You Are Not Alone
: "I can't tell you how to keep your child from making mistakes. But I can equip you with facts, tools, and resources. I can show you that you can survive this nightmare. I can encourage you that one day-somehow-you...
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:"I can't tell you how to keep your child from making mistakes. But I can equip you with facts, tools, and resources. I can show you that you can survive this nightmare. I can encourage you that one day-somehow-you can thrive again."
-Dena Yohe, You Are Not Alone
You would go to the ends of the earth for your child. So, if your teenager or young adult is in the midst of crisis due to self-injury, mental illness, depression, bullying, or destructive choices, you probably feel broken, powerless, and isolated.
Dena Yohe wants you to know you are not alone. You are not a bad parent. And you are going to be okay.
Dena has been where you are. In You Are Not Alone, she speaks from experience as she offers healthy ways to maintain your other relationships, suggestions for responding to friends who don't understand, and ideas for keeping up your emotional and spiritual well-being when your world feels as if it's crashing down.
It is possible to find purpose in your pain, joy beyond your fear, and hope for every tomorrow.
Includes prayers, exercises, websites, and other helpful resources.
:Everyone who knew Reneé thought she was doing well. But danger lurks around every corner for recovering addicts who also struggle with mental illness and self-injury, especially in the early years of sobriety. This was my twenty-two-year-old daughter’s situation. By 2009 Reneé had crisscrossed the country for three years to share her inspirational message of hope, but she had never traveled alone—until now. Reneé flew to a new city, then drove herself to a small university for a speaking engagement. That evening she, a gifted communicator, spoke to a group of students and professors. Audiences found her beauty, candor, and eloquence captivating. Amazed at how much she had overcome, many stayed after the presentation to talk with her personally.
“May I have your autograph?”
“Would you take a picture with me?”
“You’re my hero. Your story saved my life.”
It was both a blessing and a burden.
Since Reneé’s story had gone around the world and inspired millions (via a nonprofit called To Write Love on Her Arms), this had become a common scene. But she never got used to it. For many who struggle with the same issues—addiction, cutting, mental illness, suicidal tendencies, and the sexual trauma that often accompanies a dangerous lifestyle—Reneé was a significant source of encouragement. To some, she became an idol.
In her pain-filled story, both young and old found what they needed to continue walking out their own stories: hope and courage. Hope to believe things could get better, and courage never to give up fighting for their lives.
On this night Reneé told her moving story one more time, then hung out afterward to talk with students and faculty as long as she could bear it. Unbeknownst to anyone, her recovery was unraveling. Life had been draining out without being replenished. The battle was raging and she was losing.
My mother heart was about to be crushed—again.
The phone rang in our bedroom at 3:00 a.m., piercing the peaceful silence of the night. Adrenaline pumped through my veins. Phone calls after midnight were never a good thing.
My husband, Tom, sleepily answered the phone while I struggled to catch my breath. I tried not to assume the worst, yet somehow I knew. A sense of dread welled within me.
We’ve been here before. I don’t want to go back. I don’t think I can do this again. It was brutal the first time. I’m not ready, Lord.
No one ever is.
“Hello? Reneé, is that you?” I heard Tom say.
I knew it. I wish I had been wrong. Years of experience had trained my ear to recognize the sound of distress in my husband’s voice.
“What happened, honey? Where are you? What?” Panic rose in his voice.
“I can’t understand you. Slow down. Please, Reneé, calm down. Take some deep breaths. You can do it. Panicking won’t help. Now, what did you say?”
There was an uncomfortable pause. I hurried to Tom’s side and sat beside him so I could hear both sides of the conversation.
“I’m scared, Daddy.” If she’s afraid, it must be bad, I thought.
“What are you afraid of, honey?” he asked calmly.
“I can’t get the bleeding to stop!”
Oh, God, no. I covered my mouth to keep from screaming.
“And I’ve been drinking.” Crying like a baby, she confessed, “Oh, Daddy, I took too many pills.”
Letting out a groan, I doubled over. I felt as if I were sobbing deep in my gut, though nothing audible came out of my mouth. Tom began to pace.
“How many pills did you take, Reneé?”
She whimpered, “I don’t know! I don’t know!”
“Where are you?” he asked, on the verge of tears.
“I’m in my hotel room. I’m on the floor in the bathroom. I’m getting sleepy and there’s so much blood.” She sounded groggy. “I don’t know what to do!”
Nausea swept over me. I envisioned blood dripping from scarred arms onto pristine tiles.
Then, in a voice filled with remorse, she said, “Oh, Daddy, I feel so guilty. I don’t want to disappoint all those people who look up to me.”
“Oh, Reneé, I know you don’t,” Tom reassured. “I understand. It’s really, really hard. I’m so sorry, honey.”
Don’t worry about them right now. Your life is in danger!
As I listened, salty tears streamed down my cheeks. Her heart is so beautiful. How can she be so broken?
Tom said, “But listen to me. No one expected you to be perfect.”
Not in the beginning, but maybe I had started to. The realization jolted me.
Reneé stammered an unintelligible response.
Tom continued, “You made a mistake, but you’re going to get back up and begin again. You’re going to be okay. It won’t be easy, but you can do it.”
Yes. Yes. With God’s help, you can. Hearing the confidence in my husband’s voice increased mine. All I could hear from the receiver was weeping.
“You’ve come so far, Reneé. Remember, the only way you can fail is to give up.”
“I won’t give up, Daddy. I won’t.”
I wanted to believe her with all my heart.
“Okay, now you’ve got to listen to me closely and do exactly what I tell you. Don’t hang up, but put your cell phone down. Grab some towels and wrap up your arms. Then go find the hotel phone in your room and call the front desk. Tell them it’s an emergency. Then come right back to your phone in the bathroom. I’ll be waiting here for you. Go do it right now.”
Oh, my precious princess, hurry back to your phone. Don’t go too far away. Daddy and I will be waiting for you.
I rocked back and forth as I sat on the side of our bed in the darkness, shaking and praying.
We waited. Not knowing how severe her wounds were or how much danger she was in was pure torture.
Finally, we heard her weak voice on the phone again. Tom and I let out a collective sigh of relief. Thank God. Help was on the way.
“Good job, sweetheart. I’ll stay here with you and keep talking until help arrives. I know you’re scared. I understand how much you hate hospitals and psych wards, but your life may be at stake.”
Please let them get there in time. We didn’t even know the name of the hotel or we would have called for help ourselves. I beg You, God, please save my child.
The next words I heard from Reneé stunned me. “Are you mad at me, Daddy? I didn’t mean to hurt you and Mom like this.”
Dear God, help me.
Tom shook his head as he almost shouted, emphasizing each word, “Oh, no, Reneé! No. We’re not mad. We hurt for you. It breaks our hearts to see you in so much pain. We love you. We’ll always be here for you!”
Her next question broke me wide open. “Can you forgive me? Can you and Mom ever forgive me?”
Falling to his knees, Tom choked, “Yes, of course we forgive you, Reneé. You don’t ever have to wonder about that. We love you no matter what. We’ve always told you there’s nothing you could do that would make us love you any more or any less. Nothing will ever change that. Nothing.”
Where It All Began
Ten years before, I noticed the early warning signs of trouble, but I didn’t know what they meant—or I didn’t want to know. When Reneé was twelve she cut herself the first time and began to show symptoms of depression.
Little did I know she had a problem that would become serious and life threatening.
Or where this journey would lead.
Or how much pain it would bring.
I never could have imagined my daughter’s gradual, bumpy recovery from substance abuse and other life-altering issues. I never dreamed her story would be the beginning of an international nonprofit called To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA.com), bringing hope to millions of hurting men and women all over the world.
Little did I know how her life would change mine.
But this is not Reneé’s story. That is for her to tell. This is my story—my perspective as a mother who learned to cope with deep pain, a mom who learned to let go of broken dreams and discover new ones.
I’m not the only one. Countless parents struggle as I have—and maybe you have too. We wrestle with the same feelings of denial, shock, disappointment, hurt, anger, fear, and loss. Most of all, we don’t want anyone to know. We tend to suffer alone. Lacking support and feeling devoid of hope, we struggle in isolation. And our heartache intensifies.
Lessening the Heartache
Let’s pause for a moment. I want to clarify that this is not a how-to-change-or-fix-your-child book. I have no strategies for guaranteed success. No tips to avoid trouble. I can’t tell you how to do that.
But, parent, you are my focus. Lending you a hand as you try to cope with what might be the most excruciating experiences of your life is the whole point. My goal is to share what helped me, what got me through my darkest days, not knowing how the future would unfold.
Friend, fellow parent, when we’re willing to be honest, to share our pain with other hurting parents and hear others’ stories, something unexpected happens. A mysterious exchange takes place. Our discouragement lessens and we find the strength we lacked. We let go of despair and unearth fresh comfort, even community. We find the courage to press on.
And then, at last, we realize we aren’t alone. We can make it—together. If I’m able to continue my journey without knowing how it will end, then maybe you can too. I may not know the future for my child, but I know Who holds it. I can trust God with all my tomorrows and all of Reneé’s. With His help, you and I can find strength and comfort to carry us through our worst times.
Again, I can’t tell you how to keep your child from making mistakes. But I can encourage and equip you with facts, tools, and resources. I can show you—weary, worn-out Mom or Dad—you can survive this nightmare. Not only that, I’m confident that one day, somehow, you can thrive again.
“Impossible,” you say. “How can you make such a ludicrous statement?” I can tell you how: personal experience, from the core of my belief and the foundation of my hope, based on the words of Jesus, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). These are the very things I want to unpack in the chapters that follow.
It’s my prayer that in the pages ahead you’ll find new hope and come to believe you can thrive again. I’ll share my honest journey, including mistakes made, eye-opening discoveries, and ways to cope that you might not have thought of. You’ll read about the truths God showed me and the steps I took that made all the difference. You’ll find resources and hear from experts and from fellow parents on a similar path. Reneé will also offer her insights where appropriate, providing a once-troubled child’s viewpoint. They’re things she wants you to know. I wish I had known them years ago. And each chapter will end with scriptures that helped me. I hope they’ll help you too.
Scripture That Helps
Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths. (Proverbs 3:5–6, ampc)
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