A Look Back

2016 has been the year of New Beginnings for me. No, seriously.

It’s been absolutely amazing!

You see, in 2014 my house caught fire. Lightning struck and the electrical box blew up. I did almost all of the work to fix it, but because of my severe asthma I couldn’t live in it. My house that I had dreamed of owning since I was a kid… was unlivable for me. My heart was breaking and I felt like a failure. I was scared of my own house. I was terrified of life.

My pup, Toothless, is the reason that I’m still here today. The fire, had it spread before he got my attention, would have cut off all access points in the house. The windows were painted shut… I had only owned the house for two months and had no clue.

I sincerely thank the Navy for tossing me in a Repair Locker to do Damage Control. I thank the Navy for giving me the training and skills to save my house. I thank the Navy for giving me strength to fight and do what needed to be done… Once I got my pup out, I went back in to save my house. The breaker was gone, the wall was damaged beyond repair, and I had lost some of my belongings… I was fighting an electrical fire and there would be no winner… Once I was sure it was out… I cried.

The next morning I went to my day job like normal. I pretended that everything was ok. I pretended that I was fine. Really… it was far from fine. It was decades from being ok. It was light years from being normal.

I went to see my doctor and told her what happened. I needed medical attention and didn’t realize it until a co-worker saw that I was having trouble… I had damaged my arm — nearly broke it getting out of the house — and my throat was raw. My asthma was all messed up. She was amazed that, that was the extent of the damage. She was amazed that I reached into a burning breaker to pull the fuse and break the circuit. It’s what I had been trained to do. Honestly, my training kicked in and I grabbed my PPE (personal protective equipment) and went to work. Never thought twice about it.

After work I went to get some things from the house and survey the damage. It was no where near what it could have been. Yet, it sort of broke me. It made me feel faulty, like I couldn’t trust myself or my judgement.

Stephanie Berget, an amazing author and lovely person, saw me post about being upset about losing some of my books due to smoke. She mailed me an entire box of books. Seriously, an entire box. That was the first moment that I knew everything was going to be ok. I knew that I could do this.

I worked with a certified electrician to completely re-do the electrical on my house. I ripped out the breaker box, ran cable, installed safety measures, etc. My house would be the safest place imaginable — or so I thought. I ripped out walls, tile, flooring, boards, etc. I drywalled, slapped mud on walls, and painted. Thank you, Navy, for making me learn about to do maintenance work on the ship. I installed special smoke detectors and fire alarms. I did it all.

Then a pipe burst, a floor collapsed, and the sewer line collapsed.

Have you ever seen the movie The Money Pit? Well, I lived it.

I put all my energy into fixing it, not living in it since the fire. I worked nights and weekends on it. I learned how to lay tile and grout. I learned my way around every Home Depot and Lowe’s in my area. I watched Youtube videos and did my best to replicate all of the cool things I saw. I was angry too. I was angry at myself and felt cheated.

Months went by before I let go of the anger. I took responsibility for what I could. I could fix it, even if it took me a while. My house was my house, even if it was broken. It was my job to do more than just slap a band aid on it. It was my job to soothe it’s wounds… because I could soothe my own at the same time.

Hard work can do amazing things.

I was in the middle of re-doing the yard, showing the world how beautiful my house could be, when I got a call… my storage unit that I had put everything into after the fire had been broken into. My belongings had been damaged and stolen. Someone had gone through my personal things. There’s such a violation in that… not knowing who did it. Not  wanting to touch your things again because you don’t know what the person did to them… It hurts and it’s heartbreaking.

The anger returned and I worked harder. I struggled and fell, but I got up and dusted myself off. I continued on.

It wasn’t until the house was all fixed and sold that I finally was able to take a deep breath. I was finally able to KNOW that this was just a long moment in time. However, at the same time it was just a moment… It was simply a dark night in the winter, just waiting for the renewal that spring brings.

And I made it through it. I survived and proved to myself how strong I was. I did it.

In the mean time, while dealing with all of that, I was working diligently on trying to become a published author. I was being stubborn and scared. I was terrified that no one would like what I wrote. I loved it, but I was biased. What would other people say? What would people that didn’t know me think? What if they didn’t like it? What if they thought my stories were ridiculously childish?

All of those fears kept swirling around in my head. Each one serving to break my heart a little bit more — each one destroying me. I was stuck in my head and couldn’t get out into my life. Something the VA had been trying to help me with since I was 21 years old. I was stuck in a moment of time where I couldn’t believe that I was good enough. That’s something that a lot of Veterans struggle with.

In January 2016 I took a deep breath. I decided I was going to do my best to practice the Mindfulness that they had been trying so hard to teach me and I was going to push on. I was going to make it work and I wasn’t going to give up.

Out of the blue, I saw an email on the Southern Magic’s (an RWA Chapter) Loop. It said a friend’s publisher was looking for short stories for an anthology. I practically screamed that this was my chance to follow my dreams. I could do this! It was a short story and I had a few. I said I would submit and I meant it.

The day before it was due my computer deleted my story… I spent the morning of the day it was due drafting a whole new story. A friend stayed up late with me while I took four hours to write the new story. I was determined. I was ready to cry. I was ready to give in and just admit defeat. However, something within me (probably just my stubbornness) screamed at me to keep going. The little voice within hollered that I had this — that I could do it.

I listened.

I signed my first publishing contract and published that short story with Solstice. I celebrated and celebrated!

drs valentine-001

That little voice once again sprung up and said what if you tried something else?

I thought about what would be more challenging… What could possible test me more than anything I had been through? I thought about what I wanted out of life. I wanted to be a businesswoman. I wanted to be able to do a lot of different things. I wanted to be proud of myself.

Sadly, it took me until September of 2016 to realize that I already was proud of myself. I said it, but didn’t truly realize it until this month. I can’t tell you exactly what changed… I can’t tell you what made me stop and go “Oh crap! I’m proud of myself!” I honestly don’t have a clue. What I can tell you is that I now know it with every fiber in my being.

In March 2016 I realized that I wanted to try being an indie author. I wanted to see what all went into publishing and I wanted to learn as much as I could. I had already been through a thousand learning experiences, but this was so much more.

May 2016, my journey changed a bit and I became what’s known as a hybrid author. That means I’m traditionally published and indie-published. Indie essentially means self. “I am the master of my own fate”, from Invictus, has never been more true. This is business. This is hard. This includes marketing, sales, IT, analytics, pricing, bookmaking, grammar, story development, website stuff, etc. This is a thousand jobs all in one. If you work hard, then you reap a tiny reward. The harder you work, the bigger the reward is… This was like life. It could be hard and messy, but it was more rewarding than anyone thought possible.

Murder and Mayhem Cover

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I love both avenues, as they both have advantages; however, they also have disadvantages. The thing I love the most? They let me be free…

There’s so many wonderful things yet to come, but I am willing. I am open to it now. Before I used to be so nervous about trying new things because I was afraid to fail. Now, I think of failing as just learning something new. That’s how we learn… by failing. We learn and we eventually find a way to succeed. Never forget to try something new. You never know when you will find your passion, the thing that makes you free.

I’ve found mine. Have you found yours?

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