I understand. Brenda, I understand. Twelve years ago, our family moved from Ohio to North Carolina. I was overwhelmed by the circumstances... not normal, perhaps, but true. The logistics of selling one house, buying another, leaving my home and friends, starting over, all while dealing with two young kids. My insecurities as a wife and mother, often hidden from others, bubbled to the surface.
My own inadequacies washed over me again and again... I wasn't good enough to do it. I wasn't strong enough. I was the weak link in my family, hurting them. Failing. I planned my escape from the pressure....
Brenda Heist spoke with Dr. Phil.
Dr. Phil: "Did you think about the children?"I understand. Brenda, I truly understand. Paralyzed by my own fears, I didn't pack the kids' school lunches. I didn't help with homework. I didn't cook dinner or clean the kitchen for months. My husband, working a new job, held our family together. As I lay in bed, curled in a tight ball in the darkened room, I cried and cried. I couldn't quiet the voices in my head telling me to run. Screaming at me, "They're better off without you." "You're useless." "You're a horrible mother." I understand.
Brenda: "I did. But... I just thought it would be better if I wasn't there. That was my mindset at that time.... I knew that my husband could do a lot better job at raising them than I ever could."
Dr. Phil: "Why is that?"
Brenda: "Because he was a good father and a good man."
Dr. Phil: "Were you not a good person?"
Brenda: "No. I don't know what was wrong with me, but I didn't feel like I was a good person."
Dr. Phil: "Did you think or wonder that the children would be hurt at your leaving?"Overwhelmed. Suffocating. Drowning in self-hate. How could my kids want this near them? How could I possibly be a benefit to my family? Wouldn't they be better off without me? Not hurt. Better.
Brenda: "Not at the time... I just kept saying to myself, 'They're better off without me.'"
Brenda: "Sometimes I wonder if it's a good thing that I turned myself in...."Brenda then explains that she was in a relationship with another man for seven years, but that he did alcohol and drugs. She finally left him a note and ran away from that relationship too.
Dr. Phil: "Why did you turn yourself in?"
Brenda: "Because I was tired of running."
Dr. Phil: "Nobody was looking for you."
Brenda: "I guess I was tired of running from my problems, that's all."
Dr. Phil: "So, you just turn yourself in..."
Brenda: "...I tried to commit suicide, then three days later because it didn't work, I walked into the Sheriff's Station... and turned myself in...."
Dr. Phil: "Why did you [turn yourself in]?"
Brenda: "Because I didn't want to be homeless anymore."
Dr. Phil: "What do you think about the fact that when it gets rough, you run?"Brenda, I understand. I was so embarrassed at my own inadequacies. I was embarrassed that people would know I didn't take care of my kids the way a mother should. They were clean, fed, and loved... I even have photos of our family, apparently happy during that time period. But the inner turmoil.... Oh how hard I worked to keep it all together. Terrified. What if someone knew how bad I really am? I was ashamed of myself... for not being a better me. What if they discovered that I'm not good enough to do this? That I'm a bad mom?
Brenda: "I don't know. I don't know why I do it."
Dr. Phil: "Are you surprised at yourself for handling things in that way?"
Brenda: "I'm embarrassed because I do."
Brenda: "I just wanted to die, because I had nothing to look forward to."I understand. I've said that the only reason I didn't die back then was because I was too chicken to kill myself. I couldn't figure out how to do it without my husband or sons being the people to discover me. So, I never tried. Instead, I died on the inside. No joy. Just darkness. Heavy pain. An overwhelming sense of despair.
After showing Brenda photos of herself happy in 2011, Dr. Phil asks:
"How could you not call your children:"Later in the interview...
Brenda: "I just couldn't."
Dr. Phil: "What kept you from it?"
Brenda: "Guilt that I had walked away. I was ashamed of it...."
Dr. Phil: "Did you want to [call your children]?"
Brenda: "I thought about it."
Dr. Phil: "...It is a gift to them if you call [them]."
Brenda: "You know what? It wouldn't have been a gift to them. Look at what it's doing to them now. It's no gift that I showed back up in their life. It's no gift to anybody that I'm showing back. Nobody. It's not."
Brenda: "I'm not proud of what I did. I'm ashamed of what I did. And really, I have a lot of guilt and this is something I'm never going to get over. I don't understand why this is such a big media thing. It's not something that I'm happy that I did... I'm not boastful that I had a good life or anything like that..."Brenda, I understand. In the grip of hopelessness, rational doesn't work. Fear overwhelms. The voices (not literal voices, but the self-talk) scream that the world -- our kids -- are better off without us. Maybe 100 million mothers say, 'how could you?' They don't know the pain or despair that drives a person to this decision. I understand.
Dr. Phil: "I think the reason that people are so impacted by it is because you've got 100 million mothers saying, 'how could you....' A rational person doesn't do what you did...."
Dr. Phil: "You turned yourself in for a reason... This is your chance. You get healthy."Jean, Brenda's mother, appears on the show... Dr. Phil asks, "Are you angry with her?" She says, "No... Everyone has problems." Jean welcomes her daughter with open arms.
Brenda: "I want to get the help that I need.... It didn't have anything to do with them at all. It never did. They were good kids.... I'm sorry."
Dr. Phil: "[You need to make a decision to get healthy.] You can't do that on your own. You need help with that."
Brenda, you can have the healing you want so badly. You can be whole again. The only difference between your story and mine is that Jesus stepped in to my life and quieted the voices in my head. He reminded me that I am loved. He healed the pain in my heart. He restored my mental health. He can do the same for you. I don't know when your kids will forgive you, but I do know that if you accept Jesus' love, He will fill your heart with peace. He will give you strength to endure whatever comes next. He will take your broken life and give it purpose.
I have long asked Him, "Why? Why me?" What do I do with the remembered pain? What do I do with the remembered feelings of uselessness and failure? The Bible says:
- "But as for you (satan, the father of lies), you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive." (God wants to restore your life and bring hope to others who crumble under satan's lies.) Genesis 50:20
- Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. (God knows you ran away, but He wants your family to be restored. Trust God -- no matter how long it takes.) Proverbs 19:21
- And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Even though you've made many mistakes and your family is hurt by your actions, God can work it together for good. Your experience can make a difference for others when you trust God to do the healing... even if it takes a long time.) Romans 8:28
- Jesus said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (God has the power to restore your family. He restored mine!!) Matthew 19:26
- For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, plans to give you a future and a hope. (I pray you will accept God's love and trust His plan going forward. Trusting God doesn't mean everything disappears, but He does provide all the strength you need to get through this mess and on the road to the life He originally planned for you.) Jeremiah 29:11
- Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Trust God to do the healing!) Matthew 6:34
Perhaps the most helpful verse right now is "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13) You ran away, but couldn't stay away. You tried to kill yourself, but you lived. God has spared your life many times already -- He wants to restore you so you can make a difference for others. Will your relationship with your kids be restored? I don't know. I am certainly praying that for you and for them. But even if it doesn't happen, God will use your experience to make a lasting, healthy impact on others. Trust him.
It's my sincere prayer that it comforts you to know that of the 100 million moms questioning your choices, I understand. I didn't end up where you did, but I really do understand. God wants you to know peace, hope and joy again. Daily, I ask God for strength. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13.
If you don't have a relationship with Jesus.... start with that. Jesus wants to forgive you of all the pain in your heart. He wants to wipe your slate clean and offer you a fresh start. Read this and ask Him to fill your life with his JOY, LOVE, PEACE and HOPE. It's possible. I promise! Jesus' love will change the course of your life.
With prayers for peace and hope.