. We celebrated Christmas a week early and they left at 5 a.m. one morning and we never saw them again. We kept in contact for a little bit after they left and it was nice to hear how well they were doing. Saying goodbye to them was one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do. We all cried a lot and for a few days, it was weird being just the three of us. That placement took a lot out of me. I told my agency that I wanted a break to recharge. I think back now at the timing of everything that transpired next, and it makes me laugh.
I got a break for a couple of days but then calls came in for placements. I almost said yes to one, but in the end, it didn’t feel right so I ended up saying no. Had I not said no to that placement, the next call I got would’ve changed our future dramatically. Mid-January I received a call about a 14-year-old boy. Initially I was like, ‘No way, I am not even close to prepared for a teenager.’ They checked in a couple more times and said he really needed to leave the home he was in. I talked to some friends and family about it and we ended up doing a weekend visit to see how everything would go.
We fell in love instantly and knew he was ours. That said, if you would’ve told me 2.5 years ago when I started this foster journey that I would be adopting a teenager, I would’ve laughed and said, ‘Yeah, OK!’ I wasn’t equipped for a teenager. Some days I’m still not, but I am so glad I said YES. February 26, 2020 is the day our family became whole. He walked into this house and we were forever changed.
Anytime a social or case worker would call and ask how we are doing and if I still want to adopt, I would always say, ‘If we can survive a quarantine together, we can survive anything.’ A year later we are still learning each other, still adjusting and still adapting. We take this journey one day at a time and there are days we fail completely. But we both get up, we talk about it and we grow. That’s how we make this work.
I’ve seen this kid change, grow, and mature so much in the last year. He’s still got some growing to do, but given everything he’s been through, the fact that he is where he is today is amazing. I didn’t birth him. I didn’t name him. I didn’t raise him. But I’m his mom. I can’t imagine our lives without him. Forever Bookers – May 21, 2021. This is our story of addiction to adoption, and how we are overcoming, and using our story to push forward and hopefully inspire hope.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Mandi Booker from Texas. You can follow her journey on Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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