How struggle made me strong

Growing up I had always been a very active, outgoing, headstrong and impulsive kid. I grew up with two loving and devoted parents, in a home where I felt cared for, valued, and safe. I was surrounded by four siblings who did things like play football in the back yard or dressed me up as  and let me perform concerts. My childhood was full of adventure and creativity.

I had experienced money very early on - vacations to Las Vegas and Palm Springs regularly, shopping sprees spending hundreds on clothes and beauty, and rarely being told no to things that I wanted. I was in every way privileged, and my life just felt perfect. I was your typical manipulative pre-teen, and little did I know, it was about to get a lot worse.  

My parents got divorced when I was twelve, but at the time I selfishly thought of it as two Christmases, two birthdays and two Thanksgivings (that's what my friends told me anyway). I was okay with my parents divorcing, because I knew that the love they had for me wouldn’t change, as I was reassured of that hundreds times. My dad moved two minutes down the road and my parents maintained a really great, healthy and loving relationship towards each other.

October 27, 2007 was the day my struggle began. Years had passed since my parents divorced, and I was splitting 50/50 time with both my mom and dad. My parents and older siblings didn’t tell me much about what was going on with my dad's constant stress and fear - other than my dad might have to face prison for two years MAX for money laundering and mail fraud. At the time, I had no idea what that crime even meant. I just knew it was bad because Peter from my Elementary School couldn’t come to outdoor school because my dad being one of the volunteers…. But that never changed my love for my dad. He was my hero. He cuddled me to bed at night, called me his Girly-Q, played with me, and was very active in my childhood; he always provided me with everything I needed, even discipline, and boyyyy did I need that (like when I stole beanie babies in second grade, boy was that fun ha!).

At this time, I was emotional because I was getting ready to say goodbye to my dad for what he said was only going to be two years (weeks later, I found out it was 5 years in a federal prison). I really don’t think I registered what that even meant, or would mean in my life. I just remember crying myself to sleep countless nights at the thought of losing my dad for even two years. It was hard, confusing and just didn’t make sense that they would take away MY dad because in my eyes, he was my hero, and would never harm anyone else.

Weeks went by, and I remember waking up to a normal, crisp, sunshine filled October day. My dad had promised me the night before that he would be at my volleyball tournament the next day. Then we would go to my sisters after my tournament and spend the night there for a family game night (he had moved in with her in preperation to leave to prison). He wanted to spend as much time together as possible before he left for prison. Carli, my best friend had spent the night and the plan was that my mom would take us to our volleyball tournament the next morning.

I remember that morning my mom walking into my room saying that Cathy, Carli's mom, would be taking us to the game because she had to go handle something with my dad. She looked worried, but still confident that everything was going to be okay, as mothers always do. I remember calling my dad on the way there-no answer. Calling my dad after my first game-no answer. Calling my mom after my second game-no answer. It was in that moment I knew something was wrong. Neither parent was answering me, or present at my tournament. Minutes after my second game Cathy came and told me she was going to take me home. I felt worried that something was really wrong. I thought my dad might have been taken to the hospital, or had to go to prison early. But nothing could prepare me for the news I was about to receive.


My mom, sister and brother all got out of the car after I arrived and they didn’t say anything to me as we walked to into our house. When we walked into the house, I sat down in the living room with my mom, sister and brother Jared. I think that at the time, my mom couldn’t get herself to shatter her twelve year old, innocent baby girl's world. She probably couldn’t even try to begin to explain death and how it wasn’t just a thing that happened to Stephanie's dad from my fourth grade class. It was something that just happened in a random morning - for no reason - and she couldn’t get herself to deliver the worst news of my life. So, Jocelyn stepped in. To be honest, once Jocelyn told me that my dad died, I kind of blacked out.

I don’t know if I cried or if I sat in silence (I am sure she could tell you), but what I do remember was walking outside down to the gravel road on the back side of our house and calling my dad's cell hundreds of times, bawling and talking to his voicemails. I remember specifically sitting there and saying, “Dad pick up, I know Jocelyn and Mom aren’t telling the truth, there is so much I still need to tell you-please pick up dad. I love you. Please just pick up. I know you love me too so just pick up”. It's been years since he has passed and I still cry reading and writing that, I imagine myself again on that gravel road shattered, broken and alone. There is really no way to describe getting that news, other than a sharp needle piercing your heart down the middle. I felt like I could literally feel my heart ache, and I never knew I could cry so hard that I would go silent.

Now, lets fast forward just a few years. I was fifteen, angry as hell and suicidal. I became the victim of life, and wanted everyone to know how bad I had it. I hated myself. I hated my family. I hated my step dad even more (because I felt that I was betraying my dad). I hated school. I hated volleyball. I hated anything that wasn’t sleeping because sleeping was an escape from reality. But if you saw me at school or volleyball or with my friends, you would have thought I was the happiest teenager. I definitely put on a face to the outside world which felt so exhausting. Teachers used to tell my mom how great I was to have in class. I always excelled in sports, got good grades, and had a wide assortment of friends. Once I got home I could finally let it all out, and ask anyone in my family, it wasn’t pretty. My brothers would always tell me I was a bitch. My sister would fight me and lecture me. My mom would always try to dig at a deeper problem, but I refused to let anyone in. There was nothing you could have done to make me do, think or say different.

I felt helpless, confused, exhausted, paralyzed, discouraged and bitter. I lost faith in anything that had to do with religion because, in my mind, I felt like if god was real he wouldn’t be inflicting this pain on me. I just felt like nobody could understand me. No matter how many times you tried to tell me that there were people who had it worst, I felt that I was alone in the world-without a dad to take care of me. I was in a vicious cycle of an addiction to victimism. Everyone that I told my story to - why I was the way I was - told me how sorry they were for me. So, I kept them around because that is exactly what I wanted to hear. I didn’t want to hear how to actually fix the problem. Not yet at least.


Years went on of this constant battle. My mom and I argued daily, I let my step dad know how much I hated him. At one point I even told my school counselor he was abusive even though he wasn't. I was suicidal. I resorted to smoking lots of pot (sorry Grandma) and trying to get attention from any males I could. I crashed my sisters brand new Escalade (yes, with no license or permit), and stole from her - plus LOTS more that I am sure my sister will share someday. Lets just say,  I was on a roller coaster with a cloud of fog surrounding me.


It wasn’t until I got to college that I had the “aha” moment that changed my life. I had decided to stop playing volleyball, and I went to University of Oregon to chase the four year college experience. This was going to be a way that I could show my family what I could do. It was my chance at a new beginning without anyone telling me what to do or how to do it. I partied my ass off (somehow I still got good grades), and I got involved with guys who were emotionally abusive. I gained almost thirty pounds my freshman year. I was just as miserable, but in a different city.

I believe it was a Friday night, and I was getting ready to go out and party - my normal weekend routine. I was going out with this guy that I was infatuated with who was, looking back now, pretty terrible for me. I knew that every girl wanted him so I felt lucky and glamorous to be “chosen” by him (terrible self esteem, I know). We went out to this party and got lost in the craziness of the night. Eventually, I tried a pill I had never tried before called Xanax. I had already drank more than half a fifth, so the night got blurry.

At about three or four in the morning, we eventually stumbled to our car to go home. Next thing you know we crashed into a parked car and fled the scene because we were scared of getting a DUI. My adrenaline immediately kicked in and in that moment, everything changed. Nothing else mattered. Once we got back to the house I remember looking at myself dead in the eyes and all the thoughts rushed into my head... What the hell are you doing with your life Janessa? Is this how you are going to live your life? Look at yourself, you look lifeless. You thought coming here would solve your problems but your problems just followed you here and multiplied. Get your shit together.

This was it. This was my last chance.

I felt like my dad was sending me a message, and from that moment on I commited myself to changing who I was, how I perceived life, the actions I took and the people I surrounded myself with. I sought out the help I needed to grow into a genuinely happy individual. And I didn’t want to be just happy for the day, or the weekend. I didn't want to find happiness when I drank or got high, or when I was getting attention from a guy. I wanted to be happy when I was alone with myself.  I hadn’t felt that in years, and it was time to make that change. I really couldn’t say why it was that moment because I had experienced numerous scary moments before then, but something just clicked for me. I decided to change, and I am so thankful I did.


"I am in a long term relationship with the man of my dreams."

"I am in a long term relationship with the man of my dreams."

Fast forward. It's been almost ten years since my dad died, and I am the happiest I have ever been. I have completely changed my life around. I lost the weight, stopped smoking and drinking to numb my pain, and I feel physically and most importantly, MENTALLY healthy. I am playing volleyball at a school I love while pursuing my undergraduate in Health and Human Wellness. I am in a long term relationship with the man of my dreams. I have abundant and meaningful friendships. The list really goes on. I am able to be grateful for all the little things in my life, and go to bed feeling blessed (lets get real... not all the time, but most days).

I have now realized that my struggle gives me my purpose. If I could have my dad back, I would - one hundred thousand times over. I miss him every day and I wish so badly he could be here to watch all these exciting things unfold in my life, but because of his death I ventured down a CRAZY journey that all lead me here. I now have faith that there is a bigger plan because without experiencing that pain, I wouldn’t be able to help others in the way I do now. I wouldn’t be able to have empathy and sympathy for other people's hard times. I understand now that I can overcome ANYTHING that feels unbearable or unimaginable, because I have done just that.

I am here now living MY BEST LIFE DAILY. I wouldn’t trade my life, my heartache or my happiness for anything. I have learned that I am happiest when I am giving to others and when I am able to share and experience other's pain, suffering and joy with them. I am my best self when I am connected. I have learned to look to a higher power - whatever that may be (god, religion, yoga, meditation, the universe or energy) - to work for me and not against me. I miss my dad but understand that losing him physically has brought me to this exact moment. Sharing my story with you, and ultimately making me feel fulfilled.

If you have made it this far, thanks for supporting my journey. I love you all endlessly! Let's connect and do some awesome things TOGETHER.


Janessa MastComment