Jessica Frankovelgia: Living a Graceful, Courageous Life After Losing a Loved One to Addiction
I used to think we were standing next to each other looking through the same glass. I thought she could hear me screaming ‘Look at yourself; you are so magnificent! You can have the world by the ass if you stay sober’ – because I thought we were standing on the same side. In reality, I was behind the glass screaming at someone who couldn’t connect with my words. I was audibly fighting someone else’s silent battle. ~Jessica Frankovelgia
Jessica Frankovelgia, a woman of grace and courage, shared her personal experience with me as the daughter of a single mother who struggled with addiction all of her life. Their bond was deep, and the depth of their love left Jessica in constant fear.
In the back of her mind, she was waiting for something bad to happen to her mother; another episode, another suicide attempt, or another blackout. But most of all, she feared her mother would die at the hands of her addiction.
Regrettably, the hands of fate delivered this crushing experience as a reality just over three years ago.
When Fears Become Reality
The day that Jessica received a phone call revealing that her mother had died, she cried so hard and for so long that the flesh of her face turned a bluish purple.
Her beautiful mother was found unresponsive, with a mixture of alcohol and eleven prescription drugs in her system. She had been afraid of this day her entire life, and was now staring her biggest fear in the face.
She shared openly with me about the chaos that ran their lives as she was growing up. Sleeping on the floor, moving from location to location, with her mother’s numerous suicide attempts weaved into her childhood reality. While most kids were playing, Jessica was coming up with ways to manipulate her into getting clean. She was desperate, her innocent hands staging scenes of anarchy which reflected the truth of her environment.
She told me of the time that she called child protective services at age 13, where she faced her mother in court, hoping that this would help her mother come around. She wanted a life she could rest her bones in, and trust that her best friend would be free from her inner-demons. Jessica’s life was consumed with trying to save her mother from her own demise, a battle she was never meant to fight. At least not in the way one would like to think. Everyone wants a child to be a child, and the parent to guard them, but this is not always the lot one is given in life.
Despite the years that went by, Jessica’s mother continued to live a life where she was overtaken by her own sense of inadequacy. Pills were simply one expression of how she could best handle her inner-landscape, leaving Jessica believing that addition is not a selfish disease, but rather a disease of loneliness and shame. In a world filled with opinions and experts, Jessica’s humble words touched me. She offered a compassionate stance in the wake of great loss. Perhaps facing one’s biggest fear and walking through it changes you. Perhaps it forces you to go so deeply into the underworld of grief, anger, sorrow, and regret, that you have no choice but to die there too, or to emerge with a heart that has been cracked wide open.
Learning to Let it All Unravel
I asked Jessica how she got through it – how she has managed to successfully make her way from the depths of despair, to living a life where she holds and tastes joy on a daily basis. In hearing her story of emergence, I discovered that she allowed more than she pushed. She felt more than she chose to shut down. She let herself unravel.
Grief is not going to be the same for everyone. As much as our minds love the idea of having a timeline to cling to, a process to mark our progress against, and a method that will offer us hope, it is a journey to finding peace again. The medicine that Jessica offers, the hope that she can give to any reader relating to her story, is that of the power of resilience. The ability for us to break and become solid again.
“I had to believe that my life would be great again. I had to believe that joy was possible in huge amounts,” Jessica said. And with the simple step of writing “resilience is a choice” in black eyeliner on her mirror, she began rebuilding her life.-Lesley Wirth
Jessica told me that her mantra became choose resilience in small moments. “I had to believe that my life would be great again. I had to believe that joy was possible in huge amounts,” Jessica said. And with the simple step of writing “resilience is a choice” in black eyeliner on her mirror, she began rebuilding her life.
The pathway to recovering from debilitating grief, was done in small, incremental steps. Jessica’s first step was to just get out of bed. For one week, her only task was that she had to get out of bed. The next week she added a shower to the list. And the third week, she would make herself return one phone call a day. “My micro resilience over time, turned into my macro resilience.”
Jessica started allowing her life to look different. She connected more with supportive family members, and less with friends who did not know how to show up for her. She removed all toxic people from her life. She worked closely with a grief counselor and started to deal with all of her own shit before dealing with anyone else’s. She had to; she had more challenges ahead of her that would require strength of heart and determination.
Not only did she lose her mother and best friend, but in the coming months Jessica also lost her step-father, grandmother, got a divorce from her alcoholic husband, and moved from her home in Hawaii back to the mainland. “I’d hit rock bottom and decided to rebuild the strongest platform I could for myself. In order to do that, I had to become really honest with myself. Honest about the fact that I, too, was capable of drinking too much very often. So I stopped drinking for six months to explore what could happen in my life with clarity. Because I had to recognize that I was no better than the addict, as I was just as capable of failing,” she confessed.
Courage. It takes courage to look within and face the places inside that hurt. And it takes trust to know that, if we do that, if we can be with ourselves without armor, we may just learn how to walk free.
Jessica’s Tips for Processing Painful Emotions
Given that Jessica has been able to process so much of the initial stages of grief, such as overwhelming times of denial, numbness, hopelessness, rage, sorrow, and guilt, she sees things from a different perspective these days.
I asked Jessica if she had any tips or supportive words for those who may need them. She had many.
First, Jessica highlighted the suffocating nature of losing yourself right along with someone who is drowning. She spoke of how easy it is for your joy and internal peace to become something of the past. Because of this, because of this loss of self, she encourages people to tend to their own spirit.
She speaks into the importance of having a self in the midst of upheaval.
“There were times when I had to walk away to preserve my own spirit. When it started eroding sanity, when I couldn’t be joyful at all, I had to cut her off.”
Anyone who has had to do this, knows this is one of the scariest and most challenging decisions you may ever have to make. The weight of carrying the life another person on your shoulders, while carrying your own, is a burden too big for anyone to handle. And not only that, in the end, we know that the truth is we actually have no control over the outcome anyway.
Jessica told me that, if she could go back in time, she would have focused on just loving her mother more. Rather than trying to control all things at all times, she would have balanced any efforts to help her, with accepting her humanness. “I was cruel at times fighting for her,” she admitted to me, and my heart knew, without a doubt, that cruelty was always an attempt to save her mom or save herself.
Noble intentions are not always met by the perfect approach, especially considering there is no such thing. That is the tricky thing about these situations, the mind wants to play out scenarios to paint a picture of a different approach equaling a different outcome. If it were that simple, then something along the line, one of those beautiful efforts made, no matter how messy, would have worked.
This is the hard thing about life. Our tender hearts want to feel they will always be safe and protected. That rawness can never eat us or anyone we love alive. And sometimes that pain is going to scour our bones despite our best efforts. To this, my simple and humble prayer for you is to find something in this article that speaks to you. Something that you can hold on to, as you begin to take those steps of resilience in small moments.
Finding Your Own Support
If you are interested in finding support in addition to any therapy you may be receiving, GRASP is a well-known resource for people who have lost a loved one to addiction. They work as a recovery support group that offers meetings in various locations across the country. Their website contains valuable information as well as book suggestions to get you started. To learn more visit the GRASP Help website.
Al-Anon is another great resource, as it provides a forum where there will be other people who may potentially have experienced the same situation as you. You can learn more about Al-Anon here.
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