Grief on a Pedestal by Jess Venema
My mom was diagnosed with Von-Hippel Lindau in 2005. It’s a hereditary multiple endocrine disorder. She lost her first adrenal gland in the 90’s. In 2005 they went back in for the second. Both had pheochromocytomas. At that time, she also had an islet cell tumor (what killed Steve Jobs). Part of her pancreas, stomach, and small intestine were removed.
For SEVEN years her health deteriorated. Multiple ER visits, chronic and acute pancreatitis, liver infections… I’ve never seen anyone that sick, and I hope I never do again. She fought to live the entire time. She tried to continue her business as a house cleaner, but it eventually became too unsafe for her to even drive a car. The day she found out I was pregnant with my daughter, she told her best friend, “This made my life”.
My daughter’s Dad and I were married but separated at the time we conceived. Long story short, there was a lot of back and forth, and we tried our best to hurt each other in the worst ways. For the first few months of learning we were pregnant, we gave a half-hearted attempt to work it out. In the end, at 6 months pregnant, he left the relationship for someone he had been dating during our separation. I had nowhere else to go, and nowhere I felt safe, so I moved in with my Mom and Dad again.
On August 20, 2012 my Mom choked on food and stopped breathing. My Dad had intended to take her to the hospital that afternoon because she was obviously (albeit, not to us that lived with her) close to the end of her life. I called EMS and talked Dad through CPR. EMS revived her and took her to the hospital. She took her very last breath August 23, 2012.
On October 15, 2012 I gave birth to her first grandchild via Caesarean. Coulda been the drugs, but as my daughter cried for the first time, I heard my Mom yell my name. I’ve never heard so much as a whisper since.
The past 10 years I have had to learn how to be a Mom without a Mom. Being as I was separated from her father; it was all Mommy all the time the first 3 months of her life. My Dad helped a lot when I worked and let me go out with friends here and there, but I was insistent that I did everything. I couldn’t show that I was weak and incapable… my ex and his family would swoop in and take her from me if I ever let on that I was struggling to hold it all together. I was a MESS. No one really knew. I only received praise from coworkers and friends… but, in my mind, I was the worst parent in the world and everything around me was falling apart.
I told you all of that so you understand how incredibly traumatizing the events of that time were. I never had time to grieve. My Dad was, understandably, depressed and I had a VERY tiny human to nurture. The pain of the experience didn’t hit me until years later when my ex filed for custody of my daughter (which he was not granted).
I had no idea how to handle the emotions of feeling like control was being taken from me. The safest, surest thing I knew in the whole world was being her Mom. Something emotional and mental deep within me snapped. I have placed a lot of my addiction blame on all of it. Drinking was something I COULD ‘control’ (in the sense that I was choosing to do it, and a reckless decision is still a choice). It wasn’t until the Zoom meeting I was in on Mother’s Day that I was able to look at the situation from a recovery point of view.
This past Mother’s Day, I knew that it was time I took the bull by the horns and found a new way of living. I shared that ten years ago was the last one I shared with my Mom… and that the best way I can honor her today, and always, is to make sure my daughter has as many memories as I do to carry her after I pass. It is true, I do believe that. However, I can’t do that simply by being sober. I can’t do that if I let feeling out of control trigger me. I can’t do that by putting my grief of losing my Mom on a pedestal that allows me to destroy my life and my family’s memories.
For a long time, I wished nothing more than for my Mom’s pain to be taken away, for her to heal and get better (actually, back then it was prayer. A big reason I don’t do that anymore). I asked to trade, to take it from her and carry the weight. I didn’t care how bad it hurt as long as some of her suffering was relieved. As it turns out, it kinda happened. Instead of me taking her pain for myself PHYSICALLY, she passed away and I was left with excruciating EMOTIONAL pain in its place. If I said I ‘didn’t care how bad it hurt’, why have I leaned on it as a reason for my depression, anxiety, and addiction?
My Mom, ABSOLUTELY, wouldn’t stand for any of that! And its time I stopped doing it. Yes, I have issues with abandonment. Yes, I have issues with feeling incompetent. Yes, I have issues with feeling safe in relationships. I have issues because I’ve had trauma. I can work on them, and deal with the feelings. I can protect myself from anything and anyone I feel can or IS hurting me. I can reshape my life… I can HONOR my Mom by LIVING the life she believed in so much. This was the first Mother’s Day in 10 years that I could actually give her a gift. My Recovery.
IF she can ‘look down’ upon me, then she’s seen all the bullshit I’ve been doing for a decade in the name of grief. Grief over her not being here anymore… She never took me passing the buck in life, so she sure wouldn’t be taking it now! I actually laugh out loud every time I think about it… how she would tell me to, “Cut the crap, Jessica. This isn’t my fault, so don’t even start.” I would probably stomp off and slam a door, but I would know she was right… she always was.
Mom, I am sorry that you had to leave the life you loved. I am sorry that I didn’t pick myself up as quickly as I should have. I am sorry that I ever, inadvertently, took your painful story and used it as my own. Yes, I miss you a great deal. Yes, I wish you had been given the chance to meet your granddaughter. Yes, I wish you would have been here to give me advice. Yes, I wish if I dialed your number, still saved in my phone, that you would answer.
My Mom truly believed I was strong and smart; that I could overcome anything that I decided to. I did just that for a really long time. MY grief does not trump my PURPOSE.
Being sober has just given me the opportunity to explore these feelings. I am ready now, more than I thought I ever would be, to tackle the triggering moments in life head on. I’ve allowed depression and anxiety to consume and control me… I have a lot of making up to do, and a very special woman I refuse to disappoint or dishonor ever again.
I love you, Mom… I promise to make you proud.
This was adapted (altered for timing and language) my personal blog which I hope to turn into a book someday. It first posted in May 2022 on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/phoenix.in.recovery?mibextid=LQQJ4d
Corissa is a PRS intern at Robin’s Hope and ambassador for Bethany House of Northern Virginia. She facilitates Breaking the Cycle of Abuse virtually Wednesdays at 1pm. This is her story.
Blog by Angie Barquero –
This one is personal.
The following content contains topics of a sensitive nature. Domestic violence and human trafficking are at the forefront of this article. This is intended for adult readers, in an effort to raise awareness on what these crimes really are, how they happen, and what we can do to fight them.
Exploiting a person through force, fraud, or coercion.
A pattern of abusive behaviors used by one person to control another person in the context of an intimate or family relationship.
Robin’s Hope by Cherie Silva
Gives me ways to cope
Living day to day
In a very special way
Loving support is from everyone
Which means a ton
MS and Depression put a toll on me
But I’ll always be
In a Heard of llama
Free and less trauma
Don’t be afraid to enter
Robin’s Hope is the best center
Poem by Angie Hess
Robin’s Hope, its not just a place
Its home and I feel loved
Before this I was in and out of the hospital
Its my safe place I wouldn’t trade for the world
So what is Robin’s Hope?
It’s the hope I finally have for my recovery
Hope for a better day
Its not just a place to see people
Robins Hope has saved me from a dark place and I hope it can help you too
Poem about Robin’s Hope by Jena Rives
I move forward, I push myself
Robins Hope is my safe space
Its not loud, its quiet and peaceful
I feel loved
Robins Hope is my second family
I feel safe, I feel heard, I feel listened to
At Robin’s Hope I don’t feel scared, I feel brave
INHUMAN ABUSER By Jess Venema
The first time we met I was 16. They made me feel so grown up… I felt ‘cool’ and accepted when they were around. It wasn’t a lot of time, or often, but it was enough to cement into my brain that they were probably the only way I could feel confident.
As I got older and ventured out into the world, I was able to spend more and more time with them. Late at night we would relax with a group of friends, sometimes just one on one at home. Our time together felt like a natural end to my day, a habit. The more I let them in, the more I felt I needed them. I knew it probably wasn’t the right way to feel, but it was difficult to end days without them. My friends and I were having too much fun with our adult freedom to even consider their presence a threat. They had latched on to me and my group… We accepted them. I accepted them into my life so much that our relationship became part of my identity. It was freeing to break out of the shell I had lived in through adolescence. I finally felt I knew who I was.
That feeling was the turning point that almost took my life.
It turned from wanting them around to NEEDING them around. I felt out of place without them; I didn’t know how to act or talk to people. I brought them into my home more nights than not… what had started as relaxing evenings together, began to morph into fights and tears. I would wake up the following mornings in so much pain. Some days I could carry myself to work and joke about ‘a rough night’. I could act like I was fine until I got home and crawled under my covers. Some days I couldn’t leave my bed at all because of the pain. They had done this to me! I just didn’t have the heart to blame them or tell anyone. It seemed the entire world idolized them… I was obviously the one in the wrong.
The more time passed, the more this routine became normalized. I felt as though I had built this life myself and there wasn’t any sense to complain about it now. The more I hurt, the more I was told that if I just comply then it wouldn’t hurt anymore. To avoid the pain, I just allowed them to control me more. It affected me all the time. With my family, with my friends, with my job, and sometimes with the law.
I finally began to give up on my life and myself. I was never going to be free of them while I was alive. I started to hope that they would finally kill me during one of our fights… and then I began to think that if THEY wouldn’t do it, then maybe I could. Then the pain would finally stop. I would not have to answer or succumb to them any longer. These feelings lasted for weeks. The emotional pain was so obvious to the people that loved me that they argued with me to give them up. To push them back. To walk away.
They told me I couldn’t. I couldn’t survive without them. They convinced me that I was a horrible person and I wanted all of this to happen. They became the negative voice in my head… telling me I couldn’t succeed. Everything I had ever tried to accomplish in my life had ended in failure. I wasn’t truly loved by anyone. Everyone in my life would be better off without me in it. I was an embarrassment. They were the only one that understood who I really was… and if they were gone, who would I be then?
Our last fight lasted for 15 hours. I had complied as best I could, but it wasn’t helping any longer. They kept me alive to continue the cycle. I realized I was going to have to be the one to end it forever. I made my plan… made peace with myself… told my spouse goodbye and that I hoped my daughter’s father would allow him to see her.
My husband came home and stopped me.
I wasn’t having an affair, you see. The relationship I was trapped in wasn’t even with a person.
The comfort and courage. The pain and the cover ups. The gaslighting and emotional abuse. The wish for death by whatever means.
Alcohol had caused me to become my own abuser. I was trapped between the real world and the prison of my mind.
Walking away was the hardest thing I have ever done.
I still see them everywhere. They are at every restaurant and gathering I go to. They are on billboards and TV. They show up on my social media feeds every day.
THEY are everywhere.
I still feel their pull from time to time. When I see them having fun in a group of other people. When they make an intimate dinner more romantic. When someone turns to them for comfort after a long day. I remember when WE were like that.
Then I remember we can never be like that again. I had called them out for who they were to me. Every day I wake up and I decide with absolute strength, “NO”.
Never again will I pretend that being controlled was companionship or love.
I have to speak out with conviction, strength, and knowledge. I can only hope that their other victims see and hear me. That they understand life isn’t supposed to hurt that way. That they can stop covering, defending, and justifying.
That their life does not have to end for the pain to stop.
That there is life after substance abuse.
When The Matrix Breaks By Jess Venema
There was so much of my life that was created by other people. Who I was in the world, what was expected of me, who I was compliant to. I truly believe that a giant reason I fell into alcoholism was because drinking was one of the only things I ‘controlled’. 10-foot tall and bulletproof, the liquid courage made me the boss. How much I drank, how late I stayed up alone, the arguments won in my mind. I was under no one’s thumb when I was inebriated.
As every drunk that has lived to tell their recovery story can say, alcohol and the person I became under its influence, controlled me. A vicious cycle of wanting to take control back while subsequently losing more of it each day. My last days before recovery were full of despair, tears, suicidal thoughts and plans. I no longer wanted to feel sick from my consumption, but I found myself at the liquor store counter every other day just the same.
I was living in a world created by the experiences in my life that caused the most pain. A marriage separation from the person I thought I loved since I was 16. A pregnancy. Moving in with my parents who had just lost my childhood home due to my Mom’s medical bills. Having to talk my Dad through CPR on my Mom while on the phone with EMS. My mother passing away. My Dad’s depression. My daughter was born. My Dad was unable to work and we were kicked out of the apartment. Moving in with my ex-in laws. My daughter’s Father trying to coin his new girlfriend ‘Mama’ when I wasn’t around. It all happened within 7 months.
I walked out of that time in my life without coping with any of it. I was a ‘reactor’ in my own story, not the owner. I put all of me into raising my daughter, and left myself cold on the back burner. I was challenged multiple times from her Father, an emotional manipulator and gaslighter. He filed (and lost) for custody twice in an effort to relieve himself of child support. The last thing I did before I got sober was concede to a 50/50 time split and gave up his financial support. I was running out of ‘fight’ in myself. By making that decision, I was taking away his fuel to attack me emotionally and legally. Because I had not healed at this point, I was left feeling as if I had given up on my daughter and being her Mom.
Thankfully, this story does not end there.
Right around 90 days after my sobriety date, I had a ceremony in my backyard. I wrote down all of the negative thoughts I had surrounding myself on index cards. I lit a bonfire, invited two close friends and my husband, and wore a black dress. My husband took a video as I stood before the fire, read aloud each and every horrible thing I had ever said about myself, and then dropped it into the flames. It was a memorial to the person I had to be in order to survive, and a testament to who I was and where I was going. I am a phoenix, and from the ashes of a self-depreciating life… this new version of me rose.
I recently passed 19 months of sobriety and recovery. Whenever I start to hear myself speaking in doubt, or guilt, or anger, I remember the bonfire. In my mind I send the thought into the flames and give myself a word of affirmation. I set a boundary with my child’s Father. Unless it is an emergency having to do with her, we do not speak on the phone. We make plans and discuss things only over text. He can no longer corner me and use my love for her as a weapon. If he tries to sway the texts in that direction, I ignore it until I am ready and feel more secure. That day in the backyard was the day the ‘Matrix’ broke.
The day the Matrix broke, I took control of my life back. I found my voice again. I went back to 2012 and found the younger version of myself. The traumatic events I went through in such a short span of time created a shell meant only to survive for the sake of her kid. I let the actions of others control what I did… I was too scared to take control, put my foot down, or make decisions. I gave up control to keep myself from falling apart.
Today I am in control. Today, I am willing to make compromises in the best interest of my daughter and NOT in the best interest of keeping the peace. Today I am more open to trusting. Today I am able to speak up when I don’t like something. Today I can say ‘No.’ as a complete sentence. Today I enjoy my life. Today I can live in my truth… I am an alcoholic. I am a great Mom. I am a survivor. I am valuable to the ones I love and society. I am a phoenix. There is no one in control of a Matrix that I need to adapt to, comply with, or control me.
This is my life. I am the owner of my story.