SHIFT STORY project
I see it with every woman I serve - their hand reaching out, in search of assurance & connection - with no hand to take on the other end.
We are afraid.
We feel insignificant...unqualified.
Our story seems unimportant. Sharing it would be an imposition.
But, our story has the power to breathe life into another, to connect and inspire, to strengthen and bless.
I think I've always been a positive person and try and see the good in everything but sometimes that just doesn't work and you have to go through immense pain to realise that this is life raw and real.
I met my first husband when I was 21. He was 30. I was pretty besotted! He was my everything. I knew family wasn't part of our plan as he had two kids to a previous marriage but as I approached 28 I realised that 'maybe' I'd changed my mind! After a lot of thought we decided our only option was IVF as he had to have a 'reversal'.
After 7 years and 2 attempts Maxwell was born. Considering we were given a 4% chance of conceiving naturally we were stunned when a year later I was pregnant again and Jack was born!
It was all a bit of a whirlwind and with his long spells of being away offshore for work, I found myself quite lonely and stressed with the 2 boys under 2! We did the expat thing for 5 years and it was all kinda glamorous....Ireland, Spain, Canada and France to name a few. We were happy, or so I thought! I noticed he had changed, he started taking an interest in his appearance, listening to different music and strangely didn't drink coffee with me anymore!! I knew something was wrong.....
To cut a long story short, he was having an affair with a Brazilian woman 20 years younger than himself. He lied, cheated and made me suffer for 2 days till he “decided" what he was going to do.
The boys were 6 and 8. I had a wee part time job at the local playgroup. HOW would I manage? I fought and I fought to keep our home. Promises were broken when he said he wouldn't hurt me anymore. The pain of him leaving was excruciating....it was like someone sawing off my right arm with a blunt knife. I couldn't eat, sleep or function on any level.
Fast forward a year and an old school friend told me about ENJO. A cleaning system from Austria. I wasn't ready to hear about it.
Another year passed and I was open. Instantly I saw something that excited me. The next day, I joined the company - strange considering I was a sceptic! I quickly realised I had purpose again and I felt alive! It was amazing!!
I felt PART of something very special. I was recognised and celebrated which wasn't something I was used to at all. I had a new circle of people and I loved it all.
I had always been in Ian's shadow as he had the overseas job and made good money, but for the first time in my life I felt noticed and worthy. I felt I deserved everything that was coming my way. My first trip which I qualified for was to New Zealand and my lovely boss toasted my success...it was a bittersweet moment. If Ian hadn't left me none of this would have happened. That was 9 years ago.
ENJO has provided for me and my 2 boys. Yes I work hard and I play hard! I've learnt about self development, management and leadership. I love to learn now. This opportunity has made me
always willing to learn and better myself. My kids have learnt so much from me and are both very entrepreneurial themselves!
Maxwell is now at Uni studying chemical engineering in Edinburgh and Jack is almost through to trying out the navy. I am SO proud of them!! They are my world and we have done this on our own. They haven't seen their father in 7 years.
He pays 50p per day per child maintenance so I am doing this solo really. He married the girl and now has twins...
ENJO also allowed me to find my new husband! He loved ENJO and wanted more fibres!! We were born the same week, were in hospital in our cribs together and went through school together! He's so supportive of my job and he's always there to keep me on track!
Life throws things at you. Time does heal. I can't forget stuff that's happened but what I can do is let it go and say it's okay. I'm doing good and I'm very proud of my journey. If there's anything I've learnt it's to follow your gut instinct. See yourself for who you are and don't let anyone take you down. You are enough xx
1997 was the year I graduated from high school. I had big plans. I was headed to College to learn how to be an accountant. I had my whole life ahead of me. In early 1997 I found out I was pregnant, due in October. This was the first time in my life that the solid plan I had mapped out in front of me shifted.
The timing allowed me to finish up grade 12 as planned, but I did not try to juggle college and a baby. I didn’t have any money saved for college so adding a baby into the mix changed my plans. Add into the situation that my boyfriend at the time, the father had joined the military and was away for training and we had no idea where he would be stationed after he completed his training. My beautiful daughter, Haley came along at the end of October. I lived with my parents until my boyfriend finished basic training. We then moved to a tiny little town in Eastern Ontario. Haley was only a few months old at the time and her Dad was away all day (and at times for weeks) for work. We lived in a tiny little apartment on the base. There were many women there is similar situations, so I was able to make a few friends quickly.
Christmas of 1998, Haley and I made the 6-hour drive back to Woodstock on our own as her Dad did not have a lot of time off work. When he did come home, he stayed with his family. For no specific reason, I called our apartment to check for messages. There was a message from a woman I did not know, her message was for my boyfriend saying that she had a great time the other night. My head exploded with a million thoughts. I needed to know the truth, so I called him and confronted him. He admitted that he had been unfaithful to me. My heart broke.
I was in a daze; I don’t remember a lot about that Christmas other than those two phone calls. The next clear memory for me is my Dad and I driving to the apartment on the base to get my things. Looking back and thinking about this, I am so freaking proud of myself and how strong I was. 19 years old, with a one year old, the life that I had planned shattered, and I was fired up. I was going to that apartment to get everything that was mine. This part sounds a bit spiteful but everything that was mine meant that the apartment was left pretty sparse, especially the kitchen. He had done something unimaginable and I did not want to make his life easy.
I moved back in with my parents and found a new routine. When Haley was about 1 ½, I returned to work, first at my old high school job working at a Tim Hortons, then I went to work at a local manufacturing plant. I met so many wonderful people but one of them stuck out. Jason seemed to spend a lot of time wherever I was. It wasn’t long after that we started dating. He was so good with Haley and even early on, it felt different than any other relationship. It felt like I had known him forever. We will celebrate our 13th anniversary this fall.
In July of 2017, after almost 17 years with the company, I was called into a meeting and told I no longer had a job. This is what I call my two-by-four moment. I had not been happy, but it was easier to stay than it was to leave.
I was comfortable.
The first day after I lost my job, I cried all day. I had given my blood, sweat and tears to my job and so much of my identity was tied up in my job. Who was I now? I was a complete wreck. Day 2 was a gorgeous summer day, so I grabbed some drinks and headed to hang out at by a friend’s pool. I ended day 2 wrecked in a different way. My husband came and picked me up pretty and much carried me in the house. It was exactly what I needed that day. Day 3 was the first day that I started to look at the reality of our situation. I sat down to look at our finances and got to work on cutting back everything we could. We were living right at our means before I lost my job, we were spending like crazy. It is amazing how one event can completely transform your spending habits!
In the months to come, I found my new normal. I was working with a career coach and had been applying and going to interviews for jobs similar to my previous role. About 3-4 months in, Jason made a statement that changed my life. He said that I was a different person to live with (in a good way). That conversation happened around the same time as a previously paid for, trip to hike the Inka Trail in Peru. This trip made me realize that it is possible to do something that I love. My travel group was filled with people who were passionate about their jobs. They travelled to see the world, not to escape their lives.
My first meeting with my career coach after Peru was a pivotal moment for me. She told me that I was different and asked me what had changed. I told her about the trip and the people that loved their careers, and that I wanted to feel like this. The question that catapulted me into a career I love was, “What would you do, if you didn’t need to make any money?” and my answer was, “Help people be better with their money.” I immediately followed that with, “But I can’t make any money doing that.” She was quick to challenge me on that statement. I left that meeting with homework to figure out if I could build a career following my passion. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that it was entirely possible. My dream was born to build a business changing lives by helping people reach their financial goals, and then doubt set it…
I had my high school diploma and a few night school accounting classes, what business did I have starting a business? What the hell was I thinking? What would I say when people asked about my education? I needed to get some education before I could even think about starting a business. I completed my Accredited Financial Counsellor certification in May of 2018. Fun fact for anyone in a similar situation, I have never had a single client ask about my education.
In June of 2018, Money Mindset Financial Coaching was born - my second baby! I have been helping women ever since to change their relationships with money. I still have to pinch myself once in a while because I can’t believe that I have a growing business that allows me to do what I love and pay myself!
Becoming a young mother blessed me with a wonderful daughter, I also dodged a career path that now makes me want to fall asleep AND huge student loans.
The loss of the relationship with my daughters’ father, led me to the man I was meant to be with and let me see my own strength.
The loss of my job led me to a career and business I am passionate about!
The things I lost allow led me to where I was meant to be!
Do you have the picture of someone you sponsor on your fridge? Ever wonder if your effort is really making a difference in their life?
19 years ago I remember opening up an envelope from our Child Sponsorship Organization. Our Family looked down at a picture of a little girl dressed in the cutest light blue dress, hand on her hip, hair done up in yellow ribbons, standing in what looked like a house. Our kids at the time said, “why are we sponsoring her Mom? She looks fine. She doesn’t need our help.” I’m not sure why I didn’t call the organization to get another “worthy” sponsor child, I thought about it, but didn’t.
Channedieueline was almost 4 at the time. She had 2 parents that were employed sometimes and a brother. Again, my thoughts were…why are we sponsoring her? As the months and years went by, our family wrote to this little person from Haiti. We received 1 letter a year with a little drawing and a few appreciative words from her.
In 2011 as our family prepared for our first Mission to Haiti, I casually said, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we could visit Channedieuline and her family?” Not knowing where she lived on the island, I filled out all the paperwork for a Family Visit in Haiti 6 months prior to leaving.
3 Days before we left, I got word that we could visit our sponsored child. We would have to find our own transportation to get to and from her house and bring our own food. The organization would set up a translator to send with us.
I don’t know if any of you have ever been to Haiti, but you just don’t hail a cab with your family from Canada (kids 12, 14, 16, Jamie and myself) to venture out into a 3rd World Country. I also had no idea how far her family home would be from where we were staying and conditions in Haiti are beyond horrible.
I quickly emailed the Pastor in Haiti who was going to be hosting us for the week. He got right back to me saying he not only knew the area where our Sponsored Child lived, but he knew the Grandmother of the family as well. Channedieuline lived a short 10 min jeep ride down a dirt road with potholes that swallowed our car, across a 200-year-old bridge, past the Organization‘s school. It was all set up. We packed our bags, boarded a plane with 12 others and headed to Haiti.
We landed in what looked like a war zone. It is shocking to leave beautiful Canada and land a few hours away in a world of chaos. I clutched our kids as we got into the back of a truck sitting on our luggage while my husband mouthed the words, “it is going to be ok!”
To meet the little girl from Haiti whose picture had been on our fridge for years is beyond words. To drive up and have her standing there dressed in her best with her family by her side took our breath away. To have our kids actually meet her and hug her had me in constant tears. To listen as the translator explained that she is top of her class, taught herself to play the piano, sings, has aspirations to be a Medical Doctor made all of us swell with pride. To hear him talk about all the struggles of living in a 3rd World Country, but how our small contribution had done so much made me speechless.
We toured the Organization, saw her school, her home with no running water, no electricity, no septic system. Water damage was everywhere from the flooding that happens every year. To have Channedieuline bring out a shoe box filled with letters and pictures from us from the past years filled my heart so full, I thought it was going to burst. When this happens, you put things into perspective very quickly and count your blessings over again.
We have visited her 3 times while on our Missions to Haiti since that day. Every visit brings us to the realization that this World is very small. We are very privileged here in Canada. Struggles here pale in comparison to surviving in a 3rd World Country. We have much to share and give.
Today, Channedieuline is 21 and we are helping her to become a Dr. I dream of her graduation which will be many years away. I dream of a little girl in Haiti making this small world a better place. So, my advice to everyone? Sponsor a Child. Sponsor just one. Research your organization and do it today. You will change the life of someone you may never meet - but you will change that life. You will impact an entire family and community and spread the help so much farther than you will ever know. Our hearts are in Haiti. But your heart may be down the street, in a Woman’s shelter, in another city or Country. Wherever your heart is-help as much as you can. If you Sponsor someone now, please go write them a letter. Then tell your friends and family how you are making a difference to inspire them to sponsor as well.
You can make a difference!
What a year 2020 has been already! I’m Sher Brown. I had high hopes for this year, and still do. After 2018 and 2019 kicked my butt, I am able to look back and see the blessings in the midst of the pain and I am confident that the same will be true of this year.
I’ve lived a pretty ordinary life, except when it’s not been ordinary. We raised our family in Stratford, Ontario until our girls started high school in 2000, when we moved to Kincardine. A week after we moved my Dad was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. From August 17th to October 31st my Dad died, we moved, our girls started at a new school, I started a new job and my brother died by suicide. The following six months were a blur and resulted in considerable trauma for me. Our quiet little life suddenly seemed out of control and I struggled to stay strong for my family. I kept my struggle to myself, not even sharing my feelings with my husband.
Eventually, that year was the catalyst to me becoming more intentional about my thoughts. I was raised in a home where victimhood was modelled and I did NOT want that outlook in my life and more importantly did not want to model that for my daughters. I began to look for the silver lining moments in my day-to-day life and this has become a habit.
In April of 2019 I also became certified as a Grief Recovery Method® specialist. The method has been transformational for me and helped me to move on from the pain of my relationship with my brother. We had a complicated relationship and his death certainly didn’t help that. You see, my brother shot himself with the rifle that had belonged to my Dad from his days growing up on a farm. When I cleaned out my Dad’s apartment after his passing, I gave the rifle to my brother because it was a family heirloom and I knew it would mean something to him. I did not realize that my brother was struggling with his mental health, as he kept that to himself.
In May of 2019 I received a breast cancer diagnosis and after several delays, I had a lumpectomy in late August. What was supposed to be a very early, contained form of cancer ended up being invasive and aggressive. This resulted in another surgery in September to check lymph nodes. Fortunately the lymph nodes were clear, but the treatment protocol was aggressive. After much thought, prayer and research, I opted to not do further treatment. I shared my Medical One Page Profile with my medical team, a tool that I teach in my work with families, organizations and communities. Not every physician was open to receiving this information but it helped my surgeon, at least, to support me in a very effective way.
In November I became an ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) trainer. That, combined with the grief recovery work I had done around my brother, felt like a full circle moment. Now I can help people to see and identify risk in others and intervene. I realize that all of my life experiences have worked together, positive and negative, to fill me with a passion for helping people to live their best lives. My work is all very person-centred in nature and I believe that now more than ever, we need to be supportive of one another in meaningful ways. This means slowing down and really seeing people for who they are. People all over the world are grieving the loss of people, the loss of routines and the loss of the life we knew. A global pandemic affects literally everyone. For me, this “pause” has me thinking of how to combine all of my passion work into one place. A place of service.
Northern Ontario, Canada
Love to Spare
In February 2018, we received a phone call from my husband’s cousin saying that the Children’s Aid Society had given him three weeks to find a permanent placement for his niece or she would be taken into their system. At that time, our family consisted of me, my husband, my 11-year-old kiddo, and a host of small family pets. My husband and I were both full-time teachers and our intelligent, loving, polite, artistic child was enjoying and excelling at school, karate and Guiding. We had a very stable, loving household and no real stressors to contend with. It was a relatively quiet home where disagreements were discussed, a conclusion was come to, and life carried on. We were very content and comfortable.
The idea of taking on a three-year-old as we ourselves were hitting the mid 40’s mark, was not something we were going to ponder lightly. The only thing we felt certain of was that we already had an amazing family and love to spare. So, as we had always done, we discussed and debated all the possible scenarios that we could think of (enter foreshadowing) and agreed to accept this little girl as part of our family.
Our family made a few visits to meet Autumn in both her home and doing fun things in her city three hours away from us; we didn’t want to be complete strangers when March Break came and she would come to live with us. This sweet little girl was eager to go with us, complete strangers, and she spent the times with us being as cheerful as ever.
Despite the obvious adorableness of this three-year-old, we made some immediate and some gradual observations about this beautiful little girl. Her eyes seemed dull and her hair, it had chunks taken out of it from where she had given herself multiple haircuts, to the scalp. At three years and three months old, she had five baby words in her vocabulary, her name not included. Not only could she not say her name, she didn’t even recognize “Autumn” as her given name. She called herself “baby”. She was not even close to being toilet trained. She could not dress or undress herself. We’d been told she was a picky eater, which turned out later to just have been an aversion to the spoiled food that had been in the fridge in their house. She had dead teeth and despite coming with a box load of electronic toys, she had no toothbrush. This cheerful little girl was not checking many of the boxes on the CDC’s list of developmental milestones.
My husband and I began to realize that we hadn’t been given the whole story prior to committing to a life-changing decision. Despite being cousins, the families weren’t close, and it never entered our heads that our new little one would be lacking in so many basic needs of survival. Very quickly did we realize that this child was unlike any we’d lived or spent quality time with. We moved her in with us during March Break so that the three of us could at least be home together for the week and then my husband took parental leave in order to foster an attachment to our family and home. We were all aware that this must have been a horrifying experience for this little child. She had been taken from the only family she knew, to live with near-strangers...and we, as a family of three, had ventured into this major life change with little more than the notion that “we have love to spare”.
One of the first things we discovered was that this little person didn’t know how to sleep like the rest of us did. She wouldn’t nap during the day and she wouldn’t sleep at night. We worked tirelessly to instill a calming bedtime routine and to get her to sleep at night, only to be woken up shortly thereafter by her screaming. She would get out of bed and yell, make that shriek, for extended periods of time. She had no language to communicate what she wanted or needed, but it was clear that she didn’t want to sleep. Each time, anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour per episode, we would eventually get her back in bed only to be awoken again shortly thereafter and go through the whole horror again. One night, she woke up 9 times, each time standing in her doorway or in the hall just shrieking...and it seemed like nothing and no one could calm her down. Even when she would sleep, she had night terrors and nightmares, multiple times a night. EVERY NIGHT! We were exhausted. My husband and I would take turns trying to soothe her and get her back to sleep. Nothing worked consistently and we were losing our minds as quickly as we were losing sleep.
Then the daytime tantrums began. These were tantrums the likes of which I had never seen or heard before. A wild animal emerged, screaming, biting, hitting, hissing and throwing absolutely anything she could get her hands on. Once again, my husband and I would alternate trying to calm her down. We resorted to earplugs so that we could be in the same space as her and not suffer hearing damage. We handled each situation in different ways, trying anything and everything we could think of. Nothing seemed to work. The help that this child needed was more than we could give, and it was breaking us down, mentally and emotionally.
I tried reaching out for help. I contacted the local counselling programs and put in a referral. I went to our clinic, and put in a referral. I put in referrals for speech therapy and was sent a letter stating that she would see a speech pathologist in 8 months. Eight months???? In the life of a 3-year-old? So, I hired a private speech pathologist who would travel 3 hours to our small town to work with Maggie once a month. I even signed myself up for parenting courses thinking that maybe it was me. In the mean time, we tried our best to survive and to heal this little person.
Have you ever read the book, “Have you filled a bucket today?” I equated this tiny human to someone carrying an empty bucket, not just with a hole at the bottom, but with the entire bottom missing. Our new goal was to fix her bucket and to start filling it up as best we could. My husband had been taking her to playgroup every weekday so that she could socialize with other children. They went for walks twice a day. When my big kid and I were home, we would play games, sing songs, read books and dance in the kitchen. My big would play creatively and imaginatively with Autumn and showed her how to take care of a dolly. We tried everything to fill her little bucket and yet the tantrums continued, and the sleep didn’t come.
We introduced her to her new extended family where she was embraced with more love and she fell head over heels for her new cousins who adored her just as much. We took her on family trips and tried to give her as many positive experiences as we could think of. We took her sledding, we took her swimming, we praised every single good choice she made. We tried to empower her by giving her choices. We listened to morning positivity videos that repeated the fact that she always tried her best. We put “I Can” posters where she could see them and attempted to give her strategies to use when she was getting angry.
Eventually we got in with the pediatrician, and the child psychiatrist from Sick Kids and even a pediatric cardiologist because it turned out that what had killed her mother had been a genetic mutation that stopped her heart, which our little Autumn also has. After almost a year of struggle, not to mention working through custody arrangements and court dates, the psychiatrist labelled her with Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, in partial remission. Oh thank heavens! A year after starting, we were finally in partial remission.
Our little girl, our daughter, still struggles with emotional regulation. My husband, big kid and I all tense each time we see a regression in sleep habits or tantrums. But despite the odd fit and regressions in sleeping through the night, she is thriving. She loves to learn. She loves to read. She asks questions non-stop and wants to be included in every aspect of our family life. And she is. She adores her family both near and far and we all love her. She has many friends from daycare and her first year in school and even is learning to take care of her own pet chicken named Elsie.
I’m often fearful of what the future might look like with my incredibly spirited, volatile, inquisitive and relentless child. I hope every day that we are giving her enough strategies to help her learn to emotionally regulate in the moment, and in the future. I know that we made a choice to disrupt our family comfort and I know that we did a good thing for this child. What I’m also learning is that by disturbing our comfortable existence, that we, as a family of three, have not only given a second chance to a tiny human, but we’ve grown stronger as a family unit and while we’re not out of the woods yet, we are now a family of four with love to spare.
Hi my name is Andria also known as @badass.baker! I would like to share my sweet story with you.
I have been baking since I could get myself on a chair...my sister would tuck me up beside the counter. Growing up on a farm in rural Ontario with three siblings, I always found myself in the kitchen. Whether I was learning how to bake cookies with my sisters or how to make fruit cake with my grandma, the kitchen always made my heart happy.
Throughout public and high school, I would always bake holiday treats to share with everyone. After high school I attended Georgian College of Culinary Arts and graduated with honors. I came away with even more love and appreciation for food. I immediately began working in the food industry. Working in every capacity from fine dining to nursing homes to large event catering, the kitchen was where I made MAGIC happen! But, with all this cooking I was still missing something - my true passion, baking.
This is where I was able to shine.
From truffles to decorating sugar cookies...to some of the most beautifully elaborate wedding cakes, I became hooked. I was fortunate enough to intern with The Caketress after my training with Bonnie Gordon - life was SWEET!
Meanwhile, my older sister was diagnosed with food intolerances and was unable to eat gluten, eggs or dairy. I saw this as a positive challenge. The day we found out, I remember saying “I will create recipes for you that are BETTER than traditional baking” and so it began. After 10 years of recipe testing and experimenting and many flops, The Badass Chocolate Chip Cookie was created. It was a thick, chewy, gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, MAGICAL cookie.
I knew the world needed this cookie!
I ended up moving to a new city where I knew absolutely no one. I landed a job in a manufacturing plant to pay the bills...boy did I feel lost. Eight years passed in the blink of an eye - I didn’t know my next move - I didn’t know how to step away from my well-paying, secure job.
But I’ve made my decision - I am ready to take the leap back into the kitchen, once again as @badass.baker. I am starting this new adventure while still working my full-time job - I have taken the first step back towards my true passion. I recently became a member at a shared commercial kitchen, which will allow me to develop my business and build my clientele while I become comfortable with being uncomfortable...one step at a time.
Sometimes we look at our goals and only see the end game, but what we need to do is to break it down into smaller, imperfect steps - this is my first step.
Watch out world. Here I come.
Baked with love,
British Columbia, Canada
The first time I truly understood love was when my soon to be ex-husband told me in our little girls room, that he was going for full custody.
I couldn’t breath. I felt like someone had just shot me in 100 places. My world in an instant changed. I wouldn’t survive, he couldn’t do this...I would have no one.
I begged while I sobbed. I shook uncontrollably for hours after he left. My baby. My love. My everything.
Looking back I could see he was just trying to hurt me. I had given him the power to do this for 8 years.
They say it’s a pattern. I married someone who liked to control me. Who would hit me under the table if I said something “stupid” if we were out. I had heard these words before.
I hadn’t heard the words, I love you, you’re beautiful, well done or anything encouraging from the people who were supposed to. I didn’t feel love but I felt many great emotions my whole life. For friends. Animals. For strangers. I just felt so much.
A few months prior to the announcement of my divorce. I was in a park with my daughter and a lady came with her grandkids. I don’t know why but strangers usually talk to me. It’s a beautiful thing when it happens. That chance meeting you have that ultimately changes your life. This lady, full of happiness and confidence told me that she had left a marriage after 18 years, 18 years of being verbally and emotionally beaten. She shared how her children witnessed things that they shouldn’t have and how she was to afraid to leave. Her life now was filled with a new man whom she travels with and filled with days around her family.
That was the day I started planning for us to leave.
It took me 6 months of buying odd things like toddler clothes, bras/ underwear and things that we may need. I constantly went over plans of how my life would be. Just the two of us. I had no family and I had only one friend outside our marriage so I had to come to the realization that for the rest of my life it could just be the two of us.
I was 100% fine with this. He would never let me take her home to Australia, many hours by plane away. That wouldn’t be an option. Did I want my little girl to see that this was what a marriage was supposed to be? No. This wasn’t love.
The love that I felt for her and her happiness far outweighed the fear of doing this alone. Time gave me strength and courage. Love kicked down the wall of fear. I am responsible for this little girl’s happiness. She is the most important person in my life and she needs 100% of her mommas love.
How did I get here? What happened along the way that I completely lost myself. Who am I?
For my whole life, as long as I can remember, I wanted recognition and I tried my best to make others proud. I wanted approval. I wanted to hear some words, any words.
It was in my first year of marriage where I caught two lies. You know the lies that keep you up for nights knowing that your gut is saying he’s lying? Those lies. He told me I was being “ridiculous” and that I had “problems.”I was the friend who went away overseas and had this holiday romance and married this incredible guy. I was alone.
The second time I felt wind come out of me was when the divorce lawyer said to me, I can’t help you until you go and talk to someone. You are not fine and you are not ready for this. What? Yes I am. I’m okay. Why am I not okay? I made the decision. I left. I am strong.
But I wasn’t okay. I allowed someone to do this. I am here because of many events throughout my life that had slowly robbed me of my identity. Our divorce took over 3 years, the controller lost control and he did everything to make me feel worthless.
Fast-forward 17 years and meeting 6 different Angels (as I call them), I have slowly healed my health, my mind and my love for me. Am I still filled with anxieties and fears, yes. Does the word “stupid” still pop in my head, yes. But I see my worth. I see my successes. I see my faults. I seek growth always, but I also seek joy and continue to love hard. I am fascinated by beauty and I see it everyday. I took my life into my hands. I eagerly went to all different types of healers. I was completely open to receive. In fact I remember thinking, bring it on! I was so ready to heal. If I am being honest, I felt like I had gone crazy, my mind couldn’t process anymore.
I met some amazing women who definitely guided my path to healing my health but most importantly my mind and soul.
One angel early on after I left my marriage printed off 8 years of bank statements that allowed me to see that my inner voice was right. She worked for 36 hours straight (pretty much) to help me before my name got taken off the account. I had never looked at my bank account, ever! I trusted. That indeed the story of my 8 years of marriage was full of lies. My gut was right. Over $400,000 gambled away, I even tracked where the money was taken out of (casinos), hotels, loans, 7 lines of credit, he remortgaged the house, all this was done during the day while he worked his highly rated 5th in Canada financial planning job.
I had different highlighters for different things. Gambling, hotels, car loan payment (but my parents had paid for our car?), and all the other flags that were present over the 8 year span of time. The bank manager sat with me and helped me figure out what exactly happened...she help me understand all the codes and abbreviations on bank statements. Everything flashed before my eyes...the many times he came home drunk after an “important meeting”, the time I caught him emailing someone else, the flirting, the time I heard from one of his best friends’ wives that he was cheating while I were pregnant and breastfeeding our child, the many times I were alone, afraid, feeling worthless...I felt like I couldn’t breathe, but I didn’t know how to get out.
My brain wasn’t able to figure out the truth versus the lies.
I got my inner voice back from finding out what truly happened in our marriage. This bank manager, who had just gone through her own divorce, helped me more than any person who was supposed to have loved me. I was so wounded by this point but the strength that this gave me to truly start to heal and see that I can trust my inner voice was beyond amazing.
I could feel my power returning. It truly was an incredible moment from a stranger, a person who could see my wounds, as she was still working through her own healing.
The moment that my now husband said to me many years ago, “if you could only see what I see” was the moment I first felt love from another adult. I instantly started to open up. I saw beauty, I saw hope, I gained more strength, I started to draw, to do photography, to find purpose, to laugh, to sleep...I just was so tired. I found my voice. I spoke up if I needed to. I worked on trusting again. It took me until almost our third year of marriage to feel like I could breath when my husband went out. I would sit in panic until he came home. For this I received help in many forms. It was 3 years before I slept more than 6 hours.
Everyday for the first 10 years I had to dig deep for me. I am an advocate for women. I love my friends hard. I would do anything for anyone and I cry a lot for others pain. If you are not being treated the way you would like your daughter, sister, best friend or mother to be treated then please love YOU first. You are so worth it! You have strength, talent and purpose.
Celebrate the small things...even if to someone else, they are nothing.
I seek beauty every day. I will always have hope.
I have been with the kindest and most beautiful man for the last 17 years. We are both slightly damaged (doesn’t everyone have some sort of shit show?!) but we both keep on pushing. Ultimately, he was my 1st Angel. I met him in 1991 on a trip to Canada with my friend. I never saw him again until the day I flew home in 2003 with my 2 year old to tell my best friends that I was getting a divorce, to finally let someone know what had been happening in my marriage. To tell the truth. While home in 2003, he called and was holidaying in my home country. We met up and as bad as the timing was we have been together for 17 years and he truly is an Angel!
Angel 1 - lady at the park
Angel 2 - my husband
Angel 3 - the bank manager
Angel 4 - the stranger who smiled at me and worked hard to get me my first job and whom I message almost everyday 17 years later.
Angel 5 - my daughter’s day home and 17 years later one of my best friends
Angel 6 - lady who healed my insides through naturopathic ways, healing courses and just pure kindness.
For all the amazing women who have followed since, who gave me kindness and encouragement...and most of all laughter. To my first daughter who challenged me to step up without evening knowing, who is working hard to earn her Bachelor of Education. She has had to find her own strength and has had to dig deep herself. I have loved her so hard from that very first ultrasound. To the two daughters that came after who light up my days. You all show your strengths and what does mom say? Just keep pushing. You got this! I Love You.
From the bottom of my heart...... I forever thank you all. xo
Please understand I can not comment below but if you cheer me on just know that I am cheering you on to!! ️
Saturday August 5, 2000 my life changed forever but I wouldn’t know that for another 24 hours. It was Friday night and my sister Julie had left for Vancouver a couple days before, I had just chatted with her on the phone and she sounded great. As I walked out the door of my parents home, I remember thinking “there’s the Julie I know” as she had been struggling with her path. I left for the weekend, happy.
My sister Julie was 15 months younger then me so that meant we were each others first playmates, we were dressed the same, we received the same gifts, we were only a year apart in school, we skated together and played ball together. During high school, we had the same group of friends
August 5, 2000, it was the day of a good friends bachelorette party. It was out of town and I didn’t want to go. I couldn’t back out just hours before and I really had no reason for not going, so I went. We were all at the hotel and I volunteered to run out and pick up something, when all I really wanted to do was go home. But I couldn’t, I stayed and was “off” all night.
The next morning came as a relief, I drove straight home and as I pulled in the driveway I saw my dad back by the garage. His truck was not in the driveway and he was suppose to be at work. I parked and was still sitting in the car, when my dad came over and said “she’s gone, Julie’s gone”. I couldn’t comprehend what he was saying. Gone, what do you mean gone? My sister, who flew out west 4 days earlier, was healthy and vibrant, this can’t possibly be happening...I had just talked to her on the phone less then 48hrs ago. And this is why I was “off” the night before, my sister died in the early hours of Saturday August 4th but we did not find out until the next day.
Imagine, a father telling his daughter, that his child, my sister, died. That’s not suppose to happen and certainly not to my family. My mom and 10 year old sister arrived home shortly after and the next few days were a bit of a blur. My dad numbed his grief with alcohol, my mom was barely functioning so that left me to handle things and quite frankly, I needed the distraction and it was the least I could do for my sister. From calling family and the funeral home to planning the funeral and discussing autopsy results with the coroner, I lead every step, I was 23 years old.
I felt lost, so “doing” became my path.
I asserted myself as the “glue” for my grieving family. I am not sure that I every properly grieved her loss, definitely not at the time, as there was so much to do. It was difficult for me to be sad in front of my parents, who were beside themselves and I had my youngest sister to think about.
When a grandparent or elderly parent dies, it makes sense. It is sad and heartbreaking and can come as a shock but it is the natural order of things. Nothing made sense when Julie died and it still doesn’t. A healthy 22 year old isn’t suppose to die, my sister wasn’t suppose to die, at least not until we were old and grey and had raised our children together. Things in life don’t always work out as per our plan, I have learned that the hard way on more then one occasion. I have also learned that life doesn’t stop when we lose a loved one, we have to keep going and that is so freaking hard.
Often when grieving, we feel the need to get back to normal or feel it imposed on us by others and here’s the thing, life after losing a loved one never goes back to normal...but we create a new normal. We wonder how it is possible to carry on and in the moment - it feels very much impossible, but we do...taking one day at a time.
I remember thinking shortly after Julie died, “how I am I ever going to get through the next 20 years?” I don’t know why I came up with that time frame but I remember thinking OMG in 20 years, I will be 43. This August 5th marks 20 years since my sisters death. It still hurts, there are still tears and I miss what might have been...phone calls, my shoulder to cry on, a brother in law,
nieces, nephews...the memories that could have been...but that is not my story.
Julie is now Auntie Julie to 3 beautiful nieces and her memory will be carried on in their hearts.
My Twin Story
I had lived a sheltered life...maybe even a charmed life. Nothing particularly ‘bad’ had ever happened to me. True, I had lost grandparents like other people my age had, and felt that sadness but nothing devastating, or out of the realm of normal. I felt like I was lucky, or somehow protected. Now that seems like such a naive way to think.
In late 2000, my husband and I found out that we were expecting twins. I was utterly and completely shocked. We were very nervous about having a baby to begin with, but the idea of having 2 newborns when we’d had absolutely no experience with babies, was terrifying. I actually went into a bit of a depression for a few weeks. The more I read about twin pregnancies, and what the first year of their lives would be like, the more overwhelmed I felt. I also felt guilty for feeling this way as a few of my good friends were struggling to get pregnant at all.
I did a lot of soul searching and after a couple of months, I got used to the idea and actually started to look forward to the twins, as we started to prepare the nursery, buying 2 of everything.
Then, one day while at work, when I was 24 weeks pregnant, I noticed that my belly felt very ‘hard’ and then it didn’t. And then it happened again...and again. No pain, just tightness. I called the OB’s office and spoke to the receptionist. She said there was no way I would be going into labour at 24 weeks and to not worry about it.
Well, to make a long story short, by 11pm that night, I was in an ambulance, headed for St. Joe’s in London, because I was having contractions and starting to dilate. The doctors managed to stop the contractions with medication, and gave the babies steroids to help their lungs develop a little faster in case they were born early.
I spent the next week in the hospital, having daily ultrasounds and stress tests, seeing my babies on the ultrasound screen, keeping track of their hourly movements...all the while staying in bed except for the occasional wheelchair ride around the 4th floor. The neonatal specialists visited us regularly, and tried their best to prepare us for what life would look like for our little ones if they arrived early.
We were, again, so naive. We only half listened because we didn’t think there was any way that could happen to us. No. I would just be relegated to my hospital bed for the next several months (the thoughts of which made me panicky and frustrated, and lead to me sending my husband home with lists of all the things that I wanted him to bring back to me so I could make this place my new home). We were convinced that the babies would be born closer to their due date and all would be fine. We just needed to get through this.
Nope. The universe had other plans.
Labour started again a week later. The doctor told us that Max was breech and we needed to make a decision about whether or not to do a c-section. There was a chance that they would have to do a more invasive type of surgery, which meant I wouldn’t be able to carry any more babies, but the doctors would have to make a game-time decision. Again, naive. We would have the c-section and weren’t worried about not being able to have more kids. We would have 2 babies and that’s all we wanted. So, Max and Madelaine were born by emergency c-section. Luckily, they didn’t need to do the more invasive procedure.
The twins were immediately put on respirators and into incubators. They were so tiny and immature, that they didn’t even have their eyes open yet. Within that first week, Madelaine started to have complications and by the end of that week, the doctors were asking us to make a decision to take her off the respirator. I really couldn’t believe this was happening. They were asking us to let her die, but there didn’t seem to be any other viable options for her. So we reluctantly agreed. Total disbelief. What happened to that charmed life I’d been living??
So we rallied around Max. Watching the beeping monitors, keeping an eye on all of those numbers. Sitting by the incubator, day after day, waiting for the time that we could get him off the respirator and hold him. I couldn’t even touch him. Any little touch caused his heart rate to plummet temporarily. Those heart episodes started happening more frequently and the recovery time was taking longer each time. The only mothering-type thing I could do for my son was to pump breast milk for the nurses to give him by feeding tube. So pump I did. Day in and day out like clockwork. Of course, his tiny tummy couldn’t take much at one time so the stored milk continued to accumulate. The staff started calling me the Dairy Queen :)
But Max was a fighter. Everytime something happened that seemed to signal the end for him, he would come back and things would improve.
One day, a neurosurgeon came to speak to us about a bleed in Max’s brain. He said that due to the resulting brain damage, Max would likely walk with a limp and his IQ would be about 10 points below ours, so he suggested that we ‘pull the plug’. Was he f-ing serious?? This was my child he was talking about. Because he might walk with a limp and be slightly less intelligent (but well above normal), we should make the decision to end his life?? I was furious!! We didn’t.
We spent a few more weeks watching Max grow but continuing to have these heart episodes. Then one night, we got a call from the hospital, saying that Max had had a particularly bad episode and they had had a difficult time getting his heart rate to come back up. They needed to know what our wishes were...what interventions did we want them to take when this happened again?
After much discussion, we decided that Max seemed to be deteriorating and this was going to get worse. We didn’t know if he was experiencing pain but regardless, this was no quality of life for him. I desperately wanted to hold him before it was too late, at least once. So the nurse opened the incubator and put him in my arms. Of course, the touch caused his heart rate to drop and the nurses started to do whatever interventions they could. I finally just said, ‘Please stop. It’s over.’ And Max went unconscious in my arms. The nurse continued to check his heart beat, which gradually slowed and then stopped. Sigh.
We spent many months looking back on that time and not believing it had happened. Instead of coming home with 2 babies, we went home with no babies and countless bottles of breast milk. (Fortunately, I was able to find a family who was adopting an infant to give the milk to. It would have broken my heart to have to throw it all away.) I had to keep talking about it with anyone who would listen, because if I didn’t, it just felt like Max and Maddie had never existed.
As tragic and heartbreaking as this was, we have many happy memories of family and friends visiting, meeting the babies, supporting us during that time. So many people sent cards and gifts and keepsakes, financial support and countless other acts of kindness.
We felt loved. So loved.
That’s what I choose to remember.
Now, we have two beautiful daughters whom I love to bits.
And it’s so strange to think that they probably wouldn't be here with us now if the twins had survived. Our lives would have been very different with 2 special needs children, because both Max and Maddie would have had some type of physical and cognitive issues. We likely wouldn’t have had the energy nor the resources to have more children.
So many of you reading this have lost children of your own. I hope that this story somehow provides some comfort, if simply to know that you are not alone. It can be very lonely.
I’m grateful for all of the experiences, as difficult as they were.
I’m thankful for the precious memories.
And I’m so very happy to have my 2 sweet daughters.
My name is Alyssa and I am a 23-year-old boss lady from a small city called Woodstock, in Ontario. I graduated from George Brown College with an Advanced Diploma in Behavioral Science Technology two years ago, and I’m presently living with my boyfriend back home in Woodstock; the town I desperately wanted to escape when I was younger.
As it turns out, home had allowed me a career opportunity, as I now work within the education community here at my old elementary school. Although, what's most recently exciting, is the beginning of my own business as a Virtual Assistant, helping local girl bosses free up their time to be their best selves.
You may read this and think, wow good for her, or why is she sharing her story? My life is far from easy and perfect, and it hasn’t been for as long as I can remember.
I entered this writing challenge through Shift Collective as a way to show other young women that they are not alone in their experiences. They are not alone when it comes to substance abusive parents. They are not alone related to failing classes or driving tests. They are not alone when it comes to falling for someone who isn’t good for you or your mental health. They are not alone when it comes to asking themselves every day, “What the hell am I doing with my life?!”
You are not alone.
Like anyone who has grown up with mental illness and severe self-confidence issues, it stems back to my childhood. Like most girls, I was a “Daddy’s Girl” and I adored my dad; I thought he was superman. He worked two jobs; at a factory and at an old age home as a PSW. He could always make me laugh, he was a mean cook, and he even gave me the nickname “Twin”, because we shared the same eye color and facial features. Later on, the fights started between him and my mom, late at night when they thought I was sleeping. I could sense the tension between my parents like an electric field. He started to sleep all the time and would disappear for days on end. When he did come back he looked like a completely different person; strung out, dirty, unshaved, dark eye circles - after a few days of him sleeping, he would look and act like my dad again.
I remember him taking my little brother and me on long car rides where he said he was visiting friends, but left us in the backseat of the car. He was gone for so long sometimes that I made up a game for me and my brother to pass the time; I pretended the middle seatbelt was a princess with long hair, because that’s what it looked like as a child. I remember him sneaking down to the basement for long periods at a time, and telling us not to come down. I also remember finding weird objects hidden in the boxes downstairs, as I looked for my missing hamster.
My father was a drug addict.
My mom could never really come up with reasonable excuses; to this day I am blown away by my mother’s courage and strength in dealing with my dad and two young children at the same time. I have been told that addiction is a genetic disorder and children have a 50/50 chance of falling into any type of addictive behavior. I fear this statistic to this day. By the time high school came around, my mom left my dad, I was a mousey looking thing with two friends in the whole world and one of them moved away. I didn't make loads of friends, go to parties, date boys, or join clubs. I was scared, shy, and kept to myself. You could usually find me reading a book by my locker.
I had two “official” boyfriends in high school; I ended the first one because we were at different stages in life, and I fell out of love with him. I think it was more "puppy love", as we were both each other’s first significant other. My second boyfriend was a cluster of a relationship. I was madly in love and I thought he was too, until he ended it. My whole world came crumbling down around me. The excuses were varied, he didn't want to “hurt” me like he wanted to (50 Shades of Gray was very popular at the time), there were other girls, and I wasn't Christian. He never indicated that was a serious thing at the beginning, and I learned a few months later he only said that as an easy way out - but I had agreed to try for him. What had I done? Why wasn't I enough? My mental health went in a downward spiral, but at the time I didn't know that. I thought it was normal to feel deeply sad and have no passion for anything or anyone. I started to date around but wouldn't allow myself to be committed to anyone, until my current boyfriend. I will forever be in debt to him for supporting and loving me, when I couldn't love myself. We have had a few rough patches but at the end of the day, he is my person.
When my first year of college hit I became an even more secluded person. I had a boyfriend who I loved deeply, I was making a few friends, I went to parties...but somehow, I started to feel even more alone. I became paranoid and fatigued all of the time, I didn't go to class and I wasn’t taking care of myself. By the time the first year of college ended I had failed, because of not attending my co-op from being confined to my bed. I couldn’t hang out with my boyfriend's friends because I was so stuck in my head, thinking horrific negative things about myself, and I couldn’t find the courage to talk to them. I remember going to the beach with my boyfriend and three of his friends; I didn't talk the whole way there. I sat at the end of the pier alone crying, thinking that if I just fell in the water no one would care.
So I called my doctor.
I was diagnosed with Anxiety and Depression and was prescribed a mild dose of anti-depressants. Suddenly everything made sense - why I ditched most of my high school classes, why I failed my first year of college, why I had horrible negative thoughts about myself. Why I had trust issues, especially with men.
At this point in my life I was still in contact with my dad. Multiple rehabs, disappearances, and losing our house because of him later...but I didn't want to lose my dad. Now, I’m sorry I wasted my time and a great amount of mental capacity on him.
I decided to quit the program I was in college for, switched it, and moved in with my boyfriend in Toronto. I also decided to get off my meds, because I didn't want to live my life on pills, and I didn't think I needed them...until, I started falling into my old patterns of sleeping all the time and failing classes again. I had an episode where I pulled out all of my hair extensions and was left with hardly any hair. The next day I looked up a walk-in clinic near me that worked with mental health challenges and met a doctor who changed my life. He made me feel safe, not crazy and gave me hope to live a happy normal life. I did a trial and error of 5 different drugs until I was successful in finding the best combination of drug and dosage. Those were some of the longest months of my life, but it was worth it in the end. I have gradually increased my dose since as I was stagnant, but now I don't think of the stigma around taking pills - I own it and give them all the credit they deserve. They gave me my life back. There is a time and a place.
I decided to stop all contact with my dad a few years ago after he promised to pick me and my brother up for a Christmas morning coffee, and instead disappeared for a week. I couldn’t keep stressing over where he was, if he was lying, if he was using, or if he would miss yet another birthday or Christmas.
Today I have come to terms with having no contact with my dad. Even though I miss having him in my life, it’s in my best interest. I have started to love myself and accept my “flaws”, as being human and ME, rather than feeling shame around them. I don’t live up to anyone’s expectations of me besides my self. I am in a relationship with someone who loves me regardless of all of my childhood trauma or long mental health journey.
Today I have cut toxic people out of my life, and quit the jobs that I didn't feel passionate about. I am always in search of a better version of myself, because I never want to stop growing and improving.
As much as I try to not think about the past, I know I am stronger because of it. Although, I wish I didn't endure what I did, I wish I had a normal dad and I wish I had known more about mental health and self-image when I was younger...but my experience have brought me to this self-assured place in my life.
I know I am strong, independent, fun, creative, thoughtful, determined, sensitive, and hold myself to a higher standard. Would I be the same if I grew up differently? I certainly don't think so. I made my own choices and decided to believe in myself.
I found a career I love thanks (kind of) to my college education, but still felt unfulfilled, so I decided to start my own business during a pandemic. I am terrified - but it’s my dream job and I am going after it with everything I have.
I want other girls who grew up in less than desirable conditions to know that they CAN make it through. They CAN have a successful career and create a life they are proud of and love. I want them to know that they CAN LOVE themselves, and should learn to love themselves before committing to another person. Lastly, I want others to know that they CAN live the life they want, but to know that it will take determination and a willingness to ask for help.
From Loss to Light
July 9, 2011 was the happiest day of my life. I was marrying the man of my dreams! We had goals, we had plans and we had our future all mapped out. The Game of Life was just beginning for us. We were young, hopelessly in love and couldn’t wait to start our family. I was so excited for Nic to become a dad (as he is truly a big kid himself) and I had always been a mother hen and couldn’t think of anything more I wanted in life then to be called “Mom”.
As the older sibling to a brother 4 years younger and the eldest grandchild of 6 on my moms side, I grew up as the mature, responsible, dependable, over achiever who reached for her goals, excelled and watched over everyone younger than me along the way. My female cousins were my maid of honour and bridesmaid at my wedding and my friends had just started to settle down and make their own “grown up” plans.
When Nic and I started trying for a baby we were filled with the usual emotions - hope, curiosity, anxiety but most of all, excitement. We began thinking about what our life would be like as a family of 3 or 4...
stuffed animals for the nursery, cute names for our children and daydreaming which of our parents would be called Grandma, Nana, Grandmama, Papa or Gramps. It created so much joy for us. We were giddy with the idea of planning my career around being able to spend some time at home, once little ones were underfoot.
Little did we know, about a year after our amazing wedding day, one of the most difficult journeys of our lives would begin. The next 2 years of our marriage were be filled with a miscarriage, months of checking temperatures, fertility treatments, thousands of dollars spent trying to conceive, needles, blood draws and syringes full of medications. We had dozens of out of town trips to the fertility clinic, an early miscarriage of one twin at 8 weeks, followed by many specialist appointments after receiving a life-threatening medical diagnosis. I learned that I had extremely low platelets in my blood (without any issues during my childhood or young adult years), which left me wondering “where the hell did this come from?” There were emergency room visits, around the clock monitoring for internal hemorrhages and an emergency surgery after yet another loss at 16 weeks pregnant and my husband being called in the middle of the night by the surgeon telling him that he and my parents that they better get back to the hospital in London ASAP.
While being rushed into surgery at 2am for a D & C due to the loss of our 3rd baby still inside me, and then yet another loss on the date of our 3rd anniversary, I struggled not knowing how long my husband would stay by my side and in our marriage - as I felt broken, depressed, useless and gut wrenchingly guilty for taking away the one thing I felt he wanted most - children. I remember tearfully asking myself if I would ever be a mom? The short and long answer, we have now come to know and accept…is NO - not in the traditional sense anyway.
My husband Nic is a supportive, kind, happy, easy going, life is great, glass half full kind of guy….who married an extremely loving and nurturing soul but I was a self-conscious, overachiever with an extreme fear of failure…who now had lost 4 of his babies! My self worth was intrinsically tied to my ability to succeed in whatever I wanted…yet, this was something HUGE that I was not able to control, or have the ability to “fix”. The intense planner in me could not “plan” for this upheaval. I could not plan for my stolen dream.
We never would have imagined that our life after all the losses would turn into scheduling specialist appointments, going for weekly blood draws at the lab, Adoption/Foster Parent training every week for 14 weeks, the breakdown of a potential adoptive match (due to a 3rd cousin once removed that finally came forward to take care of the 2 young brothers we were hoping to adopt), a toxic work environment in my management career and 3 job changes for Nic.
We were lost, struggling with why this was happening to our “family plans” and I was in a dark place of high functioning, paired with depression, guilt, loss of self-worth and my once colour-coded, by the book “life plans“ were out the window. My body was tired from the rollercoaster of fertility treatments, lost pregnancies and stress.
The quote “It takes a village” has become a staple in my life over the past 5 years. Usually people refer to this quote when raising a child, but for Nic and I, it took a village to move forward and heal from the trauma we sustained in such a short (felt like forever) timeframe in our twenties. We are so incredibly fortunate to have parents and close friends who have been by our side through every step, especially now that I am living with a chronic blood disorder.
My husband is my rock, and I am thankful every single day that I chose a partner who truly is IN this with me…for the long haul..through sickness and health…through good times and bad. I do not know what I would ever do without him.
Now in my mid-thirties, my close friends and cousins have begun their own families and are entering the world of parenthood, I find myself caught between great excitement and happiness for their new journey and deep seated feelings of resentment, jealousy and envy that they are living the life that I want so bad. How I deal with these feelings has been a turning point for me. I have to constantly remind myself that I am writing a new chapter in my book of life. A life without my own biological children but one filled with many other people that I am able to support, love and nurture. My plans have had to change…and it has taken me 5 years to be able to say…it’s okay.
Thankfully, and I think what has saved me mentally and emotionally from a dark path, was the birth of my best friends’ little one. We became Auntie and Uncle instantly to this new gorgeous baby and had the fortunate opportunity of providing care for him weekly as we became part of my best friends “village”. With the addition of his younger brother 3 years later, we now have two incredible nephews, who have spent many many days and nights here, over the past many years. We have been able to watch them grow, learn and explore the world and fill part of the void in our hearts that I didn’t think would ever be possible.
I have worked my way through the windy path my life has taken, with all its unplanned and unexpected emotional and medical twists and turns.
The positive side, the light after all the dark, has been the most rewarding journey of it all. I took my emotions and feelings of loss, grief and guilt and have tried to find ways to feel useful, supportive, nurturing and giving to others’ lives. I have become actively involved in numerous charities and boards of directors in my community. I mustered up the courage to leave my toxic career and open my own successful business. I teach dance and mentor young children and teens, raise money for a charity in my town and overseas and have become a self-help book junkie! I work with a transformation coach and have come to learn that I am a work in progress and to try to find joy in the journey. I am sharing my story, not as one of pity and negativity, loss and grief, but one of resiliency, strength and support.
I want others to know that we are all dealing with issues that are not always visible on the outside and that is it okay to talk about what we have been through. I have found my tribe - those people I want to surround myself with, who lift me up, support me and encourage me to keep moving forward. If you are reading this and need someone to join your tribe, add to your village and shine some light into your life, please know I am here to help.
I may never be completely healed, but these days…there is a lot less dark and a heck of a lot more light!
I grew up as the child of an alcoholic. It had interesting effects on me, the biggest one being that my highly empathetic natural personality was magnified. I became a fixer, a doer and a pleaser. I became a feelings-hider. No one needed the burden of my feelings when they were dealing with their own. Maybe that’s why it took a lot of encouragement to tell this story.
What’s even more interesting is that the alcoholic I grew up with was the one person who was not safe from my feelings.
When I was a teen, I told him exactly what I thought, and no longer played the codependent game with him – for him, I wouldn't be the person to make things ok. I stopped taking his drunk midnight calls. I called him out on inappropriate behaviour. And to this day, we don’t have a relationship. I “don’t approve of his lifestyle” is the overall impression I’ve left. I see him once a year. During that visit, we dance around small talk.
Being a pleaser and fixer, I have always attracted men that need that. Angry, abusive men that need me to calm them down and make them happy...I’ve lacked the courage to express what I need in return. I’ve been in relationships with men who lack the ability to take responsibility for their own actions. Some I recognized right away...some took longer.
I have had a few relationships, but with long breaks in between to recover. I met a man in my 20’s who I allowed to string me along, and when I found out I was pregnant, he chose not to take part or responsibility. I learned to be really efficient at getting shit done, being a fixer and a doer, and not getting into relationships because my son was more important than anything.
I was fortunate – I’d bought a house with my mother and sister when I was younger, and we lived together. They took such joy in my little boy, and were a great support to me during this time. My son was in the care of my mother the day she passed away at home, at the age of 56. When I arrived home from work in the evening, he was still in his pyjamas, and she was on the floor of the living room, having passed 7 hours earlier. To this day, I have a fear of losing people I’m close to, but at the time I didn't grieve. I put my head down and continued fixing and doing.
Fast forward a few years - I met a man. He turned into my best friend, he was good for my soul and he supported and encouraged me in my work and life. We got engaged after a year of dating, bought a house and got married. Then the mask started to slip. He became emotionally abusive, chipping away at my self-worth. I went through days of the silent treatment for no reason, months of withheld physical affection. I got accustomed to little traumas, every single day. I allowed him to isolate me from friends and family. I allowed him to control the finances. Then, everything was wrong, and it was my fault. After 3 years’ marriage, he discarded me. But in a final act of insult, he first encouraged me to quit a job that I’d been unhappy in, while at the same time he quietly started a new relationship and started to plan his exit. I started my new single life unemployed, with a tiny self-employment income.
I had met the classic narcissist, and had allowed myself to go through the whole process. Idealize. Devalue. Discard.
Being a fixer and a doer, I never recognized my own strengths and achievements during that time, but I see them now as I write this. In quick order, I secured employment, got a mortgage and bought a home. I moved closer to my big, huge supportive family and started a new life, just my boy and I. We worked it out, and despite financial troubles, he enjoyed summer sailing camps and other exciting experiences. I enjoyed very little. I was too busy working hard to make things work, losing sleep over finances, feeling not enough in every way.
One day, during a job change, I met a group of people that changed my life. A group so real, so honest and brave, that I was able to be myself, and I was able to magnify my desire to help others in a positive, meaningful way. That has meant the world to me.
Last June, I got sick. Since 2006, I’d had several episodes of Bells Palsy, a nerve condition that causes facial paralysis and a host of other symptoms. This time, it came with debilitating nerve pain and complete exhaustion. It has impacted my life greatly, forcing me to slow down my life to a crawl, forcing me to stay quiet when I’m normally not, forcing me to back up how I connect with others. There hasn’t been much relief, but I’m grateful to say that I’m now connected to a caring neurologist who is on track with testing and scans to see if there’s a cause, and to see if we can find a treatment.
The past year has been hard for this fixer and doer. Having dropped a lot of non-necessities, I have had to learn to sit quietly and be alone with my thoughts, for the first time ever. It’s been a learning experience, not always good, but I’ve had the chance to reflect on what life is all about.
It turns out, life is not all about fixing and doing. I’ve found that the purpose of life is joy, finding it and helping others to find it. It’s the only thing that matters.
Learning to find the joy and learning to recognize it in the little things is my mission now. And yes, sometimes it’s a struggle. But quiet time helps. It helps me to sort out what is important to finding that joy, and what isn’t. It also helps me to see that in the little details, there are little flashes of joy - and these add up to way more than they seem, individually.
These days, I find joy in helping others to recognize their own joy. This has been the biggest blessing to me of all.
I spent the first 40 years of my life hating my body. As a child, I was painfully shy, clumsy and slow. I was the last kid picked for every team at school. I first thought I was fat at the age of 8, when I tried on a bathing suit and my mom and aunt giggled about how I had the “family pooch”. I know they didn’t mean anything by the comment, but it sure grabbed hold at the time.
I spent my childhood, teen years and early adulthood trying to avoid the embarrassment of physical activity and secretly cycling between binge eating and starving. I did my first real diet when I was 22, and the next 18 years was a wash-rinse-repeat cycle. Diet/workout - lose weight - lose willpower - fail - quit-gain weight - hate myself - start again.
After I had my third child, I hired a personal trainer. This was the start of understanding food and exercise in a different way. I got into working out and running and I REALLY loved it - I felt strong and powerful for the first time in my life. learned about clean eating, and thought I had found the ticket to escaping the diet cycle. In 2012 I became a personal trainer and started my schooling in Holistic Nutrition. I was passionate about nutrition and exercise...to a fault. It became an obsession, and all I really cared about was being thin. I got to my lowest weight, a size 2, and everyone praised me for how “good I looked”. But I was MISERABLE!
I felt I had to be perfect all the time because I was a role model to others.
I felt isolated and ashamed and like a complete fraud. When no one was looking I would sneak foods and then go for an extra long run the next day (which I did NOT have time for, but HAD to do). I knew all the things I should do, and I did them - but I was doing the right things for the wrong reasons.
Eventually my body had enough. I started to gain weight and I literally could not control it anymore with food or exercise. I tried dieting again but I couldn’t stick to anything. Overexercising resulted in a major injury that grounded me for over a year. Not being able to run or exercise was devastating for me - I realized I NEEDED that outlet for my well being, not for weight control. I HAD to change to stay sane.
I worked with a coach and we went deep into my self image. Long story short, I gradually started to improve my relationship with myself, with food and exercise, and eventually my body.
I stopped punishing myself with restriction and over exercise and focused on truly feeling my best. I listened to what my body wanted, I levelled out at a medium sized body, and I broke up with the scale for good.
Through it all, as I’ve shared my experiences, I’ve realized I am not alone. So many women are riding the diet train, believing that if they could just have the “perfect body”, suddenly everything will be better.
I’m here to tell you, happiness isn’t a destination, or a dress size. It’s a mindset; a product of our thoughts, and it’s my mission to help women make the connection between their feelings, thoughts, behaviour and results.
I re-entered the wellness industry healed to help women find freedom around food and their bodies.
Get to know how Kim’s approach is so very beautiful and different by following her on fb @ Radiant Vitality - Empowered Wellness or IG @ Kim Hagle - Radiant Vitality
I was born in 1935. I was one of many children who rallied for the attention of our parents. I liked being part of a big family. I had brothers and sisters to spend my days with - playing outside and helping with chores. I grew up in a happy home. I dreamt of having a big family one day myself.
When I was a teenager working at a local drugstore as a cashier, a rep came in one day and it was love at first sight. He was sweet and kind and extremely persistent that I go on a date with him. After playing hard to get, I accepted. We developed a love so strong that it lasted with him living two hours away for over a year until he could finally move closer to be with me. We exchanged letters almost daily, his writing was intoxicating and poetic. We eventually married on the same day as my younger sister and had a joint wedding. Shortly after getting married we began trying to have children. It was a long battle of infertility before infertility was really even a thing. My doctor told me I would never be able to conceive naturally so after much heartache, we entered the adoption system.
We were blessed with a baby boy, not long after...it wasn’t as lengthy of a process back then. He came to us extremely malnourished and ill. We nursed him back to health and loved him as our own. Around the same time, wouldn’t you know it, I became pregnant. I remember going to the doctor to tell him that I was pregnant and he denied it, standing by his original prognosis. I hadn’t gotten a period in a few months and he reminded me that he told me it was not possible. As my belly grew bigger and bigger over the months and I returned for prenatal care, he still denied my pregnancy and told me if I was pregnant, that my baby would be stillborn. Nurses would use a stethoscope to capture the foetal heart rate and mark my growing belly with an “x” where are they found the baby’s heartbeat, trying to convince the doctor of the live foetus. He wouldn’t hear of it.
9 months later, my baby was born. It was a boy. It was a miracle. That doctor refused to see or speak to me ever again!
About a year after our biological son was born, we received another baby through the adoption agency. It was a girl. Her mother, 14 at the time, had become pregnant after being abused by two older boys in the same night. She was sent off to a big city by her mother, so as not to bring shame upon the family, until her child was born. She then put her baby girl up for adoption and returned to her hometown. We were lucky enough to become parents to this innocent baby and were happy for our growing family.
A couple of years later we conceived our fourth child, and gave birth to a healthy baby boy. We had 4 children and a good marriage. My husband was a hard worker and the most generous man I knew. Life was pretty good.
Many years later, after our children attended high school, our daughter began to ask questions about her birth mother and set out on a mission to find her through our local adoption agency. This was an extremely difficult time for me but I supported her. The agency had a photograph of our daughter’s birth mother that had been dropped off a few years earlier in the event her daughter ever came looking.
They were not connected by the agency at the time but were brought together by fate. My daughter was on her lunch break from work as a young adult, standing in the lineup at a McDonalds, when she caught the familiar eye of the woman in the photograph she had seen years earlier at the agency - it was her birth mother.
They locked eyes and both knew. They sat and talked for hours. Her birth mother told her about the traumatic night of her conception...and after taking one look at her, she knew which man was the birth father. It just so happened that she knew the whereabouts of the birth father, who had restored his life and had a family of his own by that time.
To make a long story short, my adopted daughter had attended high school with her half-siblings all along in our small town and we had raised her only a few miles away from her birth father. We had absolutely no idea.
She was an extremely troubled girl for most of her life, invisibly plagued with mental illness and torment. So much of which ended up making sense to me in the end. I had a strained relationship with her for most of my life but I tried my best.
She went on to have a relationship with her birth mother until she passed away...their relationship never stopped feeling threatening to me but I dealt with it.
We never know what hand we are doing to be dealt - we just do the best with what we are given. I was always grateful for the chance to raise our four kids and go on to enjoy my grandchildren. It didn’t look like I expected it to, but it was our family.
Hazel has since passed on to Heaven. This story was told by her granddaughter, in her memory.
From a young age I’ve had always had apprehension towards strange men. Between the ages of 8 and 10 years old, I had two interactions with men I didn’t know while walking my dog around the block. One of them pursued me on foot and the other demanded I get in his car. Both times I kept my wits about me and got somewhere safe before anything could happen. Naturally, I was shaken up but just lived my life with a slight veil of fear of something like that may happen again.
Then March 2015 happened. I was in Palm Springs with a large group of girlfriends. We had a few days of fun on the beaches and decided to check out a bar in the area called the Bungalow. One of our girlfriends decided to hang back that night and skip going to the bar. At about 12:00am, I was getting tired and asked one of the girls if she’d come back to the house with me. She agreed and we went back.
I went to sleep with my bedroom light on so that when the other girls came back from the bar they could easily wake me and I’d let them into the house (I had the only key). My other two friends were sleeping in separate bedrooms in the back of the house. I remember waking up around 2am very suddenly and sleepily thinking “you need to grab a knife”. I was still half asleep, so it’s strange to me that I did this and then went right back to sleep; but I did.
Twenty minutes later I woke up to three men outside my window trying to kick my window in. They were mumbling words I couldn’t quite make out and I grabbed my knife and ran. I remember feeling like I was in a horror movie. I turned all the lights off in the house so they couldn’t see where I was going, and checked all the windows and doors to find they weren’t locked. Only the front door and my window were locked. I frantically locked everything up and woke up my friends with a giant knife in my hand (scary, should have thought about that one).
We called the police as these men were pulling and pushing on our front door saying things like “we see you!”, “let us in!”. I remember thinking “oh my god they’re going to get in and I may end up stabbing someone with this knife”. That thought alone was traumatizing.
The sirens scared them off, but not enough to stop them from coming back to try again later that same night. The second police call resulted in cruisers and a helicopter surveying our property with a giant spotlight. They didn’t come back.
I didn’t sleep at all that night or for many nights after that. Nightmares, flash backs, extreme anxiety just walking down the street during the day with men around. My boyfriend would have to walk me down the driveway to my car. It all seemed so silly and unnecessary but I was trapped in my own mind. I saw a couple therapists, PTSD was constantly my diagnosis. “But it was minor PTSD and I would get used to living like this”. Minor? This did not feel minor. After a few months I got used to my new normal of anxiety and paranoia and things did settle a bit. I had the support of my family and my boyfriend and as long as I wasn’t sleeping without him I would be ok.
August 27th 2017.
I will never forget that date. I was still trying to manage PTSD without professional help. I wasn’t thriving but I was ok. I went to bed with my boyfriend around 11:30, it was Sunday and we had work the next day. A mere hour and a half later I woke up to the feeling of my elbow being split open on the bed frame as I was thrown off the bed by my a large and violently squeezing hand on the back on my neck. I was so disoriented. It was pitch black and I began hearing this women’s terrified scream; then I realized it was me. I was the women screaming. I had dissociated from my body because of previous trauma and was listening to what was happening as if it wasn’t happening to me. I don’t remember much after that. I know I was pulled by the hair and my neck around the room. I ended up in a ball on the floor and I came back into my body. I realized the lights hadn’t turned on, and I hadn’t heard anything from my boyfriend.
I came to the realization it was him. My gentle, loving boyfriend of almost ten years who had supported me through all my trauma did this to me. He had a night terror that he had acted out in his sleep because for some reason his brain that night didn’t produce enough of the hormone to paralyze your body as you sleep. He was mortified, heartbroken and in shock. I was too. The last shred of safety I had at the time was taken from me by the very person that provided it.
For months I searched for answers. I was a shell of a person. If anyone made an unsuspected noise or touched me from behind I would jump. I couldn’t touch my own neck or wear necklaces for months afterwards. My boyfriend was so supportive, he went for sleep tests, read books on supporting loved ones with PTSD. I searched for answers. Many therapists basically told me “wow that is really tough, I don’t know how to help you”. “This is your new normal”. I believed them for some time. Living with PTSD and no professional help is so simultaneously terrifying and infuriating. Simple things are no longer simple, sleep is next to impossible, flashbacks and triggers are random and almost inexplicable. Things you never thought would be challenging feel impossible. I couldn’t walk past windows at night without running, feeling like someone was watching. I couldn’t sleep without a light on.
Despite his patience and support I couldn’t share a bed with my boyfriend for over a year and a half. Despite knowing and understanding this was likely a one time thing and he loved me I would experience heart palpitations, flashbacks and and irrational fears.
I felt like despite their best efforts no one understood me. Then I found my therapist.
I was reading a forward in a PTSD book and it was so calming to me. I googled her name and she lived in a nearby city. I called and from there I began to heal. It’s taken years and a lot of work. I’m still not out of the woods but I am almost flashback free and I live and sleep with my boyfriend without struggle. There are parts of me that will forever be changed that I don’t really understand - like my inability to feel safe at large events or my heightened anxiety at bars/parties even with people I love. But I am ok and can find joy in each day. I can travel with friends and not be controlled by my illness.
This experience taught me perseverance. If other people (including licensed professionals) tell you you have to stay in an unhealthy place mentally, physically, emotionally or other. Do not accept that fate. There is help. PTSD is real and while it definitely affects soldiers it’s not a disease dedicated only to those in combat.
While it may not look like it once did, you can heal your life.
I was raised by a mentally unstable mother and an absent father. There was emotional and some physical abuse by my mother. My father didn't know how to deal with my mother and turned to avoidance.
When I was 7 years old I was sexually assaulted by an older teenage male. I didn't understand what had happened. I told my mom and she said "we won't worry about it".
Shortly after, my struggle with mental wellness began. I started pulling my eyelashes and hair out. I experienced episodes of disassociation at school. I had severe separation anxiety, all of which I dealt with on my own.
When I was 17 my parents separated and I moved out on my own. I struggled to go to school and work and I ended up dropping out of college. I married a man who "took care of me" but was also controlling and abusive. I escaped in the middle of the night and never went back. After that I met another man and found myself pregnant shortly thereafter.
There was no love, only security.
After 2 children, the relationship finally ended and I met someone else. Another "security blanket"... I stayed with him for 10 years even after he had two affairs. I had finally had it. No more jumping from relationship to relationship. I became a single parent and for 2 years I refused to date. I went through a mental breakdown. I felt very alone and isolated. I was on a cocktail of meds and had gained over 50lbs and had lost most of my hair.
I decided to move away to pursue a fresh start. I finally felt alive. I bought a wig, started eating better and started going to counselling. Over time my hair grew back, my mental health improved and I developed better eating habits. It was a journey I am grateful for.
Then I met my tribe of women. All these years of not trusting people, especially women, and I found myself able to fully embrace the love, friendship and support!
One of the best things I have learned from my hardship was how NOT to parent. I raised my children promising myself and them, that I would NEVER treat them like I was treated and I've kept that promise and always will. I have broken the cycle I was exposed to through a lot of hard work and perseverance. You can break the cycle too.
My mom, a holy woman, stayed at home and my dad was an alcoholic with bipolar disorder. We moved often due to his constant need to replant himself, wanting to escape the present moment. He was not dependable, he worked a lot at his company and frequented taverns.
I remember one day my brother and I wanted to go out, we must have been 10 and 8...our mom had no money, so she told us to go see him at the hotel for pennies. In order to look good in front of "his friends" he threw his money in the air and his supposed friends launched themselves onto it - I was afraid and ashamed.
In high school I was overweight and bullied and given a terrible nickname by a teacher in French that meant “black sheep that nobody wanted at their side”. I went on to pursue English immersion for 3 months in Ontario, where the other girls shunned me because I wasn't part of the cool gang. But I learned my English there.
I knew I was destined to do great things... but I thought I didn't have the right to do go after my dreams. My limiting beliefs started way back.
I had a fiancé at 20, but I dreamt of great things outside of Gaspésie, the place in which I lived. I left. I had a brief affair one night and I got pregnant. The most wonderful love story was going to start for me but not with him...because he did not want to stay. I raised my daughter alone.
In 1996, I moved to Montreal to be near my parents. I was working a lot, trying to make my place in a male environment. I climbed the ladder and was offered a position in the office. My superiors didn't know I was going to have a baby girl. I didn't want them to see my family situation as an obstacle to my work so I kept quiet. One day, my boss saw my daughter's picture on my desk and asked if she was my daughter? I told the truth and he instantly increased my salary from $20,000 to $30,000...insisting that we couldn’t live on that amount. A few months later, the company went bankrupt and I found myself unemployed. Luckily, I managed to make a name for myself and a new company hired me for my skills. My thirst for success began at this exact moment. I helped open 35 electronics stores in Quebec. I worked very hard, my daughter didn't sleep well and I was exhausted. Occasionally I felt like giving up, but thankfully my family helped me to keep my head above water.
In 2001, I accompanied my best friend to her end of life. I worked during the day, picked up my daughter from school, and spent every evening at the hospital to be by her bedside. She passed away at 28 and I had the privilege of spending the last evening with her. What a great lady she was in all her weakness. She was a model of determination.
As days passed, I fell into autopilot, I was tired, I dreamt of taking a vacation one day. But I couldn’t stop, I had my daughter to think of...then one day, on my way to an appointment, I was in a car accident.
The universe decided it was time for me to stop and didn't give me a choice.
I had cervical, dorsal and lumbar sprains with nine displaced vertebrae. The first year, I spent all my mornings in physiotherapy and occupational therapy. I tried to return to work after a year, but the woman who did a great job before the accident was no longer welcome. They had replaced me. I didn't have the energy to fight, so I fell into a deep depression that lasted two years. My daughter was 7 years old. I kept her in daycare all day, as I knew she was much better off there...I had trouble just taking care of myself. She matured quickly and over time our roles reversed - she took care of me.
During this period, an angel fell into my life. This man who was my roommate took care of me and my daughter when I could not. He helped me out of my very dark tunnel. One day, a friend told me that there was a position available in her school at the daycare. I went there and was hired. I changed my professional field and I was so happy, I loved working with children.
Soon after, I met a man who became my spouse. A handsome man, charming, disciplined. I had found the jackpot. A Prince Charming who quickly turned into an executioner. Slowly, violence ensues. For months, I experienced psychological violence, laughing at my body, criticism of my parenting skills - he destroyed me...again. I was totally under his control. I slowly pushed everyone away, my family...my friends.
One day, my 11-year-old daughter said to me, "Mom, we have to get out of here!" My only answer was that I didn't have the money to leave. During the night, something transformed inside of me,￼ I found the courage and in the morning I told him that I would not uproot daughter and that he had to leave. He left in less than 24 hours, but my ordeal did not end there. He kept control over me for months by telling me that he would not pay his share of the rent. Luckily the owner had seen his game and reassured me every time by telling me that he had paid his share.
At school, I was working with differently-abled kids and was offered a special education position even though I lacked the formal training. The school paid for my education and I made it happen, being a solo mom working 35 hours per week and attending school at night. During my studies, I reconnected with my first love in my hometown and after a few months, we agreed that I would return to live in Gaspésie. I then took two years without pay and moved out. He welcomed us into his house. He had 3 young children. I loved them as if they were mine. One day, a few weeks after my unpaid leave was over, I realized that he was cheating on me. My world collapsed. I lost my spouse and I had no job to return to, since I had resigned to be with him...I had left everything and then I had to start again.
At that time, I took refuge with the family and a neighbour I hardly knew offered to lent me his house for 3 months. Another angel in my life, which allowed me to save money to buy furniture. I stayed strong for my daughter. I had to find us a new home. She wanted to attend college in Quebec City and made an unselfish decision to stay with me and go to college here so that we could save money. She has often made sacrifices for us.
A few months later, at a dinner party, a handsome young man was there with his two little boys, 3 and 6 years old, working in the far north of Canada. I reminded myself that I didn’t want to date someone who has kids in case of more separation - it hurts too much. But, the little ones lived 800km away so were with him during the holidays. We started dating, and six months later, were are called to say that he had to take his children full-time, as their mother was no longer able to take care of them. I opened my house to them, fragile little beings, abused by life. My spouse worked 28 days outside the area and was coming back for 10 days at a time. I had full custody of his children. We bought OUR three-bedroom house. My daughter was no longer living with me at the time...she was continuing her studies.
After 3 years I was exhausted and burnt out. His only answer was separation. Since then, he has forbidden me to see his children, the children I raised for 5 years, changed their diapers, comforted when they cried because Dad was at work and Mom was not in the picture.
It felt like another failure in my life. But, this wasn’t my first rodeo, I got back up, knowing I would be stronger.
In 2016 I met another man, a beautiful man who was quite the opposite of those I had dated in the past. As time went by, I realized that he had Aspergers and was gifted. This man loved me, he spoiled me, he taught me so many things and opened me to his world. He offered for me to work with him, to help him put his dreams into action. I slowly lost myself. I had become the person he wanted me to be so as not to displease him. I had all the things, the big house, the boat, skidoos, motorcycle, cottage.... but... the main thing was not there, I was not in love. I didn't see myself staying in this relationship just for the material things, so I left.
I always thought that I had to please a man for him to love me.
I’m changing thoses patterns. When I was overcome with depression, my drug was men. I had to prove that I was a good person, I thought it was the only way to do it.
I need to live out MY dreams and passions. It was then that I began on a journey of entrepreneurship.
The last year has been filled with awareness, progress and above all, questions about what I want as a person. During this journey, several people have greatly inspired me. Sometimes people I don't know in "real life" are inspiring to me. I realized, that I had beautiful words on my walls that said FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS, but that I didn't know what mine were. So I put them on paper, some crazier than the others, and... they have played out at great speed - it's extraordinary!
Last year I bought a little paradise on the seashore and this year I got MY own house. A house, where I can be me, I can have what I want & I love my place. My daughter is 26 now, she just moved into her own house with her boyfriend and I think that I'll be a grandma soon...
Life is really GOOD!
I sometimes struggle with limited believes but I work really hard on myself to avoid old patterns. I am meditating every morning and I'm taking time for me.
Now, I'm ready for mister RIGHT to be by side so we can grow together. Now, it is time for me to change the world & be who I was meant to be in life!
As a teen, I went through the usual ups and downs. Hormones, changes....I wasn't the prettiest or most popular girl, I wasn't the richest or most athletic. I wasn't the life of the party. I wasn't that into dating.
I went to a small Catholic high school, in a small city. The population of the entire school numbered just over 150 student, about 50 of which comprised the senior grades. By the time of graduation, you might be one of 10 students in your year. This was back when your parents had to pay tuition for you to attend after grade 10! There were school uniforms and textbooks to buy. There were nuns who were teachers. Even the principal was a nun. There wasn't a lot of social interaction. Pretty much everyone just wanted out!
I met a boy at high school. We had been friends as small children and even went to each others birthday parties. My family moved across town when I was in grade 3 and I went to a different school - goodbye childhood romance. When we met again in grade 9, he was different than the other boys. He was a bit of a bad ass. He argued with the nuns and disobeyed frequently. He was a rebel and that was almost unheard of at our little school. He was also attracted to me. Eventually, we started dating at 16 - everyone thought he was prince charming. He would bring me roses every month on the 'anniversary' of when we started dating take me out on special dates. Things progressed as relationships do and when we were heading to College/University at 19, he proposed. Everyone thought is was so romantic. We were married at 21...a fairy tale in the making.
There were little red flags for me early on in our relationship but they disappeared when we welcomed our first child at age 24. 3 years later, as we welcomed our 2nd child, I started to notice changes in him - he was extremely excitable.
As time went by, there were more changes in his behaviour. As I look back, I can see the progression when I look back now. He became increasingly 'protective' & overbearing. He wanted to know all the details of my day with the kids, while he continued to have his own social life.
It wasn't until my kids were getting ready to head to high school that the real changes came in. Our daughter was sexually assaulted at 17, at her high school by a male classmate. After that I was to drive her to & from school...to be home if she called and needed anything. Heaven forbid she say she called and I was at the grocery store. I would pay for it. Our son had the run of the town. He was a bit mouthy as he came into his teen years. We had calls from the school when he was out of line with his vocabulary. After his sister was assaulted he was up for a fight with anyone. It didn't matter if they were older or bigger. He fought. I then had to be on call for him too.
When it came time for university our daughter decided to stay as close to home as possible. She graduated with honours and she is one of the strongest young women I have ever known. She proved that nothing was going to keep her from her goals. Our son, he decided to get as far away as he could. Nothing like a 21 hour drive to keep people at a distance. He too has graduated and moved back closer to home. My children inspire me.
It wasn't until the summer before our son was leaving for university that I hit the wall. When you fall in love with the 'one' and think it will be forever...you plan on forever. You plan a wedding. You plan a life. You plan a family. You plan to grow old together. That isn't what happens when your plan includes a narcissist. Slowly over the years, I had been separated from my family, my friends, my hobbies...my identity. I had become someone's wife, someone's mother and anything but myself. In July of 2012, I made a suicide attempt. I was trying to save everyone else from the all encompassing pain I was feeling. I was certain that if they didn't have me in their life that their lives would be so much better. So much easier. I had become a burden. I was a doormat. I was baggage. I was expendable.
I can't tell you when I actually withdrew from life. I can't tell you when I started to feel like a burden. I can't tell you when it was that I lost myself.
I can tell you that when I hit the wall, I hit it hard.
Every day, every time I had any time to myself, I visualized the ways in which I could remove myself and let everyone else be free. I decided I could no longer take it after being dragged to a shooting competition my husband and his friends were in. We were sharing a room with another couple to save money. I was left behind in the room when my husband and the other couple went for dinner and drinks. The air conditioning at the hotel was out except for the one in the window of our room. It was over 40 degrees. As I sat in the room filled with an assortment of gun related items, stale food from the drive down and the booze we had picked up on our way there, I became desperate.
The longer I sat doing nothing. The more desperate I became. I chose suicide and started pursuing some liquid courage. After chasing a bottle of wine with a bottle of blueberry vodka I passed out and didn’t go through with my plan. Thank God.
I awoke in the wee hours of the morning as they were coming in the door. My husband was embarrassed by me and wasn't speaking to me. I started weeping as they crawled into bed and didn’t stop for two days. It was two days of hell. I had to sit in the van with the doors open and the vehicle not running in the heat and humidity because I couldn't be 'trusted'. The drive home was such a blur I don't even remember it.
Two days later my husband found me sitting in the closet with a suitcase, bawling my eyes out. I was putting ridiculous things into the suitcase. One shoe, my curling iron, a book, a doorstop. He looked at me with disgust and said “So you're leaving me?” I couldn't answer. I was done. I didn't have words...there was nothing to say. After 25 years of marriage, I was a shell of a person. I had been mentally, emotionally, financially and sexually abused. I had great difficulty thinking for myself. I was baggage, I was someone to be there when a spouse was required at a function. I was a housekeeper. I was a taxi. I was a burden. I was unnecessary. The best thing my husband had ever done for me was to call and make an appointment with my doctor.
I can now say that after almost 8 years of hospitalization, therapy, medication changes, a divorce, and a battle for spousal support (that I am never sure is going to last) that I am ME. I have a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety but that is not who I am. I am beginning to know who I am and what I want out of my life. I know I want to be the best Me that I can be. I want to be there for my children but not at the expense of myself, and they know it too. I am going to be the best Gramma I can be.
I am going forward with my eyes wide open and forgiveness in my heart.
I have forgiven him for all the ugliness I experienced at his hands. I have forgiven him for treating me like baggage. And I have forgiven myself for not being strong enough to leave sooner. I have forgiven myself for giving up on me. I have forgiven myself for not reaching out to the people that love me. I have known the love of parents who even in their 70's, struggled and wept alongside me during my breakdown. I will be forever grateful for them.
I have a wealth of support from the people who love me. I have a network of people I can turn to if I need to talk. I have two beautiful, adult children, a son in law and a gorgeous baby granddaughter. I have a life. I have my life. Never again will I let someone else take control of my life. I may share it with others - but I drive my own life. I am inspired to help others know that they too, can rise above.
Question: Do you like who you live with?
Now, I’m not talking about your spouse or your kids or even your pets (and let’s face it, in these COVID times, the answer you’d give to that might be a little... influenced right now).
The person I’m talking about is someone who has been with you since day One. Your inner roommate. That person whom you share your every thought and feeling with. The person who is there intently listening and influencing your every move.
I did not like who I was living with for most of my life.
Starting at a relatively early age, my inner roommate was taking precise stock of my shortcomings and wouldn’t hesitate to inform me of when and where I didn’t measure up... in school, in activities, but mainly in my physical appearance. The assault of beratements she’d lay on me left me feeling worthless and empty – an emptiness that I began to fill with food. Food became my friend, my confidante. It never judged or denied me. It was just... there. And as you might imagine, this routine of low self-esteem and worth being muffled by emotional eating patterns only led to (ta-DAH!) weight gain and even lower self-worth. I kept up this pattern – a habit – all throughout adolescence, which gave my roommate something to talk about. By this point she could hardly stand me and made her opinion known every chance she could get.
Highschool – which, let’s face it are some of the hardest years to navigate – are the years where we’re trying to figure out not just what we want to do, but WHO we want to become in this world.
And I felt like I was losing myself more and more.
Winding down high school and looking ahead to post-secondary adventures, something inside me clicked. Maybe it was all the feelings of possibility and change that were on the horizon, but I felt inspired. I started taking charge of myself and not letting my roommate dictate my every move. Always the skeptic, she thought she would stand back and let me try this new behaviour out, but carefully waiting in the wings for when it failed and she could tell me, “I told you so!”. I began exercising. Nothing drastic or overdone, just simple movement. It began to take the place of comfort for me instead of turning to food, and the weight started to come off. I felt great... and people noticed. My inner roommate was doing cartwheels over the attention and was digging on all the external validation this new behaviour was bringing.
And then my roommate got this brilliant idea...If a little is good, a lot must be better. Less food, more exercise.
Restriction must be the key to success.
Because I was so busy with all the change happening in life, I didn’t hear my roommate plotting her latest takeover. And to be honest, I liked the newfound attention so I was eager to keep up whatever I needed to in order to make it happen. It gave me a sense of control – or at least I thought it did.
See, my roommate was a smart and crafty bitch. She’d quietly done her homework, gained my trust and made a new friend whom she invited to come live with us.
After that, there was no more calling the shots. I was tired and they had worn me down. It was easier for me to not feel anything, and so I let my eating disorder take over.
Fortunately, I have a caring and conscientious support system. It didn’t take long for my mother to go into full momma bear-mode on my new guest, getting me to see any doctor, therapist or specialist in our area that she could (and in the mid-nineties, lemme tell you there wasn’t much available!). With her help, and the help of Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, I was able to get the support and treatment I needed to evict anorexia from my life (however she did leave behind a t-shirt to remember her by).
During this time, something else happened.
I met a boy.
And this wasn’t just any boy... he was one of those boys that mothers love and fathers just can’t seem to find any fault in them. He came into my life when I was messy and broken, and he bravely accepted me in this disastrous state. He made me feel safe. He made me feel loved. He made me FEEL again. And eventually, he made me his wife.
We were into the ‘roaring twenties’ - that decade of new love, new careers, planning a wedding, buying a house, making a home. A life. I was the happiest I could remember being since I was a child. My inner roommate had been pretty quiet once it became her and I again. She would speak up every so often with a jab or criticism, but I was just too busy to really pay attention. Life was happening... I became a mother, a business owner, I began teaching fitness classes and building a tribe of support.
I was settling into a life that was... comfortable. And then I began to feel an itch.
An old familiar voice that was calling out to me, reminding me that this was not enough, that I was not enough. My inner roommate had this overwhelming need to change me, and all I kept wondering was, “What’s it going to take? WHEN WILL I BE ENOUGH??”.
I wished that I could just evict this damn girl - life would be SO much easier if I could. But wouldn’t you know it, she signed a life lease. No getting out of that one. I needed to find a way to make this work. I gathered myself up and went in search of the next quick fix... but instead found something that ended up being life-altering. I thought I was getting into a new “diet”, but I ended up in what I call my year of therapy. I had coaches and support that helped me peel back the onion layers of all my actions, behaviours, habits. For the first time ever, I took accountability and ownership of my life and my actions. I stopped being the victim and began being the champion. I forged a new path with healthy habits that nurtured both my body and my mind.
After 37 years, I had finally done the work and repaired the relationship I had with food, my body and myself. My roommate and I – we had finally come to a place of mutual respect and admiration. I had learned how to put my own oxygen mask on first.
And I had done all of these things without the knowledge that my plane was about to go down...
By November 2016, we were facing some tremendous industry challenges and decided to sell our family-run business before more change took place. It was just the right time and the right decision for us. Throughout all of the stress that we had encountered, I stayed calm, focused and felt as if I could conquer the world (whereas normally I would be flying off the handle). I finally felt like my shit was together, neatly filed and colour-coded.
But something was off. Something was lurking in the shadows and was about to attack.
That something came on November 9, 2016 when in the midst of negotiating the sale of our business, my husband – that boy who so long ago accepted a messy, broken girl – died by suicide.
As this news came to me, and the world beneath my feet gave way and I (literally) crumbled to the ground, I heard a whisper...
“It’s okay. You will be okay. I’ve got you now”.
My roommate. My friend. She showed up when I needed her the most. And she helped me to see - in the darkest of dark – all the amazing love and support that we had cultivated in our life. Instead of anger and panic, I was overcome with gratitude for this life. For MY life. For who I had become and for who I could be right then for others, because they couldn’t be there for themselves. She gave me the strength to carry those that needed to be carried through this, especially our daughter.
This is about as true and raw an illustration of the importance of putting your own oxygen mask on first. It is the power of true self-care and how much we all need it. This isn’t a luxury, or something to be put off until later. No, this is a necessity. A critical life skill that every man, woman and child have stocked in their tool box. If I have learned anything, it’s that life is happening to us all the time, and happening at a moment’s notice. The question to ask yourself is... are you (and your inner roommate) ready for it?
It’s been three and a half years since Adrien left us, and I am forever grateful for my roommate’s love and support. She is still here to help when I need her (which is always), and has been trying to help me navigate the new world that we find ourselves in. Widowhood comes with it’s own set of challenges, like an IKEA cabinet with no instructions.
But that, my friends, is for another story.
Indiana, United States
"I will never forgive them for this."
I was sitting on the floor of my laundry room, sobbing, my chest tight and each breath restricted. I had just blacked out during a panic attack and had no idea how I'd gotten downstairs. My knuckles were bloody from beating on the door and my mind was chasing the pain around in circles. "I will never forgive them for this." The words came out more like a vow than a simple statement. I could feel them sink down to the deepest, darkest part of my soul. These words would shape the rest of my life if I let them.
So, I paused.
My husband had just confessed to me that he was sleeping with my older sister. I had known that there was an emotional affair going on between them, but I was in denial about the extent of it. Trauma does that - it puts up blinders to the facts that are right in front of our face. Nothing could have prepared me. It felt like a thousand knives being stabbed into my back. I'd let out a single cry as I stumbled across the floor to the staircase, and the next thing I remember was being curled up on the floor, swearing I'd never forgive them.
But I know what unforgiveness does to a person...how it completely consumes and devours ones ability to love. How the bitterness sucks all the joy out of life. How the wound festers and grows until all hope withers and dies, and all that's left is cynicism.
I thought about my 4 children asleep upstairs in their beds, I thought about the little girl growing in my belly. I couldn't do that to them. I wouldn't! I wouldn't become that bitter woman. And in the same instant that I felt the fire of determination ignite in my heart, I felt the weight of the dread, knowing what that meant about forgiving. I would have to forgive them, or at least spend my whole life trying.
For months, I had vivid nightmares of violently tearing the skin from my sisters face, and squeezing her throat until she went limp. These dreams scared me. So, I got serious about forgiving. I sat down with a picture of my sister in one hand, and a box of kleenex in the other. At first, I couldn't even look at her face, but I said the words anyway, "I forgive her, God bless her. I forgive her, God bless her. I forgive her God bless her." Over and over again I said these words. Angry, seething, hateful, then indifferent, and I wouldn't stop until I felt genuine compassion for her. And the next day I would start all over, back at the beginning. Angry. Indifferent. I forgive her, God bless her. Compassion...
They didn't deserve it. Neither of them had ever asked me to forgive them, in fact they repeatedly told me that nothing had happened. As hard as it was for me to wrap my mind around, contrary to everything I'd been taught, my forgiveness wasn't for them. It was for me.
I wanted to be free. I wanted to love again and I desperately needed some hope.
Three years later, I met my sister in the park. I asked her to meet because it felt like the next step forward in my healing. I had been waiting three years for her to make the first move. I thought, she screwed this up, she can be the one to initiate reconciliation. She never did. It took a long time before I could admit that day would never come. So I reached out to her and hoped that maybe she would be capable of responding to me in a healthy way. Either way, I would be getting the closure I needed and move on. I told myself I wouldn't cry that day, but the tears burned my eyes when she wrapped her arms around my neck and said, "I am so so sorry Alyssa."
Today, I'm a single Mom to my 5 beautiful kiddos, and I've built a life for them that's safe and full of healing and happiness. I am on speaking terms with my sister and occasionally we get the cousins together to play. But we are not close like we used to be and that's okay. I can't change what was done. I can't undo the affair and sadly my ex still has no interest in reconciliation. But I CAN choose the story I tell myself about what happened. And my story is full of gratitude and forgiveness.
I often think back to that dark moment on the laundry room floor when I almost made a deal with the devil. How different my life would be if I had bound myself to the chains of unforgiveness. Because here's what I've learned, forgiveness a long process and not a one time event. Forgiveness doesn't say that didn't matter, or it didn't hurt. Forgiveness doesn't erase the past, but it does change the future.
Forgiveness is saying, my desire to give and receive love is greater than my desire to keep this painful memory alive.
Forgiveness is choosing to let it go, not because they asked, not so they can sleep at night, not to give them a free pass; but for me, so I can be free.
On July 27, 2018, our family went through something we never thought was possible. It was a typical morning and we were at our cottage. My husband, Juergen made strawberry pancakes for breakfast. Our daughter Emily, 5.5 years old at this time, went to her bedroom to lay down in bed. We found her curled up in a ball on her bed crying and saying her tummy hurt. At first we didn’t think much of it... tummy aches are pretty routine.
For months prior she complained of an occasional sore tummy, but once again I did not think much of it and I was going to mention it to our family doctor. The odd thing was, that it came in waves. As the morning went on, she threw up. I suspected a flu bug. As the day went on, I made the choice to take her to the hospital. We carried Emily in and were taken in immediately. Within minutes we were seen by a doctor and sent off to get an ultrasound. Emily continued to scream and curl up in a ball in waves. I lied with her in her bed and she would sleep off and on. We were told that it was not her appendix, but they did see something around her ovary and were on the phone with Sick Kids. The next thing I knew we were in an ambulance with Emily to Sick Kids - lights and sirens all the way. I was so scared but continued to be strong for Emily. She held on to my hand the whole ride up.
We arrived with Emily at Sick Kids with my husband right behind us. We then had to go for an ultrasound again. Emily was still in a lot of pain. We then met Dr. Allan from the Gynaecology department. Emily had what was called a twisted torsion of her fallopian tube. She needed surgery and we had to sign paperwork, which was incredibly scary. It was not just signing a piece of paper to say please fix our daughter, it was giving permission to remove her fallopian tubes and ovaries if needed.
This was my baby girl, who I hoped would become a mom one day.
Emily was finally sleeping and comfortable, so we gave her a kiss and said I love you as they rolled her bed away from us. We waited for what felt like hours when Dr. Allan came out. We went to a quiet room for her to talk to us and were told that everything went well. Her fallopian tube was twisted around 2 times, hence the pain. However, we were also told that her left ovary did not look like a typical ovary. We spent the remainder of the night at Sick Kids. She had stitches at her belly button, and on each side of it. Before we left that day, Emily had to have a hand x-ray to show the age of her bone growth. In less than a week I received our first phone call from Sick Kids with test results.
Emily was producing estrogen. My little girl had her first period within a few weeks of her surgery. We went back and forth to Sick Kids for further tests. She had blood work done a few times, more ultrasounds, full body x-rays, and an MRI. My heart broke for her every time she had a test. We honestly had no idea what was going on. With frequent communication with Sick Kids we learned that Emily had started puberty. She had started to develop breasts, had some vaginal hair and her bone growth was 2 years ahead of her age - she had a large tumour on her left ovary. We were introduced to the ‘hormone’ doctor and between him and Dr. Allan and her team, they felt that the best and only procedure to do was to remove her tumour, left ovary and fallopian tube. We signed the scary papers again.
The day of Emily’s surgery was probably the most anxiety that I had felt. I put on my big girl pants for Emily to show her that she would be fine. I remember her being so scared and snuggling up on me in the bed. Nurses and doctors coming and going. Emily was already to go, but there was no way in hell she was letting go of me. She clung to me so tight. I honestly had no idea what I was going to do as I was trying to hold myself together for her, but tears were coming down my face as I was trying to convince her to go back and lay in her bed so the nurses could take her. Juergen tried and she was not having it.
In that moment, the nurses said that I could go with her, but I had to get changed to go in. I remember putting on the thin paper-like jumper, blue boots, and a hat to cover my hair. Emily then climbed back into my arms and I walked with her to the operating room. I have been in an operating room before but bringing in my little girl was so hard. There were nurses, an anesthesiologist and Dr. Allan. Emily had to put a mask up to her mouth to help her get a little sleepy, but of course did not want anything to do with that and I was not allowed to do it. She had to do this part on her own. Finally, she was able to do this, still in my arms and holding on tight. They had her count and you could hear her starting to get sleepy, but she was still holding on tight. I was able to have her lay down on the bed, still attached to me and they put the IV in. She was finally asleep, and I just stood there watching her. I was reassured she was in good hands and that I could leave her. I gave her a kiss and left with a nurse.
I got back to the waiting room and saw Juergen and I just cried. This was the first time I felt I could let it all out. I know she was in the best hands possible but trying to hold myself together for what felt like forever was so hard. I don’t even remember how long Emily was in there for, but I do remember when Dr. Allan came out and said everything went well and they only had to remove one ovary and her fallopian tube along with a very large tumour of over 8cm. I remember going into the room to go and see her and she was hooked up to so many machines and they were trying to wake her up. When she was stable, we were moved to a room to spend a few nights. Not only did I have to deal with Emily, but I had to deal with the fact that my other 3 children were at home with their grandma. This was the very first time I had ever left them for more than a few hours, let alone a night. I spent the night with her snuggled up in bed while Juergen went to the hotel to get some sleep. He came back and I was able to leave and take a shower, which was incredibly hard to do as I had not left her side. I remember walking quickly and showering as fast as I could to get back.
I could not leave her. I needed and wanted to know she was okay. We celebrated our 18th anniversary in the hospital with our daughter...one we will never forget. We continued with testing and regular check ups with Sick Kids. Not only were we learning, but so were the doctors. This is an incredibly rare thing, so rare that it took two biopsy places to conclude what Emily’s tumour was. I remember getting a call saying we needed to come back to Sick Kids for October 1. That day we learned that our baby girl had cancer called Stromal Tubular Tumour. HAD being the key word. It took everything in me to once again hold myself together, but yes, I did have a few tears going down my face, with Emily not truly understanding.
We were reassured that the tumour was removed and there were no further signs of cancer and no required treatment. She was ok and would continue to live a healthy life and be monitored for a very long time at Sick Kids. Today Emily is a healthy young girl. The estrogen that was produced by the tumour is now gone. Any physical parts that started puberty are visible but are no longer developing.
During this time, I had no idea that my mental health was taking a severe hit. When Emily started back to school, I stayed off work. I had no idea I was going to take a year off. I went into a depression like I had never experienced. When Emily was at school I worried and kept my phone close. I was so afraid of something happening. I just wanted security. The hard part was I could not provide that for her or for my other kids. I remember many days where it was hard to just get the kids ready for school and out the door in the morning. There was so much yelling, no patience and anger. My doctor put me on low dose antidepressants. I was not sleeping and was exhausted. I would sleep a little through the day occasionally, but most of the time I would just lay there. I watched so much TV and ate. I made cookies just to eat the cookie dough.
My doctor suggested that I go and talk to someone. This was a big step as I had never done this before and did not know if I could open up to anyone. A friend recommended a wonderful therapist who welcomed me with open arms. I shared my story and so many more as time went on. She gave me steps to try and find my way back. The problem was I needed to work on me, which also meant finding time for me...and let’s be honest, being a mom of 4 kids makes this incredibly difficult at the best of times.
Sleep was impossible. Nothing seemed to help. One day I received a message from an old friend...I am so incredibly grateful for her for reaching out, as we had not talked to in years. She heard I was not well and wanted to help. I did not respond right away. I do not ask for help and do not accept help easily. It came to the point where I felt I had nothing to lose. She was a massage therapist and I truly believe she was part of my healing process. She did her magic and we would talk on a weekly basis. She also introduced me to wild orange essential oil. I used this to help with my depression even though I was skeptical. I tried serenity oil and capsules, vetiver and cedarwood. I still thought she was crazy, but for the first time in months I started to sleep. I was sleeping through the night. I finally understood the power that essential oils had on my body and understood what she was talking about. The sleep may have happened quickly with the oils, but the depression still had a long way to go. As I was dealing with all of this, we were trying to get things started on building a new house, as we had a house fire on a property we owned a week after Emily’s first surgery. Also, I had to fight with long term disability to be covered, which was denied, not just once but three times. I went with no pay for a long time which added additional stress. I always had something I was trying to deal with. Over time I was able to heal and to be able to function as a mom to my children and a wife to my husband...and to be me.
Do I ever feel that I am the same as I was before? No, I don’t. When I see an ambulance with lights and sirens I cry instantly. I went up a size or two in clothing during this time and do not feel beautiful most days. I worked so hard to get to a weight and a look that I could love myself physically. This is something that I struggle with daily and continue to always work on. I am so incredibly grateful for a friend that checked in on me daily, and to a husband that was beyond patient and there for me through everything. I have 4 beautiful and healthy children. Do I think twice about tummy pain with any of my kids, yes, I do. But I also look at Emily and realize how lucky we are to have her in our life as things could have been completely different. She is a strong and independent little girl that I admire more every day. I am reminded of what she went through each day, whether I see her large scar or even her beautiful face - but I carry on.
I carry on for my family and for me too. There are good days and bad, but that is ok. I learn more and more about me each day and I will take those learning opportunities to help my children grow into strong adults.
This Is Me.
I have stumbled along the path of life as much as anybody else...I learn as I go. I am strong because of my perseverance and persistence. Each challenge I have faced has made me the person I am becoming.
As an adult, I experienced harassment and bullying in the workplace. This, along with struggling to find a good cultural fit in my administrative career, has really shaken my confidence. I am working on healing and growth. I fear standing up for myself and the outcome of saying “no”, so I end up saying yes to more things than I should and trust people too easily. I am working on boundaries.
I know that I am in control of my own healing and happiness and I am pursuing personal development. I believe that confidence can be built and boundaries can be created. I hope to be able to help others overcome their trials one day soon.
I also struggle with a learning disability. I have never done particularly well in school, especially in math (I actually failed a grade in school due to my lack of math skills). After a 20 year hiatus from school, I returned to obtain a 2-year College Diploma and even made President’s Honour Roll...with an A in math! I worked so hard for that. The College I had went to had put supports in place for my learning disability which had helped me to be successful. I am so grateful.
Finally, I have been diabetic since 2008, and with the help from a supportive gym family I have been able to lose weight, and have managed to keep my diabetes under control. We all need community in our lives to weather the storms and celebrate the triumphs.
I want women to know they are not alone, that there are other women sharing the same struggles and feelings.
Don’t give up, be a fighter and go after your dreams! You got this.
I want you to know that regardless of what point you’re at in your life, regardless of how you may feel, you are worthy. You CAN move through your trials - it may not be easy, you may not always see the light, but it WILL get better!
I’m Alyssa, and this is my story…
After high school, I did what most of us do, I went to college, lived in residence, graduated and of course...changed my mind on what I wanted to do with life! I decided to then move to Alberta and go to college and ended up getting home sick. I graduated from my program and decided to move back to Ontario to take another program in the same career path. I moved home in April and I was starting college in the Veterinary Technician program a few hours from my hometown (Woodstock) in September.
Just...and I mean JUST before moving into residence to start my program I found out I was pregnant. I was 22 years old and single and pregnant and headed to college (again), 2 hours away from my family.
I was determined to still go to school; it was just going to look a bit different. I wasn’t greeted with many congratulations when it came to telling my family. I can’t blame them though and I know they just wanted what was best for me. On many occasions I was told, “You know, you can have an abortion”, “You can give it up for adoption”, or “You don’t have to do this”. And, on many occasions, I stuck to my guns to do my very best.
I started school as planned. I was transparent with my professors about my pregnancy and vividly remember one conversation in which I was told to drop out of school and try again another time, that it wasn’t a program for a single parent. I walked away from this conversation so hurt and feeling like the people who were supposed to be in my corner just told me to drop out. I was determined to prove them wrong!
Later that week I was called to have a meeting with the head of the program. She told me I was going to need to drop a few courses that could be detrimental to my pregnancy and that I’d need to extend my program from 2 to 3 years. It didn’t seem like a huge deal, I looked into it to make sure it wasn’t going to affect my OSAP and was reassured by many staff members of the school that it wouldn’t.
I continued to go through my program like everyone else, working my ass off and maintaining an 80% average. I started attending a Young Moms Group that was run by the Region of Peel. It was great to have access to nurses and social workers and to meet other moms. We cooked dinner together and were given a $10 food card for local grocery stores...little did I know, it was soon to become an absolute blessing!
With only 4 weeks left in my first year I received a letter from OSAP, due to the fact I had dropped down to a part time course load, they were revoking my OSAP and taking the previously released funds. I had 4 weeks to come up with my tuition money or I would be forced to drop out. Not only did I now have no money to LIVE, I now had to come up with tuition money. I entered survival mode. I stewed about how I’d get groceries, how I would provide for my baby, how I would put gas in the car to get to Woodstock for my appointments.
I met with one of the social workers and voiced my concerns. She was absolutely amazing! The group started to give me a few extra food cards each week so that I could afford to get a few more groceries and I also relied on food banks. Side note...please please give to local food banks...and don’t just give the things you don’t like in the back of your cupboard that have been there for years. I can’t tell you the amount of times I was given expired food - even people without money deserve to eat with dignity. I also met with the nurse at the Moms Group and she recommended I reach out to local churches from my hometown to see if they were able to help with tuition. I went to work on writing out my story to send to many of the local churches, including my home church where I was baptised.
A church I had never attended, never met anyone from reached out to me. They felt led by God to help me, they covered the entire cost of my tuition so that I could stay in school. I was absolutely blown away! I met with the Deacon of the church and met his family and had frequent conversations with them.
I reached out to Woodstock Right to Life, who also donated grocery and gas cards so that I would be able to get to and from my appointments in Woodstock. Again, a woman I had never met was helping me! I was, and still am so grateful for every single one of these people and everyone else who stood behind them. Without them I would not have been able to continue my schooling.
It’s so easy to fall into a hole when everything happens so fast but I knew I had to continue - I had a little life inside me that deserved the best. My son was born in May, only weeks after I finished my first year of school and I returned in September. He started daycare at 4 months old...it wasn’t ideal, but it was what needed to happen in order for me to provide for him.
I continued the rest of my 2 year program, through trials and tribulations. I continued to attend the Young Mom Groups until I moved back to Woodstock when my program was done. I applied for local supports run by the Region of Peel and received a car seat, school supplies, and a onetime donation of household necessities and groceries.
So many people helped me.
I graduated my program with Honours…what a great feeling to walk down that isle at Graduation and think...3 years ago I was told to drop out...that I wouldn’t make it...that it was too hard - and here I am, walking down this isle graduating with Honours and receiving an award for Excellence with my 2 year old cheering me on! I became a Registered Veterinary Technician, I got a job at the most amazing clinic and less than 4 short years later I opened my own business.
I want to encourage other young moms out there not to give up. Reach out to local supports - there are so many resources. Be proactive, get on waiting lists for child care, apply for subsidies, ASK for help. Help won’t just fall in your lap, but if you ask, you’ll be surprised how much help is available. Parenting and going to school isn’t easy, but it is not impossible!
You have a innocent life depending on you to do what’s right.
British Columbia, Canada
In 2016, after years of uncomfortably bumping into the brick wall and bandaging my scuffs, I finally crashed into it. It hurt like hell, and the bandaids were no longer big enough.
But I was awake.
In pain, but awake. People eat-up the ‘rock bottom’ story, and then love the victorious and inspirational ending. This isn’t necessarily that story.
Those who know me know I am a great story teller and will tell it in great detail... sometimes for hours on end. I now see many of the tales (though true) were in reality mini excerpts of the story that truly needed to be told.
I can’t exactly pinpoint the moment when I decided I could no longer exist with myself in the same way. Safe to say, it was a plethora of moments not worth remembering.
I mentioned to a therapist I began seeing that I felt perhaps I should be assessed for ADHD. She agreed testing deemed appropriate. Not surprisingly, At age 36 I was diagnosed with “probable” ADHD and an anxiety disorder.
I can’t tell you how I felt after I was told the news. For so many years I worked hard at turning my back on my feelings. I related to them as you would an irritating neighbour that you can’t entirely ignore, but avoid at all costs.
I felt hopeless, embarrassed and frustrated. My whole life I have heard many remarks such as “who doesn’t have ADHD” or “there is no such thing” or recall people making jokes about the often irritating, yet sweet nature of those with the disorder. Not to mention, the memes making light of it. Hell, many a time I even uttered these ignorant remarks myself. The truth is, in the midst of difficulty, this disorder is an unhealthy, exhausting and overwhelming way to live your life.
Societies perception of this disorder made the diagnosis feel like a bit of a joke, as though I would never be taken seriously. The psychologist suggest I treat the anxiety through lifestyle change and that perhaps many of the symptoms of the ADHD would subside naturally.
Medications used to treat ADHD can act as stimulants and thus increase the level of anxiety I was already experiencing. I have learned the anxiety disorder was quite possibly the cause of many years of living with undiagnosed/untreated ADHD. My natural (mostly unhealthy) coping mechanisms of dealing with the discomforts of the disorder were no longer doing the trick and instead, were making matters worse...a common reality for many in the same shoes. In proper ADHD fashion, I grew tired of them anyways.
For as long as I can remember I have felt and experienced everything both subtle and gross, with deep intensity. The laugh, snicker or cry, the hug, kiss or slap, the compliment or cutting remark, the strong smell - pleasant or not, art, music, fashion, food, wine,
the glance or stare, the eye roll or lack thereof...anything with a feeling accompanying it, I felt it tenfold. My heightened sensory experience hit me like a ton of bricks and left me either flooded with creative inspiration or in a reactive tailspin. A beautiful disaster, a double-edged sword, a blessing and a curse...
When times were good, for me they were great beyond what the average person may consider just ‘ok’. When times were not so good they were painfully intolerable.
Minor indiscretions, someone emotionally well wouldn’t think twice about, left me feeling like I had been hit by a truck. My logical thinking became impaired and in a state of fight or flight, and I did just that. In some way, shape or form I fought or ran in avoidance. My mind ruminated endlessly, and it was exhausting. Not only to myself, but to those around me.
Unable to relate to my emotions, I was uncomfortable more often than not. And this became my normal. My feelings caused me such dis-ease that I became shameful, felt guilty and was very afraid of them. I believed the little voice inside that told me I was “a spaz”, “dramatic” and “just had to make things difficult”. In turn, and out of self-preservation without awareness, I began avoiding my feelings because they were so intense and I was fearful of being alone with them.
One of my earliest memories of myself (I was probably no more than maybe 9 or 10) was that there was something wrong with me, that I looked fine on the outside, but something inside of me was sick. Not my thoughts, not my body...but something else didn’t feel well. I remember for a moment contemplating “I wonder if this is what it feels like when someone had AIDS or Cancer? Is this what feeling sick feels like?”
I didn’t know it at the time, but I now know it was my first conscious encounter with my ego. That little voice that says “Smarten up! What’s wrong with you? You know better!” For many years that inner voice talked me away from feeling whatever discomfort I was feeling, inhibiting my ability to tolerate feeling, or expressing my feelings skillfully and at the appropriate time. This interrupted the development of the parts of my brain that controlled emotional regulation, which in turn, left me anxious and agitated ... like a brewing storm. I wasn’t physically sick, and I felt guilty and ashamed for even trying to compare myself to someone who was.
This experience was complex and complicated for me to comprehend as a child. I was scared and ashamed and wouldn’t have been able to put it into words anyways. I often tried to convince myself this was “part of being human”...everyone has difficulties right?!
Simple, everyday moments where there wasn’t much going on left me feeling bored and restless.
I struggled to be comfortable with order, because disorder was much more familiar. I wanted to be anywhere but where I was. Good or bad, it didn’t matter. I forever needed something to distract myself. Enter the teenage years, marked with new distractions along with hormonal and environmental shifts...a co-dependents dream.
At my core, I felt like I was from another planet. I didn’t know who “I” was. With fear as my constant companion, it kept me within arms reach of ever having the peaceful experience of ‘Self’. I had an underdeveloped self-worth & lacked self-knowledge. I did not want to expose myself. I feared rejection and was desperate for love, acceptance and connection. I said yes to all the things I was too afraid to say no to. Into my adult years, I frequently did the same AND I organized almost all of it. Beautifully packaged in a good time and delivered with a tough-love attitude. Skilled at pretending I didn’t give a shit, I grew to believe my own lies.
In high-school I met my now husband. He was, and still is my teacher. A Godsend m, and I don’t believe it was coincidental we ended up together. We had a rocky relationship for many years. I was intensely loving, yet clingy and needy. I shared exactly who I was with him. He heard and could comprehend me and beneath the teenage angst, he saw the truth of who I was. He didn’t always agree with the things I had to say, and most often he didn’t do the things I wanted him to do. He never offered advice or hoped I would be different. He modelled to me boundaries, independence and acceptance.
When I was young and naive it often seemed like he was being a jerk. But I now see how it served to protect us both and actually held our relationship together. I taught him about the value of love and loyalty and he taught me the value of autonomy and the self-discipline I lacked.
After high-school, I worked a bunch of different odd jobs, that of course weren’t for me, so I quit and went to hair school. Thank God. There, I met two of the most incredible woman with whom I instantly connected. Our meeting changed the trajectory of my life and the meaning of friendship as I knew them - I was finally free to be me. Good, bad and ugly...they didn’t care. Nothing I said shocked them. They never offered advice, or struggled to tolerate the intense side of me. Their subtle body language oozing with understanding, acceptance and compassion. As did their “I love yous”. It wasn’t until age 18 that I had experienced feeling a sense of wholeness and safety within myself while in the company of my peers.
After hair school was done and real life ensued, the three of us went in different directions and didn’t see so much of each other. However, through the good times and the bad, we always managed to stay in touch.
Children came onto the scene, and I began spending time with other friends who knew me differently. I smoked, drank, talked too much for too long, gossiped and overate unhealthy foods to avoid what was lingering beneath - to keep things “spicy”. I was always in for a good time and being the life of the party. My friends loved me - or the version of me they signed up for.
I was a ticking time bomb - I could no longer keep up the facade. The demands of a marriage, career and children were getting increasingly demanding and I was running out of juice. When I got real with many my friends, I wasn’t so much fun to be around anymore. I became self-interested, heavy, intense, serious, always conflicted...always feeling. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Although I knew I was sensitive deep down, I believed the “wuss” I was as a child was a distant memory. I was sure I loved being social and couldn’t understand why I suddenly didn’t want to show up in the same way.
I may have been physically and intellectually healthy, but I was spiritually & emotionally unwell. This transformation left many of my friends at a loss. It was never them, although at times I tried to convince myself otherwise.
It was inevitable, I was the only one that could help myself.
After years of dissolved friendships and painful feelings of rejection, alienation and abandonment, the diagnosis and treatment of my ADHD and anxiety though a slow and ongoing process, helped to understand myself. I gained the ability to offer myself the compassion and care I need to heal, grow, evolve and inspire myself and others alike.
Establishing a daily meditation practice has been the major key to improving my emotional health. To make a long story short it is gradually and gracefully converting my fear into courage, my intolerance & judgments to compassion and my loneliness into acceptance.
I still have difficult days where I find that little egoic voice whispering it’s pathetic sweet nothings into my psyche. I am much quicker to notice its presence and use my tools to end the encounter, in protection of my precious heart and soul.
I feel that sharing my story is important because I know there are others who feel the way I do. According to Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada “ADHD CONSERVATIVELY occurs in 4% of adults and 5% of children worldwide.” This doesn’t include all of those living undiagnosed and in shame. Their entire lives without a feeling of hope or support. Although a journey not for the faint of heart, there is a way to not eliminate, but relate to the non stop inner-chaos.
I never needed to fear being alone, it was in fact the safest place for me. The way out, is in fact in.
The self-help books, podcasts, workshops, quotes etc. that many scoff at, have been my inspiration to stay on the path. Not being reliant on them for the answers, they have always served to remind me that if I keep showing up for myself with curiosity and continue to question what I don’t understand, the answers and comfort will present themselves in due time.
I love seeing my story written this way. I have no guilt, shame or regrets of the past.
I did the best I could with the awareness that was available to me, even when the consequences of my best blew up in my face. My behaviour at times was toxic, but I now see that I was not. I have always had good intentions and owned my faults. I am never too proud to offer a meaningful and sincere apology.
The ways I have hurt and been hurt have served to teach me what it is that I value. Patience, compassion, honesty, integrity, loyalty, humility and vulnerability. I am a far place from self-realized, however I trust my innate love, courage and stamina will continue to carry me closer to that place.
Not sure who to quote...but it’s true when they say that healing is not linear, especially when it comes to the emotional body. The truth is, feelings and emotions, like waves in the ocean, ebb and flow. I’m no longer seeking control and a consistent, smooth sea. Rather, I will accept and embrace my capacity for feeling deeply. I am learning to tame this beautiful beast. And will continue to practice tolerantly riding these waves.
Peace & Love
I didn’t know that terrible things could happen until the day I received news that would change my life forever. I didn’t know shock or disbelief. I didn’t know sorrow or grief. I had never met any of these feelings before. I was innocent, happy, and free. That all changed in an instant on September 13th, 2009.
I was 18 years old, and I had just come home that Sunday evening. I was surprised to see my Mom standing outside waiting for me. She reached her hand out to grab mine. I asked her what’s wrong and she couldn’t answer. I remember every detail. My brother at the counter with his head in his hands. My Dad pacing the living room. Andy’s parents at the front door. I knew he was gone.
Andy was my best friend since I met him at age 14. We dated for a majority of our high school years. We were inseparable, in fact, our whole friend group was. He was the glue that kept everyone together. He became a huge part of my life the moment I met him.
He died in a car accident that morning and suddenly everything looked and felt different. Everything was different.
For years I was clinically depressed. I had crippling anxiety. I could barely leave my bed, let alone the house. I went to University and skipped almost all of my classes. I pushed others away with my words and my actions. I did everything I could to escape my emotions - drinking, smoking weed, not caring about what I did or who I did it with. Worst of all, putting myself in less than ideal situations on purpose, because I didn’t care about myself or my life.
I have come a long way since that changing day over 10 years ago. With time, and with the support of friends, family, and especially my Mom, I was able to climb out of the depths of sadness and despair. It has taken a lot of personal development, therapy and doing things that make me feel joy. I have discovered the importance of nutrition, exercise, journalling and meditating. I have recognized the importance of following my dreams and not always looking to others for their approval. A total body, mind and spirit approach has been my saving grace.
My heart still aches sometimes for my younger self who was so caught up in her grief that she saw no way out of the storm. If I could, I would lay beside her as she cried into her pillow case at night and let her know that with time, the pieces of her free spirited heart would return.
I’d wrap her in my arms and say, “I know you don’t believe me right now...but you’re going to be happy again.”
While adversity seems to be a constant theme in the pages of my story, I like to think that victory plays just as large, if not a larger part. It is so easy to rest on the negative, to snuggle right down into it and stay there in its warmth. I have found comfort there.
Some of the most significant aspects of my story include trauma from my parents’ divorce, triumph over a long road of failure in academics, an attempt at self-harm as a teen, losing 3 children to miscarriage but having the sheer will and want that lead to the miraculous birth of my three sons, bringing a child, born with a diagnosis of Down Syndrome into the world and growing my acceptance, along with finding myself inside of motherhood.
I no longer view these trials as negatives. I value the tools, strength and resiliency I acquired as a result of enduring them.
Lessons I value from overcoming my trials continue to guide me through life. I find strength in the fact that I was able to crawl out of each and every hardship...even in the darkest of times. I am eternally grateful for the people who stepped up and helped me. My incredibly strong mother and sisters, simply by standing by me and holding my hand, along with extended family, doctors, my husband, my loving children, friends and even strangers.
We simply never know when we are helping others...
It would also seem really odd if I didn't mention my own strength and depth of character - I think is has a lot to do with my success. I’ve grown and matured through every experience.
My parents divorce had long-standing, devastating effects on me which occurred at a very impressionable stage in life. A time when it was natural to blame myself, a time when I needed both of my parents the most, a time when I was trying to figure out who I was...was clouded by what I thought I had done to make my parents break apart. It had a tremendous effect on my academics, which eventually rolled right into my lack of self worth. That lead to a very dark time when leaving everyone I loved behind seems to be the only aspect of my life that made any sense. How I see it is that amazing heroes in my life, along with my want to feel better helped me to rise back up.
I was blessed with tools that helped me to understand that my parents separation had nothing to do with me. That fact alone took away some of the shame for struggling with academics. That feeling as though my family was broken, that I could not learn, that I felt so helpless, was the reason why suicide seemed right. Like a game of dominoes, all just fell into each other.
Every time I have faced misfortune, heartbreak or a blow, I have used the tools that I was given or learned through psychology, growth and life's lessons to wiggle my way out of the dark and back into the light. Admittedly, it does take longer when working out deeper challenges, but I always get there.
On top of that mixed bag of healing power, I have also adopted the philosophy of sharing light with others as absolutely much as I can and with anyone that I feel may need it. I lean into my vulnerable side in order to do this and have found even more purpose there.
I noted above that darkness and negativity can be an odd type of comfort. I think that's true simply because it's easier. But oh how the sun feels when it's shines upon your face. All of the hard work that you have put into yourself is right there in those rays. I have come to love how continuously working on myself, on my marriage and relationships with my children, family and friends is where I love to live life the most!
Thank you my friend for sharing your beautiful story, you are an inspiration to many!