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Survivor Stories: Ode To NinaJo

In May of 19961 moved to Atlanta, Georgia from Chicago, Illinois not realizing why God had lead me there. The reasons for my move have become crystal clear to me now. An incredible woman whom I met here in Atlanta; Iris Bolton, has been a catalyst for much of my healing journey. I will never forget the time I saw Iris Bolton at my first S.O.S. meeting. I thought that Iris was losing it when she told us we would eventually find “a gift” in this dreadful experience. Well, thanks to my faith in God and Iris Bolton I am indeed discovering a gift and a part of that gift is my ability to share with you today!

I remember so vividly after the devastating loss of my mother, the void that I felt, and the longing to find ANYBODY who could even remotely understand what had happened to me and ONLY ME (so I thought). I found in my S.O.S. groups that this “family” of survivors could finish my sentences and comfort me in a way I never thought possible. My journey began very early on since my mother and father had both turned to alcohol to deal with the stress in their lives. I was the youngest child and proudly assumed the role of “nursemaid and caretaker” primarily for my precious mother, believing deep down that if I was good enough, my parents might stop drinking. This “responsible” role that I took upon myself helped me to fine tune the art of numbing all my feelings and being “strong”. (It felt pretty good at the time.)

In 1979, my mother became sober and I was in “2nd heaven”. I adored her; she was creative, funny and a wonderful friend (much more so than a mother). She divorced my father, and she and I moved to a condo across from my high school in Oak Park, Illinois. In September of 1980 I was off to college. We got together and talked often. I had three incredible years with “Nina Jo” for which I am intensely grateful.

The last time that I saw “Mum” was Saturday, February 6th, 1982.1 took the bus from school so that we could spend some time together. When Mom drove me to the bus station on Saturday, I knew she was incredibly sad because of a break up with her boyfriend. To this day, I could never tell you that I had any clue what mom meant when she told me “the scrimshaw artwork in the living room is worth a lot of money, just so you know in case anything ever happened to me.” I never made the connection. Now I believe that even if I had, I was helpless over my mother’s choices. I learned as a young child that you could not take away the “bottle” from the alcoholic because they would find a will and a way to get another one. Just as I know now that if I had taken away mom’s gun (which I had no knowledge of at the time), she would have found another way to end her pain. I am relieved that today I do not feel responsible for her decision. (That took me awhile.)

My tragic journey began on Monday. February 8th, 1982 with a phone call from my father, that has left a permanent scar in my memory. He said “they found Nina’s body, apparently she had bought a gun.” That’s all I remember. And then I went into what felt like a permanent state of NUMB. Being that I was closest to mom and that I was so good at “taking care of things”, my 63-year-old father decided that I should be the one to make all of the decisions about the funeral, etc. So, at the age of 20,1 stood there at the Oak Park Funeral Home, never having dealt with death whatsoever in my life, realizing that it was all “up to me”. My most difficult decision was choosing not to see my mother before she was cremated. I believe now, that even if I had just seen her hand it would have helped me find a small piece of closure to this surrealistic event. I regret that decision and feel angry that I let others convince me that it was best to have a memory of her as I had last seen her.
I spent the next 10 years of my life dealing with this “surrealistic event” in a complete daze. As a sophomore in college, I become rebellious and very much a “party” girl, trying to fill the void that mom had left. In 1986, I was using cocaine to numb my feelings. I then resorted to food as my “drug” of choice, and struggled with an eating disorder. I spent the next couple of years in very dysfunctional relationships, taking care of everybody, but myself (as usual).

My life vest and good friend, Rebecca sent me to her therapist, Sheila. I did some incredible healing work with her but didn’t give it enough time to really work through my intense grief over my mother. I realized in 1992 that I was failing in a relationship because I had spent so much time denying my own needs. My best friend referred me to a grief therapist. This was an incredible funnel for me in beginning to look at my mother’s suicide. Part of my therapy work was writing a letter from mom to me and from me to mom, since she had not left a note. . I also reluctantly read Iris Bolton’s book; My Son, My Son. I found it fascinating that someone else could feel the way that I did. Little did I know that my future husband, Michael would be transferred to Atlanta, in 1996, the year we were married.

Once in Atlanta it took me six months to call Iris and boy was I nervous. I made an appointment and went in to talk to her. Iris is an incredibly comforting person and very realistic, I liked that (I was finally ready for that!) She referred me to a therapist at The Link. This has sped up recovery. My journey has become a difficult yet also very wonderful road towards self discovery. I am intensely grateful to be able to share my story with you and feel OK with being vulnerable. The most important thought that I can leave you with is that You are not alone! (Thank God I found that out!)

By: Susan February


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Safe communities has complied a list of abbreviation definitions for finding the right treatment for you.

MAT: Medication for Addiction Treatment.
OP: Outpatient Treatment – person lives at home or in the community, attends. individual and group therapy, these can include or not include MAT.
IOP: Intensive Outpatient Treatment – person lives at home or in the community, attends individual and extended groups, 9-12 hours a week.
Residential: person lives at the facility for a period of at least 14 days, some last as many as 45 days.
PHP: Partial Hospitalization Program is a structured mental health treatment program that runs for several hours each day, three to five days per week.
DBT: Dialectical behavior therapy is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that integrates mindfulness techniques.