The new book, Trials and Tribulations opens with a quote from Brené Brown, “When we deny our stories, they define us, when we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending.” This is exactly what author Atiyah Nichols has done. Her memoir details how after years of remaining silent about her childhood sexual abuse, she bravely shared her story and almost immediately felt the shame around it leave.
On Author Hour today, she discusses the experience of becoming again the boisterous girl she’d been before, the process of finding new strength, and how she eventually found her brave new ending, success in marriage, parenthood, and a business that allows her to care for others.
Jane Stogdill: Hi Author Hour listeners. I’m here today with Atiyah Nichols, author of Trials and Tribulations. Atiyah, thank you so much for being with us today.
Atiyah Nichols: Thank you for inviting me, thank you.
Jane Stogdill: This is a very powerful and moving story you’ve told of your background and I’m wondering if we can start with the metaphor you use about the foundational bedrock of your faith. You write about deciding to tell the story after sinking into extreme grief but then hitting that bedrock of faith that your mother built for you. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Atiyah Nichols: Of course. Just coming from where I come from, I noticed that the things in my life had started to get better for me and I realized the faith in God that our family had and that my mother showed me by her way of living.
Then a transition happened for me where I noticed that the favor of God was on my life because of the things that happened to me as a child. I knew it just wasn’t luck, I knew it wasn’t by coincidence, and I knew that somewhere in that mess, God had to be present. When I started paying attention to that, He started connecting with me on another level.
Sharing Her Story
Jane Stogdill: What made you decide to tell the story?
Atiyah Nichols: Well, growing up, I held it a secret for so long, I could feel the shame over me in certain people’s presence, and thinking that it was my fault–the certain things that happened to me along the way. When I started to release my story to certain friends, talking to co-workers and they would be going through difficulties too, I found that there was more of a Me Too Movement than I knew about, outside of being raped or outside of being abused, there were so many different Me Too Movements going on around me.
I thought to myself, “Wow, there are so many more women like me and how could I share my story to let the ones that are going through it and living in shame, know that it’s okay to release it because it’s therapeutic?”
Jane Stogdill: Would you like to start telling us a little bit of the story? Maybe starting with your early days growing up in Chicago?
Atiyah Nichols: Growing up in Chicago, it was so different from Milwaukee. Chicago was the place to be, Chicago had beautiful buildings, Chicago had a lot of talent. But where I was in Chicago, there were a lot of different gangs. My brothers that were surrounding me, were older than me, and I’m the youngest of 12.
I have seven brothers and four sisters–three sisters living. My three younger brothers, all share the same father. It was really rough, the gang members would try and make my brothers get into the gang, they would jump on them, threaten them, and follow us home. Not to mention my mother was a single mom right before we moved to Milwaukee.
She started dating and that brought the abuse into my life at that moment of transitioning from being married to my father, leaving him, and meeting this new guy that we all adored at one point but he just wasn’t the guy that we thought he was.
Jane Stogdill: Your mother didn’t know? I mean, no one knew?
Atiyah Nichols: Right, no one knew. You give people the benefit of the doubt and my mom was always the type of person to help other people. Initially, it was more of a friend and helping him, it’s one of the levels in his life, even introducing him to God as well to a certain extent, allowing him a place to stay, and then it became a relationship.
Jane Stogdill: Then after he took advantage of you, he was out of your life for a while.
Atiyah Nichols: Yes.
A New Beginning
Jane Stogdill: Then he came back.
Atiyah Nichols: This all happened before we moved to Milwaukee. I was seven years old. He took a lot from me at that moment because I knew who I was before it happened, I was way more open, I was way happier, what he took from me, he made me this shy person where I didn’t want to be boyish.
When we moved to Milwaukee, I was excited, it was like a new beginning for us, and I didn’t have to see him, my mother ended up leaving him back in Chicago because of some other things that he was doing that she didn’t agree with, and they had a disagreement that caused her to leave him.
When we got to Milwaukee, it was like a new beginning. I had a new room of my own, it was just a new beginning for me but then one day, I come home from school a few months later and he was sitting on the couch in the living room and that was devastating.
Jane Stogdill: I want to thank you so much for sharing your story and I’m so sorry that you’ve experienced this. It’s really incredible, the work you’ve done to overcome it, and you write about shame and the power of shame. Is that why you think you felt less boisterous as you put it?
Atiyah Nichols: Yes, because the moment that shame was brought into my life, I could feel it. I could just feel it all over me. I’ve always been a people person but even throughout my middle school years and my teenage years, going up into high school, I could still feel the difference in me from some of the other girls. For example, in my relationships, having to hold back affection to a certain extent. I wasn’t that affectionate.
I had to learn it and have patience for myself to move into that realm of love with my significant other. I had to find it for myself another way.
Jane Stogdill: You did eventually tell someone about what was happening to you or had happened. At this point, was he gone again? Who did you tell?
Atiyah Nichols: It was my brother. When I first moved to Milwaukee, of course, I had my best friend that I talked to and I told her, and it was a secret between us. Sometimes what makes young girls best friends are those secrets. I told her not to tell anyone so when I went to Chicago one summer, I was about 11 years old, turning 12 that summer.
My brother, who is a preacher now, we were on our way to a church conference and he just asked me the question. We were in a Dunkin Donuts parking lot and before we went in, he stopped and looked at me and he asked me the question. I didn’t know I was that vulnerable. All this time I had been holding it from the age of seven, all the way until 11 going on 12, not wanting to tell anyone and then he just asked the question.
He made sure the room was clear. He made sure nobody else was there, he made sure it was intimate between me and him, that I was comfortable enough to say, “Yes, someone did do that to me.” At that moment, my life changed.
Release Brings a Shift
Jane Stogdill: Tell me why?
Atiyah Nichols: It changed because I was able to release it, I was able to release it to someone who cared enough for me to take it to my mother. Her response let me know that I was okay, let me know that all the thoughts in my head for these years that it wasn’t my fault, that there was nothing that I did to cause this and that I would be okay.
Her approach to me was loving and so nurturing and she asked for forgiveness and let me know that this wasn’t supposed to happen to me and that I was okay. But releasing it, and being able to release it just brought me this shift in my life, and clearly, I know who I am.
Jane Stogdill: How do you think your brother knew?
Atiyah Nichols: I believe that he sensed that change in me, something I was just too shy about or bashful. Then also, we were really close. He would sit and teach me for hours about the Bible and practice preaching with me as his congregation.
Coming up as a young girl and watching him, he watched me at that moment, if there was any shift that had happened in my life that coming back and forth just for the summer, he would know. He also wanted to go into that conversation with me to let me know to value myself and value my body on another level.
Then, we got stuck there with that conversation, you know? He was letting me know that that shouldn’t happen, it’s not okay, making sure I was okay, and at that moment he let me know that it was safe with him, and he’ll take care of it.
Jane Stogdill: You’ve spoken to this a little bit already about what it felt like to have this shame removed. Is this where you spoke your story and the shame just disappeared?
Atiyah Nichols: To a certain extent, thinking it was my fault or the story itself is slightly embarrassing still for me. Because I didn’t ask for it. My mom didn’t ask for it to come into our lives the way that it did, the extent of it, but as the shame lifted off me, I knew that it lifted because at that moment, knowing your worth was crucial as a young girl, as a 12-year-old teenager, seventh grade, finding yourself, starting to figure out who you are before high school is very important.
At that moment, being told that it’s not your fault, hearing it from the people that matter most meant so much to me that I knew I would do better and become better at that moment. I could feel it.
Jane Stogdill: Boy, have you.
Atiyah Nichols: Thank you.
Jane Stogdill: You tell your mother and your mother exacts some punishment and revenge and then he’s gone from your life for good. How did it feel to move through the world after processing what had happened and with your family?
Atiyah Nichols: Well, it was hard to talk about right after as open as I am now. With my friends, I was okay with telling my friends about my story after immediately. I was always a people person, I have friends everywhere at school, in the neighborhood, I was not picky when it came to friends. I didn’t care what color you were, what size you were, how bad your situation was, I had friends all over the place.
Sometimes, some people would envy you for just that, being able to be friendly and invite people into your world. But a lot of friends knew my story before I even wrote my book because, in our personal time, we would get personal and tell each other things that makes us closer. I would share that with them because I had to let them know that’s where I come from and it’s important for you to know where I come from because you’ll understand more of who I am today.
I just knew it’s important for me to share that sometimes, and sometimes it wasn’t anybody’s business. But at the end of the day, I needed to share it with other young girls that might have been through the things that I have been through and let them know that, “Oh, release it, release it, release it,” and know that there’s glory on the other side.
Empathy = Healing
Jane Stogdill: Wow and when you’ve talked to people, you’ve written that sometimes they feel embolden to share their stories too.
Atiyah Nichols: Yes, that was overwhelming. It became overwhelming because I didn’t have the tools after sharing it with me but at that moment, I realized, “Wow, this is very, very sad.” I realized it’s very, very sad because you’re thinking you’re sharing something and then someone has a story either almost as dear as yours and as deep, you know? It’s just deep and it’s a Me Too Movement happening that people don’t even know about.
People don’t even know about it because sometimes their story, they don’t want to mess up their families or bring something to light that they just felt like they should have done when they were younger. But I’m just here to tell you, no matter how old you are, releasing your shame as yours and for your younger self, it is never too late to release your story, and let that shine and move on because when your shine is released, empathy is there.
That’s what helps you heal, that empathy from the other person telling you, “I hear you, I hear you, and I see you.” That’s important to me and that’s why I wanted to share with other women and other young girls.
Jane Stogdill: Thank you for that message. Your story certainly doesn’t end after we have discussed it. So far you went on to have a child and get your own place. You later got married, you’ve led a very full life.
Throughout it all, your mother has been at the center of the story and I understand she’s passed. I’m sorry for your loss. This book is as much about her as it is about you, and I’m hoping you’ll tell us a little bit about her. You write that you admired her boldness. Can you tell us more about that?
Atiyah Nichols: Yes. That lady, my mother, Patty, the boldness that she had you cannot pay for. You cannot buy it. It has to be within you, the tenacity that she had, the creativity that she had, she could do anything. As I say in my book, I’m not saying it arrogantly, but she could do anything from sewing to building to praying to stepping into these other messes boldly, not just for her children, but for other people’s children in our neighborhood.
She had put her life on the line multiple times for other people’s children where she said, “Your mother can’t come around. Here, I’ll show up for you. If your mother is not going to take you back to school, I’ll take you back to school after your suspension.” Her boldness just to become this great mother for everyone is awesome and I’m studying that now.
There were so many times that I felt shame for myself and I am just going, to be honest with you, I was shameful of her story in the midst of knowing what she had to go through because I knew that the community and the world would crucify you and talk about you and mistreat you when they know these things. Me writing this book is even releasing it for her and releasing it from that standpoint.
I happen to grow up knowing that and still operate under it as if it was nothing when it was something. It was huge, it was like the big elephant in the room for our family because my mother lost days on this earth because of that. She would still be here, it’s not what took her life, but it’s what caused complications, and I’m here to encourage people to slow down.
Slow down and take their time as I have myself because as much as I wanted to be like her, you have to have courage when someone is mistreating you. If you’re in a relationship and someone is mistreating you, you have to have the courage to move on and know, “Hey, I’m not to be treated like this. I loved you, you know, and you give me a different person in the beginning and now, I have to leave you.”
That’s who my mom was in those relationships, and I love to gloat about that about her. She used to love them and leave them. That’s how I explain it to people and I admire her for that because it let me know her worth even though she ran into this guy. It still let me know that she knew her worth because she refused to be mistreated and she refused to be cheated on and abused.
She didn’t allow us to see any of it. I never saw it and that’s just how she operated but also, I admire her for her tenacity and her boldness. I’m still practicing that now, to be bold like her.
Find Out Who You Are
Jane Stogdill: You have been particularly with your business. Can you tell us about your brave new ending?
Atiyah Nichols: Well, my mom always told me to be independent, never depend on anyone. It’s something she taught me as a young girl, never to travel broke, always pay your bills, and take care of your children. At 18 years old after having my first child, my son, who will be graduating this Friday from high school, after having my first child, I was pregnant at 17 and I had him at 18, I knew that I had to provide a life for him that worked.
At that moment, I had a whole other mind shift to get a job that I liked, go to college, try and get a career that pays well. Then all of those moments you’re still a little all over the place, you don’t know exactly what you want to do, and you’re looking at what your friends are doing and you are trying to critique them and copy their style a little bit to see if it works for you. Sometimes, it’s not meant for you to do anything your friends are doing.
It’s time for you to sit down and find out who you are, what you like. After that relationship didn’t work, I was on my own with my son and having to do everything for him 70% of the time, I got into a nursing program and I got my medical assistant degree and then I got my CNA certification and I was working at nursing homes. I had my second child, my daughter, and my first marriage that didn’t work after a year, it brought shame to me all over again.
I was moving fast but it was okay because I knew at that moment what I was going to deal with and what I wasn’t going to deal with. I am remarried to my husband now, since we’ve been together, we have never left each other’s side these past 10 years that we’ve been together and we created a plan. I told him, “I want to start a group home. I am working at these nursing homes and hospitals, and I see exactly what the community needs. I see what the residents’ needs are and I could provide this on my own.”
We bought our first home and then we bought our second home and at that second home, I started a group home, and I didn’t have anybody in there but people trusted me even before I was contracted with the State of Wisconsin, people trusted me. They started giving me applications to move in because they loved the home and they knew that there was going to be care and love there and that we would be like a family.
From one home, the next year came two homes, the next year came three homes, and then the next year, came four homes and with that fourth home, we ended up building a home with our fifth home. God just started giving me visions and dreams and these numbers 11-44 just start popping all over the place, and it has something to do with angels and being in the right place on this earth. The universe is connecting with you.
I started reading more. The reading just came easy to me, you can read a book and enjoy it, but I’m talking about soaking up everything, word for word. Whereas you have to almost make notes from everything that you are reading because He’s giving you that much clarity on the things that you’re reading, the things that you are studying, and He gave me a vision of a building for my residents.
He showed me a vision that I would have a building where I could bring all my residents together–25 or more because the home would only fit three to four people. Now, I was blessed with investors and bankers that have my back, and we have a 25-bed building with the possibility of 100 beds because the land that God showed me was more than enough acres to build four buildings on. When the investors told me to look for enough acres for one building and I ended up getting enough land for four buildings at a price that was under what we expected the land for one building to be–I knew it was God.
I knew it was Him, I knew it was Him every time, and it drew me to Him, so that I started looking for him at this point and it was not because of the material things. Don’t get me wrong, it was because of the clarity. When you see him shifting your life and you understand that there is something happening, clearly, and it’s not you 100%, things start moving for you, mountains being moved, doors being opened, you’re sitting in rooms that you aren’t supposed to be in.
He makes a way, He made a way, and I have to share that with the world–letting you all know that He’s awesome.
Jane Stogdill: You’ve shared so much with the world and now, with who knows how many readers, many of whom will be changed by your story. Thank you for sharing it. Atiyah, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you. Again, listeners, the book is Trials and Tribulations. Atiyah, in addition to reading the book, where can people go to learn more about you and our work?
Atiyah Nichols: Well, I have a website, cachejamesbetterlivingllc.com. I also have ameriaorchids.com, where we provide residential assistance for our community for our seniors and advance age disability for people. Also, I have an email, [email protected], where I could be reached, Instagram, Facebook as well @atiyahnichols.
Jane Stogdill: Great, thank you so much.
Atiyah Nichols: All right, thank you. Bye.