Stephanie shares her story to help others

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Why I Share My Story

If you've talked to me or seen any of my FB posts in the past six months, you probably have at least some awareness that my life has changed significantly in the past year. Some of you may wonder why I put it all out there, why I'm so public about struggles that seem like private matters, why I wear my hardships as a badge of honor. Selfishly, it's because sharing helps me grow and heal. Unselfishly, it's because, fundamentally, you and I are not so different, and I hope my sharing helps you too. 

I share because keeping quiet has really been the root of all of my hardships. My old life had the appearance of what I thought "perfect" was... I had the job, the house, the money, the material goods. On paper, who wouldn't want to be me, so I thought. The reality is, even I didn't want to be me. I was in the proverbial shackles that came along with maintaining a life that was incredibly unauthentic. Back then, I would have NEVER even shared with my closest friends and family, let alone the interwebs, to talk about my real feelings, my struggles, my insecurities, my fears, my demons. Back then, not being okay was totally not okay with me. Instead, I confided in drugs - substances that not only satisfied my need to spend lots of money, but make it acceptable in my head to withdraw from society, put responsibility on the back burner, numb my body and slow down my mind. Drugs never talked back, never told me things I didn't want to hear, never challenged me to take the harder but more satisfying route of learning how to cope and overcome life's struggles. I share because I want to do for myself and for you what drugs couldn't and will never do.

I share because it took being in literal shackles to set me free, and I don't want you to have to go through the same experiences I did in order to find that freedom. In my opinion, losing everything is the biggest breath of fresh air a person can experience. Yes, on the surface it's a struggle earning not much more than minimum wage, picking and choosing between buying groceries or gas and deciding which bills really need to be paid on time vs. what can wait another month. I share this not to make you feel sorry for me, but to show that even in these low times, I would still rather pick the struggle of living day to day over the problems I was hiding when I appeared to have it all. I have always feared not being able to have the independence to take care of myself, but with the help of God, family and friends I make ends meet. And just as importantly, sharing with you has taught me that I haven't lost the ability to take care of myself- it's just that now the emphasis of my self-care comes from feeding my soul with faith, strength, sobriety and coping skills, not just from a bank account. 

I share because I no longer live life afraid. I was afraid of EVERYTHING, ironically except for drugs and death. Be careful what you are afraid of, because I firmly believe that God will place your fears head-on as obstacles in your life if you don't push them out of your head soon enough. I was afraid of the truth. I was afraid of being vulnerable. I was afraid of not being okay. The beauty that lies in these fears is that once they land right in your lap, you realize that facing them is the best thing to ever happen to you. If you're here reading this, your fears haven't killed you yet. What I do know is that being a slave to your fears can make you feel like you're in jail. Living life afraid is what has ended up making me feel incarcerated infinitely more that literally being behind bars, where I finally admitted the truth, embraced vulnerability and found relief in being okay with not being okay. 

I share to help break the stereotypes society has about people like me. One of my biggest insecurities is trying to find a professional career that is not only satisfying and in alignment with my values, but where the hiring manager doesn't take one look at my record and pass me by. We all make mistakes, but having a felony conviction is like being stuck in that mistake forever even when your mind and spirit have learned from it and moved on. If you are ever in a position to hire or advocate for a person in my situation, I hope that hearing my story helps you have some compassion for that individual. A recovering addict and/or felon who is working to better themselves and overcome their hardships will be the hardest working, most loyal, highly creative, obsessively grateful and humble  person you could add to your team. Not all those in my situation are as serious about changing themselves as I am, but look out for people like me, we'll make it worth your while. Sometimes I equate myself to a really great product that you find in the clearance bin because there is just a little bit of damage - nobody knows you got a steal on something that looks so great out of the package, and nobody knows the wear and tear it had because you embraced the flaws, or took a little time to care for them and clean the item up. Imperfect things make for the best stories anyway, right? 😊 

I share because we are the same. I am an addict, a prison wife and a felon, probably not like you. I am also a mother, daughter, sister, niece and cousin, a woman of faith, and someone who was struggling with something that I didn't want to face, probably like you. If we keep quiet and don't process the things that make us unhappy, we are simply serving time amongst the free world. If something I shared helps you on your journey to freedom and happiness, all of this is worth it to me. 

For me, it's embracing my truth and vulnerability that sets me free, and that is why I share. 

💜💜💜

Stephanie Tovar