We all go through really bad stuff in life.
Whatever you’re facing, I know from personal experience how much you want to get through it, grow from it, heal and get your life working well again.
You’re longing to find peace of mind, calmness, emotional balance and maybe even a little joy and happiness again, right?
If you’re like me, you are more likely to trust someone who has actually been through an experience over someone who only read a pile of textbooks. I’m someone who has dealt with some pretty big challenges in life. I have found a way through suffering and I know how to help you thrive again, no matter what’s happened to you.
Well, here’s my story. Thanks to my early training as a journalist, I’ve now spent decades researching and testing what works – what really helps people like us heal. Like mine is now, your life can be so much better, richer, more meaningful, more joy-filled than it was even before this big thing walloped you.
That’s what I want for you: a better life.
I hope to meet you somewhere one day – on a plane, at one of my workshops, on a sidewalk – and we can get to know one another in real life. Since we’re not sitting together over a cup of tea, I can’t hear your story just yet. So I’ll go first and tell you what happened to me so you know where I’m coming from when I offer you my compassion, support and best ideas for your own healing. Someday, I hope you’ll tell me about your life, too, and how you overcame the dark days you are enduring right now.
When I was four, my dad took off. I didn’t see him again until I found him when I was 28.
When I was six, my mom remarried. Soon after, my parents joined an extreme Fundamentalist Christian cult. We believed, among other things, that the End Times were coming any day; that women were made solely to serve men and had no intrinsic value in themselves; and that we were the only chosen people of God – everyone else was worthless unless they converted to our beliefs.
Despite this, when I was 10 I won a district-wide writing contest; at 11, I won my first sales contest because I’d gotten the most new subscribers for the newspaper I delivered; at 16, I graduated high school and began college. I got my dream job working at a newspaper – the Prescott Courier in Arizona. I was so incredibly happy to be doing what I loved – with people I admired and could learn from. That year, I won a scholarship for an article I wrote on photovoltaic cells – solar energy was an exciting new thing at the time.
After the scholarship ran out, I didn’t have enough money to stay at Arizona State University. Girls in my church were not supposed to want careers or an education. They were supposed to want husbands and babies. My parents were already unhappy that I was attending ASU, which had a great reputation for journalism but a bad one for being a party school. But I didn’t drink. I read my Bible in my dorm room. I lived a very innocent life.
Our church ran its own college in Pasadena, California. That’s where you went if you hoped to marry a minister. I had no such hope. I wanted to be a journalist. My parents offered to pay for my education if I switched schools.
My secret plan was to attend for a year, work hard, save up my money and go back to ASU to finish my journalism degree. I planned to marry the guy I’d met at a church basketball game when I was a 14-year-old cheerleader. But just a few weeks after I began studying theology instead of journalism, I got caught and expelled for still being in love with him. Since he wasn’t studying to become a minister, and I was ostensibly being trained to marry one, loving him was against the rules. I thought I could get away with it.
The college announced my expulsion “for sexual misconduct” (implying strongly I was no longer a virgin) to 6,000+ church members and fellow students. Even though I knew I was utterly innocent in every way, the congregation was told to shun me. My parents were incredibly ashamed. An enraged minister warned me that God would take away my eternal life if I ever spoke to anyone from my former congregation in Arizona, including the guy and all my girlfriends. I felt so isolated and depressed! The despair was so bad I lay in bed at my parents’ place – listless, crying, not dressing or even eating. My spirit had finally been broken.
I was frantic to prove I had repented. I was allowed back into church within a month. People I’d known my whole life walked past me as if I was invisible. I felt so humiliated! But then, a few weeks later after services, a handsome guy whose girlfriend had recently declined his marriage proposal started talking to me. He was nice to me when no one else was. Since I couldn’t go home to my boyfriend, I married him less than a year later. My new husband had promised to restore my reputation in the church if I did.
He also promised to let me finish college and to never interfere with my burgeoning journalism career. That’s not how it went. He had been raised in our church by a controlling father. He had a drinking problem. He knew God had made him the head of our household and that my primary job was to serve him. Divorce was not allowed. I had sold out my future. My only choice was to make the best of it.
In time, we had two darling, beloved children: Jeremy Winston and Amelia Louise. They were the focus of our life. They gave us something to do together. In 1989, I started a literary agency from home, helping writers sell their book manuscripts to publishers. Turns out, I’m pretty good at it. (I still run that company today. You can see it at www.KellerMedia.com) I even sold my own first book. By 1991, I wanted to attend the London Book Fair, a big publishing industry conference. My husband and I decided to make it into a family vacation.
Less than 2 days after we arrived in the UK, we were driving down a little country road. My husband had stayed up all night with Amelia so I could sleep. He had jet lag. He forgot to look both ways at the intersection. The other car hit ours at 65 kph. Amelia died instantly. Jeremy was taken off life support 3 days later. After a long operation, I emerged in critical condition. Every bone on my left side was broken from my shoulder to my knee. The doctors talked about the possibility of amputating my shattered leg because of the heinous nerve damage. I had nothing left to live for – no hope, no children, no identity as a mom, no marriage I cared about, no reason to think that I’d ever be happy again.
I was 26 years old.
I wanted to die, but it’s hard to find ways to commit suicide when you can’t even walk or sit up.
In time, I was airlifted back to the USA. We buried our precious children on the most anguished day of my life, as you can imagine. I figured out a few weeks later that my live-in nurse was providing an unacceptable extra level of comfort to my husband while I was sleeping in a hospital bed in my own living room.
I was handicapped and heart-broken; grief-filled and beaten down. I could see no future worth living for. I had been given more than anyone could ever bear.
My company thrived. I was able to support Sophie all by myself for the rest of her childhood. I was doing so well that I bought two lots in Malibu – a house on one, an office on the other. I liked being a single mother. I liked the freedom to be myself. Sophia and I grew very close. I sold hundreds of books for my clients and wrote dozens more myself. I appeared on many TV and radio shows (everything from Dateline NBC to The New York Times to Parenting magazine to Dr Phil and more!) I was applying what I was learning on a daily basis. Sure, I still felt sadness over the traumas of my life, especially the deaths of the children. I was getting through it and thriving despite all that had happened.
Then, our house burned down in the 2007 Malibu wildfires. We lost the entire neighborhood, including our house and 90% of my office. Even one of our dogs died in the blaze! We bought toothbrushes and underwear that first night, because we had nothing left. Sophia and I shuffled around in various hotels and with friends for several months until I found us a suitable rental. Sophie’s dad was the first friend on the scene, armed with a shovel to help me pick through the wreckage. Also, My parents were an incredible support to me at this time. A lot of healing happened in my relationship with them. They had all long since left the cultic church. Turns out, my parents’ true personalities are far more loving and tolerant than I had ever known – and I discovered that my former husband is as human, compassionate and thoughtful as the next person – no better, no worse.
At the time of the wildfire, Sophie’s dad was going through his second divorce. Her stepmother took her own three children and thus Sophie lost her step- and half siblings. My poor daughter was devastated by all these disasters. At 16 yrs old, she crumbled and got into some trouble. I felt certain I had failed as a mother to my only living child.
Even though we were still mired in trying to recover from the fire, I put everything I had emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually into helping my precious child get well. My family rallied around me. To my incredible delight and surprise, her father showed up powerfully in both our lives at this time. As he got involved in helping her, we forgave one another for the stupidity of our earlier behaviors and we have come out of it as friends. Best of all, today Sophie is a kind, loving, decent, intelligent, compassionate, balanced person – and she just graduated from university with an excellent GPA.
Ever since March 15, 1991, when the children died, it’s been in my heart to do something to help others who suffer. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have two things: compassion for you and a lot of research into what works. How do you recover from the deaths of two children? A bad marriage? A natural disaster? All kinds of trauma?
As I find answers, I share them on my blog. If you’re dealing with your own bad stuff, you can find advice, encouragement, and a community of support here. After all this drama in my life, all I know for sure is this: you can get through almost anything and end up with a rich, meaningful, joyful life. You can thrive again after the bad stuff. You can be happy no matter what has happened. I promise. I did it and so can you. Please indulge yourself in the support offered on this site. Tell me your story on the Stories of Healing page.
Take my hand – we can do this together.
Wishing you a life overflowing with love, joy and peace,
By popular request, I’m now offering private coaching sessions intended to help, encourage, support, comfort and offer some advice to you if you are going through a significant life crisis. To explore this option, please click here.
Stop Hurting and Start Healing
What to Do When Bad Things Happen to You
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