I was in my early teens when I first experimented with alcohol. The thing I remember most about the experience, was how carefree and calm I felt after I took that first drink. Throughout my teenage years, I continued to experiment but managed to maintain academically. Shortly after graduation, I gave birth to a baby boy and by 21, I was married with two beautiful sons. Although I had great things happening, drugs and alcohol continued to have their place in my life. Over the years, our home became chaotic. The fighting escalated, and drinking became my escape. I was unable to quit drinking for any length of time and I felt like a failure. I longed for a different life, but I felt like a prisoner to alcohol. For years I experienced an inner turmoil and struggle. I longed for peace and looked for that same calm and carefree feeling I felt from that first drink of alcohol, but it didn’t exist anymore.
Our family relocated to Duluth and my silent struggle continued. One summer day I was listening to a colleague share his experience and his story resonated with me. I finally realized that I was not alone in this experience. It was that ten-minute conversation that changed the direction of my life. It gave me hope. I eventually took the first step to put those thoughts and desires for a peaceful life into action. It was through the connection with others in recovery, and the program of AA, that I managed to embark on my own recovery journey. My journey zigzagged, included divorce and relapse, but I was able to move forward with the support and connections I made in early recovery. Eventually, I remarried and built an amazing life with my husband Rick. We continue to grow and appreciate our life together.
I’m the proud mother of two amazing sons. I remember how desperately I wanted to break the cycle of addiction, and how I longed for peace and stability for them. Their childhood was tumultuous, but as they grew older, they experienced healing in their own time and way. My youngest son Ben is kind and compassionate and an incredible father to two beautiful girls. He is a model of patience and integrity. He continues to use his life experience to mentor and support others. His grace inspires me. I am so grateful to experience his growth and to have the opportunity to learn from him. My oldest son Bryan was very kind and patient. He was a member of the Army National Guard and was driven to succeed in all his endeavors. He loved music and had an amazing sense of humor. He had a contagious laugh and a smile could light up the room. Bryan’s journey included accomplishments and roadblocks. He loved to help others and had an amazing work ethic. He had several impaired driving offenses, including a felony DWI that resulted in his participation in the Duluth DWI Court. This was the beginning of his healing and recovery. I am so grateful for the people in this program. They validated his experience, treated him with compassion and connected him with the resources that helped him begin his process of healing. He successfully graduated the program and continued his journey in recovery.
In 2013, we lost Bryan to suicide. Bryan lived for years with PTSD, depression and anxiety. His life taught me about the power of forgiveness and the importance of security and unconditional love. His death taught me to be present, and how to be more mindful and grateful. The memory of my son’s resilience continues to motivate me to talk about my recovery and extend the same support and grace I received when I began my journey, nearly 23 years ago.
We need to have a voice in our own recovery. We deserve the opportunity to identify and build our recovery capital. We ought to have access to the support we need to live our best life in recovery, and we can use our experience to help make a difference in the lives of others. Those of us experiencing substance use disorder are living with and managing a chronic disease and shouldn’t be viewed any differently than a person who needs resources or support to manage their chronic medical condition (e.g. diabetes or heart disease).
Jody Ann Elden’s Story
I am Kyle Heyesen, the oldest child in a family of four girls, each two years apart, Kacey the second and the youngest two being twins, Jody and Andy. We are the adult children of two parents, now in long-term recovery, who were addicts as we were growing up.
Our sister Jody passed away from a drug overdose (herion and meth) on September 17th, 2017. She will always be the precious baby of our family as the youngest (even if only by 5 minutes after her twin). She will forever be deeply loved by us all, and her love lives on in us eternally. She is unforgettable in a million ways, many of which make me laugh out loud just thinking about!
From John O’Donohue, on the memorial flyer at her funeral, the first stanza reads:
Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or might or pain can reach you.
This is so fitting because we all wept and continue grieving deeply to have tragically lost our precious Jody to a drug overdose. And yet as we reflect on her life we know how much pain she was in, all of the storms of trauma and difficulty and struggle she endured for so many years. She was such a sweet sensitive soul overwhelmed with life to the point she couldn’t bear being in this world without being high. We know that the reason she used was to find comfort and release from all of her suffering.
Addiction ravages lives, is a destroyer of light and truth and relationships. Although we lost Jody officially in 2017, in many ways we lost her and have grieved her life long ago and over and over to addiction. So many people are touched by addiction, whether your own struggle or that of someone you love. And for those of you who have overcome addiction, including my parents, this is one of the HUGEST VICTORIES accomplished.
For our family, for such a long time it felt like Jody was in a prolonged hospice. We saw her sick and withering away. She dangled at the edge of life, staring into death every time she used. Daily, it was in the forefront of our minds and hearts we could lose her at any time, and many false worries and days and hours of anxiety where we feared this could be the day we would learn she died from an overdose.
Addiction makes people crazy, not just the addicts, but often those close to them. One of those many moments for me…on a particular dark and hopeless day for Jody she reached out to family, to me indicating that she no longer wanted to live. I rushed from work calling law enforcement and the Crisis Response Team. I finally found her on the beach at Park Point, where she grew up, spent her childhood and loved to be, and she said she wanted to go die where she was born. By the time I found her however, she had figured out a new way to make money and she said she was heading out of town with a friend to work and she wanted a ride to her apartment. On the way, desperate to save her, I thought maybe this could be the moment we could get her help, turn her life around. I tried to talk her into going into treatment, into getting admitted to the psych ward. That we were all concerned for her life…but, she got pissed at me and ended up jumping out of my moving car and running away from me screaming. I quickly pulled over and dialed 9-1-1 telling them to come quickly…and ran off after her in high heels down the streets of West Duluth screaming, “You think you can beat me, you think I can’t catch you! I run marathons!!” We experienced so many of these moments that are so ridiculous and crazy there is almost nothing our family could do but cry and laugh through our tears at the scenes that unfolded. You can’t make this stuff up!
Mother Teresa said, “If you are busy judging people, you have no time to love them.” And this is what we tried to live by for Jody: to simply love her and show her compassion in her sickness. This is sometimes the only thing you can do for an addict.
And yet, there were also many moments of hope. Windows back into our sweet Jody. Periods of sobriety, going to treatment multiple times, or less heavy drug use…when she was present again… there was a whole summer a few years back that she was in a such a good place we trusted her to watch her niece Adley and nephew Elias – we will always treasure those precious times — and while we do lose many people to addiction forever….also, we see so many people recover and return to whole and beautiful lives…reaching their potential. We always held faith that Jody would find that path. We have all prayed that she would find peace here on earth, but she was unable to due to the destruction of addiction. And although it is not what we wanted, we know she is now free from that terrible suffering of her addiction.
Jody will always be remembered for her huge and caring heart. She accepted and loved everyone with open arms. Even in her darkest moments she would remember important details about others or have a special gift for the kids in her life. She gave my daughter Stella many things including a coach bag and sunglasses, make-up, and Victoria’s Secret Pink clothes. I see Jody’s light in my little girl Stella.
Jody was the most honest, direct, raw person you’ll ever meet. She would absolutely tell it like it is. She would do anything for those she loved, including threaten to kick someone’s butt if they hurt a person she loved – which she offered to do for me on many occasions when I was in pain. She was hilarious and crass and swore like a trucker. Often she’d call me and say “what’s uuuppppp my Biiiiaaaccchhhh!” “Ha, Ha! You know I say that cuz I love ya’!” She was wild and crazy – the life of the party! She was everyone’s go to for braiding and doing hair – she was tremendously good at it, I will never live up to the way she could do double French braids in my daughter’s hair, or how she could paint her nails with awesome designs in ways I never could. She dearly loved her nieces and nephews and they adored her.
The best thing she ever did and the greatest joy of her life was her son Ethan. She loved him fiercely. She’d do whatever scheming, wheeling and dealing, even if flat broke, to try and get him an Xbox for Christmas or or an iPad for his Birthday. She was tremendously proud of him and the amazing young man he has become. She loved hard, lived hard, fought hard, and forgave quickly! She had a beautiful shining soul in a million ways!
Jody sadly didn’t know her own beautiful light and it was extinguished too early at only 32 years old, too soon….many of us tried to tell her in a million different ways the potential we saw in her, the life that she could’ve had, and what the poet Hafiz says so perfectly:
“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” So we will forever honor and remember Jody and know her astonishing light now shines brightly and that she rests in peace.