Another interview I know you'll enjoy. Jennie so eloquently opens up about some of her struggles as a young mother with self-esteem and the strength she finds now from realizing that her weaknesses do not define her. An inspiring and motivational story that all of you will be able to relate to in some way; truly a must read. Enjoy.
Tell me about you and your story?
I am 34, and my husband and I have been married almost 12 years. We have three kids: Mitchell (age 9), Jack (age 7), Emme (age 2).
My story began the day I became a mom. When Mitchell was born, we had no idea that he had Down Syndrome. I was young and naïve to realize then the gravity of the fact that it was a loss of expectations; not necessarily a loss because of him, because he was perfect and beautiful, but just a shift in expectations. In turn, I felt grief. But, I felt so ashamed for feeling grief that I never opened up about it. I never cut myself some slack.
I was so hard on myself for feeling that sense of loss, of that “typical baby” experience, and “typical” situation. In turn, I started internalizing all my emotional and mental pain. I put on a brave face and I kind of did what I was supposed to do while going through the motions. I thought, If I can look good on the outside, then nobody really has to know what’s on the inside. That is one of the biggest misconceptions with being a woman. I felt this sense of pressure of holding my head up high all of the time. In reality, that’s not reasonable, that’s not ideal, and that’s not healthy. I was so down on myself, and I feel like that’s where the crux of my self-esteem was starting to erode and chip away. I thought I have this perfect baby. Why am I depressed? Why am I grieving this loss of expectations?
One of the ways I coped with my situation was running. It’s something I have loved since high school and used it as a healthy escape, literally and figuratively. Although I love to run, my joints didn’t necessarily agree. Due to wear and tear, I ended up having Chrondromalacia and was scheduled for knee surgery May 20, 2010 at age 28. Then, during my surgery, my dad died. Even though I knew he wasn’t going to make it much longer, I wasn’t fully prepared to hear those words, especially coming out of major surgery. Dealing with the funeral and viewing, I was also recovering from surgery, and this new chapter of my life began: it was the perfect storm. I began losing my solid sense of self. With the challenges that came from that point on, I didn’t feel fully equipped with the right tools to brave the next storm. Mitchell was three and Jack was 6 months old. Because of my surgery, I couldn’t walk without crutches, I couldn’t clean or do household chores, I couldn’t adequately take care of my babies and it was then I felt paralyzed not only physically, but emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I felt like a prisoner in my own body, and all I had was my mind to keep shooting negative self-talk left and right.
I began finding myself depending on my painkillers prescribed from my surgery to “escape”. This behavior led me to become desensitized to the severity of what I really was getting into. I became numb and detached and I used my free agency, which eventually took away my free agency. I was going down a very slippery slope.
During that time, I felt very alone. I was searching for happiness through outside resources, trying to fill the void I had inside. I was searching for something to take away the cards I’d been dealt and the burdens I was so exhausted from carrying. That’s kind of what depression and trying to “fill the void” with outside sources does: I broke myself down so much in my mind that I felt I was alone and that’s when the shame and the guilt and doubt came. It came like a flood. I thought to myself, How did I even get to this point where I’m making these choices? I was so ashamed and embarrassed because it was so unlike my character. I was my own worst enemy. I thought I was of no worth, and unlovable because if anyone knew what was really going on they would shun me and judge me. I thought that I had done the worst possible thing ever. I felt detached from my purpose in life. I thought, I’ve sunk so low and I’ve made decisions that are against my character, I don’t even know who I am.
I remember on a lonely, lonely night just crying and saying, “Heavenly Father I can’t do this. Why am I alone in this?” It was immediately after that I had this overwhelming sense of warmth. I remember distinctly hearing, I’ve been waiting for you. I’ve been here all along. It was then that I realized that I was the one who left. I was the one who doubted. I was the one who questioned my own worth. It took me sinking that low to realize I needed help and that this was way bigger than I ever imagined. At first I justified it, thinking this pain medication is totally prescribed and it’s fine to take it… I’ve got this. Well the second I said I got it… I lost it. The dependency crept up on me, and by the time I knew it, I was stuck in boiling water and sinking so fast I didn’t know how to save myself. The truth is, you can’t save yourself without help. Addiction is so much bigger than most people realize or understand. At that point, I knew I needed help and I had to let go of my pride. I made poor decisions out of pure exhaustion, which doesn’t justify the things I did, and I had to be held accountable.
Gratefully, my stalwart and consistent husband never gave up on me. I realize that’s not the case for a lot of people that struggle with addiction. This kind of stuff ends marriages; it ends lives. He saw my worth when I didn’t and I had to ride on his faith in me because I thought I was just doomed. He never gave up on me and God never gave up on me. At that time, I didn’t feel like I deserved for someone to love me this way, but I slowly started to realize I was lovable. With each step in the right direction, I realized that time and good works does heal. It’s been a spiritual, mental, and physical journey. This journey has been a rebirth in a sense. I feel like I’ve been spiritually reborn.
I slowly started fighting back and started to realize that the only person that could do it was me. I couldn’t rely on someone else to do the hard work. I had to get in there and scrape out the infection that was plaguing my mind, body, and spirit. I had to carve out the dirt, dig up the mistakes, lay them out on the table and say, Okay, here’s what happened: I can either choose to sink or swim. And I chose to swim; I was not going to give up. I realized that no one could change me or the unhealthy view of myself, except for me. That was the moment when I suddenly viewed myself how God must have been viewing me all along. It was a moment I’ll never forget. I felt the love and compassion I so desperately needed for myself begin and the pieces of shattered self-esteem were being put back together. It sounds weird but when I realized how far down I was and yet I had the choice to climb back up and change was when I felt more empowered than I ever have in my life. The power of choice helped me start to heal.
I felt bruised and beaten up because of my own thoughts and feelings of shame. I was so prideful to think that I had control over the situation when I didn’t. They call these substances habit forming for a reason. The definition of addiction is “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma”. The body literally becomes enslaved.
What have you learned through this trial?
I’ve learned many things throughout this process, but one of them is that my weaknesses and my mistakes do not define my worth. My worth is infinite and everlasting. It doesn’t fluctuate like the weather or the stock market. It’s hard to see that when you’re in the throes of adversity and trial, but there is hope. That’s what led me to my knees. It was then that I realized I’m not alone. There’s so much that encompasses depression, anxiety, and substance abuse that it really starts to change you and the way you view things. I was not myself. I lost my sense of self. I would’ve never imagined having to go through this, but I wouldn’t change the life lessons learned for the world because it has allowed me to realize I am capable of doing hard things.
Addiction is something that is prevalent and happens to so many people. It seems like such a taboo topic of discussion but that is exactly what needs to happen: discussion! Talking about it is not only healing, but necessary so others know there is help and anyone has the capability and choice to overcome whatever they may feel trapped by.
It’s important for people to know that addiction also has a ripple effect and affects more people than you think. Substance abuse is a selfish thing, because you think, Well it’s just my body. It’s not affecting anyone else. But the truth is, it affects everyone who knows you. One of the misconceptions I felt was that I was fooling everyone, and that I could keep it up and keep it together. Perhaps I thought I did for awhile, but eventually I crumbled. You can never maintain living two opposing lives It will eventually eat you up. Even though I thought I was fooling everyone, I was only fooling myself. My perspective was skewed.
Why do you want to share your story with others?
I realized there is power in vulnerability when I started admitting the mistakes I made. If I can now share my little voice and help just one woman out there, it’s worth it to me. There’s not one perfect person out there, and we’re all on the same playing field. It took me getting to my lowest point to realize that I am no better than someone who lives on the street. I am no better than some prominent and successful person. Addiction doesn’t care who you are: gender, race, rich, poor, famous, lonely, introvert, extrovert, it can and will affect anyone at anytime. We are all struggling with different aspects of our lives and life’s circumstances. But there’s strength in numbers. If one person just has the courage to say, I’ve dealt with this, then it gives someone else hope that they can get through it too, and more people can speak up and receive the help they need, whether they admit to needing help or not.
I’ve changed, and if I could get through my challenges, and be stronger for it, then you can get through yours. Getting that open dialogue where I can acknowledge that I’ve been there, I’ve done the dirty work, and that it’s possible to turn your life around, to change your mind, body and heart is the most freeing and exhilarating feeling. Just knowing that you have a second chance… and then a third chance... is an amazing thing. Moms are so hard on themselves. Whether due to society, family, or culture, it’s easy to feel a pressure of having all the answers and having everything together. And it’s easy to feel like if we don’t have it all together then we’re weak or we start comparing ourselves to other women who we feel has it all together. But that’s false. Your weaknesses don’t define your worth, and that’s one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned.
I hope my children know from early on that we all make mistakes and that no one is perfect; that they are worth loving, and I will love them no matter what; and that they are worth far more than they realize but that it’s my job to help them along their paths to discover just how much they are worth. I’ve realized that through my weaknesses I could find strength. The unrealistic expectation that I placed on myself as a woman and as a mom was toxic and unhealthy. Hiding that only led to more disaster and self-destruction and depression. But I found through this process that I was worth fighting for. It’s been hard but it’s all part of the journey. To me a journey consists of steps forward, backwards, uphill, falling down, precise and mapped out routes, unexpected twists and turn and sometimes foreign territory.
What do you do today when you start feeling negative thoughts come creeping in? And what helped you heal?
I try and keep myself balanced making sure I exercise my mind, body and spirit. I read uplifting talks or articles where I can learn and gain more insight. I journal a lot and write what I need to release. I make myself sweat, whether it be chasing my kids up the stairs or going on a run. Using my body for what it was made for helps me feel physically well.
While I was healing, I realized I couldn’t take care of others unless I took care of myself first. There are times where the only way I realize how poorly I’m treating myself is when someone brings it to my attention. Other times, if I catch myself doing this, I immediately ask what (if anything) have I done to love, nurture, and take care of me today? How have I been treating others and myself? I realize my inner voice is the first place I need to start and I try to cut myself some slack. I am enough. I then run down the list of, Am I hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? Bored? Have I exercised my body, mind and spirit? If not, get to work. After I’ve taken care of myself, my go-to recipe for happiness and a positive attitude is service. Doing something for someone else and getting outside of my own head and problems and whatever I’m wasting my mental energy on is one of the keys to healing and happiness for me. When I help someone they help me more than they even know. Whoever, whatever it may be- I have run down the list and realized I’ve taken care of myself so now get over myself… who can I serve? Get out of my shoes and step into someone else’s. Listen to their story and try to understand their needs, their dynamics and their insecurities and then help with whatever they need. I reach out to anyone; my husband and kids, a family or ward member, a neighbor, a friend or complete stranger. I get to work and serve.
One of the biggest ways I healed was music. It’s in my blood. I have been playing the piano since I was three, the violin, and the harp, and so I try to share what I have been given with others. I would just pack up my fiddle and play for people. That was a way I felt like I could grow and help other people in the process. To bring that back in my life helped me a lot. I lost a part of me, only to find that much more. Accepting myself for who I am has been a huge eye-opening experience for me. I am the way that I am, I feel the way that I feel, and even though I’ve made mistakes, my past does not predict my future.
Everyone has something they’re dealing with. It’s not our place to judge. It’s not our place to critique or criticize. Let’s compliment instead of compare. Let’s lift each other up. We are all in this together, especially as women. We all have the capability of loving and nurturing. Let’s not pin each other against each other, but let’s build each other up.
Do you feel like you treat people differently because of your experience?
Absolutely. My level of compassion has grown. I see people so differently; for their heart, and for where their heart is. Someone may not be in a place to hear my story and have an understanding or empathy. However, through this journey I have realized and keep realizing every day that every person has struggles but despite those struggles, everyone deserves love from me, not judgment. Not everyone is capable of loving and looking past the surface but I have come to believe those people deserve love even more. People say the darndest things and where I may not be able to control what they say or how they act, I have complete control over the way I respond. Falling so low has made me bounce that much higher to realize my self-esteem can’t be affected by people who just haven’t been in my shoes. Through the hardships I’ve had and will continue to have, I’ve grown. All of my experiences continue to make me stronger, more loving, grateful, aware and awake for every little or big moment there is to grow. Douglas Malloch wrote one of my most favorite poems. It reads: “ Good timber does not grow with ease: The stronger the wind, the stronger trees; The further sky, the greater length; The more the storm, the more the strength. By sun and cold, by rain and snow, In trees and men good timber grow.” This poem was used in a talk by Thomas S. Monson in which I turn to and read almost every day. Part of his talk states exactly how I view my life, the good, bad and the growing. “There are times when we will experience heartbreaking sorrow, when we will grieve and when we may be tested to our limits. However, such difficulties allow us to change for the better, to rebuild our lives in the way our Heavenly Father teaches us, and to become something different from what we were- better than what we were, more understanding than what we were, more empathetic than what we were…”
My life and my story is proof that no one is so far gone that they’re not worth healing, and fixing, and helping. I was able to realign my relationship with God and with my husband and my kids. That’s where I started. I believed that as long as I was right with God, everything else would happen the way it was supposed to happen. If I could lay my head down at night and have peace of mind that I was in good standing with God, then I knew everything would be okay.
How do you think your example has affected your kids?
With my own kids, I want them to know that they can do hard things. I have a cycle that I want to break. My grandpa was an alcoholic, and it caused generations to learn those behaviors. There’s addiction everywhere: whether it be food, or shopping, or substances, it’s everywhere. So I want my kids to know that the toxic cycle stops with me, and that I have the power to stop that cycle and realign our course in a different way.
What would say to other women who are feeling self-doubt, low self-esteem, or no sense of self right now?
As moms and as women, we try to do it all ourselves. It was hard for me to keep up, because I was trying to “do it all, think it all, and be it all.” That is draining just to think about! It’s so important to remind ourselves and others that no one is too far gone from saving or helping. It is vital to realize our worth. To other women suffering from self-doubt, low self-esteem or poor choices they are in the thick of, you are not your mistakes. You are not your unhealthy thoughts. You are worth so much more than you give yourself credit for. Allow yourself to be kind, gentle and loving towards others but especially to YOU! Any expectation you may put on yourself, make sure it is aligned with your sole purpose in life. If it causes more headache and work than is possible it may not be healthy. Find what makes you feel at peace and work towards that. Don’t mold yourself into someone the world sees as beautiful, equal or worthy. Mold and shape yourself into what you are designed to be: the best version of YOU!
Interview edited and approved by Jennie Burt prior to release.