Upon reflection, she knows she made some very ill-judged choices in her early life. But in a misdirected search for acceptance, she repeatedly took injudicious steps and reached a cycle of despair, only to find a way to escape and a path to self-awareness and well-being.
Melissa is 33 years old, the mother of 9-year old Jayden. She is a newlywed and employed with a steady income and benefits. It is Melissa’s day off, and her son is still in school. She is eager to talk, so we momentarily depart the present to reflect on the past.
Melissa and her older brother (now deceased from a heroin overdose) were raised by their welfare mom; their father left the family when Melissa was just a toddler. She thinks she led a pretty normal life, other than she always wished she had a father living with her. She felt abandoned and insecure.
As a young teen, Melissa made the sobering acknowledgement that her mom had been a long-time user of alcohol, painkillers and heroin. She fled to her aunt – her mother’s sister –for comfort. In turn, her aunt sent her to an out-of-state boarding school, where she was expelled for smoking cigarettes. Feeling helpless, Melissa returned to her aunt’s home, discovered her aunt, too, was an addict as was her uncle who subsequently introduced her to methamphetamine. She became intoxicated by the drug’s feelings of pleasure, confidence and energy she wanted so very badly.
Her addiction was a family disease.
In her late teens, Melissa went through a succession of boyfriends she calls “bad boys” or the “lowest of the low” whom she unconsciously sought, believing they would love her because she was just a step above them. Each of her young loves, including the father of her son, turned physically abusive. Melissa just wanted to belong, to find acceptance.
As Melissa’s drug abuse spiraled downward, she feared Child Protective Services would remove Jayden from her. With her last boyfriend in jail, she found the courage to place herself and her son in a faith-based residential rehab program and later transitioned to Saint John’s Program for Real Change. That is where she thrived on the many emotional and developmental programs provided by Saint John’s, and where she was introduced to her now-husband by one of her Saint John’s friends.
Melissa is flourishing today. She maintains her own self-help program, works and nurtures her son and loves her supportive spouse.
By Laura Wendel, Saint John’s Volunteer and Guest Blogger