Tell me a little bit about you, your family, and where your story all began.
When I was 17 years old, I met a man who promised me the world and drew me in with his charm and charisma. It was shortly after we started dating that I learned of his drug use. I was so naive and didn't understand the gravity of it until much later. He went into a couple of different rehabs before we were even married but I always had the thoughts that he will get better and this is the last time for sure. It was after we were married that I learned the darkness of addiction and it is not so easily overcome. We were married for three years and he struggled with his addiction the entire time. I finally was at my wits end when I learned I was pregnant with my daughter and found out he had relapsed at the same time. Because we were now going to have a child together, I decided to give him another shot which turned out to be for not. We decided to get divorced when I was still 5 months pregnant. It was after deciding to get divorced that I really found myself and learned to truly love myself. I tried my hand at dating after my daughter was several months old, but never could find what I was looking for until I met Stephen. Stephen and I had grown up together and I had known him since I was 5 years old. Being with him felt like "being home" and I knew instantly that he was someone I could always trust. He truly wanted to be a great husband and father to my little girl Olive. We were married on November 24th, 2015, and are happily starting our life in Iowa as he attends law school.
When did you get the courage to speak up and finally seek help?
I started to develop courage when I learned that I was having a daughter. I wanted the best life for her and did not want her to be treated the same way I had. It took becoming a mother for me to realize the importance of not only having stable relationships but also having a relationship with yourself.
What do you feel was your darkest moment within your trial? What helped pull you through?
My darkness moment was shortly after I was married. My husband was in the midst of using. He would disappear for hours with no explanation or would come home with lies of where he had been or what he had been doing. I would be left alone for hours wondering where he was. I tried to confront him on his using but he would never acknowledge it and would turn it around on me saying I wanted to believe he was using. I knew in my heart I was right but I felt so trapped and had no idea where to go or what to do. I found journal writing and Al-Anon meetings to be helpful but I also decided to put everything I had to the Lord. I literally felt Him carry me through the darkness at times. When I would be home alone, scared and worrying, I would pour my heart out to Him or search through the scriptures or inspirational talks, or anything to provide me with comfort. He truly did not leave me comfortless during that time.
How did being pregnant with your daughter affect your situation (Positively, or negatively)?
I truly believe having my daughter when I did, was no accident. Being pregnant helped to save me. It helped me to get out of a bad situation not only for me, but for her. It gave me the push and motivation I needed to become a healthy person. I knew I was going to be a single mom and would be raising her alone and I wanted to be my best self when she was born. I wanted to be able to give her all of me and not still be trying to heal when she came. Being pregnant helped me to become healthy spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.
Explain the difficulty you went through of opening your heart and trusting someone again, when you met Stephen. [Kari’s current husband.]
It was extremely difficult to open my heart again. I didn't want to be hurt like I had been. I was so afraid to trust. I had tried to be in a couple of failed relationships where the trust wasn't there. But with Stephen it was easy right from the very start. He made it easy to let my guard down and let myself love like I have never loved before. I never questioned him or his intentions.
What advice would you give to women who may be facing a similar situation? What about women who are dating?
My advice would be to come to love yourself. When you love yourself, you respect yourself and therefore would not allow yourself to be in positions that are harmful to you. If you are in a hurtful position, take a look at it and be honest with yourself; if it's what's best for you. Although we may love someone, ultimately we may lose ourselves if we are not true to ourselves. The same advice goes for dating. You cannot truly give yourself to another person if you don't know or love yourself first. They say two halves make a whole, but I disagree. You cannot be half of a person to have a successful relationship. You need two whole people to make an even greater whole. My marriage is so joyous today because I became a whole person and married someone who was the same. When you love yourself, you don't feel the need to find someone else to fill a void. You learn to be comfortable with being you. Be patient with dating and don't settle for anything less than you deserve. Be able to open up and find someone who will truly love for all of your past, present and future.
Would you have done anything differently if you were to step back in time?
I truly would never take back the things I have gone through. They have made me who I am. I look at things differently. I found myself through the hard times. It has given me the strength and courage to know that I can do hard things. It has given me perspective and has helped to not "sweat the small stuff."
What would you say is the key to a successful and happy marriage?
Respect and vulnerability. When you respect your spouse it covers all the important keys. Having enough respect to communicate, to be honest, to be kind and giving. Also when you are vulnerable it allows you to fully love and let yourself be loved.
How has this experience shaped you into the woman and mother you are today? How has it made you stronger?
When I was a single mom, I knew I had to be strong for both my daughter and I. I knew it would not be easy and there would be times I would feel the weight of it. But having perspective and knowing that I had made it through some really dark and trying times gave me strength and gave me the encouragement to keep going. I knew also I had to be both “mom” and “dad”. Having to raise and nurture and provide for my daughter also helped me to become stronger.
Also, when we are honest and vulnerable with ourselves it allows us to get on the right course and make any changes in our life to do so. It gives us the opportunity to grow and become stronger.
What does "being vulnerable" mean to you, and why do you think it's important for women to let go of perfection, and be willing to be vulnerable?
We need to let go of the picture of what is supposed to be. When I finally did that, I found happiness. Being a single mom can sometimes be looked down upon, and I was afraid of that. But when I finally came to be okay with where I was at and actually found peace in it, I was so much happier. I stopped caring what people thought. I decided what opinions were important to me.
It is also important to find gratitude in your situation and to love yourself from the inside out; extra pounds and all, or whatever it may be. And once we start to see the good in ourselves we start recognizing it in others, instead of always comparing.
It is hard to live in a world where you feel like there is constant comparison. None of us will ever be perfect. We need to learn to stop holding ourselves to other people's idea of it. When we finally allow ourselves to be vulnerable and content in that we don't have it "all together" sometimes, it gives us power over the comparisons. When we stop caring what people think, it can no longer control us.
Interviewed April 5, 2015 | Final draft reviewed and confirmed by Kari Welling prior to release
Kari is a wonderful writer, and if you are interested in reading her full story in more depth, visit her blog here