Tribute


I haven’t been able to write for a very long time. In part it’s due to being thoroughly immersed with my children, two masterminds, classes, and work. I just didn’t have the band width to focus on writing, although every inch of me desired to ooze out into words what I have been feeling. Much of this past year has been about me wrapping up the past and focusing on moving forward. I am laying new foundations and creating new dreams for my life. This has been a time of healing.

After leaving my abusive marriage I was completely disconnected from myself. I really had no idea who I had become or if I was anyone at all. My ex-husband left me a shell of my former self. I did the best that I could to be a single mom to my kids as I navigated the financial turmoil of a divorce while leaving behind a six figure salary for welfare. But, it was in the midst of all of this chaos that Rebel Thriver was born. In fact, it was born shortly after I lost one of the most important people in my life.

Roger Price St. John came into my life three years after I left my marriage. It started out as a professional friendship, but very quickly became more. He was the most interesting, creative, and intelligent man that I had met in a very long time. A recovered addict (14 years) who always supported others in the program. He worked the steps, donated his time for working the hotlines on holidays, and was a sponsor. He knew that good support was key in being able to make it through to the other side of recovery. Which is why it was so incredibly heart wrenchingly hard that he died of an overdose.

He was a teacher at a local college, film maker, Billabong surf camp photographer, frequent volunteer, and he ran his own non-profit surf camp that benefited needy kids in Costa Rica. Both of us artists we shared a love of photography, surfing, Pablo Neruda, and my children. After a long Summer beach day of surfing and family, he got down on one knee and proposed to me on the top of the sand dunes. The Atlantic bore witness.

I never got to marry Roger. About seven months later, after getting very sick with bronchitis, he relapsed. His doctor prescribed him cough syrup with Codeine and that was the beginning of the end. I had no idea what was coming down the pike when I saw him taking a chug of that cough medicine straight out of the bottle. Within a month he was barely functioning or even recognizable to me for that matter. The once fit and vibrant man who could tread water forever just to get the perfect picture of someone surfing out of a wave could barely shuffle his feet to get from point A to point B now. What the hell had happened? When he showed up to my home barely coherent I wouldn’t let him in. That was the last time he saw the kids, who by this time had already started to call him “dad”. And just like that he slipped away.

I watched Roger fall deeper and deeper into his addiction. The “monster”, as he called it, had laid siege and taken over. He lost his job, ended up in jail, and a psychiatric hospital before overdosing. It had been only thirteen months since he had proposed to me and only seven months after falling face first off the wagon. It was intense and it all seemed to happen at once. I was not in the head space to take this on. I was still healing from my 11 year failed marriage with a man who was mentally unstable and violently abusive. It was more than I was equipped to handle. Roger Price St. John was gone.


Writing became the outlet for my sadness, which in turn gave birth to Rebel Thriver. I started writing this blog in hopes of connecting with someone else who might have been feeling as lost as I did. If that was even possible. I never expected the response would be so great! I quickly found out that there were many other women from around the world who were in a similar place as I was. We were all trying our best to survive as we walked through that liminal space following the death of a relationship. The space of no longer and not quite yet.

Many people never get to experience true love, but I certainly did. I loved my husband with all of my heart, and it shattered into a million tiny little pieces when I had to leave him. Even though he was severely damaged before I met him, I felt like I had failed him. Roger came into my life when I believed that I would never be able to love again. He met me where I was and held a safe space for me on my path to recovery from abuse. In the end, I felt like I had failed Roger too. I had loved two incredible men, and lost both of them.

This week marks the eighth Anniversary of Roger’s death. I cannot believe that so much time has passed. He is still very much with me, and I could give you example after example of how he stays in touch; his sense of humor intact. He walks with me on the beach everyday and that gives me great comfort. Roger gave me the greatest gift that he could, love. He showed me that my heart had the capacity to love again after it had been shattered. He led me out of the darkness, into the light, and inspired my life’s work. This incredible man showed me that my heart will never stop expanding. And so on this eighth anniversary of his death my heart breaks open a little wider and my love grows a little deeper.

This is my tribute.
This is my love song. xo Ella

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

13256494_1057993907616031_3195574131118398619_nWe are in the cross fires of a political situation that shouldn’t be political at all. I know there are people who will call me brainwashed and misguided. They will say that George Orwell is turning in his grave because 1984 has come to fruition. I know these people well. Some of them have my same blood. Some of them know what happened to me back in 1984.

I was taken advantage of by a guy from a prep school. He locked me in his room, laid on top of me and hurt me. He took my virginity. I cried for him to STOP! He didn’t. When he finally got up, he put his pants on and leaned against the wall of the darkened room, the candle light was flickering across his evil face as he said in a very flip way, “What do you expect? I have wanted you for over a year?”

I was staying with my best friends family at the time. I was bleeding heavily. I was terrified. However, I didn’t call my parents. I didn’t tell them when I got home. I didn’t tell anyone. I tucked that experience away inside of me for years and “forgot” about it. Funny thing about trauma…it likes to pop up every now and then in the worst of circumstances. When I turned 22 I finally told my mother. She took to her bed for 3 days and cried the entire time. My father doesn’t know to this day because I saw how my mother reacted and I just knew it would kill my father.

People have been blaming the victim forever. Seriously, it is the culture of the world. A victim can be your mother, father, sister, brother, child, friend, and yes, even you. To add insult to serious injury it is also made clear that the victim is in someway responsible for the attack. This creates a wall of isolation and shame. This wall can barricade a victim behind it’s tall chalky cold walls for years. Sometimes for life. The mind is a mysterious thing. We have learned some about what trauma does to a persons mind though. I can speak to this because I am not only a survivor of rape, but of domestic violence. In an attempt to protect you, your mind will selectively shelf memories. It’s as though it opens a door within and shoves the trauma into it, and then it slams the door. Sometimes the door opens up again. Sometimes it doesn’t.

I live with debilitating PTSD. If you were to ask me what I struggle most with day to day I would say, my memory. I have big blocks of time missing due to domestic violence. I can’t remember much of my child’s first years. This is because during this time his father was so abusive to me that in order to survive my mind shut the memories away. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

I am not mad about my situation. Rather I have chosen to channel that into helping other women recover, reclaim their lives, and move on after abuse and assault. This is how I heal. I run Rebel Thriver and this has become my life’s work. One of our agreements is no politics and no religion. This is because we know that this type of trauma doesn’t discriminate. I do not want to alienate any survivor over a political opinion or a religious belief. I believe that a victim needs to be heard no matter how long it takes for them to find their voice. And when they do finally speak they should not be shamed for it.

You do not know the path another has walked. We really need to start taking a step back at how things have been so that we can make changes and learn to move humanity forward in a more positive way. I believe that education is the only way. People can learn to become more understanding, better listeners, and develop empathy. We are capable of re-framing our thinking and doing better than the generations that came before us. We need to move towards coming together to tear down the old ways that allow isolation and victimization. We need to try to make this a better place for our children.

All I can do is continue to help the people who are trying to rebuild their lives and heal after trauma. I do not take political sides. I will never make a victims story divisive. It’s hard to stay out of the firing line these days. I pray the truth comes out and that people in powerful places are no longer able to wield their power to hurt others. Perhaps I am a bit idealistic, but that’s how I am and I will never give up striving to do better. My calling in this life is to help heal the wounds of survivors. It’s not fancy work, but it is everything to me, for how can we heal the world if we don’t work on healing it’s wounds?

xo Ella

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

Surviving is Just One Chapter of My Story (By Guest Blogger Tia Jane)

Tia

As a survivor of child sexual abuse and adult domestic violence I constantly stand on the precipice of wanting to seek out fellow survivors for solidarity and support and needing to protect the wounds that remain from those experiences. I work in front line child protection and see the evil that exists in the world on a daily basis.

This is both wounding and healing.

How can it be both is a question which I have asked myself more than once. The wounding is obvious in its nature. Hearing the stories of experiences of children and their families touches on my wounds which, while no longer raw, are tender. The healing comes from knowing that I am an unseen survivor, that my trajectory didn’t follow the path that may make other survivors more obvious in their pain and I see so many others who break the mold set by society about what a survivor looks like.

I have discovered a passion for justice for these children and young people that eclipses justice in terms of the law and encompasses a sense of justice that results from the capacity of a society, to not limit their future lives to the expectations that are set by how we view victims of abuse. To set no bounds to their achievements and to provide them all with opportunities to become so much more than what we are lead to believe.

I am an advocate for changing how we view survivors and how we allow those other, richer experiences to come forth for a more balanced and holistic view of the person in a whole of life context and not through the veil of abuse. This frees people, like myself, who search for answers and a sense of self after an annihilation of the psyche which left me floundering in a sea of self doubt around “how do I become a survivor?”

So, I searched for a cause or a way to integrate my experiences into my life. To find those pieces of myself that I kept apart from the moments of abuse. I say moments because quite literally they were only moments, in a life which contained so much more of me without those abuse experiences. This is where I needed to begin my search, to look at those moments that were not imposed on me by others, which I can take complete ownership of and say “this is me”. The me that rejects acts of evil and exclusion and stands for love, stands for kindness, stands for acceptance and inclusion and that stands for strength, survivorship and healing.

I advocate through both thought, deep seated beliefs and action. I advocate through not accepting the perpetuating of victims trajectories which does not allow room for movements of the self from victim to survivor to thriver. I have my days, like any other, when the world and its focus on news worthy sensationalist topics of pain and suffering eclipses the stories of survival, and it affects me and I withdraw to wrap my internal wounds in a blanket of solitude. But I emerge again to rejoin the people who stand, who focus on strength, goodness and inclusion and who often work in silence to create healing pockets of a world in which I like to rest for a time.

I will forever remain an advocate for others, survivors of abuse, survivors of tragedies, survivors of any experience which leaves them searching for something to anchor themselves to a spot where they are safe from the storm. A harbor of support where they can find their direction. It will always be a tough journey for me given my wounds and experiences and the world I choose to work and offer my knowledge in, but given that I also contain a rich internal tapestry of alternate experiences which allow me to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, I will remain optimistic of the future. I know that I will continue to be more than those experiences that I endured and I will offer myself as a resource to others who also seek to find their own inner strength, light and purpose. I am not blind to the world and all its difficulties, I know that while I experienced abuse I have not experienced other forms of hardship and that I have had opportunities that others have not had.

My story is not unique, it is a single story that reflects my personal journey but all survivors have similarities in their stories and I choose to focus on their alternate stories, the survivor story, the triumph over tragedy story and I choose to seek out others who have walked this path before me, hand in hand with those who now walk beside me and to lead the way for those who will follow.

By Tia Jane

Catch & Release

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Why is that we contradict ourselves over and over again? We know better. We’ve already determined that life is a full on roller coaster ride with its ups and downs. We’ve learned from our mistakes and we know that fire burns if you put your hand to it. We are seasoned and yet we continue to try to control the outcome of our lives. I tell you it’s is as pointless as trying to catch the fading sunset in your hand.

Man plans and God laughs. – Yiddish Proverb

If I were a superhero I might just be Anxiety Girl because I can shoulder an incredible weight of it every single day. What I deal with daily might just cause another to keel over. Although I am getting better at juggling and quelling it, it doesn’t mean that the anxiety is lessening.  I am getting better at backing away from it so that I don’t add more to the pile. My anxiety is a result of extended intense stress I lived with for over 15 years. It’s PTSD, adrenal fatigue, and generalized anxiety all rolled up into one big massive package that has a tag marked “f*ck you” on it.

I understand that my brain chemistry has been altered. I have tried just about every combination of medicinal cocktails prescribed and self prescribed. I try to meditate. Well, I do it the best way I know how which is walking on the beach. I walk and walk until my thoughts just fall into a linear projection of all that I am. I stop trying to figure things out and I just fall into pace with the crashing of the waves. Picturing me in a mediation class or on a retreat makes me start to itch and laugh a little. Let’s face it we all can’t be the same, and meditation is one of those things that must be tailored to the individual. Don’t get me wrong because I believe in its benefits, I really do. For people like me though trying to control my thoughts by not controlling them is just another word for PANIC!

Calm your mind and catch your aggressive thoughts then cast them out into the ether. You are not required to carve them all in stone and own them all. In fact, your attempts to try to nullify them will only create a bigger issue. That is why I turn to my practice of Catch & Release. As you feel yourself adding more and more crap to your pile of things that you need to do, people you need to respond to, calls you need to make, household chores, work, relationships, etc., etc., etc., STOP yourself in your tracks. Breathe in and out a few deep times and be present in knowing that you caught the ball before it got thrown into play. This is where discipline comes in handy. I like to give myself a gentle talking to about not overdoing it. I remind myself that none of these things are an emergency and I try to prioritize. (Sometimes I have to lay down in a dark room for a few minutes to reset even). Never underestimate the power of a list or a nap…they really help!

In the end we are all constantly adapting to our surroundings. Only we know what is best for ourselves so boundaries are a brilliant idea. Just KNOW that you do not have to be tied to all of the baggage that you are carrying around, but you might have to work pretty damned hard to unload it. It’s worth it…don’t you think that the freedom that comes from a job well done is priceless?! Keep working at catching the negative shit and releasing it before you allow it to permeate your life.
You deserve so much better than that.

Buckle up and grab the wheel for it is up to you to figure out the best way to deal with your shortcomings. We all have them and I am sure there are plenty around that have the same ones as you. Seek them out for they are the wise ones who can give you other ideas for dealing with the same crap you have to carry. They are also a great source of inspiration for how you want to live your life. Catch the good and release the crap…it’s not brain surgery…it’s discipline.

xo Ella

It Did Not Ruin Her

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“Never allow your loyalty to become slavery. You only live once.”             – Author Unknown

While sitting on the beach the other day with a dear we talked about writing. Why do we write what we write? I admitted that I am sick of my story. I am sick of being a poster girl for domestic violence. Many people suffer abuse, exit, and then move on. In fact, I help facilitate this process for them. The abuse becomes a chapter in their book of life. Somewhere along the line I found my calling in the aftermath of this monster (abuse) and so my chapter is becoming my book. I admit for a moment I was having a bit of a pity party. I have a desire to write about lots other things, but when I sit down here at my computer I inevitably find myself writing about overcoming abuse. I have this compulsion to reach out to those who are still in an abusive situation and might be questioning their own sanity. Yes, this is a common occurrence when you live with an abusive lunatic. I write to those who need a roadmap out. I suppose I find my strength here, and the comfort of knowing that I didn’t live those dark years in vain. I get frustrated, but I know that it is here, in my writing that I learned to thrive again. I want to direct this to all of you who are reading these words. I write for you. I am writing to help you find your way. I am writing to be a shining light and example to those of you who are still trapped in that dark place where you see no way out. I am here to give you HOPE for if I can make it out and I can turn my life around then so can you.

It did not ruin me.

I possess a deep strength that came from battling my ex-husband. I would not be the woman that I am today if it weren’t for this experience. In my darkest moments I held out hope for I knew that I wasn’t done here on this earth. There were many nights that I literally stared death in the face (I don’t mean to be a drama queen) and I had no other option but to surrendered to it. Somehow that spark of HOPE never extinguished. That in itself is one of my many miracles.

There are a lot of things that I don’t know, but what I do know is that there are so many other women (and men) out there that can relate to me. My inbox is full of your messages. I hear you when you write to me with thanks for giving your struggles a voice. I know that you find comfort in knowing that you are not alone and the simple fact that someone else out there can understand you. No, my darling girl you are not crazy. You are valid and you are so very worthy of everything good that this life has to offer.

The world needs more survivors to speak up. In telling our stories we make ourselves approachable. We enable others to step forward to be brave enough to speak up and out about what is really happening in their lives. Domestic violence has a long reach. It doesn’t just end when the abuser is removed from the situation. There are years of recovery that are needed and that is the hardest part to navigate. This is where the shelters and local support groups tend to fall off in my opinion. They are great when you are bleeding out and need triage, but in the long term aftermath survivors need other survivors to help them get back to the business of living.

I was told once that I wasn’t schooled enough to help counsel survivors of domestic violence. Well, I have earned the equivalent of a Phd in Domestic Violence through living this shit, and I have proved them all wrong. I have helped many women exit abusive situations and move on. It’s not work for the faint of heart I must say. I have learned over the years that I am good at helping survivors reclaim themselves after they are able to exit the situation. I am good at what I do because I understand the psychology of the aftermath of abuse. I live it every single day. So, I have accepted this truth into my life.

I am stronger than he was . He tried his hardest, but he couldn’t break me. I am stand taller because the struggles, and I am wiser. The help I can offer doesn’t come with a college degree but with years of deep personal work, and a burning desire to help others (and a proven track record). Never discount yourself, and don’t allow yourself to get lost in the aftermath. There is always a way out because HE DID NOT RUIN YOU. You are alive and capable of growth and pruning. It is in this process that you will bloom and become a new you…the person you are destined to be. Don’t you dare give up, not now, not ever. Be brave.

xo Ella

I Hope That You Never…

I hope that you never have to make a call to save your life. I hope you never know that kind of fear. Knowing that your life hangs in the balance; on a thin thread which is about to snap. I hope you never feel hunted or like your next move, if you are lucky enough to get one, has a narrow margin of success. I hope that you never know what it feel like to face death in the face of someone you thought once loved you.

It’s that time of year again where the subject of Domestic Violence gains media traction because the Super Bowl is approaching. Urban Myth has it set that it is the day with the highest rate of reported abuse of one domestic partner to another. This year we saw the NFL struggling to keep face after Baltimore Raven’s player Ray Rice knocked his then fiancé out in an elevator. Rice was initially suspended for two games. The relatively small penalty caused national controversy. He was later suspended indefinitely, but that decision was overturned. We saw other players being called out on domestic related violence as well. It wasn’t a stellar year for the old boys club.

I want you to know that Domestic Violence Happens Each Sunday—Not Just Super Bowl Sunday.

I am glad to see the NFL responding to this with a little proactive flair. This Super Bowl Sunday which is quickly approaching will have millions of people world-wide watching. Some just watching for the ever so famous commercials. On February 1, 2015 the Super Bowl will air, but what is a little different this year is that there will be a PSA about domestic violence.

No More, an anti-domestic-violence campaign, and the ad agency Grey New York have come together to produce a few chilling reminders that THIS is still a HUGE problem in our society. The NFL donated a 30-second slot for the ad and paid for its production. The video is a chilling reminder that so many women live in fear in their own homes. Everyday, not just on Super Bowl Sunday.

To some I realize that it will be a mere bleep in the days advertisements. It may not be memorable to many. It may even cause a backlash in some homes, but it is worth it.
This weekend when millions are riveted to the television, my hope is that it will create a ripple across the land. Something positive out of a horrid situation that occurred the day that Ray Rice decided to finally call the darkness into the light.

The PSA is very simple. There is a woman making a call for pizza from her slightly disheveled home. When the other end answers you don’t hear “Hello Domino’s”, but rather “Mam, you have reached 911. This is an emergency line.” She continues to order her pizza, “Large with half pepperoni, half mushrooms.” The 911 operator keeps trying to tell her that she dialed the wrong number and she just keeps ordering her pizza, until he asks her if she is okay. Is this an emergency?

I hope that this will resonate across the millions turned into the game that will be peppered with commercials of scantily clad women selling chips and celebrities self promoting. I hope that this commercial is THE ONE that will have people talking. I know that my hopes may fall on millions of deaf ears and blind eyes, but I desperately want this to be seen. This is the real deal. According to Grey New York, the ad was based on a real 911 dispatch (paywall), found on a Reddit thread asking dispatchers about their most memorable calls.

Reality really sucks sometimes. I once had to make a call like this myself. It was either me or him, and I decided that I wasn’t going down like that.   xo Ella