Leia Baez will never forget the first night back in her childhood bedroom at her parents’ house in 2015.
The Omaha mom was 32, going through a divorce and completely unsure of what she was doing in life.
That night, she laid crying in her childhood bed and wondered, “Is this a demotion in life? Am I really sleeping in my childhood bedroom in my 30s?”
She remembers looking up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on her ceiling — the same ones on which she said she made wishes on as a child — and they reminded her that, despite what she might be going through, her dreams were still out there, waiting for her.
Flash forward to 2022 and Baez is now an inspirational speaker, mentor, writer, media consultant and single mother to 10-year-old daughter, Stella. She graduated with a master’s degree from Bellevue University in 2018.
But the journey to her present self wasn’t always easy.
Baez opens up about her story — one of self-discovery, healing trauma, overcoming alcoholism, dealing with divorce and fighting to be the best version of herself — in a newly published memoir, “A Star for Stella.”
Baez said she felt “guided by my faith in God” to write the book.
“I felt like it was something I needed to do, not only for myself as part of my healing journey, but also to help others who are struggling with addiction or trauma,” she said.
But even then, the process wasn’t always easy. Baez said there were times she second-guessed herself because of how nervous she felt putting her life out there.
“It takes a lot of courage to admit your faults and own your truth,” she said. “But I knew I had to be open, honest and authentic about my struggles.”
It was also a difficult and emotional process to relive some of her traumatic moments in life, she said. But it was also extremely cathartic.
“Writing about my past failures, my addiction and healing my trauma helped me to move forward and make sense of how these difficult moments in life helped me to grow into who I am today: a sober, courageous and successful mother,” she said.
She said her family really kept her moving forward during the year it took to write the book. She also remembered back to when she first told her story during her commencement speech in January 2018 and how much positive feedback she received from that.
During her speech, she shared how those glow-in-the-dark stars motivated her to keep dreaming — “even during the darkest time of my life.” She even gave each of her fellow graduates a star of their own as a reminder to “never give up.”
Four months later, the speech went viral after Goalcast — a website dedicated to telling stories of courage, resilience and transformation — shared her story. The video has since gained more than 6.5 million views. Baez said she received messages from people all over the world, thanking her for sharing her story.
“I saw the impact I could have by being open about my difficulties in life and the challenges I’ve overcome,” she said. “I feel grateful I can show people that, no matter what we go through, we’re never alone and we can still be successful.”
While her daughter has not read the book, Baez said Stella knows that her mom shares her story of being sober.
“She’s proud of me. We talk openly about sobriety,” she said. “Having open dialogue with my daughter is important for me.”
The book, which was published by New Degree Press, has sold nearly 1,000 copies since it was published Dec. 21, 2021. It’s available to purchase on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble bookstores.
Baez is also partnering with Bethlehem House Omaha, which helps homeless mothers battling addiction. Part of the proceeds from her book are being donated to the organization. So far, Baez has raised $2,000.
“I was fortunate to move back in with my parents when I went through my darkest times,” she said. “I realize not all women have that luxury.”
So far, Baez said the feedback she’s received about her book has been “incredible.”
“It brings me to tears to hear all of the positive feedback,” she said.
Baez said one thing has stood out to her from all the feedback she’s received — and that’s “just how many people know someone with a similar story or someone who needs to read it.”
“There are so many people who struggle, and it’s just a reminder to me to always be kind because we have no idea what another person is going through.”
For those who have read the book, Baez said she hopes people will realize they’re never alone and that it’s possible to “go back and heal traumas from our childhood that are still hurting us or holding us back.”
Currently, Baez is doing author talks, speaking gigs and coaching other women to share their own stories. She also created a “Healing Through Storytelling” workshop, which will take place in Tulum, Mexico, this May during a retreat for women of color.
“I feel honored and grateful to be able to do this work. Healing is hard work, but it’s so important,” she said. “I’ve been a storyteller my whole life and I’m excited to help others step into their power, too.”
Baez thinks often of the person she once was. The woman who was hurting and “trapped by alcoholism and the lingering effects of childhood trauma.” And she often thinks about what she would say to the 2015 version of herself if she could go back in time.
“I would tell her it’s OK to feel those emotions, but I would also tell her this is a part of her journey,” she said. “Those tears, those emotions are all a part of her growth and are necessary for where she is headed. I would tell her to have faith and trust that she’s right where she’s supposed to be.”