For Mental Health Awareness Month, locals are sharing their personal mental health stories
The writer known as Tissue Box Girl has had quite the personal mental health journey.
It began when she took her first hit of marijuana at nine years old. This moment led her down a roller coaster ride of substance use, abusive relationships and family dysfunction.
Monica Elizabeth* uses her personal pain today to write short stories and poetry for her website called Tissue Box Girl to reflect on the tearful moment she decided to seek treatment for her addiction.
“I dropped to my knees and begged someone to come and save me,” she said.
Before she had that personal realization, Monica had already taken marijuana, cocaine, meth and alcohol. Substance use for Monica was a crutch used to overcome abusive relationships.
“Men and addiction went hand in hand,” she said.
Her friend’s older brother introduced her to marijuana while they were living in a rough part of Wappingers Falls, New York. She then led a sober lifestyle and was a typical middle school student.
Sex and Drugs, and Everything Else
Then she saw her father, who was living in New Mexico, during the summer before high school. She had not seen him in five years.
Her father began sexually abusing her, taking her virginity when she was only 14. This led to a return to smoking marijuana, along with alcohol this time.
“I gravitated towards a bad crowd,” she said of her high school experience.
This included a drug dealing, abusive boyfriend. After graduating, she met her first husband with whom she started using cocaine.
She became a stay-at-home mom after giving birth to her first son.
As a stay-at-home mom, she became isolated, which only worsened with her husband’s abuse. The two eventually divorced, but he worked to gain physical custody of their son by painting her as unstable, known as domestic violence by proxy.
The divorce proceedings lasted six years before she agreed to joint custody.
“I thought – maybe he will stop,” she said.
This only gave him more power over their son.
Headed Out West
She started having both suicidal thoughts, wanting a new identity to escape from her problems. Moving to Portland, Oregon was supposed to be a clean slate. It was anything but.
A new boyfriend turned her on to crystal meth. He became abusive to the point where she feared for her life.
“He put a 45 [type of pistol] to my eyes,” she said. “I turned my head after three seconds and the bullet went through a wall.”
Monica visited both her first son and her second son from a rebound relationship periodically, which left her wondering if she should return home.
“I felt so much guilt,” she said. “I would come back and visit, and he turned against me.”
When she returned, she started working as a bartender, a gig she held her whole life until she hit her final moment of rock bottom.
She decided to get help after a year of being homeless, where she spent the summer living in her car and colder months in an abandoned building.
A New Direction
Monica sought treatment after New Year’s Eve in 2006, after nearly 23 years of substance use. Since then, she has remained sober and works as a family advocate for others who have dealt with similar issues, in addition to her writing work.
“Taking my traumatic experiences to help others is amazing,” she said.
Seeing another woman at Alcoholics Anonymous tell her story inspired her to do the same, as she saw striking similarities between her and that woman.
“She was telling my story,” she said of the experience.
She also found love again, and has been married for 10 years.
“I had to learn to love myself and that sex does not equal love,” she said. “We are taught as women to be sexual and that is the only way to be desired.”
Monica has also learned to use humor to cope with hard times, and to not be afraid to cry. The nickname Tissue Box Girl was anointed to her after a tissue box with a wire hanger was presented to her as a gift from fellow rehab patients.
“It’s okay to cry,” she said. “It’s also ok to have a sense of humor. I have a dark sense of humor, which is my biggest coping skill.”
For more information on Tissue Box Girl, visit https://www.tissueboxgirl.com
*The interviewee asked for her full name to remain anonymous.