Jesse & Melissa’s Story
By Donna Mroz (Director, Domestic Abuse Initiative)
We met Jesse 6 years ago when his mother Melissa, an artist, came to the domestic violence support group at the police station. Melissa was a mess when she first came, sad, and depressed all the time. She left an abusive relationship where she was constantly made to feel crazy, alone, and was frequently told that she was a bad artist. Melissa’s experience is quite common – many women come to us feeling crazy, unsupported, and alone. Their abusers made them feel crazy by invalidating their emotions and making them feel isolated.
At the time, Melissa’s son Jesse was 11 years old and living in a 50/50 custodial relationship between his mom and dad. Jesse shared frequently with his mother that his dad was abusive and she shared this information with the class. She was at her whit’s end and didn’t know what to do. She was worried about her son. One day, Jesse decided to live with Melissa exclusively because he couldn’t handle being around this abusive father anymore. A court battle over the custody of Jesse began. He became anorexic, suicidal, and didn’t socialize with anyone, slowly becoming sicker and sicker. Once again, Melissa felt lost and didn’t know what to do. Things got worse during COVID particularly because of the isolation that Jesse felt.
Their situation begged the question, “How do we heal ourselves while parenting a child through multiple layers of domestic abuse?”
Jacob ended up in the hospital for 2 weeks. His anorexia became so dramatic that his heart rate dropped dangerously low. We weren’t sure he was going to survive. His anger towards his father drove him to frequently, angrily, and dramatically express his feelings against his father to his mother. Melissa was in a pickle. he didn’t want to invalidate his experience by telling him to stop sharing what had happened – no matter how triggering because of her own abusive experiences with him. However, she didn’t want to encourage the behavior either. She could easily feed into it and it might feel good, but she saw the effects of his anger and fixation slowly eating away at his health.
Every week, in the support group, Melissa cried frequently. She shared that she felt lost, didn’t know even where to begin, and knew that she needed help. She desperately wanted to support her son. As she shared, the women in the support group provided a safe and accepting community that helped her to heal. The women in the support group came with her and supported her in court and it has been beautiful to watch her gain confidence.
Melissa set a boundary and decided that one of the best ways to love her son in this was to not encourage these conversations to continue by participating or contributing to the allegations against his father. Instead, she would listen and empathize allowing him to express himself but not adding anything that could fuel the fire. She broke the cycle of abuse. Every week, Melissa returned to class to share, cry frequently, and receive much needed support. he decided to break the cycle of abuse in her family and instead to provide a structure of support and nurture to her son. Jesse eventually got out of the hospital and slowly started to gain strength.
A few days ago, we held the Night of Light (a Domestic Abuse Awareness Night and Art Show) at our office. A confident Melissa arrived to showcase her artwork and a healthy Jesse came out to support his mother. To see him come out to the event was nothing short of amazing. Today, Jesse is 17 years old, healthy, and a wrestler for his High School. When I saw the two of them arrive, especially Jesse in tow with his mother, I couldn’t hold back the tears. They were the highlight of my night.
I have one more thing to share with you about the other night. When Melissa stopped creating art she didn’t get rid of the canvases. Over the past few years, she started to paint again. She created new paintings on top of the old canvases. Melissa attributes this to the support she feels from the support group. All 20 paintings that she showcased were sold. Jesse and Melissa are healing out of their pain like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Thank you for your dedication to the work we’re doing here at OC United. Help us continue to support women and their families exiting abusive relationships. Learn more or donate at www.ocunited.org.