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Traci Connell Interiors

116: Reclaiming Myself After a 25-Year Marriage to an Alcoholic – Traci Connell

Traci Connell has overcome personal setbacks to build the business of her dreams – a multi-million dollar interior design business that she grew and scaled while navigating single-motherhood in the wake of immense tragedy. She is the Principal Lead Designer at Traci Connell Interiors and an expert in delivering unique design with ease of mind. The award-winning entrepreneur creates gorgeous interiors that also offer livable-style. Traci says: “What good is a luxurious home if you can’t actually live in it?” That philosophy drives her to provide high-end interior design that really lasts for every one of her clients. Her impeccable eye for space planning and design combined with her in-depth knowledge of project management, differentiates her from other interior designers. From initial to final details, each project is outlined through a state-of-the-art project management system, streamlining the process and enhancing the client experience. Traci specializes in materials and furnishings that stand up to everyday life, giving her clients a “bulletproof” home for kids, pets, entertaining and more.

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Interview Transcript

Traci, thanks so much for taking some time to hang with me today. I appreciate it.

Thanks for having me, David.

You are not only a successful businesswoman, but you have had some challenges along the way, which I think anybody who is successful has experienced challenges. Everything doesn’t go smoothly in life, that is for sure. One of those challenges that you talk about is your marriage, that you had some challenges there. Tell me, at the start of your marriage, your first marriage I should say, what was that like? What was the first part of that relationship? What were some of the hopes that you had? Give us a little bit of background there.

Sure. Well, I got married very young. I was nineteen when I got married to my high school sweetheart and moved to Louisiana. He was playing college football. Moved there, we had our first baby. When again, very young. I finished school, navigated our way through those early years and had two more children. It’s really eleven-year difference between the two youngest, and nine years in the middle. It was an interesting life growing up. Family A, family B.

I probably should’ve known even on our wedding night that I was in for trouble. I had married an alcoholic and basically dealt with that on and off for a good fifteen years. Probably about the ten year after that, we were gearing up to our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, and in the last I’d say five years before that, it got pretty bad. It was him losing some jobs, in and out of rehab. Which to me was a positive experience for myself and my family, really learning about the disease and supporting. I just was willing to do anything I could to keep our family together.

We did some counseling and that didn’t go so well; couples counseling. So I kept going by myself. It was almost like, “When am I going to pull the trigger to get out of this?” Because everyone on the outside thought we were this beautiful family, and everything was great and successful. We lived in a large house.

So people on the outside of your marriage. Was he a social drinker as well? Or was it more drinking at home?

It was both. It was both. It was an anxiety factor that he drink before the event, but then definitely around the house, where the entire family would find beer bottles and things stashed all over. It was not a great way to live.

Were you drinking with him? Do you know what I mean? How did that play out in your marriage?

Sure. I have been and was just a social drinker. I didn’t need it. I didn’t crave it. I was willing to give it up if he gave it up. He did tell me at one point, “I will never give up drinking.” After his first stint in rehab, he did stay sober for about five months. I thought, “Oh my gosh. Who is this man? This is fantastic.” But I was in the back of my mind thinking, “The other shoe’s going to drop. It just is.” And it did. It did.

That was toward, I guess, year twenty-four, and my business was rolling along. I was very involved with the kids. He was involved in the kids’ lives. Another stint in rehab and then our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary is when really the finality happened. I looked for the children and the dog, got in the car, and drove away. Yeah, it was interesting how the end of the book closed. It’s the last chapter.

To come to that decision, obviously there had been a lot of low points. You’re not sharing any of the low points but I can imagine there’s just a lot of disappointment and conversations that were just challenging. I’m sure the kids experienced things that were difficult. What gave you the courage to make that decision? Because it sounds like you went through a lot of experiences in order to get to that point.

Yes. I feel like at one point I didn’t have a choice. It’s interesting because a lot of what has driven me in the last say seven years has been fear. I made a lot of decisions based off of fear. At the point where we did leave, I remember him saying to me in a rage the next week, “Traci, if you leave, you and the kids are going to live in a trailer.” One of the threats, etcetera. At that point, it was my choice to believe that or do something differently. The counselor I was seeing at the time basically said to me, “Hey, you can stay on this rollercoaster with him, or you can choose to get off and watch him ride.” I thought, “I am getting off.” And I did. Then it was like game on. I had the kids and I had to make this business into a reality.

How many years ago was that when you left the marriage?

That was about seven years ago.

Seven years ago. Yeah. How did you help your kids? Their ages are, obviously it sounds like some of them are probably a bit older, but how did you help your kids cope or transition from the early years all the way up to the time that you left?

Right. As a mom and as a wife in this situation, you hide a lot. Because all you want to do is protect your children. I did that. I have a unique quality of taking my events that have happened to me and putting them in a corner, and putting on a happy face because I had to. I didn’t want my kid’s lives affected but it was affected. Because again, they were feeling uncertainty and the un-structure within the home that I couldn’t predict either. We were all walking on eggshells.

Would that result in angry outbursts, or just kind of not showing up for work, or lack of money? You know what I mean? Help us understand the dynamic.

Good examples were, the dynamic of my daughter having a friend over, “Okay, we’re going to lay out by the pool.” My daughter go gets in the pool bath, gets a beach towel, and out rolls ten mini bottles of empty wine. A couple nights later my son had a friend over for dinner, and basically my ex-husband fell asleep at the table. There was a lot of embarrassment for my kids. One coming home, he’s asleep on the living room floor. Those types of things. Honestly, I cringe thinking about the position that my kids were in. The way it made them feel, that empowered me to get them out of it. Get myself out of it and get them out of it as well.

So challenging, because as an outsider I have not dealt with someone who has struggled with alcoholism as a close family member. I’ve had some acquaintances or people that I have tried to help, of course. But as an outsider who hasn’t lived with that, it just seems like you’d be so powerless. Because ultimately, it’s something they have to work through. They have to hit bottom. They have to get that support, that help. I can’t imagine the sense of powerlessness that you felt in those moments.

I did, but there’s also a lot of empty promises. So something happens, then there’s the apology. I’m an optimist, so I would think that things would change. What I realized after the fact, that everything was a reaction on my part. I never got to plan. I never got to look ahead. Because all I was doing was reacting to whatever situation was thrown my way. That is a terrible way to live. Again, that sense of fear was also in the marriage, but then as I stepped out it was still chirping in my ear at every move.

Wow. What would you say, you’ve had seven years to continue to process and heal, not to say that there’s no timeline on that of course, but what are some things that as you look back you learned about yourself, or others, or the world? Help us break down some learnings here.

I feel like when you are put in a situation that you were not expecting, you have to discover how you get out. That’s the part that I realized about myself. I’ve had several setbacks and then I was just paralyzed. I would analyze, analyze, analyze, paralyzed, but then I survived. I got out of it. The difference is, I would continue to have setbacks and do the same routine and get out of it.

The next year he actually passed away. It was after our divorce. It was a year after our divorce. He died of cirrhosis of the liver. At that point it was really all me. The motivation that I felt out of desperation to provide for my kids, that was reality. It’s not like I had a whole lot of time to think about a plan. I had to dive deep, and become vulnerable, and let my story out to everyone watching, and I asked for help. It was a lot of hard work on my part, but I just kept taking these steps forward. And they were baby steps, but they were very intentional on my way to heal and provide a better life for my children.

You had started a business while you were married, is that correct?

Yes.

Take me through how you started it, why you started it. Take us through that.

Sure. By the time I finished college, I went to five different universities. Well, I followed him around after we got married, but I was going to finish. My major is/was elementary education. I was a teacher. I did that for about six years and then I realized with a friend, we had a playdate with our kids, and she said to me, “Wouldn’t it be really cool to do something that you really loved to do and get paid?”  I was like, “Get paid to work? What are you talking about?”

So I did have an opportunity when I stopped teaching, I was raising the kids. To say, “Hey, let me just do what I love to do, and that’s interior design. Let me just start this for neighbors, and friends, and my own home.” That was nineteen years ago. I decided, I’m going to give this a go. I did start when I was married, but really it didn’t really take off until I was put in this position out of necessity. That was interesting, yeah.

You leave with the kids. You’re doing interior design as a business. It sounds like it was small but growing.

Second income.

What did you do? What did you have to do in order to ramp it up?

At that point, again, I had to really look at myself and where my weaknesses were. There was a lot going on with the paperwork, with the divorce, etcetera. Coming up with obviously these great designs, and being happy and helpful to my clients. The thing that I did that made the most impact, was I hired a business coach at that point. Navigating through the divorce was one thing, but navigating my business knowing that either I had to quit this and go back to teaching. I thought, “All right, I’m going to give this a major go.”

I’ve always been a hard worker and that’s part of this. I had to put the work in. So hired a business coach and really put my business under a magnifying glass. Looking at the financials. Really diving into seminars, and workshops, and courses to help me better understand how I can improve. The next step was actually hiring a full-time employee, and went down that road.

But really it was amazing, and I think again out of necessity, you can do amazing things because you have to. At that point my revenue was $154,000 annually. Over the last seven, eight years we landed a little over 2.6 million today. I’m really proud of that. It wasn’t easy, but what I’m interested in doing is really helping other female entrepreneurs with the quick strategies and tips that they can implement just like I did, to get this afloat and to be in a different place.

What are some things that you were able to do, that you learn from your coach, or things that you knew internally that were able to help you expand the business pretty quickly?

Right. Again, I think the very first thing is getting vulnerable and getting help. A lot of women in my position do not have a nest egg. However, I would encourage someone just to have a couple thousand dollars and invest in someone who can take an outside view of your business and start looking in. The second thing I feel like, and again I go back to that feeling of fear. I use that as sort of a strategy, as a tactic. Fear, you can view it as forget everything and run. That’s what fear stands for. Or face everything and rise. All those decisions that I made, they were actually risk, I made out of fear. I was fearful I couldn’t support my kids. I was fearful I didn’t have enough money for retirement. It was a lot of decisions based out of fear.

What decisions did you make that were out of fear that you would’ve made differently now? Give me an example.

You know what, it’s interesting. I don’t know if I would second-guess any of the decisions that I made. Fear was, “Wow, should I actually get my own design studio? Is that going to drain me? What if I don’t have the clients coming in that I’m used to?” That was a big one. A lot of it is fearful of not being able to support myself and my family. I’m over that now, thank goodness. But I will never let that feeling go, because I feel like it fuels me to keep going at the momentum that I know that I need to sustain.

Okay. As you began to build your business, it’s sounds like there was a possibility of another relationship entering your life. That was something that you were interested in, you were open to, tell me about that.

I had not dated someone since the age of nineteen, or eighteen actually. I thought, “All right. I’m taking this –,” I call it the three D’s. “I’m going to take this divorce and flip it on its head and look at the opportunity that I have.” And I did. I thought, “All right, I’m going to have to get out there and date.” When you’re married and you have family, friends, and you do things with couples, you just don’t know a lot of single people.

My oldest daughter said, “Mom, you’re going to have to online date.” I’m like, “I am not online dating.” But she says, “Yes.” She said, “You could literally sit down on a Friday night and they’re going to cast out, and you can take the bait and go out or you don’t have to.” So I said, “Okay, I’m going to try this.” Of course, I treated it like a system that I do in a business. It ended up, this is a funny story.

Within five months, I dated fifty guys. I did. I’m not going to say it was like an interview, it really wasn’t. I really enjoyed the experience but I didn’t know what I wanted out of my next relationship. I knew what I didn’t want, but I had to figure out, what were men like? I had no idea, I just had friends. It was a really great experience for me just to get to know. Because I am so business oriented, a lot of the conversations had to do with business. But I knew there were some non-negotiables that I did set for myself, which was helpful for me navigating that path.

What were some of those non-negotiables?

The age of their children. At that time my youngest was sixteen, and so I knew I didn’t want to dive back into young kids again. That was one of them. They had to have a house, things like that. It was also about the type of man that I thought was going to be really good for me. I really thought that it was going to be someone who was really passionate about work, just a real go-getter, and a traveler, and one that was jet-setting.

While I did find my man, who actually is an attorney, very goal-oriented. What I found out about him and what I resonated with, is somebody very kind. And somebody very predictable, because that’s what I needed in my life. I like that stability. I needed that. I ended up with number forty-seven out of fifty. Again, it’s interesting what I was craving that I didn’t have before.

Sure, sure. Wow, that is so good. If you’re speaking to someone today that’s wrestling with either a challenging situation in their marriage. Whether it’s drugs or alcohol, or some sort of other addiction, what would you say to that person today? What encouragement would you give to them?

I would definitely say, number one, get a support system. If it’s alcoholism, it’s Al-Anon. Again, I feel like the one-on-one coaching or therapy is very important. Because at some point you have to look at yourself and say, “Is this healthy for me? What does it look like on the other side? Let’s take a look at what it would be like to be on your own.” That was hard. It took me a long time. I can’t stress enough that it is an opportunity to have a plan B. Really to start over. Once you’re there, and I know it’s scary, I was scared. But honestly, I look back and think, “Why did I wait so long?” We all do it. We do it for our kids. We do it for the fact that we want to stay married, but sometimes it just doesn’t work.

So hard.

Yeah, it is.

Yeah. I know that you are passionate about coming along side other female leaders, and business owners, and entrepreneurs to help them get unstuck in their businesses and get those breakthroughs. Tell me about how you can help a female leader or business owner expand their business. What can you offer them?

It’s interesting because I go back to when I was really growing this, and I was a single mom of three. Everything I did, I had to do it quickly. I had to develop systems and processes in my business, but also in my home to be able to juggle everything. Those life hacks and just shortcuts that I developed while I was in that process, actually helped me in the business, catapult it further.

Women in my situation, they need help fast. I am building a course where basically the strategies are meant for quick results. You have the setback, and I want to give you the tools to react quickly. Whether it’s getting in more revenue, a quick marketing solution, things that have worked for me within my business to give you those quick successes and get you moving from that place of being stuck.

Awesome. All right so we’ll point people toward www.traciconnell.com. We’ll put that in the show notes of course. You can swipe up on your phone and click that now. They can go and check out your story. Also, you are still running your interior design company in Texas, www.traciconnellinteriors.com. So if people are in Texas, they can a hold of you too, right?

That’s correct. Yes, absolutely.

You won’t turn down their business?

No.

Of course. Great. Traci, thanks so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

Thank you, David, for having me.

thank you!