38: From Struggling to Successful

38: From Struggling to Successful

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

From Struggling to Successful

Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.

~Arnold Schwarzenegger

I will never forget Christmas 1985. A married woman with a one-year-old, I became a single parent overnight.

My husband had been traveling a lot on weekends. Instead of being on business trips, he actually was plotting and planning his new life in New York while we lived in California. He had mentioned over the last year that he wanted to move to New York. I was not ready to leave my family, so I never took those talks seriously. Perhaps if I had, things would have turned out differently, but I doubt it.

During that Christmas season, while the streets were full of the hustle and bustle of holiday cheer, I remained numb. He just left and abandoned me and our baby daughter.

I remember going to my parents’ house and, without a doubt in my mind, telling them I was moving in so they could help me. But instead, my mom pointed me back to my house and said, “You are going to raise your child. I already raised my children. We will help you in any way we can, but we are not going to raise your daughter.”

Of course, I was surprised, but in retrospect it was the best thing they could have ever done. They did, and have continued to, deserve the “grandparents of the year” award and have helped out whenever they could.

So, there we were in 1985—my daughter was a year and four months old and I was still numb, anxious, and feeling nothing short of a full-blown, diagnosable depression. I had just graduated with a journalism degree and was about to conquer the world in radio and TV news. That was squashed because I couldn’t make a living at it.

I did the next best thing and got a job in sales, which eventually lead to working at a newspaper as a sales rep. It was perfect because the flexibility allowed me to be more available for my daughter.

My ex-husband would come out to visit our daughter on a regular basis, although once he was re-married and had two children, the visits became less frequent. In fact, our daughter would point to the hotel they stayed at when he visited and say, “That’s Daddy’s house.”

It was cute, but at the same time it broke my heart. I wanted my daughter to have a daddy here, not 3,000 miles away. Not to mention, I was exhausted from having no reprieve like the moms who had every other weekend off when the dads took the kids. I was angry, frustrated, and resentful.

As I look back, I wish I had let go of those feelings, because they never served me well. It took me a long time to realize I was powerless over the situation, and holding on to the anger was detrimental to my mental health. Eventually, the light bulb went on and I was able to let go of a lot of those resentments. Although when Father’s Day, birthdays, holidays, open houses, and father-and-daughter events came around, the resentments would surface again.

In the 1980s, there were fewer single parents and I received little support from the married moms. They just didn’t get it, and it hurt, especially when they didn’t invite my daughter to sleepovers or to go trick-or-treating for Halloween. It was as if my daughter and I had a disability, and there were mothers who even thought I was a threat. I was an outcast in the two parent world.

From 1985 to 1993, I became a serial dater. I also had a few short marriages in between—I thought getting married would complete our family. I know now they were huge mistakes. Although, at first, these short-term husbands were great with my daughter, eventually they wanted to take complete control of my life and my daughter’s. These short marriages ended abruptly; however, today I am happily married. My daughter loves my husband, and he never had children, so she is truly the daughter he never had.

Then in 1994, after nine years as a successful salesperson, I went back to school to become a social worker. I needed something more fulfilling, and realized I wanted to work with single parents. So many agencies had been helpful to my daughter and me that I felt compelled to help others who were going through what we had.

Becoming a child custody mediator interested me because mediation helped my ex-husband see the importance of visiting our daughter. As a social worker, I had amazing opportunities to work in hospice and with individuals in recovery from addictions.

Most recently, I added life coaching to my psychotherapy practice. Two years ago, I took a leap of faith and opened my own private practice. I always had a little entrepreneurship in me. That led me to co-authoring Conscious Entrepreneur, which helps individuals follow their dreams, life purpose, and most of all, their passions. The book calls out to individuals who have a dream, “Don’t be afraid. Do what you love and the success will follow.”

This book led me to be an ongoing guest on the nationally-syndicated radio show, Dr. Drew Live with Dr. Drew Pinsky, discussing all sorts of mental health and life coaching topics.

And that experience led me to becoming a TV personality on the reality show Celebrity Rehab 2 on VH1. I became the life coach to the celebrities living in the rehab, helping them move forward in their lives. It was not only an exciting experience, but incredibly rewarding. I was giving back everything I had learned and lived, and was able to see broken individuals build their lives again one step at a time.

As I look back, I wouldn’t change a thing. I am incredibly proud of the person my daughter has become and the special mother-and-daughter moments we have shared. I revel in the joys I experienced during her childhood, whether it was watching one of her recitals or just holding hands at the mall.

She once wrote me a poem called “My Mother is my Hero,” where she expressed such gratitude for all I did to make her life as great as it could be, as well as the lessons she learned along the way. I was just doing my job, yet she viewed it as unique and special. What mother gets that type of thank you?

No, I wouldn’t change a thing, not now, not ever. My life has gone full circle—from young new graduate wanting to conquer the radio and TV world to a working single parent, to a multiple divorcée, to student, to happily married, to celebrity psychotherapist and life coach. It just doesn’t get better than that!

~Sherry Gaba

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