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

Lay it Down

After I left my husband I had a hard time finding a path to healing. I didn’t know anyone who had lived through domestic violence. No one spoke about it at least. It felt shameful. It was as though I had arrived at a cross roads in my life. Do I hide behind a mask or do I choose to be my authentic self…scars and all. I chose the later and decided that I wanted to help smash the stigma that surrounds domestic violence. The shame that the survivor feels is due to societies perception of it as a whole. People understandably will feel sorry for you, but in doing so that can trigger feelings of embarrassment/shame. Here’s the thing, the survivor did absolutely nothing wrong and the shame should be placed squarely upon the shoulders of the abuser.

Abusive people are a plague on society. Period. They infect the same invasive sickness from one generation to the next. Without education and support there is no way to end this cycle. The abused becomes the abuser. I want to impact the lives of others through Rebel Thriver. I want people to be aware of the red flags. I want to be a part of the public discourse about DV as there is with the #metoo movement. We cannot be afraid to be honest. We cannot be afraid to use our voices. The shame is not yours so lay it down.

Lay it Down

Where do the feelings of shame come from anyway? Is it because you didn’t walk away sooner or because you went back time after time? Often a person will endure abuse quietly for years. I wore those shoes. Now think about how you got there in the the first place? Was it because for some insane reason you didn’t think you deserved better? That in and of itself is an entire other chapter. You are enough. You have always been enough.

What happens when you combine a person with low self worth with an abusive controlling partner? An intense psychological game begins that slowly breaks the victims sense of self down as the game is played out in increments. Once you actualize the situation your realize how hard it is going to be to get out. My husband threatened to kill my kids, my family, me. What do you do when you are literally a captive, a hostage in your own life. It’s hard to break free. I lived that life for years and when I finally got out I know that people thought, ‘how could a woman who looked like she had her shit together be living in such duality?’ When your reality is skewed you can find yourself just struggling to survive around the daily landmines. Survival becomes the game. Later, my mother told me that I deserved an Academy Award. My father told me that I earned a Ph D in domestic violence. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.

Back to standing at the crossroads. I chose to not give a damn about what other people had to say. I’ve taken my life back. I declared that I am not what happened to me, and I have learned some serious lessons. I am a deeper, wiser, more empathetic, and a very soulful person as a result. This is the time to heal. If you are holding space for your own healing be open to asking for help. It is a hard path to walk alone. You have lived in scarcity and fear for far too long and you need to learn how to rewrite the script that is in your head. You need to realize that not only can you move on, but you can live a thriving life.

Rebel Thriver has been my voice piece. It has allowed me to step up in a public way to tell my story and educate people to the fact that there is no discrimination with domestic violence. It can control the life of a highly paid, college educated, executive just as easily as it can any other person. It’s hard to shine a light on the fact that the person I loved with all of my heart had chosen to treat me like an enemy. I lived a life of “normalcy” during the work week, but once I left the office it was back to the cage. Trust me, if it can happen to me it can happen to your sister, your child, your mother, your best friend, your brother, your uncle, etc. Domestic violence is intrusive not only to the victim, but also to their entire universe.

Howl

The sooner we start to smash the stigma and speak out about our experiences the sooner we will be able to educate and shift peoples perceptions of what domestic violence truly is. When the laws change to hold abusers accountable in a real way then maybe we will see change. As for now I want to use what I’ve learned to help others begin to heal and live again. Shortly after I got divorced older women would say, “You’re still young with a pretty face and you will find another man, don’t worry.” As though that was what I wanted, a another man. Some will jump from partner to partner trying to fill that void. They never stop to take a breath, thus never healing or realizing that they are enough unto themselves. A personal relationship with oneself induces healing and can bring about transformative life changes. I lost my marriage to domestic violence, but in the process I found myself. I won the game.

xo Ella

Bottled Up

Hi everyone, I would like to introduce to you my friend and fellow writer, Joseph Dittrich. He shared this with me and I just loved it. He followed a writing prompt on Reddit and here is the story he wrote in tandem to it. I hope you enjoy it like I did. 
xo Ella 

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PROMPT:
One day, you’re approached by a rather annoyed angel, who takes you to a warehouse filled with nothing but thousands of bottles. Turns out, every time you’ve bottled up your emotions, it’s literally filled a bottle of that exact emotion in the warehouse, which is nearing capacity… 
RESPONSE:

Real men don’t cry.

That’s how I was raised. That’s how my dad was raised, and my grandpa, and my great grandpa, and probably every man in my family forever.

Real men don’t show emotion. Well, happiness is okay, and anger if it’s controlled. But sadness? Crying? Never.

So when they said my six-year-old daughter had leukemia, I stuffed it. Every time I took her for treatment, every time I saw the pain she was in, every time someone asked me how her recovery was going, I stuffed it.

And when she died three days before her eighth birthday, I stuffed it. The worst of it is, I wanted to hurt. Well, I know that doesn’t sound right. But I think you know what I mean. I wanted to express it. I wanted to be sad. I wanted to cry. I wanted to be angry, but I knew I couldn’t control it. So I stuffed it all.

I became cold, impersonal, antisocial. Nothing was good enough to make me happy, to make me smile, to make me laugh. I wasn’t proud of anything or impressed by anyone. I had no interest in anything that I had once enjoyed. I was just trudging through life. My hopes, my dreams, my only child. All gone. Even my wife left me. She said she’d rather be miserable and alone than miserable with me. And I stuffed it.

After the divorce, I sold the house and moved a thousand miles away. I wanted a fresh start, away from everything and everyone that reminded me of what I had lost. I rented a crappy little one bedroom apartment. I got a crappy job. I bought a crappy car. And every crappy, miserable day, I stuffed it.

But you see, the problem is that no matter where you go, you take you with you. My little girl would’ve graduated high school this past spring. So, yeah, I’ve been stuffing it for a lot of years. It’s not like I could go talk to a therapist or anything. That was against everything that my father had taught me. You handle your own problems. You don’t bring them outside the family. You don’t show signs of weakness like that.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago I got a visit from someone claiming to be an angel. I don’t really believe in that sort of thing, so of course I was skeptical. They always tell you that angels are dressed in white and have huge wings and they’re beautiful and they carry harps and they sing and all that stuff. Well, my supposed angel looked like she was pulled from the front row at a Rancid concert. Red flannel shirt, ripped jeans, black spiky hair, tattoos and a nose ring. 

She didn’t float down from a cloud or anything like that. She popped up in my backseat after work one day and told me to drive. I couldn’t figure out who would want to carjack me, or what part of my crappy life gave anyone the idea that I was worth kidnapping. She started to laugh, but I couldn’t.

 

So as we were driving, we started talking. She didn’t have a real or official name. She went by whatever people called her. I asked her if it was OK if I called her Sweet Pea, because, you know, my daughter’s name was Piper and that was my nickname for her. She told me that would be OK. She started to sob a little, but I couldn’t.

After what seemed like forever, we pulled up to a giant steel building. There was a huge lock on it with 16 spinners. She told me the combination was the best day of my life followed by the worst day of my life. That seemed simple enough. I rotated the dials so they showed the day Piper was born and the day she died.

I pulled on the lock, but nothing happened. I looked at Sweet Pea, but she just shrugged her shoulders. There was no better day and no worse day. I tried the day we found out she was sick. I tried the day the doctors said there was nothing more they could do. I tried the day we buried her. I tried every horrible thing I could think of. Still nothing.

I sat down on the ground in front of the door, staring at the lock. I had no idea what it could be. After what seemed like weeks, it dawned on me that I had to be there for a purpose, for a reason. I spun the numbers so they read today’s date. Well, the last date I knew it was, the day Sweet Pea appeared in my car.

A knowing smile began to crawl across her face. I did the same with the first eight digits and cautiously pulled on the lock. It finally released. I shoved it in my backpack, not even considering the fact that I wasn’t wearing it when I got out of the car, or the fact that I didn’t own a backpack.

I pulled open the doors and we went inside. The building was massive, somehow larger on the inside than on the outside. It was full of shelves, floor to ceiling, wall to wall, each row maybe three feet deep and three feet apart. And every shelf was packed with glass bottles. They were mostly clear, some green, blue, brown, and a few red. They all had a strange glow inside them.

I turned toward Sweet Pea to ask what was in them. For the first time, she looked serious. She said they were my emotions. Whenever I bottled up what I felt, they appeared here. She told me the red ones were a recent development. They were emotions like despair, regret, loneliness, anguish, and hopelessness. They were the ones that usually took the place of sadness and anger and were a sign that someone was about to give up completely and try to end it.

 

Now, I had never considered the possibility of taking my own life. But everything that she said made sense. I can see that I was heading down that path. When I asked what to do, she told me that I would have to either take a taste from every single bottle or smash them one at a time.

It seemed easy enough. I reached for a brown bottle on the shelf next to me. Sweet Pea snatched it out of my hand and placed it back on the shelf. I felt something ugly welling up inside me. An orange bottle appeared next to the brown one, then a blue one and a red one as I tried to regain a sense of calm.

She then explained to me that they had to be eliminated in the order in which they appeared in the warehouse. She pointed to the three new ones, labeled ​confusion​, ​despair​, and ​rage​. Three more bottles in less than a second. For the first time, I realized how difficult a task this would be and how quickly they could accumulate.

We climbed up dozens of stairwells and walked along miles of catwalks and scaffolding to reach the very first bottle. I was barely a year old. My brother had just been born, and my mother was spending all her time with him and ignoring me. I watched my father telling me to just suck it up and deal with it, that no son of his was gonna be a wimp, that I’d better not cry because crying is for babies.

I could feel the jealousy and the anger and the frustration all over again. I could barely reach the pale green bottle marked ​jealousy​ on the end of the shelf, but I knew it was the first one. I removed the cap and took a sip. It was bitter, as I somehow expected. It disappeared from my hand as I grabbed the second bottle, this one with a pinkish tint. As much as I like spicy food, I was no match for the fire from ​anger​ that hit my tongue.

Every emotion that I had never felt burnt my lips, tore down my throat, seared my insides, torched my soul, and fried my brain. Even ​joy​ in its sunny yellow cask felt bittersweet. The worst part was that as I was going through the old ones, I knew that new ones were appearing. I was exhausted, I was frustrated, but I was determined to get through this.

It seemed like months had gone by since that first taste of jealousy. I had never been on such a painful journey in my life. Dealing with the death of my little brother, all my failed relationships, the roller coaster that was Piper’s last couple years on earth, and ultimately the deaths of each of my parents. I cursed my father’s memory hundreds of times because of the way he raised me. I never should’ve had to go through this.

We finally reached the doorway. A pearl white bottle stood alone on the threshold. She told me this was the last one, that it was something no one would ever consider. Happiness, joy, satisfaction, they all fade away. Anger, frustration, regret, jealousy, they can kill you. Ignorance, apathy, hatred, they can kill someone else.

No, she said this one was special. I picked it up and examined it. It was unlike all the other bottles. It had no label that I could see. No markings, no etching, nothing. Sweet Pea looked serious.

 

“It says ​peace​,” she stated. “But you can’t see it unless you drink the contents. Obviously, a sip wouldn’t do the trick. You would have to drink the whole thing. Dumping it, breaking it, that won’t work. Neither will leaving it alone. Everyone drinks this one, but no one realizes it until it’s too late. I will tell you this, though. You don’t have to touch it, at least not yet. I told you what you needed to do to clear this place out, but this last bottle…I can’t tell you what to do.“

“I’m not quite ready,“ I replied, stumbling over the words. I turned to put the bottle on the shelf and was stunned by what I saw. The entire room was maybe twenty feet in each direction. I could reach the top shelves while standing on the floor. They were narrow, with wide aisles between them. “What the…?“

“You finally dealt with it. You finally allowed yourself to feel. You finally realized that it’s OK. You finally accepted that your father was wrong. Don’t ever forget what happened here, and please, don’t ever give yourself a reason to come back.” Sweet Pea smiled and walked out the door.

“Wait! I still have so many questions for you.“ I ran through the doorway after her and found myself standing next to my crappy little car. She was gone. I climbed into the driver seat, leaned on the steering wheel, and for the first time in my memory, I cried.

By Joseph Dittrich