‘I’m just going to the doctor.’ Dad never came back. I became the main caretaker at 9.’: Abandoned daughter makes it through foster care, ‘You have to turn pain into purpose’

“My story began like many I came into the world screaming on the top of my lungs. It’s the first time my voice was used, many times I was told to silence myself. Now I have learned the power of my voice, and just like a crying baby I cannot be silenced.

Courtesy of Brandi Morris

I grew up in a three-bedroom home in New Jersey, right over the bridge from Philadelphia. To outsiders, my life probably looked rather normal. At age five, my father left my mom, brother, and me. I can vividly remember that day. He drove his 1990 pickup truck over to our house and parked it on the curb. As he pulled my pink princess chair out of the back of his truck he said, ‘I’ll be back, I’m going to the doctor.’ How odd he’s dropping off my belongings just to go to the doctor. He never came back.

My mother went into a spiral soon after he left; my grandparents ended up taking my brother and me, while my mother went to rehab. I remember visiting her, she looked so healthy. My mother had an artistic touch, she built a beautiful bird house for us. The sobriety coins that she received, I still have holding a special spot in my jewelry box.

One day the DYFS (Department of Youth Family Services) showed up to take my brother and me away from my grandparents, I was very confused. I didn’t understand why we were leaving or where we were going. After an hour drive and a physical exam at the hospital we arrived at B and M’s home. B and M was a loving christian family. There were two children already in the home, one boy and one girl. The boys had their own room with bunk beds. The girls had two twin beds in another room.

Courtesy of Brandi Morris

The first night is always the hardest, I tried to sleep in the same room as my brother, but they didn’t allow me to. The bed I slept in that night was the coldest I’ve ever been. Imagine being stuck in a snowstorm, your clothes are stripped, constantly trying to warm yourself, no matter how much you try your soul feels empty and cold. There was no comfort that night. B and M loved us very well, B was the first healthy father figure in my life.

We went back into my mothers care on a fall evening in October. My mother was pregnant, though we didn’t find out until Christmas. My mother asked us to put a hand on her tummy and told us SHE WAS PREGNANT, later to find out with my littler sister. My dream came true. The sweet bundle of joy was born in March, to this day she’s the greatest gift I have been given.

Courtesy of Brandi Morris

Time went on and things began to take a turn for the worse. My mom worked a mile away at the local Ihop, when she worked I took care of the baby.  Starting at 9 years old I was the main caretaker for my sister and to be honest my brother too. I figured out how to cook; ramen was my favorite meal to cook – not too hard. One evening my brother found her marijuana, at that time I had no idea what drugs were. I thought we flushed it down the toilet, I’m not sure what my brother did with it. My mom came home and became flustered, she yelled at us questioning ‘Where is it? This is how I deal with you children.’ As I write, I’m 25 and that statement still brings tears to my eyes.

Finally, at age 11 I had enough and marched to the counselors office. I was too afraid of what my sister was living through when I was at school. That day DYFS came to our home and took us away for the final time.

My sister stayed with me, but due to the age/gender gap between my brother and sister he was separated. The foster home we went to was actually right across the street from a family member. I can’t say this foster home was as good as the first. The foster mom had two girls already in a two bedroom apartment that she had adopted. Our bedroom had a bunk bed and twin bed. As per usual, my sister and I shared the bottom bunk. The one daughter was a few years older than me we’ll call her J, the other daughter T was my age. One time the foster daughter T had an episode and hit my sister with an elmo doll that spoke. I walked into the room to see her winding her arm back and hitting her across the head. I was furious, how can a 12 year old hurt a 3 year old? I digress, I will spare the details.

Courtesy of Brandi Morris

The day my world stopped turning, it was a summer Saturday when my caseworker came to get my sister and me. We pull up to the DYFS building and my entire family is there. I knew something wasn’t right. My aunts and uncles all took their seats in a circle, it seemed as though my grandmother’s voice echoed a bit more than normal as the world, ‘you know your mother is sick.’ At that point, I knew my mother was dead.

The state moved me across the country to live with my father in Arkansas. I felt the state failed me, my father had a history of alcoholism and abuse, why would they send me to him?

Courtesy of Brandi Morris

On Saturdays he spent time at the bar, sometimes at his biker clubhouse. One day he didn’t come home. Walking into the morgue of the hospital, we were required to identify my father’s body. Again the coldest I had felt in my life had come back, my stepmother screamed on the top of her lungs and dropped to her knees as the employee took back the white sheet. After the death of my father I lived with my stepmother for some time, then moved in with my best friends’ family during my senior year of high school.

As I was writing I realized ten years ago I became an orphan. My life changed for the better once I was in control- in college. I was a member of the track team (shot put & discus), I studied abroad in Italy, joined a sorority, and held many leadership positions during my college career. The biggest obstacle I face when dealing with my past is mental health. I don’t talk about it much, probably due to the negative stigma. There’s not a day I don’t think about the trauma I went through. I’ve spent time with counselors processing, grieving, and forgiving. There are many seasons I’ve experienced higher levels of anxiety and depression. The holidays are the hardest, high school graduation, college graduation, new jobs, you feel the loss most when exciting things happen and you can’t share them with your parents.

Courtesy of Brandi Morris

When you grow up with parents who have trouble with substance abuse, it really changes your perspective on yourself. For many years I thought ‘if my parents couldn’t love me, who would?’ As I get older I realize that they too were fighting their own demons, they just chose to go to something toxic to mend their broken hearts. With that I am grateful for the life I have lived and wouldn’t want to live someone else’s.

For me, my childhood shaped me into the woman I am today. It prepared me to be a leader at a young age. I’ve made it to what they call ‘the other side,’ though it doesn’t always feel that way. The lifestyle I am living today childhood Brandi never would’ve thought she’d get to.

Courtesy of Brandi Morris

My friends and colleagues view me as a positive person. At the end of the day, when you are broken down to nothing and have to piece yourself together you realize you are unstoppable, no one can hurt you; when trouble comes again in life you will be ok.

Turning pain into purpose is a call of action I live every day by. You can too. Think about a hard season, turn that negative into a positive. For me it’s sharing my story for other foster children that are just like me. The statistics are stacked against foster children, I hope I can be a beacon of light to others with a past similar to mine.

Courtesy of Brandi Morris

What’s next? Personally, I’m working to get involved with the foster youth in my area. Professionally, I’m working to better myself as an employee and leader. My end goal is to be in the C Suite for a large corporation, doing keynote speaking sharing my story of defying the odds and overcoming adversity.

If there’s anything I want you to take away is that your life matters. The season you’re in right now is preparing you for something in the future. At the end of the day, when you are broken down to nothing and have to piece yourself together you realize you are unstoppable, no one can hurt you; when trouble comes again in life you will be ok. You have the power to defy the odds and become who YOU want to be.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Brandi Morris from Cincinnati, Ohio. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTubefor our best videos.

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