CALL FOR PERSONAL ESSAY SUBMISSIONS. People often ask me how my first husband, Mark and I broke up. This story answers that question. This is an older story of mine--one that might make it into my second book. 29 Life Lessons: Reflections On Living and Giving. 29 Life Lessons is the much anticipated sequel to Cami Walker’s New York Times bestselling self-help memoir, 29 Gifts: How A Month of Giving Can Change Your Life. Read the sample story below and get details and submission guidelines. http://follr.com/Communities/29Gifts/ViewPost/74108
YOU HAVE TO RIDE THE WAVES OF LIFE Cami Walker
In 2009, after six months of cloistering myself to get the 29 Gifts manuscript done, I was spent on every level, physical, emotional and spiritual. I called one of my best friends, Lisa, and begged her to come visit me in L.A. for two weeks. I missed her long dreads and smiling face. Lisa also has MS, but at the time was undiagnosed. We met in the mid-nineties when we were both single living in San Francisco. We connected through a yoga teacher and holistic women’s counselor, Darshana Weill, who helped us both overcome food and body image issues. Lisa and I immediately began hosting dinners at each other’s houses and attending yoga classes together. After nearly a decade of close friendship, Lisa took off to travel all over Asia for a year and returned to settle in Arizona working on an organic farm. After communicating via occasional phone calls, I was missing my dear friend. Plus I wanted to put her skills as a trained chef to work in my own kitchen.
I was excited to learn that the founder of the healing center where Lisa worked in Arizona was leading a workshop at a large Los Angeles church, Agape Spiritual Center. Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith, the founder of Agape Spiritual Center, would be co-leading a week-long juice cleanse. I had read and followed Dr. Beckwith’s work for some time, so I eagerly registered for the 7-Day Juice Fast for Peace. Lisa signed up too and we spent the week to reconnect, relax and renew. Lisa made it through the entire seven days only drinking the yummy green juice made in five gallon buckets each morning. I did not. I had to supplement with solid food each time I went into detox because it triggered my MS symptoms.
I was nervous the first day of the workshop, but felt reassured to have Lisa at my side. Dr. Michael Beckwith led one of the introductory sessions and I felt inspired to raise my hand when he asked us why we chose to attend. “I just finished writing my first book,” I shared. My voice was so quiet that Michael walked over and handed me his microphone. He asked me to stand up. I did. He led me up to the front of the room. I looked out at seventy strangers and nearly gagged on my own tongue. Then my eyes locked on my friend Lisa and I just spoke to her through the microphone.
“I just finished writing my first book,” I repeated. “It has been a solitary process and I feel like I am coming out of a cocoon. I’m here to start making contact with people again. This book could take me around the country talking to large audiences of people. I'm nervous about that.”
The room was silent while Michael watched me standing, still shaking a bit with nervousness. “Let’s give her some practice,” Michael yelled. “Everyone stand up and give Cami her first standing ovation.”
Everyone in the room stood up and began to clap and cheer. Michael had to reach out and steady me. “Just take in the love. All is well,” he said quietly.
As the crowd stomped and clapped and yelled, I began to settle into myself and feel their enthusiasm for me. These people supported me because I was allowing them to be present with me. It was a profound moment when I realized the positive energy from others could be harnessed and turned into fuel for my spirit.
By the end of the standing ovation I was standing tall, smiling big and laughing into the microphone. Silence settled over the room and I felt myself take a deep breath and release with it stores pent up exhaustion. “Thank you,” I said into the microphone before I handed it back to Michael and returned to my seat.
In October 2009—two months after my “practice” standing ovation at Agape, the 29 Gifts hardcover was released and I made my television debut live on NBC’s Today Show. I arrived at the studio in New York City with only 30 minutes to spare before my interview with then Today Show host, Meredith Vieira. My agent, Rita, and then-husband, Mark ushered me inside to the green room, already packed with guests and their supporters. I remember being tense because I felt some major fractures in my relationship with Mark that he and I had not acknowledged out loud.
The show was broadcasting live onto a big TV mounted on the far wall. There was a table piled high with pastries, coffee and the other goodies you expect to see in this setting. I was too nervous to eat, but sipped on a small cup of water. All too soon, a makeup artist rushed me into a chair in the dressing area. She dabbed at my face with some powder, added some color to my lips and suggested I remove the sparkly clip in my hair. “It will be too distracting in the light.” I obediently reached up to remove the offending adornment.
A stylist placed a few stray hairs back into place across my forehead and deemed me camera ready, even though I did not feel ready. Ready or not, I stepped out into a new world of being known.
When I step into the studio I am surprised that so many people can fit into such a small space. There are three sets. Stage center is occupied by Rod Stuart and his band, all standing quietly awaiting their cue. The producer for my segment walks me to stage right, which has two arm chairs separated by a small table. I make a space on the table to set the gift I brought for Meredith. It is a small brown box with bright blue ribbons bursting off the top. Stage left is where the action is right now. Dan Ackroyd sits with Matt Lauer and discusses his new book.
Though I spent years in advertising “behind the camera” nothing could prepare for the nervous jitters percolating in my body. I have never met a celebrity, so I am awed to occupy the same square footage as these superstars. I take a few deep breaths and focus my energy internally for a few seconds. I say a silent prayer, asking to be a channel of faith and light.
Meredith sits down across from me and reaches over to shake my hand. She quietly thanks me for making the trip from the west coast. We wait for Matt and Dan to wrap up their discussion and the next thing I know my short segment is counted down. “3 – 2 – 1- Action,” says the director and I am facing my first television camera. I watch a quick introductory segment the show produced to give an overview of the 29 Gifts story. It is nicely done, I note happily.
As soon as I begin talking with Meredith, my nerves settle and we have a pleasant five-minute exchange. The conversation feels natural and the interview closes with an impromptu gift exchange as Meredith hands me a bouquet of white roses and I give her my small box, which includes a 29 Gifts Journal, magnet, mirror and a few other small trinkets. After our segment wraps, Rod Stuart and his band break into a lovely version of Maggie Mae and I sit with Meredith to enjoy the brief show. The song closes and they cut to commercial and clear the set. I am standing next to Meredith again, talking, when Rod Stuart walks up, puts an arm around me and says, “That was a lovely interview. I am going to buy your book.”
I stare dumbly at him, unable to produce a single word beyond, “Thank you.”
Rod’s arm stays firmly anchored across my shoulders as we walk out of the studio together. A swarm of women rush toward us and I am baffled by how quickly he disappears. My agent, Rita, sees Rod exit and rushes over to where I am standing. “Please tell me you are never going to wash your shoulder again,” she jokes with me. I leave the Today Show studio feeling good about the interview, but not realizing how important it will be in my life until one week later. I come back home to Hollywood, California and face the harsh realization that my marriage with Mark is over. After lots of trying to make things work in our relationship, we have both finally given up. I am brokenhearted and grieving the morning my telephone rings and my editor, Katie McHugh, greets me. I do not tell her about the break up. I am not ready to talk about it. Nobody knows except me, Mark and our immediate families.
“Hi, Cami,” says Katie cheerfully. “I’m calling you with some good news.”
“I could use some good news. What’s up?”
“I’m happy to tell you that 29 Gifts is a New York Times Bestseller.”
Stunned silence from me.
“Congratulations,” continues Katie. “We are all so excited. 29 Gifts topped out at number 18 in overall nonfiction on the Times list. We were the second best-selling memoir on Amazon.com last week.”
“How?” I stutter into the phone. “How is this possible?”
“People are buying the book and loving it. Congrats, Cami.”
“Thanks, God, for that angel Meredith Vieira.” I responded and we both laugh.
I hung up wondering how it was possible to feel completely elated and totally defeated all at once. Not only had I just realized my life-long dream of becoming an author, but I was now a New York Times best-selling author. Unbelievable. I did a little jig around my apartment until I got to the living room and then I fell onto the couch Mark and that Christmas Eve, and burst into tears. Mark is gone. There is nobody here to celebrate with me, except my little chihuahua, Charlie.
My sadness over the split with Mark weighs heavily on me. We have admitted defeat, despite the brief rekindling of passion we saw during my first year of giving. The sparks didn’t last long, and we entered therapy together to attempt to work out our problems. We do not communicate well. Except for our honeymoon and a few brief months of reconnection, we had not been physically intimate more than ten times in over past year. Both of us were miserable.
We agreed to split up on November 1, 2009 – just one month after the 29 Gifts book was released.
Mark moved out that month while I was away at book launch events in San Francisco. I returned home to Los Angeles to a half-empty condo and the harsh realization that I was now on my own for the first time in more than five years. I had no car so relied on friends to get to appointments, to get groceries… for everything. My health took a nosedive. I began to have problems with severe depression. pain, weakness and balance problems. I was given a course of steroids to help reduce the inflammation in my nervous system. The steroids gave me physical relief, but caused a psychological crash. Once again, I found myself facing severe depression, triggered by the steroids and the loss of my marriage. I called my father at work one day at the end of December 2009.
“Daddy.” I whimpered to my father, 1500 miles away in Nebraska. “I need help. You need to come get me.”
I did not have to ask twice. My dad quickly organized and made the long drive in his truck.
I gathered a few friends to help us sort through my belongings, putting some things in storage and giving away the rest. By mid January 2009, I was settled back into my little old bedroom in my parent’s home. My mood continued to plummet and I lost touch with my daily giving practice and most of the other coping tools that helped me live a more healthy and positive existence.
I did not share my misery with anyone. Not a single mention of how sad and hopeless I felt passed my lips. I often slept sixteen hours a day and spent hours crying quietly in my small bedroom while my parents were asleep or out of the house.
On February 5, 2010 – the day before I turned 37 – I woke up wanting to die. I did not call for my mother or father or take myself to the doctor as I had in the past when I flirted with the dark demon of depression. Instead, I allowed myself to be wrapped in the dark fog as I reached for a bottle of pills by my bedside and proceeded to swallow every one. Then I closed my eyes and prayed for a drugged sleep to take me away from the difficult battles of my life. I felt calm for a few brief seconds until the reality of what I had done came over me and I reached for the phone. I called my ex-husband. He answered and I told him I was calling to say goodbye.
“How could you do this to me?” he screamed, and hung up the phone. He did not understand that I was doing this to myself, and I did not understand that my actions could have major impact on so many others.
Suddenly I wanted to live. Next, I called my friend Darshana, who is more practiced with dealing with people in crisis due to her work as a counselor. Darshana asked for my dad’s work phone number, and kept me on one line while she called my father. Once again, dad came to my rescue in his big Ford truck. I am lucky that Kimball, Nebraska is a tiny town because he brought me to the ER within fifteen minutes of swallowing the pills. My sister’s best friend was the head nurse on duty. When she was a child, I was her babysitter. She guided me protectively into the exam room as I gasped for air. "It was a mistake. I want to live."
“We are going to take care of you,” she reassured as she inserted a catheter and worked with the doctor to feed a tube down to my stomach. They pumped my stomach with saline and liquid charcoal. I was pliable, obeying their commands because I knew I didn’t want to die that day. Several quarts of liquid spilled out 25 whole, intact pills from my belly. I am hardly any of the medication had begun to be absorb. I escaped this episode without any permanent damage, except my shattered self-image.
With some serious help from my family and friends, by March 2010, I felt able to say yes to a number of speaking offers that had begun to flow in without any effort on my part. One of the first gigs I did was a fund-raising event for the Oklahoma MS Society. I gave the gift of my time and words to the audience of more than 600 women. I wrapped up my talk, stepped back from the podium and was overwhelmed when everyone in the room stood up and began clapping.
I remembered Michael’s words during my “practice” standing ovation, and allowed my heart to soften and feel that all is well. Never in my life have I felt so high. I waited a while for the audience to settle into their seats, but nobody sat down, so I walked off stage to the happy tune of 1,800 hands clapping.
Something shifted inside me that day because I realized how many people were hoping the best for me. This new awareness produced a deeper sense of safety and assurance as I recognized support comes not only from those we know and love, but sometimes from total strangers. Any help I need is always at my fingertips if I find the courage to reach out to others around me.
Cami, I have been moved so many times by your words in 29 Gifts, reading this story, this particularly dark time in your life, gave me a new respect for you. You have faced so many demons and continue to prove that life provides us with solutions and opportunities to grow, rebound, and heal; we just have to be open to them. Thank you for your willingness to share!