The year was 2007. The red brick wall that my car faced in the parking lot is still visible in my mind’s eye. I stared at it for at least 10 minutes lost in thought as if my mind needed to backup before the car did.
Less than an hour earlier I had been the Director of Sales for a privately held home builder. I had been fixated on climbing the ever elusive corporate ladder in the largely male dominated industry tirelessly trying to put my own crack in the glass ceiling. Regular 80 hour work weeks had been the norm—I had become more of a human “doing” than a human “being.”
The height of the housing bubble in San Diego was 2005. By 2007 the economic tsunami that was sweeping the nation was too much for a small builder, little by little we cut overhead but it wasn’t enough, eventually we went under, our office was one of the first to close its doors.
There was something altogether surreal about pulling from the parking lot, office life in the rear-view mirror, personal effects by my side and Blackberry left behind.
Days into my lay off, as if groping for my identity, I found myself scratching at the place on our kitchen counter where I previously set my PDA—only to discover neither it, nor I, was there.
Reality settled beneath my skin. What I didn’t know, was a different set of realities were about to leech into my marrow, around the bend was something that would cause me to think and inspire what I think of now as a life-renovation.
The first year post corporate structure eventually found me happily re-engaged in the lives of my family: field trips, class helper, carpool driver and chief organizer of all things home related. Additionally, my mother announced she was moving across the country to Oregon, being I was the real estate expert in the family I took the role of point person to oversee the selling, boxing and moving of her Virginia home. I was busy, busy until that is I learned I needed surgery. My body’s way of saying—STOP.
A hysterectomy rendered me physically useless on a couch for weeks post-op with zero permission from the Doctor to lift, drive or do much of anything.
As difficult as it is for me to remember a time when social media didn’t fill our waking hours with likes, tweets, pins and re-posts; back then I had not yet joined the ranks of the millions on Facebook.
What did I do with myself you ask? I read.
I can’t tell you what I read before my sister in law Nicki showed up and insisted I read Twilight—but I remember what I said in protest:
“There is no way I am reading this book! I have zero interest in fantasy that doesn’t involve an exotic tropical island and I certainly could care less about the life of a teenage girl who falls in love with a Vampire. Not. My. Thing.”
So I am guessing you can guess who won that battle: Twilight Saga, 4, Elin 0.
The best I can describe reading the saga in its entirety, is to say it was much like tearing open a sleeve of the thin mint Girl Scout cookies—they smell good, they taste good…and if you are like me, once the cellophane is split open, you mindlessly inhale them, then the sleeve is empty and afterward you feel sick.
Why did I feel sick? Because the 2,739 pages of fiction woke me up to the buried emotions left over from a relationship that nearly cost me my life when I was a late teen, and roughly the age of the protagonist, Bella Swan.
The resurfacing of old emotions temporarily unhinged me.
Did a visceral response to a work of fiction signal that somehow the years of therapy and personal examination in my 20’s actually weren’t effective? Or was it something else?
I had not allowed my surviving domestic violence to define me, in fact quite the opposite; I had defied survivor statistics and gone on to lead what most would deem an accomplished life.
It dawned on me then that it wasn’t that my healing life was inauthentic or invalid, it was my silence. In order to get my mind in forward I knew I could no longer be the only beneficiary of all that I had learned from my recovery.
Teens and women alike were enthralled with the stories, in short I felt as if they had been sold a fictional lie. I had grumbled my way through the 4 novels machinating over the undercurrents of power and control that were positioned and packaged as true love, if not a love worth dying for. Each page underscored the need for real stories to be added to the well of fiction available to people of all ages and screamed to me: It’s time to tell your story!
I looked back over my shoulder at the young man I had once loved: No, Derrick was not a vampire with fabulous looks, and a bank account that was bottomless, nor did he possess the ability to materialize every time I was in danger. In fact quite the opposite was true. My boyfriend was a human being.
He was average to look at, some might say he had a kind face and sweet smile, but behind his green eyes was a storm of violence and the danger I was in was due to his brutal behavior.
His unhappy upbringing fueled a very tortured soul and his response was to possess me.
As a grown woman decades away from a relationship which in part shaped my life, I had to come to terms with the notion that my silence about my past was not serving my own children, nieces, nephews, or the countless other young people making their way in the world. Furthermore—my silence was not serving me.
Here I was standing at a crossroad and in that moment I realized that the worst part of my life had seeded something in me that, out here in the future, had burst open and felt a lot like passion.
This epiphany was the catalyst for the telling of my story, Tornado Warning, A Memoir of Teen Dating Violence and Its Effect on A Woman’s Life, an introspective book which leans on the unlocked pages written about the relationship I was in as a young adult, and intertwines them with thoughts on healing from trauma, parenting and all that I hope for in our world today.
Had someone told me before reading the Twilight Saga that it would be life changing I assure you I would have laughed—and yet it was; I wrote a book and now am invited to speak all over the country.
The only way for me to continue my path forward was to harvest my once buried life experiences and share them with the world. We all have a story to share, I have found that being brave with my own life has led others to be be brave with theirs.
Did I reinvent myself? Some may say yes–but to me–it was more of a life-renovation. I gave myself permission to re-frame my priorities, lean on my passion and harness the courage to claim my identity as a woman: I am all of my life experiences and sharing the dark as well as the light has made all the difference.
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Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll) says
That’s a good response to a book that wasn’t your thing!
Karen D. Austin says
Ellen: Wow, I am so glad to read that you got out of that abusive relationship from when you were young and managed to write about it during midlife. As a retired English teacher, I also really believe in the power of storytelling. I too read Twilight (well only the first two books; I got too upset to read on) and despaired over the popularity of what I see as a dysfunctional relationship between Bella and Edward. But you DID something about it to help people see their are other stories to tell about how relationships function. Kudos to you.
Elin Stebbins Waldal says
Hi Karen, Thanks for sharing your experience with Twilight too. I think the key with stories like that is to encourage the teenagers to read them BUT take the time to deconstruct the messages. I was glad to finally be able to tell the story and love that it has helped so many people. Thanks for taking the time to read my experience with “reinvention” and for commenting too!
Phoebe Wulliman Graber says
Powerful story. Thanks for sharing! Love the simplistic look of your blog!