Survival of the Fittest

My American name is Anthony Callaghan. My Russian name—the name I was born with on March 3rd, 1987, in St. Petersburg, Russia—is Ruslan Valentinovich Markov.

My story starts in an orphanage referred to as Detsky Dom #2. That's as far back as I can remember.

My life in the orphanage was basically survival of the fittest. You had to fight over sharing clothes and shoes. If you needed to use the toilet you would go in a pot in the middle of the room, where we all slept. The first one there would always win while the rest of us were left to fend for ourselves.

None of us received loving care, the type that children need to feel safe and wanted, but in the cold culture of Russia that was to be expected.

My life completely changed once I got adopted.

As an orphan I pictured adoption as open door to a new world, and I could think of only one word to describe it: Freedom. There is no word like it.

I was mistaken very quickly.

No one told me I was getting adopted until that day when a nurse came in to the hospital and told me that my new parents were to take me home. No words could ever describe the feeling of a family wanting you. I ran as fast as I could around that corner and there they were. I knew nothing about them but at that moment I thought nothing could be better. I couldn’t have been more excited to get adopted in to a better life.

I found out later that it was my adoptive brother who picked me out of all the other kids in the orphanage. I’m not really sure what he saw in me, but a huge thank you goes out to him.

My life changed again when, after a year of being adopted into my new family, I was physically abused for the next five in every way you can imagine. Instead of being in that field of roses, I was beaten for wetting my bed when I was still a kid. I had to re-engage the skills I had learned in the orphanage to survive again. During that time I stole, lied, and did everything I could think of to avoid getting beaten. I even forged my teacher’s signatures.

As time went on, Child Protective Services came out twice only to take my dad away the second time. He was tried and sentenced to prison for his crimes.

Only then did my healing process begin.

I was very emotional during the years that followed. Trust me: It was a rough patch in my life. Police were called on me because of violence. I even went through a straight week living at a courthouse testifying my story. I had a lot of pent-up anger that I let out on anyone I could. I knew it was make-or- break for me. I felt that anger would eventually hold me back from bigger and better things.

It was one of the lowest moments in my life and I didn't know how to handle it. No one was there to show me how to process all that had happened to me.

Nowadays I'm a very different person. In 2015, I was diagnosed with cancer. I went through chemotherapy and radiation.

Several things that I would like to pass on to fellow adoptees: You’ve got to let these life changes be life lessons because without them you won’t grow as a person.

You have to understand that you are as strong as you will allow yourself to be.

No one is here to hold your hand.

I promised myself that I would stand up and hold my ground until my last breath. Why? Because I stand behind what I believe and don't let anyone tell me otherwise.

Today, I'm a truck driver and love every aspect of it.

Don't let your past stop you from your future because then you’re on a leash made by your own fears.

Let loose.

Care about the people who matter to you because in the end those are the people in your life that are there for you.