An Unexpectedly Humorous Take on Substance Misuse, Borderline Personality, Trauma and Tragic Loss, with Jess Kupferman

Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
An Unexpectedly Humorous Take on Substance Misuse, Borderline Personality, Trauma and Tragic Loss, with Jess Kupferman
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ABOUT THE EPISODE:
On this episode of Hopestream, the show comes full circle to its roots. My guest, Jess Kupferman, is the CEO of She Podcasts, a membership-based group of all-women podcasters that played an important role in the creation of this show. 

What I didn’t know when I launched the podcast was that Jess lost her daughter to a heroin overdose at the same time I was going through our family struggles with my son.

One of the most fascinating things about Jess is the way she has learned to process this trauma with a sharp sense of humor rarely seen in addiction and recovery spaces. Don’t feel bad if you laugh a few times while listening to her story, but take her advice on telling your own story seriously.

On this episode Jess and I discuss:

  • why she sometimes views her family’s struggles as great sitcom material
  • how she “kinda kidnapped” her daughter from a rehab facility
  • the frustrating state of recovery centers for those who suffer from other mental health issues
  • the incredible benefits of an all-female podcasting community
  • baby steps toward telling your own story

EPISODE RESOURCES:

This podcast is part of a nonprofit called Hopestream Community
Learn about The Stream, our private online community for moms
Learn about The Woods, our private online community for dads
Find us on Instagram: @hopestreamcommunity
Download a free e-book, Worried Sick: A Compassionate Guide For Parents When Your Teen or Young Adult Child Misuses Drugs and Alcohol

Hopestream Community is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and an Amazon Associate. We may make a small commission if you purchase from our links.

BRENDA
I got to have a very special person on the podcast today. She’s someone that was part of my on ramp to the world of podcasting, and after learning so much from her, I learned something about her that I hadn’t known when I launched Hope Stream, which was that she lost her daughter to a heroin overdose.
At the same time, I was going through our family’s struggles with my son. However, I have to tell you, talking with just Kuperman about her family’s story about her daughter’s journey wasn’t like any other conversation I have had with someone who has lost their child. And you’ll hear why in just a minute. Jess is naturally a bit of a comedian.
She is the CEO of She Podcasts, a multinational organization that helps support women and non-binary podcasters all over the world through online membership, in-person events, and a free Facebook support group. And let me tell you, if you are a podcaster and you need support on any kind of question, this is the Facebook group you need to be a part of.
00;02;07;03
Brenda
Jessica started her own podcast to see if she could grow her online business and when she was invited to be on someone else’s podcast as a guest, she was instantly hooked. She decided she wanted to be a guest on more podcasts, but when she looked at the business shows on the air at the time, she found that there were, quote, a lot of young white dudes interviewing other young white dudes just knew that this was not going to work for her.
And she started her first podcast and instantly gravitated to other women who are also podcasting at the time. After attending a conference, she started a Facebook group called Women Who Podcast and added the other amazing women podcasters that she was spending time with, including her partner at she podcasts Elsie Escobar. And as they say. The rest is history.
But what a lot of people didn’t know. As the years went along was that just as oldest daughter Emily was having significant mental health issues and had started drinking and taking prescription pills that weren’t hers when she was in high school. You’re going to hear how early childhood trauma may have played a part and how Jess wishes she would have trusted her gut a little bit more.
Her assiduous attempts at finding the right kind of treatment and how her creative, beautifully complex daughter was a victim of the many, many systemic deficiencies in today’s substance use and mental health treatment landscape. Jess shares why it’s so incredibly hard to know what you’re dealing with when substance use overlays, mental health problems, and her ultimate recommendation to parents who might be in the battle today.
00;03;50;11
Brenda
While any story of loss like this is tragic. You will probably be plenty entertained by Jess’s ability to see the humor and unmistakable beauty in her daughter and the myriad of crazy situations she encountered during her life. You might laugh more than you would think possible for a heavy episode, so don’t let this one skip by. I will let you jump in now to this captivating conversation with me and Jess Cooperman of she podcasts.
Here we go.
Jess Kupferman, so excited to have you here. Probably it’s like I’m happy and bummed that we’re having this conversation at the same.
00;04;35;29
Jess
Time, happy we’re having it. I’m happy to meet you and that you do and that you do this show and it’s Thank you for having me on.
00;04;41;16
Brenda
Well, I actually saw I was at she podcast conference, the one in Arizona, which really this is why it’s exciting for me. This is the good part of doing this is that I feel like I learned so much from you and I’ll see and like the whole podcast. Like when I found out there was a thing for female podcasters, I was like, What?
That’s super cool. So I learned it. So I feel like I’m kind of talking to my teacher a little bit, which is very exciting, a little intimidating because I really did. I learned everything from you guys because I did not know anything. I think I maybe I listened to one or two podcasts when I started my and I just knew that I needed that megaphone.
Yeah. And we’re both kind of like marketing branding people and the SHE podcast brand. So if you’re listening and you probably don’t know about this, if you’re not podcast or it’s like the branding is just unabashedly like female cool and wild and colorful and I just love it so much. So I know that’s your little touch there.
00;05;43;11
Jess
That is my touch, yes. But but, you know, some of that does have to do with the other reason why we’re we’re talking here. But I wasn’t as I was not as tuned into color and brightness until after my daughter passed away. Like, I needed to start looking at everything bright and colorful because otherwise I would just it just helps me not be depressed every second of every day.
So that’s when I really started to be bold, like I’m a graphic designer. So I really started to be born in graphic design. And also it’s like what I was wearing and how I decorated my house because I kind of needed visual happiness because there was none of that happening anywhere else. You know? So so it is my touch and I mean, I do love garish bright colors and retro designs and weird fonts.
But, you know, I’ve sort of I sort of gained courage or just maybe maybe the opposite of that is I stopped caring what other people think. You know, I just, like, made things as bright as possible.
00;06;40;00
Brenda
Well, it is super cool. I hope. I’m sure that will put something cool in the artwork, which I also love. Like your episode artwork is like different every time. It’s so fun.
00;06;51;08
Jess
Yeah, I make a lot of different backgrounds and then I just let you know, like we have a team, so I just give them background and font and they just do what they do.
00;06;58;29
Brenda
Well, they do an amazing job.
00;07;00;18
Jess
I try to do that for, you know, for social media and for episode art. If you’re working with other people, I don’t know. I’m very controlling about the design. So I’m like, Here are your fonts, here are your graphics. Do not deviate. Thank you. Right.
00;07;13;24
Brenda
Stay in this very colorful box right here.
00;07;16;19
Jess
Be creative, but don’t butt out. Please don’t.
00;07;20;27
Brenda
Oh, well, we’re going to get into a conversation about, obviously, your family and your daughter. But before we do that, because I think this is so important, especially for women, because you said, like you said, there’s a part of you that just sort of closes down when you’re in it and your world can become very gray. And what would you say to somebody who maybe it’s a mom or dad listening who’s in their forties going through this with their kid and they’re like, Gosh, I don’t know, maybe podcast would be a really good idea.
Have a lot of information. I have a huge experience, but also maybe I’m too old and there’s like a bajillion podcasts like, Well, what would you say to that person? Yeah, I.
00;08;05;16
Jess
Mean, actually someone asked me last night, like, you know, why would you want to start another podcast when there’s so many? And he’s a writer.
00;08;14;06
Brenda
Because there’s no books out.
00;08;15;07
Jess
You’re a screenwriter, though? Like like they’re building ins of screenwriters, but what makes them different? Different experience, different storytelling, different, you know, way that you want to convey your your truths and your point and I think if you’re a creative person and you’re going through this, you probably need an outlet of some kind, and maybe you don’t know what that is yet.
You could just keep notes until you figure it out. Like just keep little bullet points of things that you want to remember. Happy, sad, funny, or irritation. Like if you’re going through this, I’m sure you’re irritated with the health care system at some point. If not yet, you will be. It’s it’s actually a lot easier than it looks.
It’s just a lot of steps. But they’re not hard steps. It’s just complicated. You know, I can’t think of anything else similar that’s just like takes a lot of steps, but it’s not that hard.
00;09;10;15
Brenda
Yeah, I would agree. I mean, if I could this what I say, if I could do it, if I could do it because I came from a, you know, marketing advertising background where I was sat in meetings all day and I never in a million years. So I think you’re right. I think what you said about, like the health care system, even that nuance about this experience could be an entire breakout on its own, right?
Yes, please. Somebody out there listening start that podcast because we need it.
00;09;39;02
Jess
I have notes of every rehab she was in, why she was dismissed, what they promised me ahead of time, what we got in return, like certain ones were just like, you know, like she had a borderline diagnosis. And there were a couple of places where I was just like, there’s supposed they specialize in mental health, but they don’t at all.
Not the way that a person with borderline personality or bipolar disorder would need.
00;10;08;01
Brenda
Right? So it looks really good on the website.
00;10;12;00
Jess
It does, but it’s horse pucky. I mean, and I wish I didn’t have the experience and knowledge that I do now. I wish that the first one I wish we could have been one and done, but it doesn’t work that way, unfortunately.
00;10;23;03
Brenda
Yeah, I like your idea of keeping notes because, you know, our experience was about a six ish year span.
00;10;30;01
Jess
Yeah, that’s a long time.
00;10;31;23
Brenda
And it’s just such a blur. You know? I didn’t start keeping notes until really keeping notes until my son’s second overdose. And I was in the hospital and they give you a little packet of, like, what you need to know if you’re if you’re in the hospital. And so I wrote and I still have it, I wrote on the back.
It’s like a PG, almost like a folder. And I just scribbled all over the back of it of like what was happening and what time and did it. And then somebody finally brought me a notebook and that was so helpful to be able to go back to. So I love that idea. I think that’s really smart.
00;11;06;18
Jess
I just saved emails and I sent them all to Evernote and I made a folder.
00;11;10;02
Brenda
Oh, that’s a really good idea.
00;11;11;27
Jess
It’s like stuff, she said. Facebook posts, pictures and and then know I tried to keep a timeline. It was two years for me, but it was like 23 rehabs. It was ridiculous. It’s like one per month, although it’s not because she was home and sober for a little while in there. So it was really like two or three per month.
But she would either get kicked out of or she would detox and then relapse and then detox and then relapse and then detox and then relapse, like over and over and over the cycle.
00;11;39;26
Brenda
So just to give people some context, maybe go back to wherever you feel like it’s most helpful to start. Just, you know, parents are listening. They’re always wanting insights and things to look for. Maybe things that you saw, like when you started seeing things kind of go off the rails. Just give us a little context for your situation with your daughter.
00;12;04;26
Jess
Yeah. So she had always been unique, a unique girl with anxiety that would come and go like as a baby. She didn’t like being sung Happy birthday. She would cry and scream, No, happy birthday. And then, like in kindergarten, the teacher told me that she was always last in line and they thought that she had a self-esteem issue and she was like, No, I just don’t want people staring at the back of my head, which I thought was interesting.
Like, same with raising her hand. Like she didn’t like people staring at her. She didn’t like attention like that on her. I don’t know. I’m not really sure what that was about. But she can go to the like buffets by herself, even at like age 11 or 12. She wanted someone to go with her, things like that, you know, And that’s just general anxiety.
And we just dealt with it. She did okay in school. She had friends. So I didn’t you know, she was artistic and I didn’t really think much of it. She around 12, she started to like, take picture, you know, again, she’s a Aquarius. They’re very artistic. So like, I, you know, I let her dyed her hair whatever color she wanted and certain, you know, once we came home and like she had painted herself with clown makeup and she was like taking photos of herself, like, I don’t know, she’s pretending to murder someone else or look like a post murder kind of.
And I was like, That’s so creative. I mean, so, you know, I tried to help her with it just so that she could be, you know, I didn’t think anything of it. Like she was never suicidal or even homicidal. So, I mean, she never she never was after that. I’m just you know, that was kind of that could have been a flag that I didn’t notice.
00;13;35;24
Jess
And then right around 12, her grandmother moved to Florida when she was with her dad. So her dad and I were divorced and we shared custody. So she would be at my house where we don’t she would go with her dad for a week. And there’s a little while there where her dad was heavily drinking and they lived with the grandmother, too.
Okay. And then her dad got sober, which for whatever reason, made her very angry. Like, all of a sudden you’re trying to be a parent to her and she didn’t appreciate it. And then and then the grandmother moved to Florida. And since then, she had a weird obsession with Florida. Like every every problem. The answer was all just moved to Florida.
And that carried over pretty weirdly into her addiction. But that started when she was 12. But it wasn’t until she was a senior in high school. Well, that I noticed substance abuse she’s seeing. The other thing with borderlines is like, you don’t really know. It’s really hard to know what’s the truth. So, like, I can tell you stories about what she said was happening and then I have to sort of fix it with what I witnessed.
Right? Right. So I didn’t witness any substance abuse until her senior year of high school. She says that at her father’s house, she was taking medicine that didn’t belong to her. Like, I don’t know. I don’t know what kind of medicine could have been on that would do any kind of damage that I wouldn’t notice. But her dad could be oblivious.
00;14;55;29
Jess
Who knows? So she started drinking really heavily by herself. And then I was like, you know, only alcoholics do that. And she was like, You don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just bored. And I was like, No, no, bored People don’t do that by themselves. And then she got in an accident. She was drunk and she was driving my car and she got in a fender bender.
And I said, Well, you’re going to have to take the bus. And she refused. And I said, Well, either that or go to rehab. So she chose rehab over taking the bus.
00;15;24;20
Brenda
We’re taking.
00;15;25;06
Jess
The bus. You know, she’s a senior, though. She don’t want to take the bus. I got it. And she should have been drinking and drank, you know? Right. So she goes to rehab locally for a month. And then at the end of it, they say, and this is where the health care system starts to nip and claw at your sanity.
I was expecting her to come home from rehab, go back, finish her high school graduate, move on with her life. I don’t know about once your kid starts doing drugs, you’re like college, whatever.
00;15;57;11
Brenda
Right?
00;15;57;27
Jess
Just get through life. Yeah. I mean, your expectations go to graduate high school, you know, college to just graduate to. Oh, my God. Could you please just stay alive for a week? That would be amazing, you know? But it’s like, Yeah, just very quickly. That’s what I was expecting. And instead the rehab was like, well, we have a step down program.
Um, and it’s really good for them. I didn’t know anything about, you know, rehabs getting a kickback when they send you to these like, places to heal. But it was another 30 days in Florida.
00;16;31;14
Brenda
In Florida.
00;16;32;26
Jess
So. Right. And I live in Delaware, just to be clear, I don’t live anywhere near Florida. It’s a far for, you know, her her grandmother moving to Tampa was a big problem. And this is five years later. And remember, I said every problem ended with, oh, I’ll just moved to Florida. And I’m like, girl, she does not want you there in Florida.
You are a pain in the ass, you know, talk. It’s like, no, call her and ask. Anyway, so. So this doctor or psychotherapy, whatever whatever they are social worker was like, you know, it’s really good and people really like it. They really hear. And I was like, No, no, she needs to finish high school. And they were like, We really think this could be good for her.
She had never even been to summer camp like she was 17, but because a professional thought it would be good for her, I didn’t know what else to do, so I sent her to Florida. And for those of you who are listening, who have ever had any kind of experience with your kid during rehab in Florida, you know, what a terrible, terrible idea this is.
If you don’t let me just school you now, regardless of whether or not you live in Florida, do not under any circumstance is send a drug addict to Florida.
00;17;41;00
Brenda
And what year was this for context?
00;17;43;06
Jess
2015? Oh, early 2015. Okay. And then, you know, they’re supposed to be healing and growth. And I think that the stepped down house where she went like it was brand new, all the people running it were very young. I think they felt, you know, I don’t think they were prepared for someone with the kind of anxiety that she had because they all had jobs.
They expected her to get a job. She had no car, no way to get around, no money. So she was alone a lot, which is also not good for, you know, rehab recovery person that began a series of her popping in and out of rehab. You know, like this place she either graduated from or decided she don’t want to be there anymore.
So we’d find another one. This was also a weird part of it, too. This is the most bizarre part. She would find a boy in the rehab because she was gorgeous, because she was gorgeous. And also, if you’ve not noticed, most if not all, addicts are ridiculously gorgeous. So even sending them to a rehab is dangerous because it’s like sending someone to Can and Barbie camp.
But for what? For broken people. So so it’s like, you know like so here’s like they’re the most gorgeous creatures I mean which makes sense, right? Because this is how they can swindle you out of things because they’re charming and gorgeous. Right? So. Right. She would have inevitably find a boy who wanted to, you know, who would literally break his own arm for her.
00;19;11;24
Jess
Then she would find a way for him to get her drugs and then drive her. He would be like, okay, we’re leaving rehab and we’re driving to Tampa, where we’re grim, where my mom lived right? So then there would be a phone conversation where I would either turn off Emily’s phone and she couldn’t, you know, if she ever left rehab.
The only thing I had to hold over her was money and phone privileges. That’s what you can do from far away. So I’ll turn over phone and she would get angry. Then the boy would call me and I would get a chance to talk to the boy. And I’d say, Listen, Bob, let me just tell you, she’s been obsessed with Florida since she was 12 years old.
I don’t know. She’s really in love with you. But I can tell you this. Her grandmother does not want you to live there. You think you’re going to run away with her to Florida and live his happy life? You’re not. Push her back into that rehab. Get her out of your car. It was like three or four dudes before she stopped this.
00;20;05;24
Brenda
What was your support system like back home? Because you’re trying to you have a new baby. Like, how were you doing this?
00;20;14;20
Jess
That’s a good question. I have a husband. The little one is my third. So I had Emily and Nate back to back. They were like 17 months apart. And then I didn’t have Isaac for another 15 years, so I had Nate. But he has his Asperger’s, slightly Asperger’s, more than slightly Asperger’s. So he wasn’t too much support. And help.
He was just kind of like trying to deal with the fact that his sister was losing her mind slowly. And then my husband was constantly like any time I talked to Emily, he was just sort of like, She can’t come home. You know that, right? She’s not coming home.
00;20;46;10
Brenda
Because this is his stepdaughter, right?
00;20;48;09
Jess
Stepdaughter. But he has a new son, a brand new spanking perfect son with no trauma yet whatsoever. There’s been no time to mess him up. So we can’t start now. Right. He’s brash, very determined not to have her ruin his psyche somehow. But, you know, she’s my kid. And there were times when I did want to bring her home or send her money and I couldn’t or he didn’t want me to.
And I would either have to. Anyway, the support system was thin. We’ll just say that.
00;21;17;03
Brenda
This sounds anorexic.
00;21;19;20
Jess
That’s a lovely. Yes, anorexic help. Exactly. I have friends, but, you know, none of them have experience with with kids in rehab. And why would they? I’m not a this is a girl with minimal trauma from birth to 12. I mean, yes, her grandmother moved away. She also had a teacher in kindergarten that tried to mess with her during naptime, but she found a way to get herself out of that.
But then that got fuzzy. That honestly borderline is personality is something that’s meant to be. It’s like supposedly triggered by a trauma. So it could have been that that damage was very minimal though. Like he I mean, he tried to kiss her. He might have tried to touch her inappropriately, but she would have an accident so that he couldn’t mess with her during naptime, like she figured out how to save herself from being abused.
Right. Because she’s a smart little girl. But that could have missed her. You know, she didn’t love being teacher’s pet up until that point. You know, it certainly didn’t make school easier later. And also, I think that the incident got confused in her head because later she would be like, well, we would have conversation. She’s just like, well, I’m just going to have sex with whoever because I’m already damaged.
And I’m like, You’re not, though. What do you mean? Yeah, no one has gone anywhere near your cash and prizes, nor should they be like, What are you talking about? This was young, like 11. 12. Yeah. This is also when she used to say she wanted to be a stripper when she grew up. So who knows what she was talking about?
00;22;53;16
Jess
And like, some of that is like me being like, okay, she’s just trying to get a rise out of me, so I would refuse to give in to it. So she said, Mom, when I grow up, I think I’m going to be a stripper. And I was like, You have no boobs and you’re a terrible dancer. What are you how are you going to be a stripper?
And she looked kind of irritated with me, but then she would drop it for a little while, you know? But, you know, because I didn’t want to be like, what a stripper? You know, that’s just not my that’s also not my style.
00;23;25;04
Brenda
If you’re here listening to Hope’s dream, I’m guessing you might be glad to know there are other resources that you can take advantage of as you work on getting your family to a better place. We’ve now combined all the information you need into one simple space called Hope’s Dream Community. It’s where you can learn about our private online communities for moms and dads, our retreats are educational offerings and of course, the podcast host Dream Community is a nonprofit organization that exists solely to help you navigate this challenging season in life and to be connected, educated and taken care of so that you’re better equipped to help your child make positive change in their lives.
You are not helpless when your child misuses substances, and we’re here to give you the tools and information you need After the episode, take a look at Hope’s Dream Community dot org to find what we offer. Now back to the show. Do you think she was like trying to tell you about this trauma? Like, there’s just so I’m thinking 2014 to now is quite a while and there’s so much you know now out about trauma and impact in the body and addiction.
Do you think it was her trying to say, Hey, mom, something happened? Or was it just I.
00;24;51;16
Jess
Knew I knew when it happened that it had happened because she got in trouble for wedding or for for needing new panties all the time.
00;24;57;26
Brenda
Right. Right.
00;24;58;21
Jess
And she and she wouldn’t tell me why for the longest time. And then I just I got it out a different way. She happened to get a rash like two weeks later, probably from sitting in wet underwear. And, you know, when you’re, like, cleaning up your baby and, you know, I just, you know, because she’s three or four, I happen to just be like, you know, no one’s because, again, I shared custody with her father.
And it’s not that I didn’t trust him, but he has two brothers. He has all these friends. You know, I don’t know what’s going on there. So I was like, got to be smart. I was like, hey, so if anyone does anybody just out of curiosity at all cash, has anyone ever, like, bothered you there? And she was like, Yes.
And of course, instantly my heart stopped. Yes. And I was like, Well, you can tell me who it is. I mean, it’s totally fine. She was like my teacher. And I was like, I’m sorry. What? Like, I like she went to like, she went to preschool at a church. Brenda I was just like, You’ve got to be me.
But he did never look me in the eye during, like, teacher conferences. He was always looking away. He was shady. He’s a shady dude. Like he like they like when they introduced him, they said he’s not really comfortable around parents, but he’s very good with children. And like later, that haunted me so terribly. Like a by the way, that’s not a good sign for a teacher.
00;26;11;15
Jess
They need to be good with parents. Hello. That’s bad.
00;26;14;20
Brenda
Yes. Well, it sounds like your and I, I tell this to parents all the time. Your gut tells you the truth.
00;26;24;14
Jess
At the time, I thought, that’s kind of weird, but I didn’t. I mean, but also I had her when I was 22, 21. I just turned 22. So at this point, I’m barely 26, right? I have not had an I grew up in a very small town in Maryland where I have never even seen cocaine. I’ve smoked pot, I’ve never touched mushrooms.
I did LSD at a Grateful Dead show. I’m really much more naive about drugs than a person should be because it just we didn’t have that. I mean, we might have had it in my town, but it wasn’t around me and I was fresh out of college, you know, I graduated and then had her or actually I you know, I was in the middle of college.
I had her, then I graduated, then I had a brother. So I didn’t know shit from Shinola. Pardon my French. So I mean, yeah, Yeah. So I did think that that’s where it would be cool if you like, you know. But again, he’s like the first teacher I’ve ever met in my history of as being a parent. So yeah, there’s that.
Well, that’s kind of weird. So when she told me that, I was like, Wow, she already had some anxiety, So I don’t really know what this did to her. I mean, she went to therapy, she went to doctors, I went to a lawyer. Nothing really came from it. She didn’t really have any other academic things. So she was about eight, around eight.
00;27;38;06
Jess
Her teacher wanted me to test her for ADHD because she was daydreaming, which is how I was as a kid. Did you just like having trouble focusing, paying attention? So I take her and she gets an IQ level of like 90. And the teacher was like, I thought she was gifted, but maybe I missed. And I’m like, She’s not retarded.
She just is wasn’t paying attention. Are you serious? Like you think her IQ is 90 minds 100. And can we stop this? Like she clearly wasn’t paying attention to the like, she’s not drooling and, you know, rolling on the whatever. I don’t my my idea of what 90 IQ is like is only from Howard Stern like because he’s got some guy who’s like 92 or something and he’s an idiot.
So like a like a clinical idiot. So I didn’t really know that was the first thing. And then and then again, a lot of it started happening when she was 12. She started she started taking different underwear to school so that she could have like a a big, you know, like a thong sticking out. She started taking smaller shirts, you know, like she would hide them in her book bag.
She would tell people she was from a different part of town that I all thought was very strange. Like, it’s all strange, Right?
00;28;49;02
Brenda
Right.
00;28;49;13
Jess
I had no explanation for it. Like, I just thought she enjoyed the idea of being a juvenile delinquent, hence why she would say she was going to be a stripper, hence why she was like, What? Is she trying to tell me? Something Maybe. But it was a large series of behaviors all at once. And it was strange. It was also strange.
Like this is the same year, seventh grade she got zeros in every class. She went to school every day. She did not do a lick of classwork or a lick of homework. So clearly you think, well, this child is disturbed, right? She also won, you know, most popular student. Who does that? What does that mean? How can you be peppy and sweet and yet fails so purposefully?
00;29;38;16
Brenda
Completely.
00;29;40;02
Jess
That right there, actually the most popular thing I don’t even know that she expected it because there were other years where like in high school I would go to pick her up from school. She was constantly telling me how everyone hated her. She had no friends, and then I would pick her for school. We’d walk down the hall to her locker room.
People were like, Hey, um, hi, Emily, and I love your shirt. Emily, you look so nice. And I’m like, Why do you tell me you have no friends? She goes, I don’t like these people.
00;30;01;17
Brenda
They like her, but she doesn’t like.
00;30;04;05
Jess
She had this personality. It was kind of like Garfield. She’s a ground. She doesn’t like other people. She wants to be left alone and eat mashed potatoes. It’s fine. Like, okay. It seemed harmless, but it really grew into something. Even, you know, once she started doing drugs, it was strange. Like I said, she started getting trying to get guys to drive her to her grandmother’s.
She went to two different rehabs and like, this is why this is why I think they didn’t work. Most addicts are just addicts, but Emily kept making up things to tell them about herself, like she was half black in some and some. She was from Boston and some she was a twin. Sometimes she would change her name and it wasn’t for like ten of those before.
I was like, This can’t be normal. What is this? Because she’s been doing it since before she was an addict. When she was telling people, I’m from, you know, Claymont instead of, you know, or I’m a Juggalo. I don’t know if you know what that is, but like, that’s from the Insane Clown Posse.
00;31;04;19
Brenda
I do not know this.
00;31;06;08
Jess
I didn’t either. But apparently they have their own little weird cult of people who like band together and love each other because they’re like family. And I’m like, You don’t have family.
00;31;18;11
Brenda
What is this real life like? Real life people.
00;31;21;10
Jess
They’re really people that we’re clown make up and go to these concerts. Yes, they’re real life people. If you look up Juggalo, you’ll be shocked at how.
00;31;27;28
Brenda
This is how uneducated.
00;31;29;28
Jess
Listen, you should not be educated in the world of Juggalos. I wish I was not.
00;31;34;16
Brenda
Wow. But you know what is interesting is as you’re describing this, I see so many similarities to my son, to other, like sometimes I’ll describe this to other parents and they’ll be their eyes just get huge. And they’re like, you are describing my child to it.
00;31;52;06
Jess
This is similar to you?
00;31;53;12
Brenda
Yes. Not all of it. Definitely not the Juggalo, but like the like just things that are odd but not odd in like a concerning way. Just like, Oh, that’s really interesting. My son would go to school. Same thing he would do no work all quarter or whatever. He would take the test, he would get an A on the test and they would fail him in the class.
00;32;18;08
Jess
Yes.
00;32;19;23
Brenda
And I’m like, he knows it. He just can’t show his work.
00;32;23;04
Jess
And why aren’t they doing it? They’re not doing anything else. She’s in seventh grade. It’s not like she’s got a hopping job to go to or any kind of social life.
00;32;32;14
Brenda
Right. But and the friends and the sensitivity, the intelligence, the creativity, did I just see those patterns a lot? And so I just think it’s interesting. I’m certainly not a doctor or therapist or anything, but I just when I hear these things over and over and over and over and over, I’m like, Something’s up with that. So now she’s going through a cycle of rehab.
I’ll relapse rehab out. Relapse?
00;32;58;07
Jess
Yeah. I mean, I ended up ending it for her. I kidnaped her.
00;33;06;00
Brenda
From a rehab.
00;33;07;28
Jess
Pretty much. Yeah. She was in Fort Lauderdale, and I had a ticket to go and visit her. And the night before I left, one of her best friends here in Delaware came over to the house at 9:00, rang the doorbell and show me your phone, which was pictures of Emily’s arm covered in needle marks, which up until that point, I had a suspicion that she had been sniffing it, but not that she was into needles.
Right up until then, that wasn’t happening. So when I saw that, I was like, Wherever she’s living right now, like, I can’t go see her and the people she’s shooting up with, like, I just knew that I couldn’t. Yeah. So, like, I’ve always had a weird thing about heroin and needles. Just ironic. But I called her father, and I was like, I just found out that she’s putting needles in her arm, and I’m supposed to go there tomorrow and I can’t go.
You have to go. So we were like, okay, what are we going to do? So I put him on speaker and like me and her father and her stepfather and her brother just sat there and like, schemed and plotted. And so this was the plan. Brenda ready? I can’t wait. You know.
00;34;14;14
Brenda
You seriously have to make a movie about this.
00;34;16;24
Jess
Your son telling you sitcom something. So. So here’s the plan. Her father’s going to take my ticket. He’s going to fly down to Florida. Now. She’s not going to like seeing him instead of me. She probably has plans for us to do something that’s going to be strange. She’s going to wonder. But she’s also high, probably for some of it.
So he has a good window to bullshit her about something. So he says, Mom’s in the hospital and you know, because that’s something that would kill her. Like when you’re borderline, like you have one person who’s like, You’re saving grace, That’s me. So for me to be in the hospital, she was like, Oh my God. So he was like, So we’re going to have to, you know, I’m here to get you get your stuff.
I wish that he had let her get all her stuff because she’s left her computer and all kinds of shit there. But he was like, Get your stuff, let’s go. And he hops in her car and he starts driving north. Why? They wouldn’t get on a plane if I was in the hospital. That didn’t occur to her. Why would Dad just not give her a ticket to fly up?
That didn’t occur to her. It didn’t occur to her. He told me until South Carolina they were almost out of South Carolina. And she had probably sobered up a good bit because that’s a good drive. I mean, just going from Miami to the top of Florida is a good drive, like 10 hours. So he says he comes he goes to the the men’s restroom and he opens the door to come out and she’s standing there with a death glare.
00;35;39;18
Jess
As he opens, she’s in the men’s restroom staring at the stall, waiting for him to come out. And he comes out and like he said, I thought maybe she was going to stab me. She looked so angry and she was like, Mom’s not sick, is she? And he was like, Oh, no, she’s not. And he was like, You just she goes, You just took me away from my friends and my whole life.
And he was like, Yeah, yeah, we did. I did. And she was like, serious, but she had nothing to do now. Now she has no choice. She’s detoxing, she’s filthy, she has no money. And now her father is behind the wheel of her car. Wouldn’t let her near the keys, obviously. So he drives her home.
And then she goes to rehab in Jersey on a farm. Now, now I’m in a point where I have to start finding rehabs with nothing around them. So she can’t escaped anywhere. Yeah. So this is a farm in New Jersey where there’s nothing around but tomato stands and diners, Right? Like nothing that is purposeful, right? I recommend mountains, farms, no beaches, nothing where you can get a tan and be naked.
00;36;47;08
Jess
No, no Teenager beaches. You take them to a mountain in the middle of nowhere. This way, if they try to escape, it’s a yellow jackets, you know. It’s like she’ll be in the wilderness for her rest of her life. You know, that’s a punishment. So, yes, she goes to rehab and then she was angry with us for a really long time.
She did get sober, but like it took a long time for her to forgive us because she was just like, you lied to me. I was like, oh, I lied to you. This is after she’d been in and out of rehab telling me how you know, how much fun it’s going to be when she’s sober. So, like, an addict has no longer has the whole.
You deceived me, you lied to me like that.
00;37;25;22
Brenda
Is that that card is gone.
00;37;28;17
Jess
That shit is moot. Baby. It matters not what you say. I can lie to you all I want. I. I made you and you have done nothing but tell me falsities. Therefore I own you. Yeah. So she was really pissed. But then finally she got sober. And then she was home for a little while. I mean, she was home for, like, probably seven months.
She was home for a long time. Actually. What made her relapse was her boyfriend was and her brother, they were in the same grade a year younger than her. It was prom time. And Emily was sober and realizing that she had missed her entire prom and graduating and doing spring break and all the things that Cameron was about to do.
She blew because now she’s 18 and it’s over.
00;38;12;13
Brenda
Right?
00;38;13;11
Jess
Everyone graduated. Everyone has jobs. Everyone went to college. She’s just home sober, working at the meat market down the street, you know, And it got to her. Then I found a place finally that specifically specialized in borderline personality. And I mean, the interview was like this. So she’s going to try to escape. Are you going to kick her out?
No, we don’t kick out borderlines for acting like borderline. She’s going to probably curse at you and make things up. Yep, That’s what borderlines do. We’re not going to throw her out. I mean, I was just like, okay, but what if she does this? What if she does this because she had been kicked out one place, kicked her, I think was the farm for not wearing her shoes all the time.
She wasn’t allowed to stay there because she did. She really didn’t like wearing shoes. And so they were like, we can’t have her here. She’s not going to follow the rules. Okay. All right. I’ll find somewhere else. I mean, that shoes, but okay, Carly, the biggest problem she’s got. But if you say right, so yes, then I sent her to Utah and that was the last time I saw her.
She finished the program there and then went to Sober Living. And then around it was around Christmas that she started it again. It was a trigger. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t let her come home for Christmas. He was the baby was almost two. She had already been home for seven months and she had like, you know, ruined our trust.
00;39;30;07
Jess
So she had to stay and she didn’t want to. The she had a girlfriend at the time and the girlfriend was going home to Vermont and she was going to be all alone. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t bring her home. So she started telling me she was getting cravings. And then, yeah, the last text to her was her telling you she’s getting cravings.
And I was like, Why don’t you eat some cake? Like, that’s going to do anything right? But like, I don’t know, I’ve never been an addict. So I’m just like, Right, fix this addiction with different one. Just get fat. That’ll be great. Like, just just give that. It’ll be wonderful. Like, that would fix anything, right? So. Right. So then.
I think so. Actually the last conversation with her was I asked her what she wanted for Hanukkah because I thought if I could just take her mind off of, you know, shower her with gifts, she said socks. And I go, Oh, my God, Emily, that’s so boring. And that’s the last thing I said to her about her stupid socks.
00;40;25;12
Brenda
Her socks, So stupid.
00;40;27;25
Jess
But I know she didn’t do it on purpose because she had plans that night. And the girlfriend had said to her, If I come over and there’s any paraphernalia or drugs in your apartment, I will leave and never come back. So she said, rather than throw them out, she did them all. Mm. And that’s how she died. She had been sober.
00;40;43;29
Jess
Yeah. Like eight, nine months at this point.
00;40;45;22
Brenda
And then if you go back to the same level that you were using before.
00;40;49;25
Jess
Oh yeah. It’s or if you’re just trying to hide it from someone, you don’t stick it in your arm. Don’t do that like that’s how it was. Heroin. Yeah.
00;41;00;08
Brenda
What year was this.
00;41;02;07
Jess
2016. But yeah, that’s the story. I can’t pinpoint one side. There were so many that I dismissed or missed, you know, And then later I found out so many other things after she passed. People telling me, Yeah, like I thought she was black. Like what? How? She’s blond and Jewish. Like what?
00;41;29;01
Brenda
There’s some discrepancy there.
00;41;31;17
Jess
She told me when she was 14 that, like, she had been abused while she was on a trip with her grandmother. Actually, this was a she went to visit her grandmother to pick out the house, the new house while she was there. I think she went on a little bender, but she didn’t want to tell me that. So she told me some guy like raped her in front of a gas station in broad daylight.
Come to find out later when she was in rehab five years later. This is after I drove her every week to therapy at survivors of rape and abuse. That that never happened. She went to therapy for two years for being raped and she just made it up and never once thought I should just not go to this counselor, not go to this therapy.
And I was wonder why she wasn’t getting better. Now I know because it was horseshit.
00;42;15;22
Brenda
Wow.
00;42;17;13
Jess
That’s weird. But I didn’t know that till later. Right?
00;42;20;13
Brenda
Right. There’s just so much complexity that, I mean, I hope you don’t beat yourself up for not understanding what’s going on, because clearly, it’s not just a case of, well, this happened, as, you know, quote unquote, trauma. And then she started using and then she went to rehab. Like it doesn’t sound like that. And I think the the systemic failures that happen along the way.
00;42;46;29
Jess
Yeah, those weren’t good. That didn’t help, certainly. But I will say this, in every situation, when there’s a disaster for me, I like to pinpoint the moment. Things could have gone better if I had just forced you to come back to high school, be under my roof at 17 and gone to Florida. I would be in a completely different place now than I would like.
I don’t beat myself up for not noticing or not sending her to rehab or sending her money or bringing her home or not bringing her home. I should have never sent her away. I only did it because a health care professional told me to who didn’t really know my kid. Like they don’t know your kid after a month, who knows what your kid has told them?
Remember, they’re charming and gorgeous, so it’s like they can say whatever want just to get the rock out of there.
00;43;36;07
Brenda
Right.
00;43;37;06
Jess
And in this case, she found a way to go to Florida and someone was going to vouch for her. So I fell for it. That’s the thing I wish I hadn’t done. That’s the thing I beat myself up for the most. And it’s something that I wouldn’t I would only know in hindsight. Right. So so again, and I think that’s what most parents too, like.
You think, oh, I shouldn’t have let them go out with this person or I shouldn’t let them go to this person’s house. But like none of that a decision you would make differently because people go to friends houses and they have boyfriends and there’s not much you can do about it except let them learn their lessons and just hang out with and who not do.
You can’t really beat yourself up for like every time you yelled it. I mean, sometimes, Brenda, I sit and think, God, if I had only not sleep trained her when she was eight months old.
00;44;24;17
Brenda
Right, right, exactly.
00;44;26;03
Jess
You know.
00;44;26;24
Brenda
You do you go back to every single decision.
00;44;29;21
Jess
There’s. Yeah, you blame yourself for everything, but it’s been six years since she died. And and at this point, it’s just I should never have sent her away. That was stupid and and an an inexperienced thing to do. And now that I have an eight year old, he’s not going out of my sight. Ever. He’s right under my bed.
00;44;47;06
Brenda
Do you have one of those leashes?
00;44;48;29
Jess
He’ll. If he’s not going anywhere.
00;44;51;16
Brenda
So it’s interesting because my son went off the rails in 2014 as well. And that is really when the Florida situation was at its height, the the scams that were going on with the kickbacks. But I fortunately didn’t go. We didn’t go to Florida. He went to Utah to wilderness therapy.
00;45;26;06
Jess
That’s smart. That’s where Emily got sober. Was in Utah. Yeah. Park City. Yeah. Was that. That’s where she passed away? It was in Park City, but she was sober for a long time there. It’s in there, and it’s supposed to be the safest place and it’s the safest city in America.
00;45;39;20
Brenda
It is so beautiful. We just had our retreat for moms, our moms. So we had eight moms, all kind of like you and me at a retreat in Park City. But you don’t know what you don’t know. And so I think it’s just what I’m sort of extracting from this is even though you don’t feel like you had a huge amount of gut instinct around it, I think you did.
And the problem is that we get so first of all, it’s your child and so you’re desperate to do what you can for them. And when you have people who are doctors or PhDs or all of this telling you this is what they need, then like why would you say no right then it feels like I’m doing the wrong thing for my kids.
So I think that that gut instinct, if it’s even kind of like the pilot light is on, just I always just say, ask a million questions, right? Just really don’t sweep it under the rug because it’s there for a reason. We have that gut instinct for a reason.
00;46;45;11
Jess
Yeah. I mean, some of it is age too, like I’m a 48 and I only feel like I’ve mastered the art of listening to my instinct now. And I still need practice. I don’t think it’s something you’re. Maybe some people are better at it than others, but I think women in particular tend to doubt that over any professionals advice or opinions, we think, well, this doesn’t seem right, but I mean, they know what they’re doing.
Don’t be stupid, too. And so it’s not until, you know, I’ve learned this lesson more recently doing an event that if something doesn’t seem right, like cancel immediately, you know, like, don’t wait to find out that you’re right. Yeah. Just go with your gut. Follow it, follow it, follow it. But this situation with my daughter is what helped me get to that point.
There’s always something that’s going to help you get to that point where you don’t listen to your instincts and then you keep yourself the rest of your life.
00;47;37;09
Brenda
Is there anything that’s come from this that you really wouldn’t have expected? Like you kind of look back and you go, Whoa, I would not have expected this to come out of a situation where I lost my daughter to a heroin overdose.
00;47;53;15
Jess
Actually. Yeah. I mean, I had always wanted to do an in-person event. I like throwing parties. I think it’s for people I know to get to know other people that I know. And before she passed that whole time that she was away and even before that, it was like living with a mental patient. She had such anxiety and she would call me three times a day and it was always a perceived emergency.
And I did not have time to pursue anything else other than the job I was doing. And my daughter, like even my baby, even though he came first, you know, he was a baby. So he didn’t take up a lot of breathing space. She was in the one in my brain all the time. So so I started doing she podcast live in 2019.
It was like a couple of years after she passed. But I thought, Wow, I finally have like the I have the space to, like, help women find a voice. And I think that’s something she didn’t feel like she had. She probably felt a lot like no one was listening. She made up stories about herself seeming to be like, either more interesting or maybe because she didn’t like who she was.
And I just felt like I felt it would be a good thing to come out of something terrible is to do something good for other people. So that’s really why I started the event in 2019 was because I thought, I think she would like it and I think other people will benefit from it. And I finally have time to pursue something for other people besides just people.
00;49;16;19
Jess
My family.
00;49;17;17
Brenda
Yeah, well, I went to the 2021, 2021 where we still all most of us had masks, girl mask.
00;49;26;05
Jess
Yeah, that was a weird time to have an event, but I didn’t have any other choice because it was just tough to convince Arizona that there was a pandemic in the first place. But they were just like, We don’t know what you’re talking about. Everything is wonderful. I’m like, You’re asking me. To convince people to come speak to their death at their death at their death site.
Right. We’re all going to because at the time we were like all freshly vaccinated. They very rarely, barely vaccinated, very scared to leave the house. And I’m like, come to Arizona where no one believes it’s happening. Yay! Like, it was nuts.
00;49;59;25
Brenda
It was nuts, but it was so cool. It was the first time I think most of us had ever been around. More than like four people.
00;50;06;26
Jess
Yeah, in the last couple of years. Yeah. Same even with me. Same.
00;50;09;23
Brenda
Oh, man. But it was so cool to see everybody and and for me just to look around and be like, there’s so there’s hundreds of female podcasters in the same room as me. Like, how amazing is that?
00;50;22;18
Jess
It is the most unexpected leaves special feeling, isn’t it?
00;50;27;14
Brenda
It is.
00;50;28;03
Jess
It is the weirdest thing to bring people together, I think. And I mean, I went the only reason I knew that is because I’ve been to podcast conferences before they were coed. But I mean, there’s something about standing in a room full of people who are trying to change the world, entertain the world, educate the world, inform the world, tell the world story like it’s the one thing you have in common.
But it seems to erase, at least at my conference and hopefully you experiences it seems to address other barriers gender or race, education, level, experience level. Like that stuff sort of melts away and everyone there is just excited to talk to you about what they’re doing, excited to hear about what you’re doing. It’s kind of magical, right?
00;51;11;15
Brenda
It was hugely magical. I thought it was amazing. And I think what sometimes people who listen to podcast might not really recognize is that you do have a voice and you can use your voice. And you know, I talked to so there’s just like obviously a podcast for everything. But just talking to all these women who had these podcast were so passionate about them.
And to know that, you know, maybe somebody is listening today and they’re like, Wow, that sounds really interesting. They’re not ready yet, but in three years, maybe there’s going to be a podcast about their experience or they’re going to show up at a she podcast live and she’s going to be like, That’s the woman I heard on Brandi’s podcast, right?
And it’s so amazing.
00;52;03;09
Jess
This year it’s in Washington, D.C. and is it a beautiful hotel, the MGM National Harbor, And I’m really excited to do it this year. I also would say, Yeah, if you feel like, oh, there’s already people doing this kind of show or this kind of thing, I would just say this. Like, there are a lot of moms with addicts out there, some of which don’t have their children anymore.
Almost every time I post about my daughter on social media, usually it’s Facebook, someone DMS me to either ask my advice, ask if they can have a friend call me, tell me that I helped them realize their kid was borderline not an addict, but just what to look for when your kid has mental health issues that you can’t like wrap your head around.
Yeah, you don’t know if they’re quirky or what, right? You know, like, that’s a hard thing to figure out. So I’ve not posted too in-depth about I mean, I post on her birth, you know, but at first I was doing it a lot. And every time it helps someone, every single time. And even if you start a podcast today and 17 people listen and you think, Oh, it’s no, no one’s listening to my show.
Well, imagine buying 17 people lunch. As you know, it’s a big lots of expensive lunch. It’s a lot of people of 17 people that maybe you could help their kids. Like, that’s not nothing. Absolutely nothing. That’s what I mean. Yeah. Whoever finds your show will need to find it, because I think when the student is ready, the teacher appears.
00;53;35;05
Brenda
Well, I think that’s a beautiful way to wrap this up. Any parting words of wisdom or insights that you want to share with now? I’m happy to say thousands of people will here, but when I started, it was like my six friends and my mom listening. But today it will be thousands. Oh.
00;53;57;25
Jess
I’m so happy for you. Yeah, I think I would say if you’re going through a situation like this in any way, shape or form, even though it feels counterproductive, get enough sleep, try and eat. Even if you’re not hungry, eat keep yogurt, 100 yogurts in the house, eat yogurt, breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s not bad for you. It’s tasty.
It will fill you up. I mean, just something so that you don’t starve yourself. Make yourself delirious. You’re already delirious with worry, as I guess, what I’m trying to say. So you have to take care of your body so that you can think through the situations and decisions that you have to make with a clear mind. It’s very hard to be very nice to yourself, Take care of yourself and know that it’s no matter what, that it’s not your fault you didn’t do anything right.
Even if you did something, you didn’t do anything. Right. Right?
00;54;50;08
Brenda
Yes, exactly. And you were all just muddling through it. We are just muddling through. So. Well, just thank you so much for thank you for having.
00;54;59;24
Jess
Me.
00;55;00;03
Brenda
Sharing this and such a great conversation. I will be on the lookout for your serious ish sitcom about this.
00;55;10;11
Jess
I was thinking more like, Yeah, like Ted Lasso. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but there are some crazy I mean, I mean, just imagine your your counselor going, We’d like you to bring her twin brother into the family. And I’m like, What twin? What twin from twin brother? When you get somewhere and everyone’s calling her Alaska.
I’m sorry, Who What? Alaska’s mother. And I’m just sitting there, like, by my time. Oh, you mean me. Okay. Yes, Some of that’s really funny. It’s bizarre, but it’s funny.
00;55;40;15
Brenda
I Know? I know. And sometimes it’s the way it gets us through, right? It’s like we just have to think of those things and. And know that they were hurting underneath. But, man, it’s the creativity. It’s pretty astounding.
00;55;54;08
Jess
I know. You got to. I know you got a present for that anyway, so. Yeah, I mean, yeah, I mean, the humor there and you can hold on to that even you have something over everyone else.
00;56;05;13
Brenda
Okay, that is it for today. If you would like to get the show notes for this episode, you can go to Brenda Zane Gqom forward slash podcast. All of the episodes are listed there and you can also find curated playlists there, so that’s very helpful. You might also want to download a free e-book I wrote. It’s called Hindsight Three Things I Wish I Knew when my son was misusing Drugs.
It’ll give you some insight as to why your son or daughter might be doing what they are. And importantly, it gives you tips on how to cope and how to be more healthy through this rough time. You can grab that free from Brenda’s income forward slash hindsight. Thank you so much for listening. I appreciate it. And I hope that these episodes are helping you stay strong and be very, very good to yourself.
And I will meet you right back here next week.

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