by Jessy Rodriguez
I am a graduate student studying mental health counseling at the University of St. Thomas, in Houston, TX. I have an undergraduate degree in psychology with a minor in human services. Education is everything to me; this was not always the case.
My childhood was marked by trauma and abuse
My siblings and I were placed in foster care. I was removed from my mother’s custody on April 3, 1998, a few weeks before my twelfth birthday and placed in my aunt’s custody for about six months. After leaving my aunt’s house, I was placed in many different homes.
In the year 2000, I ended up at Beacon House, an all-girls group home in Wolcott, CT. My Department of Children and Families records from age 16 describe me as having a history of verbal aggression, promiscuous behaviors, substance abuse and chronic truancy. A psychiatric evaluation conducted in 1999 diagnosed me with Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Disturbance of Emotions and Conduct.
The staff at the group home described me as having an inability to control my impulsiveness as well as mood swings; both of which interfered with my high school education. In 2001, I began to see a new psychiatrist who diagnosed me with manic depression (bipolar disorder) and borderline personality disorder, both a product of nature and nurture.
Shortly after that, everything went downhill
My mood swings were uncontrollable, and I was very impulsive. After being suspended from school for fighting, I left to get high with some classmates. Upon returning to the group home, I failed a drug test, then packed my bags to run away.
It was the dead of winter in Connecticut. The snow was pouring from the sky and I had nowhere to go. The police picked me up right before a blizzard hit. I was stranded at the police station in Wolcott. No placements would take me in. Finally, a prior foster parent and a family friend agreed.
My biological sister was living with them at the time and was about six months pregnant with my nephew. I arrived at their house at around two o’clock in the morning. I was so scared, crawled in bed, and hugged my sister. I was almost sixteen. At this point, the state would no longer look for me if I ran away so on my sixteenth birthday, I packed my bags and emancipated myself from the state. I dropped out of high school in tenth grade, stayed from one friend’s house to another with no care for the future.
My parents were living with my aunt and uncle in Tennessee and had obtained custody of my younger brother and sister. I decided to give the family life a chance and moved to Tennessee to be with them. Shortly after arriving, I could already tell things had not changed as my parents were continuing down the same destructive path that caused them to lose us in the first place.
My younger sister was fourteen at the time, I was sixteen. My younger sister and I discovered the fun in partying together, my parents let us drink with them and it was not long before I got into all kinds of trouble. I met the wrong crowd; my ex-husband was a dangerous man in the town we lived in and feared by many. My younger sister was pregnant at age 15 and decided to move back to CT with our grandparents.
I was left alone in Tennessee, trapped in an abusive relationship
My parents told the courts they couldn’t control me and handed me over to the state. My beautiful, amazing aunt stood up and told the courts she would take me in. She was everything to me, my main support, she pushed to obtain my G.E.D although at the time I couldn’t see it, now I can see how much of a blessing it was to me.
By the time I turned seventeen I was pregnant with my first son, on July 22, 2003, Josiah Vann made his debut to the world. This was the first time I ever experienced love in my life. On September 29, 2004, my second baby was born, Jeremiah Gene. I had no idea what I was doing; I was unemployed, uneducated and afraid.
I often sought comfort from my son’s father’s parents as they were my only means of support. They helped me financially to take care of my sons. While attempting to keep my family together, I ended up trapped in an abusive marriage that I couldn’t escape from.
On many occasions, I would run with my boys to Connecticut to live with my sister. Somehow, someway I just kept getting sucked back in with my son’s father. Empty promises were made, and I ended up homeless with two kids. The grandparents convinced me to give them custody of my sons as I had no way to take care of them. This decision was the foundation to which my drug addiction was born. I allowed them to help me with the boys only to get shoved out and my sons were adopted by this wealthy family.
I turned to drugs to numb the pain only it didn’t work
My heart was on fire I missed my babies so much.
All I could do was dig myself deeper. The drug abuse continued for six years. In October of 2007, my third son was born, Jayden Alexander. I was living on the streets of New Orleans, addicted to crack cocaine and my son died an hour after he was born because he came three months early. This was a turning point in my life.
I wanted to be a mom. I wanted a family– something I had been deprived of. I just did not know how to get it.
I met my daughter’s dad shortly after that in a crack house in New Orleans. We talked about sobriety and changing our lives and right before Christmas, in 2007 we moved to Pasadena, Texas on a pursuit to live a different life. Nothing changed. We continued to use despite the consequences; we just couldn’t get it right.
In March of 2008, I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter.
In December of 2008, Kaylee Theresa was born while serving a six-month sentence in the Texas Department of Corrections. I had gotten pulled over and they found drugs on my daughters’ father. I said they were mine and went to prison. While incarcerated, he was doing good, working, and taking care of Kaylee.
However, by the time I was released and he still hadn’t show I knew something was wrong. I had tried to work on myself during the six months I was locked up. I read the Bible and prayed for God to relieve me from my addictions. All I wanted to do was take care of Kaylee. I felt strong upon my release. This was going to be a new chapter.
He arrived hours late, clearly high when he picked me up. I had no chance for a new beginning; neither did Kaylee. Soon after my release, I was high again and on my way, back to the streets.
Kaylee was with her paternal grandmother, and her father and I were using again. It wasn’t long before I was pregnant with my fifth child, another girl. I was so deep in my addiction at this point. I knew if I didn’t stop, I would have her early and she would die. I knew this with everything in me. My daughter’s dad would not stop using, I cried and pleaded but to no avail.
Finally, on July 23, 2010, I got the courage to leave him and went to rehab alone and pregnant. I had warrants; the police had already been to my mother-in-law’s looking for me. It seemed like everything was working against me.
I pleaded to God, to save my unborn daughter, that if she was born healthy, I would never touch drugs again. I named her Grace, for the undeserved kindness of God. At six months pregnant and thirty days sober, I turned myself into police.
I didn’t want to go to jail after she was born and risk losing custody
While incarcerated, I attended every recovery meeting. I wanted to maintain my sobriety was released in November 2010, just days before my due date with Grace. I had nowhere to go again, my mother-in-law said I couldn’t stay there with her and Kaylee. This was a major blessing in my life although I couldn’t see it then.
My Alcoholic’s Anonymous sponsor allowed me to stay with her and she introduced me to people who could help me. I stayed with her for a couple of months and got custody of Kaylee back. With two kids and a couch to sleep on, things were getting rough. My sponsor felt it would be better if I went to a transitional women’s home with my two kids. I didn’t want to go back into rehab, but I wanted more than anything to raise my kids.
I went to the Bonita House in January of 2011, with almost six months of sobriety. This was the foundation to which my freedom was born. I graduated from the program and was given HUD housing for a year. I had met my husband through my sponsor in 2010. At this point, we were dating, and things were getting serious.
It wasn’t long before he and I found our own apartment
We began to build a life worth living, and I was blessed to finally have a man who would not hurt me. My husband had three children, two sons, and a daughter who lived out of state.
One of our goals was to repair our relationships with our estranged children which we did. The boys and I skyped all the time. Life has been good in my sobriety, but I still struggled with emotion regulation and mood swings.
In 2013, my last baby, Vannessa Michelle was born and this triggered a post-partum depression that kept getting worse. In 2016 I began suffering from suicidal ideation, and I had uncontrollable anger. My husband told me if I didn’t get help, he would take the kids and leave.
I saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with bipolar 1 and borderline personality disorder in addition to other conditions caused by nurture.
This was a death sentence for me. All I could think about was how hard I worked to get where I was only to have a chronic illness with no cure. “My poor kids,” ran through my mind a half a dozen times. I was not going to be defeated.
I took the meds, did research, attended therapy
Six months later I was at my baseline, stable and happy.
I registered for school at Post University to study psychology. I wanted to understand myself better so I could one day help someone understand themselves better. Throughout my undergrad, I struggled with my moods and my medications, but I somehow stayed on track.
My husband has been such a major support system for me as he always pushes me to accomplish my goals. Sometimes I am in awe of my life today. I am in awe of the mother I am today. My children are my everything and everything I do is for the eight of them.
When I graduate in August 2021, I intend to pursue my Ph.D. in psychology. I want to open a non-profit organization called Grace2Fight, because the Grace of God gave me a reason to fight.
I want to provide mental health services and education to populations in need–the ones stuck in poverty, abuse, and addictions. I want to make tomorrow better for the children who are suffering today, by helping the parents to heal.