‘A sleeveless shirt would ‘bring too much attention.’ Everything I did was a ‘sin.’ There was no escaping it.’: Woman overcomes ‘unique’ childhood, trauma to find self-love

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“I was raised in a very sheltered church environment In South Florida. ‘Fundamental Baptist’ is the correct term but in my opinion, cult is more fitting of a word to describe it. Britney Spears came from the devil, thong underwear was a sin, dancing or wearing a shirt with no sleeves would bring entirely too much attention to myself. God forbid if I put on glitter eyeshadow or wore a skirt that came slightly above the knee. Preachers called my house on Sunday if my family didn’t make it to church and the ultimate goal for young women, like myself, was to one day become a missionary or preachers’ wife.

Public schools were called ‘secular’ and any music that wasn’t gospel was a sin. Holding hands with a boy was completely out of line and if I was seen doing that then everyone in the congregation automatically assumed there was more going on behind closed doors. I didn’t own a pair of jeans until 9th grade and ‘culottes’ is what I wore in replacement of shorts. Just google them, they are the most hideous unflattering piece of clothing on earth. Anything besides a one-piece bathing suit at the pool or beach was completely unacceptable.

Pretty much anything and everything I did or thought about was classified as a ‘sin’ and if anyone witnessed anyone sinning you can bet your bottom dollar it was getting gossiped about in the church. I remember being so hard on myself and constantly saying little prayers throughout my day for God to forgive me. I always felt like I was doing something wrong. I went to my church’s Christian school, which consisted of a total of 100 students ranging from kindergarten to seniors. I had the Bible shoved down my throat Monday to Friday, Wednesday night youth group, and Sunday service every morning and night. My mom worked at the church and my dad was a leader in the bus ministry. My parents were involved in every church event and activity, there was no escaping it. My family was drowning in the holy blood of the lamb.

Courtesy of Brittany Stewart

This was my life for so long. I despised it at times but then again didn’t know any other world besides it. As a grown woman I appreciate the moral character and love for God it taught me, but it was like living a completely different world for half of my life. In 2004, everything changed. My parents made the very hard decision to ‘leave the church’ and two years after we left, they decided we needed a fresh start, so we moved to Georgia.

I walked into Newnan High School my junior year excited but absolutely terrified. I hadn’t gone to a public school since first grade and I didn’t know a single soul. This transition turned my world upside down and I was forced to grow up faster than I expected to. A part of me missed my old life because everything around me was new and completely out of my comfort zone. It was this point where I met a boy, we’ll call him Sam.

He was classified as a ‘bad boy.’ He constantly skipped school, eventually became a high school dropout, stole from everyone including me, was a habitual liar, was verbally abusive, and cheated on me more times than I can count.  I fell hard for his manipulations and I was convinced he was ‘the one’ for me. I had never had a real boyfriend before and never felt the feelings he made me feel. I eventually lost my virginity, which was a huge deal considering I had always said I would wait till marriage.

I began lying to my parents, saying I was spending the night with a girlfriend but really would go stay the night with him. Sam was a gypsy who never stayed at the same place.  He refused to obey his authority so he would just crash at whoever would take him in for the night. I knew he was bad, and I tried to breakup with him so many times, but I felt stimulated by his rebellious attitude. Afterall he was the complete opposite of everything I had known. It was an unpredictable roller coaster ride that I rode for 6 years.

Courtesy of Brittany Stewart

As our relationship prolonged, I found myself gaining a lot of extra weight in college. When I turned 20 I had gained the freshmen 15 plus the sophomore 35. I was 50 pounds overweight and legitimately was convinced that no one else would want me besides Sam. I truly thought I wasn’t worthy enouch to have anyone else because of my size. I remember telling myself these very words.

Courtesy of Brittany Stewart
Courtesy of Brittany Stewart
Courtesy of Brittany Stewart

Shortly after turning 21, I joined my first MLM (multi-level marketing) business. I can’t even describe how scared I was to put myself out there. I conducted in home parties for women where I educated them on their sexual health while making them laugh their ass off. Looking back, I find it ironic I chose to sell sex toys given my background, but I felt passionate about helping women. I myself was curious to learn more about sex and I spent any spare time educating myself on it. This same year I attended my first motivational conference, and everything started to shift for me. This particular conference lit a fire under me that I had never felt before. Suddenly I was setting goals, reading personal development, and believing I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. I also began losing weight and building my self-confidence up.

About a year into this awakening, I peed on a stick. Yep, I was pregnant with Sam’s child. Here I was, 21, still living with my parents, pregnant by a guy who didn’t have a job or a home. I was devastated and extremely disappointed in myself at first, but as the weeks went on, I started wrapping my head around what was coming and began to get excited to become a mom. Right when I was ok with the idea, I had a miscarriage at 8 weeks and the best word I can describe myself after that whole ordeal was empty.

I then decided I would deal with my pain by keeping myself busy. I had a plan to set myself up financially to be able to care for a child the way I wanted to. Sam was lazy as could be and couldn’t hold a job to save his life so I decided it would be a great idea to work 10x harder to compensate his lack of ambition to build a life together. I convinced myself to do whatever I had to do to create a home and life with this man, after all that’s what you do when you love someone, right? Boy, was I wrong.

Courtesy of Brittany Stewart

I came home from my second motivational conference and caught Sam talking to another woman I had already previously caught him talking to. After he promised me he would never talk to her again and I believed him. I was so uplifted from the conference I had just attended that I finally found the inner strength and courage to end things with him for good. I cussed him out and never looked back. My only regret is I wish I did it sooner. I wish I would have listened to my parents, more importantly my gut and left him before he could tear me down as much as he did. It took me years to recover from all the emotional stress I laid on myself by being with him for so long.

I continued to hustle my face off at my day job and side hustle, except now I wasn’t doing it for a boy I was doing it for myself. I built a team, I was booking parties every weekend, and became obsessed with crushing any goal I set out to do. In this process I focused on books to help me strengthen my skills in leadership and time management. ‘How To Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie’ along with ‘Eat That Frog, by Brian Tracy’ literally changed my life. I became obsessed with MLM because it was helping me excel in all areas of my life. I was able to save money and buy things the people around me at my age weren’t able to. My side hustle propelled me forward in life and becoming successful from it became an addiction for me. I felt like the world was at my feet and I was unstoppable.

I finally got to a place where I was ready to start dating again. I met a nice guy, we’ll call him Alex, who was literally the complete opposite of Sam. It didn’t take long before I was in his bed, having unprotected sex. Within 3 months of seeing each other, I got pregnant. Again, I was disappointed in myself. Afterall, I should have learned my lesson from the last time this happened but for some reason in my young, dumb head I thought I was untouchable.

Courtesy of Brittany Stewart

At this time, I was 23 and had plenty of savings to be able to support a child. I was scared but overall, I knew I could do it. I bought my first home and Alex sold his so we could live together and create a comfortable family environment for our daughter Ryleigh. Our relationship eventually turned into a friendship and shortly after Ryleigh was born, we mutually decided that it would be best if we co-parented.  I was devastated that I couldn’t keep my family together, but I also knew that I couldn’t settle for anything less than what I deserved. I had been in such a toxic relationship before all of this and I couldn’t go down this road of being unhappy or unsatisfied in my romantic relationship with my partner.

Courtesy of Brittany Stewart

So, here I was 24, a single mom, working two jobs, and going out to the bars any chance I could to fulfill the loneliness and attention I was craving from a partner I didn’t have. I may have been making good money, but I was beyond lost inside. I wanted so desperately to find my person, find the man who would love me the way I deserved.  That’s when a girlfriend set me up on a blind date with My Larry. Yes, that’s his real name.

Courtesy of Brittany Stewart

After our first kiss, we were pretty much inseparable. We waited several months to have sex because I didn’t want our sexual relationship to cloud my judgement. I knew I really liked him, was extremely attracted to him, and was hopeful I had met my match. I didn’t want to screw anything up by moving too fast this time around. The book ‘Why Men Love Btches, Sherry Argov’ helped me tremendously during this time. It reminded me not to be as vulnerable as I allowed myself in past relationships. It gave me permission to make decisions based on what I wanted and not what I thought was expected of me. As our relationship progressed, I stopped going out, stopped socially drinking to get drunk, and took a step back from booking parties. I was burned out and wasn’t being the mom, I knew I could be for my daughter.

After 6 years of hustling a side business, I decided to walk away from it all and solely focus on my full-time job, my daughter, and creating a life with Larry. We moved in together and not long after decided we’d elope to Hawaii. I was so happy and content with my life in that moment. In 2016, we got pregnant with our son Mackson. Shortly after he was born, I got an itch to start a different side hustle. Little did I know, this second MLM would rock me to my core and change my life forever. It had been a year and half since I had left my last MLM and I missed the stimulation of it all. I missed being excited and passionate about something, I missed the extra income and incentives that came along with it. I stumbled upon an opportunity to put myself out there on Facebook live and sell hair care products.

Courtesy of Brittany Stewart
Courtesy of Brittany Stewart
Courtesy of Brittany Stewart
Courtesy of Brittany Stewart

I had been on Facebook for years and always chose to show up as my true self, not really caring what people thought of me. I mean after slinging dildos for 6 years, it required a lot to embarrass me at that point. I was shown how to go about ‘attraction marketing’ and the coolest part is I could build this business all from my hand-held device. No booking parties or carrying inventory. Sounds simple enough, right?… Wrong!

From the very beginning it was straight hustle mode. Creating content, following up with leads, learning how to become a master at closing a sale, listening to intense personal development that pushed the ‘do more, be more’ mentality, weekly brainstorm sessions on how I could attract more attention to myself, and figuring out what subject I could talk about that would ruffle people’s feathers. I received daily messages from leaders pushing and pressuring me to get one more customer or teammate under my belt before the end of the week or month. In the beginning it was thrilling, exciting, and challenging. It felt like a game and I wanted to see how fast I could make it to the finish line.

I quickly climbed the ranks, built a large team, became a leader, coached others on how to go about attraction marketing, and within a year earned multiple free vacations, earned a paid-for luxury vehicle, and was making a second full-time income for myself. The first year I put my blinders on and freaking ran. I listened to everything my upline told me to do and didn’t think twice about how this kind of hustle lifestyle would affect my mental health, and the people I care the most about. I vividly remember asking my upline leader, ‘How can I work this business by not being on my phone as much?’ I feel like I’m always telling my kids to hold one, zoning out my husband, or being completely consumed in closing a sale or conducting a coaching call. The answer was ‘there’s no such thing as balance’ or ‘average is for losers.’

Courtesy of Brittany Stewart
Courtesy of Brittany Stewart
Courtesy of Brittany Stewart

In no way shape or form was I being present in any category of my life. I was constantly being distracted by the frequent notifications and the pressure from others to show up daily and share my life on social. I felt like a chicken with my head cut off most days, doing everything possible to keep my head above water. Weekly emotional breakdowns and working 15+ hours a day became my norm.

By age 28, about a year and half into my side hustle, I was at a place where I was suffering from extreme anxiety which lead to days of depression. I remember waking up many mornings terrified to take on the day, feeling like the weight of the world was laying on my chest. I remember feeling so tired and defeated but still forcing myself to work the sale that was going on or pushing my team mates to accomplish the goal they set for themselves that month. Any amount of energy I had at that time went to my business and my full-time position at work, kids, and husband got the leftovers, which wasn’t very much. I was losing myself in the process of success and I could feel every second of it happening. I could feel myself losing grip on everything that was once important to me. I felt like I was drowning in self-doubt, comparing myself to others, and pressure to be better than I was.

I knew in my heart and mostly in my gut that this was not the path God wanted me to be on. Since leaving my hometown and moving to Georgia I basically took God out of the equation. I didn’t lean on Him throughout any of the trials and tribulations I had experienced over the last couple of years. I didn’t confide in Him about my mental health issues I was dealing with and I certainly didn’t seek His approval. I eventually came to a place where I knew I couldn’t battle what was going on in my head alone. I needed His direction, guidance, and love. I needed to be able to hear Him again.

I started attending church again and made sure it was nothing like the one I grew up in. I began praying again and reading His word. I prayed for Him to help me navigate through my business and help me create some sort of balance for myself and my family. My first step was separating myself from my upline and going about working my business the way that felt right to me. I started to feel better and finally felt like I was converting back to my original roots, being proud of the woman I’d become and not trying so hard to change myself.

Courtesy of Brittany Stewart

In March of 2019, I chose to be more open on my social accounts on how CBD had been helping me with my anxiety and depression. It worked so well that my husband decided to start selling it on his Facebook. At this time, I never mentioned the name of his company and I never tried to sell it to anyone. I simply was sharing my story in hopes that would help others.

Unfortunately, after sharing, I was reported for ‘cross-selling’ and ‘cross-recruiting’ and was permanently and abruptly terminated by the company. I was denied my earned commissions from February and lost nearly 2K people who were under me. A blow to the heart and soul is an understatement for the emotions that rushed through my veins when I heard the news. I felt like a death had occurred, I felt heartbroken that someone would go so far out of their way to take me down and manipulate my intentions. Can you imagine losing everything you’d worked so hard to achieve? Can you imagine losing it over something you didn’t even do? I felt betrayed, heartbroken, and utterly lost. It wasn’t until I lost this business that I truly realized how much of my identity I had placed in it. In a matter of two years, I had completely lost what made me, me.

Courtesy of Brittany Stewart

MLM woke me up when I needed it the most. In the beginning of my 9-year journey it helped me discover my inner strength and shifted my mindset into believing I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. For that I’ll be forever grateful. In the end, it taught me that no amount of money or success is worth losing yourself over. Never again will I force myself to be someone I’m not nor will I ignore my gut when it’s telling me to walk away from something that’s doing more internal harm than good.

I know my story is long, with a lot of curves. It’s necessary that I share all the bumps in the road, so I can help someone out there understand that everything you need in life to feel happy and fulfilled is already inside of you. There’s no need to force things that don’t feel right. Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything.  Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you so you can become who you were meant to be in the first place. There’s no need to seek fulfillment by being in a relationship, having a baby, building a successful business, losing 50 pounds, or bringing attention to yourself on social media. If you want to do any of those things, do it for yourself and not for anyone else. God makes no mistakes putting any of us on certain paths that are necessary for growing into the best version of ourselves. He also closes doors for a reason.

Courtesy of Brittany Stewart
Courtesy of Brittany Stewart

I have a strong desire to help others, so I continue to share my journey and motivate others on social despite the fact that I’m not selling anything or trying to build a business online. For once, I feel completely in alignment with embracing who I am, where I’m from, and where I’m going. My top priority in life is to be present for my loved ones, continue to grow my dad’s family-owned business to new heights, trust Gods will, and do whatever it is that makes me happy. I hope my story inspires you to do the same.”

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Courtesy of Brittany Stewart

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Brittany Stewart of Newman, Georgia. You can follow her journey on Facebook and Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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