Second Chances: How I Turned My Awful Childhood Into A Beautiful Life

by Yelena Krautkremer

Most people who meet me would never guess that beyond my perpetually happy attitude, positivity toward life and strong ambitions, my childhood was like a 10-year-long horror story.

I grew up in a small town of Gorlovka, Ukraine, where I lived with two alcoholic parents and three helpless brothers. My step dad was an abusive piece of nothing who tore our family apart.

I didn't go to school, and I grew up begging on the streets for food and money, while my parents slowly drank away their sorrows.

When I came home with no money or food, my dad’s punishment was to face me against the wall, with my bare knees on huge chunks of salt. I sat there until my knees turned raw, but if I cried, I had to sit there longer. At the time, I thought I deserved the punishment because I felt responsible for taking care of my family.

Eventually, my older brother (Ryslan) got into a bad group of friends, drugs and stealing, and went to jail. My younger brother (Sergei) was sent to an orphanage for wandering the streets.

My baby brother (Rostik) was sent to a hospital because he wasn't able to walk since our mom drank while she was pregnant with him.

We were abandoned, and there was nothing we could do about it. Our parents didn't go to court to fight for us, and if that’s not a traumatic experience, I don't know what is.

To numb the loneliness and mute my parents’ fighting, I began to teach myself how to read and write. I would sit at my little desk in the corner of our small apartment and carve out letters into my old, wooden desk. All I wanted was to go to school, but that wasn't an option. Even at a small age, I knew I wanted to write.

After years of begging on the streets for food and money, being separated by my family and sent to an orphanage, my life took a huge turning point.

My brother (Sergei) and I got adopted from an orphanage in Ukraine, where we lived with 100 other homeless children. I never thought this would happen to us, but we got a second chance for a new family.

10 years later:

I am 21 years old. I am going to college, have my own bed, food I never have to beg for again, a loving family, members of which never beat me, and endless opportunities to do what I love: write.

But, when it initially happened, it wasn't easy. coming to United States with two complete strangers whom I had to call Mom and Dad was an absolute nightmare. Along with the language barrier, I didn't want to let go of my past.

It took years of adjustment before I realized that family isn’t always about blood, but people in your life who are there for you no matter what. For the first time in my life, I had a real family — a family that would never give up on me.

I have gone through quite the journey in my life, but I never let my past stop me from living my life. I let it motivate me. Being abandoned by your own family is something no one should ever have to deal with, but instead of drinking my pain away (like my birth parents did), I use my past to pay it forward.

- I blogged for an adoption website, where I gave advice on adopting older kids while sharing my experiences.

- In July, I traveled to Ethiopia with my church, where I sponsored a 2-year-old boy.

- I started to volunteer more and give back to my community.

My crazy childhood taught me how to be independent and how to take care of myself. I have the urge to travel and see the world while making a difference.

We all go through obstacles in life that can stop us from moving forward, but that will never be a choice for me. I always keep going. When you have everything taken away from you at a young age, nothing will get in the way of following your dreams and living a happy life.

Let your past be a lesson, and be a better person because of it.