That time I won the lottery

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Back in January, I was mid-way through “the worst of it” in my depression when I won the Listserve Lottery. The Listserve is a daily email service wherein one subscriber each day “wins” the opportunity to write (up to 500 words) to the whole community of subscribers. There are currently over 23,000 subscribers in countries all over the world.

I signed up for it last fall, and have really enjoyed the snapshots into people’s heads that come through: inspiration, ideas, experiences… all kinds of people share all kinds of things when “their number comes up.” Sometimes it’s crap. Sometimes it moves me to tears. I never really thought I’d be chosen to write. Until I was. 3 days before my 35th birthday. And many, many moons since I’d done any personal writing.

I felt unprepared. And scared. But, I didn’t want to shirk the opportunity. It seemed like the Universe was saying “hey. you’re a writer, right? THEN WRITE, ALREADY!”

So I listened. And I sat down, and wrote.

And this is what I wrote to an audience of strangers.

I really wanted to write some big, deep retrospective on challenge and perseverance for my Listserve contribution. That kind of thing is kind of my thing.

Well, it was.

It’s what I did, when I started my blog, The Broke-Ass Bride, which grew into one of the top blogs in the wedding industry. It earned me a deal with a major publishing house to write a book about using creativity as currency to rock bad-ass weddings without breaking the bank. (coming this December!) Born as a coping skill for life’s imperfections, my chronic auto-immune disease, financial struggles and artistic stagnation, I developed a reputation for my ability to spin obstacle into opportunity creatively and with a trademark cheeky irreverence. It seemed like nothing could keep me down.

But I guess the universe watched me leap life’s hurdles on my triumphant unicorn of resilience, turning piles of strugglesome shit into rainbows with my magical brand of fairy dust, and decided (in its infinite wisdom) to up the game and see just how much I could take. I had been focused on maintaining my success, so desperate to remain self-employed and free from corporate cubicles, that I neglected my health and personal life.

I got hit with an aggressively progressive depression, disease complications and a rare illness necessitating a flurry of surgeries, growing medical debt, and a sexual assault. And just like that, my self-destructive and addictive tendencies took control and bullied my moxie and persistence into submission like overgrown schoolyard tormentors.

I was ashamed and guilt-ridden about how burdensome I felt. Hell, if *I* was so tired of caring about me, I couldn’t imagine how exhausting it must be for everyone else. I withdrew from my husband, friends and family, in a ridiculously misguided effort to “protect” them all from my demons. What a foolish girl I was, to believe the lies my depression told me for so long.

With the help of great doctors, treatments, perspective, support, faith and forgiveness, I’ve begun to find my feet again. Reconnecting with those I’ve hurt, pushed away or neglected, and trying to make amends. Letting people love me (or not) on their own terms. Grateful for the chance to evolve, painful as it was, into a stronger, deeper, richer version of Dana LaRue: rider of my triumphant unicorn of resilience, spinner of obstacle into opportunity, going from broke-ass to bad-ass.

In an earlier Listserve email, a writer shared the phrase “ad astra per aspera” – latin for “through struggles to the stars.” This Wednesday the 23rd is my 35th birthday and I can’t wait. Not eager to see where this year takes me, but rather where *I* can take this year. To celebrate, I’m having “ad astra per aspera” tattooed on my wrist to honor where I’ve been, and to remind me where I’m capable of going.

Well, hey, how ‘bout that. Looks like I did end up writing a true-to-form deep, retrospective look at challenge and perseverance. I guess I really am back in the saddle, after all. Yeehaw.

Thanks, Listserve, for the chance to share my story. May it help someone out there through his or her own dark hour. And thanks, listserve nation, for bearing witness. Pass this on if you know someone who might benefit from it. Or share your own story with me, or encouraging words, or drawings of me on a unicorn turning piles of shit into rainbows… whatever you’re inspired to send!

I got flooded with emails in return. Emails from complete strangers — overflowing with words of encouragement, compassion, hope, support, and love. People shared their own stories of struggle. They encouraged me to keep writing and sharing my story. They thanked me for my honesty, and for casting light on an issue so rarely discussed so transparently. They showered me with compliments and kindness and enthusiasm so much that it renewed my own enthusiasm for writing (not to mention my faith in a humanity so generous).

One girl even drew me this bad-ass picture!

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I share this with you today, to give you a bit of insight into where I’ve been, and where I’m going. My Listserve experience is a huge part of what inspired this new blog. I needed an outlet to keep sharing my story, to keep writing, and filtering my experience to strangers everywhere.

Because whenever I do, good things seem to happen 🙂