By Jessica Perez
I remember making the call as if it were yesterday except it was twenty six years ago. It was the night before Mother’s Day and I was looking for my mother. I had called the last number she gave me however the man from the halfway house said she had moved out. I called a distant relative, no dice. I tried calling a friend of hers but to no avail. I should have been used to it by now but I always had hope. Hope that she will answer. Hope that she would be healthier, taking her meds, seeing a therapist. It didn’t get easier as people say time does. What happened was that I got angrier and then I got sick. But first my mother.
My biological mother was many things but I knew her as an addict and bi-polar. I know you may be thinking, for someone who prides herself on working towards de-stigmatizing mental illness, works as a peer support and believes in mental wellness versus mental illness, that is pretty strong labeling and language. But you see I wasn’t that evolved yet. I was young, scared, angry, sad and traumatized. I wanted to know why I had to leave my mother and New York and move to Florida to live with my aunt and uncle, whom I would later call mom and dad. I wanted to know why my mother didn’t get more help, why she abandoned me, why she chose drugs over me. It wasn’t until I got older and I got sick and then received help that I realized, it was never about me. It wasn’t my fault. I was good enough. I was worthy. What I wasn’t was more powerful than the disease of addiction. Which brings me to, well, let’s call it a part of me.
I was living in fear. Fear controlled my life. Fear of the future, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of rejection. Fear of becoming my mother. What eventually happened was that I made some choices in my life that fed into my fear, my illness, my disease. I was unhappy, unhealthy, unloved. I did not love myself and I made it extremely difficult for others to love me. I settled, became complacent, froze and in the height of my illness I became self destructive. I became exactly what I feared the most and it was terrifying and I did not see a light.
The light found me. A difference, of many, between my mother and I was that I found support, connection and hope. I found a great group of women in meetings who told me, “believe that I believe it will get better,” and “I will hold the hope for you until you have it for yourself.” I started to love myself again and I began to want more. I wanted to be that support, that connection for others. I wanted to see others grow and flourish and feel empowered. I wanted to live life to the fullest not only for myself but for my mother who was not as fortunate as me.
My mother died while I was starting to truly live. One of the greatest gifts that I have been given in my life was being able to be there for my mother in her last few days. I was able to forgive her, love her and thank her for bringing me into this world. Holding my mother’s hand while she passed was so cathartic in my recovery from substance use and mental health challenges. Releasing me.
Recovery hasn’t been perfect but nothing really is. Recovery is non-linear, hard, fun, challenging, empowering and real. Recovery gives me a chance to grow and live free just by being, accepting and loving me.
“I hold you close,
I release you to be free;
I am in you and you are in me.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh