I grew up in rural Canada. In my dreams, I lived like Cinderella. From childhood, I loved fashion! I played dress up with friends and family or even alone in the basement of our home. I daydreamed of becoming a model. It was such a far-fetched idea. For sure, it wasn't supported by my family. But a girl can dream!
I was expected to have a profession, get married, and have a couple of kids. Marriage was sacred. You stayed in a marriage, whether you were happy or not: if abused or not, if fulfilled or not. It was for these reasons that my mother stayed in her emotionally abusive marriage. My father was a true Jekyll and Hyde persona. If he was sober, he was the kindest and most wonderful man. If he drank and when he drank, we were all very afraid. He suffered from PTSD from World War II. It was never treated, just masked by the bottle.
I grew up, and I followed in my mother's footsteps. Professionally, I became a teacher, just like her. In my marriage, I also married an alcoholic who emotionally abused me.
My name is Barbara Holmes. (Please call me Barbie). This is my Kintsugi story.
I went into teaching, despite toying with the idea of going to law school and dreaming of becoming a model. Teaching was a profession that would always have job openings and allow me to be a mother. In addition to other things, my mother’s low self-esteem was something she passed on to me. Her self-doubting questions plagued me. Do you really think you can wear this? Should you wear that shade of lipstick? I was a people pleaser. I did not want to fight, argue or be confrontational. I buried my dreams deep inside my heart.
I met my husband soon after graduating. He was full of swag, “Mr. Personality.” He was gregarious. We hardly knew each other, and I thought that the best thing would be to first live together, but it would not be acceptable to the conservative community we lived in. Only after marriage did I fully meet his drinking personality. Despite never being physically abusive, he was incredibly verbally abusive. Drunk or sober, he chipped away at the little self-esteem I already had.
A baby came right away and soon after, so did my eating disorder. The bulimia started. No one knew, but I did. Time could pass between purging episodes, but when it was bad, it was really bad. If I gained the slightest amount of weight, the verbal abuse would worsen. The words cut through me like sharp knives deep into my heart.
I was very secretive about my eating disorder and my marriage. In her heart, my mother knew how unhappy I was in my marriage, but she also made it clear that we do not leave our marriages, no matter what. I loved my beautiful boy and put my energies into being a mother and teacher. It took seven years for my next baby to arrive. I thought maybe another baby would save our marriage. It was a high risk pregnancy with many hospital stays. A beautiful miracle baby girl was born; however, she did bring any more love into our marriage. The stress of the pregnancy and lack of support took a lot out of me, and I was not well. I was also doing everything alone. I was so deeply lonely.
My baby was a true miracle.
I don’t know that I knew it at that time, and I truly wanted to be happy.
I vouched to not stay like this for my whole life. I had to be strong for my daughter, to set an example of confident woman. I needed to start making changes now. So secretly, after a while, I drove one hundred miles to a modeling audition. This had been my dream, and I was going to go after it!
I got a call back from the agency, and they wanted me to model. The discouragement and self- limiting thoughts came immediately: Are you really going to leave a good teaching career for modeling? The kids are still young, you need to be around. Modeling positions are so far away. How are you going to take care of your family? All these words slammed the door to a dream that was about to enter my life. I was hearing those negative words again, the ones that knock you down so low it becomes harder and harder to get up.
My eating disorder worsened. I was exercising and counting calories obsessively. I was so broken; I had no joy or fulfillment in life. My life was out of control, and the only thing I could control was my weight, the food I ate or didn’t eat.
I was physically and emotionally ill. My immune system was a compromised. I was crumbling.
Now, both my parents were elderly, and I was caring for them. I was doing this all while my husband was philandering, cheating, and not being there for me emotionally. My parents depended on me, my extended family depended on me, my children depended on me, my students depended on me. I pretty much had nothing left to give, despite everyone around me requiring more than ever. The stress was manifesting into physical and psychological ailments. I was a mess.
Finally, I opened up to another teacher, a colleague. She could see things were off, and she shared that she was in a similar situation. I went from completely alone, to being able to share and commiserate with someone. This friendship changed the trajectory of my life. It was the very beginning of a long path into the healing I would take.
This was just before 9/11. In those days, there weren’t dating sites, there were forums. Photos and videos were not initially shared. I looked for one of these chat rooms, far away from where I lived. I wanted to establish a friendship, to get some support. I was looking for someone to share the process of my divorce. I needed some strength, a listening ear. I chose to engage in a forum in Texas. I still lived in Canada, and the point was to find someone far away. I wanted to find someone who could understand what I am going through and give me the support I needed but whom I would not meet or connect with in any physical way. I found him.
Big Richard became my support.
Richard. At that time, I did not know that he was bigger than life. I just knew that he was going through his divorce at the same time as mine. To put it simply, he got me. He understood. Richard gave me the support I so desperately required. With time, we exchanged emails and later, phone numbers.
After many months, we met. We also immediately felt that the connection that started as a friendship in a forum was much more than that. We had a real connection. We dated for seven years long distance. My plan was not to find someone else romantically, but we can make plans and then life happens. Sometimes, it becomes your best life!
We eventually married, merged our lives, and started our happily ever after.
My daughter and I went through eating disorder therapy, and I am happy to say that healing my eating disorder is also a part of my story. I have to be mindful, but I found a way to restore my confidence and my self-esteem. I am also happy to share that my mother met Richard before she passed. She also saw the transformation that my life took after meeting him. My mother passed away after stating she was no longer worried about me, because she saw that I found my soulmate, and she knew I would be well taken care of in the future. This was so healing and so important for me, because she had been initially against my divorce.
My life began falling into place. My eating disorder was under control. My terrible marriage had been dissolved, and I was able to meet the man of my dreams. Richard gives me love, understanding, and support. He is more than making up for all the abuse and mistreatment I have suffered in my life. I have a good relationship with my children. My daughter and I were able to build a much stronger and deeper relationship than just mother/daughter after attending the eating disorder course together. We understood each other on a very deep level.
But this is not where my story ends.
Since I was a little child playing dress up in the basement of my family home, I had a dream. It was a dream deemed impossible or irresponsible. For me, it was my true dream, and I was about to make it a reality. Suddenly, I lost my sister to a fatal illness. She was gone in the blink of an eye. I was absolutely devastated yet motivated to honor the privilege I had to live another day. Pursuing my dream became more urgent!
I got some professional headshots done. I was heavier, I was older, but I was also confident. I auditioned for an agency. I got a call back, too. They said I looked “normal," that they wanted me as a lifestyle model. They had jobs for me!
I became a Model.
And I worked on commercials.
And I was in the background of movies and television shows.
And I did a lot of print work as a lifestyle model.
Some of the work I did free of charge. Some I was paid. Some, I got really well paid. I was making my dream a reality. I did not need anyone’s approval or consent, because I was worthy of making my dreams a reality!
2017 was an exhilarating year with the launch of my new career, but a tough year as well. I was still mourning the loss of my sister. I had some of my own health scares, but it was also the year I started my social media account. It flourished and brought me new friendships and new experiences and certainly many new jobs.
I forgave myself and my past. I am grateful. I am almost 60, and my second act is my best act.
I am living my best life! I go to bed at night grateful for the opportunities I had that day, and I wake up grateful to have another day.
My children have a relationship with their dad, whom I forgave because he did not know any better. I wished I noticed more of the blessings I received during hard times. Today, I am much attuned to all my blessings.
It has been a complicated and sad story until it became simplified and very happy. So much of it depended on me: on my actions, my choices, and my forgiveness. I am blessed, and I am certainly Kintsugi.
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If you are in an abusive relationship please get help! There are alternatives!