My Story (and how I turned my life around)

I have been quite hesitant to write this post but while I was scrolling on Pinterest yesterday I saw this quote and it inspired me to share my story with you guys. “When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending.” – Brene Brown. And just the other day it was National Body Confidence Day so it only seemed fitting to write this post. Funny how the Universe works, right?

 I mentioned before how I think on social media we all tend to only share the positive things and mostly our “highlight reel” of photos. I asked if you guys would be interested in hearing about the trials and tribulations of my past and had such a good response. I did an “Instastories Live” and shared my story. After the video, I got so many nice messages, responses and even some reached out to share their own experiences with me. It’s heartwarming and inspiring to hear that none of us are alone on this journey called life. We all come from somewhere.

Most of my friends and family members know this story and I didn’t really feel the need to share it online. But as I continue to grow on here I feel the need to be completely transparent with all of my followers. I have connected with so many incredible people online and have realized that by telling our own story, it makes us more relatable as a person.

 I’ll just start this story off by saying this is the most vulnerable post I have ever written.

WARNING! This post is SUPER long. So go grab a cup of tea, sit back and enjoy!

For starters, I have to educate you on my upbringing before we get into the heavier stuff. My mom was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA but moved to a little town a few hours away in Pennsylvania called Windber after my parents got married. My father was a Vietnam Veteran and suffered from PTSD from being in the war. (I can’t imagine what he saw over there but I do remember him taking us to the Vietnam War memorial in Washington D.C. as kids and that was the first time I ever saw my dad cry.) Over time he began to drink as his way of coping from the trauma from being in Vietnam, which did get progressively worse over time and the alcohol started to affect his liver. Over time my parents grew apart and when I was around 3 years old they divorced. My mom then decided move to Florida with my sister and I to start her life over with just us girls.

She moved to a little suburb of Ft Lauderdale called Cooper City, where she heard the schools were good. And in turn rented a home in the area that she eventually purchased on her own. My mom worked multiple jobs to keep a roof over our head and got fired from many of them from having to call out when we were sick because she had no one to help her. We slept on the floor in the beginning and ate Ramon noodles most days for dinner. My sister and I were either in daycare or with baby sitters while she worked. She did what she had to do for us at that time to survive. Eventually she went on to own her own company and ended up doing very well for herself (and us.) She has a license plate on the front of her car that says “The biggest little lady you know” and that she surely is. To this day I give her so much credit.

As I mentioned before, my father was a Vietnam War Veteran. He was in the Navy during the war and while he was over seas on his ship he was exposed to a chemical called Agent Orange. Agent Orange is herbicide that the U.S military forces used to spray from the planes in Vietnam to kill the forest crops so they could see the enemies that were in hiding. My dad used to tell me “we had no idea it was bad for us, we used to bath in it.” And as the story goes, it was later found out by the government that Agent Orange is extremely toxic and carcinogenic. His exposure to it affected his liver and at the age of 40 he was diagnosed with liver failure. He was then put on a waiting list for a liver transplant.

Then when I was around the age of six, my Dad worked out an agreement with my mom that my sister and I would start spending the summers with him in Pennsylvania. Every summer my sister and I would hop on a plane and fly to PA and boy, did we have some good times! My fondest memories of childhood are running around in my dad’s backyard, playing in the sand box, going hiking and just being a free spirit in the mountain air. (On a side note I think that is what brought me back to PA; where I live now. I just love being in the mountains.) And as every year passed we continued to visit him every summer all the way up until his death in 1998. But a year before he passed away I had the most traumatic experience happen to me.

  On July 4th 1997, while visiting my dad on our Summer vacation, he took us to one of his friends annual Fourth of July BBQ’s somewhere in the woods of Pennsylvania. My father was a big, burly, biker guy and most of his friends were just like him. Everyone rode motorcycles and jammed out to old school Rock n’ Roll. The party started off like any typical Fourth of July BBQ. People were grilling out, playing games and just enjoying the Holiday. Later that evening when it was time for the fireworks, everyone gathered around to watch the display.  Now mind you, most us that watched closely were kids. All of the adults were playing games or sitting around chatting and us kiddos wanted to be right in on the action. The first batch of fireworks went well, we watched them go up into the sky and ignite with no issues. Then the guy who was in charge of lighting them had the bright idea of trying to make his own fireworks. He went into the shed, grabbed some things and came back to the fire pit. I don’t think any of our parents even realized what he was doing at the time. I remember him saying “this is going to be an experiment guys.” (I will NEVER forget those words.) We all stood there excited, and watched while he placed a piece of PVC pipe on a rock, filled it with gunpowder and lit the fuse.

Now some people say when traumatic things happen to them they block it out and try to forget it. But not me. I can still remember every single detail of that day.

When that homemade firework went off it did NOT go up into the air. It blew up on the ground and hit every person that was standing around it. Later the police called it a “homemade pipe bomb” and the best way to describe it is like something you’d see in the movies. I don’t want to get into too much detail about the severity of everyone’s injuries but what I will say is it blew the windows out of the house next to us, made a dog go deaf and damaged everything around it.

I later found out that I was one of the most severely injured. When it blew up I was hit in the face and knocked back seven feet from where I was standing. At first I didn’t know what had just happened to me. I was shocked and confused but then I started to feel a burning sensation over my right eye. I touched my face and then looked down at my hands; they were covered in blood. Within minutes my dad’s best friend ran over to me, threw me over his shoulder and brought me into the house. When everyone saw my face I was put in a car and rushed the hospital. I remember sitting in the ER room surrounded by doctors; everyone was so frantic! They ended up telling my dad that I was going to need to be transported to a level 1 trauma hospital in Pittsburgh due to the severity of my injuries. I was brought by ambulance and we made the 2.5 hour drive to Pittsburgh. The whole ride the paramedics begged me to stay awake because they were worried that if I were to fall feel asleep, I would go into a coma.

Once we arrived to Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital I was rushed into scans and surgery. I was found to have a fractured skull around the orbit of my right eye and my vision was also gone in that eye. I woke up the next morning to my mother, father and family all standing around me in the hospital bed. I can’t imagine the pain and guilt my father had. My mother was a complete mess and furious at my dad. Needless to say the environment in the hospital that day was very, very tense. There were so many emotions going on, especially since no one knew what my prognosis was going to be. Was I going to be blind forever? Was I going to need facial reconstruction surgery? Was there any other damage to my brain? No one knew. I ended up spending 3 months in the hospital and while I was there I underwent multiple surgeries, physical therapy and a lot of other tests. The plastic surgeons were phenomenal and were able to repair the structural damage to my face. Thankfully I did not suffer any brain injuries and over time my vision partially came back in my right eye.

After I was discharged from the hospital it was the just beginning of a long uphill battle to recovery. The year following the accident was full of doctors visits and court hearings. My mom pressed charges on the guy that made the firework. Here is a newspaper article from one of the court hearings; that’s me on the top. They even quoted me from a statement I gave in court, “I’m not pretty anymore.” And that is exactly how I felt. The year following my accident was one of the hardest years of my life. I had to go back to school. My self esteem was shot because I had a scar over my right eye. I never felt more insecure in all of my life. It’s also worth noting that this happened the summer before I went into 6th grade. We all know how mean kids can be at that age, body image is such a big deal! People would make comments, joke around with me and I’d go home and cry all alone. I never let my mom to see me upset because I didn’t want to make her feel worse. So I just bottled it up inside and for years I struggled with my self image. I would wear my hair down over my right eye to cover the scar on my face. I would avoid eye contact with people. I avoided social events and was afraid to get close to anyone. I felt ashamed of what happened and was scared to have to explain where that scar on my face came from and have to relive that event all over again.

Then in Feb of 1998, almost a year later after the accident, the court verdict came back as “Absence of Malice.” That meant the guy who lit the bomb was found not guilty and was not charged with anything. My mom stood up in the courtroom and yelled at the judge. Our entire family was livid! How did this guy get off? I still don’t know to this day. It’s one thing to suffer from a terrible accident but when there is no justice, it just makes things 100 times worse! So after all of that we had no choice but to accept the courts ruling, go back home and try to put our lives back together the best we knew how.

And just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, two months later, on April 19th 1998 my father lost his battle with liver failure. He never told my mom, sister or I the severity of his sickness. He was at the court hearing 2  months prior and I thought he looked thin but had not the slightest idea he was on the brink of dying. We later found out he didn’t tell us how sick he was because he did not want my sister or I to see him at the very end. He wanted us to remember him for the Dad that he was, fun and healthy.

Now this is another crazy story I feel the need to share. On the morning of his death, before my mom knew he had passed away, she got out of bed and came to the hallway of our bedrooms. She woke us both up and said “I need to call your dad, I have a really bad feeling.” She called his house and no one answered. She then called the VA Hospital in Pittsburgh, found out he was there and was transferred to his room. A nurse answered the phone and told her that he had just passed away an hour before. (Talk about a sixth sense?) While she was on the phone with the nurse I overheard her say “wait, he just died?” and my heart sunk to the ground. At that time I was speaking to my dad almost everyday on phone, we would laugh with each other and had such a good relationship. I really thought he was fine and was going to overcome this sickness. We all knew he was on the waiting list for a new liver but he just didn’t make it in time to get one. So, we then flew up to PA for the weekend to attend his funeral and that was the last time I went to PA for many, many years.

Losing my father at such a young age changed me so much as a person. I know he wasn’t the best dad in the world but I was glad that towards the end our relationship we were in a good place. The combination of him dying and that accident took a huge toll on my mental health. I still think of my Dad every single day but I know he is in a better place and that I will see him again one day. He is my guardian angel.

Now, growing up without a father forced me to grow up a lot faster than most kids. I had to learn how to do things on my own and I was on my own quite often so if something needed to be done, I learned to do it myself. I can tell you now that I can hang pictures on the wall like a boss, do handy things around the house and put an Ikea desk together like no ones’ business. (And we all know how difficult Ikea furniture can be!)

Overall, the reason I felt the importance to share my story is because I feel like after all of this, I could have gone one of two ways. I could have let these experiences define me and deprive me of the life I was meant to live. Or, I could use them as fuel and make a better life for myself.  I chose to do the latter. I took all of that pain, suffering, and trauma; grew from it and turned it all into positivity. I feel more humble as a person. I am non-judgmental and more accepting of those around me. Through all of this I searched deep down inside myself and regained a new self-confidence. I would even write inspirational messages on the bathroom mirror in my apartment during college to continue to remind myself to always focus on the positive. And overtime focusing on the good and living a positive life became my reality.

By the way, I fully believe in the power of The Secret. “Your thoughts become your reality.”

I was the first in my family to go to college and was on the Dean’s list all 4 years of college. After undergraduate school I went on a self discovery trip to Bali, Indonesia and became a Yoga teacher. I flew across the world all by myself to attend that training. Overtime, I gained the confidence that I could do anything I ever wanted in life if I just put my mind to it.

Then when I got back from Indonesia I went on to obtain a master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies and currently I work in the field of Psychiatry. I absolutely love my job because I feel like I can connect with anyone. I think that is what makes me a good provider; I truly care about each and ever person that sits down in the chair next to me.

On another note, while I was in PA school, I worked as a waitress and met my husband. He was bartending at the time and one night we went out for a drink after work and you can just say the rest is history. He 100% loves and accepts me for who I am; I feel like he is my biggest fan. We got married on 12.13.14 and have two beautiful children together. We share the same values and make a conscious effort every day to give our children the best life possible. I used to tell him that I wanted to create the life I used to dream of and can happily say we have achieved that together. We moved to the mountains, grew our family and had children, we go on adventures and laugh all of the time. To me, he is my dream come true.

So for those of you out there that feel helpless, insecure, confused about life, struggling with your own issues, are questioning yourselves, have low self esteem, and are wondering about your life’s purpose; I have some advice for you.

Go read / watch “The Secret.” That book and video totally changed my life! (You can even watch it on YouTube.)

Sit down and write out all of your goals in life and things about yourself that you would like to change. Dream about what you want your life to be like because if you don’t create a plan then you won’t know where you are going.

Write down what kind of job you want, what kind of person you want to be with, where you want to live, the type of friends you want to have and whatever else is important to you, be VERY specific about each topic. They say when you write things down it plants a subconscious message in your mind and you will always be on the look out for those things, even when you don’t realize it.

Then write down a plan of how you can achieve those goals.

Every day take one baby step towards achieving them. Set clear weekly, monthly and yearly goals. The time will pass either way so why not work towards something positive?

 Then write down all things about yourself that you can’t change and learn to accept those things. Write them out, look at them and confront them. Tell yourself, I am who I am, this can’t be changed, people who truly love me will accept me and if they don’t then I don’t need them in my life.

Life is way to short to sit around focusing on what you can’t change or the negative in life. Honestly, where is that going to get you? You can be out living the life you’ve always dreamt of!

Now I know it’s so much easier said than done but remember; it took years to get you to where you are today and it may take years to get you to where you want to be. BUT if you make an active, conscious effort every day to focus on doing one positive thing in your life, eventually that will all turn into a daily habit and then it will become your everyday life.

I am a prime example of that!


Xo, Nicole

October 18, 2017