I never thought that I would get to this place. I’m not just referring to the place in this picture. Because, let’s face it; anyone can stand in front of a house with their arms in a triumphant pose. As you may have guessed already, it’s what this house represents that makes what I’m sharing compelling. Before I open up to you about, “this house”, I first must tell you who I am, and where I’ve been.
My name is MelissaRoshan Potter. My friends call me, MelRo so I ask that as you’re reading this, you think of me as MelRo. At 13.5 years old my mother was brutally raped by a 50 plus year-old man. As a result of that rape, I was conceived. Unable to raise me, primarily due to her age, coupled with the fact that my very life served as this constant, horrific reminder of what happened to her, I was placed into the foster-care system. Before I knew it, one foster home turned into five. Five turned into 9, then 14, then 20. By the end of my time in the foster-care system, I had lived in 23 foster-homes.
As you can imagine, this was a very exhausting life. I was tired of being the little lost biracial girl who was considered un-adoptable. Tired of loving the, Sorta-Kinda-Moms/Dads and then experiencing the loss of them. Tired of getting close to my, Sorta-Kinda-Siblings, only to have the connection broke without warning. Tired of becoming acclimated to environments, but then being ripped away to a new one. And then a new one, and so on.
That’s when I met the Johnson family and everything changed for me.
They were this incredibly loving family who took all of us kids in with open arms. They encouraged us to call them Mom & Dad, and though I was reluctant to, because of past hurts, I made myself trust that they could be that for me. For the first week, life was great. Blissful even. We played board games together, went to the park as family, enjoyed church service as a unit, and for the first time, I was showered with loving attention. But sadly, things changed.... I started receiving the wrong type of attention from Dad. In replace of his hugs, came the playful pinches on my butt. Instead of the positive, affirmative words once spoken to me, he chose to whisper sexually explicit statements in my ear. Statements that even to this day, are hard to think about.
I was just entering my teenage years, this was a time of normal confusion, awkwardness, and newness for me. Though I had never been able to really enjoy being a little girl, suddenly I was growing out of one into a young woman. My body was developing, I was more aware of my appearance, and my mind was changing also.
Unfortunately, constantly being shuttled around from one home to another had embedded the messages in my mind that I wasn’t valuable enough to love, precious enough to keep, or worthy enough to have my basic boundaries respected and I carried these messages with me. Not only that, but when Dad’s pinches turned into the full blown touching of my private place, I felt completely crushed, and lost. “Not you Dad”, I thought. “Please be a good dad, and don’t let me down. I trusted you! I don’t want to be hurt again, and I don’t want to have to leave again because of what you’re doing...” I was so afraid of being rejected, abandoned again, and shuttled off to a new home that it kept me silent from reporting my abuse.
By six months in, I, and some of my foster-siblings were regularly being sexually, physically, and emotionally abused. Sometimes, on a daily basis. We were also exposed to Dad’s alcoholism, and Mom’s deep depressive episodes. The two were constantly engaged in domestic violence which was not only traumatic for us all to see, but also put me in this “care giver” role of her and my foster-siblings because I was the oldest. The stress was getting to me, and it showed. I started losing my hair in the front of my head, I was frequently urinating blood from constant untreated urinary tract infections, and my weight plummeted dangerously low due to lack of nutrition.
My life had broken my heart, as I result I became incredibly withdrawn, and depressed. And again, exhausted. To make matters worse, Mom, and Dad ran a cleaning business that only operated in the evenings, and in an effort to keep more money for themselves they refused to hire employees. Instead, they utilized myself, and two other foster-children to do their dirty work for them (no pun intended). At the times we should’ve been sleep, we were up late cleaning major company’s offices. Companies that make billions of dollars today. Looking back, I’m positively certain if the employees knew that the children who were treated like slaves were cleaning their bathrooms, and cubicles. It might have broken their hearts.
There were times that I didn’t think I would make it out of their home alive. The beatings were ritualistic in nature, brutal enough that I still bear some physical scars today. The sexual abuse was wearing me down, I was also worn out from trying to care for/protect everyone around me, including myself. I couldn’t sleep at night as I knew Dad would somehow make his way into my room, but more than anything I was silenced by my fear of having to leave again. Though it was unsafe where I was, I felt it would better if I stayed. It should be noted that deciding to stay in an abusive environment is one of the major traits of someone being abused: You stay because that’s all you know.
The Johnsons’ home was that one place that I thought I could find refuge, love, and care. It turns out, that it was one of the most violent homes I’d ever lived in. By the time I eventually did leave (due to the state catching wind that something was wrong) I carried a small backpack that included a few of my belongings. But I also carried a disfigured finger (due to it being broken, and untreated), a loss of my innocence and an intense amount of emotional trauma that would take years of intentional inner-work to shake loose. I also suffered horrific nightmares about being stuck in the Johnson’s home. Dreams that would elicit sheer terror, and anxiety.
I’d like to share some statistics with you that will further give you an idea of my plight, as well as lending to this part of my story:
Nearly 47% of foster children will experience homelessness, or extreme poverty in their adult lives.
Almost 60% of young men will be convicted of a crime
Only 48% will gain steady employment
75% of women and 33% of men receive government benefits to meet basic need
17% of females will become a teen parent
2.3 % percent will complete college
Startling, right? Unfortunately, these are only SOME of the many unhealthy statistics that exist for foster-children. I am sharing them with you because due to my experiences, I can relate to the 47%, 75%, 17%, and 2.3%.
At 16 years old, I met a boy. He just so happened to be the first boy who ever called me beautiful. As teenagers often do, I quickly fell into what my version of love was before long I became pregnant with my first child. Unfortunately, things sometimes change. The love of my life, turned into an abusive partner. Before I knew it I was in a full blown teen domestic violence relationship which should come as no surprise given my history. I had grown up in violence, so I thought this was normal.
Shortly after giving birth, a child-protective agency learned of our violent relationship, as well as the fact that my baby’s biological father had turned violent toward my son. They gave me 24 hours to find a place to live. You read that right: 24. Thankfully, with the help of a court-appointed attorney, I was able to gain acceptance into a two-year teen homeless program, and for those two years, that is where I raised my baby boy on my own. As you can imagine, life was difficult. I collected a small amount of welfare, worked a part-time job, attended some college and poured my whole heart into caring for my baby. Though I had been only exposed to dysfunction, I made a conscious decision to show him the exact opposite of what I had been shown. It didn’t matter to me that I was still constantly exhausted, living in poverty, that I didn’t have parental support or that I was internally suffering from some of the residual effects of my past traumas. I was determined to give him a beautiful life.
One fateful day, I was approached by someone else who told me that I was beautiful. Only this time, it wasn’t a boy. This person was one of the top modeling agents in the city, and apparently she saw a type of beauty in me that she felt could take me far in the industry. This shocked me! I certainly didn’t feel beautiful, let alone modeling material. My hair was unkempt, the cloths that I wore were cheap, and I was still slightly pudgy from having had a baby only a year prior. Additionally, I was still carrying around an invisible backpack of painful messages, and memories. Messages that said I wasn’t valuable, or worthy. Memories of being treated that way. As a result, I didn’t believe I was beautiful.
Though I didn’t feel confident, my strength nudged me inside and said, “Take her card! Just do it!”. So, I did. And that became the start of my fruitful modeling career. The agency told me to cut my hair. I saved up money and went to a hairstylist. They told me to lose weight. I walked all over town while pushing my son in his stroller. They told me I needed to pay for my first initial photo-shoot in order to get going. I worked extra hours to make that happen. I had never felt beautiful in my life, but for the first time ever I did.
Through all of this, I never mentioned to anyone what happened to me, or that I still lived in a homeless shelter. I wanted desperately to forget my past.
Overnight, my likeness was used in countless print ads, billboards, commercials, and fashion shows. I became so busy with modeling that I was able to move with my son to the fashion capitol of the world; New York City. As the world would see it, my life appeared as if it had finally turned around. I was working in one of the most glamourous industries, I lived in nice apartment, and my son was healthy/happy. But what the world didn’t see, is that I was still carrying around that emotional backpack everywhere I went. I was also still being tormented by dreams of being trapped inside of the Johnson’s house. Dreams of being beaten, touched, humiliated, and misused. No amount of make-up, flashing lights, or great opportunities could make any of that go away.
I was an accomplished woman who saw value in her pictures, but because of the horrific abuse I suffered, I didn’t see value you in myself.
A short time later, I met a man, married him, became pregnant with my daughter, moved to Ohio where we planned to raise our family. We built a four story house from the ground up. Again, as the world would see it, life was turning around for me. My son was enrolled into a wonderful school, and was happily making friends. My daughter was as beautiful as ever, and perfect in every little way. My husband was an architect, who worked hard to make sure that the family’s needs were covered, our new sprawling estate home was everything I could’ve ever hoped for.
Then... things changed again.
The economy shifted for everyone, my husband lost his job and everything we planned to do together became threatened. That’s when the fights started in our marriage. The more we fought the worse things got. Before long, our fights turned so volatile that safety became a major issue in my once beautiful household. I couldn’t believe I was at this place AGAIN. I’d seen this life growing up, with my son’s father, and now in my current marriage. For a moment, I thought that maybe I could only have volatile relationships, that nothing else could exist for me. That’s when I began to check out. I felt like my husband let me down due to the nature of the fights, I felt that life had let me down because of all that I had experienced, but more than anything, I felt like my strength was gone.
At night, I continued being tormented by the nightmares that I couldn’t escape the Johnsons’ home. No matter how hard I pried at the windows, and pulled at the door handles to get out, I never could. I had become a prisoner in my own mind. I just wanted to experience true freedom. The fact that it didn’t feel like I could, made me want to give up. So, that’s the decision I made.
I decided to end my life because I felt like I was powerless, with no other choice. Sure, my children made me very happy. My material, “things”, brought temporary joy. The idea of being married, felt great. My modeling career allowed me to escape reality for a short while, and cover up the ugliness I felt. I could only run from myself for so long. Until you agree that healing must take place for the trauma that occurs, it only festers like a cancer, it kills you slowly. It’s just not possible to heal what you won’t face. It can only be covered up for so long before it catches up to you. That is exactly what happened to me. Life caught up to me, and I broke.
I drove to a local reservoir with the sole intention of jumping to what I felt would’ve been my final freedom. That attempt led me to a psych ward where I laid shackled down physically and emotionally. As I lay there, I felt the most tired that I’d ever been in my life. I was tired in my soul. I knew that I could no longer go on the way that I was, and actually make it. I thought of how much my children needed me to be whole and of how much I needed my own self to be whole.
This time, I made a different decision. I would no longer lay down in pity, but rather rise up in power. No more could I be the little foster-child bound by her past, and unable to escape the bullies of her mind. I wanted to finally escape the Johnsons’ home, and forgive them/others for what had been done to me. Additionally, I no longer wanted to only see value in my modeling pictures, but not in my own life. I knew that it was going to take a great amount of work, commitment, and bravery to take back my power. I also knew that much of it wasn’t going to be easy. But I also knew that if I could survive all that I had thus far, I could do anything.
The day that I left the hospital, I chose to take several necessary steps toward the healing of my life. First, I made the gut-wrenching decision to leave my marriage. I realized that whole results could not come from broken people. I carried so much baggage from my past, and my ex-husband wasn’t equipped to unpack them. Not to mention, he also carried his own bags, and I certainly wasn’t equipped to unpack his.
Leaving him was very hard to do. He was all romantically I’d really ever known. I’d spent ten years of my life with him, and honestly being with him, represented a stability that I’d never had. He was a father to our children, our income combined provided great financial security for me. I was comfortable, but I wasn’t able to heal. Sometimes taking the steps to clean up your life just might be uncomfortable on the front-end, but in the end, it is so worth it. When I walked away I felt the shackles in my mind begin to loosen for the first time.
Next, I sought out going to trauma-based therapy. I had heard before that only, “crazy” people went to therapists. That didn’t faze me at all. Just like I pounded the pavement to get my modeling career off the ground, I would pound the pavement to gain my healing, and power back. In the beginning, the therapy sessions were so brutally hard that just talking about the traumatic events of my life made me physically ill. On one occasion I had to pull over to a gas station just to vomit and I remember laying in a fetal position crying on the bathroom floor from the stress. Times like that made me not want to even go anymore, but I knew that I had to press through them to get stronger. So, I continued going, and the shackles loosened a little more.
I still had more to do.
I had to forgive. And not just on a surface level. I had to truly forgive, and let go of the painful pieces of my past. Forgiving didn’t excuse the abuse at all. But what it would do for me is free my soul from the poison of un-forgiveness.
First stop? I made the fateful trip on my own to Chicago to meet the man that raped my mother. It was on that trip that I not only told him I forgave him for what he’d done, but also for not being in my life. I also shared with him that God loved him very much. That trip was life-changing and healing for us both. Next up, I met my biological mother and shared nothing but love with her. The shackles continued to loosen.
I still had more to do.
My final step toward CHOOSING to lead a powerful life over a pitiful one meant that I would need to go back to the Johnsons’ home. I needed to face the very place where I had experienced some of the most traumatic events of my life. I’m sure some clinicians might have cautioned me from doing this as going back to a place where I experienced trauma may have been seemed...dangerous. But I felt like I needed to face what had been tormenting me for years. So, I booked my ticket, and I felt no fear. You see, my need for healing, and being whole was greater than any fear that would try to stand in my way.
Now, let me say this: I did do a little research. I found that the home had new owners after the Johnson’s lost their foster-license some years back. So, on a basic safety level, I was good. Additionally, I traveled with a child-hood friend from the airport, to the home. I am so thankful that she told me that I could stay as long as I needed to because really, I needed that time.
When we pulled up to the house, I realized that I didn’t actually have a plan. So, things just unfolded organically. Together, we sat in front of the house that had now been newly remodeled for about 20 minutes in silence. I was struck by the newness of it. What I remembered as being old, decrepit, and even scary, was now incredibly beautiful. The new owners painted the once dingy red wood a beautiful cream/blue color and added gorgeous, angelic like flowers, and plants all around. As I sat there, I felt as if God had prepared the home just for this moment. Eventually, I got out of her car and stood on the gravel that held so many of all of us children’s tears and footsteps. Next, I walked up to the front door and stood there for a bit. When fear tried to creep its way up, I refused to give it any attention. My Strength, had me knock.
What happened next, I will never forget.
The new owner answered, and instantly I saw kindness in his eyes. He was an older Asian man who was dressed in a simple burgundy monk robe. He patiently listened to me as I told him who I was, and why I was there. I was shocked when he shared with me that he’d heard horror stories about the things that had went on in their house and how he was so thankful I made it out alive. We hugged and then he gifted me with the opportunity of walking through the house freely. Again, I felt no fear. Immediately as I entered the home, a wave of memories flooded me at once. They all came so fast that for a moment, I didn’t think I could actually move, but my strength inched me forward. I saw the exact spot where I had been brutally raped. I passed by the old bathroom where I’d been choked as a form of punishment. My former bedroom that I spent many days crying in, was now the owner’s meditation room. The backyard where I, and the other kids spent hours de-weeding in the hot sun, now had beautiful flowers, ponds, and colorful stones. I found this all to be very symbolic for my own life. What was once a horrible, traumatic place had now been turned into a place that was beautiful, serene, and full of life.
For many years, I had been tormented, and bullied by my own past. By my own memories. But after making the choice to change my own narrative from victim, to victor, I had reached a beautiful, peaceful place. Visiting the home, did more for me than I think the owners realized. I was now finally able to experience freedom. Like a caged bird, I longed to just get out, spread my wings and fly. Now, I could. I made sure before I left the house, that I silently said, “I forgive you” to the Johnsons. I did that for ME. For MY own freedom and to take back my own power. When I walked out that door, I never looked back.
So, here I am standing in front of the home. Proud, strong, free and beautiful. You can’t see my shackles, or the backpack, but I am standing on top of them now. I realize what happened in that home was ugly and vile. But I am not ugly or vile. What happened in that home is part of my past, but it in no way defines my present. For many years I lived like this powerless victim who had no say so on what happened to her. Now, after making the choice to heal, I realized that I have choices. I could let the events of my past destroy my life, or I could rise and create a beautiful future. I chose the latter because I owed it to myself and my children.
Even better, out of all of the pain I went through, birthed out a powerful purpose. To date, I have gone on to tirelessly champion for children/adults that were/are just like me. My goal is to not only bring awareness of the many negative statistics that exist for foster-children but to eventually decrease those numbers. I openly use my life story as a way to do this. I’ve traveled the country spreading my message of hope, healing, forgiveness and perseverance to thousands of people. My son is a brilliant young man going to college in just a few months and my daughter looks at me like I am her super hero.
I no longer have nightmares, or even dreams at all about the Johnsons’ home. For when I made the actual choice to go back and then close the door, it sent a signal to my own mind that I am... Free. Beautiful. And....POWERFUL.