‘After The Storm:’

New book offers light in the aftermath of mental illness

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One look at Ava St. Pierre and you might imagine the former beauty queen must have lived a quiet, carefree life of ease. But in her new book, “After The Storm — Breaking The Cycle Of Abuse With Conviction, Connection And Compassion,” St. Pierre paints a picture of an early childhood far from the norm, where the American Dream mutated into a chilling nightmare of family hysteria, physical and mental abuse and a fear that haunted her for years.

Yet, “After The Storm,” written with her daughter, Shereé Cogburn, is a surprising revelation about how love, hope and faith brought a family together and mended the wounds that shattered many families trying to cope with a close relative suffering from mental illness. As St. Pierre acknowledged at the outset, “The truth is, everyone encounters good and bad times in life. It’s how you deal with the hard moments and overcome them to find meaning and a silver lining behind it all.”

Anyone looking for a silver lining will find this biography an inspiration, not only to break the cycle of abuse, but to live a purpose-driven life with renewed faith that life can be as good as our decision and determination to make it so. The reader learns these lessons while peering into the world of an all-American family as seen from the perspective of St. Pierre, now thriving after being a survivor of child abuse.

What began as a blissful family life in South Central Los Angeles, with loving parents sharing a whirlwind love affair — having seven children, each a little over a year apart from the last — suddenly took a wild turn into darkness for St. Pierre and her family, due to her mother’s mental illness. According to St. Pierre, her earliest memory of physical and mental abuse was at the age of 5.

She recounts terrifying memories of her mother, Kathleen Owen-St. Pierre, doing unimaginable things to her children. She wrote about the shocking abuse of her mother putting a screwdriver into her head, leaving her permanently scarred, and even picking one of her children up over her head and throwing him into the windshield of a truck with such force that it broke the windshield glass, to the horror of her other children sitting inside. Officers were called to the home more times than St. Pierre could count as her family life became an unending storm of abuse.

In her book she wrote, “After my mommy’s verbal and physical altercations took a turn for the worse, she would have to be restrained and taken away. I would watch as she was put in a straightjacket and tied down to a stretcher. Oftentimes it took more than a few police officers to get her controlled and taken to the mental hospital.”

She describes her mother hiding in closets or under a bed before being wrestled out by police officers. Running scared from her mom, hearing her mother talk of killing her father and receiving electroshock treatments in the aftermath in the 1960s and 70s was all part of her early life as she remembers it. She described it as “horrific memories of an innocent childhood gone wrong.”

And yet, she recalls a defining moment when she, as a child, made the adult decision that she would do whatever it took to survive and help her siblings do the same. It would not be easy, but even as a child her survival instincts kicked in and her determination became apparent as each page gradually revealed.

“After The Storm” is about finding a better tomorrow and a happier future, despite one’s past. St. Pierre’s true life story is a journey into one woman’s descent into darkness and her ascension thereafter. It’s an expedition into forgiveness and how a person’s conviction can change one’s trajectory into a successful career working for such national cosmetic brands as Maybelline, Revlon and L’Oreal.

It’s also about finding love and the inner beauty that flows through a forgiving spirit — an inner beauty that was manifest in her physical features, which won her numerous pageant titles, including Mrs. Texas America 1989, Mrs. Colorado United States 1994, Mrs. USA Top Finalist 1995, Mrs. Colorado World Finalist 2012, Mrs. Western Slope of Colorado 2013 and many community service awards.

From her passion in academic sports to her rise as a beauty queen, “After The Storm” details the joys, sorrows and successes of a woman who could not escape her past, but who found a way to shape her future with a conviction and compassion that touched the lives of countless children who suffered child abuse as she did.

Although her book is an autobiography of her life and times as she remembers them, it is clear that St. Pierre details painful events to preserve the memory, not the madness. She carefully writes from a place in her heart that needed to release her past, and weaken its power by sharing her truth from her own perspective.

It is a courageous, well-crafted and shocking look into mental illness and its collateral damage that many will identify with, but few have gone public with. In doing so, St. Pierre may be giving more of herself than anyone could ask. By addressing the ugly truth about mental illness and what it takes to break the cycle, she also exposed the admirable truth about the resilience of abuse survivors and how to live a life without the stigma of being a victim forever.

St. Pierre said, “If there is one message I want to relay to people it is to try to share love, compassion and kindness instead of evil or hate. It’s so easy to put negative energy out into the world, but the better way is always love. I want people to know that although my life as a child was tough, I never gave up knowing there was a rainbow after the storm.

“I knew if I chose to turn the page in my life of adversities into triumphs of celebrations, then there would be a better tomorrow for my children and grandchildren. I never played the victim and instead believe I’m a survivor. I have made the choice of breaking the cycle of abuse in my family through faith, God and actions. I know through thousands of messages I have inspired others to do the same. For that, my heart overflows.”

A portion of the proceeds from her book will go to support two of her longtime platforms; the National Institute of Mental Health and Prevent Child Abuse America.

When asked why she felt compelled to write this book, she replied, “It wasn’t an easy decision to make in writing my memoir. In fact, it was downright difficult at times to relive horrific childhood memories over and over again. However, I wrote my memoir in hopes of inspiring and helping other families worldwide who are faced with mental illness, child abuse and life’s difficult struggles.

“It’s important that the stigma of embarrassment due to mental illness be removed for those affected as well as their families. Sadly, 1 in 5 people are affected by mental illness and that’s too many. By speaking out for those who can’t — or aren’t willing to — we can help the ones we know and love get the mental health care they deserve. I wish my mother could have had the help she deserved, and that’s why it’s my mission to help others.

“In my case, I know God guided me on not being bitter or living in the past. Moving forward from difficult times and finding happiness was essential. He helped me in rising above trauma and I realized my rewards are in advocating and championing a strong voice for others. I believe in turning a negative into a positive and spreading light and goodness out into the world. There can be happiness after your darkest hours. You just have to try and never, ever give up and always have hope for what lies ahead,” she said.

“After The Storm — Breaking The Cycle Of Abuse With Conviction, Connection And Compassion” is available at: http://www.avast.pierre.com or https://www.amazon.com/AFTER-STORM-Conviction-Connection-Compassion-ebook/dp/B01MSS5B5E/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1480889012&sr=8-1&keywords=After+The+Storm+A+True+Life+Story#customerReviews.

For further information on the National Institute of Mental Health, visit: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/ or Prevent Child Abuse America, visit: www.preventchildabuse.org.

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