This episode’s inspiring conversation is with Erin Connolly, who suffered betrayal, adultery, and tumultuous divorce. But, the real story is how she chose to see and respond to the adversity so she could become a shining example of grace and dignity for her young daughter.
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from Upside Down to Right Side Up: Tips for the Transition
Erin Connolly: The Plus Side Is..
~María: Hello and welcome to from Upside Down to Right Side Up: Tips for the Transition. I’m María Tomás-Keegan, your host, and I’m so excited to bring you this continuing series of conversations with strong supportive women who have inspiring stories of transformation to tell and they’re courageous enough to share them with us here. Today, I’m talking with Erin Connolly. This beautiful lady will share her story of betrayal, adultery, and a tumultuous divorce and how she found her way to becoming a shining example for her daughter of what it’s like to thrive despite adversity. We call this episode, “The Plus Side Is… ” Welcome, Erin!
~Erin: Hello, nice to see you today. Thank you for having me.
~M: It’s my pleasure. I often tell women that they will be inspired by these stories that I share. The truth is, you have inspired me by your example for others. So, would you please share your story with us?
~E: Well, thank you! Yes, for sure! So, I’ve been married about nine years and had a great life, with a beautiful home, little toddler, owner own business. Life was good. I didn’t see my husband much, at the time, but I figured that was pretty normal because we were business owners, and that’s what you do when you’re an entrepreneur, you work around the clock. So this one day in September, I got a phone call that my husband had been in a car accident and that he had life-threatening injuries. So obviously, headed to the hospital and he had broken his femur in two places, so they had to do surgery and put a rod in. It was touch-and-go surgery, so very scary time. And so after the surgery was over, he came to and recovered. We were chatting and he asked me how happy I was, which I thought was kind of an odd question at the time but I was actually grateful that he had asked me that. Things had been hard, previously, up until that point, just raising a baby without seeing him very often and we lived on an acre and so there was a lot of housework. So I told him that I missed him and then I missed having a family unit. But on a scale from one to 10, probably about a six or so.
So he said that the accident was eye-opening and that he was gonna make some changes in his life. So at that moment, I was considering what was a scary thing to be a blessing because I felt like it was a catalyst that could bring about some changes in our marriage.
So a nurse comes in and asks me who I am. My ex-husband is Hispanic, and so, she jokingly says, “You obviously aren’t his sister, so you who are you?” and with my very snarky sense of humor, I said, “Well I’m his wife but if his girlfriend shows up, let me know!” just as a joke. Then about 30 minutes later, the curtain opens and a gal walked in and said, “Who the blank are you?” which kind of took me back and I thought maybe she was just in the wrong room. Then she addressed him by name and asked who I was. So, come to find out they were engaged and they had been seeing each other for two and a half years, and she had no idea that he was married and she proceeded to share lots of the lies that had been told about me, for instance, that I didn’t have custody of my daughter, I was a drug addict and that my mother had custody of my daughter but my mother passed when I was 15 so that obviously wasn’t the case. And so from there, he decided to move in with her and all of my close family and friends were encouraging me to file for divorce, at the time, but it was my family, and I wasn’t ready to make that move. I felt like there was way too many emotions, lots of confusion, at the time, and I just didn’t feel like I was in a place to make that decision well, whether or not I wanted to dissolve my family unit.
So we tried for another 18 months. He did end up moving back in at one point, and then I caught him two more times with the same gal. And so finally at the end of the 18 months, I did, I did file for divorce. He was extremely angry that I had filed. He felt like he was trying and he wanted to continue to try. At that point, I just had nothing left, nothing. There was no chance of recovering trust for me at that point. It was hard to stay focused on my end goal but I knew that at the end of the day, I wanted my daughter to live an honest life and I didn’t feel that we were gonna be able to do that. Even if I had stayed, I had a beautiful home, I had everything that I needed and I knew that it was gonna be a struggle, but I went through with it ’cause I wanted her to live in an honest state even if that was in a cardboard box.
So I was given a trip to Hawaii for my daughter and I by a very dear friend and return from the trip to find my entire house cleaned out. So, 3200 square feet, all of the furniture, dishes, sheets, knick-knacks, everything was gone. This was obviously against the judge’s orders when we went through for divorce. He was given very specific instructions about how to split property but obviously that wasn’t heated. So my step-sister had come with me at the time to see what was left and as I stood there looking at my empty house and the tile that I had picked out and the carpet that we had put in, it just hit me that I had to find some kind of light in this because it was so dark. And so I just turned to my sister or stepsister said, “Well, the plus side is that I could use the new sheets.” I really just had to dig deep at that moment to try to come up with a positive. And so the plus side is, for me, it means a lot to me, and it’s a personal motto. I’ve used it endlessly since that day because every time something bleak would happen, I really needed to draw on what I was learning from that situation or some sort of benefit because the divorce got very bitter even after that. I didn’t get any help from the legal system. After the first year of divorce, I had no idea where he lived, so I had to send my daughter off in complete uncertainty for that time. I was encouraged by many people to go back through the legal system to try to get my belongings back but I didn’t choose to do that. I have a bigger fish to fry, at that point than a sofa or a chair. I needed to just move forward and put that behind me and it would have been more expensive to fight for my old stuff than I was to just go out and get new stuff.
~M: This is why you inspire me.
I know a lot of women who would not be able to dampen their anger or their sense of betrayal, but there were bigger fish to fry and one of them was your daughter. So I am just inspired by your ability to look at that situation and others as you have gone forward with your motto, “The Plus Side Is… “, trying to find that the light, trying to find something good that could happen as a result of what just happened to you.
So I can’t wait to continue this conversation because there is a lot of emotion that you touched on and I’d love you to take a deeper dive into that part of your story. Will you do that with us?
~M: Perfect! So for everyone watching, we will be right back just a couple of seconds with the next part of my conversation with Erin Connolly on from Upside Down to Right Side Up: Tips for the Transition.
~M: Let’s continue with my discussion with Erin Connolly, who has shared her story of life-changing divorce while caring for her child. We call this episode, “The Plus Side Is… ” It is such a privilege for me to share inspiring stories, like Erin’s. These women have figured out how to move through life’s inevitable trials and tribulations, and come out on top in triumph. They help us to know that we are not alone when our own world turns upside down.
Thank you so much, Erin, for showing us another perspective on this kind of transition, betrayal, divorce, rebuilding your life, and being a role model. So many of us have experienced divorce, myself included, which is a significant loss.
I love that you think about your motto, “The Plus Side Is… ” as your own. I heard you say your own personal Swiss army knife and I love that analogy. Can you share with us how that level of betrayal and all the uncertainty was affecting you at that time? And what was your turning point so that you could move forward?
~E: Sure, well, as I shared, there were not only lies told to me for an extended period of time because the betrayal had gone on for two and a half years without my knowledge, but lies were told about me. So I think the biggest challenge for me, at the time, was I was left with no sense of what truth was.
I remember sitting at a stoplight and looking at a tree. It’s an intersection I’ve been at many times, and I looked at the tree and thought to myself, “Is that really a tree?” Like I was down to that level of uncertainty in my life. Not only just the betrayal from my ex-husband but friends that I lost in the process, dear friends from church. It was a time of just great, great loss. And having the depth of lies, you go back through your two-and-a-half years and you think, “Oh, he wasn’t doing that when he said he was.” and “Oh he didn’t fly home from vacation because the business needed him.” It continues to spiral on you. I felt completely out of control about what was happening to me.
My sessions were taken, my friends were gone, not use the word, victim, but at the time everything felt like it was happening to me and at me and around me, and then I had so little control over all of those circumstances. As I said, the legal system wasn’t helping me, so every time he came to pick up my daughter it was… “Is she gonna come back?”
He’s an auto mechanic so had access to any vehicle that Amber Alert was no good for me, whatsoever. The level of not knowing what was going to happen next and waiting for that next blow was overwhelming at times. And I think the turning point for me was sitting in a Wendy’s parking lot, of all places. So the first year, like I said, I didn’t know where he lived, and so we would make arrangements to exchange our daughter at a certain location. And inevitably, he would be hour and a half late and then just send me a text message with an address, 35-40 miles away. And so I called it my three-hour tour, every weekend to go pick up my daughter because it took about three hours from start to finish. I was sitting in a Wendy’s parking lot just infuriated, like everything was so big, the anger, the bitterness, the “How can you do this to me?”, “What did I ever do to you?”, the unfairness of it? I can’t find anything fair about that. And so I thought, okay, the only thing I can control right now is how I feel in this moment, right now. In this very moment, I can control how I feel, I can control what I do with this time, that I’m sitting here in this Wendy’s parking lot at somebody else’s power or control.
So I drove from the Wendy’s to Walmart and I bought a backpack, and a coloring book, and markers, and some snacks and I put him in my backpack and I thought, “Okay, this is gonna be my weekend backpack and I’m gonna pack this full of things that can occupy my time and make myself so happy. I love to color so that’s what I did, or I brought a book or whatever it was that I wanted to do that weekend. I would pick her up, and I would tell him, “Hello, how are you? I hope you had a great day.” And he didn’t speak to me for about two years, so even in my presence, didn’t really acknowledge that I was talking to him but my daughter saw. My daughter was watching, and I knew that she was watching how I treated her daddy because regardless of what happened to me as his wife, that is her daddy and that is unchangeable. I wanted her to know that, regardless of my feelings for him that it was okay to love him and that it was okay to have a great relationship with her daddy regardless of what he had done to me. That was my motivator. My motivator was I knew that I had a little girl who needed me to show her how to forgive, how to do the right thing even when other people are wrong, how to be a woman of integrity, regardless of what has been done to you. And those were really important lessons that I wanted her to learn.
Again my friends would condemn me because I bought Christmas presents for him and I bought birthday presents for him and Father’s Day gifts. And not like I had extra money, that’s for sure. “How can you do that?”, “How can you spend a dime on him?”, and I wasn’t spending a dime on him, I was spending a dime on my daughter. And regardless, she deserved the right to sit on her daddy’s lap and give him a gift. I want her to see that and I wanted her to know that my love for her was bigger than any emotion that I had for him.
~M: Erin, it’s so chock-full of such beautiful stuff.
Are you giving me goosies about 10 times as she was okay? I am so moved by who you are and how you have approached an awful situation that many women would find themselves in that place of victim-hood and stay there.
Yet have found the plus side. And for you, a big plus side for you is your daughter and being the role model that you want her to see. You want her to see what it’s like. You said in the first part of our conversation that you wanted to raise her in an honest environment.
~M: And that your integrity, your ability to turn things around so that things were no longer happening to you, but for you, and you got to control that piece of it and that’s all about controlling how you respond and sharing with your daughter, I’m gonna cry, sharing with your daughter, what that means, what that looks like and showing up that way, throughout.
And she is now, if I may share, she is now 18, and about to go off to college. Right?
~E: Yes, that’s correct.
~M: So you are facing yet another transition in your life, which is a big one.
~E: It’s huge!
~M: It’s a big one. I am so honored to know you, very proud of you for being the kind of mom and woman who can show up with her Swiss Army knife and find the plus side.
~E: Thank you!
~M: Thank you so much for sharing all of that with us, I appreciate your transparency so much, Erin, and I would love for you to… I know you’ve learned a lot on this journey, and stuff you’re teaching your daughter as well. I would love for you to tell us about those golden nuggets of wisdom that you’ve drawn from this experience.
So if everyone will just hang in with us for half a minute, we will be right back with my continuing conversation with Erin Connolly.
~M: We save the best for last, that’s why we call the show, Tips for the Transition. Before we get to Erin’s nuggets of wisdom, I’d like to tell you a bit more about her. She’s re-invented herself a bunch of times as she was rebounding from her broken marriage. She is the co-founder of Easy Capture Media, where she currently serves as their Chief Brand Officer. She has been a business consultant in the dental world, a creative content marketing specialist, and a freelance copywriter.
See what I mean by re-inventing herself?
She believes that no matter the circumstance, there is always a plus side and that gaining control of your focus and inner thoughts, you can come out of the other side of transition stronger and more equipped to handle the next one that life brings your way.
Women like Erin, our role models not only for her daughter but for the rest of us when we’re striving to learn to thrive. I can’t thank you enough, Erin, for sharing your stories so women know that there is a plus side to diversity. So when they look for it, they can find it and they can be inspired by your story.
So now it’s time to share what you’ve learned that can help others in similar circumstances. How has your experience changed how you handle life’s other inevitable changes especially as you navigate this current transition that we spoke about, the empty nest and how you are teaching your daughter to look through that transition of leaving home and going off to college. Share.
~E: Okay, well I would say that the biggest thing that I learned is the power of forgiveness. They say that forgiveness is not forgiving someone is like drinking poison then expecting someone else to die, right?
And I can honestly attest to that. Forgiveness is all about you. It’s all about what that act of betrayal or whatever it was, the amount of impact that you allow it to have in your life. You can’t control anybody else’s actions, but you can absolutely control how you think about it, how you view it, and what you do with the resulting emotions.
Was I angry? of course! Do I still get angry at this situation? I do, I’m not gonna lie. But looking back and being able to know that my daughter never had to look on two sides of an auditorium to find her parents during a show or a Christmas play or whatever, to know that I could pick up the phone and call him to have a conversation with him, for her to have seen because there was a time in her life when she learned the full story. Luckily, she had already seen that forgiveness modeled, and so she was able to continue to have a relationship with her dad regardless of how our marriage ended. And I believe that that is the result of seeing forgiveness in action.
So definitely forgiveness and knowing that other people are gonna do and say whatever they’re gonna do and say and just because someone says it doesn’t make it true. Asking yourself, whether it be a spouse or a friend or a co-worker just because somebody says something about you doesn’t make it true. And being able to control that thought process and to be self-aware enough to know where you can improve and what your role might have been in whatever situation but not allowing other people’s beliefs of you or what is said about you to be your truth.
~M: Wow, that’s powerful stuff right there, and you touched on more than just forgiveness but also… And I believe you are so right. I love what you said, “It’s like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.” I had never heard that before. That is… Again, I just got goosies.
That’s how I respond to things that really move me. But you talk also about the power of words, someone else’s words, and what they say to you or about you and how you respond to that. That’s also a wonderful piece of advice that we can all take to heart.
What else have you got for us?
~E: Well, it’s not only about someone else’s truth, but it’s about are the words that are spoken over you rather, but the words that you speak to yourself because there’s a nasty little person that lives in all of our heads who is out to get us. Having been through what I went through, I learned that I had to harness her. I had to put her in her place and there was a time for her to speak to me and say, “Hey you should probably check this.” or “Hey you might wanna think about that”, but for the most part, she don’t really have anything positive to say to me and learning how to do that. Am I always great at it? No, but I think that that’s one of the most important things that I have passed on to my daughter, is her ability to control her thought life and how that impacts, how she moves forward every day, and how she manages the transition like now. This is a tough time for us, we are exceptionally close. So the thought of her moving two and a half hours away is tough on both of us.
If I hadn’t been through the journey that I’ve been through. I wouldn’t be able to show her that your emotions live in one place and your actions live in another, so while you may feel a certain way, we may be grieving, we may be scared, we may be anxious, that should not stop us from taking the next step forward, in spite of whatever emotion we’re feeling and that it’s okay, to be honest about those emotions. I think that I was able to raise her authentically. She got to see mom cry, she got to see mom make mistakes and pick herself up and move on and realize that failure is a part of life and that I make mistakes too, and that it all comes down to the plus side is no matter what’s happening to us, what is the plus side?
I literally just had a text exchange with her this morning, and said, “Well the plus side is… ” because that has become part of her fabric as well. She was 12 and loaned a girl at school money and the girl never paid her back. You’re driving home and I’ll never forget her saying “Well the plus is it only cost me five bucks to realize I can’t trust her.” That made my journey worth it.
My mom died and I was 15, so I didn’t have that kind of wisdom port into my life and I don’t think that I would have the wisdom that I do have to share with her have I not been through the journey that I walked?
~M: So the plus side is right?
~E: The plus side is exactly.
~M: You wouldn’t be the woman you are, you wouldn’t be the role model for your daughter if you had not learned from you the other experiences in your life.
~E: I’m able to walk her through a relationship with her dad and help her learn to navigate that. I’m continuing to be able to encourage her to have the best relationship possible with her dad. And I couldn’t have done that if I had, in that Wendy’s parking lot, let him have control over what I was feeling and how I was going to behave in that moment and what I was gonna do with the situation. I wouldn’t have been able to encourage her to continue to have a loving relationship with her dad, as best as possible.
~M: That’s so important what you’re teaching her, and you teach her also about our inner thoughts and how they can sway us and trying to figure out what is the truth of it, asking yourself when even our inner thoughts or what people are saying to us. Is it true? is it true? Does it serve us well to believe that? And if not, what are we gonna believe instead?
~E: Right? And that it is exercise, absolutely. There was a time in adolescence, were her thought life was taking control and even to this day, four years later, she has positive affirmations that I printed out all over her bathroom mirror because I wanted her to look in the mirror and not only see the imperfections that she was seeing at the time, but to see that there were other ways to think about life in that moment and that it’s her responsibility as a to do that. It’s her responsibility to say my thought life is not healthy, and I have the power to change that. I can control what I think about. And I’ve told her it’s like exercise, it takes practice and you have to get up every morning and make a conscious decision that today you’re going to be happy, you’re going to find something today that is a blessing and an even that could be the smallest little thing, but to continually be looking for that. And when challenges come up or bad things happen. Okay, so it happened. So what’s the plus side? “The plus side is I know not to trust the girl at school and it only cost me five bucks.” The plus side is “I did get some new sheets and some new furniture, right? Now I have a house full of stuff that I don’t know what to do with. So the plus side is in times of trial like that if we can’t see the plus side, we’re going to miss the blessings because I can tell you that if I hadn’t lost all my furniture and my dishes and everything else I owned, I wouldn’t have been the recipient of incredible benevolence from people, people that I never thought even knew my name. It was humbling. That’s a gift that was so precious to me to see that somebody who barely knew me cared about whether or not I was eating off-plastic plates and forks from [can’t understand]. It was amazing the amount of blessing that poured in and if I hadn’t been looking for that I would have missed it.
~M: Oh, Erin, so much inspiration has come from this conversation. I love it, I love it. And if we leave people with nothing else, it’s this idea of your own Swiss army knife and the plus side is because every situation has one if we look for it.
So for those, Erin, who would like to connect with you and perhaps share their story with you, would you please let us know the best way for them to make that connection?
~M: Alright great, thank you so much for being my guest today, Erin. I appreciate you and I appreciate you sharing your story. I’d like to thank all of you for watching and for being a part of our community, this series of conversations with women is inspired by my latest book Upside Down to Right Side Up: Tips for the Transition. My book, the articles I write and these conversations are intended to share stories from the heart and life strategies that can help others.
I invite you to share them with the women in your life. So none of us will ever again feel like we are alone.
Many of us have gone through similar experiences, and we’re here to support you.
I believe it’s our time to thrive.
Will you join me on that ride? ’til next time. I’m María Tomás-Keegan.