August 30, 2019
“We were dressed and ready for bed when my dad arrived in a drunken rage. It’s funny how much your mind will block things out, but I remember him screaming and cursing at my mom. We all rallied around her, because for some reason this night felt different than the others. It seemed more intense, and my dad was angrier than usual…”
I (Dana – Alyssa Michelle’s mother) am so excited to write to you all this week about my sister, Jennifer and her struggles and triumphs in taking back her life and learning how to love herself again. Jenny just had her very first Boudoir shoot with her niece, Alyssa Michelle this week. Part of the shoot was live-streamed and for those of you who joined us, I want to thank you for your heart-felt and empowering words of encouragement that you gave my sister! You are truly a wonderful group of ladies and I, for one, appreciate each and every one of you!
SUCH A HAPPY LITTLE GIRL
I always said that my brother, Kevin was our protector, I was the black sheep, and Jenny was the perfect little angel. My sister and I are only thirteen months apart and we look just the same, which really makes us more like twins. My mom had a seamstress friend that made most of our clothes and dressed us alike. We did everything together; we played, we dreamed, we fought. We were sisters. We grew up in a converted beach shack in South Laguna, California with a huge backyard, overgrown with trees and shrubs. My dad was a landscaper and we could literally lose ourselves in the yard while playing hide and seek. We weren’t a rich family, so Jenny and I really used our imaginations in our play. We used our shoes as cars for our Barbie’s, made make-believe tacos out of leaves filled with twigs and berries, and pretended that two branches on an olive tree were our horses. Jenny was a happy, beautiful little girl with a round face and soft golden hair. She was breakable though; she needed her hand held and she needed to be loved and to be shown that she was loved. Even so, I think everything would have been OK if nothing truly bad had happened in her life.
WELCOME TO OUR CHILDHOOD
Jenny is my baby sister, one year younger than I at 58. My brother, Kevin is the oldest and I am sandwiched in the middle. We come from a broken home, children of an alcoholic and abusive father. Mostly, our childhood memories are of being afraid. My father was an angry drunk that scared all of us. I remember praying that he wouldn’t come home at night. I didn’t mean anything bad, it wasn’t all that thought out. I just knew that when he got home; things were going to get ugly.
He would come home in a rage and he insisted that we stand there and pay attention to him as he would threaten us and my mom, his anger escalating almost into a frenzy. He didn’t so much abuse us physically, but the emotional and verbal assaults were somehow more penetrating. I can explain all of the things that he did, but you get the idea.
One night, Kevin would have been about eleven years old, I, nine and Jenny seven. It was a night like any other, we were home with our mom, and my dad was not there for dinner as was usual. We were dressed and ready for bed when my dad arrived in a drunken rage. It’s funny how much your mind will block things out, but I remember him screaming and cursing at my mom. We all rallied around her, because for some reason this night felt different than the others. It seemed more intense, and my dad was angrier than usual. We were watching him punch out the windows with his fists, and then standing in front of us, blood dripping all over, and yelling at my mom to get out and take the kids with her; that he never wanted any kids in the first place.
All of us were scared and crying and my sister, the pet-lover, picked up the two kittens that we had and tried to shield them from my father. Well, he made it clear to Jenny that he wanted the cats, just not the kids. We left the house, as we always did, and went to the supermarket where my mom pushed us around in the cart for hours, up and down the aisles in our pajamas. We thought that everyone grew up like we did, shopping at midnight with nothing to buy, when we were so tired that all we wanted to do was sleep. This sort of thing happened over and over in our childhood, and I cannot imagine why my mom stayed with my dad for fifteen years, but that’s another story for another time.
“All of us were alone at an early age, but Jenny felt the most abandoned.”
ON OUR OWN
In the end, my brother, sister and I all had a home to live in until we were all left, like discarded trash, when we hit the ages of 16; 17 for Jenny. There was always some excuse that my mom gave as to why she left each one of us, none of which make any sense to me now. Either way, we were either kicked out and sent to live with our abusive father (me), or left to live in a shack behind a neighbors house (my brother), or left in the care of friends (Jenny) on Catalina Island. All of us were alone at an early age, but Jenny felt the most abandoned.
WHO TOOK MY SISTER?
My mom had left her on Catalina so that she could pursue God’s calling to be a missionary in Wenachee, Washington. Jenny was just entering her senior year of high school. I was married and no longer lived on Catalina so I couldn’t be there for her like she needed someone to be. This was a tough time for my sister and, even without a proper family support system, she got through the year and graduated Valedictorian. She moved off the island to be with our mom in Washington. In hindsight, this was probably a mistake, but I understood why she did it. My mom was tough, and her strict “while you are in my house, you will live by my rules” mentality probably served only to push Jenny away at a time when she needed to be held close. I started getting more calls from Jenny. She seemed depressed and isolated. By age 20, my sister began drinking.
“She never had a hangover because she never stopped drinking.”
THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
She met and married an alcoholic and the drinking intensified. It became a part of her, not just something she did. The marriage ended two years later; the drinking did not. She seemed to have the same addictive personality as my dad and the more she drank, the angrier she would get. She was drinking from the moment she woke up to the time she would pass out at night. She never had a hangover because she never stopped drinking. She stopped eating as well, surviving on as little as a lettuce leaf and a scoop of cottage cheese daily. She wanted to lose weight and so she did. She was 5’9” tall and weighed in at 110 soaking wet. She got re-married years later but the only change was her address and marital status. Her drinking intensified and the problems it created started spilling over into her work. She would show up to work intoxicated, drink on her breaks, and steal from her employers. She started having brain seizures, which I found out later was brought on by taking anti-seizure meds while drinking. I tried to intervene and get her into rehab but nothing I did seemed to help her. She kept getting fired from her jobs until she could no longer hold a job. Her life was quickly falling apart. Her second marriage ended in divorce, and the spiral intensified.
At a low point, she accidentally lit her hair and sweater on fire while trying to light a cigarette and was too drunk to figure out how to put it out. It caused third-degree burns to her neck, chest and shoulder for which the skin grafting couldn’t hide all the damage that was done. Now I know why they say that burn units in the hospital are some of the worst things that you can see. I cleaned and dressed her wounds daily for a month and, to this day, I still remember the smell of rotting flesh and the screams of agony from my sister. This apparently was not her low point yet. There were many more hospital visits after that, all as a result of her drinking and falling and more brain injuries. There were car accidents, alcoholic live-in boyfriends, more falls, and calls for help. There were alcohol rehab programs, but she was kicked out of them for drinking, and eventually refused to attend them altogether.
Then there was the dumpster in Anaheim, behind which she lived for I don’t know how long, after her boyfriend kicked her out of the house for attacking him in a drunken rage. We kept waiting for Jenny to hit her rock bottom, but it seemed like it would never come. I know I, the eternal optimist, had finally given up. I believed that my sister’s low point would never be reached in time for her to turn her life around. I couldn’t let her live with me unless she quit drinking. It was too much of a risk and I had children of my own at home to think about. I quietly accepted that, one day I would get the call that my sister had died.
Pretty much no one in the family had any contact with her except for an occasional family gathering that I would invite her to. (Needless to say, they were all disastrous.) Never invite a drunk to a party unless it’s a drinking party.
“Jenny had just decided that after 35 years, she didn’t want to ever drink again.”
THE WAY BACK FROM THE EDGE
Life went on this way until my sister called me one day in February 2016. I could tell from her voice that she was not intoxicated. I could always tell when my sister had been drinking. She told me that she was done with drinking and that she wanted her life back. There was no rehab, no counseling, no hospital stays, no detox. Jenny had just decided that after 35 years, she didn’t want to ever drink again. It was not the way I pictured it happening. I always thought that if Jenny quit drinking, it was going to be a slow, painful process. I figured that it would be a series of quits and relapses. That is not the way it went down.
The day Jenny called me, February 18, 2016 is the first day of her sobriety. She still has not had a drink since then. There were no night sweats, no crawly skin, and no relapses. She was done. She had taken that giant step back from the precipice and chose to live again. Jenny came to live with me so she could try to pick up the pieces of her life and figure out how to put them back together again. It was a two step forward and one step back process. There were gains and there were definite setbacks. Jenny had not yet learned how to love herself; hell, she didn’t even like herself yet. Some of us are lucky. We like who we are from the start. Once you lose your dignity and self-respect, it is much more difficult to get it back than it would be to have never lost it in the first place.
My sister lived with us for nine months and she was getting better. She got a job, the first in almost twenty years, but she was getting frustrated at the slow process of saving money and building a life for herself. She really wanted to get a car and a place of her own. And she wanted a man in her life. This was the one thing that worried me the most. My sister has a way of losing herself in her relationships, and I think that is the first step to her wanting to run away from who she is. This time though, everything was different. Jenny was different. She stuck her chin up and trudged ahead with saving money and living on a tight budget. Within nine months, Jenny was ready for the next phase of her life; one that she had never experienced before.
STANDING ON HER OWN
With the help of our brother’s wife, Jenny managed to find a place to live that was absolutely perfect for her. She rents her own one bedroom apartment that is totally sectioned off from the rest of the house. She has a patio where she tends to her plants (she is truly a landscapers daughter), and a pad with a bedroom, bath, and small kitchen. She spends hours each day decorating her place with knick knacks and what-nots and pillows; lots and lots of pillows. The point is, the place is hers and she is taking pride in that fact. And, each week, she grows stronger. I can see that my sister is starting to love herself, quite possibly for the first time. She has that self-respect that comes from standing on her own two feet.
“She doesn’t want to miss another important date, another outing with the family; another chance to see my two daughters.”
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE
Jenny is truly making up for lost time. She doesn’t want to miss another important date, another outing with the family; another chance to see my two daughters. She feels like she has already missed so much, and indeed she has. Most nights, Jenny doesn’t go to sleep until 1 or 2 in the morning, she has a zest for living every day to its fullest. She laughs and cries and smiles, and all for the right reasons. She is a part of the family again and they have welcomed her back with open arms and forgiving hearts.
BOUDOIR AS THERAPY
Last Saturday, Jenny experienced her very first Boudoir session. I think it was extra-special for her as her nieces, Alyssa Michelle and Amy witnessed this re-birth right along with her. It was the perfect time in Jenny’s life for this boost in confidence. She listened to everything Alyssa and Amy asked of her and cooperated fully, putting all of her trust in their advice. And I got to watch the excitement grow in my sister during the shoot, and the almost childlike anticipation she had the night of her image reveal. You are seeing some of the photos from the shoot in this blog post. The scars are there for all to see and my much healthier sister loves them too, for they are a part of who she is and where she has been. She is not afraid of seeing herself; Hell, I’m not sure that she is afraid of anything anymore.