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Up From Ashes, I've Been Redeemed

by JJ DunhamReed

November 23, 2022

TRIGGER WARNING: References to suicide, domestic violence and substance abuse.

In the past few months, I have had the honor of experiencing some, “big win”, moments.

Reflecting on what has made these events such big wins for me. I am reminded it's the joy that comes in recognizing the little successes along the way. That is what makes a big win so special. Those big wins would not have happened if I had not stayed passionately focused on recognizing and celebrating the little day-to-day wins. When I live in today and focus on today; instead of fearing the future or regretting the past the light of the little things, wins every time.

In all vulnerability, I share with you today a small bit of my story, so that I can remember and perhaps another may gain hope.

On November 23, 2016, my sister vowed to care for my children as she drove me to the local emergency room. I checked myself in on suicide watch, I consented to be pink slipped, I was given a hospital gown, some grippy socks, I changed out of the clothes I had on, and my shoes I was wearing, and handed over any and every personal possession I had, I sat alone in a room that had a heavy metal door with a small observation window. There was a plastic examining table bolted to the floor and no blanket for what seemed like 12 hours. I don’t know how long I was really in that room. I just knew I couldn’t muster up the strength on my own to put one foot in front of the other and fight for another day.

If you don’t know what “pink-slipped” is, it means I signed over consent that I could no longer make my own decisions and I would be in the care of the psychiatric ward until they deemed me mentally stable and healthy enough to be released back into society under my own supervision. I had been fortunate enough to sign in just before the Thanksgiving Day holiday. Doctors are people too, they have families and loved ones to spend the holidays and weekends with. I am grateful they do because, that meant I was blessed with an extended stay of six and a half days as opposed to the normal three-day stay on the 6th floor of our local hospital.

Yes, in all good humor I claim the title “I am 6th-floor psych ward certifiably crazy!”.

I was diagnosed with major depression; I slept A LOT. I enjoyed a cup of warm decaf tea that I requested as a reward to have after I managed to force myself to shower.

I ate Thanksgiving dinner with my fellow 6th-floor mates, participated in music therapy and cognitive therapy sessions, decorated a box with mosaic tiles, and created a journal cover with torn-out pictures from a magazine (no scissors allowed). I cherish my mosaic tile-covered box and my laminated journal cover today. They sit in a place of honor in my office at my home.

All of that may not sound like a good time to you, but honestly, I cry tears of joy reminiscing on those few days. To me, it was as though I had booked myself a staycation at the finest 5-star hotel in town. In that hospital, I was safe from the death and destruction my life had become. I was finally able to get some sleep.

When the time came for me to be released, I was terrified of walking out the doors. I had been functioning in a state of survival for a very long time. For the previous 17 years, I had been fighting for my life and the lives of my children. Never once did it occur to me, I was experiencing complex chronic trauma. The healthy thing to do would have been stopping to grieve. There is no way I could have chosen the healthy option because I wasn’t healthy. Thus, the cycle of abuse and substance use continued. I look back and wonder how I could have expected myself to make healthy choices when I was nowhere near healthy enough to even realize I was sick.

At that time, I was a single mother of five children from two abusive marriages. One may wonder why I didn’t check myself into detox or a rehab facility. I didn't have time to check myself into a psychiatric ward or a treatment facility, even if I had thought I needed one. The lives of my children bore far more importance to me than my own life. I would not have checked in on the morning of November 23, 2016, either if I had even the slightest notion the children would be sent to the homes of their biological fathers to be subjected to the abuse I had experienced while trapped in those marriages. I was ready to die before the children would be turned over to those men.

And die, I almost did.

I wanted to. I screamed out loud to God on numerous occasions to please give me a gun so I could kill myself. I wanted a gun to blow out my brains to silence the thoughts. I begged for death to relieve me of the confusion, delusion, and emptiness I was consumed with.

In the grips of addiction of any kind, there comes the point where there seems to be no other way out than death itself.

I am eternally grateful God saw in me what I could not. I am eternally grateful I live today rescued, redeemed, and renewed.

The time in my life I spent in the clutches of active progressive substance abuse and domestic abuse is a chapter in my life. No different than when I had a childhood or went to college and graduated. These are events in my life that together make me the whole person I am. Today I am living in the fullest, most joyful time in my life.

I did not drink because I had endured trauma or because I had abusive relationships. I did not drink because it was the only coping skill I had to survive the devastation of broken marriages, single parenthood, and shattered dreams of a fairy tale life. I drank because I was physically addicted to alcohol.

I am much more than someone with substance abuse disorder.

I keep in mind; I am never more than one drink or drug away from death and destruction. Therefore, every day sober is a little win I celebrate. After a few 24 hours are set back-to-back, the little wins come together to contribute to this big win. I celebrate with my friends, family, and loved ones as a reminder of where I was and what I’ve lived through. I am rescued, redeemed, and renewed. I am a walking, talking, living, and breathing miracle.

November 23, 2016 - November 23, 2022, 6 years sober today.

; ) JJDR.

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