Kintsugi: aka my philosophy on life.

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For years, I’ve found myself identifying that the concept of turning obstacles into opportunity (or “ad astra per aspera,” dontchaknow) has become the distillation of my life’s purpose. Not just for myself, but also through leading by example, encouraging others to do the same.

Per-Aspera-Ad-Astra-Amarelle07

That simple philosophy has been such a major influence on my life, that it led me to create The Broke-Ass Bride, and this blog right here. It has gotten me through the many, many struggles I’ve encountered, and inspired me to fight ever harder to maintain an inspired life, positive outlook, and build a better future. Fighting through struggles, reaching for the stars. Not just surviving, but thriving.

if you can meet with triumph and disaster...

So, you’re probably wondering what Kintsugi has to do with all this. It’s a funny word, right? It means “golden joinery.” Today, thanks to the power of Facebook, and one of my heroes, Elizabeth Gilbert, I learned about the Japanese art of Kintsugi (or Kintsukuroi), in which broken pieces of porcelain are repaired with gold and lacquer to fill their cracks… thereby rather than masking their imperfections, they are made more beautiful by those imperfections.

Kintsugi as a personal philosophy

Isn’t that a beautiful way to approach the idea of repair? Whether in reference to porcelain or oneself? I certainly love the idea of practicing this at home when our dishes break. Artist Lotte Dekker developed a DIY Kintsugi kit that I definitely plan to order.

Anyway, the clearer my life’s purpose becomes, the more things like this resonate. I absolutely love this metaphor my core philosophy.

What do you think about Kintsugi as an analogy for life and how to approach it’s challenges? Have you identified your life’s purpose/core philosophy?


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.

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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.

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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.


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!


Ad astra per aspera.

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Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 was my 36th birthday.

A year previous, I was just coming off of a nervous breakdown. Which is a phrase usually relegated to hyperbole, except this time, it was true.

In early December 2012, my already fragile enough mid-divorce-living-at-a-friend’s-place, trying-to-write-a-book-about-wedding-planning-on-deadline-while-dying-of-heartbreak, scared-to-death-of-what-comes-next world got rocked when I found out I needed emergency surgery on my eye (bringing the total count to 14 at the time), and also found out that my fertility was questionable, at best. I was collapsing under the stress, so right around Christmas, my psychiatrist suggested changing up my depression medication, to try and help lift me from the deafening numbness that encompassed me, and thus began weaning me off of the Pristiq that was only tenuously holding me together, and introduced Viibryd.

Within a week or so, I felt noticeably different. But… not better. I was painfully exhausted, and was beset with terrible headaches. Even worse that that… rather than numb, I began to feel empty. Desolate. Hopeless. And gradually, day by day, I became increasingly aware of a new feeling: a fear. Unlike I had ever felt before.

I was afraid of myself.

Afraid of what I might do to myself.

If left alone with myself.

And here’s the confusing part: I didn’t want to hurt myself. I didn’t wish I were dead. No. I wanted to live. I wanted desperately to believe that I could, once again, experience happiness and stability. I know that depression lies. I know better than to believe its insidious, manipulative whispers. My logical mind knows this very well.

But, almost as though my self were split in two, like some terrible after-school movie about a girl with split personalities, my emotional mind couldn’t trust myself not to do something stupid. I felt involuntarily pulled toward dangerous behaviors. Like I might inadvertently toss myself off the balcony. Or slice my skin open. Or begin walking into the distance and never stop. Or swallow all the pills in the house. Or drive off a cliff. Like a woman possessed, I felt as though I were being pulled against my own will towards self-harm.

And I couldn’t stop crying.

Luckily, I had enough sense of my logical mind to recognize that no good could come of this feeling. So I immediately alerted my psychiatrist, who agreed it was wise to discontinue the Viibryd, and ease myself back onto the Pristiq. And I mustered the strength to tell the friend I was staying with that, in no uncertain terms, I didn’t feel safe to be left alone. And thank god for him, because he had been in a similar place once, and he held me while I sobbed. He canceled plans to stay in and babysit me. Without judgment, he saved me.

And when he couldn’t be there, I called someone else. Which is no easy feat. Not many people knew how lost I had been to begin with. And finding a way to communicate that I was having terrifying urges, and inviting someone to just come sit on the couch and marathon Law & Order with me so I don’t end up accidentally taking a swan dive off the 2nd floor balcony was not the easiest call to make. I think Allie of Hyperbole & a Half said it best, in her incredibly spot-on depiction of what depression can be like:

“I discovered that there’s no tactful or comfortable way to inform other people that you might be suicidal. And there’s definitely no way to ask for help casually.

how to tell someone you might be suicidal

I didn’t want it to be a big deal. However, it’s an alarming subject. Trying to be nonchalant about it just makes it weird for everyone.”

But, surprisingly, my friends were really awesome about it. They came, without question, and sat with me. There was no excessive comforting, no uncomfortable attempts to “lighten the mood” or play therapist… just acceptance and understanding and loving concern. I’m so grateful, because if I had no one to call, I absolutely would have committed myself for my own safety.

And in the brief moments that I was left alone, or the periodic moments when, even with my roommate beside me, I felt so inconsolably anxious and bereft that I could no longer bear it… I remembered that Jenny once suggested that squeezing ice cubes in your hands can help quench those feelings a bit. And it did. (Thank you, Jenny.)

After a couple of weeks, the Viibryd eased it’s way out of my system, and my familiar friend Pristiq oozed back in. I started to feel, bit by bit, more myself again. Less at risk again. There was light at the end of the tunnel. I could see it. And for the first time in a while, I believed that I’d soon reach the end of that dark and lonely tunnel, and feel the sunlight on my face again.

By the time my birthday rolled around, I was almost there. And, as terrifying as those weeks previous had been, I always wanted to remember them, so that I’d always know that no matter how dark and hopeless things get, I can make it through. To remember my past, and look forward to my future – honoring my worst moments as essential parts of the journey leading to my best moments, and recognizing them for their beauty. Serendipitously, I was given the chance to share my story with an anonymous audience through The Listserve, which provided a great outlet, perspective and support in my healing process. And as a 35th birthday gift to myself, I got this tattoo:

Ad astra per aspera. Latin for “Through struggles to the stars.”

ad astra per aspera tattoo

Also, notably, the tagline for this blog 🙂

 


The Journey.

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My parents have been here for the holidays. It’s been… hectic. So here’s this, since I don’t have time to write much. A friend posted this to facebook, and I absolutely died for it. Feels incredibly powerful, especially so close to the eve of a new year. Especially with the year I have just experienced. It’s almost as though this poem was written for me, at this time.

More later, obviously.

But in the meantime, I hope you are having the happiest of holidays.

The Journey

the journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

– Mary Oliver