Divorce, and collateral damages.

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Divorce: v. A complete or radical severance of closely connected things.

When a marriage ends, it’s easy to put the focus on the “break up” aspect of the loss. But what is often not accounted for are the collateral damages. The fallout surrounding two people who used to walk together, but now walk apart. It’s been two years since I moved out of the home my ex-husband and I shared together… and I’m still realizing how wide my circle of fallout reaches.

Two years later and I’m only just now ready to start writing about it. And even though the meltdown of that marriage put me on the path to be here now – in the sunniest, happiest, most satisfied, comfortable and content moments of my life… working through the implications of my divorce reignites an ache deep within my heart that makes me short of breath as I sit here typing.

But I want to write about it. The fallout of my divorce took me by surprise then, and still does today. And I think probably a lot of people who go through divorces don’t necessarily expect it either.

divorce

My ex and I got along very well on the surface. Our problems ran deep below… far enough below that, for years, we were both able to convince ourselves as much as every one else, that we were a terrific couple. Because on paper, we were. And pretending they weren’t problems was easier than confronting them. Or so we thought. But as the years went on, those deep-seated issues began bubbling up in all kinds of ways: from passive, insidious, nagging dissatisfactions to sudden, chaotic flares of emotion. The flaws in our foundation were causing the facade to crumble. Fast.

I grieved for a long time, toward the end. I grieved for the loss of our marriage long before I got up the nerve to put voice to it. I grieved over the loss of my husband, who I still very much loved as a dear friend and partner for the nearly 10 years prior. I lamented how unfair it was, to have what “should have been” such a great husband and wonderful relationship, and yet still be so unhappy, dissatisfied, and unfulfilled.

I fretted over the fact that, by leaving, I’d be letting down not just myself, but my family – who also loved him as one of their own; and the public – who’d been following our relationship through The Broke-Ass Bride for several years. I was weighed-down by staying in the relationship, but I feared I’d be completely untethered by leaving.

And I was. But I left, all the same.

I expected the emotional fallout of divorce. But I was side-swiped by the social implications, the uprooted sense of statelessness, and financial damages that came later and left scars on my heart, like the relentless waves that chip away at a shoreline after the storm.

(I)
Being the person leaving the marriage is a very tricky position. Without obvious causes like abuse, infidelity, or constant conflict, the one instigating the split is often pigeonholed as “the bad guy,” even if their courage to speak up, or move out, is better for both parties involved. In our marriage, I was often the one who took action or instigated change, and the same was true of our separation and subsequent divorce. I’m sure that people viewed me as the “bad guy” because of that.

The majority of our friends in Los Angeles were old college buddies of my husband’s who had taken us in and become our “LA family” over the 6+ years since we arrived. I really thought that, as adults, they wouldn’t be inclined to “take sides” when my ex and I separated. But life ain’t so easy. I quickly found myself being left out and left behind, and quickly realized that they were also collateral damage. It was a real shock to the system, and still is, in many ways. Looking back, I get it. Sort of. But, that doesn’t make it easier.

BHo_XIECMAAHLvl

A good handful of my remaining local friends were all made through the wedding industry. Ironically, I got my book deal just as I decided to move out, so I spent my days during the separation writing about planning weddings, and mining my own wedding and relationship for anecdotes. The whole process was just too painful for me to do that and stay actively engaged in the local wedding business, so I withdrew myself from those friends, and events. And when I was ready to come back, things just weren’t quite the same.

A few treasured souls made a concerted effort, reached out, and have shown me true loyalty and love in a time where I needed it more than ever. And for them, I am forever grateful. Divorce really teaches you who your true friends are. It’s a hurtful, but very valuable lesson. I’ve continued to nurture the friendships that survived my divorce, and have made lots of new friends that I treasure dearly. But that doesn’t stop the sting that I feel when I see the old crew posting pictures on facebook from events I would have been invited to in my past life.

(II)
I bounced around, a nomad without a real home, for seven months. House-sitting, couch-crashing, temporarily rooming with some of the few true friends I had left. Money was one object in the high-cost rental market of Los Angeles, but living alone was another altogether. I was scared. I hadn’t lived alone in 12 years. And I was in the darkest emotional space I’ve ever known. Being alone was really not ideal.

But after I hit my emotional bottom, and started to swim back toward the light, I realized that some alone time was the perfect next step. So I set about finding my own place to live.

I thought downsizing was a great idea. I didn’t need material possessions, right? I had already given my ex all of our furniture and most of our belongings when we split, since I had no home to furnish (and he did), and I didn’t particularly want to carry the energy of so many reminders of my past life into my next. I was eager to strip down to the bare necessities and really “find myself” as a single adult, starting over from scratch.

nothing

So I found a 300 square foot converted, pre-furnished garage/studio for $950, and moved in with my few remaining boxes of belongings. It was only just a little bigger than my college dorm room had been. I told myself it was “charming” and “quaint” and the perfect place to have my renaissance.

It was also inadequately heated, and not zoned for living. My landlord lived above me, and verbally abused me at every opportunity she had, suffering some kind of mental illness that was not apparent until after I moved in. My shower was so small I couldn’t bend over to shave my legs in there, and the light circuits shorted out every few days.

It was hell.

I met Paul just as I was about to move out of there, having found a one-bedroom in a nearby suburb for a few hundred dollars more per month. I had taken on some part-time freelance work to help me pay for the upgrade. He came over to help me pack, and was truly horrified to see what a hovel I’d been calling home.

We laugh about it now, referring to that time as “when Paul found me, I was living in a tiny garage…” like I was some rescue animal. But that sentiment actually rings of truth in more ways than I care to admit.

(III)
When we decided on divorce, using LegalZoom for the paperwork was the obvious choice. We didn’t own any property or have any children, so it was mostly a matter of signatures and beaurocractic processes. And it was fairly simple, and affordable. I think all told, the whole shebang cost about $1,000. But that doesn’t account for the peripheral financial losses – deposits on apartments, assuming sole responsibility for previously shared expenses like utilities, insurance, rent, and groceries. It doesn’t furnish your new home after giving everything to your previous partner. It doesn’t pay for the many social outings you agree to, in an effort to not be eating dinner alone night after night. Indeed, divorce is wrought with expenses that you’d never expect from the start.

pennyjar1

And for us, the legal paperwork to end our marriage was a separate transaction from me buying my ex out of half of our business. Though I had built The Broke-Ass Bride on my own, we had split the business 50/50 on the incorporation documents because… heck, we were married. It just made sense And he did help with the business in lots of ways, though I would never have classified his “time on the clock” or contributions as being anywhere near equivalent to 50% of it’s operation. So when the time came to change the business paperwork to reflect me as sole owner, I was quite surprised to find that this negotiation was the biggest struggle of our divorce. It took twice as long, and cost me many, many times as much money. Money that I didn’t have. Money the business never made.

A lot was revealed in the process of buying back full ownership of my brand, and there were some very ugly moments on both sides. If nothing else had convinced me that, without a doubt, ending our marriage was the right decision – this process confirmed it over and over and over.

So, two years since I moved out of my marriage, and the grief has finally relented. It took me longer than it should have to be able to settle in at Paul’s and view it as my own home too. To trust that I had landed, for good, and allow myself to relax and feather my nest. But now I have, and feel firmly and happily rooted once again.

I’m happier and healthier now than I ever was in my previous relationship… but only because I made it through the flames of depression, disappointment, fear, and isolation that plagued me for so long. I realize how lucky I am, and yet wouldn’t wish the path I took to get here upon my very worst enemy. In finding myself, I lost almost everyone and everything I had.



Our Farmer’s Market Lifestyle: FarMarCore

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local, organic, seasonal eatingFrom left to right:
Back row: asparagus, mixed green lettuce, artichokes, bacon, pork chops
2nd row: mixed green lettuce, cheddar cauliflower, satsuma tangerines, persian cucumbers, baby broccoli
Front row: ground breakfast sausage, hot and sweet italian pork sausages, black cod, eggs, pork chops, sirloin steaks, ground beef, strawberries

One of my favorite things about life in Los Angeles is the year-round availability of seasonal, fresh food through our local farmer’s markets. And on Wednesdays, we can walk out of our gym after our morning workout, and literally be steps from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market – one of the biggest and best markets in the city, shopped by local yokels and some of the hottest chefs in town, alike. And on Saturdays, a smaller version pops up, but with more meat purveyors.

What started for us as a weekly trip for our fresh vegetables, has evolved into our main grocery outings for the week – including meat, fish, and eggs… all from small local farms that we feel wonderful supporting. *Pats self on back*

Santa Monica Farmer's Market

I was a vegetarian from 1997-2012, and a vegan from 2009-2011. Now, I’m a pretty voracious carnivore… but with a crushing conscience. I’m all: “give me the beef! But did this cow have a nice life?!?” Like some kind of existential carniv-angst. Since going back to meat, I’ve struggled to reconcile all the horrors of factory farming industry against my appetite and what makes my body function best. I’ll admit it: I’m a huge meat snob.

We had already eradicated farmed fish from our diets, relying solely on whatever was wild, sustainable, and on-sale that week at the market. And for a while, I was content buying meat from Whole Foods, thanks to their meat rating system… but I always harbored deep abiding fantasies of buying an auxiliary freezer, and signing up for whole shares of animals from local farms. I pictured us, sitting down to dinner, able to think of Old Bessie, grazing on the fields of some idyllic local farmland, all happy and anti-biotic free, and say a little thanks to her for the delicious steak. Or saying a grateful prayer to the spirit our sow Porky, for the yummy bacon. I dreamed of raising backyard chickens, clucking busily away, as they laid our breakfast’s healthy, humane, happy eggs.

Alas, we own a condo, with a freezer is barely big enough to manage all the many quarts of homemade stock we keep on hand, a terrace that would not give any chicken a very happy life, and persnickety neighbors who would not much care for any carefree clucking so close to their homes.

… for now.

But! We quickly realized our farmer’s market is so much more than just organic, local, seasonal and delicious fruits and vegetables! There are purveyors of beef, heritage pork, fresh fish caught by independent fisheries, and super fresh eggs laid by sprout-fed, happy chickens, too! And the more we dabbled into these delights, the better we felt about our diets, our ethics, and our connection with the community. So we grab our reusable produce bags (like the good hippies we are) and head there twice a week.

Santa Monica Farmers Market 3(source)

I’m sure you’re thinking, “but Dana! Doesn’t that cost like a hundred million dollars every week!?!?” But the answer, my friends, is NOPE. It actually kind of balances out!

The salmon, for instance, is $3 less than the usual sale price at Bristol Farms, a whopping $10-$30 less than the regular price. And it’s absolutely the best salmon we’ve ever had. Fresh from the Alaskan waters of the Atlantic, scaled, filleted, and de-boned to perfection – and we buy it from the fisherman himself! The beef is around the same price as we were buying it at Whole Foods, and way more tasty and tender than anything we’d ever had from grocery. The pork, eggs and chicken are all decidedly more expensive – but the difference in taste is enormous, and the confidence and comfort we get from knowing the source, and it’s superior nutritional content makes it absolutely worthwhile to us. Plus, the affordability of the produce we buy helps make up for those more luxurious expenses, because it’s almost always less expensive than store-bought prices.

And that’s how we came to adopt a FarMarCore lifestyle. Yeah, it’s a word I made up. But in my defense: A) I love a good portmanteau. Can’t resist the chance to make one if the opportunity presents itself. (see “carniv-angst, above); and, B) Everyone and their mother are adopting the suffix -core… appending words to connote a rebellious, anti-mainstream lifestyle, social movement, type of music, style of fashion, or genre of film (see: nerdcore, normcore, mumblecore, beardcore.) And that’s kinda what we’re doing, shirking the mainstream grocery chains in favor of local, seasonal, independently-run farmers for the majority of our food. FAR-MAR-CORE. It’s totally a thing now. Hashtag it, bitches.

Anywheeze: if you’re in the area, or are headed to another LA market soon, here’s our favorite vendors + products to keep an eye out for. Most of them roam to various markets throughout the week:

peads and barnetts pork
Pork – Peads & Barnett’s: Locally-Raised Heritage Breed Pork– Specifically Mangalitsa, Middle White and Pure Berkshire. Oliver, the owner, is adorable… and it’s simply the best pork I’ve ever had. We especially recommend the sausages and the baby back ribs. SO INCREDIBLY GOOD. I never was much for pork, until we discovered Peads & Barnett’s. Now it’s easily our most often consumed meat each week. Oliver also sells beautiful pincushion and protea flowers, if you want some beautiful florals to accompany your pork!*

Beef – Rancho San Julian: 100% grass-fed beef, from cattle all born and raised on Rancho San Julian, never fed corn or soy. Each cow is of traceable heritage, raised humanely and grazed on a rotational system out on the hillsides of Santa Barbara. The beef is dry aged and delicious. We especially love their NY strips, rib eyes, and sirloins. (Wednesdays)
– Novy Ranches: 100% grass-fed, free range, born-and-bred Angus cattle raised by a veterinarian and his family with great love and care in Northern California. Their care and feed produces a highly nutritious, healthier meat than those fed corn and soy. Dry aged aged 21 days to perfection. Absolutely delicious. (Saturdays)

Eggs and Chicken – Lily’s Eggs: Lily’s 400 hens are the sole proprietors of several acres of open pasture, roaming freely. What we love about Lily’s Eggs is their dedication to the humane treatment of animals and their fierce commitment to quality production. We buy the sprout-fed variety, which come from four different breeds of chickens, and makes for a lovely assortment of eggs that not only taste great, and are packed with nutrition… but also look great on a counter-top, where they can be stored and double as decoration! And their fresh chicken is to die for. Succulent, juicy, and antibiotic/hormone-free, humanely raised, openly roaming.

Salmon – FishWife Salmon: We were falling over ourselves with excitement when we found Ryan selling his sockeye salmon at the Saturday market. He, himself, captains the vessel that catches thousands of pounds of wild sockeye in Bristol Bay of Alaska. How much closer to the source can you get? The fish is gorgeous, pre-cleaned, filetted, and flash frozen. And less expensive than anything we could buy at Bristol Farms or Whole Foods. Even on sale.* (you can also order online through his site, even if you’re not local!)

Misc. Fish – Community Seafood: This is a membership service that brings in the freshest catches from independent fishermen, varying by week according to what was most recently caught. They have a small amount of fish available to non-members for a couple dollars more, and we’ve tried their ridgeback shrimp (meh) and their halibut (absolutely incredible). I’m a bit too picky about seafood to subscribe to a CSA like this… but it’s a great option for people who have less persnickety palates.

Butter – Organic Pastures Dairy: If you’ve not yet cooked with raw butter, you’re in for a treat. The smell of it melting in a pan is almost too much to bear. It’s nutty, rich, creamy, and tastes so wholesome it’s like the cow is just chillin’ in your backyard. Made from 100% USDA certified organic, Grade A, raw milk of super premium quality from cows that are pasture grazed 365 days a year.

Bread – Bezian’s Bakery: Don’t be put off by the pro-sourdough propaganda posters all over his stand. This bread is made with virgin organic wild yeast, resulting in a probiotic fermented sourdough that’s the best we’ve ever had. I’m not gluten intolerant or anything, but am often left feeling slightly “nervous” inside after eating breads. Not Bezian’s! And he swears that it’s tolerable to people even with gluten sensitivities/allergies. Just not to those with Celiac. And they offer many unique flavors, all delicious (except the tea – skip that). It’s worth trying, even though his stall look cray.

Lettuce – Fairview Gardens: Absolutely the most tender, crispy, juicy, refreshing and delicious organic lettuce blends we’ve found. I swear, we eat like ten times more salad than ever before since happening upon their pre-washed, bagged mixes. It just makes life so easy, and so tasty.

Apples – Cuyama Orchards: They’ll only be around another week or so until the fall, but their Pink Lady apples have been a staple in our house for months. Crisp, juicy, always organic and delicious, every week.

Berries – Harry’s Berries: Definitely a splurge, but oh, so slurgeworthy. Their strawberries are like ruby jewels of sweetness. We consume them like rabid animals.

Tangerines – Regier Family Farms: Clementine season is almost over, but their little tangerines are absolutely phenomenal. (Hint: pick the golf-ball sized fruits for the best flavor.) After a brief break until mid-May or so, they’ll be back with peaches, which I’m sure will be just as good in their own peachy way.

Meyer Lemons – Garcia Organic Farm: I can eat these babies by the slice! They taste like tangerines and lemons had a delicious baby. We start every day by drinking a glass of water, with a half lemon squeezed into it. Good for our livers, our acupuncturist says. And this makes it good to the very last drop.

Broccoli and Cauliflower – Gloria’s Fruits and Vegetables: Sweet, tender, and clean-tasting, their broccoli (and baby broccoli) are hard to beat. And their cauliflower is always firm, fresh, and often available in heirloom varieties like cheddar (yum), or the gorgeously fractal romanesco.

*These vendors can be found at Santa Monica Farmer’s Market exclusively.

Note: I am not being paid to promote any of these farmers, nor am I getting kickbacks or anything from them other than possible hugs. I just really want to share their great work with the people of LA, and encourage others to explore their local farmer’s market as an alternative to store-bought groceries.


Obstacles into opportunity: the story of my in-flight sexual assault & it’s impact on the world.

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On August 23rd, 2011 I took redeye flight number 732 from LAX to ORD, and sat in seat 9E. Alone.

I was seated between two men. On the aisle-side was a 50-or-60-something year old man named Jim. We exchanged pleasantries, briefly, as one does on an airplane. On the window side was a highly-intoxicated man who fell deeply asleep within minutes of take-off.

10 minutes into the flight, a kid in the seat directly in front of me began vomiting. The vomit ran down through the seat and into my footwell, soaking my handbag and carry-on items in vomit. The crew was very nice about it, but noted the flight was full and there was nowhere to relocate me. There was nothing they could do but cover the mess with plastic and coffee grounds to mask the smell. That got the flight off on a less-than-comfortable note, to start. But that was nothing compared to what came next.

Later into the flight, I fell asleep. I awoke at one point to feel Jim’s hand… high on my upper, inner thigh. I thought it possible that it slipped down there while he was asleep, given the narrow nature of the seats on the craft, so I moved my leg away and went back to sleep. A while later, I awoke to find him pressed up against my arm, one hand on my leg, the other hand fumbling around my breasts… his jacket draped across my body to mask his hands from any passers-by.

I was terrified, and didn’t know how to respond. Stuck in the middle seat on a nearly silent, dark flight in the middle of the night, I was paralyzed with confusion and fear. I startled physically, hard enough that he removed his hands and shifted away. I couldn’t bring myself look at him. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I didn’t know how to get out of my seat and past him to signal for help, and I knew from the earlier vomit incident that there was nowhere to move me anyway, and I’d have to get past him to escape my seat at all. It was like an out-of-body experience: my mind was screaming “help me! Somebody, please!” but I could not make a sound.

I stayed awake and on-guard for the remainder of the flight, to keep him from making another attempt to grope me in my sleep. I tried to work up the courage to approach the flight crew or gate security, but (and this is something that you’d never fully understand unless you’ve been assaulted) that kind of violation and fear often leaves victims too stunned and shocked to take immediate action.

As soon as my parents picked me up from the airport, I told them what happened and immediately called Spirit Airlines to file a complaint. They had no idea to whom I should speak to file a report. Then I tried the TSA, to no avail. Then the police. And finally, the FBI.

There were no witnesses. It was my word against Jim’s. And when questioned? He said it was “consensual.”

That I wanted it.

You know why? Because I have a secret vomit-smell fetish and am attracted to men who are old enough to be my father?

No.

Because, he had a lawyer smart enough to advise him to do so. Because then, if a witness did appear, he wouldn’t be viewed as a liar for denying that he touched me at all. It was his safety net.

The FBI believed me, and were incredibly supportive, but could not press charges in a “he said-she said” incident like this, without witnesses. And I get it. I should have spoken up immediately, as it happened, on the plane. Unfortunately, “should have” flies out the window when you’re being victimized. My only reassurance with Jim is that the FBI gave him a good scare, he had to pay a lawyer for representation, and he had to tell his wife that he “cheated” on her with a younger woman on a plane who is now accusing him of assault. I take comfort in knowing those things must have caused him discomfort.

And if, god forbid, something like this ever happens again, I hope I will be able to make a scene and get the offended arrested, charged and jailed.

But because I could not bring my assailant to justice, I do the next best thing I can. I use my voice. I share my story to help other victims know they’re not alone. To educate people on this lesser-known type of sexual assault. And to help prevent it from happening to other people. Rather than letting this experience shut me down, or make me hide in shame, or negatively impact my sexuality, or cause a paralyzing fear of flying, I choose instead to “turn obstacle into opportunity” and it’s how I try to approach every negative experience I encounter. Ad astra per aspera, remember? It ain’t always easy, but it’s part of the healing process.

Sexual assault on plane

Recently, this issue has gotten a lot of press from local news stations across the USA, and I was asked to be interviewed for the coverage. Apparently, the news team in DC couldn’t find a single other victim who was publicly willing to speak about her assault for the news piece. What began as a piece for the DC local news, investigating why there’s no government agency tracking these cases, has evolved into a story that’s been shared across multiple state’s news networks including California and Florida. I was even featured on The Doctors TV show to talk about it.

The exposure of this vulnerability in aviation law has lead Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) to draft new legislation directing the FAA to collect and maintain data on sexual assaults that occur on aircrafts during air transport, including domestic and international flights that land in the United States. You can click those links to view the coverage.

When I heard that my story is helping introduce new laws to protect assault victims, I was filled with a sense of pride unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I had hoped to help one or two people, but this could help hundreds. Thousands, even. It’s more than I dared to dream possible.

Airplane Sexual Assault

They say that one voice can change the world. While what happened to me was a horrible experience that I’d wish on no one… I am grateful, in a way. Because through that experience, and the power of turning that obstacle into the opportunity to use my voice for positive change, and to advocate for victims, I’m bettering the world – in my own small way.

If you have been a victim of in-flight sexual assault, please know that I am here. Feel free to contact me, if you need advice on reporting the incident, support afterward, or just an understanding shoulder. Anytime.

UPDATE: To help other victims of in-flight sexual assaults easily find education, support and resources to help them, I created Take Back the Flight. If you or someone you know has experienced an assault on an airplane, please visit the site for guidance!