Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Staying Sober for the 4th!

This post is for my #soberwarriors #sobercurious or just plain #sober...

Holidays can be hard! There is so much normalization around drinking and partying around the holidays. Especially, it seems, in the summer time. 

But what about those of us who are committed to their sobriety? I think it’s important to acknowledge the emotions, frustrations, fears, sadness, etc. that comes up in times like these, so I’m sharing what’s there for me in hopes that it will give someone else strength.

You’re not alone. 

I love the 4th of July and I’m super excited to be fully present for the fireworks for the first time in years. But I’m also slightly triggered emotionally (not tempted) because I’ll be spending the day with my family, which is great, but will be going to a very large, very NON-sober party. 

Don’t get me wrong, I used to be right there with them. I’m not better than anyone just because I don’t drink anymore. I absolutely love the people I’m spending the day with and must be clear that I’m not casting judgement. To each their own! Everyone is at their own place in this crazy thing called life and I respect that.  

But sometimes, for those of us who used to drink, it’s just a big bummer and can be frustrating that so many holidays are inundated and saturated with drinking. Going to events and certain places feels lonely sometimes. We can easily be triggered by memories.  Top that with being single (or whatever else you might be dealing with) and you could have a recipe for trouble. 

Not everyone who chooses this path can or should put themselves in certain environments where temptation could be an issue. There was certainly a time for me when that was not a good idea. And I still have to be my own judge and advocate for my sobriety. It’s way too important to me to get complacent about it. 

On the other hand, there are people who have no problem going to parties, bars or whatever. The important thing is that you keep conscious and take actions that work for you. Know what you're getting into and have a back up plan if it doesn't work out.

No matter who you are, sobriety and recovery takes a constant awareness of one’s self. We don’t get to flounder around and take chances with ourselves on this path. Not if we want to stay on it. 

I am definitely in no way tempted to drink and there’s no question for me that I will stand strong through this holiday, AND I will thoroughly enjoy the day with so many people that I love. I’m thankful for my sobriety and love that I get to be an example to my kids, and who knows who else might be inspired to look at themselves differently. 

Still, I think it’s important to acknowledge all of the thoughts & emotions that sneak up in sobriety. 

Can you relate? What comes up for you in times like these? How do you get through and stand strong in your recovery? 

Wherever you are on this journey, please know that you’re not alone. It doesn’t matter what it looks like on social media, or how much time you have under your belt. 

We’re all just human beings doing this thing one day at a time. None of us are immune to the challenges and struggles that come up. No one is strong ALL of the time. 

Make sure to reach out if you need help or support. We’re in this together! 

Always love,

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Rising Woman ~ Allyson Elizabeth

Our next Rising Woman has just rocked my world with her story. There are so many reasons that I'm completely honored to share Allyson's story here. I "met" Ally through her Facebook group, Badass Sober Sisters, and asked her to share her story when I recently saw her celebrating 6 years of sobriety. The further I move on along in my own sobriety, the more I realize the importance of impacting the stigma around addiction and recovery. I'm so thankful for people like Allyson who choose to support people on this journey. Her FB group has been one of the many supporting factors in my own sobriety. Thank you, Ally, for being the first Rising Woman to share on the topic of recovery, and for the incredible courage that it took you to do so. You, my friend, are a warrior and I love you!

Who are you and what do you do for a living?
I’m Ally. I’m 27 years old and I am a full time student majoring in social work.

Tell me about your family, if applicable.
I’m the oldest of 3 girls. My parents have been and are still together since they were 16 years old. My dad will have 17 years sober in August.

What is your story?

Well, I grew up in the alcoholic household. My dad drank until I was 11 years old. I also picked up my first drink at 11. When my dad got sober he passed a comment that he got sober for my little sister, so she wouldn’t have to go through what my sister and I went through. I can honestly tell you right then and there all my insecurities were born. Why was I not good enough for him to get sober long before? If I’m not good enough for my own dad how would I ever be good enough for anyone else?

By the time I was 11 years old I knew what real pain and heartache was. I worried about things no child should even know about.

My drinking wasn’t crazy, just weekend and school breaks but when I took that first drink at 11 I knew I was different. I didn’t like the taste or the feeling but what I did like is feeling numb. From that first night, I drank to blackout and not feel.

Fast forward to senior year of high school, I was an excellent student and was accepted into every college I applied to. I feel like I was pressured into going away. See, my parents didn’t know about my weekend escapades, but I was a hard kid to raise. I was disrespectful, irresponsible and mean. I thrived in chaos and negative spaces. So my parents thought it was a good idea that I not stay home for school. I kind of feel like they just didn’t want to deal with me anymore and wanted a peaceful environment to raise my sisters. Again all those insecurities were right back in full force.

I decided to go to SUNY Purchase in Westchester, New York. I was 18 and no where near ready to be on my own. I drank myself into oblivion every night. I didn’t go to class - I joke that I majored in beer pong and boys. I met a guy who I thought I was going to be with forever. I latched on. I couldn’t do anything without him, breath, sleep, live. He joined the military and left for basic training for 20 weeks. I always craved attention from guys and I found that in his recruiter. I never cheated, but I loved the flirty-ness. I also started hanging out with my cousin who introduced me to roxys and shooting. When my boyfriend came home, we moved in together and I stopped doing drugs. It was more important to me to be the perfect military girlfriend. In December of 2009 we got engaged. I was living the life I always wanted. But I’m an addict and eventually my drinking became a problem, so I picked up pills again. We moved in with his parents and I was convinced that if I got pregnant I would be cured of drug addiction and my relationship would be fixed. But to be honest I really don’t think I would have stopped using, or if i did I think I would have been resentful that I had too. I know that sounds so selfish, but I only cared about drugs. My relationship fell apart and I moved back to Long Island.

On my 21st birthday, I went to a local bar. I was dancing with my long time friend, and this other kid came up and the next thing I know their hands are down my pants. Afterward, I just chalked it up to being too drunk and I asked for it because I danced with him. I know now that that was no where near acceptable or my fault.

I soon met another boy, in 2011, who was just getting out of treatment and moving into a male halfway house, so I moved in with him. The house was run by a gang called the Latin Kings and they were running drugs in and out. I was introduced to heroin at this time. I don’t really remember the week I was there. The boy I was seeing stole money from the guys running the house and blamed me, they broke my cheekbones, my nose, and I was raped by 7 or 8 men. I then went upstairs a hysterical bloody mess and overdosed. Someone called my mom and told her I was in danger, but wouldn’t tell her where I was. She had to track my cell phone. On the way to the hospital I ended up flatlining. They had to narcan me 4 times and use paddles. They asked me if I had a problem and I said that I was 21 and just having fun. I went a little overboard. They sent me on my way, but now I’m screwed because it is now confirmed. I am deep in addiction and using heroin. My parents sent my sisters to my grandma's, took off work and I detoxed at home cold turkey for 8 days. I went to my first AA meeting after I was done detoxing, but was high as a kite before the meeting was over.

I went on to overdose another time, narcan, paddles, the works. I finally attempted sobriety and had about 75 days clean when my neighbors stepson moved in across the street. He was everything I wanted, he did drums, dealt drugs and had a girlfriend. The chaos that became my life for literally only 2 months was insane. I made Facebook after Facebook to tell this poor girl what was going on between her boyfriend and I. I spared no detail. He and I ended in Jersey with my mom's stolen credit card. I showed up at my uncle's ex wife’s door and I hadn’t seen her in 20+ years. We spent the next 4 days in oblivion. When I got home my parents had booked me a one way flight to Arizona for treatment. I stayed in Arizona for 3 months but was convinced I wasn’t an alcoholic, I was a drug addict. I couldn’t be an alcoholic. I was 21, that’s what all normal kids my age do.

I drank for a while, but alcohol stopped giving me the high or numbness I craved. In November 2011 my good friend from high school passed away from an overdose. He was 22 years old. My world sank. I couldn’t understand why a 22 year old was taken and I didn’t understand how he was here one day and gone the next. I had just talked to him about going to meetings. I was so uncomfortable and needed out. Right back to the syringe I went. I went to his funeral flying high and looked his mother in the eye and promised I was doing good. I ended up back in treatment 3 weeks later.

This time, I stayed on Long Island. I went to Seafield in West Hampton Beach, they were the best on Long Island. I ended up getting kicked out for fraternizing 12 days later. When my mom and grandma picked me up they informed me I wasn’t allowed in my house and I would be moving in with my grandma. I rebelled against everything my grandma believed in. I was furious and refusing.

I was with my grandma for 4 months and I stayed sober. I threw myself into my program, meetings, sponsor, and the 12 steps. In February 2012 my neighbors step son passed away and I found myself right back in the same place. Questioning God, my purpose. I really tried to stay clean, like honest to God I wanted it. I reached out, I went to meetings and shared, but the that uncomfortability came right back and I needed out of self.

I stole a credit card went down to Florida and did what I did best. I was extremely high staying in a hotel room when I called my mom and she actually answered. My parents had cut me off by this time. I went on and on about how I was starving and needed food. She just quietly said “you are my beloved, take a good look and ask yourself if this is who you want to be? That pain you feel is only temporary and you can fight it,” and she hung up. I cried like I never had before and I hit my knees and begged for help. I got my MacBook, the only thing I wouldn’t pawn, and googled treatment centers. I found one in Hobe Sound 4 hours from where I was, all I had to do was get myself to detox.

The night before going to detox I was raped by 2 men. They dropped me off at the hospital the next day. They didn’t even wait until I was out of the car to drive away. Even despite that, I still wanted to get clean. I was ready and willing to do anything for sobriety.

While checking into detox, they found drugs and I was arrested for possession with the intent to sell. I was taken to Tavernes County Jail. I was there for 3 days which isn’t long, but felt like an eternity. My parents bailed me out and I went to detox for 7 days, and then treatment for 45. I knew I wasn’t ready to come home, plus I was facing 7-10 years with the intent to sell charges, so I wasn’t allowed to leave Florida. I also knew I needed to listen to people who knew more than I did, so I went to a halfway house for a year.

I went in front of a judge 8 months later and my charges were dismissed because they broke confidentiality. I flew back to New York that night and called my parents from JFK. When I told them I was home, they told me that was nice because I wasn’t allowed in their house, so I had to find somewhere to live. I went to another halfway for 9 months, then moved in with my aunt in South Carolina. I wasn’t allowed home until I was almost 2 years sober.

To say it has been a roller coaster is an understatement. There has been extremely low points in my sobriety, but I pushed forward. Today, April 1st, I celebrate 6 years of complete sobriety. I was asked why I think I’m in the 1% of those who get sober and stay sober, and my answer is simple - I remain teachable, I don’t know everything and I rely on those who know more. I took every suggestion. I threw myself into program. I also believe living a life of service is a major piece of remaining sober. I am able to be there and supportive of everyone I meet.

I hit an extremely low point in my sobriety, I lost faith in myself, God, and meetings. I was going to 1-2 meetings every 2 months, if that, and I suffered terribly. I felt alone, not connected, and miserable. My attitude and behaviors were those of someone in active addiction. I forced myself to get back to meetings. I met my sponsee and we’re currently going through the steps. Taking her through the steps and being there and present for someone has healed me in places I didn’t know needed to be healed.

I remain grateful always. I fall short, but I can admit when I’m wrong and need help. Despite the hardships I’m still standing.

What have you overcome to get where you are today?

Honestly no one, including myself, thought that I would be alive today. If someone told me today that I’d be sober, have my family in my life, have amazing women in my life, I never would have believed it. I was heading down a really dark and dangerous road and I didn’t care if I lived at the end. So I guess I had to overcome not caring what happened to me, finding the willpower to overcome addiction.

What has been your greatest struggle in life?
Acceptance and control. I like things to go my way. I’m working on trying not to control everything and accept people and things the way they are. I read and reread page 417 in the big book of alcoholic anonymous.

Did you ever feel like giving up? When you felt like giving up, what did you do?
I want to say giving up isn’t an option, but just because I have 6 years doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with the same things people in early recovery do. I just have the tools today to deal with and overcome. I won’t lie though, sometimes I just don’t want to feel, but I won’t give up. When I do feel that way I reach out to my support tribe. I pray, write, make gratitude lists, eat, and read recovery books; Living Sober, The Big Book, Daily Reflections.

What are some of the tools and resources you have used to work through and overcome those struggles? (books, counselors, workshops, programs, coaches, etc.)

I see a psychologist once a week, a psychiatrist every 6 months, I have a sponsor and an amazing group of women and I am extremely active in A.A.

What are your gifts and how did you discover them?

There’s so many gifts. I am responsible today. I suit up, shut up, and show up for people today. I care so much about literally everyone and would do anything to help people. I’m nonjudgmental, I don think I have a right to judge anyone when we all have our own paths. I was blessed with these gifts when I got sober and did the steps and when I started taking other women through the steps.

Tell us about your tribe and the importance of having one.
I have an amazing tribe. We’re all different ages and in all different points in our sobriety but the love and compassion not to mention the understanding is in full force. They are always there when I need someone. Having a tribe makes me feel not alone and understood when I feel absolutely crazy.

Who in life do you rely on when you're struggling? Who keeps you uplifted and on your path?
My dad. I had a really rocky relationship with him when he first got sober and addiction swallowed me, but I couldn’t have gotten 6 years without him especially in the beginning. He is my best friend, my go-to, my rock. He showed me how to live a life of honesty, integrity, and kindness. I call him for literally everything, probably like 15 times a day. He is the best man I have ever met.

What do you want other women to know who are feeling lost, and/or experiencing their own tragedy and/or struggles?

You are so worth it. The pain you’re in now is only temporary. Fight through. You are beautiful and strong and I love each and everyone of you even if we haven’t met.

What is some advice you would give to women who are healing or rising in some way?

You can do it! Look for the rainbow after the storm, it’s always there even if you can’t see it.

Anything else you'd like to add? 

This world can be such a scary dark place at times. That’s why it’s so important to stick together. Lift each other up and strengthen each other. We need each other.


If you are a woman questioning your own troubles with addiction; if you're trying or wanting to get clean & sober; or if you're just looking for more support on your journey, we encourage and urge you to reach out. It can feel like a lonely road, but I PROMISE you're not alone.

You can find Ally and a whole group of amazingly supportive sober women on their journey of recovery on Facebook at: Badass Sober Sisters

Ally, thank you again for being part of The Rising Woman Project. Keep doing what you're doing, girl! 


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Rising Woman ~ Anna Neimark

Happy Birthday, Rising Woman, Anna Neimark! 
It is an honor to share your beautifully brave and courageous story here, and a pleasure to call you my friend. Thank you, and may the year bring you continued success and happiness!

Who are you and what do you do for a living?
As a personal fashion stylist, I empower women to show up in full alignment with who they really, authentically are, so that they can be unleashed in making their mark on the world. I teach women how to dress the bodies they have (not the bodies they once had or wish they had), using style as an access to self-acceptance and self-love. I quit a stable, comfortable engineering career to follow my passion and purpose with the intention that through my work, body dysmorphia and eating disorders will one day cease to exist.

Tell me about your family, if applicable.
I was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia. My parents split up when I was five, and my mom left me with my grandparents for close to two years while she went to America to set up her life. I would see my dad, who traveled a lot internationally for work as a geologist, on weekends. On January 2nd, 1995, my mom brought me to New York. I grew up in Brooklyn with her and my step dad, Stuart. When I was 13, my mom was diagnosed with brain cancer. When I was 15, she passed away and I moved to Lakewood, Colorado to live with my dad, who had set up his own life by then with my step mom, Irene, and stepbrother, Alex.

What is your story?
If you had asked me three years ago what I’d always wanted to do with my life but never saw as possible, I would’ve told you “something in fashion." I have an engineering background and was working at an engineering company. I’d consulted friends and family on their wardrobes and provided shopping guidance for as long as I could remember (I was that one friend who would take you shopping, bring you ten items, and you’d walk out with all ten, leaving behind whatever you had brought in), but it had never occurred to me that I could turn that into an actual—never mind lucrative—career. I also wasn’t raised in an environment that supported that kind of thinking; I came from a family of engineers and scientists and had followed in my stepbrother’s footsteps to receive an Engineering Physics degree from one of the top engineering schools in the country. (Problem was, it was never quite a fit for me; I was just pretending.)

Then, in December 2014, I read about a website called Keaton Row on one of my favorite blogs (Refinery29) and was intrigued by the idea of regular people signing up to virtually style women across the nation—and getting paid for it. I signed up, despite that voice in my head telling me, “What the hell are you doing? You’re an engineer!” I proceeded to style eight clients over the next six months, until the site began to work with only NYC-based stylists. Defeated, I thought, “OK, guess that was too good to last. Back to reality I go.”

Right after my tenure with Keaton Row ended, in May 2015, I had a tonsillectomy, which involved a much more difficult recovery process than expected, and left me depressed and resigned about my life. I was in a career I despised and a crap relationship, and I would cry myself out of bed in the morning and drink myself to sleep every night. I was a total victim of my circumstances, seeing no way out of the dark tunnel I had found myself in. And I could totally see my life continuing to go that way.

But I took an unreasonable action: on a friend’s recommendation, I took a personal and professional development course called the Landmark Forum in June, and over the span of its 3.5 days, my perspective shifted 180 degrees. I saw that I no longer had to be at the whim of my circumstances and could actually create the life that I wanted. I realized that I deserved to be happy and could do whatever I wanted with my life. So I signed up for Thumbtack (an app that connects service providers with customers) and took on personal shopping clients. I took the Stylist and Personal Stylist certification courses at the School of Style in LA. I shared my passion with anyone and everyone, which landed me front row at the Nolcha Shows during New York Fashion Week in September.

Through continuing to participate at Landmark and taking on its 7.5 month long leadership program, I discovered my “why”: that around me, people are empowered, confident, and loving themselves. Through style, my goal is to empower people (and especially women) to accept and love the bodies they have, not the bodies they wish they had, so that body dysmorphia and eating disorders one day cease to exist.

I tried my hand at another corporate job, transitioning to an engineering sales role in March 2016, thinking that the skills that I learned would support building my business on the side. Who am I kidding? My heart wasn’t in it and six months later, I was let go. I took that as a sign from the Universe that it’s time to stop f*cking around and take on my business full time. And so it was, no financial safety net, no prior business experience, and I was running my own personal fashion styling business. 

What have you overcome to get where you are today?
Oh man, can I just make a list..?
Parents split up when I’m 5.
Mom leaves me with grandparents while she goes to America and I only see dad on the weekends because he travels for work all the time.
Grandma is paranoid and overprotective, to the point of heating my ice cream on the stove and writing doctor’s notes, excusing me from gym class after every minor cold, for a grand total of 2 gym classes over the course of the entire first grade. (Funny ‘cuz it’s true.)
Mauled by a monkey at a zoo (that’s a story for another day; ask me if you’re curious about it).
Moved to America speaking no English. Got to be the “weird foreign kid” through all of third (and maybe part of fourth) grade.
Mom diagnosed with brain cancer when I’m 13.
Mom dies when I’m 15.
I’m moved halfway across the country, away from all my friends and the life I know, to suburbia, halfway through Junior year of high school.
I take on some really self-destructive coping mechanisms and land myself in some pretty unpleasant circumstances.
I get diagnosed with thyroid cancer right before my 17th birthday.
I fall into a deep depression while working on my Masters in Electrical Engineering because I hate it (and it’s so not what I’m meant to be doing).
I quit grad school, my depression lifts, but my relationship falls apart, and I move back into my parents’ basement.
I move to San Diego for an engineering job, not knowing anyone here. I loathe said engineering job after a few years and fall into a depression again.
Borderline-alcoholism, totaling of cars, binge eating, and other shenanigans along the way.
I start my personal development journey, which, even though it’s so worth it, can be such a bumpy ride sometimes.
Starting a business while in credit card debt and with no financial safety net.

What has been your greatest struggle in life?
I used to have this story that “I’ve been dealt a shitty hand in life.” Looking at the list of challenges above, all of those experiences have made me who I am today. The one that’s had the biggest impact on me, however, was my mother’s death and the two years leading up to it.

I had idolized my mom. She was everything to me. I used to watch her meticulously put herself together every day, from her makeup to her style to how she carried herself. She was an amazing cook (I still have a book of hand-written, off the cuff recipes of hers that I attempt to recreate to celebrate her life). She was gorgeous, poised, deep.

Over the last two years of her life, I watched her spirit deteriorate. The cancer affected the emotional center of her brain, so she would be my brilliant mother one moment and like an irrational child the next. It was hard to be with. I had to switch off between playing the role of daughter and mother to someone I had idolized. I was never told that the cancer was fatal. Even when she went into a coma, I fervently believed that she would wake up and live a full life. And she did wake up, but not for long.

After she was gone, I took on grief as a badge of honor and thought that I was honoring her memory by taking on her suffering. It took 16 years for me to fully get complete and realize that the best way I can honor my mother’s memory is by creating and living my best, happiest life possible. My happiness and success are her true legacy.

Did you ever feel like giving up? When you felt like giving up, what did you do?
Apart from the dark period following my mother’s death, these last 1.5 years of running my own business have not been easy. I’ve had several recurring thoughts of “what the hell am I doing?” or “how the hell am I going to pay my rent this month?” but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. 

What are some of the tools and resources you have used to work through and overcome those struggles? (books, counselors, workshops, programs, coaches, etc.)
When I have those moments of wanting to give up, I lean on my tribe, heavily. (Mine happens to be a tightly knit group of badass boss ladies who won’t listen to me as anything other than my greatest Self. I couldn’t show up small around them even if I tried. Y’all know who you are.) 
I meditate. (Transcendental Meditation seriously saved me from chronic panic attacks.) 
I journal. (Quieting the emotional noise in my head so I can listen to my intuition.) 
I call one of my coaches (shout-out to the amazing Chloe Harlow and Marisa Alejandra). 
Recently, I’ve started tapping (EFT- look it up!) and that’s been tremendously helpful for releasing the stuck energy around my effusive emotions. 
I lean into gratitude. 

After all, I get to do what I love for a living, and the difference I can see on a client’s face when she walks out of the fitting room in something she never would’ve tried but feeling more like herself than she has in years, that’s everything!

What do you want other women to know who are feeling lost, and/or experiencing their own tragedy and/or struggles?
They say “when you’re going through hell, keep going.” That’s honestly the best advice because the worst thing you can do when you’re suffering is stay there and wallow in it. I know because I’ve totally been there. There have been days when I just cried and the greatest accomplishment for the day was getting out of bed or putting on clothes. Allow yourself to be human, just don’t let yourself stay there incessantly. It’s when you allow yourself to feel the depth of your pain, and move through it, with the help of all the tools I mentioned above (or whatever else helps you process), that you know your true power and come out on the other side stronger than you ever imagined yourself to be.

What is some advice you would give to women who are healing?
Give yourself some grace, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes that looks like two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes it looks like no movement at all. But as long as you’re looking ahead, you’re on the right track.

Anything else you'd like to add?
I want to ask you something: what are those things for you? The things that bring you the most joy and have you show up as the greatest version of yourself? Who are the people you lean on when you’re feeling less than your best? What can you do to get yourself back into alignment with who you truly are? 

You can find Anna at: www.annaneimark.com

Anna is offering:
Complimentary 30-minute discovery calls for anyone whose style needs a little revival. If you stand in front of a full closet with nothing to wear every morning or hate how you look in clothes, isn’t it time to do something about that? Let’s take the way you show up in the world to the next level! After all, you have a mark to make on the world. Dress accordingly.

Thank you again, Anna, for sharing your story with us. I deeply appreciate what it took for you to open this way. Keep doing what you're doing, girl. You are a bright light helping women to rise. 


Friday, March 16, 2018

Rising Woman ~ Kristine Surla

I'm thrilled to introduce our next Rising Woman, Kristine Surla. We met during an amazing course that we both participated in called MITT (Mastery in Transformational Training) in Los Angeles in 2015. I have watched her blossom and share so much of her amazingness through the work she's doing that I just had to have her share her story with us.

Who are you & what is your story?
Hi everyone, first I'd like to share my GRATITUDE for Mimi for creating this series for us to share about our journeys to inspire and uplift each other.   

Greetings - I am Kristine Reyes Surla. My journey in life has been one full of challenges and triumphs, lessons in life that have led me to where I am now.

I was born in the Philippines to parents who, although probably loved each other, also led very chaotic and often destructive tendencies towards each other.  It was certainly a life full of passion and excitement, but one fraught with violence and instability. One of my first memories is my father and mother fighting with furniture flying & torn about the house and a lot of rage and violent tendencies in play.  At 6 years old, I witnessed what seemed like 30 armed men with semiautomatic weapons barge into the house that my mom was renting after separating from my dad. They surrounded the house and was looking for my mom. You see, my father was in the government and had access to what seemed like an army of men looking for my mom, and through brute force trying to intimidate her.  It is a memory etched into my brain, one that left me feeling unsafe & unsure of the world I was living in. That same year, my mom left the Philippines and moved to the USA where her mom & grandmother already lived. She took me and my two young brothers to escape from the tyranny and oppression she felt in Manila. From that point onwards, we moved almost every year. I found myself in a different school almost every year and we moved back & forth from Manila to SoCal to Florida like it was nothing.

Upon reaching high school, I then asked my mom to consider staying in the same place so that I could graduate from one high school in order to work towards getting into a good college.  So finally after moving every 1-2 years throughout my life, we settled into Carlsbad, CA. I finished high school in ONE school -HURRAY! And was fortunate to graduate Valedictorian, Editor in Chief, Student Council member and got into every school I applied to which led me to Stanford. At Stanford, I became a Public Service Scholar and much of my life outside the classroom was immersed at the Haas Center for Public Service.  Service Leadership became an important part of my core values and empowering and inspiring youth through education became a passion. I interned for the CA Department of Education through Stanford in Government my Sophomore year, worked as an Upward Bound Coordinator, mentor, & counselor and also interned for GLOBE in Washington D.C. ( Global Learning & Observations to Benefit the Environment) which created international teaching programs and curriculums throughout the world focused on the environment and was an intergovernmental agency under NASA, NOAA, the EPA, the State Department, & Education Department. (It was also a “pet project” of then Vice President Al Gore). I concurrently studied at Stanford in Washington with a full time internship by day, classes at night and as a working student, I found a job working at a local store nearby.  I then interned for a Congresswoman from California (Rep. Lynn Woolsey) during the summer wherein my focus became research re: Parental & Family Leave & Childcare issues. I also was a Fellow and received a grant from Stegner’s Children & Society Curriculum. As a Senior, my Honors Theses in the Science, Technology, & Society Department focused on the “Use of Technology in Education” with a focus on elementary schools while serving as a Public Service Scholar. Life as a student at Stanford was AMAZING! I enjoyed every minute of my time at “the Farm.” But apart from my academic and public service related projects, I also studied abroad in Paris at the ESCP (Ecole Superieur de Commerce a Paris) wherein I applied for & received an independent study project grant which I used to study the “built environment” of Paris by using photography as the medium. I had never really taken a photography class, so I jumped in with a camera and learned by doing primarily as I delved into the how the built environment of Paris affected societal norms.

After graduating with a Masters in Sociology with a focus on Social Stratification and Organizational Behavior from Stanford, I ended up backpacking around Europe and eventually stayed in Paris for much longer than anticipated focusing on art and living the “starving artists” life.  You see I had always been drawn to the creative field, but never truly formally studied it -- I just did it on the side. When student loans from Stanford started to kick in, I moved back to the US and after the holidays moved to New York City with no job yet, but with a firm resolve to start my “career” in New York.  

My life was amazing and dynamic, but also full of unexpected challenges -- you see, after working for a year for PBS in the non-profit world, I eventually ended up working in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center for a prestigious financial firm, which launched my “hands on” learning in the business world.  I was there on 9/11, witnessed & experienced the craziness and am a survivor of 9/11. In that tragedy, I found purpose in the work I was doing in a world that I never really thought I'd join (given my public service and education focused proclivities in school). Yet working for OppenheimerFunds during and after 9/11 instilled within me the knowing that businesses can truly make a difference in the world if and when there is a focus on how one can impact the community and the world in a way that empowers others.(i.e. the spark and connection of my passion for Social Enterprises, businesses that do well by doing good).  I experienced the goodness of the leaders of the organization, but also the triumph of the human spirit in action after such a horrific tragedy. I focused on crisis communications and primarily “ghost” wrote the letters of the CEO to our shareholders, the public and our constituents. I wrote from my heart a message of hope, of strength and of rebuilding.

Fast forward several years and joining the International Team for Oppenheimer to expand the company in both London & Hong Kong, I finally bid adieu and farewell to NYC after rebuilding and being part of a great organization and team of people.  I will always cherish the mentorship and learning I received and gained from my experience with such an upstanding firm led by honorable and good leaders. So I moved to Hong Kong, then Bali for a short stint, then Manila where I focused on volunteer service, teaching at a University focused on Entrepreneurship and dove into research re: healing modalities, social enterprise, and the goal of bringing handcrafted goods from my motherland to share the beauty and craftsmanship of the Philippines with an international focus.  I had my first “Pop Up” in Hong Kong bringing Artisan and Handcrafted goods from the Philippines with a focus on Triple Bottom Line and Fair Trade principles in 2006. But I was too early to market and the concept & principles of Social Entrepreneurship was still not well known. And I found myself explaining and educating what a Social Enterprise was.

During the time I lived in Hong Kong, I met someone in Thailand after attending a Women’s Conference through the Association of Women in Development (AWID).  This friendship slowly developed even further after I moved to the Philippines from Hong Kong. This man eventually proposed to me after a whirlwind 5 months of courtship and I became engaged.  That engagement, in many ways, changed the trajectory of my life and we ended up moving back to the USA and got married in Santa Barbara. Los Angeles became home. Fast forward almost 10 years and that marriage ended in divorce.  

I had lost myself and my path while I was in that marriage. My dreams of making a difference in both my motherland and in this life became living an unfulfilled life wherein I never truly felt loved, supported or seen. I worked for jobs that didn't inspire my spirit and I felt stuck and unfulfilled.

It has been a long journey of coming back to my truth, to my path, to what my soul has longed for and envisioned.  After asking for a divorce and starting to live authentically, regaining my voice and my vision for my life, I was able to finally launch Artisan Made International, a social enterprise that partners and collaborates with other social enterprises and organizations to bring about positive change through conscious fashion and the empowerment of Artisans throughout the world. I launched with my first curated collection of handmade, Artisan Made, hand woven, hand created and beautiful pieces while partnering with several social enterprises from the Philippines: launching Artisan Made Philippines in October 2016.  The launch event was amazing & inspiring, blending conscious high fashion (with an Eco Fashion Show with real “Role Models” on the runway), Speakers Panel with the CoFounder of one of our partner Social Enterprise organizations, Anthill, and the Executive Director of Gawad Kalinga USA on the panel with video messages from the amazing “Forbes 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneur” and phenomenal President of “Rags2Riches”. The evening culminated with a Kamayan Feast introducing Filipino food made by Chef Yana from the New York Times featured Salo Series.  It was a great launch and a beautiful way to share Artisan Made Philippines with Los Angeles.

2. What do you do?
In addition to the above, last year during my birthday in 2017, my passion for photography was reignited and I currently consider myself a “Visual Storyteller” - a photographer who captures magic moments and people's magic through my lens.  It has been a beautiful journey of discovering and embracing this gift of sight and visual storytelling which in many ways has always been a passion of mine, but never truly formally studied. I am a self taught photographer and it truly has been a beautiful and inspiring journey of discovery.  I currently have 3 Photography Series’ that I'm creating:

Role Models {real everyday heroes}” - which features everyday Role Models and heroes doing wonderful things for the community. The website is: “rolemodels.gallery”

“Goddesses & Heroes” - which focuses on divine feminine & divine Masculine and the interplay of both through a series of photoshoots -- the most recent photoshoot focused on Divine Feminine Rising - Goddesses Shining Bright (January 2018 - @DivineFeminineRising888 on Instagram)

The next one coming up is called Goddesses ONE with Nature (March 2018) and it will serve as a template for the beginning of a new focus on creating Goddess Retreats & Workshops.

“Age Is Just A Number” - #AgeIsJustANumberSeries - which focuses on featuring individuals living their best life at any age. On Instagram @KsurlaPhoto #AgeIsJustANumberSeries

In addition to the above Series’, I also work with clients from product, lifestyle, fashion, editorial and my favorite Portrait shoots where I get to work closely with individuals to bring out their true essence as people.  

I'm also developing a series of workshops and Retreats under a new brand called: “Divine Feminine Rising” 888 which will encompass several modalities in empowering women to truly embrace the Goddess within. This has come about through the realization that I am Being called forth to lead, teach, inspire and empower others in this journey & to raise the consciousness of our planet through love.

In addition to Visual Storytelling, as I had mentioned before, I am the Creative Director and Founder of Artisan Made International which I launched with a first Capsule Collection under the moniker: Artisan Made Philippines at the end of 2016.  Instagram: @ArtisanMadePH

Artisan Made collaborates with Social Enterprises to create and curate a capsule collection of the best social enterprise products from the Philippines.  Through events, pop ups, online, and Mindful Retreats & Journeys (coming soon) Artisan Made International aims to uplift & connect the work of hands and hearts to a broader international audience with a focus on Triple Bottom Line principles.

Currently I am also serving as a Senior/Coach to a committed group of leaders in a 4 month Leadership Training Program through MITT (Mastery in Transformational Training) here in Los Angeles which focuses on leaders creating leaders that will affect positive change in the world by living authentically and on purpose. Staffing started in Mid November 2017 with Basic 149, then December with Advanced 149, and now The Legacy/Leadership Program #LP149 continues until April 22nd.

But apart from all of the above, I am also a full time mom to a beautiful little boy who has become the greatest teacher in my life.  Becoming a mother has been both the most rewarding and also most challenging journey that I have undertaken. I feel so thankful and blessed that Drake Kross chose me to be his mom in this lifetime. Motherhood is a life changer and one which I am so grateful to experience.  It hasn't been an easy road to be a single mom, but I am blessed with such an amazing little soul as my son.

What have you overcome to get where you are today?
(see above) And apart from what I've already shared, I think a big part of what I've overcome is the feeling of not believing in myself and my worth as a woman, as a leader, as an innovator.  Today I stand tall and proud of all I've accomplished in my life and I continue this journey of discovery re: the gifts I am blessed to share with others in this world.

Did you ever feel like giving up? When you felt like giving up, what did you do?
There were many moments where I cried with tears of pain, distraught, confused as to the path I was to take, but in each instance I found the opportunity to grow and to become a stronger and even better version of myself.  Each tragedy has led to a realization of my inner strength and resolve, my resiliency and my heart leading the way out of the darkness.

What are some of the tools and resources you have used to work through and overcome those struggles? (books, counselors, workshops, programs, coaches, etc.)
In addition to a wonderful foundation of education and inspiration that I found through Stanford, I also studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) and did postgraduate work at NYU for Strategic Marketing and Communications to add to my tool belt. But most recently (i.e. 2 years ago) I took the Basic, Advanced & Leadership Course at MITT (Mastery in Transformational Training) which led me to rediscover my voice, get clear on my vision, stand in my power, and transform my life to what it has become today.  The community, friendships formed and the tribe of like minded soul brothers and sisters whom I've met through this program have been instrumental in the trajectory that I've taken for my life over the past 2 years.

What are your gifts and how did you discover them?
(once again, see first question where I go into detail re: my life experiences) But to answer succinctly, I believe my gifts in this world are to teach, inspire, empower, develop, create, and be a catalyst for true transformation and raising the vibrational consciousness of our planet through all that I do, lead & create with LOVE.

Who/What keeps you uplifted and on your path?
The inner knowing and guidance from God, the Universe, a higher power and consciousness that continually leads my path in this lifetime.

Tell us about your tribe and the importance of having one.
My tribe consists of Warriors of Light and Love - soul brothers and sisters devoted to living the best life we can possibly live and inspire others to truly make a difference and share the gifts we each have in this world through love, community, and friendship.

What do you want other women to know who are feeling lost, and/or experiencing their own tragedy and/or struggles?
To be Courageous
To live from your heart space
To know that everything that happens in our lives is an opportunity for growth, for development, for each of us to find strength within.

What is some advice you would give to women who are healing?
Take your time. Enjoy the journey. Learn the lessons the pain has brought and take heart that this too shall pass. You are brave. You are strong. You are LOVE. So much love & gratitude for the opportunity to share a little bit about my life lessons. ❤️

You can find Kristine at one of her outlets here:
KristineSurla.com (currently being revamped)

DivineFeminineRising.org (to be launched May 2018)

Kristine, I am amazed at all of things you have done and are doing to continue to rise the women of the world. Thank you for being part of this cause and for sharing your story here. 


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