There’s a beautiful song written by Ben Abraham called "This Is On Me" that resonates with me, deeply. One of the lines is:
And some phoenix may rise from these ashes but the fire comes first
But the fire came first, indeed—2014 felt like a massive bonfire. The issues we buried deep in our marriage became a huge pile of dried wood, ready to burn.
Scott and I married young in 1997—I was 23 and he was 25. I had moved to Charlotte, North Carolina by myself to start my career as a computer trainer. I knew one person in the charming, Southern city, but other than that, it was whole new world.
We met in a bar through friends, and four months later, we were engaged. A year later, we married. Scott was in between work right before we got hitched. He landed a new job in sales with HBO in Birmingham which meant, shortly after our wedding, we moved to Alabama. After the move, I found a job at a prominent healthcare company. Noah was born that year, and little did we know, we’d be on the move again one year later. Scott was moving up the ladder—Playboy TV Networks snapped him up. Off to Atlanta, GA, we went. I found a job that wasn’t ideal but was related to what I had been doing and it was somewhat good for a new mom—no travel. We were there for a year before Scott was promoted and off we went to Chicago, IL. We spent four years there and he continued to do really well in the industry, working for several other national TV networks with offices in Chicago. I carved out my career in a new town. I worked for a temp agency at first, and then interviewed for a job that was initially outside of my wheelhouse, with A&E and the History Channel. I put my all into it and learned “media math,” won the President's Award (overachiever), and was promoted to Integrated Marketing Manager during my three-year tenure.
Four years after moving to Chicago, we were talking about next steps. By then, we had two beautiful kiddos and a cool life in Chicago, but hours were long and schools weren’t great in our Lincoln Square neighborhood. Scott was offered a great position in a related industry with a company in Cincinnati, Ohio. I loved the idea of slowing down and being closer to family, but I’ll admit, I was scared to a.) leave my career that I had grown to love and was doing really well in, and b.) to put my career on hold and forfeit making my own salary. Not because I thought Scott and I were in trouble, but because I have always been independent and career-minded.
We set off for the job in Cincinnati without some critical knowledge. The company wasn’t doing well financially and they were looking at Scott like the Hail Mary pass that would save them. He couldn’t save them—no one could save them. And we couldn’t save ourselves. Less than a year after moving to Cincinnati, we sold the house we’d built, sold most of our stuff, and made the decision to go back into TV. After all, we both did really well in that industry. We both started reaching out to contacts with resumes. We knew we’d have to move back to Chicago, or to LA or NYC. We’d already done Chicago. NYC looked like it was going to be too hard with the cost of living and commuting.
LA, it was! Being an acting major, Scott had always wanted to do something on the creative side of the industry so this looked like a good move that could potentially provide both outlets. The only problem was one of us needed a job. He was starting to interview with other TV networks in LA, so naturally that helped us make the decision to move across the country. We cashed out our 401Ks, packed everything in a POD that was to be transported to “Hollywood” by truck, and moved to Sherman Oaks, CA, a suburb of LA.
I was freaking out for three months. I knew we only had a finite reserve of funds, despite choosing the tiniest rental house we could find that wasn't a shack, to cut back on expenses. If he wasn’t going to get hired soon, we were in trouble. We had a baby and a four-year-old, and I was struggling with having been out of the industry for a year, at that point. Much to my surprise, it put me behind the eight ball, job-wise. Scott was already making more money because our moves were based on his career and I was facing some resistance for having been out, so naturally, he needed to be the main breadwinner. I had to figure out how to make ends meet, though, because when he did get hired, it was not enough to go around. I did some contract work but it wasn’t steady enough so I made the decision to become a nanny. While I love kids, I’d never babysat more than a handful of times and was scared to death. Would I even be good at this? I missed my marketing career and the fast-paced life of ad sales but also knew the value of having a parent home with the kids and they had already been through a big move. With all of that on my mind, I placed an ad in Craigslist and taught myself to build a website to share who I was and why someone would want to hire me as a caregiver.
I took care of two babies, in addition to my own kids, for two years. At the end of the two-year stint, I had a very "mod" idea. I started building furniture without any carpentry skill or design know-how. It gave me a creative outlet and I knew if I sold one toy box in LA, I could make as much money doing that as I was making as a nanny for a week at $8 per hour. Scott was moving up the ladder at a prominent TV network, until he nobly volunteered to back up a woman in his company who he witnessed being sexually harassed by an upper management exec from a different office. The perfect performance appraisal he received two weeks prior meant nothing when he was called into his bosses’ office and told he wasn’t being very “VP-like.” It didn’t take long for them to let him go. We had no recourse and a small severance package.
Every morning, I would wake up panicked. Like when we first moved to LA, I was counting the days until the money ran out. He ended up reinventing himself by going into the tech side of the industry. I was building Mod Mom at the time and bringing in what we needed to make ends meet by building furniture all day and some nights, and caring for the kiddos during the day when they weren’t in school or preschool. I was happy I was able to be creative and still work from home. At first, everyone including Scott, thought I was nuts. But it was working and Mod Mom was gaining momentum. And it was helping us stay afloat. I eventually built roughly 400 toy boxes in our garage over a four-year time span.
This is where it gets fuzzy for me. Once Scott made the move over to the tech side, I don’t remember how many corporate restructurings /layoffs/or just plain goings-under happened between then and when we moved to Flagstaff. It had to be at least two. We ended up having to declare bankruptcy. I think I blocked it from my mind, honestly. He was smart to transition into more of the tech side because the TV network industry’s affiliate sales teams were all being cut. That was the good part, except the tech side was equally as vulnerable because most of the gigs were with start-ups.
While we were living in LA and going through financial ups and downs, I was starting to awaken spiritually, which was scary and stressful in itself. I was confused, overwhelmed, and invigorated all while taking care of the family and growing Mod Mom. Cut to the last company Scott worked for in Burbank. The parent company was based overseas and while they did shut down the Burbank office, they wanted to keep Scott on. A testament to who he is. We saw this as an opportunity to get out of pricey, overly congested LA. Something we both felt intuitively we needed to do for our kids. As a reluctant medium who was being pulled into cold cases, I was also receiving messages about moving. Getting out of LA for a number of reasons but mainly, there was a push for us to high-tail it. Thankfully, Scott has always been my biggest supporter when it came to my intuitive work. He believed in me because he saw the “proof” with his own eyes. He didn’t really question it. He’s quite intuitive himself and he said, “Well, here’s our opening. I still have a job and we can move anywhere. If you're being told Flagstaff, then let’s go check it out.”
In 2012, we moved to Flagstaff, Arizona. He had a nice salary because he was still working for the overseas company. In fact, it was a far bigger salary than what most get in Flagstaff, which is appropriately called “poverty with a view.” Let’s just say that the salaries are not commensurate with the cost of living, but it was still significantly cheaper than LA. I had already braved Shark Tank with Mod Mom and won, and I had inked a deal with an angel investor. I was plugging along with Mod Mom and asked Scott to play more of a role. I respect his ideas and creativity and frankly, I was so tired of handling it all myself. This became the first of my “only I should run Mod Mom” lessons. While he had great ideas and I went along with them, nothing was working to really grow the brand.
At the same time, the company he was working for decided to pull out of the US which meant they were about to sever his employment contract. Now, we’re living in a really cool town because we were guided here intuitively, but we were nowhere near big industry. Scott started scrambling and took a radio station job but it paid less than a quarter of what he was earning before. I kept hearing, intuitively, licensing was the way to grow Mod Mom so I started to pursue those opportunities while still managing all of the manufacturing and shipping. With Mod Mom and his job, we were making it but barely. We did end up having to sell our wedding rings and most of the jewelry I inherited from my Grandmother when she passed. After eight months of talks, I inked a deal with multi-million-dollar giant, Stanley Furniture, as their salaried spokesperson and they would be producing my line in a licensing deal. They projected five million in sales the first year. I had finally done it! The payout was supposed to be really big, plus I had a steady salary doing what I loved. I was ensuring we wouldn’t struggle financially anymore, after so many years of ups and downs.
This brings us up to April of 2014, which was shortly after I was starting to come to grips with what happened to me as a child. I flew to Market in High Point to sign my licensing deal and perform my spokesperson duties only to lose it all because they shut down North American production and their kids line all together. They announced it on April Fools Day, the day I was flying in to North Carolina. I had no idea until I got off the plane. I’ve written about what happened when I got to Market in this blog post called Free Falling.
Looking at it from 30,000 feet, the constant financial ups and downs from 2004-2014 took a toll on us but neither of us really talked about it. We would always band together to make things happen but damage was done. I pushed down my feelings at every turn, but the reality was I was losing faith in his ability to provide, even though it wasn’t his fault. Being a natural fixer, I would work day and night fixing life for everyone. Building a furniture company without any experience. Doing it all. I started to resent the fact that we made Scott’s career the focus and I just followed along, reinventing myself in every city along the way. As a married couple, you know there is give and take, but as a life-long accommodator, I was the queen of over-giving and it hurt me physically and emotionally. When I announced in 2014 I was leaving Scott, some close said “we’re not surprised.” Others said, “I thought this would have happened a long time ago.” I was shocked by their responses.
I resented--as he’s said in his blog post about what he learned—that the pendulum had swung too far. I felt like I was holding up the world on many fronts—kids, work, guidance for him, strength for him, strength for all of us—and I was about to collapse from the weight of it all. He admits he “lost his mojo,” and ultimately found it again during our separation. He took jobs he had never had to consider before that would be the equivalent of what I did when I nannied and did manual labor-type work. In his words, he needed to grow up and take charge of his career.
It’s interesting when I think about the juxtaposition of what we were both going through. It’s common for childhood sexual abuse survivors to become over achievers and accommodators. This means that most live their lives—or commonly into their forties when all of the subconscious stuff starts to break open—caretaking and doing the right thing all the time. That’s what I did. When I met the match that lit the bonfire of April 2014, I had unknowingly come to the end of my rope. I was tired of being the one who handled it all perfectly and with grace. Growing up is exactly the OPPOSITE of what I needed to do. I apparently needed to run free, make mistakes, and channel my inner teenager, like I’d never really done. I had to heal a lot of subconscious wounding and programming that I didn’t even know existed. I still do, but without the implosion of 2014, I don’t think I would have gotten to this place as quickly as I have. And I don’t think Scott would be where he is today, in his career and in life in general.
And some phoenix may rise from these ashes but the fire comes first
It truly took the fire burning all to the ground, in order for us to rise from the ashes—as a two people who love each other to the depths of our souls, and as individuals who are becoming the people we were always meant to be.
P.S. I do not recommend our particular method of burning down the proverbial marital house but this was our path. And in our case, a gift. :) If I had to do it all over again, I’d ditch the kerosene and I’d TALK MORE. Make it known what was going on in my head and heart, no matter if I thought it would hurt him. And I’d want him to do the same for me. Give each other the space you need, as individuals, but also tune into each other. Oh, and know that we’re here on earth to learn, to love, and to grow with or without a bonfire.