Hello! Who are you?
Howdy! I'm Sam Russell. I live in Los Angeles, CA. Originally from Austin, TX, L.A. has been my home for two decades.
Anyone from my youth would paint me as an optimistic dreamer with a gentle heart. It's that foundation of empathy that would be the catalyst for my unique career and, at the same time, explain why strict boundaries needed to be put in place.
The owner of Page Parkes Talent Agency scouted me as a model in my mid-20s. I was the maître d at a posh bistro in Houston, TX. Behind the scenes, Vickie Snow noticed my natural flair for fashion and groomed me to become a fashion stylist. I relocated to Southern California before the turn of the century to advance my career.
Hollywood locals know me as a personal shopper, fashion stylist, and founder of The Giving Closet. To keep my balance in my spare time, I contribute travel columns to various outlets and disappear into different resorts around the US.
My truest passion is The Giving Closet. We've seen up close what a new wardrobe boost can do for celebrities, but what about everyday women with unique stories of perseverance?
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What is your struggle and when did it start?
I've battled depression, suicidal thoughts, and low self-esteem starting at about the age of 13. As a teenager, I tried to take my life twice. What therapists would label as "mental health" issues—as I've aged and grown perspective in my life, I would have to disagree wholeheartedly. Unstable environments and adults that failed to protect me from predators were the sole contributors to my unstable years.
Molested as a young child by my uncle, my birth father was plotting to kill my immediate family, and every adult seemed powerless to protect me. If my dad had not died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 33, I'm not sure I would still be here today.
His clearing from this planet and a strange white light that appeared around me during a car crash two years later would be sneak previews of a narrative that's only started to make sense to me as I've grown perspective.
Leaving Texas for Hollywood was not just my career playground but also the uncomfortable route to altering my DNA karmic tale.
How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?
My worst moments were definitely my teenage years. I struggled to articulate everything I had experienced and consciously chose to repress many severe memories. In retrospect, it was my only survival tool.
None of my friends growing up were aware of any of my internal struggles. Those would come up later in life, starting in my late 30s.
My curiosity for spirituality and protection from what I "couldn't see" started after that fateful night in Austin, TX. Barely out of high school, I was at the end of a long day as a waiter for a local eatery, Lone Star Cafe. I declined an offer to go drinking with some coworkers and headed home. On a dry, clear night, I didn't notice a small white car stalled on the interstate highway in a dark spot with no hazards on.
At the eleventh hour, I swerved at 60 mph and hit all surrounding barriers—missing the parked car entirely. As I came to, I noticed a white light around me. Everything smashed into the vehicle and around me, yet I was untouched. "Was I dead?" I asked myself. No angels arrived.
Through the smoke, I could see a panicked Hispanic family. They thought I was dead and sped off, crying, leaving me there alone.
I removed my seat belt and kicked the driver's side door open. Jumping out, when I looked back, the space I was just in didn't make sense. Damaged beyond repair, it was impossible that I had been sitting in that spot. That white light disappeared the moment I caught my bearings.
The EMS on scene minutes later cleared me with a breathalyzer test and swore I had been thrown from the car, yet were perplexed that I had walked away without a scratch.
All the years I thought I had no protection were uniquely challenged.
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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?
Yes! In two phases, really. One, after that car accident. My introduction to anything related to Buddhism, Christianity, New Age Thinking, or good old fashion southern Baptism was limited. I was a clean slate and privately asked the universe for guidance.
Standing in a friend's closet helping her move/pack, we were in a deep conversation about my recent car accident when Shirley MacLaine's book "Out on a Limb" fell from a top shelf and into my lap.
The second phase was in 2007 when I was attacked by an abusive, drunk narcissist ex and realized I had to apply healthier boundaries to avoid getting caught up in those kinds of predicaments again.
What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?
My steps involved an aggressive look at my inner dialogue. It's a place I've always started, and I consider myself very self-aware. Too much ego kills talent and your connection to everyone—so please don't confuse the two. It's not a place of high self-esteem.
Separate from judgment and ego is another voice inside of us.
A thirst for knowledge points anyone on the right path to understanding their unique circumstances. Nothing is permanent, and our lives shouldn't be stagnant.
I was never a melancholy child, and I never lacked personality or creative ideas. If the environment is a large factor in feeling off balance, start looking at that bluntly.
"The Artist Way" and "The Courage to Heal" are sublime books. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" is very thought-provoking. These books continued my journey in trying to understand my place in this complex puzzle..aka..life.
Ernest Holmes' book "Science of the Mind" has always stayed with me, and to be honest, I've yet to finish it.
I'm a big believer in the power of positive thinking and the law of attraction.
Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?
In 2011, I started developing my traveling passion project, The Giving Closet. Interviewing nonprofits and finding cancer survivors and single moms reentering the workforce is a safe space to communicate with other "survivors."
Taking community with these types of souls has permitted me to speak about my personal traumas. Shame dies in safe places, so only share your trauma when you're in a place that's 100% safe. Not 80% and not 90%, strictly 100%.
That could be in therapy, AA, or with a close friend or family member who relates or has deep empathy for your journey. Not all therapists are compassionate, and I've had more than one therapist challenge my positivity.
If my journey can help one or two people, then it's worth sharing. Not all news out of Hollywood is bad.
If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?
You're the absolute hero or heroine of your story. The ability to believe that even just a dollop of hope on a cloudy, grey energy kind of day can drastically alter the choices you make and the life you live.
It can and should start with your inner dialogue. Choosing thoughts that lift you and empower you doesn't cost a dime. But paying it forward internally has to be done consistently.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?
Melanie Tonia Evans on social media is a must for discussion of healthier boundaries and healing after a narcissistic ex. The advice is relatable, and her personal experience with a dangerous ex lays the groundwork for transparent transformative healing.
Where can we go to learn more about you?
You can learn more about my passion project here.
I’ve traveled with Stevie Wonder, prepped Jon Hamm for his 1st magazine cover as the TV show Mad Men launched, BBQ’ed with The Pfeiffer Sisters and David E. Kelley, head stylist for TLCs Ten Years Younger Season 4, and had a photo shoot with actor/director/activist Sophia Bush during a major earthquake on the top floor of a suite at the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica.
Photography credit goes to Bobby Quillard Photography and Bret J. Green Photography.
💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I've condensed the information of 100's of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇
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