I am dedicating all of my podcast episodes throughout the month of May to discussing the subject of Mental Health.
Toni sat down with me to discuss her painful experience as parent dealing with a child who unfortunately suffered from addiction. Toni’s testimony highlights both her strength and vulnerability, as well as her undying love, compassion and devotion for her daughter, Marisa. You can check out her interview by clicking here.
My very first clarity in my grief and the realization that I had a new “normal” was when people would ask if I was ok – I NEVER knew what to say…. I came to realize the best thing to say was “I’m ok but I’m not ok but that’s ok….. That’s how I’m supposed to be”. It’s true. This helps me not minimize the devastation while not making someone uncomfortable by telling them REALLY how I’m doing. I’m really not ok although I get out of bed (most days) and put one foot in front of the other. I accept it. I accept my grief. My sadness. My emptiness. I would and will stay strong for those around me… my son, all of Marisa’s cousins and all my brothers and sister, cousins, her grandparents, etc… Although there is NO loss like that of a child… They all lost her too. I know this.
If I’m strong for them, it helps me not go down a hole that is so very easy to go down.
I “normally” am able to control my sadness and emotions. It’s something you will never “get over” or “get better” – therefore you adapt and learn how to stay in control… for the most part. NOW – there are Marisa Moments no doubt. And sometimes Marisa Days where I just don’t want to do anything or be around anyone. But I believe they are needed. it’s part of the Grief. They come out of left field and there is no controlling anything. Not tears, not words, not emotions… nothing. It’s usually a smell, a song, a memory… I’m usually alone but at times, when I am in public… I find a way to be alone to just be me and cry or get mad or laugh or whatever is needed at that moment.
You can always count on my emotions getting the best of me when I talk about her in a serious manner. People feel bad “for making me cry”. They don’t make me cry and I NEVER want to stop talking about her… What makes me cry is the hole in my heart with her absence. I speak of her a lot though – not always sad… I have tried so very hard to focus on and hold on to all the good memories we had in her 20 years. She was REMARKABLE and witty and fun – lots of memories to laugh about that’s for sure.
What did you learn through your experience?
hmmm. Not sure I can explain what all I’ve learned. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned a lot about drugs and drug addiction. I’ve learned about Mental Illness. I’ve learned a lot about loss.
MOSTLY – I think I’ve learned, I’m learning, and I’m sharing on Judgment. Marisa was The.Most.Non-Judgmental! person I ever met. She loved anyone and everyone – regardless of their flaws. I truly don’t think she saw them. If she did – she found the good instead. I work at it everyday and whenever I speak about drug or alcohol addiction… That is the first thing I speak of. You have never walked in that persons shoes. Give them the benefit of the doubt before you cast judgment on their decisions.
It’s hard but watch their ongoing behaviors. I REALLY thought Marisa was just being a teenager and acting out, rebelling, partying, whatever you want to call it. I minimized it. I shouldn’t have. It was out of control before we knew it. It started when she was 14. She took some pain pills out of our cabinet at home. And it grew into marijuana and issue after issue. By 17 I was struggling with what type of rehab/counseling/program I could get her into. She moved out at 18 and I felt as if I had no control of anything in helping her anymore. I really didn’t have any control. Neither did she. I tell parents to talk about it and seek help and advice and other parents going through something similar.
Looking back – Marisa was a prime candidate for addiction issues and not just normal teenage stuff. You add abandonment issues with her biological dad, plus being drawn to hang out with kids that weren’t the best behaved, and add in the fact that her biological father had addiction and mental illness issues…… Later finding out that she too struggled with mental illness (at age 17)….She struggled (like most girls) with her worth and feeling important. Her brain was ALWAYS working – she had to be reading or doing or something to engage her brain constantly (High IQ). Those are all signs that I ignored because I felt we were such a normal household and a normal family. She was such smart, great grades, athletic kid! We ate dinner at the table, went on family vacations, kept on them about grades and homework, worked hard… All normal stuff.
Advice for kids:
The best way to make sure you will never become addicted to drugs/alcohol — never try! You don’t know if your genetic makeup or if there physiological issues that will affect you as you are growing up. Those two things play a huge role in addiction.
“Make good choices” – that’s what I would tell my son EVERYTIME he went anywhere as a teenager. I would tell him AND all his friends. I still do. (he’s 19). He didn’t always make the best choices but I know he tried/trys. I always tell kids to be a good friend. Look out for one another.
I did a small video series… MyMarisa. Help teenagers and parents and to just tell her story.
Marisa’s story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6Se4STg2Lk
Parent video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQsaRtNQrWk
Youth video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODXeA09-uxo
Call 211 – they help with alot of different issues… housing, addiction, counseling, etc….