Happy Friday, friends! As I promised yesterday, today is a very special post. This is the very first Bronze Butterfly interview! It has always been my goal to share, not just my own story, but stories of other individuals that embody this blog’s values, such as curating a high quality life, learning to transform our pain into triumph, and creating space for the sacred within and around ourselves. I am pleased to share with you all this incredible woman’s journey, which reflects all of the values previously mentioned. I’m positive that her story will inspire you.
I’m actually not sure when I first crossed paths with Tia Aya, but when we connected on social media, I had the feeling that our paths crossed for a divine reason. For starters, we share the same first name, and live in the same region of the US. We also shared many of the same views regarding women’s empowerment, the importance of self care, and the value of stepping into greater versions of ourselves.
Tia’s story is similar to many of ours: a wife and mother, she found herself starting over again after escaping an unfulfilling and abusive marriage. She had to make difficult choices along her path, but she is a thriver, and now lives an authentically happy life, completely at peace with the path that she’s walked. In addition, she generously blesses all of us connected to her with kindness, wisdom and immensely restorative energy.
It is my absolute honor to offer my blog as a space to tell her story, in her own words. This is her unabridged account, and I’ll only pop in on occasion (you’ll see brackets each time I jump in). I hope that you all take the time and read through her story, as I believe that you will find it fascinating, relatable, and full of hope. Additionally, today is her birthday. I wish her the happiest of solar returns, and pray that she continues to prosper on her journey. Without further ado, here is Tia in her own words.
(Tia A) It was indeed an honor and privilege to chat with you. I’m almost certain it won’t be our last conversation and hopefully the start to a loving, mutually respectful friendship [Absolutely! I can’t wait to chat with her again]. No matter, thank you for the opportunity to share some of my story. I hope that it inspires, motivates and sets someone’s soul on fire; to not only live their lives on their terms but to also share their own stories so that others might see that they, too, can #BETheirOwnHeroes.
Here’s part of my story:
[My question: What significant events were part of your metamorphosis into the woman you are today? ]
The journey of me #BEingMyOwnHero all started in 2014 when I was diagnosed with myelofibrosis; a rare, chronic blood cancer that I’d been unknowingly living and began developing around sixteen years old. It would take the detection of an enlarged spleen before doctors would do a bone marrow biopsy to determine that all the years of elevated platelet counts were indeed a marker of blood cancer that was slowly and chronically developing in my bone marrow. As one might assume, it was devastating news and I, like anyone else, went through all the stages of grief when I received the horrible diagnosis of cancer, and in many cases and for many people, what seems to be a terminal diagnosis. Yet something began to happen: I kept waking up each morning, taking care of my family and in the midst of this life-changing event… Life kept going on. Just like clockwork. My kids still needed me. The house still needed to be attended to, the dog still needed to be walked and my own needs and desires began coming forth and the diagnosis of cancer began becoming not so prominent in the front of my mind.
Still, something most important to note, cancer also became a prime motivator in me doing these mundane everyday things while beginning to think and create the life I’d always wanted and NEEDED to begin living. Because I figured it as this much:If I’m going to live with cancer, I might as well live as fearlessly and unapologetically as possible. [Hear hear! I completely agree.] It’s almost as though cancer was the worst and one of the best things to happen to me because it took away every excuse I had to diminish my life and dim my light. So there began me setting out to BE and DO everything I could do to live my best life and this started with making a bucket list at the end of 2016; with goals and dreams that seemed to leap from the pages of my journal–almost as soon as I’d write them down.
Within the next few years, I’d leave my toxic marriage, unfortunately, my children whom I desperately tried to bring along with me and sever every toxic relationship I had outside of myself; and some of these relationships were more than twenty years old.
I’d just turned 40 and for the first time in my life, I left my home state moved seven hours away alone with only $300 and used half of it in gas to get to my destination; bringing only one clothes basket, a bookbag and all the clothes I could discreetly conceal in the third row of my SUV because I didn’t know if I’d be sleeping in my truck and would need to use the middle row.
I’d spend the next eight months between two homeless shelters while becoming fully employed within the first three weeks of relocating. During my stay at the shelters, I’d save as much money as I could and spend all of my “free time” working extra shifts and spending most of my time journaling, organizing and creating my life; despite the insurmountable challenges that I faced, the rules set by the shelters and the timetables that I’d been given by them to find a place to live and the means in which to keep a roof over my head. This all left me feeling like I was living in a parallel universe at many moments; compounded with existing without my children, left me feeling numb yet I promised myself that I wouldn’t detach and become disassociated from my new reality.
In some of my hardest moments, I began to remember the story of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey and how he described the parts of every single character (including us) becoming our own heroes and the roles in which other characters (i.e. the wise one, villain, Damsel in Distress, comrades etc.) all play their vital roles in our journeys and must present to teach us and help push us towards becoming to our heroes. At the same time, I began learning of an American, Buddhist monk named Pima Chodron and her teachings of bodhicitta (the softening of the heart) and how we can learn to sit with fear, uneasiness and every other uncomfortable feeling that exists to humans instead of becoming harden and apathetic.
It would be October of 2017 that I’d move into my own place and thus begin cultivating my new life while attending to some unfinished business that I’d left in my hometown. I have lived peacefully in the same place while continuing to align with my dreams, goals and deepest desires. Within a short period of time, I’ve made such tremendous strides and have gone from surviving to thriving expeditiously.
Living with cancer continues to be one of my most prominent reasons to live my life and continue to venture into uncharted waters. Cancer isn’t my life yet it’s helped me embrace the best in me and accept the worst in me and use it all to live boldly and not give much thought to what anyone thinks about me and my choices.
[My question: What self care or spiritual practices do you engage to restore yourself?]
I start my day in complete silence–no tv, no radio. This helps me center myself and set the tone for my day. I practice wakeful meditation while drinking dark roast coffee and reading positive affirmations and will meditate at work while working. I allow myself mental breaks with no permission at any given time; as a reminder that what I am seeing and experiencing in that moment, is not all there is to my life–it’s just a moment, not the entirety.
I make time to rest and relax daily and be in the moment. It’s a non-compromise and not up for debate within myself or externally with anyone else. I don’t care how much I have to do, I make the time to decompress and just sit and BE; something that I define as being whoever or whatever you are in that given moment. I sleep late on the weekends and take naps late in the evenings; as I’m a bit of a night-owl and find that I become extremely creative during overnight hours. To me, learning to rest and allowing myself to do nothing has been most pivotal in keeping myself healthy, happy and allowing my body to self-manage its dis-ease state. I listen to music for hours while watching tv and reading/studying/working on projects and pay attention at great detail. I love my time and I’m very assertive and intentional about how I spend it. I’ve had to learn to love spending time with myself and doing so is one of the best ways I spend replenishing and recentering myself.
I’m an agnostic atheist and despite popular consensus, I believe in a lot of things and concepts. One thing I love about being agnostic atheist is that it keeps me open to accepting that I don’t know everything, can’t explain everything (including if a deity or deities exists) and I’m perfectly okay with all of that. It’s also not knowing or being able to explain a lot of things (despite my love of science and philosophy) that keeps me both humble, accepting of others and childlike; filled with wonder, playful and learning not to take myself or others so seriously all the time.
My religion is: be a good human–cause no harm and take no shit.
[My question: What are some of the things that you find inspirational?]
I find other people’s stories deeply encouraging and it’s not just the ones with happy endings. I am a documentary geek and often watch hard-to-swallow ones. It’s not because I am a glutton for punishment or sadness but moreso me trying to understand and grasp the human capacity to survive, thrive and find happiness despite unimaginable pain and suffering.
Many things can be disputed but not one’s own story.
No matter if we agree or not, one’s own story is what it is and I find the more stories that I listen to and watch–the more I realize how we’re more similar than different; even with those who do inhumane things that we could never fathom doing.
Animals and nature are other sources in which I find immense inspiration and motivation. I love watching documentaries about them because it reminds me there’s more to life than the human experience and realizing this helps keep me open to a bigger life and existence beyond just my own. I’ve always been fascinated by both and the more I stay engaged with them both, the more appreciation I have for my life and other forms of life.
[My question: How would you describe your journey: the past, present and future?]
My childhood was filled with a big imagination, a deep love of music, art and dance while also experiencing horrific forms of child abuse and trauma. To be honest, I don’t know how I’ve been able to even survive it much less thrive despite it; still keeping a big imagination and a love of life and humanity. I’d dream almost nightly as a child and began having nightmares for almost twenty years leading into my adulthood–up until I saw a wonderful psychologist every week for almost a year and a half. I was a loving child full of emotions, ideas and complexities and the adults around me didn’t know how to help me channel nor process any of it, therefore suppression and oppression were prescripts of the day.
No matter, I never simply accepted the reality that others tried to make me accept and always recognized the dysfunction even before I had the words to describe what I was seeing and living through. I was a unicorn who danced to the beat of my own drum that others tried to force into boxes that they, themselves, didn’t even want to live; so needless to say, I was always a nonconformist and little feminist before these things were widely accepted and spoken out loud.
As a child, it deeply affected me to see others suffer and I would cry at a complete stranger’s pain and dismay. It bothered me how others suffered near and abroad; never understanding why anyone had to suffer and being angered that they did. It’s as though I could look right through (or into) someone and see that their outer appearances were not really who they were and in some rare instances–were exactly who they were. I grew up in a deeply, southern religious family and went to a church run by an unapologetic misogynist who created a cult-like congregation filled with domestic abusers, pedophiles and addicts. It would be from these fire-breathing sermons (that religiously condemned women and children) that I’d develop a disdain for misogyny and patriarchy and those who enabled it; which included the women in my very own family.
My young adult years were spent discovering, rediscovering and un-discovering who I was, who I thought I was suppose to be and who I thought I’d like to become with a lot of process by elimination experiences. I began to self-medicate and commit self-injuries and was scapegoated and blamed for all of it. There was no empathy to be found in those who should’ve protected me but instead I was mocked and reminded (constantly) that I deserved and had rightfully earned the mishaps that happened to me; even when I was a child and couldn’t consent to such horrors.
I began seeking therapy on and off and with a lot of seeking therapy–therapists can often misdiagnose and overdiagnose the human condition. I hated myself to a level of suicidal ideation for decades until I began learning and unpacking that this all had been ways in which my brain and body had learned to survive then hold accountable (blaming myself first) those who’d never take responsibility for the harm they caused, stood by and allowed and were continuing to cause.
In most recent years, I’ve severed ties with every toxic relationship I’ve had and it didn’t matter what the connection was. I no longer excuse or make excuses for abuse, disrespect or malice cloaked in well-meaning intentions. I had to first stop being abusive towards myself then begin eliminating all external sources of abuse before I could truly begin healing myself from it all. I’ve stopped self-medicating and numbing these days and prefer facing every difficult emotion and situation head-on… Even when I’m terrified and don’t want to because I’ve learned, it’s better to feel and feel fully than not to feel and become apathetic towards those who do.
I’ve become my no. 1 reason to live, love and laugh loudly.
It took the birth of my children and eventual diagnosis of cancer to eliminate my suicidal ideation altogether. It’s taken my rediscovery of living and loving life that’s set me free and put me on a mission of setting an example before my children and others. I don’t know what my future holds and that’s ok. What matters more to me is I’m now free and independent to live in each moment and wildly embrace both the beauty and ugliness of it all. To me this is the true definition and embodiment of:
Thank you Tia. For existing.For daring to live in a world that would dare to silence you. For giving voice to others who might not speak otherwise.
[Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I am honored that you felt safe enough with me and my platform to share your story. My readers and I are eternally grateful.]