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.

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!

Renny’s Letters

More than year has gone by since Renny was last arrested on November 21st, 2011, leading to his prison time. He’s already served the first year of his sentence and has more than a decade to go, unless his parole board decides to let him out earlier. Rex will be well into his teenage years by the time Renny serves his sentence full-time and gets out.

This sole fact is already enough for me to let Renny go and move on. However, we still write letters to each other and his letters almost always make me emotional. No matter how detached I’ve been from him, living far away in the world, his letter always bring me back to right in front of him, behind the bars inside his cell. His letters enclose me in the four cold stone walls of his life. They angered me and made me cry. But his desperate words and search for spiritual wisdom (specifically, the whys of his destructive actions) also filled me with the mixture of forgiveness and compassion. He has a very long road ahead of him.

And so do I, raising Rex along the way.

That’s why I’ve a hard time keeping up with this blog, because it reminds me how I feel alone with so many responsibilities and sacrifices. Every time I write Renny a letter, I’m emotionally worn out by the time I sign my name.

I don’t want to feel that way every time I click ‘Publish’. I don’t want to turn my blog into a place for me to whine and bitch around because life didn’t turn out the way I expected.

Don’t get me wrong, our letters are not entirely of sad stories and angry resentments. We talk about what we read and saw on TV. We talk about the future. We talk a lot about spirituality. I told him he can write for this blog if he is ready and wants to. He said he will.

I also have to prioritize. I’m so happy to tell you that I’m the Production Assistant for ASL Films’ next production which will be filmed in Minnesota this coming spring. I really look forward to experiencing this exciting opportunity.

And not only that, our latest film, SLOT, is already out! Check out www.aslfilms.com for the showings in your area. I’m in it and it is something that I am proud to be part of!

Alas, that means you might hear less from me for the next few months, but this blog is still very much alive, and I will keep you updated every once in while with any kind of news or anything relating to the project or what I am doing. Thank you, my friends, for reading and staying in touch with me! I’m glad you are part of my life! And to others, thank you for your continuing support, I can feel it and I really appreciate it!

Until then,

Bellamie

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!

The Beauty of the Frog

Academy Awards Nominees for the Best Documentary Features

What’s the most valuable piece of advice you ever got in your career?

Once someone gave me a little trinket from Japan. It was a wooden frog. They told me that the beauty of the frog is that it can’t move backwards nor sideways but can only leap forward. It was a reminder to stay focused. To this day I bring that frog with me on every shoot and it hangs out on my desk when I edit.

This was a question on the 84th Academy Awards Nominee Questionaire answered by T.J. Martin. He, along with Dan Lindsay and Rich Middlemas, won the Oscar for best Documentary Feature for their work, “Undefeated.” They followed the Manassas Tiger team, the dark horse from the inner-city district of Memphis, in their battle through the 2009 football season to eventually win the first playoff game in their high school’s 110 years history.

I like the frog metaphor because it really hits home for me. I have nowhere to go with no choice but to move forward. However, I learned that some of the things that happened in our past are important enough to preserve and pass on to our next generation. We lived and experienced many days where there were events that changed our lives forever, and often we don’t make a record of them. Maybe we thought, at those times, that they were too personal or not important enough to be memorialized. Then, years later when we reflect on those days, we realize they were the most important days in our lives and we have nothing but memories of it to hold on to. That’s the beauty of documentaries. “Undefeated” may talk about winning one game, but to those players, that game was the most important game of their lives. Once that game was over, they must move on. We all must move on forward. The difference between them and most of us is that now they will have a tangible memory of that life-changing game because it was documented.

I’ve always wished that my life would be as fantastic as Chelsea Clinton in the White House or dramatic as Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family or unique as Jessica Watson, the youngest person to sail around the world solo at age 16. I wished my life is at least that interesting. After last two years I’ve come to term that every single life is worth being documented, regardless how uneventful a life can be. No matter how long a life is, or where the journey is, it’s the sixty seconds in a minute in which a life is changed matters the most. When your life is changed 180 degree in sixty seconds (or ten or two), that is when things start getting interesting. I just happened to have hours and hours of footage about a few life-changing moments on my desk that I believe are worthy to see.

I want to hear from you, those of you who are the experienced and emerging documentary filmmakers. What is the most valuable advice given to you in your career? What is your favorite part of the filmmaking process and what is the most challenging part? What advice will you give to somebody who is getting into the documentary world (like me!)?

Supporters, thank you so much for following my blog. If you haven’t Liked my page, please click on the Facebook Like button! You can also follow my blog via email, just fill in your email address under Subscribe Me. The more supporters I have, the better chance my documentary will become a reality!

Memories and changes, what have you done to me?

I just celebrated my 29th birthday 10 days ago. I love that my birthday is in January because it’s so close to the New Year’s Day and because of that, I see it like it’s my chance to begin the new year. I always feel like that day belongs to me, and only me. So it’s fitting that I like to write my wish lists and resolutions for the year on that day. It’s also close enough to Christmas so I end up getting a lot of gifts in a short period of time. Who doesn’t like getting gifts?

In the midst of birthday wishes from my family and friends, I thought about my last two birthdays. I am still flabbergasted at how clueless I was on both of my 27th and 28th birthdays when I thought about how my life would turn out. While driving on my 27th birthday, I told myself that this year was going to be my best year ever. Sure enough, it was the most interesting year for me. I became really involved in the documentary and traveled across half of the country for it. I became accustomed to the new lifestyle in Austin. We got married. I also did many new things I never thought I would do if I still lived in D.C. Our married life was full of ups and downs but it was a very interesting learning experience for me. On my 28th birthday, I just arrived to D.C from Peru a few days before. I was seven month pregnant. A month of constant traveling and adjustments to the new environment and handling Renny’s relapses took a toll on me. Despite that, the best thing that ever happened to me during that year was Rex.

I just turned 29 and I still have no idea what will happen to me. I asked myself once that if I knew what the future held, would I go ahead and make the same decisions I made before? Probably not, but that’s the whole point of living. We live and learn and we do it again. The only difference is that some of us decide to do it better next time and other of us just repeat same mistakes. We make our choices for different reasons.

Sometimes, we let our memories affect our decisions and sometimes, we just throw them out of the window. It’s entirely up to us to do whatever we choose to do. We can forgive others or ourselves and make the changes for the better right now. The only thing we can’t do is to go back in time and change what we don’t like. The mere thought of not being able to change the past can affect us emotionally and physically, usually not in good ways.

That’s why I try my best to eat, live, and think healthy. I try to buy organic food as much as I can afford them. I use earth friendly products (my guiltless indulgences are body and face products.) Affirmations and positive thinking also help a lot. As a Pinterest user, I find so many feel-good quotes and inspirations on Internet. I practice gratitude. I am thankful for every person who supports me. I am thankful I am not alone. With my husband in jail and I have Rex, I understand how precious a life can be.

I still think about the last two years a lot; I used to lose hours of sleep just ruminating on it, but I’m better at coping with it now. I take it one day at a time and good things are already happening to me. My birthday wish is to have this year be the best year ever.