Will the Real Ella Hicks Please Stand Up?

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May I have your attention please?
May I have your attention please?
Will the real Ella Hicks please stand up?
I repeat, will the real Ella Hicks please stand up?

Change can be weird on all accounts. When I first started social media I knew it would be a big risk for me. Putting myself out there in the public arena is not exactly safe for a woman/mother who is living in “hiding” from her abusive ex-husband. No more stalking please! Getting “out there” and sharing my story was the only way I figured that I could stay sane and make some sense out of what my life had become. So I took a leap and started a blog and called it Rebel Thriver because I was determined to not get to comfy in my survivors coat. I wanted to upgrade to a thriver and in order for me to do that I needed to be a bit rebellious and speak out in a public way, even though I knew there was a BIG risk factor involved.

So the name came easily, Rebel Thriver. Who is Ella Hicks though? Do you realize how many times in a single day a blogger, writer, or public figure will show their likeness publicly? What was I to do? I knew I couldn’t show mine so I decided to adopt Brigitte Bardot as my public face. Besides the fact that we both have a mop of blonde hair, I admire her for many reasons. She is a fearless activist for animal rights in France. Animals are so often the unspoken of victims of domestic violence. They are often tortured in an attempt to hurt the human victim even more. I am so grateful for the work she does. She was an incredible beauty when she was younger and has been slammed in the press for not “aging” well. The reason is that she has opted to grow old naturally is so her money is used to help animals, not her vanity. Instead of being praised for her selflessness she is so often ridiculed and it’s heartbreaking.

As Rebel Thriver poises to grow I knew that the day would come that I would have to find another “face” for myself. Ella Hicks needs her own identity other than a photograph, and so the search has been on for years. As luck would have it the other day I came across a painting that was spot on. Immediately I knew that this was the perfect representation for me and so I contacted the artist Elizabeth Mayville and explained to her in a nutshell my colorful and complicated conundrum of a story. Not only did Elizabeth agree right away to allow me to use this beautiful painting of hers as my public “face”, but she waived the fee she usually charges because she supports what I am trying to do with Rebel Thriver.

So today is the unveil of the “new me”. I simply love it more than words because it really captures my day to day vibe. I want to thank Elizabeth Mayville from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to use her amazing piece of art and for having such a generous heart. You can see more of Elizabeth Mayville’s work at http://www.elizabethmayville.com or shop https://www.etsy.com/shop/ElizabethMayville

I know it’s going to take some time for me to get used to not seeing Brigitte everyday, but it’s time for a change and I am going to grow with it! xo Ella

My Journey to Wellness

I believe in finding the path to your best self is critical for living your best life. In keeping with this mindset I am a self-proclaimed wellness kind of gal. What does wellness mean to me? True wellness comes when you take holistic care of your mind, body, and spirit. It’s took me years to realize that self acceptance is what will allow me to have a healthy and whole life.

Healthy

 

Today’s world is run by big corporations and everyday we are bombarded with million dollar advertising campaigns in an attempt to capture our dollars. The advertising tends to be in your face, and yet there is always a subliminal message that really seals the deal.  These companies pay millions every year to top marketing firms to get people hooked on their products. What if it’s not the product you are buying, but rather an emotion. A hope for what the product will allow you to feel?

I have tried since about the age of 13 to incorporate many “diets” into my life, all in an attempt to achieve the perfect body, glowing skin, and abundant energy. While in my 20’s I found myself working and starving myself most of the time to keep myself model thin. I am embarrassed to say this but for quite a while I sustained myself with buckets of coffee and chocolate Ex-lax. It wasn’t until my hair started to really fall out that I became concerned. It was then that I found out that I was pregnant with my first child, and he was sucking all of what little nutrients my body had right out of me. I will never forget sitting across from the OB/GYN while I told her of my diet. I started crying because I thought that I had already damaged my baby. It was a very emotional day for me, as I was  thrilled to find out I would become a mother for the first time, but it was shadowed by the fact that I was going to be gaining a lot of weight. As the pregnancy rolled on I developed a ferocious appetite like nothing I had ever experienced before. In order for me to keep it together my doctor never told me how the weight was piling on over the nine months. I knew that I was getting HUGE, but I just focused on being a healthy mom and having a healthy baby.

It’s been over 18 years since my first child and what I took away from the experience of being pregnant is that being healthy is the critical component to any life that wants to be well lived. I decided that for me “diets” didn’t work. I chose to eat heathy organic foods and strive to avoid the brainwashing of advertising telling me that if I ate ice cream it would make me happy. It never made me happy, but it did break my skin out and fill me with mucous.

Most recently I did the Keto “diet”. I wanted to see if I could commit to it, and ultimately to see how I would feel after three months. I didn’t find it particularly hard to get on board with since there is a wealth of info, recipes, blogs, and support groups for the program. The hardest thing was depriving myself of sugar, and that’s because I didn’t realize how addicted I had become to it. Food manufactures seem to slip it into everything in order to make things “taste better” and lets be honest, get you hooked on their products as sugar is addictive. By the end of month three, I had greater energy, clear skin, I lost weight, and the brain fog that I so often struggle with lifted. What I didn’t like was the constant berating in my head everytime I was tempted to deprive myself of something I was craving. I can be a real bitch to myself. I did the three months but it didn’t take long for me to start eating all of the things that I love, like sugar and bread.  Living a life of deprivation and self hate isn’t the path of wellness that I wanted to be on. Even thought I kept some of the keto diet (no sugar in my coffee) the weight snuck back on, my skin started breaking out, and my energy levels dropped and again. Sigh.

I was still looking for a way to become healthier without having to torture myself daily. One day I was browsing through Mind Valley’s Masterclass offerings (If you do not know Mind Valley then I suggest you check it out. Seriously.) I came across one for a quest called Wildfit 90 given by the founder, Eric Edmeades. It took me just 60 minutes to know that this was something that I had to partake in and I signed up. I am heading into week three and I am in love with the program already. I will be blogging about my journey and in 90 days we will see where I find myself. For all of you who are looking for something similar stay tuned.
xo Ella

Here is some info on Wildfit 90 and Mind Valley for you to check out:

Unknown   https://www.mindvalley.com

 

OfficialLogo-WildFit-BlackonAlpha-3000x1809  https://getwildfit.com/wf90

 

I just can’t remember

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Superbowl Lll is tomorrow and this blog post has been on the tip of my tongue all week. Like many women just the thought of the Superbowl triggers flashbacks. It is said that on this day domestic violence takes a leap. Sadly, I have read articles that say these statistics are not true, but if you are one of the thousands who have lived through it then you know the truth. Even if your abuser’s team wins you will spend countless days dreading the build up to game day, you will walk on eggshells throughout the game, and hold your breath and just pray that you escape this year without incident. Men, booze, testosterone, and sports can be a very scary world if you are an abused woman.

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As I sat in the car dealership to have my oil changed the other day I caught a morning talk show with a few ex NFL players. The subject was CTE or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Trust me that I would have turned the channel if I could as listening to millionaires talk about their head damage was not of interest to me. However, within two minutes of listening I heard something that made me shudder to the core. Football players and war Veterans are not the only ones likely to suffer from CTE, but also survivors of domestic violence. WHY had I not heard this before?!

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans, and others (domestic abuse survivors) with a history of repetitive brain trauma. In CTE, a protein called Tau forms clumps that slowly spread throughout the brain, killing brain cells. The symptoms of CTE include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, suicidality, parkinsonism, and, eventually, progressive dementia. These symptoms often begin years or even decades after the last brain trauma.

This kind of brain trauma in domestic violence often goes undetected and untreated, making women vulnerable to problems with thinking, mood, and behavior. These can be debilitating conditions for the survivor. About one quarter of American women have experienced severe physical assaults by a domestic partner in their lifetime. These assaults can include hitting, punching, being slammed into something hard, pushed down the stairs, and having things thrown at them.

In 2014 Ray Rice, a Baltimore Raven, was caught on an elevator video knocking his then fiancee, Janay, out cold. When this happened the attention was all about how Ray Rice had previous concussions and that the rage and aggression shown could be contributed to CTE. Nobody mentioned that Janay, who we all watched being cold-cocked had just suffered a brain injury right in front of our eyes. The more pressing issue was if Rice would be allowed to play football again.

Survivors of assault often don’t seek immediate medical care for the trauma they live through and when they do there are often creative excuses for the injuries.  Symptoms can start years after an assault and it makes connecting them to the cause of domestic violence difficult. I am a survivor of domestic violence and an advocate for other survivors. Even though I suffer from terrible memory issues it has never been suggested that I might have CTE. All it takes is a CT scan of the brain that can be done by any neurologist to diagnose it. I have been diagnosed with PTSD and my memory issue has been brushed off even though it is one of my biggest complaints and concerns. Needless to say I will be getting my CT scan soon.

I believe that all women who have a history of domestic abuse should be educated to know that they need to get these brain scans. They need to know where the symptoms they are experiencing are coming from. Memory loss, depression, and anxiety may not just be a result of PTSD. They may have a much deeper and far reaching cause. This is a critical issue and it is one that needs to be put out there. Doctors and victims need to be educated. Sometimes an imaging test of the brain that shows scarring, in a strange way, can be comforting to the survivor. There is then a concrete reason as to why they are having symptoms. It can be a relief to know that you actually have a physical reason for your problems. It needs to be stressed that early intervention is critical for CTE.

As you watch the Superbowl this year please be mindful of the women around you. If you are one of the many women who are reading this today and are living in dread of the game tomorrow, I beg you to try to find an alternate plan for the day. If you cannot then have a safety plan set up. You do not need to continue living like this. Trust me that there is a way out. I know you are scared and tired, but freedom is on the other side of this. I know this because I have lived this. You were not born to be another person’s punching bag. You were not born to be held captive by another person or to be physically, mentally and emotionally tortured either. You are not the crazy one. You are meant for much greater things. There is always a way out so don’t you dare give up. Tomorrow I will be routing for you.  #nomore

xo Ella

Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224
RAINN Hotline: 1-800-656-4673

** The header picture is from an article Behind Closed Doors by Jennifer O’Neill   that appeared in Good Housekeeping 2016.

Dear Evan Hansen

In February my sister took the kids and I to see the brand new musical, Dear Evan Hansen. The story is about Evan Hansen, a high school senior who deals with crushing anxiety. He see’s a therapist, takes medicine, and just doesn’t fit in…anywhere. My darling son also deals with these issues at times and we thought that it might be a great way for him to see that he isn’t alone. There are so many people out there struggling from depression & anxiety, and it can lead them to feel incredibly isolated. For a moment we worried that it might actually trigger him, but in the end I thought it was worth the risk. It was.

What an incredible show! I cried through most of the show (as did everyone else). Evan’s is being raised by a single mother (like me) and it was so incredible for me to see that I am not alone. There are plenty of other parents who have highly sensitive children like mine…like Evan Hansen. Her struggles are my struggles too. His struggles are my sons struggles too.

Last night at the 71st Tony Awards, it was nominated for nine awards, winning six including Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Actor in a Musical for Ben Platt who was AMAZING as Evan Hansen. I am still cheering today!

In this crazy upside down world, leave it to the artists to keep us grounded. I never thought that a musical about an awkward and anxious kid could sweep the Tony’s and win over the hearts of so many, including mine. And in the process shine a much-needed light on the struggles of mental illness that are more common than we like to think.

I tell my son that he takes his medicine because his brain doesn’t make enough of a certain chemical. It’s like a diabetic who needs his insulin to balance his blood.

Thank you Dear Evan Hansen for helping me show my son that he isn’t alone. That there are others that understand him and his very personal struggle. Last night was just the cherry on the top as it won critical acclaim, reminding us that it’s okay not to always be ok. What makes us different is also what sets us apart and makes us unique to this world.

If you get a chance to see this amazing play, do it! If you have a teenage kid who struggles like mine, and Evan Hansen, then save your money and try to take them to the show. You cant get much better therapy than this. xo ella

“Don’t waste your time trying to be like everybody else because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.” – Ben Platt

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https://youtu.be/0vkTxakkho4
(click on link to see the performance of Waving Through a Window at last night’s Tony Awards.)
Waving Through a Window
I’ve learned to slam on the brake
Before I even turn the key
Before I make the mistake
Before I lead with the worst of me
Give them no reason to stare
No slipping up if you slip away
So I’ve got nothing to share
No, I got nothing to say
Step out, step out of the sun
If you keep getting burned
Step out, step out of the sun
Because you’ve learned, because you’ve learned
On the outside always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?
’cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass
I’m waving through a window
I try to speak, but nobody can hear
So I wait around for an answer to appear
While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass
I’m waving through a window
Oh, can anybody see, is anybody waving
Back at me?
We start with stars in our eyes
We start believing that we belong
But every sun doesn’t rise
And no one tells you where you went wrong
Step out, step out of the sun
If you keep getting burned
Step out, step out of the sun
Because you’ve learned, because you’ve learned
On the outside always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?
’cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass
Waving through a window
I try to speak, but nobody can hear
So I wait around for an answer to appear
While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass
Waving through a window
Oh, can anybody see, is anybody waving?
When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound
When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound
When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound
When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound
Did I even make a sound
Did I even make a sound
It’s like I never made a sound
Will I ever make a sound?
On the outside always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been
’cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass
Waving through a window
I try to speak
But nobody can hear
So I wait around for an answer to appear
While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass
Waving through a window
Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?
Oooh, is anybody waving
Waving, waving, whoa-oh, whoa-oh-oh-oh
“Waving Through a Window” is a song performed
by Ben Platt (Evan) from the Broadway musical
DEAR EVAN HANSEN.

Perfect.

Perfect

Fuckin’ Perfect

Made a wrong turn, once or twice
Dug my way out, blood and fire
Bad decisions, that’s alright
Welcome to my silly life
Mistreated, misplaced, misunderstood
Miss ‘No way, it’s all good’, it didn’t slow me down
Mistaken, always second guessing, underestimated
Look, I’m still around
Pretty, pretty please, don’t you ever, ever feel
Like you are less than, less than fuckin’ perfect
Pretty, pretty please, if you ever, ever feel like you’re nothing
You’re fuckin’ perfect to me
You’re so mean when you talk about yourself, you were wrong
Change the voices in your head make them like you instead
So complicated, look happy, you’ll make it
Filled with so much hatred, such a tired game
It’s enough, I’ve done all I can think of
Chased down all my demons, I’ve seen you do the same
Pretty, pretty please, don’t you ever, ever feel
Like you are less than, less than fuckin’ perfect
Pretty, pretty please, if you ever, ever feel like you’re nothing
You’re fuckin’ perfect to me
The whole world’s scared so I swallow the fear
The only thing I should be drinking is an ice cold beer
So cool in line, and we try try try
But we try too hard and it’s a waste of my time
Done looking for the critics, cause they’re everywhere
They don{t like my jeans; they don’t get my hair
Exchange ourselves, and we do it all the time
Why do we do that? Why do I do that
Why do I do that?
Yeah, oh, oh baby, pretty baby
Pretty, pretty please, don’t you ever, ever feel
Like you’re less than fuckin’ perfect
Pretty, pretty please, if you ever, ever feel
Like you’re nothing, you’re fuckin’ perfect to me, yeah
You’re perfect, you’re perfect
Oh pretty, pretty please, if you ever, ever feel
Like you’re nothin’ you’re fuckin’ perfect to me
Songwriters: Alecia Moore / Johan Schuster / Max Martin

Endless

love

“Love. It will not betray you, dismay you or enslave you. It will set you free.”
– Mumford & Sons

I used to have a warped idea about love. I believed that if I loved deeply and intensely with all of myself I could change the world. My ex-husband walked into my life-like a black hole. He sucked everything that I had out of me and then he demanded more. Everyday I paid a toll for being alive and it wasn’t cheap. He took everything I had to give, spit it back into my face, and then took more. I loved him though. I just kept scraping up what I could find of me to give to him. Little pieces, tiny shards of myself, were all I could find in the end. Never have I met another who could find so much to take from so very little. I left him as a shell of the person I had met him as, but I also left him with so much more than I had come to him with.

My world has never been the same. Even after years of separation he is with me everyday. How can you turn off love? I have my moments of anger and regret, but my love for that incredibly sick and imperfect man is still there. It’s changed in scope and I don’t respect him, or speak to him for that matter, but for a fellow human, hurting and damaged, I still have love. As a child I was raised to love and turn the other cheek. As a wife I learned to survive. As a single mother I learned to fight back to protect my young. We live so many lifetimes over and over in this single life we are given. And we have the potential to love many times over. When my marriage crumbled I thought that was it. Party over. The ship sailed. I didn’t think that I could ever have the capacity to love another person in that way again. Love taught me differently though.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;  does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;  does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.  1 Corinthians 13:4-8

After my marriage exploded I focused on what I knew would never fail me; the love for my children. Pure and unconditional love knows no deeper depths than that of a mother for her children. I poured myself into them so that they would know that I could love them enough for both their father and I. I alone was going to be enough for them. That was going to be enough. I was going to be ok. And as time passed I realized that love was not a one way street. If you loved the right people then love could come back to you as well. Loving people has always been easy for me, but It took me a long time to get comfortable trusting someone enough to allow them to love me back. To be able to believe in that love and accept it was something  I had to learn.

I learned, that I needed to love myself first, way too late into the game. If I could love myself then all future relationships had a chance of being balanced and healthy. It’s somewhat impossible to have a solid relationship with another person if you don’t love and respect yourself. People throw the word love around like its candy. Love, true love, is so much more than that. It is layered, rich, and runs deep. It has a foundation of trust, loyalty, and an innate desire to bring happiness into another’s life. If you can have that kind of relationship with yourself how can love fail? True love is complete freedom to be you while sharing your life with another. It is fail proof because even if you part ways, love finds a way to carry on.

In our youth it is hard to comprehend the magnitude of love’s depths. Love has a very narrow view. We know love for family and then we know the Hallmark version. As we grow, get hurt, heal, and deepen our personal awareness we learn that love can be so much more than that. We humans get so hung up on the idea of romantic love to come and save us and it’s a sham. Love is peddled as an industry generating millions each year. It starts with Valentine’s Day and continues through, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and funerals. Our society spends so much money trying to buy and capture love when in reality true love is free and it is endless.

Love is not something we buy in a store. It is living, breathing, alive. It has the ability to change the course of your life. Love can end wars and change nations. If we want this world to survive than love is the only thing that can save us. Love is stronger than any kind of hate. Love endures and love is the only thing truly worth fighting for.  Love is boundless. And if  love finds you worthy then you must be prepared to love in return. Love is not one-sided. It is patient and it is kind. Love is long-suffering, humble and loyal. It will be the sunrise and the sunset of your days. Embrace it and cherish it. Give it space to grow and nourish it. Just know that true love can crown you and crucify you, but if you want to love then there is no half stepping. Love is endless…it goes on and on and on.

xo Ella

Incremental Growth

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I don’t do New Year’s resolutions and I don’t believe in diets. I don’t think that quick fix fads work, and I believe in buying quality over quantity. I often find myself at odds with the rest of the world, but it wasn’t always like this for me. In fact, there was a time when I lived in the fast lane and was all in. I had a long list of goals tucked safely into my passport. I was on the move and I wanted to do it all.

I have changed since then and doing it all just doesn’t feel as enticing or thrilling to me as it used to. The fear of missing out or not keeping up has dissipated, and I am living a much different life than I could ever have dreamed of before. That’s the thing about your dreams…they need to be flexibile. If you don’t have flexibility in your life you will inevitably end up feeling like a failure. It’s much better to set out with a goal paired with an open mind & heart and just see where life will take you. Life is always changing and I find it so much better to flow with it than feel like I am being dragged by it.

How do we adjust our sails as we live headlong into heartbreak and defeat? Life is full of it and it can’t be avoided. If you think you can avoid the heart breaks then you are in for a rude awakening one day. When I go to see my therapist I occasionally get handed a questionnaire to answer before I go in. It’s a benchmark guide to see how I am doing compared to past visits. I’m given statements and I have to rate where I feel in that moment. One of them is, “I feel like a failure.” Another is “I feel like I am being punished.” Each time I read them I hear a voice in my head say, “You have every right to say ‘YES’, but it’s simply not your truth.”

What is my truth? I don’t believe in failure. I believe in learning lessons, and sometimes those lessons are harsh. For instance, there was that time I married a man who I thought was my soul mate only to realize that he would be my biggest life lesson. I don’t feel like I failed because I chose to learn from it instead. How was I to know that my soul mate would be mentally ill, and abusive? I followed my heart and I gave it my all, but it didn’t work out. In fact, it ended very badly for all involved. I could have stayed down on the ground, and quite honestly I don’t remember getting up. The point is that I got up and I don’t see myself as a failure.

When my marriage blew apart it honestly felt like the apocalypse had snuck up and screwed me from behind. I had been living in a prison and when the door opened I ran. I didn’t see it coming, but when it did, it exploded into a fire-ball and left a lot of collateral damage. Some people may have felt like they were being punished, but I simply don’t believe in that.  I could choose to blame myself and label myself a failure, but I know that I did the very best that I could, so how could I be a failure? When I look back at the charred Earth and all the loss I often wonder why I don’t. I know it is because of my audacious hope.

I don’t know what I am doing any more than the next guy, but I do know that I give a shit. And I truly believe that here in this moment is where my life is happening. I take a daily inventory. I check in with myself. I make sure that I am taking care of myself, and I am really grateful for my life. It’s not easy to have the bottom drop out on you. It’s not easy to pick up the pieces and sort through the debris. It’s been years, and I am still sorting through it. Healing and self enlightenment don’t come easy. It’s not for the faint of heart. Accepting where you faltered and what you should have done differently isn’t easy, it takes a lot of honesty and patience.

There are so many choices to make and each choice that we make brings definition to what will be our life story. It goes a long way when you can accept that you will make mistakes and yet still believe that when you come up on the other side it will be okay. It has taken me a lot of practice and patience to be understanding and compassionate with myself. Every single day I put that into practice because the world keeps telling me the opposite. It takes hard work to break down the all the armour we spend years building throughout our younger years. The beauty is that redemption is possible. It’s there for the taking.

xo Ella

I Choose Joy

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Christmas magic is silent.  You don’t hear it ~ you feel it. You know it.  You believe it. 

I am so blessed to have grown up in a home that celebrated the Christmas season with healthy gusto. As soon as December came around my mother would spin into action. Like a racehorse in the starting gate she was ready to take off at the shot of the gun. Boxes were pulled out of the attic and I would watch her take down the Fall decorations to ready the house for Christmas. It was hands down my favorite time of the year, and that was because my Mother made it magical.

When I grew up and had my first child it happened to me. As December approached I could barely contain myself. I had a list of things on that first Christmas To Do List. I wanted my child to know the kind of magic that only comes round one time a year. We picked out a beautiful tree and decorated it with ornaments; some of our choosing and some handed down from my mother and Grandmother. As Christmas cheer pulsed through my veins I quickly realized that I was becoming my mother.

It’s amazing how once we have kids we start seeing ourselves in our parents. It can be comical actually. Every mother has her own odd ideas of what is precious and shall become a tradition in their home. This is the first year in my home where Santa is no longer a larger than life figure. I have to admit that it takes the excitement down a notch. The Elf on the Shelf is out but he isn’t participating in our daily life as he has in seasons past. In some ways it’s a relief and in other ways I am trying to think of something we can do in his place.

When I left my husband it was on a freezing cold night a couple of weeks before Christmas. I had young children, nowhere to go, and I was terrified for our lives. That was a tough Christmas, but I had to make a decision that year about how I was going to proceed. Although I could barely think straight enough to eat,  I made it as magical as I could with the kids. My mother was there and dove right in to help me with that. That was the toughest time in my life and it happened during my favorite time of the year. In the end it was lovely because I was so grateful to be with my family. I may have even seen my 5-year-old smile that day.

I learned from my parents that Christmas is so much more than just a day. It’s more than presents. My parents celebrated the birth of Jesus and that was the reason for the season. The pre-Christmas busyness of planning, baking, wrapping, and shopping gave me a high. Seeing others happy is just about the best thing in the world isn’t it? I seize this opportunity every year to spread around some Christmas magic of my own.

I know a lot of people who hate this time of year. Perhaps they don’t have good childhood memories, perhaps like me, something happened to them that time of year or perhaps they just didn’t have anyone to truly celebrate with. I know it can trigger depression in people and I get that. When the middle of December comes around I get triggered too and I have to remember the choice that I made in my first year of freedom.

I wasn’t going to let the memory of my ex throwing out the Christmas tree with the ornaments away in the trash like the Grinch steal me of my Joy. I wasn’t going to let the fact that I didn’t have a home, a job, or any money destroy Christmas holidays yet to come. I was going to fight for what I loved. And so every year around this time I have to make a choice…do I allow the past to creep in or do I focus on creating some magic for those around me? I will always choose the latter.

If you are reading this and one of those people who struggle with the holidays I want to suggest that you focus your heart on being grateful. Because being grateful for my life, my kids lives, and the freedom to simply be able to celebrate Christmas is far more powerful than anything anyone can throw my way. Christmas spirit is a real thing, but it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some of us have to make a conscious decision to be happy. I chose Joy, because sometimes it really is as simple as that.

xo Ella