05.30.2024

My Story: Don’t Let Anyone Define You

By Lexie, Launch Success participant

Police officer hat on top of a box

I always wanted to be a police officer.

Before I entered foster care, my sister and I lived with my adoptive mother. Police officers were at the house all the time. It was a circus. Our neighbor hated us so much that they moved away because there was always something that the cops were being called out there for; the fire department was there, ambulances were there.

During one of the visits, I remember a police officer pulled me aside and talked to me about what my adoptive mother was telling the other officers about me. He asked me, “Is this true? Is what she’s saying true?” I could barely speak any English at the time, but he pulled me aside and did what he could to understand me. He believed my story instead of the white, college-educated woman that everyone else believed.

It had such a huge impact on me, and I want to be that for someone else.

My sister and I came to the United States through an international adoption, and it was horrible. When I first got here, my adoptive mom didn’t allow me to speak to anyone from Bulgaria. No friends, no family. I didn’t know any English, so when I came here, I didn’t understand what was happening. I couldn’t even speak to my sister in our own language. If she caught us speaking Bulgarian in her house, we would get in trouble.

You can’t forget who you are, though. I definitely didn’t. Even though I live in America, I am still Bulgarian. I ended up not having contact for one year with anyone back home, which was hard for me. My family and friends always wondered if I was dead somewhere, or what happened to me. When you get adopted from Bulgaria, they promise that they will keep in contact with the child, and they did for a few months, but no one seemed to care. My adoptive mom didn’t care how I was feeling or how hard it was for me to be here. I felt isolated.

It was hard seeing how everything impacted my sister, too. She has a lot of mental health struggles and has been in jail multiple times. I know there is help for people struggling with their mental health, but she just kept getting put in jail. It’s why I want to be a police officer but also focusing on mental health, so I get people like my sister the help they need.

I think a lot about all the times I interacted with police officers. I remember one time I was at the DCYF office in Seattle, and I ran away from my social worker. She was treating me horribly. I only had a backpack, and she called the police on me. When I was found, the officer called her. It was around 6:00 PM and the officer asked if he should bring me back to her. She said, “Do whatever you want. I’m not going to take her back.” She just left me with this police officer in the middle of the night. I had nowhere to go, so he took me to a store so I get something to eat. I had to stay with him the whole night, but he was very nice. He could have left me or dropped me off somewhere for the night, but he stayed with me. I was only 15 years old.

That same social worker also put me in a group home in Seattle that has since been shut down because of how kids like me were being treated. She knew about how kids were treated there. She said no one loved me or wanted me, so she put me there for a whole night as punishment. It was wintertime when I was there, too. They took all my clothes, and I had to wear shorts and a T-shirt. The room basically looked like a jail. I’ve never been in jail, but I swear, it had this tiny mattress on the floor with a flimsy blanket; just four walls and nothing else.

Everything I went through with that social worker did a number on my mental health. I wasn’t given a choice of where I could go. I was just put somewhere. For a long time, I felt like I was some kind of object that had been donated multiple times.

If I was to give other foster youth advice, it’d be this: my story isn’t unique. There are a lot of youth out there who don’t think that sharing their story is important, that it doesn’t matter. They keep everything inside and don’t say anything, but everyone’s story is similar but also different in many ways.

Sharing your story can help others like you. And don’t let anyone define you. My social worker said horrible things about me that weren’t true, and it kept me from being adopted by a great family. I didn’t let her define me, though. I know who I am.

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About the Author

Lexie is a Launch Success participant who began receiving support from Treehouse in 2016 when she entered foster care. She came to America through an international adoption agency and following a failed adoption, she was unable to return to her home country of Bulgaria. She recently started college and is studying criminal justice.


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