January 8th, 2000 started like any normal Sunday for my family as we headed out to breakfast and to run other errands. The only difference was that my brother, Josh, who usually came along, stayed at home to play video games. This was something my dad usually wouldn’t allow. There was one other difference, as well – one we never could have anticipated.
We never made it home that Sunday because we were in a car accident that would forever change our lives. A man went through a red light going 45 mph and hit our car. Our vehicle rolled over several times and my dad was ejected from his seat. His head hit a telephone pole at the corner of the street where the accident occurred. Luckily a fireman was outside for his morning run and was able to give my dad CPR until the paramedics arrived.
I have no memory of the accident or the few hours after, but when I came to at the hospital I was told that my dad was in bad shape. They informed me that they were taking him by helicopter to a hospital in Detroit that would be more equipped to deal with his condition.
The next year and a half was a constant battle for my dad’s life. He was a quadriplegic and required 24-hour care. He would be home for a few months and then something would go wrong, sending him back to the hospital and often requiring another surgery. My dad required an operation in July of 2001 on a bed sore, which is a routine surgery for people who are sentenced to life in a wheelchair.
The surgery was successful, but a few weeks later we started noticing signs of an infection. He was admitted to the hospital on July 16th and on the 17th we got a call saying that his heart had stopped beating. They were able to revive him, but he had gone a significant period of time without oxygen. Brain scans would reveal irreversible damage, and on July 18th my dad’s battle for life came to an end.
My dad was the rock in our family. After his death we were all scrambling to figure out our new roles while attempting to establish a new “normal.” Unfortunately this proved to be very challenging, as my mom required a lot of care herself for injuries that she had sustained in the accident. My brothers and I coped the only way we knew how at the time: through drugs and alcohol.
Our family went on dealing with this loss in very unhealthy ways for many years, when suddenly, we got an even more unexpected wake up call. My brother Josh’s drug use had become a serious problem and despite a few trips to rehab, he continued to struggle. I remember how angry I used to get at him because all I wanted was a normal family and I felt like he was preventing us from having that.
December 28th, 2006 I awoke to my mom screaming for help. I instantly jumped out of bed and saw her shaking my brother while she was yelling for me to call 9-1-1. While waiting for the paramedics, I was able to get my mom to sit with me in her bedroom as we braced ourselves for the worst news of our life.
Josh passed away in his sleep at 19-years-old of a drug overdose. Losing my dad was difficult, but easier to accept because he was very sick. Losing my brother to something completely preventable was the worst feeling in the world. So many “what if’s” were running through my head, but what made me feel worse was that I was struggling with the same issues Josh had. My brother was not only my a sibling – he was my best friend. We did everything together and thinking about spending a lifetime without him was something I could not bear.
It took me six trips to rehab and years of therapy to get to where I am today. I have struggled with depression and anxiety as I have tried to find meaning in all of the loss that I have endured. I have been drug free since February of 2009, but removing drugs from the equation was only the beginning of my journey to a healthier me. My battle with anxiety has probably been my biggest challenge. I was constantly fearful that something bad was going to happen to me or someone I loved.
As a result, I cut a lot of people out of my life in an attempt to “protect” myself. Really, it just ended up hurting me more. I tried numerous medications for my anxiety, but what has made the biggest difference in my life has been exercise. Natural endorphins released during exercise have made my anxiety mostly something of the past. I know my life isn’t going to be smooth sailing from now on, but I do feel like I have more tools to deal with the emotions as they arise.
If I could offer one piece of advice to anyone struggling, it would be to never put a limit on what you think you are capable of. Six years ago my life seemed hopeless and I was very close to dying from my addiction. Now, I’m six weeks away from graduating with my B.S. in Psychology from Eastern Michigan University.
Not only will I be graduating, which is something I never thought myself capable of, but I will be graduating with honors. I have decided that the best way for me to honor my dad and brother is to live my life in a way that would make them proud. I am a huge believer that everything happens for a reason and as horrible as my life was for many years, the future is finally looking bright.
Jessica is four years sober and plans on traveling before starting a job at Quicken Loans. She is engaged to be married and one day hopes to start her own business; one that allows her to give back as a result of her life experiences.
For more information about Jessica’s place of recovery, visit www.dawnfarm.org