How Being Married to a Felon Made Me Mindful

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November 13th marks one year since my divorce was finalized and I packed my entire life into my white Toyota Corolla and drove from Texas to California. I didn’t celebrate it because it reminds me of the ugly stuff that happened to me, but I’m going to share what I learned from my marriage to Renny that turned out to be a few of the most valuable lessons in my life.

When I worked on my inner self, I came to the term that it’s no question that my marriage has changed me for the better. Before meeting him, I was all about me and me was the only thing that mattered. I was self-centered and acted indifferent. Alas, when he went away, I didn’t do a 180 degrees turn and became Mother Teresa. I slipped and said not-so-nice things sometimes. I judged the people I don’t know that well without thinking twice. I slept in on Sundays when I could have spend them volunteering to make this world a better place for our children.

I woke up.

Instead of wasting my emotional energy away by staying angry at him, I managed to discover the courage to forgive him and move on. Now, I just feel sorry for the guy. I don’t think I could do that before I met him. I wasn’t brave (or wise) enough back then.

I’m far from being a spiritual guru but ever since I backpacked in Brazil a year before meeting him, I have unexpectedly started a spiritual journey and discovered affirmation and mindfulness. I felt like I was awakened. I’ve found a better way to live, opening my way to the brand new world. I finally understood and it was just a beginning. Then, I met him the following summer.

My friends, it’s been nearly four years since he went away. I’ve come a long way. I made tons of mistakes on the way, but I made progress too. When I finally moved past the final stage of grief- acceptance- I started relearning how to love myself and be mindful again. I had to do things that nurtured me and made me stronger spiritually. I finally learned how to allow myself to heal from within. I want you to know that, in a relationship or in any other situation, no matter how long the night seems to feel to you, the sun will always come up next day.

Don’t ask me why I fell for him because it’s in the past. I know that few of you are going through crappy times now because you decided you want to remain with somebody with a past that resembles an episode from Prison Break or Breaking Bad or something with “Break” in it. Well, the good news is, you’re not alone.

Since I like to discuss about this kind of stuff with like-minded people, I thought I’d take a step further and blog my thoughts about it. If you beg to differ, that’s fine with me, because what I’m going to say next is based on my observations.

Don’t get me wrong- the career criminals are, hands down, pathetic cowards, period. They have blatant disrespect for their communities and society. They are too wimpy to face their fear. They hurt other people or animals, directly or indirectly, to get what they want. Be it out of necessity: I was so fucking hungry and depressed I stole a muffin, or just because: that person annoyed the fuck out of me, it doesn’t matter what the reason is, they act like the laws don’t apply to them. They believe that they can do whatever they want. They just go out and break the laws without thinking about the consequences. And don’t get me started on their ignorance, it’s still not an excuse.

What I noticed while living and making the documentary with Renny is that most criminals are naturally impulsive, even if they are living a clean life. Unless they show an ability to control that, they will always be impulsive in other parts of their life.

They don’t think about the future because they are in the present like wild hungry animals looking for ways to survive. When they are committing a crime, all they think about is what they are doing at that very second, not what they will tell their spouses and children when they get the phone call from jail.

That feeling of nowness gives them the rush they so love and come back for more. That’s why Renny was a career criminal and when he got out, he failed again. He would tell me the stories of his bad boy heydays, like the one when he stole and maxed out his ex-best buddy’s credit card on crack cocaine and a sportfishing boat. His eyes glistened as he recalled evading the LA cops in a stolen Dodge Viper and sleeping in it for a week before selling it to a chop shop for few bucks.

Of course they deserve to go to prison because they did stupid and hurtful things and not only that, they dragged a whole lot of people into their mess.

But the very second they are committing a crime, they become one in the moment. That philosophy of living in the present moment (of course in a nonviolent way, the Gandhi way!) is effective and we need to do it more often.

You may wonder how could I come up with such comparison, but that’s what it was like living with him. I saw many things I never saw before. It’s a lame example, but don’t tell me you never stole a candy or made copies of your butt on your company’s copier. Think about that moment. When you swiped that Hershey bar or pressed the Copy button in the spur of moment, you definitely weren’t thinking about what to wear for your date tonight. You were so focused. Remember that intoxicating feeling? Well, we need to reprogram our mind and start taking regular dosages of that feeling. Any time we are in midst of stressful times, we need to be more mindful, take a breath and let go of the toxic tension. Appreciate what good things we have right in front of us. The more we do it, the more of a rush we will get out of it. We need to make this habit into a necessity. Your problems will go away and solutions will come to you. You can’t think about problems with the same kind of thinking that caused them in the first place.

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We all have compassion inside ourselves. It’s just matter of how much you are aware of it. If you’re not sure, nothing works best to discover it than looking in eyes of the people who have nothing but way bigger baggage than you. While I still do believe in giving second chances, I know many valid reasons to be skeptical of dating a felon. It’s a matter of how trustworthy that person is, that he or she will not hurt you. If you are involved with such a person, think about why you are with that person and if it is worth your well-being to continue dating that person.

And be more mindful. It’s so easy to forget the small good stuff that make our life worth living, not the stuff that gave you the instant gratification, but the stuff that you cultivate with love and joy.

DeafHope’s Lavender Film Festival

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Around a month ago, I wrote, performed, and edited (with a help of Terri’s filming talent, thank you!) and submitted my début film to the DeafHope’s Lavender Film Festival. This video is very special to me not only because it is my first film that I edited entirely by myself, but because the subject is very heavy and sensitive and painful. If it never happened to me, I would not have a gut to create something like this, but it did and I just felt I had to do it. When the project was finished, it’s like I underwent an emotional purging and it was a really surreal experience.

Thank you DeafHope for making me do it. It’s truly a great honor being part of something remarkable and meaningful. I applaud to all other who submitted in their films, even through I haven’t seen theirs yet, I know they are brave enough to spread awareness that it is okay to speak up. Also thank you everyone who’s involved in this film, without you, it will not happen. Thank you again!

“Accept no ones’ definition of your life; define yourself.”

Day of Remembrance

I remembered the entry in my journal I wrote on my 29th birthday a few days after I moved back to DC and lived on the Gallaudet campus. The journal is the flip-top spiral notebook with a drawing of a young girl on it I just bought in Peru a week earlier. Feeling sentimental, I decided to track down the book and when I found it, I finally opened the pages for the first time after three years. It is the only entry in the book. I read and reread it, and I remembered that day very clearly like I was in a brightly lit studio, watching myself in the middle of a television show and no one could see me. I was marveled at how powerful the sensibilities of a memory that lasted only split-second long could do to a person.

The birthday wishes I wrote on the pages were not my true wishes, they were written out of fear and heartache. The words on pages began to fade away and didn’t matter anymore, the feelings of the desperation during that moment overwhelmed me, I just wanted to have everything to be normal again.

I was there in the bright Social Security Adm. office, with the framed print of newly elected Obama hanging above the ticket machine, reminding the poor and the disabled while they wait in a line for their number, It’s time for change. I stood by 29 years old me who spent my birthday waiting for my number to be called, because I was recovering from a bug I picked up in the flight from Peru just three days earlier, and I was seven months pregnant. I wrote in the book on that day because I only hoped for the best, or even better, for the normal life.

Today, I almost lost my nerve writing this blog post. Why? I already admitted in the past that I was a victim of the abusive relationship and spouse’s struggle with substance abuse, and it was not the most comfortable thing to do. Honestly, I’d rather swim in a stagnant pond than to share my fears and flaws with the world, but I wanted to share my vulnerability with you and others, to admit that I’m human and I struggle.

I had to get myself out of the victim mentality and tell myself I will use this experience to grow as a person. To show you the real me, I have to accept myself first. It took me more than year to finally accept myself as a single mother. I felt it was so wrong, that I should be already having a family by now, but was it wrong for me to feel that way? Perhaps you look at me as just somebody who’s trying to get your attention and fulfill the need of your validation and that I should just get over it and move on from my past.

I told myself the same often enough that the thought itself prevented me from doing what I truly wanted to do all along- to get it off my chest and give others the opportunity to read my stories, get inspired and liberate themselves from their ball and chain. My experiences are becoming just stories and no longer a part of me. When I tell my stories, I stop identifying myself with them. I separate myself from them. The stories stay on the paper. They stay in the past, where they belong. Telling them help me burn the pain that I suppressed for years and now they are ashes I rose from.

I knew by starting this blog, I have to build the courage to be OK with who I am and trust the process. Things did and didn’t turn out as I’d hoped, and I learned to come to terms with the state of things in my life and go with the flow. If they are not doing me any good, I’d have to move on. I have an intention why I ventured out in the first place and there’s a reason why it turned out good or bad. Doing something about it is better than feeling bitter about it, but doing nothing about it is worst of all. I still want to see my project comes to its fruition and I don’t know when, but as long as it finds its way to share with the world one day, I will be able to close that chapter for once and for all. Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Freedom is about what you do with it.”

P.S. Thank you to all my friends and family for your birthday wishes!

Toronto International Deaf Film & Arts Festival

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Catherine MacKinnon, one of my dearest friends, is the co-founder and director of the Toronto International Deaf Film & Arts Festival. The first festival was hosted in 2006 and it is still going strong. This year, the jury board received a record number of film submissions and selected over twenty films, both short and feature, of the wide range in genres from around the world. I’m very proud of you, Cats!

Please check the website out and contribute in any way you can. TIDFAF is one of the fastest growing Deaf festivals in the world, but it is not just a festival. It is also the non-profit organization that promotes the public awareness of Deaf artists and filmmakers from Canada and other countries and strives to build a bridge between them and the mainstream arts and film world. I’m all for that! Please share this post with your family and friends, your support is greatly appreciated! Thank you!

Time For a New Look

I felt it’s time for my blog to get a new look so I updated the appearance and content on all pages. I found this awesome background image that perfectly represents me and what my project is all about.  n Like I said in the Working Documentary page, my visions for this project are constantly changing.

Good news, the Rise From the Ashes website is up! For some reason it didn’t work before, but now it does. The progress of filming the original documentary is all in there. The last post was never finished because Rex was born around that time and we had to move back to Austin.

Even better news, I’m on www.deafinprison.com‘s blogroll!  Deaf in Prison is a resourceful website filled with news and references about the deaf people and criminal justice system. Tons of information about the correctional systems in the US and around the world can be found here. If you want to know more about your rights to communication accessibility and interpreters, this is the place to go.

I have one more cool news I’ll share with you on the next post!

I’m still here! Part two

When Rex and I returned home in Austin last July (thank you all for your sweet comments on the photos posted on my Facebook wall and Instagram!). I felt much better as a whole person. I could just drop the entire project and move on with my life, focus on Rex and go back to school and find a job, etc., but there’s something deep inside me that just flat out refuses let me give up.

I spent the entire month doing serious soul searching to find the answers to my questions about my film project. Why am I doing it? Will doing it and reliving those memories be good for me emotionally and mentally? Do I want to just shut him out and banish him from my memory forever? Does Renny deserve to have a movie about him? Indeed, he is center of the story, but it’s my story. It’s also the story of many other women and men who experienced or are experiencing the life with substance abuse and domestic violence. It’s easy to look down at drug addicts and dismiss them, but ask anybody who knows, addiction is a disease. It is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde disease. I survived it, I may as well as use my film as the method of telling my story.

I know there are many more people out there who went through similar experiences, but sometimes I feel like I am the only one because I’m a full-time mother and I have to stay home most of time. I have to admit that I haven’t been to Al-Anon meetings. Renny encouraged me to attend one when he was attending NA meetings back then. I thought I could handle it. Man, I was wrong. I know I should have went to the meetings. I should also see a counselor, but I’m not comfortable with sharing my experiences through an interpreter. It doesn’t matter how good he or she is, I don’t like the fact that a third party is involved. I can’t always be sure all my information is conveyed 100% accurately to the counselor. It is already hard enough just talking about this on my blog post; I still have a harder time talking about this in person. I have to swallow my pride before I explain to somebody who asked. The shame is still inside me and I am trying to let it go. I saw this quote somewhere and it can’t be any truer. “There is no shame in making mistakes. All we must do is get over our pride and admit we were wrong.”

To many of you who wrote to me about your experiences: Thank you for sharing with me. I’d like to reach out to other people like you. Your letters help me building my confidence to make my film project happen. I also want to get in touch with the advocates too. If you know of any good support groups in the Austin area, please share in the comment space below. Catherine, my awesome producer and friend, and I are planning something really cool. We’ll make the announcement in a week or two. Last, but not least, please Like on our Facebook page and follow our blog! Thanks so much!

I’m still here! Part one

The storm is over. The ocean’s merciless waves gave away to the smooth horizon of still water. The sky is clear of dark massive clouds that hovered over like shadows. Everything is quiet. Perhaps too quiet, but definitely peaceful, a complete opposite of what happened last autumn.

It’s funny how I used this metaphor to describe my life right now because fishing is one of Renny’s favorite things to do. Last October was the last time we did something together with our son as a whole family. We went fishing at Matagorda, a small and quaint fishing town just off the Gulf of Mexico. It was Rex’s first time playing on the beach and Renny caught a flounder.

Last March I visited Renny at the Travis County Jail after four months of silence. It was painful seeing him behind the thick glass window. He seemed fragile; he broke down crying and apologizing, but there was nothing I could do for him anymore. There was a little left inside me that missed him, but I had to leave him there. Last April, I wasn’t home when the judge sentenced him to the state prison in Huntsville, around seventy miles north of Houston. I wasn’t even in Texas when he rode in the inmates’s bus to his home for next several years or so.

Renny and I still write to each other. It was hard reading his letters. His words frustrated and angered me and I replied with ugly words. The letters became more civilized as time went on and we understood each other better. Of course, too much damage had been done and we will never go back to the way it was in the beginning of our relationship.

I got many opportunities to travel this year, hence the reason why I haven’t been keeping up with my blog. I know a lot of you who read my blog in the beginning are curious about what’s been happening to me in the last six months. I had to put a hold on my film project because my wounds were still fresh, but my desire to see it on the big movie theater screen is still strong.

In my travels, I met a lot of awesome people and when they asked, it was hard for me, but I told them my stories. They were impressed by how positive I sounded when I recounted the dark and frightening moments, but they didn’t know that these moments still sometimes sneak up on me unexpectedly and I become scared for a few seconds. I became resentful toward Renny for that reason. But I learned on my journey that letting go is the best thing to do.