I grew up in New York as a foster kid in the 1970s and 1980s bouncing around from home to home experiencing trauma from the abuse my brother and I suffered. In a sense, I saw New York City and America as my legal guardians: the bureaucratic foster care agencies were just as abusive as the foster parents we encountered by the mere fact that our injuries from being abused were ignored.
As we grew up, we knew that there were kind people in the world and we hoped we would soon be rescued from our abusive foster parents. A loving foster mom who taught us ethics and morals finally took us in at age seventeen.
When I reflect on my childhood, I apply ethics and morals to the experiences I had while in the New York foster care system, and my brain gets all fused up because it becomes clear to me that these agencies (i.e., Angel Guardian, Edwin Gould, and Green Chimney, along with The Administration for Child Services) all failed the moral and ethical test. For a short time, our biological mother came into our lives. It started out as home visits for the weekend at her apartment in Queens. We were about four or five years old then, and she would use drugs around us. We were sexually and physically abused by her (she broke my leg). The system failed us, and I believe that all parties should be criminally charged for child neglect and abuse.
It was tough to talk to my peers on how I grew up, even though a business elite who showed us extreme love later saved us. I still held on to the pain. However, I sat down with a therapist from time to time over the years to try to heal. I never really knew if my brother went to therapy to deal with his pain. He became addicted to drugs and alcohol and still cries about our upbringing.
It was tough to live happily after such a horrific experience. But just when I thought things were getting better, the New York City police falsely arrested me. I was put into a cell with very dangerous people—the criminals even said to me, “What’s an innocent man like you doing in here?” It was the most frightening situation I had ever been in as an adult. Again, I had been abused by the system.
I was a counselor for the homeless in New York City before I moved to India. The life experiences and stories that some of my clients discussed with me were heartbreaking and spoke volumes as to why they were homeless. They reminded me a lot of what I went through as a child and in some cases, I was still going through my own challenges and trying my best to be strong enough to help my brother battle with his tough, tough issues.
A few months ago, I received a phone call from my business partner/friend who said he would be filming an event for former foster youths in Mountain View, California at the Microsoft headquarters. He suggested that I register for the event and become a participant. I followed his suggestion. He also said, “Tom, you should really consider relocating from New York. It’s been too hard on you.” Even the discussion of relocating was therapeutic for me. After being beat and let down for so many years in the city, I thought to myself, this could be for the better. I thought I could also have a better, stable life somewhere else and then help my brother. I began preparing for my trip to the West Coast, and although I had been North and South before, I had never been West; I was very excited to take the trip.
It was great. The people were lovely and the feeling of safety was phenomenal. After my participation at Microsoft’s Hack Foster Care event, however, I found myself back in New York. I worked on my resume and talked to people I had met in California with the hopes of relocating for a couple of years. Life had different plans for me, however. After being back in New York for two weeks, my business partner called me with an amazing opportunity to travel to India to meet our web developers. The next day, I got my passport (for the first time) and booked the flight.
When I got to Amsterdam—which all my friends in college used to talk about—I experienced the strange feeling of being in another country for the first time. Just seeing another part of the world was so therapeutic for me. I was only in Amsterdam for four hours and had met really kind people from other parts of the world. It was then that I began to feel this overwhelming sense of safety from a world that was unkind. I also felt that getting a different perspective on the world we live in is therapy in and of itself, and thought that traveling could be a good experience for a teen in displacement.
When I arrived in India, I still had a feeling of relief but at the same time, as I saw the living conditions of the people, it humbled me to the tenth power. I began to really appreciate my own country in different ways, but was grateful to see other cultures and people who were filled with love and spirituality.
I would recommend short and long term relocation therapy. Relocating can have special benefits:
“Between dealing with jobs, congestion and the hassles that come with our lives, people sometimes want to get away and move somewhere else. For those who have experienced an existential crisis, relationship loss or a tragedy, however, this desire can become overwhelming. In recent years, psychologists have begun researching the psychological and neurological effects of relocating, and the findings show that it can be a viable form of therapy for some people in certain situations.” (Shiftyourlife.com)
I don’t think it matters where I visited or relocated. The pressures from where I was has somewhat been lifted. Being “away” has given me the space to meditate, read, and reflect on my life while away from the distractions of the hard-knock world of New York City.