Today my life sounds like a country music song played backward. I got my house back, my car back, my dog back and most of all I got my self-respect back. This is not the life I would have chosen but the life I was given. Life isn’t fair but how we cope with it makes a difference.
Looking back, I understand how stressful life can become. I had my share of life experiences both good and bad. I grew up in a blended family of 3 boys and 3 girls. I have great memories of playing hide and go seek in the corn fields, collecting fireflies in a mason jar, and laughing so hard from the funny stories told at the dinner table. However, I grew up knowing the boogie man lived at my house. In the words of Martin Luther King, “We do not get to choose how we start out in life. We do not get to choose the day we are born or the family we are born into, what we are named at birth, what country we are born in, and we do not get to choose our ancestry. All these things are predetermined by a higher power. By the time you are old enough to start making decisions for yourself, a lot of things in your life are already in place. It’s important, therefore, that you focus on the future, the only thing that you can change.” This was my mantra from an early age.
At the hands of my alcoholic stepfather, my siblings and I experienced long term sexual, physical and psychological abuse. My first sexual abuse memory was pre-kindergarten and the last was junior high. The physical signs and ramifications of sexual abuse are often missed or underrated. When I was in third grade my hips got twisted in a way that made my right leg 2 ½” shorter than the other. I was hospitalized for about a month in traction. During my hospital stay I was put in front of a panel of doctors asking me all kinds of questions because of the bizarre way my hips were disjointed but no one questioned my safety. After leaving the hospital I was on crutches and missed enough school to be held back. I spent 3 years in the third grade. My stepfather did other cruel things such as make my siblings fight each other, beat my mother and abuse animals. I saw him put cats into bags and hang them on a clothesline and watch as they violently wiggle to their death. He also liked to put 2 dogs into a car and watch them fight to the death.
Despite my environment I worked hard and stayed focused. In my senior year of high school, I was voted Senior of the Year. After graduation I became a successful salon owner outside of Washington, DC, then later opened an advanced cosmetology learning center in Alabama. In 1993 at the height of my career and the happiest time of my life I got what I thought was the flu. I was eventually diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. I stayed bed ridden for a year, house bound for another 2 years, and not strong enough to drive a car for 5 years. I lost everything I worked for, my business, my marriage and my home. Every penny I had saved went to medical expenses.
In 1997 I went in front of a disability judge. He was empathetic and expressed his understanding of how sick I was however at that time there was not any legal precedence that covered my illness. In order to get the help, I obviously needed and deserved, he would have to declare me legally incompetent. I was desperate to get help, so I agreed. It was a decision I later regretted.
I learned stress affects every organ function in my body, so it was important to get treatment for depression. One of the issues I worked through was the suicide of my 16yr old stepson. Also, during this time, when I didn’t think life could get any harder, my father died of leukemia, my mother died of a stroke, my sister got hit by a car and killed in Ireland where she had gone to run a marathon, and my diagnosed schizophrenic brother died of an accidental overdose. I was devastated! I had worked hard to move past my upbringing by getting an education, working hard in therapy, being financially responsible and still I ended up sick, broke and alone. I felt my spirit break. I became emotional and physically paralyzed. In order to get the level of care I needed I checked myself into an inpatient program followed with an intensive outpatient program. This gave me the opportunity and resources to get myself emotionally stable. Unfortunately, I was given a long list of psychiatric drugs which caused many side effects. I tried to explain that I was physically sick but as soon as a therapist heard about my background that was the only thing they wanted to focus on. According to my court documents I was legally incompetent so why would they listen to me.
In 2000 I read about American Olympic soccer star Michelle Akers and how she led the U.S. victories in the 1991 World Cup and the 1996 Olympics despite battling chronic fatigue syndrome for much of her career. This gave me the hope I needed to move forward. I took control of my recovery. I started doing research and taking notes on how Michelle Akers, who has the availability of the best medical resources had regained control of her physical health. With this information I was able to evaluate where I was physically, where I wanted to be and the steps to get there. It took hard work, discipline, patience, and attention to detail, but I eventually got there.
Today my life sounds like a country music song played backward. I got my house back, my car back, my dog back and most of all I got my self-respect back. This is not the life I would have chosen but the life I was given. Life isn’t fair but how we cope with it makes a difference. We have the freedom to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose our own way. By overcoming difficulties, I gained strength and maturity. Today I use my experience to help others as a Peer Recovery Specialist at MHAET. Any type of recovery is hard but here at MHAET we have proven that recovery is possible. The stories are different but the process to move forward is the same.
SAMHSA has established a working definition of recovery that defines recovery as a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential. I reached mine. Through hope, support, education and determination you can reach yours. You don’t have to do it alone. My name is Janice. I’m a phone call away.