Where I Belong

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

|This is the 50th story of Our Life Logs.|

It was the middle of the night when I woke to sound of glass shattering. It was coming from the kitchen. I peeked inside to see my father destroying everything in his path. He was on one of his drunken rampages again. My mother was trying to stop him, but he wasn’t seeing reason. I rushed back to bed and tried to sleep, but the yelling kept me awake. At four years old, I was already used to a night like this.

I was born in Ohio in 1996, to a mother who was only 16, and a father who was only 19 at the time. Neither were ready for kids, nor were they capable, but they continued having children. My parents constantly forced us to move from apartment to apartment during the first five years of my life as they attempted to get by with me and my younger brother and sister.

I don’t remember much from this point in my life. I feel that I repressed a lot of it. Some memories come and go in flashes. I remember my dad’s drunken rampage, and I remember the night the cops came to the door to arrest him for getting into a bar fight. I was four years old when I had to watch my father get taken away, hugging him while he was in handcuffs. By the time I was five and my dad was out of jail, my parents split up. My siblings and I moved to Kentucky with our mom and we didn’t see much of our dad during that time.

Me at three years old.

Kentucky was supposed to be a fresh start for my mom and us, but it seems she had a warped view of what it meant to start over. She started getting into drugs. She’d bring strange guys around that I didn’t know. One of the strange guys allowed us to move in his apartment after he started dating my mom. He lived in a cramped, one-bedroom apartment, and we were trying to house five people. The adults were kind enough to let us kids have the bedroom, but I had to share one bed with my two siblings. Soon enough, my mother and this man got serious, and they decided to move to Ohio.

We moved to Cleves, Ohio into a house that could accommodate us. It was in that house that I have some of the darkest memories of my mom’s boyfriend. At the time, I didn’t know my mother was so heavily involved in drugs. It became an obsession. Looking back as an adult, I see the signs now. I remember walking in on her smoking out of a pipe once. I also have memories of going on drives with her to meet people that she’d give money to. I now know that these exchanges were drug deals. There were other days that she’d leave her kids at home and be gone for hours. I’d wake up the next morning and she still wouldn’t be home sometimes. My mom’s boyfriend kept an eye on us while she was out. He was physically abusive, and my mother allowed it because we weren’t a priority for her. She saw it as discipline, but the pain from the scars he left are still etched into my soul.

Around when I was seven, my mother gave birth to my half-brother. With her boyfriend as the provider, he was working a lot. My mother would be out doing drugs, so I was the only one around to care for their baby the first few months of his life. At only seven, I was forced to act as a parent because he didn’t really have a good one.

To this day, I’m not sure who called Child Protective Services, but when I was about seven, my biological siblings and I were taken from my mother by my father’s sister. They didn’t tell us why we couldn’t be with our mom anymore. They thought we were too young. I’m thankful that my aunt took us when she did because we otherwise would have been put in the foster care system.

My siblings and I started living with my father’s grandma who was in her mid-80s. She lived in a one-bedroom apartment and had a difficult time taking care of us at her age. My father would visit us but never took us in. My father’s cousin and his girlfriend ended up taking us in next, and we stayed with them for most of our childhood from that moment forward. We started getting home-schooled through an online school because my mother’s family tried to take us while we were at recess or in class at the local public school.  Our guardians didn’t want those toxic people on our radar.

Left to right: Jon (brother), Jake (ex-girlfriend’s son), Olivia (sister), and me, 2004.

My father’s cousin was nice at first, but as my siblings and I got older, he grew nastier. He liked control and having power over us. We had to ask for the most ridiculous things. I remember having to ask for permission to wake up and get out of bed. His girlfriend didn’t like the way he treated us, but had a hard time stopping him. She stayed with him for our sake before they parted ways when I was 14.

I continued living with my father’s cousin but kept in contact with his girlfriend because she had become like a mother to me. Without his girlfriend around to defend us, the verbal and mental abuse grew worse. It was especially hard on my sister. One day, my sister and our guardian got into a fight that led her to get kicked out at the age of 16. My guardian’s ex-girlfriend took her in, but I stayed for the sake of my younger brother that was too afraid to stand up to him and leave.

When I was 19, I finally made the choice to leave his house, a year after my sister left. My brother had just left a day before me. We moved to his ex-girlfriend’s house. This woman had become my mother and had shown such selfless love toward us. We grew close to her husband, too. We now call them our parents. I graduated in 2015 from the online school a year behind schedule because of my poor schooling when I was with my birth mother.

Me (right) with the woman that I call “mom” (left) who helped raise me from ages 7-22.

Things were okay until I started dating a new guy when I was around the age of 20. He was tall with tattoos, piercings, and we had similar music tastes. He was exactly my type. I soon found out that he already had three kids at the age of 21, and had been homeless at the time, but I accepted him. I had never been the type to judge someone by their past after what I had been through. We started dating, and I fell hard. My “parents” knew and liked him, so they offered him a place to stay in our home.

I met his children when their mother would allow us to have the kids for a few hours a few times a week, so he could have a relationship with them. He had three little girls. The oldest was three years old, and the twins were eight months old. I started to get to know these kids and enjoyed spending time with them. After caring for my baby brother at seven, I had a bit of experience.

Visitations became conspicuously frequent, and we realized that the children’s mother didn’t have much interest in raising her children. She was only about 20 and wanted to enjoy more of her youth through drugs. In September of 2015, the children were given to their father when their birth mother went to jail.

I looked at these children and saw myself. I had been these children, taken from their mother who wanted drugs over a family. I chose to help raise them. When we got the girls, we found rashes all over the twins and that they were very malnourished. It was heartbreaking.

My boyfriend and I worked opposite schedules, so I could watch the kids while he worked. The pay was much better, but it made our relationship suffer. With both of us working, there was no one to care for the girls. I quit my job and became a stay-at-home mom. I gave up my freedom in hopes that they might have a better start to their life than mine.

Me taking care of the girls.

Toward the end of 2016, I was able to go back to work when my boyfriend got a roofing job with more flexible hours. We wanted to be able to move out of my parent’s house. Though I was working hard, my relationship with my boyfriend was still hurting. I got a bad feeling that he wasn’t always honest with me. He’d go out to a roofing job on a rainy day without any of his gear on. He wasn’t affectionate anymore. I was essentially being used as an unpaid babysitter.

By April of 2017, we decided to end the relationship. My mom allowed him to stay until he got on his feet to move out. By June, he finally left, taking his children with him. I was happy to be out of the relationship, but my heart broke knowing I wouldn’t get to see his kids anymore. They had become like my own, and I watched them grow. As time went on, I realized that it was for the best.

Since then, I’ve begun to rebuild the life I had put on hold for their sake. I started working full time at a local restaurant and have been there for almost a year now. I’m starting to save for an apartment, and I’m working toward earning my driver’s license. I never got the chance to pursue more than a few college classes, so I may try to go back at some point for a major that will allow me to help others, perhaps childhood education.

Many relatives expected me to follow the same path as my mother. I overcame all those expectations and made something out of myself. I refuse to let my past define me. I am more than the daughter of a drug-addicted mother and absent father. I’m a strong, loving woman that will always put others before herself. I’ve come to see that family isn’t always blood. Though I’ve had the stability of my brother and sister as the only blood relatives, I’ve had many people, like the woman I call my mother, who love me beyond measure.

This is the story of Courtney Osterman

Courtney, 22, was forced to grow up fast as her mother got into drugs and her father left. Getting tossed between relatives for most of her childhood, Courtney finally found a home in someone that isn’t her relative by blood. As a young adult, she helped raise three children of her ex-boyfriend for two years in a crucial point of their lives while their birth mother was on drugs unable to care for them. Courtney enjoys listening to music, particularly Sleeping with Sirens and Trophy Eyes. She also loves spending time with her friends as she rebuilds her life and self-worth.

Courtney (far left) and her biological siblings.

This story first touched our hearts on March 23, 2018.

| Writer: Kristen Petronio | Editor: Colleen Walker; Manqing Jin |

#neglect #alcoholism #drugaddiction #adoption #trauma #relationships #copingmechanisms #selfdestruction #parenting #movingon

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