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Janet’s Survival Story

September 2006  



Janet was the first born of a set of twins by three minutes. Her mother Yvonne was already a mother of two and a concert pianist. Her father, Ted was a safety engineer and a commuter to the major Midwest city one half hour away. From the outside the family seemed ideal: a suburban home on the lake and an upper class lifestyle. Weekends were spent on boats up at the cabin, in fancy sports cars, airplane rides, and life was exciting for the family.

On the inside of the family unit something was terribly wrong. There was stress. Janet recalls evening quarrels between her parents. She was told to not to open her parents’ door, the fighting would begin and she would try to distract or beg. She grew up loving her mom intensely and being terrified of her dad. Her sisters felt the same way. Before he came home from work the house had to be clean and orderly. It was never clean enough and he would be angry with his first step onto the property.

Dinners were rarely shared with dad. Mom would prepare meals and serve the four girls in the kitchen. Dad ate in the dining room, alone. Janet remembers how mysterious he looked in the dining room while he was eating his steak, and she, her macaroni. He was very formal and strict; the fun was over when dad was there. Alienation was a word that Janet didn’t know in her early years. She sipped on his smelly beers in a possible attempt to bond with him.

Mom had enough of the mental, verbal, and alcohol abuse when Janet and Joanne were 6. He made everyone in the house feel terrible with only a look. Dad put his own family down to make himself feel superior. The girls were thrilled when mom made him leave the house. He was a presence not missed one bit.

One morning in winter, about six months later, mom told the girls that if they cleaned up the house she would purchase sleds for them and they could all go sledding that afternoon. With that motivation they cleaned up from the previous night’s sleepover party and were in their snowsuits and in the car to purchase the sleds. The twins descended the hill known as elephant hill, and at the bottom of it, Joanne crashed her sled into a ravine. A high schooler tried to catch her but couldn’t. Janet saw her twin for the last time that day. A week later and after many surgeries, Joanne couldn’t hold on. The hospital was far away, the girls were cared for by nuns at a convent for the week. Janet couldn’t sleep. She kept going over the day in her mind and saw her sister go down the hill repetitively. A nun came to her to and tried comfort her. The nun said, “If Joanne is going to live, it will be a miracle.” Hysterical, Janet thought that was the cruelest statement. That night was the first time she thought of the possibility that Joanne could actually die.

When mom and dad picked the girls up from school after spending the week in the hospital, the first thing Janet asked, was, “Did Joanne die?” Mom’s response was, “We’ll talk about her when we get home.” It was a long and quite few miles home. Sitting in the living room, mom and dad shared the information. Everyone cried but Janet. She still doesn’t know why she didn’t cry. More information came. Over Joanne’s injured body, mom and dad decided to reunite. Dad announced that he was going to lie down for a while and Mom suggested that Janet join him for a nap. Janet shook her head no and mom asked why. Then Janet turned her body away from dad and mouthed the word ‘because’ and pointed to between her legs. See, one of the reasons the girls were so happy that dad was out of the house was because they were being fondled by their dad during those naps.  Thankfully, mom believed her youngest and, the next day the separation continued. Soon came a divorce.

The town was devastated by Joanne’s death. The unsafe sledding hill was closed immediately and the kids in town were resentful. The high schooler who tried to catch her and her sled killed himself a short time later.  Janet was on her own after having a constant companion for seven years. Janet struggled through school and depression. She seemed to have lost her lust for life with that accident in many professional opinions. She was provided therapy throughout childhood and adolescence to teach coping mechanisms and healing from the loss and trauma. Janet thought that she didn’t need any of it. That is, until one day when she was 16 and started to see the images of her twin going down the hill, over and over again, as if the accident just happened. She drove to the sledding hill. At the bottom of it, in the ravine she kicked the trees and boulders until her foot hurt. She yelled at the trees and she hit them.  She started to heal, finally. At the age of seven, Janet was too young to deal with her loss. At 16 she was ready and she had no choice but to heal. That was also the age when she met her future husband, Steve.

Steve was bright, funny, handsome, and popular at school. He was very charming. The two spent time as friends before he entered the army when he was 17. When Janet asked him why he was joining the army, Steve replied, “To get away.” She assumed that he was like all teenage kids who wanted to get away from their parents. Steve would come home on leave from time to time. Janet and he would have coffee, picnic, and talk on his brief visits. Steve came to town one time after a year, married but separated and a new father. When asked why his marriage didn’t work he said, “She couldn’t tell the truth or keep her legs closed.” Janet believed him and felt bad that his marriage was ending but they didn’t talk again for another five years.

Steve got in touch with Janet again. They planned for her to visit him in Texas. A week before her trip Janet got mugged and if she didn’t know it already, she learned for certain that she was a fighter. A man tried to carjack her, punched her numerous times, and it was violent. The attacker might not have expected Janet to be as physically strong for her stature or as determined as she is. Both of her ankles got sprained from the awkward, lying down position she was fighting him from, and he did manage to get her wallet. She tried to chase after him to get it back but could barely even walk. Janet was terrified of the city and her shadow for a while after that. When she went to visit Steve she felt safe. He was kind and gentle, generous and strong. They spent time traveling and fell in love. When Janet returned from her visit she was engaged. She continued her music studies for another year at the university.  Janet was in her junior year of a cello performance degree. She played the cello since age 10 and decided she wanted to make a career of music. She advanced quickly with her professors and learned what she calls, ‘gold’ from them. Meanwhile, Steve went to Bosnia for six months. Janet felt very alone but that was no new emotion for her. When he returned she moved to Texas. The invitations for the wedding went out and the two were living together. At a friend’s house one night, late, Janet wanted to go home but Steve didn’t want to leave. He was drinking beer and kept opening another after another. This was the first time Janet saw Steve drink. She told him, “I will not marry an alcoholic!” A month later she did.

Their son was born 10 months later. Steve worked long shifts for the army. Janet didn’t know that he was returning drunk from work. Steve was hiding his drinking because he knew how strongly Janet felt about alcoholism. He was very good at it. Janet felt alone as she raised their son, and again, this was no new feeling. She felt alone in the marriage too. Steve was almost always working, or so she thought. Janet would make dinner for him and it would get cold. She stopped making him dinner. Steve decided to begin drinking at home. He would drink one beer and then disappear for a while. Now Janet knows that he had beer in his car and would go out to get more. He would show her one out of four beers he drank. She didn’t know what she couldn’t see, wasn’t exactly suspicious, but she knew that he was absent. It didn’t occur to her that he would rather spend time drinking than with his wife and young son. She found a credit card that he was using for the beer and such. With finances strained already, Janet was appalled. She knew that her life with him would only continue to frustrate her and started counseling with Steve. He showed up for their marriage counseling about half the time. The counselors asked her suggestively, “Well, why are you here, Janet?” It was terribly embarrassing and she wanted out of the marriage. She didn’t know how to leave and didn’t trust Steve at all by this point.

Janet wouldn’t sleep with her husband if he had been obviously drinking. That was the end of their love life. Steve slept on the sofa most nights. He kept on drinking, more every night. Janet would be quiet so that he would drink himself to sleep and she wouldn’t have to deal with him. She did try to join the drinking a couple of times, but her liver disease keeps her from alcohol. Having this disease keeps her healthy as her liver reacts to chemicals like NutrasSweet, sulfites, and alcohol and more.  The disease is hereditary and named Acute Intermittent Porphyria (A.I.P.)

There were some tender times when Steve opened up and shared things about his upbringing. He quickly closed up again and fed alcohol to the pressure cooker inside with hopes to suppress the memories of his alcoholic upbringing. This continues today. He still has nightmares. He hasn’t healed.

One night, Janet found herself on the computer while Steve lay passed out on the sofa. She did some secret searching on alcoholism.  She joined a chat room that was very formal and attended a few online al-anon chats. It was a way to start venting for Janet, as she was embarrassed to tell her friends anymore. On another night she found a site that made more sense. She read charts, stories, and suggestions. It was a motivating website. She was so excited and terrified at the same time. It was as if she has discovered truth for the first time in years. Janet discovered something that could help. She found Empowered Recovery. She had no excuses anymore, not with Doug Kelley in her life. Janet contacted Doug via email. He told her to call him if she needed to.

Impressed by his willingness to help strangers, Janet called Doug one stressful day after a holiday night that Steve drank way too much. She called the police on her husband. That was the line that was crossed. Janet knew that she didn’t want to live that way and she deserved more. Doug told his story and what he learned as a result. He was kind but asked Janet some deep questions. She was searching for answers, ashamed that her marriage failed, felt stuck, and most difficultly, had to admit her part in the dysfunction of the relationship. She learned more in a half hour conversation than in two years of marriage counseling. She decided to print the flow charts and display them in the kitchen. By the end of the day Steve’s belongings were packed and placed on the back porch. While cleaning his closet she found empty beer cans and found more under the bed.  Enough was enough, just like Doug wrote. Janet gave Steve a year to be sober and a legal separation. He was sober for a whole year, then, Janet decided after a year that it wasn’t quite enough time. Sure enough, within a month, he started drinking again. He tried the most selfish act of attempting suicide. Immediately Janet packed the house and left the state with their son. She called Doug from the moving truck as she crossed state line to let him know what she was up to. The day before that, she was granted full custody and a divorce.

Janet returned to her hometown 5 states away with their son, a truck of their belongings, and no money. It was winter. Janet had to make the very frightening time an adventure for their son. She was screaming and crying on the inside and smiling for her son externally. After staying with a good friend for a few weeks she found an apartment. She borrowed money for the security deposit and first months rent. Janet unpacked, knowing that she would be doing healing and soul searching. Every box that she unpacked was difficult.

In a short time, Janet has made a new and exciting life. Both she and her son are more confident now, determined, creative, aware, and successful. She is proud of her life as a musician and recording artist. She vows not to let anyone’s drinking or control issues affect their life again. Janet realizes that she continued a cycle by marrying an alcoholic after having one for a father. An important fact is that she broke the cycle. She broke it in more way than one, too. Their son has the same liver disease that keeps Janet away from alcohol and other toxins and will not be able to drink when he reaches that age. Everyday Janet feels that she made all of the right decisions. The dark times seem like a blink of an eye now. It has been four years since she put his belongings on the back porch. Janet knows that she can make it through anything and come out stronger. She knows that you can, too. You are worth it.


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