Scarred By Years Of Living On The Edge
Over the Christmas break I finally had some time to reach out to other amputees I had been following on Instagram for some time. I wanted to see who might be interested in sharing his or her story on The Active Amputee. One of the people I contacted was Jenna Rivera - @amplifiedyogi on Instagram. I wanted to learn more about how she uses yoga and meditation in her recovery process. And right after the first few sentences went through, I got a first reply. Which read: „Hello Bjoern! Did you sent this because of the mail I set earlier? Because I shared my story with you earlier for you to share on your site.“ No, I hadn‘t seen her mail. What an amazing coincidence. A bit of serendipity to start the new year. So I opened my inbox and this is what I found. Jenna‘s story.
The Opposite Of Suicide: Finding Gratitude And Grace In Life
I was born in Baltimore, MD on September 24, 1973. I grew up in the DC metro area around Andrews Air Force Base. At the time of my conception, my father was either escaped from prison or incarcerated (conjugal visitation). I’ve never been able to confirm where my father was 40 weeks prior to my birth.
At the age of two my mother and her mother, my Grammy, told me my father died. I believed this as my truth for the next 14 years. I was an only child with no cousins, aunts, uncles or family except my mother, grandmother, and my step-grandfather. My mother was an only child. My grandmother had been married at least six times but never had any more children. She had my mother when she was 17 years old in 1949. She was married to my mother’s father who died in the Hill 303 Massacre in Korea 1950. He was just 23 and my mother was just a little over a year when he was killed in action.
My Grammy took my mother from my grandfather’s family in Madera, CA to Las Vegas, NV when my mom was about five years old. Never to see them again. My Grammy was quite successful as a blues singer and trumpet player. She played at The Sahara Hotel and Casino, The Sands and other night clubs in Vegas; circa 1955 - 1965. In the late 60’s she and my mother moved to Washington DC to perform at Blues Alley and The Gold Nugget. She died of alcoholism in 1988 in her mid 50’s. She was the Love of my Life and the day to day caregiver to me the majority of my life.
When my grandmother passed in 1988 I was 14 ½ years old. I now had a 1½-year-old half sister and a completely broken mother. My grandmother had not been such a great mother to my mother in the 40 years they had together. Grammy was about 40 years old when I was born and doted on me and loved me the way she never did with my mother. She was not abusive to me and did not fight with me. I was clearly her second baby! I adored her.
When she died suddenly from complications due to cirrhosis of the liver my step-grandfather blamed me for her death and kicked us out of my grandmother’s home. My mother, baby sister and I found ourselves homeless and my mother literally became mentally unstable, more-so than she had ever appeared to me before. I don’t know if it’s because my Grammy provided a barrier, a shield of some sort, or because my mother was so addicted to her work and never home that I just never realised how truly mentally ill she was until after Grammy’s death. I really don’t know.
But everything was different and frightening. At my mother’s suggestion, because at the time of Grammy’s death she was my baby sister’s daycare provider, I dropped out of school to help my mother care for her while she worked. To this day I still only have a 9th-grade education. Within a couple of months in the summer of 1988, I was hanging with “hustlers” (drug dealers) in the Rafel Edmond crack era of Southeast D.C. I worked at The Burger King on South Capitol Street with a forged workers permit. I drank way too much malt liquor. By midsummer, I acted like I was a grown ass woman and my mother and I fought, physically, all the time. We agreed I needed to leave. It was a mutual “Get out!”/”I’m leaving!” scenario, even though I was only 14 years old and she was the adult. There really was no telling me what to do, especially not her.
I couch surfed a lot, and eventually ended up in a teen homeless shelter after I had exhausted all my couch options and was sick of staying with young men I was sleeping with. It was at S.A.Y.S. (Southern Area Youth Services) House in Southern MD that I first attempted suicide. I overdosed on sleeping pills. During my hospitalisation, I learned my father was not, in fact, dead as I had been told my entire life. Upon release from the hospital, because I was a minor and my mother legally had to take me home, I inquired about my father and her words still ring in my head “Your father didn’t die when I said he did Jenna, but I believe he is dead now.” Oh, ok, Mom. That makes sense, sorry I asked! (insert sarcasm)
Fast forward a year or so circa 1990/1991. After running up my mother’s phone bill to about $500 in long distance charges when I would stay at her house to watch my baby sister, I finally found my dad ALIVE AND IN PRISON! Good old fashioned detective work. No internet, no computer. Just reading the many file boxes full of letters and legal paperwork my mother had and piecing it all together and making lots of long distance phone calls at 16/17 years old. It took me about a year to find him. I have many of those documents to this day.
I met my father in October 1991 at Mansfield Correctional Institution in Mansfield, OH. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I had loved and prayed to my dad in heaven my whole life and bargained and pleaded with God to let it not be true and here it was; wish granted. Your dad is not dead and he’s here to hug and talk to you in a visiting room of a maximum security prison. We had a rocky on and off relationship for the next 20 years. He spent a collective 37 years of his 79 years in prison. Prior to me finding him, he had escaped four to five times and robbed many banks. He spent the last ten years of his life as a free man. I last saw him ten months prior to his death in June 2011.
In my late teens, I worked many jobs, often lying about my age to get a better position. I worked as a store manager for a men’s clothing store in Oxon Hill, MD and lived with my boyfriend who was six years older than me. When I found my father, I was vulnerable and naive to his powers. My mother warned me that he was a snake charmer. She was not supportive of my love and admiration for my newly found ALIVE father; nor did she have any concept of what it felt like to have a father rise from the dead! But this just fuelled her distaste for me. After all, I was a constant reminder of the two people whom she loved the most and who hurt her the most; my father and her mother.
I quickly broke up with my boyfriend and moved to Ohio to be close to my dad. Let’s just say, my dad didn’t have me selling girl scout cookies. I was 18 years old and the daughter of a pretty well respected career con man in prison. At this point in my life, my only defence for the things I did was: I was completely and utterly under my dad’s spell. I did everything for his approval. After all, I had bargained and made deals with God my whole childhood about how much I would love my dad if I could just have him back. Well, I did!
I went back and forth for years to my dad and his criminal friends. But, for the most part from 1992 on, I worked in the car business, initially as a cashier/receptionist and then in used car sales and aftermarket sales. I worked in the car business for over ten years, finally working at Mercedes in Tysons Corner, VA in 2002. I left the month of the DC sniper shootings in October 2002, no one was buying cars and no one was making money.
My first husband was from Iran and a political refugee from the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, 1979. He and I were together eight for years, essentially my entire 20’s. I jumped from a car at 60 miles an hour in an attempt to take my life in 1996 when he and I were separated, one of the million times we were separated in those eight years. That suicide attempt is the reason I am an amputee today.
My amputation came 20 years after jumping. I had suffered significant trauma to my leg and ankle. Over those 20 years, I had many surgeries and health complications due to that attempt. My first husband and I drank and fought constantly. He liked cocaine a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I partied socially back then too...he, however, sought it out regularly. We met at a Honda dealership we worked at in Alexandria Virginia. Our marriage failed primarily because we were drunk for most of it and I was unable to have children and his controlling mother called me a “polluted American” and spat in my face and insisted he divorce me. She ultimately got her wish and we finalised our divorce in early 2002.
I never had my own children due to Endometriosis & Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. A couple of months after our divorce was final I learned that he was expecting a baby with his new girlfriend. That news sent me into a deep depression and another significant suicide attempt. It is during that hospital stay that I met my current husband, whom I’ve been separated from since 2013. He was there because his estranged wife at the time had left him and their two young children, a boy and a girl. He was in the hospital crying because he had no mamma for his babies and I was in there crying I had no babies. Match made in heaven!
I became a full time, round the clock mom at 29 years old to a 3- and 5-year-old. They called me Mom and I loved them as my own for the next 11+ years. My husband went to Afghanistan in 2010-2011 with the agency he worked for and suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and severe combat fatigue. Needless to say, the war came home with him. Our relationship, family, and home were demolished by war and there was nothing left to salvage—dust and rubble; all four of us tortured, bloodied, and dismembered. I was again in a deep depression and suicidal. I was living as a perpetual victim of unbelievable circumstances. I last saw the three of them in early December 2014.
All of my life’s memories and belongings are in boxes in the basement of the home we own in Northern Virginia. I have had very little contact with him since 2015. He does not support me in any way. Simply being free from the pits of war is all I needed. I am ready to move on, I just need to get my things and come to an agreement. Communication is very challenging because of his TBI. It is in the right front part of his brain. The MRI result summary read: “significant scarring on the right frontal lobe”. This is the part of the brain that affects memory, speech, language, emotions. Very challenging and incredibly sad. In 2015, I was successful in getting him into The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). It was the help we both needed and it finally released me from the heavy, heavy burden of being the only human he shared his emotions and feelings with.
I didn’t leave until two years later when he returned from combat. I tried. I recently found out he has someone in his life and I pray he is happy and understood and cared for. I feel bad that she will never know the man that went to Afghanistan, he funny, loving, attentive, man. She will only know him the way he is now with the TBI and combat fatigue. My husband died in Afghanistan 2010/2011. His body came home but his mind and light did not. I miss my stepkids and think of them so very often. They’re 18 and 21 and hopefully happy and healthy. I have zero contact with them. We hugged and said I love you last on December 8, 2014.
In 2016 I was living as a resident in an Ashram/Yoga Retreat Centre in Northeast Pennsylvania for about eight months when I learned I needed amputation because of a serious bone infection. At this point, I had successfully detached myself from people, places, and things. When I left the community a few weeks prior to my amputation, I had no idea what I was in store for. I am on Social Security Disability so my options were limited due to income. The only place I could find that was affordable and handicap accessible was an hour from my new tribe.
I lived alone and in isolation for the next seven months after my amputation with no day to day help, no family, no rehab facility, just me. I was 55 miles from everyone I knew. I suffered a stump fracture five weeks after my amputation that went undiagnosed for three weeks. I relearned how to exist in my new universe alone, strong, and resilient. WHAT A GIFT!
From May 2016 - October 2016, I often went weeks at a time without human contact. It was one hell of a lesson from the universe. No one to care for me after having my leg amputated, no one to cook or clean or simply get me a cup of tea. No one to talk to that could see what I was going through. I felt so isolated and was convinced that no one could possibly understand what I was going through so I kept most of what I was feeling to myself. Often times, Vlogging to myself as a form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Which is ultimately how my YouTube Channel was born. Everyone in my life at this point are all “new” people to me, new since moving to the ashram/yoga retreat centre in August 2015. No one in my life has known me longer than 2015. It’s incredibly BIZARRE.
I called my mother a couple weeks after my amputation. We haven’t seen one another in over five years. We’ve only spoken on the phone a couple of times in those five years and they weren’t really conversations, if you know what I mean. When I called her May 2016 as a new amputee, I told her “I need my mother!” and her words were “No, you don’t!” She was so right, I didn’t need her. I needed me and only me. I am my own infinite source of Mother Divine.
Not only have I been on my own since six days after my amputation, I have been 100% pharmaceutical free since 2013 with the exception of those six days in the hospital with amputation. Not one pill since leaving the hospital on May 18, 2016. I have had phantom sensations, itching, burning, stabbing, high voltage electricity, frostbite… ALL NOT REAL! All on a foot that no longer exists. The mind is so incredibly powerful! Yoga and meditation have helped me relieve those pains and sensations. Can you NOT scratch an intense itch that won’t stop for up to 15 minutes??! I CAN! It’s one of my new super powers!
Over this past year, I have fallen in love with myself and connected with my inner Goddess. Yoga and meditation truly saved my life. Realising my soul’s contract, my source code has freed me from the cycle of war and prison. My grandfather, my father, my first husband, my second husband, all prisoners of war in one form or another. I am no longer a prisoner to their wars or my own. I am free and in alignment for the first time since my Grammy’s death in 1988. I had once been this sweet, tender, caring, empath capable of great love and understanding. Because of life’s unbelievable circumstances, I had become the jaded, angry, resentful, stubborn, hard headed, hot-head whom I hated!
So, the Universe proclaimed: “The only way to get this one to stop and truly pay attention is to take it all away from her, including her leg. She need not be attached to anyone or anything, not even the ground. Then, she will know peace!” I have officially returned to my Authentic Self! I am more balanced and more whole than I ever was with two feet. This is when Jenna officially became the “opposite of suicide”.
My dream is to travel the world and maybe inspire people along the way. We need a more open dialog about depression, anxiety, and suicide. The question should never be “what is wrong with you?” The question should ONLY be “what happened to you?” I hope to one day finally publish my memoir, Scars and Circumstance, which I’ve been writing/living for 20+ years. I just needed this beautiful ending!
Go Be Love