I’ve lived 32 years of life, and most would say, “you’re so young, how much tragedy could you possibly have faced?” The most common response I receive though is, “I would have never known you’ve gone through all of that just knowing who you are today.” Everyone has a path and journey in life, this just happens to be mine.
It dawned on me to write this one day as I was sitting and looking out the window and began reviewing all of what I had experienced. I thought about each lesson I had gained from each hardship. I have done this often in the past as I approach a new level of awareness or a new chapter in life. In many ways, it puts into perspective what I am facing currently. I find it healthy to remember how far I’ve come. For that matter, I think it is healthy for everyone to reflect on all they have been able to accomplish and what obstacles they’ve overcome.
This article is more of a note to you of all the loss and tragedy I’ve experienced and all the ways I’ve become stronger from it. It’s long and hard-hitting, so get comfortable or bookmark this page to come back to when you are ready. The overall message is of hope and how you too can turn whatever you’ve gone through into something that empowers you. My other purpose and wish is that this gives you a sense of comfort knowing you are not alone in what you’re facing. That many of us have experience the same things, and may just quietly be dealing with it. The greatest relief in my journey is meeting and conversing with other women who have survived what I had experience and went on to lived beautiful, healthy lives. I earnestly wish that is something I can give to you as well. So here we go, I will start from the beginning as I’ve heard it is the very good place to start. Here are the lessons learned from tragedy:
Surviving Childhood Sexual Abuse
I’ve discussed this previously on the blog about what it is like to be a survivor which you can read here. I’ve listed contact and hotlines to call at the bottom of that post for those who are looking for help. In essence, I was abused mentally, physically and sexual from the moment I was born. Not exaggerating. The abuse occurred within my own home and last until I was around 10 years old. The threat of being abused and exposure to the abuser continued until I completely removed myself from the situation when I became an adult. To be frank, the recover process was long and tiresome. It wasn’t until this year that I had a moment of clarity and utter breakthrough. A freedom that I had never felt before. I reached complete acceptance and knowing it was never my fault and it wasn’t my shame to hold onto. By no means does anyone deserve to be abused, it is horrific.
With that said, I have learned a lot. First, I learned the epidemic that runs in this country around childhood sexual abuse. How do I know this? Something I don’t share often is that I would speak nearly every week on panels, in hospitals, in church basements all around Manhattan and LA on my story of recovery. The moment I would mention the words sexual abuse, I would see people crumble. It was most often the women who you least expect relating so heavily to my story. The ones who were top executives, driving Mercedes-Benz, who looked so put together who would just shatter into pieces by the words I spoke. I realize that this is an issue far too great to comprehend that is occurring in our nation, yet not one person at that time was speaking out about it (this was 12 years ago).
Fast forward to the era of the Me Too movement, and we are beginning to see just how far deep this runs, but I truly don’t think we have even begun. The next stage is sharing how to recover. How do you heal from sexual abuse and go on to living beautiful abundant lives. That was a gift I gained from meeting other women who had survived the same abuse I had. I would look at them and see the pain erased and determined to fight my way to that place of peace. But the first lesson I learned was, I am not alone and this is a far bigger issue than being spoken.
The second thing I learned is that even when things seem hopeless and that there is no way out, there is a strength so deep inside that will find a way. Talk to any survivor, and you will see a resilience that is unparalleled to anything else you’ll find in life. We are capable of problem solving, maneuvering, and thinking so fast it blows people’s minds. Often when large crisis hits, survivors maintain a calm and collected demeanor when solving the issue. I personally am not phased by large tasks or problems because I’ve seen it time and again things working out. It was how I survived, and became an asset in other areas in life.
The third thing I learned, and last that I will mention for now, is probably the greatest tool that has helped me in life thus far. I am capable of reading people within minutes of meeting them. Even if I am not meeting them in person, just learning about them I can scan their personality. From having to be super observant and hyper vigilant to provide my own safety when I was a child, I became extraordinarily good at reading people’s body language, vocal inflections, the way they dress, and mannerisms. Within moments, I know exactly what their insecurities are and what will motivate them. I can determine what their issues are and how to deal with them. I also just intuitively know when to avoid certain people because they aren’t genuine or have other motives.
It has nothing to do with what they are saying and everything to do with how they carry themselves. It has saved me countless times from getting myself in bad business deals, making better life decisions, and providing the ability to play out the tapes and see the big picture quickly. It is a trait that got me to where I am today.
Tony Robbins said in I’m Not Your Guru, “If you are going to blame them for the bad, you better blame them for the good.” I like to say it as, “Hey idiot, you can and will never be able to destroy me and thanks for making me stronger.” You know, choose which one works for you.
Stopping Everything And Healing
When I was 20 years old, I could no longer push down the memories of being abused. I was severely depressed. Even though at that time I was part of an incredible sorority, honor classes at my university, a special charity committee, and was up for homecoming princess for the Sophomore class. I had tons of friends and was respected in the community that I built, but deep down I was in so much pain and turmoil.
One night, I had an out-of-body experience where I was at my lowest moment. Something had me call my mom. I remember saying, “I am not going to make it through this weekend if I don’t get help.” Which was the truth, I was suicidal. I am so grateful I made that call, I am so grateful my mom picked up, and I am so grateful for what happened next. Even though, while I was going through it, I was terrified of all that I was giving up.
I booked a red-eye flight back home that night to the east coast. The moment I landed I went to New York to see a therapist who then placed me in a rehab in the middle of Arizona. The same rehab that Naomi Campbell went to after throwing her phone at her assistant. REHAB. At that time, I never had a drink, I didn’t do drugs, I was on a set course for life. To think about going into treatment was not on my very meticulous life plan.
So what did I learn from this experience of letting go of everything I had worked hard for to enter rehab? The first is that you never ever know what characters will enter you life and change it for the better. On the first day, I met an infamously rowdy British pop star, an English Royal, a man who may or may not be apart of England’s organized crime, a hotel heiress, and a woman who had the most beautiful southern drawl. These ended up being the people who took me under their wings and held me up while I wanted to crumble and fall. Just close your eyes and picture these characters sitting around you. Are you laughing yet?
The British Pop star would read fan mail out loud, and would comment that I will be a wonderful mum one day. The other English man who may or may not have been part of the mob would stand up for me against anyone who was slightly mean saying, ” hey go pick on someone your own size”. He also said I should marry his nephew, which I kindly passed. The best memory was one day sitting next to the royal and looking at her recent wedding pictures. I mentioned I loved her dress! She said, “Thank you, my good family friend Valentino made it for me,” and then flipped to the page where she and Valentino were locked arms. At that point, I looked straight into the desert and realized my life will never be normal.
I was surrounded by people who I would normally never have met, yet was so appreciative for their kindness and friendship. It made me open up to allowing all sorts of individuals into my life later on in my recovery who contributed so greatly to my healing. It also taught me that recovery can be a lot of fun! Not every moment is dark. I’ve had some of the greatest laughs in my life with those in recovery. I will forever be grateful for these individuals. I still keep in touch with many, one published a book of his story and it is being turning into a TV series as we speak! There is so much love for my friends who were down in the trenches with me during that time.
The other thing I learned that’s probably the most important fact is how necessary it is to ask for help. I went into it thinking I can’t ask for help, I must suffer in silence and that nearly killed me. I realized that my mental well-being is far more important than any well constructed life plan. It is still the biggest priority in my life and the rest takes a back seat. When I need help, I ask for it, and I hope that gives you the necessary push to ask for help too. I could never have done any of this without the support, guidance, love, and direction from other people.
Losing A Friend Too Soon
Of everything I have gone through, this is the only topic that still makes me cry. I met my friend Kelly in aftercare. We lived together in a beautiful house on Balboa island with a handful of other girls. I actually heard Kelly’s loud contagious laugh before I even met her in person. Which honestly says a lot about her loud presence in life and how full of love she was. She also happened to be the first person who I met that had experienced similar abuse as I had. When I couldn’t sleep, she would come outside with me and look at the stars. We would talk about what this life is all about anyway. We would sing the Beatles while walking to the local 7-11 for slurpees. We would have crushes on the same guy but insisted on the other one to go talk to him. Eventually, neither of us talked to the guy and instead laughed the entire way home. She was a year older than me, and felt like the big sis I had always wished for.
One day Kelly decided she wanted to visit home and worked hard to get permission to take a short trip back to see her family. She got approved of the trip and on the day she left, she gave me the biggest hug. She then looked me in my eyes and said, “Promise me, you’ll take care of yourself.” I just nodded and said “I will” like a little sister would. She then kissed my forehead and left.
That was the last conversation I had with my friend, and the last time I saw her. She tragically passed away in a car “accident” that I all too well know wasn’t an accident. Kelly was in a lot of pain but masked it well. It was the same pain I had felt months before and the way I had planed to leave this life. When the news broke that Kelly had died, I started sobbing uncontrollably, shaking, and stumbled outside to get air. I barely made it down the flight of stairs when I fell to my knees and could only see black. I couldn’t breathe. Someone was rubbing my back, someone else was holding my hair. Someone brought me a blanket because I was shaking so hard. It was too hard to fathom. It is still hard to fathom that my friend is gone even though it has been twelve years. The greatest gifts Kelly gave to me is her larger than life friendship and the promise I made her. I have kept that promise so close to my heart.
What I learned from the most painful part of my experience is how precious life is. It is the most valuable thing each of us owns. It isn’t meant to be taken for granted. Learning how precious and short life is, it taught me to take each moment and do all the things I love. It taught me to fully immerse into each conversations I have with people, to go for the big dreams, laugh as much as I possibly can, and travel often. Everyday I wish I could hear my friend’s contagious laugh and funny stories. No matter what you are facing, do know it will get better. Everything is temporary, especially the pain, but suicide is permanent.
Letting Go Of Everything I’ve Ever Known
Needless to say, by this point I couldn’t go back to my old life. Far too much had happened, and I was way to aware of life itself. I decided to move to New York City and completely start from scratch. Why New York? I had spent a summer there and found the recover to be amazing and probably the only thing that will keep me afloat.
Let me tell you, being so aware and vocal pissed a lot of people off. My college actually called me mom and said I was no longer welcomed there. I had to leave everything I had built at that university and start again. Not only that but within that same period I had a friend tell me straight to my face to stop talking about the abuse because it is too upsetting. I had one therapist tell me, “your case is too much for me to handle” and then gave me a survey asking how suicidal I was. I had nearly everyone in my family abandon me or refuse to talk to me (expect a few). My grandmother made my grandfather (my childhood hero) hang up the phone on me.
People did not want to acknowledge the abuse because it meant they needed to see their errors or that the life that they led isn’t so perfect after all. I had a few people who did believe me but they were still in college in states further away. My mom believed me but it was so excruciating for her that she didn’t know exactly what to do.
So, I was alone. I was alone at the tender age of 20 years old, heart-broken, grieving, wrestling with my own demons but had a sliver of hope. I was dropped off in the middle of New York City without a plan, no place to stay, and had no clue what was going to happen next. I just knew I needed to be there. Want to hear a true miracle? I walked up half a block from where I was dropped off and found my roommate from California on the streets helping someone parallel park a car. She was smoking a cigarette and didn’t seem a bit phased to see me, while I was stunned! Turned out she lived on the block. She told me, come back at 7pm and you can stay the night for the next two days. That is how I began my new journey in New York City. It has been similarly miraculous every day since.
What I had learned from being on my own and completely starting over is to trust my gut instincts. Some how my intuition has without failure led me to exactly where I need to be in life. It knows what to do, where to walk, who to talk to. All I have to do is listen. And when I do that, everything works out better than expected.
I also learned that in order to get to that next phase in life, you must let go of the old life you once lived. There isn’t room for both. Like with every decision, when you are saying yes to one thing you are consequently saying no to the other. Make sure you’re saying yes to a better life.
Lastly, it’s okay to be afraid and still push on. I was so scared and had no clue what I was doing but knew I was heading in the right direction. I also had tons of people judging from the sideline, people who betrayed me, and not many people in my corner, but I still pushed on. Putting blinders on and focusing on my goal is the only thing that got me through. I knew if I gave into my fears or the judgement of others, I wouldn’t be alive today. I would have given up. Even proving myself to others would have wasted so much precious energy that I needed to keep pushing forward. So I allowed everyone to feel how they felt, I allowed myself to feel how I felt, and did it anyway! Eventually I created an even greater life than the one I previously lived. I had new friends and people who loved me come back into my life but in a healthier way.
Each “level up” in life requires a certain degree of letting go. It’s part of making room for expansion. It’s a normal, uncomfortable part of growing.
Breaking Free From Domestic Abuse
The funny thing about love is that everything you learn goes straight out the window.
I was 22 years old when I met a boy who I thought was the love of my life. He was incredibly charming, sending me poetry every morning, telling me how gorgeous I am and how attracted he was to me. He made it seem like he was my soul mate. The entire relationship went quickly, there was no get to know each other period. It just went from saying hi to I love you instantly. I even knew when this phase, that I later learned is called “love bombing”, ended it was going to be painful. First red flag I ignored. In fact, later I went back and discovered I ignored more that 43 red flags within the first few months of dating him.
Being predisposed to abuse, it naturally makes sense I was comfortable with abuse and stayed in an abusive relationship far too long. 9 years to be exact. Again, by no means is it my fault that I was abused, no one should ever be abused! Point blank ever. Also, these people are exceptional manipulators and conmen, this is what they are good at. Even the smartest people will fall for the lies of the abuser. I am just sharing how it happened and what I learned from it.
At 22 years old, I was at the beginning phases of healing myself. I was depleted of love and self-worth. So when this guy came swooping in with praise and attention, I was hooked. I knew this guy was trouble but he was saying everything I wanted to hear.
Eventually the compliments became fewer, the poetry stopped, and the abuse began. Our first argument should have been a sign to leave. I mentioned calmly, that he kept showing up 2-3 hours later than when we said we would meet. Just even mentioning that turned into a massive argument that made no sense at all. Most arguments were nonsensical and would make my head turn, to the point I would just give up trying to confront him. Then the silent treatments began. He would disappear when I needed him the most, or wouldn’t answer the phone if he was mad at me. Even though I had done nothing wrong to elicit such a response. Then it was the ton of girls who happened to always be around and flirting with him. I would ask him why these girls acted this way, and he would get so defensive and say I can’t control what other people do. I later realized he was cheating with each and every single one of them. In fact, he had cheated on me from the very beginning of the relationship even when he was telling me, I was the one and he wanted to marry me.
I later realized I was dating a narcissist who had no care for my well-being. If you ever dated a narcissist, you’ll know that they cheat, lie, gaslight, tormented and then swoop in to rescue- creating trauma bonds. My ex would stalk me, my work, my home, my neighborhood if I tried to break up with him. He also loved to accuse me of cheating, told me I am the crazy one, and created massive smear campaigns against me. There were a plethora of promises he had no intentions of keeping, he twisted his errors to make it look like I was the one wrong. To say it was a mind f*** is an understatement. When I finally saw him for who he truly was, the real him, I was out.
They say breaking up from a narcissist is like coming off of drugs. I had a physical, mental, and spiritual kick like never before. I just rocked like any addict would. But each day I did the best I could, and each day it got better. I built myself up again and again every moment of the day. I found resources that helped, educated myself on the abuse I had endured, and found tactics to heal my mind. About 4 months of constant work on myself, I began to feel the trauma bonds breaking. I looked healthy, I felt lighter, and was laughing again.
What I learned from this process is something I never thought I would learn in my wildest dreams from going through such an excruciating period. That is, I met myself.
I saw for the first time ever my true worth in life, and boy is it humongous! I saw my true beauty inside and out. I discovered how capable I am as a woman in this world. I appreciated and fell in love with my body for the first time. I learned that I didn’t need anyone else’s validation, I can validate myself. I discovered what I truly want in life is out there and I will get it. I remembered what I love and what made me happy.
What was meant to destroy me, made me ten thousand times stronger. I am grateful to be alive, I know a different outcome was possible if I had stayed in that relationship any longer. I am grateful I get to start again but in a healthier place. I am grateful that I have the capacity to love unconditionally and that I am naturally a happy person. No matter how much pain I have felt in life, I am not the type to take it out on another person. I learned that I am able to heal myself, give myself pep talks, and that is a tool super valuable in life.
I also learned how important it is to continue to trust my gut instincts and that one red flag is one too many when it comes to relationships. It’s not excusable to be hurt by your loved one. I also learned that relationships should never elicit anxiety, worthlessness, or the need to prove yourself. Silent treatments are not excusable. If any of these show up the next time, I am running fast.
I will never ever give up my innocent nature to love and trust. I love that about myself and will not let that go, I am just smarter now. And stronger! Of course, I wish I didn’t have to go through all the pain to get to this place, but I am glad I am here now.
Conclusion: Anything Is Possible
Since I’ve started this journey of recovery and healing, of forming lessons from hardships, I’ve experienced more of life than I had ever dreamed. I’ve traveled around the world, worked with incredible teams and brands, met the most exciting people. I’ve carved out a life I had always wanted, friendships I can rely on, and family who have my back. I’ve never given up and I attribute much of my success to what I’ve gone through.
For anyone who is going through a hard time, please know you are not alone. It will end. There is a bigger picture and reason why you’re going through what you’re facing. It will eventually make you stronger, appreciate life more, and place you in positions you’ve always wanted to be in. Just like I did, never give up. Find the lesson in each tragedy, learn from others who have gone through what you have. Promise me like I promised my friend, that you will take care of yourself from this point onward.