The Story That Took Me 4 Years to Share: How I Almost Lost Everything
Dear NAO Wellness Warrior,
As part of my incredible tribe, I’m so relieved to finally be able to share with you a deeply personal event that nearly cost me everything.
On Sunday, February 11th, I was at home with my husband and 2-year-old daughter, Emma, taking the day off for the very first time since opening NAO Wellness when I got a shocking call. NAO was raided by the Narcotics Division of the NYPD as part of an undercover CBD sting operation.
After legally selling CBD to an officer posing as a client, my 23-year-old assistant was swarmed by a SWAT team inside our wellness space, led out in handcuffs, and held overnight in jail. What followed has been one of the most terrifying and trying times of my life.
We are in the business of healing, so as you can imagine, I was completely floored by these events, the incredibly aggressive and excessive way in which they unfolded, and the outrageous and seemingly disproportionate allegations that followed. It was a gut punch, to say the least.
In an instant, my focus shifted from being a busy mom and wellness entrepreneur to fearing the loss of my freedom, my daughter and husband, and the business and reputation I’d spent years building with immeasurable amounts of blood, sweat, and tears.
My vision for NAO was born out of my struggle and subsequent triumph with an eating disorder. By finally getting help and learning to heal myself, I uncovered my life’s purpose: to help and heal others. For the next nine years, I put everything I had and everything I am into my business, gradually growing from a one-woman nutritional counseling business operating out of my apartment, to NAO Wellness—a spectacularly serene space in a landmarked building in the West Village that offered holistic healing through infrared sauna, nutritional counseling, and a wide range of expert-led wellness events. (We’ve since gone all virtual!)
After investing my life savings into the NAO Wellness space that took over a year to fully open, I had to close NAO for a week, not knowing if I’d ever be able to open again. I was forced to tell booked clients that there was a power outage and that’s why they couldn’t come in for their appointments. I couldn’t stomach the embarrassment and repercussions of misinformation getting out and the press spinning it before having the chance to speak my truth.
The charge was felony distribution of cannabis, which meant jail time if convicted. Since we didn’t know if there was a warrant out for my arrest, my lawyer suggested I sleep out with Emma to avoid possibly being arrested in front of her at my apartment. The thought of her seeing me taken away in handcuffs was unbearable. I was also advised not to go anywhere near the NAO space and to stay off social media. It was a giant game of unknowns. I felt like I couldn’t function with the fear of what might happen next. We had to wait three agonizing days before the lawyer could get in touch with the DA to confirm my status.
It was impossible to sleep as I envisioned worst-case scenarios—losing my business, losing my reputation, losing our life savings, being arrested in front of my daughter, going to jail, having to move out of the city and move back in with my mom. As a startup, I accounted for not making money for a year while the business was launching, but I didn’t account for having to shut down or accrue extensive lawyers’ fees that would nearly bankrupt us. I was literally sick to my stomach.
Like so many wellness businesses in NYC, we were selling CBD with the understanding that it’s naturally occurring (cannabinoids derived from industrial hemp) and completely legal in the state of NY. Our sole intention with every product and service we offer is TO HELP HEAL. What we found out was that someone had called the NYPD and falsely reported that we were selling cannabis oil as opposed to CBD. To be clear, cannabis oil is illegal. CBD is not.
As I tried to make sense of the madness, I recalled the harassing events leading up to the raid—unreasonable complaints about NAO’s signage, threatening emails from a competitor who thought I copied their brand and business model, and calls to the NYPD licensing division falsely claiming I wasn’t properly licensed (for services we don’t even offer). One of their reps said they’d received countless calls complaining about NAO and even went as far as to ask if I had any enemies because “someone is clearly out to get you.”
I started to get really unnerved after someone left feces and a sock (likely used to handle it) just outside the NAO vestibule. If you are reading this and have been in our space, you know that we were on the lower level of a landmark brownstone. Someone would have to walk down the steps and intentionally place it there (as opposed to it being inadvertently left on the street level by a lazy dog walker).
My staff was incredibly understanding and supportive, but naturally terrified to go back to work. With everything still in limbo, no one felt safe in the space. I wouldn’t go to the office alone and almost hired security. I even considered installing cameras. To feel unsafe in the business I created with the sole intention of being a safe space was the worst kind of irony. I didn’t know if I’d ever feel safe there again. It was fucking devastating.
As we walked this road of uncertainty, I had no choice but to surrender to the process and allow the law to run its course. I’d persevered through some pretty low lows in my life, having been through recovery for an eating disorder and anxiety. But even with all the work I’d done on myself over the years, this experience brought me to my knees. There were moments I feared I would never be able to stand back up again.
As I slowly started to ground myself and regroup, I realized there was so much more at stake than a business. It was more than one family’s livelihood. It was more than NAO’s passionate staff. It was about the lives NAO impacts on a daily basis and all the other healers, health and wellness advocates, and holistic practitioners who devote their lives to helping others live more fully.
And, it was about all the current and future NAO clients—real people whose health and healing matter. We are an uplifting escape and a vital resource for so many. For our eating disorder clients, we’re often a lifeline. The thought of being forced to shut our doors was just unbearable and unjust on so many levels. But, that fired me up and fueled a new level of passion in me that I didn’t even know existed.
And then finally, after two months of battling, the case was dropped.
This experience has had me face some harsh realities. As you rise up, there will be those who support your success because they know it’s theirs as well. They know your success is shared with the world. But there will also be those who see your success from a view of scarcity, ignorance, and threat. While we can’t control others or outside forces, we can remain grounded in and committed to our mission to heal. We believe everyone deserves to live life as healthy and fulfilled as possible. That’s why we’re surrounded by a community of so much light and love.
What got me through was all the incredible love and support I’m so lucky to have cultivated over the years. There’s nothing like the shit hitting the fan to best reveal who you can truly count on and what you’re really made of. While I broke down and hit lows I couldn’t see a way through at the time, I also found strength I never knew I had. I now see everything in my life through an entirely new lens. I learned to surrender my anger, frustration, and victimhood. It was hard AF, but I chose to let go and forgive. I am more aware. I am more tenacious. I am more grateful. I finally feel safe again.
With this incident resolved and in the rearview mirror, we’ve written several new chapters for NAO Wellness. At the time we got NAO’s brick and mortar back in action, staff doubled and we did better than ever. As a team, we were more lit up and determined than ever about what we do and why we do it. My relationship with my husband, Matt, grew stronger as we banded together like never before. We also learned how to truly count our blessings, have more fun, and not take life so seriously.
My hope is that you find something about my experience that inspires you to persevere. I want you to know that no matter what you’re dealing with, it’s just a moment and you are so much stronger than you know. And, when you have the right support system in place, you’re even stronger. That’s why this community is so important.
Whether you’ve been with us from day one or discovered us only recently, your support and encouragement continue to make all the difference. We’re in it together and I couldn’t feel more blessed for that. Thank you for being the kind of community I can feel so honored and humbled to share this with.
I continue to discover that no matter what happens, LOVE is always the answer.
With gratitude and love,