Katrina Trinko: Joining us is Ericka Andersen, author of “Leaving Cloud 9: The True Story of a Life Resurrected from the Ashes of Poverty, Trauma, and Mental Illness.” Ericka is with the Independent Women’s Forum, but she’s also the former digital manager for The Daily Signal and The Heritage Foundation, so she’s an old friend of ours. Thanks for joining us, Ericka.
Ericka Andersen: Thanks for having me.
Trinko: OK, Ericka, you and your husband, Rick, now have what looks like the American dream life. You have two adorable little kids. You live in Indiana in a nice home, but in your book, which is a very touching book, you talk about how your husband’s upbringing made it very unlikely that he would ever have this kind of life. Tell us about the story.
Andersen: Sure. When I met my husband, I started to hear about some of the traumatic experiences he went through as a child. He witnessed things that no kid should ever have to witness, things like domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse within the house. He even witnessed his own mother attempting suicide.
He went through a lot of stuff, and it was really on the extreme end of childhood trauma, but he came to a place where he was able to end the cycle of poverty and addiction and abuse that ran in his family.
When I met him, I wondered, “How did you overcome this?”
Not only did he overcome it in a physical way, like going to college and getting a job, but he also was able to overcome it in a more personal, mental, and spiritual way, and so that he wasn’t being dragged down from his demons from the past in his head.
He found freedom and healing from that, and so I just thought it was a remarkable story, and maybe one that’s a little bit all too rare, and one that we wanted to tell, so that other people might be able to find some hope and guidance and direction in their own lives, if they’re healing or recovering from childhood trauma themselves.
Trinko: Yeah, and tell us a bit more about his childhood, because as I was reading the book, “Leaving Cloud 9,” it just felt like there was scene after scene that made me sad. I think you wrote about one Christmas they didn’t have anything ready, and they didn’t even have a place to stay, and so his mom, you sort of implied, slept with someone for money for a motel room, and they lived in a motel for months at one point. Just hearing all this, and I was like, as an adult, I would be so traumatized by this way of life, and the thought of being a small child and dealing with this just seemed so intense.
Andersen: Yeah, that is definitely one of the more intense stories and things that he went through, and yes, they did live in hotels for months at a time, which is actually something that is not super common, but is common, in some ways, today even, for poor people that they don’t have the credit or they have arrest records, and they can’t get apartments, and so they end up living out of hotels and just moving from hotel to hotel. That is something that he experienced, as well as mostly living in trailers and also living with his grandparents.
All of these things he experienced—they result in never feeling safe, and as growing into an adult, you’re never able to really emotionally and mentally grow up, and you’re stuck in the past, in this place where everything is a threat.
It makes it so a person can’t really think rationally, and they develop things like depression or social anxiety or … He, in his family, has a pattern of mental illness, so he also ended up having bipolar disorder, which can be simply genetic, but it’s enhanced by the trauma.
Excited to bring you the trailer for my forthcoming book, "Leaving Cloud 9: A Life Resurrected from the Ashes of Poverty, Trauma & Mental Illness."
— Ericka Andersen (@ErickaAndersen) March 26, 2018
There are a lot of really difficult effects on adulthood for a child that experiences these things.
On top of that, he had a lot of neglect. Like I said, he saw a lot of domestic violence. There were just so many dramatic things that happened to him that sometimes today, even looking at him having overcome a lot of this, I’m in disbelief.
It’s really a miracle that he is where he is today.
I don’t say that lightly. I truly mean it’s a miracle that I almost watched unfold before my own eyes, and because that healing process in his heart, it really took place when we met and moving forward in our relationship, and I saw all our prayers answered right before my eyes.
Trinko: Well, yeah, actually on that, so how did faith play a role in Rick’s story?
Andersen: Yeah, so he was able to overcome the physical circumstances, but faith was really what really healed him and gave him freedom. He didn’t feel oppressed anymore when he was able to find faith in Christ.
He had never really gone to church, hadn’t really prayed. That hadn’t been a part of his life. Right around the time that he and I met, he had just been starting to think, “Hey, maybe I should give this God thing a chance.” Here, he met me, a person that went to church every week, who was a Christian, who had a great family, and so he started going to church with me. Just, honestly, within weeks of meeting me, he started going to church with me every single week. He began a prayer life. He started reading the Bible.
These were all things like … For me to watch it, I just was like, “So you’re just starting to do this?” To him, he would tell you, he had hit an emotional rock bottom, and he really felt that he had nowhere else to go.
He thought, “Nothing has worked, so I’m finally going to give this a chance.”
Once he did, it truly started to transform his life. It was not an overnight, like, “Oh my gosh, all of a sudden everything is great,” but over a period of years, that consistency and that little bit of faith that he had really transformed his heart and mind. He would tell you today that he feels pretty much 100 percent free from the oppression of the trauma that he experienced.
Trinko: Well, you mentioned that he had hit his emotional rock bottom. I think, obviously, that’s not the same thing, but you also wrote in an article for National Review about suicide, and how people with backgrounds similar to your husband are, I think, 24 times more likely to commit suicide, which is really astonishing. We’re seeing, overall, that suicide rates are rising in this country. What do you think we can do to reverse this trend? How do we reach out to people who are struggling with this?
Andersen: Specifically, it’s people that have experienced six or more of the adverse childhood experiences, which, if you look those up, they’re called ACEs—very common knowledge in the people that do research on childhood trauma. If you experience six or more of those, you’re 24 times more likely to attempt suicide. Rick has experienced actually 10 out of 11 of the ACEs, so it’s even … God only knows what the stat is on that one.
Yeah, childhood trauma and the things that happen to people as kids do contribute to the suicide epidemic, because they just really, almost irreparably, damage your brain and the way that you think about and view the world.
One way that we can try to combat this problem is try to combat the neglect and abuse of children. How can we do that? How can we try to foster communities and families that where this kind of thing isn’t happening?
Obviously that’s a huge question, and you can’t really answer in a sentence, but I think it goes to dealing with the drug crisis in this country and dealing with people that are turning to substances out of despair and out of depression and out of the fact that they don’t feel like they have a purpose in life. I mean, that’s one reason people turn to these things, and then, again, that will turn into the neglect and abuse of children, and so it’s really like a big, kind of have to take like an 85,000-foot view of it, or whatever, to see the whole picture, and then zero in on how can we fix things here and here?
It has to, I think, come back to individuals, community. Federal government certainly has a role in that. I think that they do, but there are multiple pieces to the puzzle of figuring out how we deal with it, and ultimately hopefully dealing with it in that way leads to less childhood trauma and less suicide, in the end.
Trinko: Now, you wrote in the book that, I think, when Rick was 14 or 15, his mom offered him drugs. I remember reading that and just being like, “I’m glad I know the ending,” because I was like, “Oh my gosh,” after everything else … now it made total sense to me. I mean, I haven’t personally used drugs, but of course you would want an escape from the kind of life that he was leading, of course you would welcome that. Could you maybe talk a bit about that? Then, I think, also we’ve seen so much attention paid to opioids and the overall drug crisis in recent years, but do you think it’s enough? What should we be doing? Sorry, that’s a lot.
Andersen: Wait, what’s the question?
Trinko: Well, maybe first, why didn’t Rick become addicted to heroin?
Andersen: OK, that’s a good one. OK, so, I mean, I think there’s a lot of things. I mean, he would tell you that it’s by the grace of God. That’s his main answer to that. I also think that he … It’s interesting. This is a little bit off subject, but I’ve been reading a lot about personalities, like Myers-Briggs, and there’s a certain kind of personality that’s actually more likely to become an addict, and he’s pretty much the opposite of that personality type. I think that contributed to it.
Honestly, he just doesn’t have an addictive personality. I mean, thank God, because you’re not a bad person if you do, but you’re just more likely to become caught up in it, if it presents itself to you, so those two things for sure.
Secondly, he had a couple things going for him. He had a guy in his life. One of his mom’s boyfriends was actually the one good role model or support that he had. I think having some stability in that respect helped him to see a little bit of a future. He always admired people that were in the military. That was in his family, as well, and I think he always had a dream of joining the military.
Just having a little bit of stability and direction, I think, were key in maybe keeping him away from that. He certainly did try drugs. He drank. He just never became addicted. I mean, thank God, because I don’t know. Who knows what would’ve happened if he actually succumbed to that.
Trinko: This book actually reminded me a lot of “Hillbilly Elegy,” which was the book of 2016. Of course, with Trump’s election, there’s been a lot of conversation about the forgotten men and women. I have to admit, reading “Leaving Cloud 9,” I kept thinking, “This is not something that I can personally relate to on some levels.” You’ve lived in D.C. You’ve drunk the D.C. cocktail circuit Kool-Aid. What are some of the lessons you think that maybe coastal elite types should take from this?
Andersen: Well, I think coastal elites, or just even anyone who did not experience a rough childhood, can learn about the things that people they know maybe have experienced. Coming into this, I had a great childhood. I grew up middle class, don’t know anything about this stuff, so it was very shocking to me when I was reading about it. What it does is it gives you a lens at which to look at people through.
You may not understand a person that maybe is struggling in a small town, that can’t keep a job, that has an addiction. Maybe the tendency would be like, “Oh, they’re just not working hard enough,” or something like that. By reading “Leaving Cloud 9” and “Hillbilly Elegy” even, you can see where these people are coming from and how they’re caught up in a cycle that’s not really their fault, not to say that people don’t have personal responsibility, because they certainly do, and Rick’s … my husband’s success in life, and certainly him taking some responsibility, was part of that, but there are also things that people didn’t ask for, didn’t ask to be born into, and they have a lot to overcome.
— Ericka Andersen (@ErickaAndersen) May 30, 2018
When you go through some of these experiences that Rick went through, as a child, it’s really hard to overcome, not just mentally, but just all the barriers to success that come up, because so much of our lives are dependent on the mental side of how we think about things and what we believe about, like what principles we have, and what we believe is our purpose in life. I think this helps you to have compassion, to have some empathy for people. Then, when you do that, you can maybe see, “Oh, I get it now. Now, here’s how we can help them. Here’s how we can reach out to them. Here’s how we speak their language,” because that’s another part of the book that I talk about is how Rick deals with the mental illness, the bipolar disorder.
Well, one thing that I had to do, as his wife, is learn about … learn what that means. How do I talk to him? How do we deal with this together, with strategies that work for his life? Because not everything works for everybody, you know? We have to take an individual approach and just realize.
It’s just like that quote, “Everyone’s fighting a hard battle.” Well, this book will show you the hard battle that actually millions of people are fighting to get through every day, because so many have experienced childhood trauma.
Trinko: OK, last question … This is the first time I’ve ever read a book that was written by a wife about her husband. Why did you decide to write this? Also, what drew you to Rick in the first place?
Andersen: Yeah, well, when I met Rick and he started telling me about some of these stories, I just couldn’t not write it. That’s what I keep saying. I couldn’t not write it. It was just presented to me like, “You’re a writer. You’ve got this guy that you’re in love with, and he has this beautiful story of overcoming so much, and now he’s just” … It was writing itself.
Now, he has this … He never thought that he would be able to find a good marriage and have two beautiful children and have a nice house. These are all things that … This was his dream.
People have big dreams of like, “I want to be the CEO of a company,” or “I want to do this or that.” His dream was seriously just to have a peaceful, happy life, and he didn’t think that was possible. To him, that was an impossible dream.
When we actually had that in our lives, and I saw all the things that he went through to get there, I was like, “We’ve got to tell this story,” and he said it, too. It was actually initially his idea to write the book. He was like, “You write it. You’re a writer.”
We wanted to tell it, because we want people to know that there’s hope. There’s a lot of people out there that are sitting in the middle of their depression, and they just feel like life is not going to get better, like there’s nothing more. That, again, contributes to the suicide rate.
That’s why we decided we wanted to write the book. We want to provide hope, guidance, direction to people that are looking for a way out.
Also, what drew me to Rick … Because of what he went through, in many ways, he’s a real compassionate guy. He’s very empathetic. He’s just super sweet. He’s a great dad. I mean, there’s just so much that I love about him. I had never met anyone that I felt like, “Man, I could actually marry this guy and spend the rest of my life with him.” I was 28 when we met, so it was just kind of like we knew. That’s a love story for you.
Trinko: That’s very sweet … I think you mentioned a few times that he really wanted to be a dad, and that was such a big part of his dream, and that was just very sweet. I have read “Leaving Cloud 9.” It’s a beautiful book. It gave me a lot of hope, so I highly recommend it. Thank you for joining us, Ericka.
Andersen: Thank you.