My Safe Place: Brenda’s Story
(Trigger warning: abuse, eating disorder, and suicide)
While my father was abusive, I grew up finding my safe place in my mother. When my safe place, my mother, passed away when I was 14, I fell apart.
I was put into a mental hospital for 8 months. A few years passed, and I got married. I was 21. Because I had no foundation, I rushed into it. But out of my first marriage, I was given the greatest gift of my life – my son, Joshua, in 1980.
With the end of my first marriage due to the abuse from my ex-husband, my son and I went to live with my great-uncle, George. He was wonderful. He fell in love with Joshua and quickly became an amazing father figure.
Joshua and I loved him dearly. We lost Uncle George when Joshua was 8 and I was 35.
After his passing, I began facing an intense eating disorder: bulimia. I was hurting deeply. I was in and out of treatment centers, desperate to get better. Looking back, I know now that God was already working. I didn’t know this fully then, but I had friends who were praying for me, advocating for me.
I was staying at the Youville Recovery Residence for Women where I began to experience God’s love, kindness, and healing in a way I had never experienced before. It was there I met Sister Jeannine, who mentored me, walked alongside me, and championed me. I believe God put her in my life to help me overcome bulimia.
Although I experienced God’s goodness and faithfulness, it did not mean that my challenges ceased.
In 2003, Joshua, my beautiful boy, was staying with a friend when out of the blue, he shot himself. Joshua had shown no signs of suicidal thoughts nor displayed any suicidal tendencies. He was 23.
He was my heart.
It felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest. It was the worst night of my life and one that changed me forever.
My boy was funny and outgoing. He could light up a room. He was well-loved by many: he had so many friends. He played basketball and was an excellent point guard. But, he significantly injured his knee.
He had two surgeries. Deep down, behind all his natural goofiness and infectious positivity, he knew he couldn’t play at the level he used to, nor could he ever advance. This we felt was a factor that may have contributed to his pain.
I still grieve every day. I will never be the same.
Perhaps I didn’t see it then, but I am confident, with every fibre of my being, that God was with me. And He was working, behind the scenes, even before Joshua took his life.
3 months prior to the night Joshua took his life, I was living in Airdrie and although I had secured a job at Boston Pizza, I was rooming with another person who mistreated me constantly. My living conditions and mental health were both poor.
One day, during my shift at Boston Pizza, a woman I had gotten to know named Lynn came up to me and said “God told me we’re gonna be friends.” I honestly thought she was a little wacky.
But somehow, amazingly, (and now I know it was God) shortly after that day, she helped me move out of my terrible living situation and opened up her home for me to stay and live. Living with Lynn, I was surrounded by a wonderful community of Christians. I started going back to church. It was amazing.
This community surrounded me and took care of me. I wouldn’t have had people encourage me, pray for me, weep with me, and mourn with me during the most painful season of my life if I had not met Lynn a mere 3 months prior.
Although I had a strong, supportive community, in my grief, it was too difficult to stay and work in Airdrie. I needed a change of pace and place. I decided to move back to Calgary. I began working at Dairy Queen. There, I met Christi, whose family owned the restaurant. We clicked instantly.
We shared our struggles. We both struggle with addiction, mental health, and loss. We both knew what it was like to experience immense grief and sorrow. We cry together, laugh together, and seek God together.
She always says, “God brought us together.” And I agree.
We met 4 months after Josh died. God knew I needed her friendship. Empowered by God’s grace, we fight our battles against substance abuse and mental health complications alongside one another. We fight back with scripture.
Psalm 94:19 (NASB 1995)
When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul.
Joshua accepted Jesus into his life when he was 16, and he was baptized. I know in my heart and to the core of my being, that he is in heaven.
He is safe. He’s celebrating Jesus in heaven, alongside Uncle George.
My story continues on. It’s a constant battle. I still struggle. I still contend with loss. I still feel pain.
But I strive daily to replace those anxiety-filled thoughts with Scripture. I take it one day at a time and remind myself that I am not alone. And I await the day we are all reunited, face to face, with our Creator.
Now and forever, Jesus is my safe place.
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