I Am a Survivor
Updated: Apr 22, 2021
This is incredibly long and it is probably the most personal thing I will ever publicly write. I challenge you to read the entire post. I ask that you also share this story if in any way it speaks to your heart. Whether we are close or just acquaintances. I can only hope that this message will reach others and touch lives as this venture has changed my own. At first I wasn’t sure I really wanted to post it, but ironically I got involved in a political facebook debate recently and I walked away from it thinking that there really needs to be more positivity in our world. We are so focused on the negative, stigmas, right wings, left wings, sharing of negative news feeds, writing cryptic messages, shaming other people and posting complaints about trivial matters etc. Life is too precious, too short to be so caught up in such negative ways. Next time you are feeling angry, despair, frustrated, I would like you to remember this story about complete devastation, that has transformed into a journey about a life people are quick to say is one of the most inspirational fetes they have ever witnessed.
I, Justine am that story. I am a survivor of a suicide loss. I am a survivor of prematurely losing a parent. I am a survivor of teenage pregnancy. I am a survivor of a life less planned.
For years I walked around with a chip on my shoulder because my life was not panning out to be the Disney fairytale I had counted on. Teenage love had led me on a beautiful passage of motherhood and co-parenting as a single young parent. My biggest support system through trying years was my own mother. She made no secret in the last years of her life that she felt my boys and I had become her “special” family as we all had spent many years living together and supporting one another. She was always there to pick up devastated broken heart pieces of mine, as it took a very long time for me to realize that sometimes no matter how bad you want a certain relationship to work, it just wasn’t meant to be long term. I could never have the words to express how grateful I am to have had her love and support during those early years. In recent months I have longed for those times where I would crawl into her bed crying, laying my head on her shoulder and listening to her sweet, sing-song Snow White voice telling me that everything is going to be okay.
My mother was the guiding light that led me to my future husband. I felt like everything in my world was falling into place. The uphill battles I had faced as a single mom for ten years were soon coming to a close. I no longer felt like I was an outcast on the other side of the window looking in. I would be in such awe of relationships, young families, happy lifestyles that seemed so far from my grasp but were a reality for many friends. A constant reminder via facebook. Why didn’t I deserve that happy ending I often asked myself? With the urging from my mother to put my heart out there openly, the long awaited “prince charming” walked through the door. I have never felt anything so full of devine magic before. Our souls instantly connected and we knew marriage was on our horizon from our second date. When he wrote/composed a song about our everlasting love, I instantly had tears in my eyes. Everything I had dreamt of was finally right infront of me. I was quite surprised how our love became the envy of others. Exactly a year ago I walked down an aisle to a cinderella inspired wedding. We were whisked away by a horse drawn carriage in what was to be our ever after. It couldn’t have been more of a disney fairytale than that. At the time I couldn’t help but be astonished by how lucky I was to have a husband that loved me the way he did and I could not help but dream about the beautiful life we were going to have together.
What our fairytale love story didn’t show you was I had felt the most unhappiness I had ever been in my life. Behind smiles, out of this world love and happily ever afters there was a very hard, trying battle of grieving. My mother had died unexpectedly months prior. I did not know how to cope, nor did I ever want to talk about it. The pain of losing her struck me so deep that I couldn’t bare face the reality of being only twenty nine and attempt to carry on without her. There were many nights I cried myself to sleep, sometimes silently not wanting anyone to hear. Not just becuase of my own personal sadness, but I was also weathering a brewing storm of my husbands life long battle with depression. I felt it my duty to be his fixer. The savior to his prayers. He once told me that years before we had met he prayed for an understanding wife who would be there to see him through his demons. Tears fell from his eyes as he told me I was the wife he had prayed for and he felt so blessed to have me come into his life and restore his beliefs because he had spent so long thinking it was an unanswered prayer. As bad as I felt lost in my own pain, I planted my roots deeper so I could help him weather the storm of his depression that I was yet to even fully understand. In my lifetime I had never felt a bond so strong as the one we had formed in our darkest hours. That is where true love really lives.
Feb 23, 2015…
It was like a shotgun was fired straight threw me. It blew a huge hole in my chest. I had suddenly felt like I was trapped in a sphere that people called earth, their home. But it became a place I felt like I no longer belonged in. I instantly felt like I had become a prisoner of my own life. I had been walking around living, but the feeling of an empty hole never left. Just hoping on a promise that time heals all wounds. I read somewhere that losing the person we love isn’t what hurts the most. It’s the pain of living without them. The pain of going on despite your heart not wanting to. I felt it, I lived it.
It was a word that constantly rang in my ears, I failed him. I failed at saving him. I had convinced myself that had to be the purpose of our destined love. Why else would this have happened? What were the strong forces of nature that so rapidly entangled our hearts with one another, if it not be for that reason alone? We were the poster children for the, “be kind to others, because you have no idea what battles they may be fighting”. I had lost myself in fighting this particular battle. My sole purpose became to raise him up. I so badly tried to undo years of pain he had been living with. For months we were living in a darkness of his depression. At first we tried to deal with it privately and with doctor assistance. Some days it was beyond living in peril. I managed to only sleep two or three hours a night. I brought myself to the end of my rope in the name of our love and I did it willingly. Our life had become carnage. Sometimes it’s difficult to even reflect back to those unimaginable times. The most astounding part is it all happened in a blink of an eye. It’s shocking how fragile human life really is. And not just our physical bodies, but our minds. I can only hope that one day the stigma of mental illness will be lifted and this can be an issue that is talked passionately about among social media, news, politics etc. It really is an epidemic our society does not talk about.
I never could have imagined that I would have made it this far. The constant feeling as if the heaviest of weights had been placed on my chest, at most times it felt like an unbearable burden. I spent my time just simply surviving. I was far from actually living. I now, at thirty years old, a motherless widow existed solely by sorrow. I was at deaths door. Begging, pleading, please let me in I would cry out. I would constantly repeat, “ I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to go on”.
It is everything. Five months ago I was sitting on my therapists couch telling her, “I can’t do this. I’m not going to go through this again.” I would not let my grief take over my life. I was already at rock bottom and then a sledge hammer smashed my rock bottom into a deeper well of despair.
My life could possibly not get any worse. I could not even begin to fathom why I have had such misfortune. I was exhausted. I did not want to feel, to be a mother, friend, sister or daughter. I didn’t want to be anything. I had spent the prior five months of my life just existing, doing whatever was necessary to get by. It was waring on me, it was waring on me as a mother and it was waring on my professional work life. Most people don’t know that I spent months of not sleeping. Of crying hysterically on the phone to my Dad because an atomic bomb had gone off in my personal life and I was trying to hold steady and be the rock solid foundation to my marriage, my husband and to our four children.
When he first died I was obsessed over figuring out why this happened and how it happened and what the lesson and the point of it all was. But six weeks later I didn’t find myself asking those same questions. I gradually started to realize that all of the roads led back to me. His life had smacked me awake and had awoken my soul to this new journey. The first lesson I had to learn was patience. Everything was going to take time and I have to accept it. There was no rushing this process. There will be mistakes along the way, but if I pushed through and continued on, things could be okay eventually. And not just because its something people say to you when they are trying to be a comfort. Things will be okay because I will manifest it and make things in my life okay. And hopefully as time goes on, “Okay” will turn into real happiness. My children deserved to have a happy mother again. I had no idea how I would find her, but I knew I had to give it a shot. They deserved that and so did I. Late at night when I would be in the middle of crying fits I would repeat to myself “I want to live. I want to grow. I want to change. ”
At first I didn’t really believe the words I said. I would be wide awake at two in the morning looking up Pinterest inspirational quotes attempting to grasp onto the idea that it was possible to take steps forward. I started to realize that every little thing I did no matter how big or small became a stepping stone out of the well of despair. My family that would constantly be checking in on me, an aunt that would come over and keep me company in silence or a best friend that would always be sure to text me late at night when she knew I was having a melt down without me even saying a word. They became the stones that helped me slowly climb out of that well. I am eternally grateful to my close friends who got me outside and participating in life. Whether is was hiking, horse back riding, making ridiculous jokes or taking on new adventures. I was beginning to participate in life again. I could not have done this without them.
The biggest turning point came on a regular sunday. Just a couple of girls at a fancy spa/gym working out and relaxing, a fantastic lunch and a drive through Hollywood that ended up at a tattoo shop. An on the whim tattoo was inked permanently on me in the shape of a music note that resembles the letters JP. It was the first day that reminded me, I could live and he would always be with me. Soon it was the beginning of many days that followed suite. Taking my boys to do something fun and letting my heart fill up with their love. New adventures with friends that made me feel like I was living by taking on challenges of doing something sporty that I had never tried before, or simply just having great conversations with clients who I had bonded with over the years.
I had spent over a year following fitness/transformation/weight loss Instagram accounts in complete awe at what some of these women had accomplished. I had convinced myself that it was a fete I could never achieve becuz of a crippling back injury and that you had to be real special to harness that type of motivation. At the urging of many people close to me, I decided to make a habit of visiting the gym. I wanted to find out if natural feel good endorphins really could help get me through my worst grieving days. I was desperate to do anything to help fill the gaping hole in my heart. I started it slowly, but that was quick to change when I realized I wasn’t just taking my body to the gym. I was taking my mind out for exercise. As my body started to fail me on the elliptical I would push myself harder. I wanted to feel something. I wanted to feel alive. I would imagine myself pushing up against a football sled. I would think about my feet placed in a starting block and pushing off against it as I ran at life full speed. I was starting to learn a life lesson as I did those cardio sessions. I can do this. I can overcome. I can change my destiny and live the life I have imagined. I was learning what it truly meant to be strong and brave. I turned my pain into energy. I let it move me and push me. I was angry and I was done. It was time to shove life back. I am Justine! I am a survior of suicide loss. I am motherless, I made it through teenage parenthood. What else do you have for me life? Show me what you got!! I am woman. Hear me roar!!
The heaviest weight I had ever been in my life slowly started to diminish. As the pounds dropped off it felt as if I was saying goodbye to the unhappiness that plagued me. I realized that my daily routine felt better if I had taken “me” time at the gym. Soon the days of laying around my place crying became less and less. There were days I cried the entire way driving to the gym and to be honest to this day I still have major crying fits. But I just kept pushing forward despite how I feel in fleeting sad moments. The emotional eating, out of control portions and unhealthy food became replaced gradually by better choices. The further I got into my “new” lifestyle change, the more I pushed forward. As the numbers on the scale started to fall I jumped on the clean eating train. Soon after I found myself at the gym almost daily. I finally found something in my life that I could control. Something that was my very own. And then it happened, I realized that I was actually enjoying what I was doing. I didn’t feel like I was on a fad diet or trying to accomplish a quick fix. I was actually changing my life for the better by making time for myself.
This picture marks such great significance in my life. It’s more than a before and after. One year has passed since I was standing on a beach as a newlywed in cancun. It’s amazing how much can change in just one year.
To this date I have lost 75 pounds. I look in the mirror and I am still shocked when people approach me and are eager to tell me how I look like a completely different person or what an inspiration I am for doing this while going through such a devastating life change. I’m starting to accept my new role. I love seeing others eyes light up when they realize that if I can change my lifestyle in the midst of tragedy that they can accomplish whatever goal they have felt held back from. It’s time to push past our excuses and insecurities! Time is everything and the most important thing you can do for yourself is truly put yourself first. There is always a way. Why? Because you are worth it. You deserve this! Maybe you don’t have weight to lose. Maybe you don’t have a tragic story or think that I may posses some magical “strong lady” power. I don’t. I just have simply been inspired by two people that I love dearly. Thier lives were cut way too short and I can only now honor them by living my life the best way I can. I know that what I am now accomplishing with my life is exactly what they would want me to be doing. I want to take care of myself so I can take care of my children and live a long, happy life! I am beyond thankful for every single person that has helped get me here. Even the smallest of gestures have propelled me forward. So many of you have deeply touched my heart and soul in these last two years. I invite you all to follow me through this journey. I stand here a year later…Alone. But I have found real inner peace. I have found a genuine smile. I have found a healthier lifestyle. I recently spent seven days on a mind, body and soul trip during what would have been our wedding anniversary. And while I was there on a different beach and embarking on an unexpected journey, I found out exactly who Justine is and what she is capable of. I am going to make the rest of my life the best of my life.
I choose to #keepgoing, to #buildup and most importantly #ichoosetolive. What do you choose?
*This was originally posted August 3, 2017.