Finding My Voice


My name is Sooshmita and I am a survivor.
Before I share the story of my arranged marriage, I would like to begin with my childhood, and how I used to be as a young woman. I was born in Birmingham, UK and brought up in London. I remember being very quiet, reserved, and I hardly used to speak. When I was five or six my teachers were worried that I may have speech difficulties and suggested to my mum to take me to a speech therapist. After a number of sessions at the hospital they concluded that was able to speak, but just very shy and quiet.   As a child I can remember not being able to express my needs, and I suppressed my emotions so that I could fit in with others.  As a result, I had many negative experiences in both primary and high school

My parent’s marriage had been arranged for them in their mid twenties, and they migrated to the UK from Bangladesh in l979. They both had strong cultural values. A year after my sister was born my mother got a job, and my father had started his own business. I had a very simple, but sheltered life. After school I would just go straight home and do my homework. Any socializing events were usually with family or relatives, but I was not encouraged to have a social life outside of my family, especially if there were different ethnicities or races involved.  Although my parents were traditional, I do remember my father would always help my mother with cooking and taking care of us, and I saw an equal partnership between them. 

In my culture and religion (Islam) women get married straight after graduating, usually at 22 years old. She would be lucky if she was able to go to a university. My sister is five years older than me, and when she was 22 my parents started to look for a potential partner for her marriage. There were quite a few men with professional careers who met my sister, but when my sister turned 25 my mum started to panic because of her age. Rather than encouraging my sister to excel with her job my mum kept saying, “Why is God not helping you to get married?” My father wasn’t as worried as my mum was though. I was 19 at the time, and one of my friends shared that her cousin’s friend was looking for a potential partner for her brother. It seemed that the description of my sister was a pretty good match for him. I introduced this potential partner to my parents, and once they met, my sister and brother in law got married six months later. My sister has the conventional beauty that is recognised by most people from my culture. This means she is fair skinned and tall. I believe we are all beautiful in our own ways, however I do not fit the conventional type as my skin is not fair. I remember in my childhood being asked by my relatives why my skin was dark, this of course affected my self esteem because I believed I was not as beautiful as my sister. 

The traditional path for most women in my culture is to get married and have children. I have quite a few female cousins the same age as my sister who have been looking for spouses since the 2005, but they are still single because they have not been able to find the right partner. I remember turning 20 and hoping not to end up like my older cousins who have been single for too long. Although my mum had been working since the year 1980, she did have a very traditional mindset in relation to the roles women and men play in our culture. Once she said to my cousin, “Men should have careers and women should have beauty.” Looking back I understand why I had toxic false beliefs about gender roles, and I see the negative impact of this throughout my life. 

At the age of 19 I was not sure what to study, however my parents had this notion that if you do not have a degree then you are a failure. Randomly, I chose to study criminology with law only to later regret this. After graduating it was my turn for my parents to find me a potential marital partner. I was 23 at this time and the business of exchanging photos and bio-data began to be exchanged between families. At times “Aunty” would introduce me to a guy’s mother, who would either find me pretty or not good enough. At this time my self worth was being tossed around. When I would hear how some men rejected me I would feel crushed, and the agony of waiting to be wanted by someone was painful. Seeing my older cousins still single also added to my anxiety and fear of getting old and still being single, even though I was just 24.

My mother had a friend who suggested a potential partner for me who was living in Bangladesh. He came to England with his family for his cousin’s wedding. My mum shared the details with me, and since I knew it was time for me to get married, I agreed to meet him. My mum and sister accompanied me to meet him and his parents. They left us alone to chat, and while he was being friendly and nice,  I could see that there was a vast difference between us. I felt a cultural barrier since he was born and brought up in Bangladesh, but most of all there was no physical attraction. I did not want to be rude so we did have a friendly conversation about each other’s hobbies and interests. Once our families returned the “Aunty” who introduced this proposal kept telling us to exchange numbers. I did not want to give my number, as I did not like him, so I stayed quiet and was hoping my silence would be taken as a hard NO.

Once I got home my mum was very happy and kept repeating that this man was perfect for me. She kept emphasizing that his father is a professor and that his mother has a master’s degree. This man was not bad looking, and he is a doctor. The medical profession is my mother’s favorite, she really admires men and women who become doctors. 

I kept telling my mum that I did not like him, and that I was not attracted to him emotionally or physically. He was a big tall man, but my mum kept saying he would lose weight, and that appearance is not important. She believes that career and family status are the most important factors for a good marriage. At this point the third person who was a mediator, another “Aunty”, called my mother and kept emphasizing how this man was perfect for me, and that the family  liked me. This encouraged my mum to keep trying to persuade me to change my mind. She shared with my brother, father and uncle how perfect she thought this match was for me.

This is when I began suppressing my emotions, and started to abandon myself for my family’s validation, and what they thought was best for me.

I met my ex-husband in June 2010, and once they went back to Bangladesh we spoke a few times on the phone. I got a job as an administrator, but I was struggling to concentrate knowing that at some point I would be getting married to this man. One day on my way from work he called me and said that he was coming back with his family to the UK the next month, meaning September 2010. He said the Nikah (Islamic marriage ceremony has been planned for September 8, 2010). I rushed home and was in shock when my mother said they had agreed with his father to have the Nikah. I told my mother that they were rushing the marriage, and that I need more time to get to know him. My mum said that their holiday visas were to expire in November, and that his father was worried that if we waited, it may not be easy to get granted another holiday visa. Therefore they wanted to come to the UK for the marriage ceremony before the visa expired. My mum and uncle supported this and I felt ignored. Before my marriage, my uncle visited my soon to be husband and his parents. He gave my mum positive feedback about them, and this made my situation worse as my mum continued to pressure me to accept this marriage arrangement.

They all came back to the UK from Bangladesh, and my marriage ceremony took place at home on September 7, 2010. Prior to the marriage, I was distraught and emotional. I kept asking myself why,  just 3 months earlier, I had even agreed to meet him and his parents in the first place. Had I known about the pressure campaign that would follow by my family, uncle, and 3rd “Auntie” to meet my future husband and his parents, I would never have agreed to meet him. I found myself in a situation where I felt helpless, and so I married him. I was so good at hiding my emotions and pushing my authentic self deep into my unconscious mind, it was as if I was wearing a mask from the day we married.

Although I was not physically attracted to him things were okay at the beginning. However, intimacy was very hard for me as I did not want him to get too close, nor did I want to be touched by him. There was no one that I could share this with either, because in my family we were brought up not to speak about anything sexual or intimate, it is considered taboo in my culture. I felt ashamed for feeling like this as I was his wife. I was unable to share this even with a friend because I felt so ashamed that I allowed myself to get into that difficult situation in the first place, and now I did not know how to get out. My friend told me later that when she asked me about intimacy in my marriage, and I said everything was okay, she knew I was not telling the truth, but did say anything because she didn’t want to make me feel even worse than I already did. 

In January of 2011, I traveled to Bangladesh for my second marriage ceremony, and to help him apply for his spousal visa so that he could move to the UK with me. I felt like my marriage was a business transaction; he would get to live in the UK and my family would gain a medical doctor. I asked him if he had agreed to our marriage just for my British citizenship and he said no, which was a lie. I found out that the reason he was pressured to marry me was for my British status. Prior to traveling to Bangladesh I was consumed with sadness and despair, but I accepted it, and tried to focus only on the good parts. As I had never traveled anywhere alone due to my sheltered life, I found that traveling to Bangladesh alone was exciting. They lived in the capital city, and I welcomed the new experience of seeing another lifestyle in a country that was so different to my own.

Once I arrived there I just wanted to run back home and tell everyone I made a big mistake. It did not feel right, but I tried to make the most of my time in Bangladesh. I would go shopping and to restaurants so that my mind was occupied with good things. But then one night he attacked me as I was sleeping. I was just in shock. When I asked him about it the next day he said he had a bad dream. I believed him, because at that time I had no idea that he had a mental illness that affected his sleep. I stayed quiet and thought maybe I should not make a big issue as he was not showing any sign of remorse or apology. Then I packed it away in my mind and forgot about it until he moved to the UK in February of 2012.

When he arrived in the UK I was applying for jobs without any luck, and that meant I was home most of the time. My duty as a wife was expected from both him, and my mum, and life was hard. During this time he was studying English for his UK medical exam in order to qualify as a doctor and he was unable to provide me with anything. Our accommodations and food were provided to us by my parents. Living with my family, and with a husband who was not providing anything, was painful. I always saw other husbands providing and taking care of their wives, but not him. I was the traditional wife taking care of all his needs, but I was not receiving anything in return. My mum would say to me, “Be patient, you will have everything once he is a qualified UK doctor.” So I waited whilst playing the role of the good wife. I was hoping I could get a job so that I was not home with him everyday, but cuts in the job market made it hard to find a graduate job. He would sometimes study at the library, and when he would return home I would have his dinners ready. I would clean up after him, as he never had to do this in Bangladesh either. In Bangladesh, families will have a maid to do this. I accepted my new life hoping that I would find some joy, at some point. My mum taught me that you don’t always love a man before marriage, that the love begins and grows after marriage. I was hoping I would learn to love him. I began waiting for things to change, but I felt trapped, so I  stayed silent.

At this time my nan (grandmother) was diagnosed with dementia (Alzhiemer’s). I had never heard of dementia or what the condition was like until I saw my nan’s symptoms. Out of curiosity, I began to study books on neuroscience and decided to go back to university at the age of 27. My family could not understand why I wanted to go back for more education. They kept telling me to just get a job, and questioned why I wanted another degree. Nevertheless, I went back to university, and I am so glad I did! I met peers from all backgrounds and ages. I didn’t feel ashamed to be studying again at the age of 27. Being at university and studying a subject I loved was the only form of happiness I had at this time. I had absolutely nothing in common with my husband, and we were totally different people. I was interested in living a healthy life, and he was the opposite. His doctor advised him to lose weight for his physical health issues. His life was mostly studying, and then his father would send him money for his exams. It did not bother me that it had been two years since he had come to the UK and yet had not passed the medical exam, as I was focusing on me and my own passion.

Sexual intimacy with him was very hard for me. Every time we would have sex I would detach and imagine myself as a sex worker, and he my client. My imagination helped me to get through it, as it made me feel powerful to have a little control. Looking back, I think that feeling like I did, not having any power over my life choices, but being able to feel somewhat powerful through my imagination of being a sex worker helped me to survive.

Symptoms related to his illness were starting to show, but I had never met anyone with mental illness. I was not aware that all these issues that were starting were a part of his condition known as Psychosis with severe OCD. His self care was very poor and I could not understand how he could live like this. He would not shower despite me telling him many times to have shower. He smelled very bad, but it would take my parents telling him to have shower to actually get him to do it. I was so confused by all of his behavior. During my second year as a Psychology undergraduate I was studying with my peers and we were discussing various mental illnesses as a group. There was this case study where a man kept showering due to his OCD, and I can remember thinking that I wish my husband would do this.

A few days later his exam results were to be released. He told everyone that he did not pass, but the truth was that he did not attend the exam. It was then, after 2 years, that he told me that he had mental illness (Psychosis and OCD). I was completely shocked to hear this. I was studying psychology, and now I had a husband who had a mental illness. This was obviously my golden chance to escape, but I was trapped by his emotionally manipulative words. He said marriage is about supporting spouses through good and bad times, and that if I had mental illness how would I feel if he left me? I realized that he must have had this illness before we got married, because it didn’t make sense that it would have suddenly just surfaced. He emphasized how people take medication for this sort of thing, but said that he never took medication prior to our first year of marriage because he was well. I had no evidence that he was lying. I could not say anything, but I desperately wanted to leave.

The constant manipulation and guilt kept me stuck, even though by this time my mother and sister were telling me that I should leave him. His emotionally manipulative words about abandonment in a marriage due to illness made me feel that I could not walk away. It was at this point that things went from bad to worse. I was studying, but it was so hard to focus and I was becoming depressed. I was trapped in a bad marriage. Thankfully, I had a friend at university who was giving me support. Long story short, I was emotionally, physically, and sexually abused and neglected by my husband. My dream of a happy marriage was far away, and I ended up as his carer or what felt more like a life of a slavery for me. I attended all his medical and psychologist sessions with him, but nothing helped him as he was not willing to help himself. After finally passing the medical exam on his third attempt, his illness got worse, and he was again at home. He wasn’t applying for any jobs, nor was he following his treatment plan. I unexpectedly became pregnant because he raped me. I ended up having a miscarriage, and that was followed by surgery which was extremely traumatic. In 2016 I decided to separate from him, as my emotional and mental health were being adversely affected. He went back to Bangladesh to live with his parents, and I tried to focus on my final year’s thesis at the university. 

There are a lot more details that I hope to be able to share in the future. I found evidence that he had been diagnosed with mental illness, and that he had taken medication for it prior to, and after we were married, and I felt somewhat vindicated. I knew that he would no longer be able to manipulate me or make me feel guilty, because I finally had evidence of his mental illness. This gave me the strength to leave. I graduated in the summer of 2017 with a second upper class degree. I was still in shock, but I was happy to know that I achieved this degree despite the challenges, and the darkness that I had endured.

After graduation, I traveled to Sri Lanka and worked with children and adults with learning disabilities for eight weeks. I made a plan that once I returned to the UK I would proceed with my divorce. I was hoping my family would see the evidence that I had, and that he had lied and betrayed me. I hoped they would also see that I tried to support him as a wife, but that I couldn’t live like that anymore. My family, especially my mum and sister, continued to pressure me not to get a divorce. At this time I told my husband to give me my dowry back, as it is stated on our Islamic marriage certificate. In Hindu religion the women’s parents pay the man who will take her as a wife, however in Islam it is the opposite, as the man gives the dowry as a gift to the woman. This dowry is stated on the marriage certificate so that if the divorce occurs he must pay her that specific amount of dowry back. When I asked my ex husband for it back, he refused. The Imam, who is like a priest at the mosque, also said to my ex-husband and his parents that as he never provided anything for me, and as they kept his illness hidden from me, than they should give me the dowry back, as its my right as a muslim wife. They of course refused to follow this Islamic marriage law. 

I started my master’s program in September 2018, but it turned out to be a bad idea because I was distracted by the divorce I was so desperately fighting for, and from living with depression. I was finally diagnosed with Complex PTSD and clinical depression, and was put on a long waiting list to be seen by a therapist. I started taking an antidepressant to help me during those times when my anxiety would overwhelm me. In May of 2019, I finally got my diviorce certificate, but rather than feeling liberated I was in shock from the entire experience; my arranged marriage, his mental illness and lack of responsibility as a husband, the neglect and abuse I endured, but mostly because of the lack of support and love from my own family. I had been deceived by my ex-husband and his parents.

In April of 2020 I came across Rebel Thriver. At this time I had decided to take a study break, and I started teaching at a school for children with special needs. Working with children whilst going to therapy really helped me on my healing journey. I was still feeling shattered and lost, so I decided to sign up for Ella’s coaching program. It helped me to find confidence in myself. In Ella I found a coach who not only inspired me, but I trusted her because she had walked a very similar path as I had. She is a great role model to have.  I now know that I will never settle for simply being a man’s wife again, I want so much more.

It was exactly at this time that I lost my beloved nan who had suffered with dementia for many years, and five weeks later I suddenly lost my father to cancer. The support and love from Ella and other women in the coaching group, who have now become my close friends, helped me to get through the bereavement. A year before I lost my father he started to understand how much my ex-husband and his parents deceived and lied to me and my family about his mental illness. My father asked me for the medical evidence so that he could travel to Bangladesh and file a case for the return of the dowry. My marriage caused so much trauma, and I told my father to forget the dowry, as they all will answer to God for it in the hereafter. Now that I have healed, I do regret not supporting my father with his decision to fight for my dowry. This is a battle that I may consider taking on in the near future because I i have legal rights and I want  justice. 

Marriage is meant to enrich your life, not enslave you. The worst thing in life isn’t being single, but rather being married and forced to live an unauthentic life, one that does not match your personal values. We shouldn’t worry if we feel that we do not fit in with others because the right people will always find you. I am currently working with children and have gone back to university to complete my postgraduate studies. It is tough to do both at the same time, but with amazing support from Ella (my coach and friend) and my mentors who are trained psychologists I am willing to endure this tough journey to achieve my goals. My dream is not only to be a clinical psychologist, but a psychologist who stands up for the justice of women from ethnic minorities who are not able to come forward for support. I want them to know that their voice matters, and that I will hold a safe place for them to heal.  When you help others heal you are also helping yourself. I do not know what the future holds.  A doctorate in clinical psychology is a very competitive career, but I would rather try and give it my all than be consumed by my fear of failure. Happiness is a journey, and not just a destination. As I strive for my goals I am discovering who I am meant to be. 

Everyday I am learning how to make myself a better person, and how to transform my pain into a purpose. I will use my pain as fuel to make a better future not only for myself, but for women of all backgrounds. Life will never be perfect, but we don’t have to settle for less than we deserve. We can choose to seek the light even when we are stuck in the darkness. 

As Ella always says, “Onwards we go.” 

Thank you for reading my story.

Surfacing

September 11, 2001

This year I was hoping to write about my experience, but I can’t find it in me to be honest. The truth is what I saw and experienced on this day 20 years ago, may never find a voice from me. The weight of the sorrow holds me back. I don’t want to feel the pain.

I was in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. I was living in an abusive marriage to a mentally unstable, and very scary man. That day was terrifying, and he was even more terrifying. It’s hard to talk about it, because it was just too much. The tricky thing about trauma is that it screws with your memory, and the truth is that I’ve not had it in me to try to face them. I buried that day within me while it was still alive.

It’s been 20 years. My first baby was one years old in 2001, he’s now a 21 year old young man. What I can share today, is a window into how trauma presents itself, even after 20 years: I am numb. I can’t turn on the radio or tv because I cannot bare to hear a word about it. I have a heavy sob stuck in the center of my chest and I am terrified to let it out, but I desperately want to. AlI I want to do is forget, and leave it buried. But we can’t forget can we? Nor should we, people deserve to be honored. There is a film reel playing all the time in my mind. I cannot stop it, because I cannot access it. Perhaps one day I will be ready to. Perhaps I won’t.

There was not a cloud in the sky on that crisp September day. We had no idea what was coming when the bottom dropped out. It felt like the city crumbled around me. We were a city of zombies, everyone in shock. I have yet to process what happened, but once a year I am reminded that I need to. Maybe one day I will be able to speak more about it, just not this day. To those of you who were personally touched or lost loved ones, parents, friends, and colleagues I send you my love. It is my belief that the 2,997 that died that beautiful September day are dancing in another realm, untethered from the weight of their human bodies.

Today was a hard day for so many, but we survived.

Ella xx

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

Following Breadcrumbs

“We rise by lifting others.”
-Robert Ingersoll

For those of you who follow my blog then you know already that I started the Wildfit 90 day Challenge 6 weeks ago. Wildfit is a program that helps you to find your way back to how we evolved to eat. In the last 6 weeks we have cut out everything but vegetables and proteins. Sound horrible? It’s not. Eric Edmeades, the founder of Wildfit has this program down to a science and because so much of it is psychology it doesn’t allow you to really feel deprived. Of course I miss my coffee and my avocado toast, but let me tell you about how I feel. I feel incredible. My energy levels are soaring and my skin is glowing. My allergies have been diminished and I am losing inches. It’s working.

A few weeks ago I was cruising Instagram and an invitation to join a free three day seminar on Business Freedom popped up. The facilitator was none other than Eric Edmeades from Wildfit. Now I am a trained artist/designer with commercial experience, but never have I been trained as a business person. Most of you know that my dream is to one day open a retreat for women and children who have survived domestic violence. I feel like I am treading water though because I just don’t know where to start. Aside from the complexities of my personal life (needing to stay on the down low for safety) I need help. So I decided to sign up for this live three day Business Freedom seminar and see what it was about.

I had the benefit of “meeting” Eric through Wildfit already and I knew that he has a communication style that resonated with me. Perhaps he could actually talk business with the same effect. For 3 hours a day, 3 days in a row,  I was glued to my computer for this live seminar. It wasn’t boring at all. I understood everything that was being presented. It got my blood pumping and my mind churning for all the possibilities. I started re-working my vision board and I stuck this image in the center of it.

944443_480424378706323_1885200404_nI created this little image back 2015 when I first started toying with the idea of creating a place where women could come again and again to reboot, recharge, re-connect with themselves, and re-energize. A place where healing could begin after domestic violence had ended. You see there is help to get you out of the crisis. Shelters, domestic violence advocate organizations, churches, etc., have programs to help you to safety. But, after the triage is over you are left alone with someone you don’t really know. Domestic violence is the systematic breaking down of a person over time. It is not easy to just start over when the person you used to be is lost and you don’t recognize the face staring back at you in the mirror. I know this because I lived this. In fact, this is why Rebel Thriver was born over 8 years ago. I was isolated, scared, and completely lost. If I could connect to one person a day I would have felt successful. I knew that there had to be other women out there who could relate to me, I just didn’t realize how many. There are thousands of us from every walk of life around the globe. Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate against social economics, education level, gender, or religion. Domestic violence is all inclusive, and whether you realize it or not there is most likely someone in your life who has been affected by on some level. True Story.

On the second day of the business seminar we were told that there was going to be a giveaway of two tickets to the Business Freedom five day intensive conference in Tallin, Estonia (March 2019).  I needed to write an impact statement as to why I thought that this would help me with my business (Rebel Thriver). You can read my impact statement here: Sweet Lemonade. I wrote about the retreat that I want to create so desperately to help other survivors so that they can reclaim their lives and learn to be thrive again.

On the third day the winner was called. I knew that my chances of winning were slim to none. I knew that there were hundreds of others from around the globe in this group who already had thriving businesses and knew exactly how they could make an immediate impact. I prayed to God right before the winner was chosen. “God, if you want this dream of mine to become a reality then I need help. I need this help. Give me a clear sign.” Then I heard my named called out as the winner! It came to me as though through a wind tunnel. Out of nowhere the girl who cannot cry started sobbing. I couldn’t have gotten a clearer sign from above. Divine Intervention? I am sure of it.

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I started following the breadcrumbs that have been left for me, and now I am going to Tallin, Estonia in March to learn how to turn this dream into a reality. I am also starting a year long Mastermind Group next month to make sure that I stay on track. I will be meeting and working with so many other amazing talented people who are going to help me make this dream a reality. Now part of the reality is that there are going to be costs associated with the travel and the Mastermind. I will be starting a fundraiser to cover these costs and I will ask all of you to help me. Help me help Rebel Thriver. Help me help you.

There is so much work to be done, but I don’t feel overwhelmed about it anymore. I know that it’s going to come together. One day Rebel Thriver is going to have a Hotel for the Soul. Until then we will keep supporting each other the way we know best, through love and understanding. xo Ella

* If anyone reading this feels that they might have a skill that can help me along this journey I would be thrilled to connect with you. I cannot do this alone. It takes a tribe. You can reach me at rebelthriver@gmail.com.

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.

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

Love One Another

Mandela

I was born into a large Irish Catholic family. I attended Catholic school and have been fully indocrinated with it’s teachings. I’ve studied the Bible, and I know that I prefer the New Testament to the Old, but that they must stand together to be whole. I don’t go to church anymore, but all these years later there are two things that I lean upon in my daily life. They are a part of my personal foundation and ironically they are both attributed to Jesus. 

“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34

“Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” Luke 6:31 (The Golden Rule)

I have studied many religions and philosophies over the years. From Buddhism and Toaism to Rastafarianism and Wicca.  I have come to believe that it is not religion that makes the person, but rather the heart. I prefer to think of myself as a highly spirtiual person rather than a religious one. It is my relationship that I have with my God that is what is most important to me. No laws made by man can ever change what I hold in my heart and soul. I know my truth. 

It is a wonder to me that after all I have learned that the two things that I return to time and time again are the simple words of Jesus Christ. It’s honestly a wonder to me, because growing up in a house where religion was crammed down my throat, I chose to reject it all for many years. I was angry and I thought it was bullshit mind-control. One day my high-Catholic school history teacher tried to make sense of it to me. He said,”No matter what anyone says, I challenge you to read about Jesus and find one thing that you truly disagree with.” And so being the rebel that I have always been, I took his challenge and I read even more.  I learned that this man that walked the Earth so very long ago was of my tribe. He hung with the outcasts, the beggers, the downtrodden, prostitues, drunks, and lepers. He didn’t judge on outward appearances. He loved, because love was what he was sent to teach us how to do. 

Whether you believe that Jesus walked this Earth is up to you. If you believe he is the son of God then that is your truth (I would like to believe that, but I am honestly still on the fence.) I do know that this man is the greatest example of what Love incarnate is to us as humans. His words, examples, and life sacrifice have stood the test of time, and the world is forever changed by him. 

Today I awoke to the tragic news of a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. A man full of hate targeted a gay dance club and opened fire. By now you all know the horrid details. I tried to stay away from the news, but I have been drawn to it. I lived in NYC on 9/11 and I know this kind of hate and the fear it breeds. I have tried to stay away from social media because the there is so much anger and hate which is breeding more anger and hate. It’s a vicious cycle that is going to get us nowhere. We cannot attempt to destroy an ideology no matter how much we try for it will only breed more hate. The only solution is love. 

This is what I know. The only true path is LOVE. In order to truly love you need to be able to forgive. To love is to live your live with compassion and empathy. It is to be tolerant, even those who do not align with your beliefs. To hate the sin and not the sinner for we are all marred by the weaknesses of the human condition. I didn’t ask to be born an American, but I am so grateful that I was. My life has not know the kind of war that so many other people have been born into. We are products of our environments and not all are blessed to be raised in peace. Ultimately, we all have to choose our path. We must think for ourselves and stand up for what we believe to true. I know that fear is stronger than hate. And I know that if we could all just learn to drop our anger, biases, and fears then perhaps we could one day know peace. As a realist I know that as humans war is our Earthly tradition. Who ever does not control will be controlled and we can see this played out over and over again throughout the centuries. Power is mighty drug.

In spite of all of this madness I will hold onto the philosphy we were all created equally. That the only true way is to love one another and treat each other as we would like to be treated in return. It’s really so simple, but we make it so complicated. In the end love is the only true path to freedom. Love is always louder than hate.

xo Ella 

Honor the Truth

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In 1991, a 35-year-old professor named Anita Hill was brought into the public eye when she testified to a Senate Judicial Committee about the sexual harassment she had endured by her former boss, Clarence Thomas. Thomas now proudly sits on the Supreme Court of the United States. I was a young professional at the time of the hearings and I can remember clearly feeling that she was telling the truth. Why would a woman, a women of color at that, want to face off with a panel of white men in power without good reason. I just finished watching the HBO movie, Confirmation, which attempts to tell the story from a different perspective then we were provided back in 1991. I believed her then, and I didn’t need to watch this movie to confirm it, but I am glad I did. 

“It’s going to take undoing centuries, if not longer, of devaluing women — all women. Adding race to it only makes it harder to overcome. I think today we’re in a better position to do that, by listening to women’s experiences and honoring the truth of our experiences and putting aside all of these myths that we’ve heard about women in these situations and what we’re supposed to believe versus looking at the reality.” – Anita Hill

It is amazing to me that people to this day can still argue the existence of sexual harassment that women have had to endure. I was a young single woman in 1991, just starting my career and men ran the businesses back then. In my first job I was an assistant, which meant a lot of color copying and errand running. Not very glorified for a recent Cum Laude graduate, but I was determined to climb to the top. One day while I was in my (male) boss’s office I was asked to bring some files into a board meeting that was taking place in another building. At the same time, my boss had the conference room, which was filled with all men, on speaker phone. When he said, “I am sending Ella over with the files” a male voice came through the phone and responded with, “Good, I hope she isn’t wearing any underwear.”

That was my first job as a professional. A job I had busted my ass off in college for.  My mouth dropped open and my boss turned red as he laughed and hung up the phone. I quickly told him that I wouldn’t be taking the files over. He told me I was being over sensitive. One of the women in the office stood up for me and said, “Joe, you can’t allow this! You can be sued for sexual harassment!” What I did next I still regret. I took the files and I walked across the street into that conference room and handed them to the man in charge. My cheeks burned red as the room got quiet and I felt the eyes of a dozen men upon me. 

I went home that night shaken and disillusioned. I can remember calling my father and telling him. We spoke about my options, but we both knew that my career would have been over if decided to sue. I most certainly would have been fired for some ridiculous reason, and then what company would hire me with a reputation for calling “sexual harassment” on its owners? I felt defeated, diminished, and shamed. That experience opened my eyes wide to the realities of the workplace and as I watched Anita Hill testify I new as well as any other woman that she was telling the truth. 

A lot has changed since then and I am grateful, but we have a long way to go. There’s a Sexual Harassment Law that is supposed to prevent this from happening in the work place now. The reality is that it still does. It happens everyday. I am sure that now the script has been flipped and there are women who harass men as well. I am not saying that this behavior solely belongs to men. However, men still have the majority of leadership roles in this country and the “old boys club” is still alive and kicking. I know that it is still an issue with young women trying to further their careers….play ball if you want to get ahead. 

These scenarios are still going on in all manner of business be it corporate or not. Power is a thirst that some people need to quench. There’ and old adage that many people out there believe, ‘he who does not control will be controlled.’ This is demonstrated over and over again in world history. What happens when a person stands up to the controlling party? The controlling party pushes back and discredits the attacker. Look around the world today and you can see that this is systematic of patriarchal societies. Women have always been the ones burning at the proverbial stake. 

I want to make it clear that I love people be they men or women. I have never had a prejudicial bone in my body. My heart aches for the oppressed and the disenfranchised. My mind fights against other people’s prejudice, hate, classism, bigotry, and sexism everyday. It is everywhere and it is abundantly clear who is leading the ranks. My heart breaks for Anita Hill and for all the women who have had to deal with this degradation in the workplace after fighting so hard to get where they are. Harriet Tubman was just declared the new face for the $20 bill and the derogatory comments I have heard about it in passing are so upsetting. What an incredibly BRAVE and loving human she was. It’s wonderful that she will be honored in this way. 

Times are changing and Ms. Hill is right, it is going to take a long time for things to change, but we are in the process. Our voices are our most powerful asset in this fight. By listening to women’s experiences and honoring the truth of our experiences things will begin to change. We’ve come a long way since 1991, but I still think that the majority of people will hold a man’s opinion over a woman’s.  As a survivor of abuse I know how this type of culture not only exists in the workplace, but permeates into the home as well. We must make sure we raise the next generation of men to understand that this is a human issue…not an issue of sex or power. It’s about being human, kind, decent, respectful, and fair. 

xo Ella