From Fearful to Fearless: Thank you, Mariska Hargitay

I gave up everything – career, friends, family and identity – to protect my daughters and myself from a sociopath who stalked us for four years and then hired a hit man to kill me.

It’s a dramatic story, and part of it will be told Saturday, Oct. 4 on Lifetime in a movie called Run for Your Life, starring Amy Smart, whose credits include The Butterfly Effect and Shameless.

Run For Your Life - Lifetime movie inspired by Katherine Kotaw's memoir, QuicksandI’ve watched the movie and, to my surprise, liked it. Veteran movie producer Anne Carlucci, who passionately pitched the movie to networks for more than a dozen years, and writer Benita Garvin skillfully delivered the message I wanted to make: strong, successful, confident women are not immune from spousal abuse.

No More Me

I’m proud that the movie will premiere during National Domestic Violence Awareness month and honored that it is supported by the Joyful Heart Foundation, founded by Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: Special Victims Unit) and the NO MORE campaign. I hope the movie and the NO MORE PSA that airs before the final credits help debunk the myth that only poor, uneducated and mousy women find themselves trapped in untenable domestic situations. I pray it will help at least one woman leave her abuser.

I don’t identify with Amy Smart’s character (which made the movie much easier to watch). But I also no longer identify with the me I used to be. I am not the woman who was psychologically tortured during her marriage and beaten and tossed into moving traffic after she left. I am not the person who was pummeled by the legal system in two countries nor the woman who literally became a poster child for survivors of domestic violence (an image of my face, swollen beyond recognition, hangs in battered women shelters and district attorneys’ offices under the caption: “Don’t Apply Makeup. Apply the Law. Take the Fight Out of an Abuser by Taking Him to Court.”)

Bonus Gift

Quicksand excerpt by Katherine KotawWhen I chose to disappear, I realized I had another choice to make: I could wallow in despair about all that I had given up or take the opportunity to reinvent myself. I chose the latter. I kept the parts of me that I liked – my sense of humor and gift for storytelling, for instance – and dumped everything I didn’t.

It was the best decision I ever made. Because the decision offered me an unexpected gift: happiness. When I realized that happiness had nothing to do with who I was or what I did, the long-elusive feeling was suddenly attainable. All I had to do was reach out and grab it, stuff it deep inside my soul and never let it go.

Exiled in Paradise, The Globe and Mail, Katherine Kotaw excerptIt was (almost) that easy.

Service With a Smirk

Of course I had to figure out how to earn a living, and it turned out I was pretty lousy at most under-the-table jobs available to someone who couldn’t risk a background check. It’s not that I couldn’t train puppies or run errands for their masters – it’s that I couldn’t do it quietly and subserviently. I had opinions and I voiced them! And though it was often the smart-ass maid who got the most laughs on Hollywood sitcoms, in real-life southern California, the smarty-pants servant got the boot.

Fortunately, I was good at something that didn’t require a resume. I could write. And, until digital marketing made all of us public figures, no one cared about a writer’s name or appearance. Pseudonyms, nom de plums – any name would do. It was the substance that counted.

Writers Anonymous

Quicksand excerpt by writer Katherine KotawI agree with J.D. Salinger who said, “It is my rather subversive opinion that a writer’s feelings of anonymity-obscurity are the second-most valuable property on loan to him during his working years.”

Free from expectations, weekly deadlines and editorial meetings, I had no one to impress but myself.

And that’s how I came to write my memoir Quicksand. I landed a publishing deal without an agent, and critics hailed the book as a “brave,” “honest” and “scary as hell” “story of triumph.” The Globe and Mail, often called the New York Times of Canada, named Quicksand to The Globe Books 100: Best Non-Fiction.

Hollywood came running before I’d written the first chapter, and I turned down three movie producers. I wanted to write my story my way, and I didn’t feel secure enough in my new life to risk the publicity a big-screen theatrical release might bring. After a while, Hollywood pretty much forgot about me. Except for Carlucci, who reached out to me every few years, vowing “to get the movie made if it’s the last thing I do.”

Katherine Kotaw's Globe & Mail 'Book of the Year,' Quicksand, adapted into Lifetime movie supported by Mariska Hargitay's Joyful Heart Foundation and NO MORE PSA campaignEmbracing Fear and Discovering Fearlessness

When she called last fall to say that Mariska Hargitay and Lifetime were interested in the movie, I wasn’t sure about my own interest. I had just launched KOTAW, and I didn’t think I wanted to include “movie-of-the-week heroine” as part of my brand. I didn’t want to publicly revisit a past I had shed in private. I didn’t want the old me interfering with the new me I was revealing in social media for the first time.

Then I asked myself, “What are you afraid of?”

That people would judge me harshly for my life choices? Yes. That the movie might rile my ex? Yes. “Are these legitimate fears?” Yes. “Are you going to let these fears stop you?”

This question took longer to answer, and I sat down with my daughters to ponder it. I had a few choices, all of which would affect them. I could pass on the movie entirely, let it run without acknowledging my connection to it or take full ownership. If they were afraid, the decision was made. I’d just say no.

They were excited, almost giddily so. Who would play me? Who would portray them? What would we wear to the premiere? Can we go shopping now?

They knew the risks. They understood the fear. But they chose fearlessness.

And, I’m happy to say, I did, too.

Fearlessness is an integral theme of the Joyful Heart Foundation. Mariska Hargitay talks about it frequently, and the word features prominently on merchandise the organization sells to support its efforts, including the NO MORE campaign to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

Some fears are healthy. They keep us alive. They keep us safe.

Every minute, 24 people are physically abused, raped or stalked by their partners. Every 9 seconds, a woman is beaten. These are scary statistics that have worsened in the 15 years since I wrote Quicksand. Any woman – or man – who is afraid of the person they’re living with should heed the fear.

But fears can also control us. They keep us in bad jobs, relationships and circumstances for far too long. They keep us awake at night and rob us of joy. They take up too much damn time and energy!

What are you afraid of? Please share your thoughts below or reach out to me privately at

Update:  A lot of people have reached out, asking where they can purchase Quicksand.  I found a seller on Amazon who has first edition copies. This is probably your best bet until HarperCollins prints second editions, which will hopefully be sometime soon! Many thanks for all the support!    


  1. Hey Kat

    You are the kind of woman that ALL OF US aspire to me: strong, secure, smart, sexy, super-talented! #HUGSSSS I am PROUD to call you my “Mama”, my mentor and my muse #Muaaah

    And if ever Evil knocks on your door again, know that, this time, you are NOT alone. You not only have determination and strength as allies, you have your courageous daughters, your caring pets and your craaaaaaaazyyy friends like Kit! ;) #HUGSSSSSS



    • I apologize for the myriad grammar errors and structural mistakes in the previous response :P I just wanted to let you know IMMEDIATELY that YOU ARE NOT ALONE – NOT anymore! Muaah

      • Katherine Kotaw says:

        You should have seen the grammatical errors I made when I wrote to the screenwriter for Run For Your Life yesterday. I didn’t know who she was until then — she found me because of my social media promos — and I was SO excited I repeated phrases, misspelled words and just about everything else wrong you could do in a 50-word Facebook message.

        So NO apologies necessary. Your words are always beautiful and always meaningful. Tonight’s more so than ever.

        Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for your words. I will carry them with me always.

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      I am honored to be all of these things to you, Krithika. And friends such as you give me strength and determination — and a million reasons to smile.

      With love, admiration and thankfulness,

      Your Kat

  2. You are a beautiful, courageous human being, Katherine. Thank you for having the courage to tell your story, and I hope this movie helps to bring awareness to the issue for many, many people.

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Thank you so much, Carolyn, for your kind words and support.

      It was very tempting to stay in the background and let the movie play without acknowledging my connection to it. But it seemed selfish. I was very much alone when I dealt with this issue, and I want other women to know they don’t have to be.

      And I’d like to spread my mantra:

      The WORST day outside an abusive relationship is better than the BEST day inside one. Because on the outside lies hope.

      So happy to see you here in my blog space, Carolyn. I feel a kindred spirit to any bookworm, and your intelligence shines through in everything you do.

  3. toni bullo says:

    Dear Kate,
    now I understand what is your gift and what role you have in this strange world, I was thinking that hearts like your are rare and sometime solitary, like a lighthouse in the middle of the storm.
    Dear Kate, you are a lighthouse… lighthouse so strong that you can see his light in every where.
    One lighthouse for all who had lose the way, in the dark they are looking for the way, for another chance, another springtime.

    Thankyou again for share your gift and illuminate for us a new route.

    Always close to you

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Dear sweet Toni. You bring me tears of joy today, and I am smiling through them and for the powers that brought us together and for the instincts that made us take a chance on each other. Thank you for making a leap of faith — and for renewing my faith daily.

      Hugs of happiness,


  4. Mariann Asbury says:

    What courage to let it all go and start anew for you and your dear daughters. What a horrible life if what the movie displayed had come true if you had stooped and chosen to end his life to protect your own lives. We really did not catch on to what really ended up happening before towards the very end even though we hoped it would not be the terrible situation for your girls to loose both their dad AND mom. This movie was different and differently made. It showed two different directions and what could have happened and what really happened. I am so, so happy for you that you now have a life to share with the ones you love the most, including your woofie. Thumbs up for the best ever for your future and safety and well being and great luck with your job even though I am still trying to learn by reading around your blog and web site what you are really doing for people to help them out. I am running a photography business and would love some more work as my quality is great, but my customer base has not really taken off.

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Thank you, Mariann, for your kindness and support. The movie takes a lot of liberties with my story, but it intelligently explores the real-life option I was given: Kill my ex or disappear. You know the choice I made :).

      I help companies and individuals build their brands — and customer bases — by helping make them unforgettable. The digital age has given customers almost limitless — and often overwhelming — choices about where to take their business. A person could get lost or confused looking at a variety of photographers before contemplating your work. What I do is make brands impossible to ignore — I help them stand out, get noticed and get more clients and customers.

      My sweet Woofie, the soul of the company, watches over us from the heavens these days. But, in the year since she passed, three animals found their way to our home and never left. We have somehow become the adoptive family of two dogs and a cat.

      Thank you again for writing. I’d love to see samples of your work.



  5. […] and on the first Saturday of October 2014, in honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Lifetime premiered a movie about my dramatic escape from a deadly situation. I hadn’t planned to talk about the movie or […]

  6. […] system failed to protect me from my ex. It’s well-written and deftly executed and stays true to my central message: strong, well-educated women are not immune from domestic […]

  7. […] For Your Life was inspired by my story, as told in my memoir, Quicksand: One Woman’s Escape From the Husband Who Stalked […]

  8. […] I fled to a battered women’s shelter (That’s a story worth telling, but I already shared it in my memoir, “Quicksand: One Woman’s Escape From the Husband Who Stalked Her,” which inspired th…) I found the recipe online about five years ago and adjusted it to accommodate our food allergies […]

  9. […] just one of the many benefits of living life on our terms — the happily ever after to the Lifetime movie era of our […]

  10. […] tells the world that I survived an abusive marriage to a sadistic sociopath and that it is now my mission to inspire HOPE after domestic violence and to tell the world that smart, successful women aren’t immune to spousal abuse, contrary to […]

  11. […] the money and credibility I wanted plus an amazing bonus: the heartwarming humility of knowing that my story (the PG version of it at least) reached millions of viewers when Lifetime adapted it into a movie […]

  12. […] the next Christmas arrived, I was warned that my life was in danger and that I should pack emergency belongings in case I had to travel on little or short notice. […]

  13. […] But I never really considered myself a business owner, much less a CEO. I was just a single mom, trying to enjoy my children’s childhoods and give them memories happier than the ones we’d left behind when we’d escaped from the man who abused, stalked and tried to kill us. […]

  14. […] first two reasons are the most important — they’re why I wrote Quicksand and why I agreed to let Lifetime produce the PG-version of my story last year. And, although I had no idea the movie would be repeated so frequently, I am gratified that each […]

  15. Lindsey says:

    Just now watching the movie for the first time. You are inspiration to so many!! I can’t wait to read your book! You give women hope that they can escape and have a better life! Thank you!!

    Lindsey Beckom

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Lindsey. If I can make a difference in even one woman’s life, then my story was worth sharing.

  16. […] groups and charities. All of this, mind you, when my mom and sister and I were technically still in hiding from my sociopathic […]

  17. […] used every arsenal available to him to make our lives a living hell until we went into hiding, said NO MORE to fear and came out of hiding to tell other women that there is hope and happiness to be found on the […]

  18. Aline says:

    Dear Katharine,

    I’m not sure if my story is of any interest as it doesn’t contain the stalking part. It all happened 20 years ago and today I’m in a happy relationship and marriage. But if it helps one woman only, then it might be worth sharing it here.

    I escaped from an abusive marriage after 14 years (I have no children).
    Unfortunately all our friends plus my parents (I have no siblings) were on my ex’ side and refused to help me. But my former boss (a very strong woman, God bless her) was willing to help. There were no women shelters in the West European country where I lived way back then in the late 1990’s. So I went to a divorce lawyer in a big city, told him my story and he promised to put pressure on my soon-to-be-ex-husband once I would disappear. While I was gone, he met him and threatened him with the police. That was all it took.

    Meanwhile I did spend 5 weeks of vacation in the US (this was in early March 1997 until after Easter) and drove all by myself in a motorhome from Vancouver to Los Angeles in order to get over this bastard who had destroyed almost 19 years of my life (we lived together for 4 1/2 years, because I had learned from a previous mistake and wanted to make sure first to not end up in another bad relationship again).

    What I didn’t know way back then, but later was explained by a psycho therapist is the fact that some women send out signals which only abusive men do receive. Nice, gentle, “normal” men (usually) don’t fall for these women, but abusive hot-headed guys do. No matter how self-confident you appear to be, these guys still recognize that they can mistreat you.

    Fear of the unknown was the worst part.
    However, in 1994 I read a great novel by Anita Shreve (IMHO it’s her master piece) on domestic abuse called “Strange Fits of Passion”. And I recognized so much of me in that book that it made me cry and realize that I wanted out before anything worse might happen.
    Another book was published around that time by Nancy Baker Jacobs where the female character is on the run with her little abused daughter.
    And before those two books there was “Sleeping with the Enemy” by Nancy Price (most of us probably know the movie version with Julia Roberts) and I identified with this character and story in the book.
    So these three books basically saved my life. They made me finally leave him and I started a new and better life. It did not become happy for years to come which was not easy, but still a lot better than beaten up by a man.

    In 2006 (I was 51 years old) I met my true soulmate.
    Looking back on all the heartache I went through since 1983 until 2005 (another second unhappy marriage, but this time I fought back), I am very very glad that I had the courage to escape two unhealthy realtionships/marriages and to never give up.

    A few days ago I’ve watched the movie “Run for your Life” and just ordered your book and look forward to read it.
    Thank you for this wonderful blog.

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Thank you, Aline, for sharing your story here to help other women. And I am beyond delighted that you have found happiness with a man in a healthy relationship.

      There is no single face of an abused woman just as there is no single definition of an abusive man. But there are markers that help women identify the GET OUT NOW SIGNALS they must see in order to escape from a dangerous union.

      The books you cited are terrific resources for any woman who needs outside reassurance that she can — and must — say no to abuse in any of its myriad forms. I’m honored that you bought my book — thank you.

      Wishing you continued joy and life’s sweetest rewards,


  19. Nicole says:

    Hi Katherine,
    I was fortunate to catch the last half of the film, Run for Your Life. I am in the same position (with my children) as you were, in the last part of the film, except that we have not found any helpers. I didn’t get to see the earlier part of the movie where you found some knowledgeable people to help you to start a new life with new identities for everyone. Nowadays, the domestic abuse shelters just feed women and children back into the family court system, where corrupt judges and attorneys take bribes and absolutely do not protect women and children. What people, what organization helps women and children who have no other choices, who have run out of options? I can personally attest, that after years of enduring the stalking, attacks, threats, loss after loss, severe damage physically, emotionally, financially, options for women and children in this situation have not improved, and appear to have gotten much worse.
    Where are the safe places? Where are the safe people? Although I am isolated presently, I know of many, many other women who ran out of options, with this situation. If I live through this, I am committed to establishing something that truly protects women and children who are pursued by an obsessed sociopathic abuser.

    • Mommiann says:

      My heart cries for you, how many children?

      • Katherine Kotaw says:

        Hi, Mommiann, and thank you so much for your kind words. Our story WAS sad indeed and taking two small children — both in elementary school — into hiding was a tough — but necessary call. Our story has a happy ending, however. My daughters and I are thriving and seldom look back except when doing so helps others in similar binds. If you know anyone who needs help, please share my story. xoxo

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Hello, Nicole.

      You raise a difficult — and important question. I am happy that you have found a safe solution for you and your family. Help remains scant. I fought the legal systems in two countries — U.S. and Canada — and hired an EXPENSIVE agency to help me disappear. The Gavin de Becker agency, founded by a man who drafted the nation’s first anti-stalking law, provided some initial help but it did not include identities or credentials.
      I spent several years walking dogs and restoring furniture from dumpsters to keep my daughters in food, eating stale donuts myself while i wrote my memoir. The memoir, Quicksand: One Woman’s Escape From the Husband Who Stalked Her (available now on Amazon) provides SOME of the answers you seek.

      Mostly, I hope, it provides inspiration for women like you who MUST forge their own paths to protect themselves from sociopaths. PLEASE HANG IN and please keep in touch. Perhaps someday we can connect and lead the way to finding ACCESSIBLE solutions for all women who face situations like ours.

      Until then, stay safe and find happiness in your children and in things you love to do. Love and laughter are the best protection against the darkness that lies in the souls of abusers. And that’s the best advice I have for anyone who has LEFT an abusive relationship: laugh loudly and often and keep your heart open to love.



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