Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Aftermath (I Will No Longer Be a Victim)

I decided to write my last blog (read "The Untold Story of a Choice That Revealed Everything") with the knowledge that it would end all contact for me with those family members. Funny enough, all my blog did was talk about my true experiences and my personal feelings. But I knew. I knew that while they were okay with expressing their own feelings and their own versions constantly, that they wouldn't accept that my version was finally put out there. Interestingly, they then decided to end their relationship with my sister as well, who, while supported my decision to do what I needed to do for myself, wasn't even sure she shared the same sentiments as me, and who I made no mention of in my previous post.

family is those who love and support you
My amazing family.
Maybe they wonder why I released it publicly? I can answer that very simply: every time our families have ever had a private conversation, we've been victimized and bullied. I wasn't going to stand for that anymore.

The best way to help yourself overcome a bully is to get support from others and to not live in the shadows.

That is why I decided to handle the situation the way I handled it. I refuse to be verbally attacked once again. I refuse to hear them voice their opinions while they never listen to me voice mine. I refuse to listen while they insult my family and myself. This was the only way my voice would ever be heard.

GeekNation San Diego Comic Con launch party
With my husband at San Diego
Comic Con for my former job.
I've never taken an opportunity like this one before. When my former boss bullied me and forced me to work 100 hour work weeks, which resulted in the carpal tunnel I now live with every day, I left my job, feeling guilty and apologetic. This boss constantly told me how weak I was, and I believed him. I let him demolish me every day as he tried to tear me away from my family. He would spend his days belittling my work ethic and telling me I was immature for wanting a weekend off, even after working 16 hour days for two weeks straight (all while he refused to pay me overtime). He would also tell me not to speak to my husband about my stresses, and make scathing comments about my other family members behind their back. At the time though, I couldn't stand up. I couldn't say to him, "This is wrong." He tried to break apart my family and constantly criticized how close we were, and yet, I couldn't defend them. And that made me feel terrible. I've lived with the guilt of that for some time. Never standing tall and never saying, "I've had enough." I let him bully me until I was too weak to believe in myself and those I care so deeply about.

Don't let people mentally abuse and bully you. Surround yourself with those who truly care.
Surround yourself with the people who
love you.
When you're mentally bullied, you constantly expose yourself until there's nothing left.

It's a long process that sometimes isn't even obvious to the person being bullied, until it's too late. But the fact is, it's every bit as dangerous as being abused physically. Some days, whether the abuse was from my former boss or my former relatives, I would find it hard to get out of bed. They all made me feel worthless, despite how many other people in my life care about me.

Over the years, I was constantly reminded of how unimportant I was to these people. Every time I heard that my grandparents would take an hour and twenty minute drive to Malibu regularly for a charity, or a four hour drive to Las Vegas, it drove a dagger through my heart. Why was it that anytime my family invited them to visit they would constantly complain about how long the hour and fifteen minute long drive was to visit us? And then if they did visit, they'd only be able to stay a couple of hours around lunchtime before claiming they had to head back before the traffic got bad? Yet, their last visit up this way, when we were given no notice and already had lunch plans (so therefore couldn't see them), they made sure to stay for dinner with a friend, only minutes from our house, and told us such after they returned home. Had we known they could stay in the valley past 3 PM, we would've made sure to see them after our lunch plans were done.

In some ways, I just got used to being treated as a granddaughter they felt obligated to see. However, as a new mother, I realized that I never wanted my son to grow up feeling the same way. The last time my grandparents visited, my grandfather turned to my mom, while standing in front of me, and said, "It was special having grandchildren. But there's nothing special about having a great-grandchild."

Nothing special.

True love between grandfather and grandson
The bond between my son and his
amazing grandparents is what every child
should have. (Pictured: My father and my son)
How on Earth could he possibly say that? My son means absolutely everything to me and to hear my grandfather, who I diluted myself into thinking loved me, say that my child was "nothing special", absolutely killed me.

Already, they had tried to take a piece of my incredibly special relationship with my husband away from me. I will never let them touch my relationship with my son. Never.

For once in my life, I finally decided to say, "Enough." I finally decided that I wouldn't let others affect my emotional stability or the emotional stability of those I care about. I've done it for far too long and I'm done with it now.

Stand up for yourself. Believe in yourself.

Whether it's a boss, family, "friends", or some random acquaintance, don't let them demolish who you are. You are worth so much more than that.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Untold Story of a Choice That Revealed Everything

It was less than 5 years ago that I was sitting around the kitchen table trying to figure out who to invite to my small wedding. There were people who I knew had to be there. My best friend who lived in Virginia at the time was one of them. I hadn't seen her since 5th grade but we emailed almost weekly (or monthly as our lives got busier) ever since. Some family members like my grandparents were an obvious certainty. Then came the time to cut the list. 
Who did I want to be there? Who did I think would care to be there?
engagement photo before wedding guest dramaAs I sat there, I thought back to the previous 17 years of my life since my family had moved to Colorado. Which family members had I talked to? Which family members had constantly tried to remain in contact with me? The answer? Almost none of them. It suddenly dawned on me that in 17 years, not one of them had even walked in our front door. Yet in the early years after moving, my family would always visit California to visit them. The reverse That never happened. In large part, that's why my family stopped visiting as I grew up. They felt the effort was never being made on the other end. Happy birthday phone calls and cards never existed nor did just an occasional chat to check in.
At the age of 3, you don't choose who's in your life. They choose you and by the time you're old enough to make your own decisions, it's nearly impossible that you'll think about these people as more than a name.

moving from California to Colorado at the age of three
So when I sat down and contemplated who to invite, I created a category in my mind for relatives closest on the family tree that I wish I had gotten to know. These were the people I'd seen occasionally when my family would visit. This cutoff led me to not invite a family member and his wife that I had only remembered briefly meeting twice. There was nothing malicious about my decision. I honestly didn't see why this person would even care to be at my wedding. They had never contacted me why would it matter now?

Looking back, I sometimes wish I didn't even invite some of the family members from this side of the family that I had, at the time, wished to get to know. There's one I'm still glad I invited. Throughout her preteen and teenage years, she'd message me to chat and constantly talk about wanting to visit. I'm sure she had no idea, but this meant so much to me. In a world where I thought the majority of my relatives didn't care, she was the only one who was constantly trying to reach out. I still wish I'd get a chance to know her, but sadly, it seems unlikely now.

After I sent off the invites, it was only a matter of days until the outrage began. I received the first email from my uncle (probably in my entire lifetime), telling me that I was an inconsiderate person and that I was lying about only inviting relatives I had been in contact with. He then called out the names of two relatives that were invited that he presumed I didn't speak to. Funny enough, these more "distant" relatives in his eyes, had visited multiple times in the recent years and emailed us back and forth. But looking back, maybe I was being a hypocrite. Not for inviting these "distant" relatives, but for inviting my uncle in the first place. After all, how much had I seen him either? A few more times I suppose then the relative that didn't make the cut off, but not by much. 
How much had he ever tried to get to know me when I was a child? Not at all. For some reason at the time though, it somehow seemed important to me to get to know my uncle.
Ironically, through this battle amongst the family, the only person who never spoke out was the uninvited relative. He was going on a cruise during my wedding and I hope he had a blast. I'd much rather that he be somewhere enjoying himself than at the wedding of a stranger. Sending him an invite would have only made it seem like I wanted a gift... And why should I get one from someone I don't know? I shouldn't.

Family guest list drama continued throughout our wedding

It's five years later and the drama this unraveled still looms in the air. Every year for my anniversary, I try to no end to make it special because my grandparents and my uncles took away a piece of my wedding day that I'll never get back. They made the memory a tainted one. I'm sure some of them may even be smiling knowing that. "She deserves it." "It was her choice." But it wasn't. It was never my choice to be dumped by my family when I moved states at 3 years old. It was never my choice to not hear from any of you. It was never my choice to be ignored because of whatever underlying issues that were within the family.

About half a year after my wedding, I visited my grandparents, who were still angry about my decision. As I tried to explain how I was feeling, my grandmother interrupted me saying that she should never have walked down the aisle at my wedding. In a moment of rage, I responded with profanity that I rarely use and stormed out of the house in tears. It was so special to me to have my grandparents walk down the aisle at my wedding, and to know that it wasn't special to her, was as big of an insult as when my other already deceased grandmother told me at 12 that she wouldn't love me anymore if I married out of the family religion.
Once again, I was being told that this love wasn't unconditional.
Why was it my responsibility to have relationships with family members that never wanted one with me? Why was no one mad at them? Why was I always the villain? These questions pour through my head almost daily as I try to wrap my head around the most obvious answer. That they never truly loved me wholeheartedly.

After about a year passed, I decided to see my grandparents again. When I was 14, I chose to cut my other grandmother out of my life for the pain she caused me. I did not want to do it again. As we began to make amends, or so it seemed, I tried to move on. My husband and I began to do our best to go to family functions, such as my grandmother's birthday party and my grandparents anniversary party.

vacation to Europe
Then in the Spring of 2014, while on an early anniversary vacation with my husband in Europe, I received an incredibly hurtful email from a cousin of mine telling me that I was "self centered", that my husband was "fake and rude", and that I was "unwelcome into [her] life and the family as a whole." Somehow I was being yelled at for the conversation I had with my grandmother two years before. I was being told how much I hurt our grandmother and that if we all wanted to be a family again, I needed to apologize to everyone. Apologize for responding to a very hurtful remark that I never received an apology for either. The real question though is, when were we a family in the first place?

In my eyes, family is about being supportive and understanding. It's about communication, mutual love and respect. Family is not about ignoring people and attacking them for their own decisions, especially when you've never been a part of their lives in the first place.

The saddest part to me through all of this is that there is still a cousin or two of mine that I wish I could get to know. They've never responded to the drama but at the same time, I know it's a hard place for them to be in. And I respect that fully.

At the end of the day, all I can do is let this experience be in the past. It taught me what family truly means and what I want and who I want in my life, my husband's life, and my son's life.
Surround yourself with the people who always cared about you, effortlessly and unconditionally.
The other people are merely names that will eventually fade away as they distance themselves further and further. Don't let one stranger's opinion affect how you see yourself and don't second guess your gut feelings and your choices. You made them for a reason and the truth is, people will show their true colors over time.

family is love not blood

I'm grateful that my son is growing up with already more support and love from here to New Zealand than I ever had. Already, he has grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins who speak to him almost every day, even if it's a Skype call from across the ocean. He couldn't have asked for a better family unit and I will continue to do my best to surround him with those who I know truly care.

Read my follow up story: "The Aftermath (I Will No Longer Be a Victim)"

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Rollercoaster of Confidence

It's hard to believe that it's been two years since we began putting together our plans and searching for the location for our very first restaurant, Aroha. Ever since that moment, we have learned a lot. About customer service, about management, about life in general. To say it's been easy would be a lie. Some days, I close my eyes and imagine what life would be like if we had never chosen this path. But honestly, as tough as it is, I could never wish for anything different than what I have. Somedays, I feel like I could crumble under all of the pressure but in the end I know, these experiences are only making me stronger.

Gwith and I in 2014 after signing the lease for Aroha
It's hard owning something that you care so deeply about, especially when you have the occasional diner who never gives you a chance. When we designed our restaurant, we wanted to create an intimate and romantic environment that would make our customers feel welcome every day. We had a limited amount of space in the building and we did our best to accomplish our goals. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't crushed every time I read an occasional review saying our interior looks like a cheap Denny's. Our interior was incredibly costly from our standpoint and we've tried our hardest to make it beautiful. I guess, for me, the hardest part is knowing that I came up with the design. On slow days, I can't help but blame myself thinking that I should've done something differently. That maybe, even as we're constantly growing, I'm the reason we're not packed every minute.

Aroha Interior at night
I know. It's silly. Especially when realizing that other times, customers walk in and compare our interior to sitting inside a magical jewel box. I guess at the end of the day, you just can't please every one. It's crazy how for every 100 great reviews, even seeing one bad one, can be crushing. When we run an ad on Facebook to try to increase our customer base and one person takes to it to say "I was unimpressed", they don't realize the potential effect that their response could be having on not just our business, but our family and our livelihood. I know. As an adult and a business owner, it should just be understood that this is life. People criticize and judge and it's our job to be strong enough to not let it affect us and our mindset. But why should the feeling of being knocked down just be understood? Can't people be supportive? My whole life I've dealt with people who just try to bring you down. From extended family members, to teachers, to bosses, and I just can't for the life of me understand why people need to destroy others to make themselves feel more important. When did people learn to have such a negative mindset?

Yesterday, I heard a story about a family friend's daughter who is beginning to have the same struggles at my former high school as I did. She was out sick for a few days before finals and was badgered by two teachers for being absent. She's a smart girl with straight A's but she's losing her confidence because these teachers feel the need to bring her down. When I went through these same experiences, I chose to drop out (read my blog, Confessions from a High School Drop-Out). No longer did I feel smart, confident, or capable. I lost all hope in my abilities and it's a struggle I deal with every day. It's nine years later and no matter how many things I accomplish, I still live with this shadow over my head. A shadow that I'm constantly trying to leave behind. But every once in a while when I think it's gone, it looms over me again. Sometimes, I wish I could go back to those days and tell these teachers that what they're doing is wrong. People are so focused on teaching children not to bully, but what about adults? I was never physically beaten up in school but I can't even begin to count the amount of times I've been mentally beaten by various adults in my life. From being told by relatives that I'm a "selfish bitch" and "not welcome in the family" for the decision to not invite someone to my small wedding who by all accounts was a stranger to me (read my blog, The Untold Story of a Choice that Revealed Everything), to being told by my Grandmother when I was 12 years old that if I married out of my religion, she would no longer love me, to being told by a school teacher that I would never amount to anything in life because I had health problems, and to being told by a boss that I wasn't working hard enough even after working 90 to 100 hour weeks.

Our wedding in my childhood backyard

I will never understand why people just can't be supportive. When I think that this is the world my son is going to grow up in, all I can hope is that I can do my best to surround him with people that care for him and teach him what's right and wrong. I want him to know more than anything that he is a strong, confident, and capable person that can accomplish anything. What worries me is knowing that my parents taught me this every day too...but at the end of the day, there were too many other people out there letting me know how much of a failure I was in there eyes.

Our son Bailey and I
So please, to anyone who's reading this blog, don't let this be you. Today (and everyday), remember to tell people, whether it's the bagger at the grocery store, an employee of yours, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, your boss, or just someone you casually strike up a conversation with, that they're doing a wonderful job... And before you criticize someone for not working hard enough or not satisfying your expectations, think about the effect that you're creating on their life and their mental mindset. Maybe there's another way to help them without knocking them down. Maybe all they need is to have a someone, even a stranger, make them smile, because maybe too many have already made them cry.

When I have a customer who tells me how much they love their experience at the restaurant and how welcome they feel, it helps get me through the hardest of days. Each time I feel like giving up, I hear these customers and it rejuvenates me to keep on trying. It's this mindset that helps me, my husband, and our employees continue to strive to provide the best service possible.

Thank you all for reading.

Reserve Now

30990 Russell Ranch Rd Unit C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
© 2015 Aroha Restaurant.