04.11.2024

My Story: I’m Still Growing and That’s OK

By Lupe, Launch Success participant

Lupe, Launch Success participant

I always felt like I had to put on a fake smile, or a mask, around people while growing up in the foster care system.

For me, surviving in the system meant becoming a people pleaser. I was that shy little girl who just wanted to be liked. You learn not to express yourself because if you do, you basically get reprimanded. Never in a million years did I think I could stand up for myself. Once I learned that I have that power though, it changed everything. It opens more doors for you.

Lupe and her mother reunited after foster care

I didn’t benefit from the change that was supposed to happen in my life when I went into foster care. My mom was doing her best. She probably had to work three jobs, but she still made sure we were fed, loved and had what we needed. She knew where we were 24/7, even if we had to go to her job with her and sit there and color. We only got taken away from my mom because I overate. I was being bullied at school for not having a dad, for being Mexican. She got me in counseling, to see a doctor, into programs to help me lose weight. She was doing everything, and we got taken away all because I couldn’t lose weight. It made, and still makes, absolutely no sense to me.

It’s important for everyone to know that foster care is a different experience for everyone. Some kids are loved, wanted, treated right and now they’re doing great. Then there’s stories like my sisters and I, where we are still struggling with trauma. We were put in the care of my aunt and uncle where we were mentally, physically and emotionally abused. It got to the point where I didn’t know if we were being punished or if we were being helped. Every time I would tell someone from DSHS about what was going on, they would investigate and then say, “Oh no, you’re lying,” even though I had physical proof on my body, picture proof and video proof.

I started working with my Launch Success coach, Claire, a couple years ago. I felt she really cared about me and my well-being. It was something I hadn’t had in a while. With most other people, they were very much doing it because it was their job and that was it. But she went above and beyond, in the form of getting to know me, asking me what my triggers are and how I cope with them and helping me find therapy. She made me feel understood and taught me life skills that helped me after I left the system — like how to ask questions and ask for help. So instead of being scared and just sitting there and wondering what to do, she helped me learn.

I learned that it’s OK to advocate for myself, it’s OK to stand up to people and it’s OK to make sure people are not using me as a doormat. I felt secure; I still feel secure. I know I can make my own choices. It was an experience that I wish other people could have.

Lupe and some friends

The stereotype is that we’re drug addicts and alcoholics. That’s not who I am. Don’t define us by our trauma. We were just put with the wrong people, and we tried to survive. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand: Yes, I have baggage (as some would say) but I’m working on it. I’m taking responsibility for it. I’m working on improving myself and bettering myself so I can be there for others and help them. Working with Claire made me realize that my trauma is not who I am, that I’m a strong, empowered, brave woman who has a mind of her own.

The foster care system is broken. Kids are not looked at as humans; we are not looked at as people, as souls. They take away kids from good homes that are actually loving families just because of their skin, their income or the way they look. I’m just a number to them, but I have feelings. I have a heart. I have a brain of my own. I have achievements that I want to make.

If I could relive my childhood, I would relive it with my mom — grow up with her, feel that love and that genuine care for me. Not having that as a teen really destroyed me and led me to turn to drugs, alcohol and violence.

If the system is going to take us away, they should give us assistance for the trauma — emotional, physical and mental. The majority of us don’t even know that there’s state insurance. When we age out, the system doesn’t have anything ready for us. They don’t have any benefits lined up like a list of shelters or options to turn to in case the place we’re living at is actual hell. I wish the system would listen to us.

For me personally, I know I feel safe with someone the minute I don’t have anxiety and stop overthinking. I was fortunate that one of my safe people is someone that I went to school with. Even though she didn’t live anything that I lived, she heard it all. She and her mom were the ones that basically took me in and made me feel like family. They make me feel safe. It’s a friendship that I didn’t ever think I was gonna have. And I’m so grateful to be able to say we’re going on 13 years of friendship. We’re getting old!

After growing up in foster care, Lupe is building a relationship with her mother and step-father.

My mom and my stepdad have gone to the moon and back for me these past six years. It’s been amazing to finally feel that motherly and fatherly love. It feels nice to have someone checking in on me and be like, “Hey, have you eaten today? Have you showered?” or “Hey, have you gone on a walk?” There are days, I’m not gonna lie, that I’m just like, “Leave me alone.” But most days, I’m the one calling at least eight times. And she’s just like, “Hi. I’m here. I’m here to love you.” And it’s one of the best things. I can go to my dad and my mom and talk to them about anything and everything. I know they’re my safe people. They don’t say, “Now why would you do this? Are you dumb?” No. They look at me and say, “Do you think that was the smartest idea? How do you feel after doing that?” They validate my feelings.

Being able to fully grasp and fully understand that you are your own person is the most beautiful thing. What my sister and I went through? Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, it’s heartbreaking. Yes, it’s traumatic. But if you keep a little faith in you — that little seed of braveness and empowerment — it’ll slowly start growing. It takes time. I’m telling you from my experience, it took me a lot of time to understand that I’m still growing, and that’s OK. We never stop. It’s like we’re trees. If we water ourselves, take care of ourselves and love ourselves, we will grow.

Something I want to say to kids experiencing foster care is no matter how hard it is, you always have someone in your corner. It might not be someone that you speak to every day or see every day. Just don’t give up. Keep going. And if you need help, reach out. Don’t be afraid. It’s never too late to get help. It’s never too late to find yourself. And once you do, you find what life is really about — you find the purpose, you find that small little family that you wanted as a kid.

You get to make your own life choices. You get to become your own person. You are your own person. Write your story. Don’t let others write it for you. Because if you do that, then it’s not your story. Write it with your own words. Write it with your tears and your sweat. And show people that you can be an amazing person.

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About the Author

Lupe is a foster care alumni and current Launch Success participant. She is a fierce advocate for youth in foster care receiving the support they need to be successful as they transition out of the system.


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