Guest Post - Stop Dreaming Your Life and Live it!
It's Motivational Monday and I'm honored to feature a story that moved me deeply from Apryl Almanza-Strayhand, whom I met and worked with as a makeup stylist for my California Office of Emergency Services video shoot a few years ago. Like all of us, it's a birth lottery, and she didn't choose to become a foster child, but throughout all her heartbreaking ordeals and challenges, she doesn't let the haunting past repeat itself and has been a loving mom, wife, and professional makeup artist and hair stylist. I chose her story for her compassion and strength to forgive, her resolve and grit to not let history repeat itself, and for her courage to share her story with us. I hope her story will bring awareness to the Foster Care System and humanize the marginal population which needs your support. Thanks and feel free to share her story.
STOP DREAMING YOUR LIVE AND LIVE IT!
Written by Apryl Almanza-Strayhand
This, "No matter where you start out, you can always decide where you want to end up" — that hit home for me. Starting from the womb, I've been a statistic —poverty, immigrant/teen parent, single parent household, raised off Human Assistance (aka welfare), abuse, drugs, alcohol, fatherless and the list goes on. To add to these statistics, I was also raised by the foster care system. This quote, it made me realize that I
was more than my past and that the rest of my life was up to me.
One of five children, the only girl and the oldest, at the age of 10, I began to witness my mother lose herself to drugs. What was supposed to be just another source of income, slowly started to consume her. She became addicted. I became the "mother". My brother's were 8, 5, 3 and 1, and just to put it into perspective, my younger brothers called me "mom". Almost getting held back in third or fourth grade because I refused to leave my little brothers was where my mind was at. Not too long after, I lost my 8 year old brother. An angel on earth. He loved everybody, saw the good in everything and the homeless people in our neighborhood were all his friends. March 24, 1994, my home was raided and a police officer shot and killed him. The image of the homeless man at the bottom of our stairs crying for my brother is forever burned in my memory. An officer pulled the trigger, but In my eyes, her addiction is what killed Michael. From that point on, my life, my family, my world was completely shattered. At 10 years old, How do you even begin to pick up the pieces?
My brothers and I were taken away and placed in foster care. After two years in the system, my brothers were placed for adoption. All three were adopted out together and were placed in a loving home. Never again to be separated by a failed system. It was an open adoption and we were able to maintain a relationship, which I'm forever grateful for. I, on the other-hand, chose not to be adopted and remained in the system until I graduated high school and left at 17 years old.
The last time I spoke to my mother, I was 15. We reconnected after 3 or 4 years and spent the whole day shopping and eating. It was supposed to be a happy day and believe me, I was ecstatic to be with her. Until I realized during our visit, without her saying a word, that her battle with drugs wasn't over; I became so disappointed. I couldn't process, how someone could lose everything and instead of fighting for it, just accept it. I came to terms that day with the fact, that I had forever lost my "mommy". Soon after that visit, I called her for her birthday, only to find out that she would be serving three years in a women's state prison and then to be deported to Mexico. That was in 1998 and no one has heard from her since. Even through all the abuse we experienced, I always knew how much my mother loved us. LOVE was never a question — until the day the drugs didn't let her fight for us anymore.
In 2004, unfortunately, my father passed away. He was never a part of my life. I was never "daddy's little Girl". Never once did he ever say he loved me — quite frankly, I resented him for all the times he failed me as a child. Especially how at 10 years old, when I needed him the most, he wasn't there for me. With that being said, I had always assumed that when he died, I wouldn't be affected by it. After all, how do you mourn or miss something you never had, right? Boy was I wrong...I was completely DEVASTATED; I felt like couldn't breathe. And any chance of ever rekindling our relationship was buried along with him, that cold November day. What broke my heart the most, was when he passed, one of the family members was going through his personal belongings from the hospital and they stumbled upon his wallet. Inside were pictures of his kids, as he had 4 others, and his grandchildren. My son and I never made it into a slot in his wallet.
So many times, I was so ashamed of who I was. Ashamed of my life and my past, that for many years I refused to share my story. Often times, people had no idea I was a foster kid and other times when they did, parents wouldn't allow their children to be friends with me; automatically assuming I was bad, when in all reality, I didn't have a choice to be a foster kid. By the time I was 11, my encounters with drugs were slowly forming out of control. Until one day I looked in the mirror and saw the reflection of my mother. That was all it took for me to realize that the same thing that destroyed my family was slowly decaying me from the inside out. From that day on, I made the choice that I would be the exception
and wasn't going to let it destroy me, too! I have chosen to make her life my classroom and that has been my driving force.
Fast forward —here I am now, 32 years old and let me tell you, It's so amazing to see all the beauty that can come from so much tragedy—when you choose to not to be the victim! I am walking proof! I'm a mama to three children of my own (2 boys and 1 girl), whom I never fail to tell how much I love and remind them daily how amazing they are. Wife to a man who knows everything about me and still loves me, despite of my past, sees past my flaws and whose sole purpose is to love and provide for our family. I'm also a make-up artist and hairstylist. I love beautifying and empowering people with my craft and spend a lot of my time donating my services for those in need. Especially to the homeless, it's my way of keeping a little bit of Michael with me.
I can't say the incident in 1994 defines me, but it certainly plays a part in who I am today. Good or bad, It's my journey, my life story, and cannot be rewritten.
Fresno PD took my little brothers life but I have refused to let that take away my smile or fill my heart with bitterness, hate, shame or resentment. I love my life, I've embraced the struggle I went through and I still have my smile. My childhood after Michael died and being raised by the foster care system was never the same nor was it easy, but it made me who I am today: Strong, independent, driven to succeed, it's taught me to be considerate, compassionate, diligent, and humble, to do work that makes positive impacts in the lives of others, to be honest, selfless, and kind. It's left me with the longing to make a difference, and determined to be the change--not just for my children, but for generations to come.
Although, my life has been tough, every time I look at my family I am reminded of my brother and everything that is love and pure. It's my confirmation that I survived to help guide others.
Stop dreaming your life and live it.