My name is Ella Hicks, and I am the founder of Rebel Thriver. This is my story:
While in my late 20’s I fell head over heels in love and married a man I thought I knew. It didn’t take long after we had said our vows that the abuse started to surface. It began with an explosion on our honeymoon. I was terrified, and honestly all I wanted to do was go home and start over, but I was too ashamed to admit what had happened. I was in love with him, and I felt it was my responsibility to stand by him. So I chose to stick it out and tried to get my husband the help he obviously needed. We were married for over a decade and the abuse at first ebbed and flowed. I was living in the only place that I would ever call home, and I had the career of my dreams. I just needed to help him heal from his own past in order for us to have a future together. There were great times and there were some really horrible times. He started therapy and was taking medication to help with his depression, rage, and mood swings. We had a few okay years, I was hopeful.
Our first child came and the pressures of being a new parent just crushed him. I didn’t realize it then, but that was the beginning of the end. He decided not to go to therapy anymore. He threw his medication away and decided that he was fine; it was everyone else who had problems. Our life began to fall apart, within 5 years I no longer knew the man that I was married to at all. He was diagnosed with a personality disorder that needed serious mental health intervention. At first he seemed to understand, and was onboard, but as time went on the illness just eclipsed the man that I knew.
When I was three month pregnant with our second child there was no doubt that I needed to get out. By this time things were very volatile and I was really afraid. Like many victims of abuse I was terrified of him, and I was ashamed of what I had been reduced to. I would suffer at home and then go to work and pretend that everything was okay. I was lying to everyone out of fear and shame, including my family. By this time he was trying very hard to isolate me the best he could. He started to tell me he was going to hurt my family members. He threatened to kill our children if I were to ever try to take them away from him. He told me, “I brought them into this world and I can take them out.” Imagine being a young parent trying to navigate all of this alone?
He was high on rage and alcohol almost every night. I would lock myself in the bedroom with the kids, and pray that he would not come home from his nightly jaunts to a local bar. One night he came home and jimmied the bedroom door open. He stood over me holding a huge butcher’s knife in his hand and demanded that I hand over my newborn to him. I sat there with one child in my arms and the other in the bed besides me. I am aware that not many people can relate to this, but there are some, and it is for them that I am writing this. There is no way to put to words the fear that I experienced that night and countless others. My life went on like this for about a year. By this time I would describe him as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Glimpses of Dr. Jekyll were becoming less frequent, and Mr. Hyde took up full residence in our home. I did not know this man. I did not trust him. And I certainly didn’t like him. He was violent, paranoid, physically strong, and capable of anything. I was the frog in the pot of water. By the time I realized that the water was boiling I was already being cooked and had no way out.
I remember the beautiful tree that was outside my bedroom window. I would stand looking out that window for hours dreaming of escape. Seasons came and went as I watched the leaves sprout, grow to a vibrant green, and then turn to shades of yellow, brown, and red before falling to the ground. The abuse intensified and everyday the gas lighting was getting more intense. For a moment of “peace” I would lock myself in the bathroom and cry in the shower and repeat over and over, “I am not crazy. He is crazy. I am not crazy. He is crazy.” I was only in my early thirties, but I was broken down. Mentally, emotionally, and physically the abuse had taken its toll. I was trapped and I knew that if I tried to leave he would kill us.
Somehow in the midst of this nightmare I kept blowing on the tiny ember of hope that lived within me. I know with the utmost of certainty that if it hadn’t been for my children I most certainly wouldn’t be here today. When I think back on this time I am nothing short of heartbroken for the young mother that I was, and the torment I was forced to endure. By this time I was actively looking for an out, but as hard as I tried I couldn’t find an open window or a cracked door to slip through. We had been locked in a cage and there was no key.
And then on a bitter cold winter night a door blew open for me, and without any preparation I decided to leave that night. With my two small children one on each hip, and only the clothes on our backs I left, knowing that if I walked out the door I would never be able to return home. I chose to walk away from my home, my beloved career, my friends, colleagues, and even my identity in order to stay alive. I went from making six figures to living on welfare to support my children. Leaving was the scariest thing that I have ever done in my entire life, bar none.
I have no words for what it feels like to be betrayed by someone so deeply. To trust someone with your life, and then fear that this same person will take that very life is something that I have not yet been able to articulate clearly. A few years of living scared and isolated left me a shell of my former self. I second guessed everything. I didn’t trust anyone. I had no vision for my future, and I was still trying to figure out what the hell had happened to me. We were completely broke, I wasn’t receiving child support, and the stress that I lived under trying to stay afloat was crippling. Trying to raise two young energetic and bright children was a challenge. I spent a lot of time taking them to child Psychologists trying to fend off the inevitable diagnosis of PTSD. We had been ravished my war. My ex-husband had become a terrorist and I was alone. I didn’t know anyone personally who had survived domestic violence that I could talk to. I carried the shame and felt like a total failure every single day. Society was pressuring me to pretend that I had it all together when I clearly did not. There was no public discourse about domestic violence at this time and I felt like a rudderless ship who was missing her home, career, friends, and honestly myself. I was alone and we were forced to live a shadow life for many years trying to stay one step ahead of him.
Sometimes you just have to be your own hero.
My response to this was to create a safe haven for other survivors. I knew that there were others out there, but I didn’t know how to connect with them. So one day I decided to take a leap of faith and start a blog. I wanted to speak out and shine a light on the insidiousness of domestic violence. I knew that if survivors could find each other we could join our voices and impact change. I decided to call the blog Rebel Thriver. I started writing, and just as I knew would happen, people started reaching back. I began writing to save myself from the unbearable isolation I felt. Finding my voice enabled me to reach my hand into the darkness and there I found so many hands reaching back. I had found my tribe.
Domestic violence is a worldwide epidemic, and what makes it so insidious is that it hides in plain sight. It doesn’t discriminate across socio-economic, religious, or educational lines, it doesn’t care what race, sex, or political beliefs you have. It is relentless and one in four women have been affected by it in some way. Did you know that on any given day the Domestic Violence Hotline will receive over 20K calls. In times of crisis, like our world is seeing now, these numbers only escalate.
Trauma from domestic violence causes deep layered wounding and healing is a long journey. I have dedicated my life to helping women heal from this kind of trauma. What I have found is that the initial support that one can find after immediately leaving abuse, much akin to triage, often dissipates as quickly as it appears. Limited resources create a void where growth is not easy if you are going it alone. Additional holistic support is necessary in order to be able to see personal transformation into a whole and healthy person. When support is not there to help a survivor transition, recidivism is much more likely. After I left, there was no one to help me figure out who I was after I had been systematically broken down to a shell of my former self. I had no roadmap for finding my way home to me. I didn’t understand how the changes that we had suffered on a neurobiological level would affect our daily lives. Trauma therapy wasn’t very common (it still isn’t) and I didn’t understand what the long term effects the trauma would have on our brains. I was sailing on the seas completely rudderless and afraid. I needed other women to connect to. I needed a lifeline.
I created Rebel Thriver as a place for survivors to come together, feel accepted, seen, and understood. I believe that healing comes faster when we are connected to people with similar traumatic experiences. It is in our shared stories of struggles and triumphs that humanity takes root. If you are feeling lost right now please know that new beginnings are possible! The first step is to accept that you are worthy of a life full of love and joy. Living in the liminal space that we all face after leaving abuse isn’t easy, especially if you don’t have the right kind of support. You are walking the path of no longer and not yet and you need a guide. Life is intrinsically messy. Regardless to if you are working through the recovery of an abusive relationship, a rape, sexual abuse or childhood trauma, we are all working on letting go of the past in order to be able to reclaim our lives and live in the present without fear.
Last year Rebel Thriver became a Not for Profit Organization. We have big plans to grow so that we can provide help and resources through coaching, mentoring, workshops, classes, retreats, and advocacy to those in need. It is our mission to help others find the path of recovery so that they can reconnect to themselves, heal, find their voice, and create beautiful lives.
The Rebel Thriver Team is made up of an amazing group of women who volunteer their time to help others who are in need. They help to keep our organization running and on a continued growth trajectory. We are a diverse group from different backgrounds with very different life stories, but we all come together with one voice to support survivors and fight domestic violence.
We believe in new beginnings.
Our vision is to implement sustainable programs that will help survivors of abuse reclaim their lives. Rebel Thriver exists to inspire, encourage, educate, and offer support for survivors so they can create healthy and abundant lives full of hope for tomorrow. We strive to impact lasting change by advocating for new legislation and shining a light in the darkness. Your donation means everything to us and the women that we are able to help. Thank you in advance for helping us help others.
My name is Sooshmita and I am a survivor. Before I share the story of my arranged marriage, I would like to begin with my childhood, and how I used to be as a young woman. I was born in Birmingham, UK and brought up in London. I remember being very quiet, reserved, and I hardly used to speak. When I was five or six my teachers were worried that I may have speech difficulties and suggested to my mum to take me to a speech therapist. After a number of sessions at the hospital they concluded that was able to speak, but just very shy and quiet. As a child I can remember not being able to express my needs, and I suppressed my emotions so that I could fit in with others. As a result, I had many negative experiences in both primary and high school
My parent’s marriage had been arranged for them in their mid twenties, and they migrated to the UK from Bangladesh in l979. They both had strong cultural values. A year after my sister was born my mother got a job, and my father had started his own business. I had a very simple, but sheltered life. After school I would just go straight home and do my homework. Any socializing events were usually with family or relatives, but I was not encouraged to have a social life outside of my family, especially if there were different ethnicities or races involved. Although my parents were traditional, I do remember my father would always help my mother with cooking and taking care of us, and I saw an equal partnership between them.
In my culture and religion (Islam) women get married straight after graduating, usually at 22 years old. She would be lucky if she was able to go to a university. My sister is five years older than me, and when she was 22 my parents started to look for a potential partner for her marriage. There were quite a few men with professional careers who met my sister, but when my sister turned 25 my mum started to panic because of her age. Rather than encouraging my sister to excel with her job my mum kept saying, “Why is God not helping you to get married?” My father wasn’t as worried as my mum was though. I was 19 at the time, and one of my friends shared that her cousin’s friend was looking for a potential partner for her brother. It seemed that the description of my sister was a pretty good match for him. I introduced this potential partner to my parents, and once they met, my sister and brother in law got married six months later. My sister has the conventional beauty that is recognised by most people from my culture. This means she is fair skinned and tall. I believe we are all beautiful in our own ways, however I do not fit the conventional type as my skin is not fair. I remember in my childhood being asked by my relatives why my skin was dark, this of course affected my self esteem because I believed I was not as beautiful as my sister.
The traditional path for most women in my culture is to get married and have children. I have quite a few female cousins the same age as my sister who have been looking for spouses since the 2005, but they are still single because they have not been able to find the right partner. I remember turning 20 and hoping not to end up like my older cousins who have been single for too long. Although my mum had been working since the year 1980, she did have a very traditional mindset in relation to the roles women and men play in our culture. Once she said to my cousin, “Men should have careers and women should have beauty.” Looking back I understand why I had toxic false beliefs about gender roles, and I see the negative impact of this throughout my life.
At the age of 19 I was not sure what to study, however my parents had this notion that if you do not have a degree then you are a failure. Randomly, I chose to study criminology with law only to later regret this. After graduating it was my turn for my parents to find me a potential marital partner. I was 23 at this time and the business of exchanging photos and bio-data began to be exchanged between families. At times “Aunty” would introduce me to a guy’s mother, who would either find me pretty or not good enough. At this time my self worth was being tossed around. When I would hear how some men rejected me I would feel crushed, and the agony of waiting to be wanted by someone was painful. Seeing my older cousins still single also added to my anxiety and fear of getting old and still being single, even though I was just 24.
My mother had a friend who suggested a potential partner for me who was living in Bangladesh. He came to England with his family for his cousin’s wedding. My mum shared the details with me, and since I knew it was time for me to get married, I agreed to meet him. My mum and sister accompanied me to meet him and his parents. They left us alone to chat, and while he was being friendly and nice, I could see that there was a vast difference between us. I felt a cultural barrier since he was born and brought up in Bangladesh, but most of all there was no physical attraction. I did not want to be rude so we did have a friendly conversation about each other’s hobbies and interests. Once our families returned the “Aunty” who introduced this proposal kept telling us to exchange numbers. I did not want to give my number, as I did not like him, so I stayed quiet and was hoping my silence would be taken as a hard NO.
Once I got home my mum was very happy and kept repeating that this man was perfect for me. She kept emphasizing that his father is a professor and that his mother has a master’s degree. This man was not bad looking, and he is a doctor. The medical profession is my mother’s favorite, she really admires men and women who become doctors.
I kept telling my mum that I did not like him, and that I was not attracted to him emotionally or physically. He was a big tall man, but my mum kept saying he would lose weight, and that appearance is not important. She believes that career and family status are the most important factors for a good marriage. At this point the third person who was a mediator, another “Aunty”, called my mother and kept emphasizing how this man was perfect for me, and that the family liked me. This encouraged my mum to keep trying to persuade me to change my mind. She shared with my brother, father and uncle how perfect she thought this match was for me.
This is when I began suppressing my emotions, and started to abandon myself for my family’s validation, and what they thought was best for me.
I met my ex-husband in June 2010, and once they went back to Bangladesh we spoke a few times on the phone. I got a job as an administrator, but I was struggling to concentrate knowing that at some point I would be getting married to this man. One day on my way from work he called me and said that he was coming back with his family to the UK the next month, meaning September 2010. He said the Nikah (Islamic marriage ceremony has been planned for September 8, 2010). I rushed home and was in shock when my mother said they had agreed with his father to have the Nikah. I told my mother that they were rushing the marriage, and that I need more time to get to know him. My mum said that their holiday visas were to expire in November, and that his father was worried that if we waited, it may not be easy to get granted another holiday visa. Therefore they wanted to come to the UK for the marriage ceremony before the visa expired. My mum and uncle supported this and I felt ignored. Before my marriage, my uncle visited my soon to be husband and his parents. He gave my mum positive feedback about them, and this made my situation worse as my mum continued to pressure me to accept this marriage arrangement.
They all came back to the UK from Bangladesh, and my marriage ceremony took place at home on September 7, 2010. Prior to the marriage, I was distraught and emotional. I kept asking myself why, just 3 months earlier, I had even agreed to meet him and his parents in the first place. Had I known about the pressure campaign that would follow by my family, uncle, and 3rd “Auntie” to meet my future husband and his parents, I would never have agreed to meet him. I found myself in a situation where I felt helpless, and so I married him. I was so good at hiding my emotions and pushing my authentic self deep into my unconscious mind, it was as if I was wearing a mask from the day we married.
Although I was not physically attracted to him things were okay at the beginning. However, intimacy was very hard for me as I did not want him to get too close, nor did I want to be touched by him. There was no one that I could share this with either, because in my family we were brought up not to speak about anything sexual or intimate, it is considered taboo in my culture. I felt ashamed for feeling like this as I was his wife. I was unable to share this even with a friend because I felt so ashamed that I allowed myself to get into that difficult situation in the first place, and now I did not know how to get out. My friend told me later that when she asked me about intimacy in my marriage, and I said everything was okay, she knew I was not telling the truth, but did say anything because she didn’t want to make me feel even worse than I already did.
In January of 2011, I traveled to Bangladesh for my second marriage ceremony, and to help him apply for his spousal visa so that he could move to the UK with me. I felt like my marriage was a business transaction; he would get to live in the UK and my family would gain a medical doctor. I asked him if he had agreed to our marriage just for my British citizenship and he said no, which was a lie. I found out that the reason he was pressured to marry me was for my British status. Prior to traveling to Bangladesh I was consumed with sadness and despair, but I accepted it, and tried to focus only on the good parts. As I had never traveled anywhere alone due to my sheltered life, I found that traveling to Bangladesh alone was exciting. They lived in the capital city, and I welcomed the new experience of seeing another lifestyle in a country that was so different to my own.
Once I arrived there I just wanted to run back home and tell everyone I made a big mistake. It did not feel right, but I tried to make the most of my time in Bangladesh. I would go shopping and to restaurants so that my mind was occupied with good things. But then one night he attacked me as I was sleeping. I was just in shock. When I asked him about it the next day he said he had a bad dream. I believed him, because at that time I had no idea that he had a mental illness that affected his sleep. I stayed quiet and thought maybe I should not make a big issue as he was not showing any sign of remorse or apology. Then I packed it away in my mind and forgot about it until he moved to the UK in February of 2012.
When he arrived in the UK I was applying for jobs without any luck, and that meant I was home most of the time. My duty as a wife was expected from both him, and my mum, and life was hard. During this time he was studying English for his UK medical exam in order to qualify as a doctor and he was unable to provide me with anything. Our accommodations and food were provided to us by my parents. Living with my family, and with a husband who was not providing anything, was painful. I always saw other husbands providing and taking care of their wives, but not him. I was the traditional wife taking care of all his needs, but I was not receiving anything in return. My mum would say to me, “Be patient, you will have everything once he is a qualified UK doctor.” So I waited whilst playing the role of the good wife. I was hoping I could get a job so that I was not home with him everyday, but cuts in the job market made it hard to find a graduate job. He would sometimes study at the library, and when he would return home I would have his dinners ready. I would clean up after him, as he never had to do this in Bangladesh either. In Bangladesh, families will have a maid to do this. I accepted my new life hoping that I would find some joy, at some point. My mum taught me that you don’t always love a man before marriage, that the love begins and grows after marriage. I was hoping I would learn to love him. I began waiting for things to change, but I felt trapped, so I stayed silent.
At this time my nan (grandmother) was diagnosed with dementia (Alzhiemer’s). I had never heard of dementia or what the condition was like until I saw my nan’s symptoms. Out of curiosity, I began to study books on neuroscience and decided to go back to university at the age of 27. My family could not understand why I wanted to go back for more education. They kept telling me to just get a job, and questioned why I wanted another degree. Nevertheless, I went back to university, and I am so glad I did! I met peers from all backgrounds and ages. I didn’t feel ashamed to be studying again at the age of 27. Being at university and studying a subject I loved was the only form of happiness I had at this time. I had absolutely nothing in common with my husband, and we were totally different people. I was interested in living a healthy life, and he was the opposite. His doctor advised him to lose weight for his physical health issues. His life was mostly studying, and then his father would send him money for his exams. It did not bother me that it had been two years since he had come to the UK and yet had not passed the medical exam, as I was focusing on me and my own passion.
Sexual intimacy with him was very hard for me. Every time we would have sex I would detach and imagine myself as a sex worker, and he my client. My imagination helped me to get through it, as it made me feel powerful to have a little control. Looking back, I think that feeling like I did, not having any power over my life choices, but being able to feel somewhat powerful through my imagination of being a sex worker helped me to survive.
Symptoms related to his illness were starting to show, but I had never met anyone with mental illness. I was not aware that all these issues that were starting were a part of his condition known as Psychosis with severe OCD. His self care was very poor and I could not understand how he could live like this. He would not shower despite me telling him many times to have shower. He smelled very bad, but it would take my parents telling him to have shower to actually get him to do it. I was so confused by all of his behavior. During my second year as a Psychology undergraduate I was studying with my peers and we were discussing various mental illnesses as a group. There was this case study where a man kept showering due to his OCD, and I can remember thinking that I wish my husband would do this.
A few days later his exam results were to be released. He told everyone that he did not pass, but the truth was that he did not attend the exam. It was then, after 2 years, that he told me that he had mental illness (Psychosis and OCD). I was completely shocked to hear this. I was studying psychology, and now I had a husband who had a mental illness. This was obviously my golden chance to escape, but I was trapped by his emotionally manipulative words. He said marriage is about supporting spouses through good and bad times, and that if I had mental illness how would I feel if he left me? I realized that he must have had this illness before we got married, because it didn’t make sense that it would have suddenly just surfaced. He emphasized how people take medication for this sort of thing, but said that he never took medication prior to our first year of marriage because he was well. I had no evidence that he was lying. I could not say anything, but I desperately wanted to leave.
The constant manipulation and guilt kept me stuck, even though by this time my mother and sister were telling me that I should leave him. His emotionally manipulative words about abandonment in a marriage due to illness made me feel that I could not walk away. It was at this point that things went from bad to worse. I was studying, but it was so hard to focus and I was becoming depressed. I was trapped in a bad marriage. Thankfully, I had a friend at university who was giving me support. Long story short, I was emotionally, physically, and sexually abused and neglected by my husband. My dream of a happy marriage was far away, and I ended up as his carer or what felt more like a life of a slavery for me. I attended all his medical and psychologist sessions with him, but nothing helped him as he was not willing to help himself. After finally passing the medical exam on his third attempt, his illness got worse, and he was again at home. He wasn’t applying for any jobs, nor was he following his treatment plan. I unexpectedly became pregnant because he raped me. I ended up having a miscarriage, and that was followed by surgery which was extremely traumatic. In 2016 I decided to separate from him, as my emotional and mental health were being adversely affected. He went back to Bangladesh to live with his parents, and I tried to focus on my final year’s thesis at the university.
There are a lot more details that I hope to be able to share in the future. I found evidence that he had been diagnosed with mental illness, and that he had taken medication for it prior to, and after we were married, and I felt somewhat vindicated. I knew that he would no longer be able to manipulate me or make me feel guilty, because I finally had evidence of his mental illness. This gave me the strength to leave. I graduated in the summer of 2017 with a second upper class degree. I was still in shock, but I was happy to know that I achieved this degree despite the challenges, and the darkness that I had endured.
After graduation, I traveled to Sri Lanka and worked with children and adults with learning disabilities for eight weeks. I made a plan that once I returned to the UK I would proceed with my divorce. I was hoping my family would see the evidence that I had, and that he had lied and betrayed me. I hoped they would also see that I tried to support him as a wife, but that I couldn’t live like that anymore. My family, especially my mum and sister, continued to pressure me not to get a divorce. At this time I told my husband to give me my dowry back, as it is stated on our Islamic marriage certificate. In Hindu religion the women’s parents pay the man who will take her as a wife, however in Islam it is the opposite, as the man gives the dowry as a gift to the woman. This dowry is stated on the marriage certificate so that if the divorce occurs he must pay her that specific amount of dowry back. When I asked my ex husband for it back, he refused. The Imam, who is like a priest at the mosque, also said to my ex-husband and his parents that as he never provided anything for me, and as they kept his illness hidden from me, than they should give me the dowry back, as its my right as a muslim wife. They of course refused to follow this Islamic marriage law.
I started my master’s program in September 2018, but it turned out to be a bad idea because I was distracted by the divorce I was so desperately fighting for, and from living with depression. I was finally diagnosed with Complex PTSD and clinical depression, and was put on a long waiting list to be seen by a therapist. I started taking an antidepressant to help me during those times when my anxiety would overwhelm me. In May of 2019, I finally got my diviorce certificate, but rather than feeling liberated I was in shock from the entire experience; my arranged marriage, his mental illness and lack of responsibility as a husband, the neglect and abuse I endured, but mostly because of the lack of support and love from my own family. I had been deceived by my ex-husband and his parents.
In April of 2020 I came across Rebel Thriver. At this time I had decided to take a study break, and I started teaching at a school for children with special needs. Working with children whilst going to therapy really helped me on my healing journey. I was still feeling shattered and lost, so I decided to sign up for Ella’s coaching program. It helped me to find confidence in myself. In Ella I found a coach who not only inspired me, but I trusted her because she had walked a very similar path as I had. She is a great role model to have. I now know that I will never settle for simply being a man’s wife again, I want so much more.
It was exactly at this time that I lost my beloved nan who had suffered with dementia for many years, and five weeks later I suddenly lost my father to cancer. The support and love from Ella and other women in the coaching group, who have now become my close friends, helped me to get through the bereavement. A year before I lost my father he started to understand how much my ex-husband and his parents deceived and lied to me and my family about his mental illness. My father asked me for the medical evidence so that he could travel to Bangladesh and file a case for the return of the dowry. My marriage caused so much trauma, and I told my father to forget the dowry, as they all will answer to God for it in the hereafter. Now that I have healed, I do regret not supporting my father with his decision to fight for my dowry. This is a battle that I may consider taking on in the near future because I i have legal rights and I want justice.
Marriage is meant to enrich your life, not enslave you. The worst thing in life isn’t being single, but rather being married and forced to live an unauthentic life, one that does not match your personal values. We shouldn’t worry if we feel that we do not fit in with others because the right people will always find you. I am currently working with children and have gone back to university to complete my postgraduate studies. It is tough to do both at the same time, but with amazing support from Ella (my coach and friend) and my mentors who are trained psychologists I am willing to endure this tough journey to achieve my goals. My dream is not only to be a clinical psychologist, but a psychologist who stands up for the justice of women from ethnic minorities who are not able to come forward for support. I want them to know that their voice matters, and that I will hold a safe place for them to heal. When you help others heal you are also helping yourself. I do not know what the future holds. A doctorate in clinical psychology is a very competitive career, but I would rather try and give it my all than be consumed by my fear of failure. Happiness is a journey, and not just a destination. As I strive for my goals I am discovering who I am meant to be.
Everyday I am learning how to make myself a better person, and how to transform my pain into a purpose. I will use my pain as fuel to make a better future not only for myself, but for women of all backgrounds. Life will never be perfect, but we don’t have to settle for less than we deserve. We can choose to seek the light even when we are stuck in the darkness.
This year I was hoping to write about my experience, but I can’t find it in me to be honest. The truth is what I saw and experienced on this day 20 years ago, may never find a voice from me. The weight of the sorrow holds me back. I don’t want to feel the pain.
I was in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. I was living in an abusive marriage to a mentally unstable, and very scary man. That day was terrifying, and he was even more terrifying. It’s hard to talk about it, because it was just too much. The tricky thing about trauma is that it screws with your memory, and the truth is that I’ve not had it in me to try to face them. I buried that day within me while it was still alive.
It’s been 20 years. My first baby was one years old in 2001, he’s now a 21 year old young man. What I can share today, is a window into how trauma presents itself, even after 20 years: I am numb. I can’t turn on the radio or tv because I cannot bare to hear a word about it. I have a heavy sob stuck in the center of my chest and I am terrified to let it out, but I desperately want to. AlI I want to do is forget, and leave it buried. But we can’t forget can we? Nor should we, people deserve to be honored. There is a film reel playing all the time in my mind. I cannot stop it, because I cannot access it. Perhaps one day I will be ready to. Perhaps I won’t.
There was not a cloud in the sky on that crisp September day. We had no idea what was coming when the bottom dropped out. It felt like the city crumbled around me. We were a city of zombies, everyone in shock. I have yet to process what happened, but once a year I am reminded that I need to. Maybe one day I will be able to speak more about it, just not this day. To those of you who were personally touched or lost loved ones, parents, friends, and colleagues I send you my love. It is my belief that the 2,997 that died that beautiful September day are dancing in another realm, untethered from the weight of their human bodies.
Today was a hard day for so many, but we survived.
I find myself at a loss of words over the Supreme Court decision that in short tells women what they can and cannot do to their bodies. Oh, and basically deputizes citizens to turn in their neighbors. It feels like we are in 1942 Germany or in the Soviet Union in the 1980’s. I have dedicated my life to working with women. I help them find their path to healing and I help them find their voices. What happened today pushes back against all of this. It’s a push back against women themselves. There are a lot of ways I could write on this subject, but I’ve decided to tell you my story, what I have learned, and what I know.
I was raised in a born again Christian household where we were forced to go to prayer meetings, church, etc. During my middle school and teenage years I watched as my parents marriage changed as a result. My father became even more controlling than he already was, my mother more submissive, and as a result, unhappy children. This was a formative time for me because I learned exactly the kind of parent I did not want to be.
When I was 15, and still a virgin, I was raped. I was traumatized and terrified, but I couldn’t tell my parents. What if I was pregnant? They were so pro life that I knew they wouldn’t be on my side in this situation. When I finally got my period I was beyond relieved. I then proceed to promptly stuff that memory into a dark corner of my mind, and I kept going. At 22 I decided to finally tell my mother about it. She ended up breaking down and took to her bed for 3 days. She cried and begged me for forgiveness. She wanted to know why I didn’t just tell her. Then she made me promise that we would never tell my father because it would kill him. Imagine if I had been impregnated? What then? I stuffed it back into the dark corners of my mind, and went about the business of living the best I could.
When I was in my mid twenties I met a guy. Our worlds collided and we fell madly and deeply in love, and got married. This is where it gets a little more personal. I have always had an unpredictable menstrual cycle. Sometimes I won’t get it for months, and then there are times when I have it for months. It’s just how it’s always been. I had an amazing career, and I made good money, so we decided not to use birth control. After 5 years of marriage I finally got pregnant. I didn’t know I was pregnant until I was 7-8 weeks pregnant because I continued to have my period. In fact, I had my period for the entire first trimester for both of my kids. I had NO IDEA I was pregnant at 6 weeks with either of them.
We were married for a total of 11 years and during this time my career was exploding, but my marriage was crumbling. I was being abused by my husband. Now just to explain a little about domestic violence…it is not a straight line. You live in a cycle of abuse. There is a period of time where the tension is so thick you can cut it with a knife. You walk on eggshells, and try to avoid the tension from building, but no matter what you do it inevitably leads to an explosion. Abuse is abuse. Period. To those of you who are wondering if you are being abused because you haven’t been hit yet, the answer is if you are feeling it then most likely you are. Don’t use physical abuse as the benchmark for getting help. Now back to the cycle. After the explosion of abuse there is a period of calm much like after a big storm. This is when the Honeymoon phase begins. The abuser will love bomb you to try to smooth things over. They will tell you what you want to hear. You are so exhausted by this point that you are just grateful for the peace, and you promise yourself that there won’t be a next time, but here always is. I was married to Jekyll and Hyde. As evil as he could be one day, he could also be the amazingly intelligent and funny man I fell in love with. It got to the point that I didn’t know who I would be talking to on any given day.
Over the next 5 years while living in the exhausting and chaotic cycle of violence I became pregnant a couple more times, but I miscarried. I desperately wanted more children. When I finally did get pregnant again I didn’t know until after 6 weeks, because I continued to menstruate. At about the three month mark into the pregnancy, Mr. Hyde showed up and decided to kick Dr. Jekyll out for good, and took up full residence in our home. This is when the nature of the abuse took a turn; I was being abused while pregnant. I was having a hard time gaining weight, I couldn’t sleep, and I was trying so hard to keep the peace. My baby came early as a result of the abuse. It was if he couldn’t tolerate another moment inside of my traumatized body. It was during this pregnancy that I accepted the truth about my situation. I needed to get out, but how?
The next two years my life were a living hell. I was a nervous wreck. I went from a size 10 to a 2, and didn’t even realize it. It was during this time where my personal rights were challenged. I was isolated from my friends and family. The only thing I was truly allowed to do was work, and as a result it became my salvation. Someone had to make money and it certainly wasn’t going to be him. He was a nasty drunk most nights. He threatened me with his fist, and a big old butcher knife. I woke up with his hands around my neck so he could tell me that he could, “snuff the life out of me”. It was bad. It was intensifying, and he was threatening to hurt my mother. He told me that he would never let me leave him and take the kids, that he would rather take them out of this world. That is why I stayed until that one miraculous night when the opportunity presented itself, the door opened, and I ran through it as fast as I could with a baby on each hip.
I have never been in a situation where I have had to really consider an abortion. But I know that I would have wanted that option after the rape (even though I know my parents would have made me have it and put it up for adoption). I have experienced the loss of my freedom. First as a kid in a conservative Christian home, and then as an abused spouse. It wasn’t until I lost my freedom as an adult that I realized how precious it was. I was caged and I wasn’t allowed to make decisions for myself. It’s not hard to understand why my favorite word is freedom.
What has happened in Texas is terrifying. I feel like it is the beginning of Gilead (Handmaid’s Tale reference). There are over 29 million people living in Texas and 50% of them are women. The other 50% is made up approximately of 74% white men. (1) For me this is not just about the right to choose, because that is just a boundary that they will attempt to push out again in order to take more rights from women. As a survivor of abuse this feels all sorts of wrong, and I know this is triggering many other women survivors. No one has a right to take away your choices for your own body. And it is especially worrisome that the majority of men that are doing this in Texas are white. What’s it going to be next? What state is going to follow suit?
Women who have money and seek an abortion in Texas will be inconvenienced by having to go to another state. Women who do not have a means will have children that they are not emotionally or financially prepared to care for. Women who are in abusive relationships that are repeatedly raped will have no recourse. It’s hard enough trying to get out of an abusive relationship, but the more kids you have the harder it will be. Do you see where I am going with this? In the state of Texas they have been fighting for their rights against mask mandates, but they think it is okay for the government to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her own body.
It sounds just like abuse, but now the government is taking a piece of the action. Women should have guaranteed dominion over their own bodies. Full stop. If this is taken away then women are not free in this country, and women of color will have it all the more harder. This is resoundingly unacceptable for all women, regardless if they are pro-choice or pro-life. And on that note I want to remind you that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk collecting dust. Without the protection of this law women are at risk. My understanding is that the hold up is over gun rights. They added into the law that anyone found guilty of domestic violence will lose their right to have a gun. Imagine that?
One in four women will experience domestic violence in their life. The Domestic Violence Hotline receives over 20K calls a day in the USA. (2) Over half of all intimate partner homicides are committed with a gun. A woman is 5x more likely to be murdered when her abuser has access to a gun. In order to protect women and reduce the homicide rates for domestic violence we must insure that people who abuse their partners or family do not have access to firearms. (3) Again, this is just another example of women losing their freedom because men are not willing to give up control.
I am very scared about what is going to happen after this. I am scared for the women who live in other states because you know it’s only a matter of time before similar laws are passed in them. Women are not confused. We do not need men (or Amy Coney Barrett) to tell us how to take care of our own bodies. They don’t want to wear masks, they don’t want us to take away their guns, but they want to take away a woman’s right to decide what is right for her own body. This is the Patriarchy in all its white glory. It will continue to do what it needs to in order to retain power and hold all women and men of color back.
I’m thinking of moving north. If I see Handmaids in their red capes walking north in orderly lines from the south I want to be able to run across the border to Canada. Just as all the Anti-maskers in Texas are crying “My Body, My Choice, My Rights”, so are women shouting the same thing, but apparently no one gives a shit about that.
We are all survivors of something. The human condition is such that we love, we live, and at times we hurt. Some of us have pin prick wounds that may sting for a little, but are easily healed and fade from memory. Others of us are wounded so deeply that we carry the scars of those wounds for life.
This shared experience gives us a common ground. We can heal, we can live lives of value, we can help others to find the same healing, and we can find love. Love for ourselves, love for each other, and love of life. We can find beauty in our lives, despite the wounds. We can connect with each other over those things that we have in common.
And it is
The commonality of living and being wounded by the world, which can be a hard place at times, gives us the opportunity to connect with others through shared experiences of our pasts. This then becomes another opportunity to use those connection with others, to create a space for beauty, love, and compassion. Where we embrace and celebrate that which we share. We open ourselves up to speak truthfully of our wounds, of our hopes, our loves, and our dreams. Through this others can see us, can know us, and can find us. We have courage. For we can provide the place of healing that so many need.
This is where we in Rebel Thriver meet. In the commonality of love, peace, healing, compassion, and the beauty of the spirit.
It is and has always been my journey home.
These beliefs that I hold for this Rebel Thriver space have shaped my personal mantra.
“I have the courage to speak my truth. To seek and embrace healing. To love myself and others. To find beauty in living. To open myself to connections. To learn and share my knowledge.”
Do not wear your body as an apology. Wear it proudly. Be in awe of your form, for what it is or where it gets you, for what it allows you to feel and do.
– Bianca Sparacin
Wear it proudly, my loves! You know that saying “Youth is wasted on the young”? I think of all the ways I “wore my body as an apology” when I was younger. Looking back I see how beautiful I was, in my own unique way, but saw nothing but flaws. I wish I could reach back through time, grab my younger self by the shoulders, and make her see sense. While that’s not possible, what I can do is make sure I speak to my inner child and live my message now. I see my body as my sacred vessel, and I am grateful for all the ways it fights for me, carries me, and allows me to feel and interact with the world. My freckles, stretch marks, wrinkles, and whatever else society says needs fixing, I now know is just another paint stroke to the masterpiece painting that is me. Love your beautiful self, and that includes your body; every inch! I hope you recognize how remarkable all that makes You up is, and that you see it now, not in hindsight. Free yourselves from the illusion that there is anything wrong with your body other than the story you’ve been telling yourself, about how there’s something wrong with your body.
“I began to shiver. There was a wind blowing through me; I felt like an empty room with all the windows shattered, terror blowing through me, no comfort left. That was how I felt consciously and distinctly.” – Frederic Prokosch
This is how domestic violence feels at times. It guts you and leaves you feeling utterly alone and isolated. A shell of your former self. There is no comfort to be found in it and when you do find a moment of peace you are always preoccupied with the fear of it ending. You are never able to fully relax. To experience the relief of being able to collapse into yourself. No fear. No worries. You are on guard and vigilant 24/7, walking on eggshells and always praying that it won’t happen again. But it does. It always happens again. This is the cycle of violence and what makes it so incendiary is that it always circles back on itself. It runs deeply infecting one generation to another. Unless the cycle is broken. . The road back is not an easy one. It is riddled with road mines and much strife. But we the survivors are strong and must never forget to celebrate that. Freedom becomes our favorite word and courage our middle name. Day after day you must take steps forward and find support that you can lean into. Find role models of women who have walked your path before you and who inspire you. The path to healing is where you will learn to rebuild yourself on a solid foundation and begin the process of discovering who you are again. No longer will you feel like an empty house with shattered windows. Instead, you will feel a fire rising up within you declaring that you are worthy of so much more. You are so very worth the effort it will take to rebuild. You deserve a peaceful happy life. Healing takes time so you must tend to your garden with much love and self care. 🦋Ella . Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233 (United States) The hotline.org . ✨ If you are interested in life coaching please reach out to me at Ellahickscoaching@gmail.com or you can get more info and book your sessions at ellahicks.com.
The above quote was sent to me in a text from my young teenage son. This is where his head was as he rode the bus home from school. What’s it like for a mother to read something like this from their child? It’s heartbreaking, bordering on devastating.
I have been trying to explain to my own father for a long time how today’s world is impacting our youth. I tell him that they are feeling disillusioned and scared. They are angry at the “adults” who have overlooked their futures and are dismissing their current day concerns. Parents are afraid too, and they often deal with this problem by trying to act like everything is okay or that everything will be okay. Denial. Out of sight out of mind. I understand that they want to protect their kids. They want to keep the external peace as long as they can. But in the midst of this, know that the inner turmoil of your children rages on.
I am far from a perfect parent. Far. Far. Far. However, I try to be as humble as possible, and to adjust my sails when I see that I am heading down the wrong course. I grew up in a very traditional home where you didn’t argue or disagree with the “adults”. As a result I felt unheard, disregarded, and unimportant. That caused a lot of angst and rebellion from me as I desperately tried to be seen. But, I learned from my experiences and decided that when I had kids I would do it differently.
It’s not that my parents didn’t love me. They did. They do…very, very much. However, they were the products of their own upbringings. They were strict, afraid, and Catholic. They held a tight reign. My choice has been to raise my children along side of me. This started with the decision to have a family bed when they were babies. They have been raised to believe that they are an intrinsic part of this family. Their thoughts and dreams matter to me. They may have flowed through me, but I know that they do not belong to me. It is my “duty” here on this earth to make sure that I guide them to adulthood with honesty and as much love as possible.
The world has taken a turn for the worse in the last few years. My children are no longer babes, they are young adults with BIG ideas and passions. They are watching the world become more unstable and chaotic. They don’t trust our leaders and they are pissed that the “adults” in the room cannot get it together. The Earth is not-so-slowly dying and people’s lives are being turned upside down as a result. What will become of our world they ask? I was certainly not prepared by my parents for this future that we have arrived at. Why didn’t they understand that by polluting the earth at every turn we would be killing it? Who knew that there would be an expiration date in our lifetime?
I listen to the conversations of the kids who roam in and out of my home on the daily. I hear things like, “I am never having children.” Or “The end of the world is upon us so what is the point with school?” And, “Why should we try when it’s already too late?” How does one effectively parent in today’s world? I have no idea. I just try to listen. I allow them to emote and express themselves verbally. I am not going to lie and say it’s easy because it isn’t. It’s exhausting work trying to appear like you’ve got it together, day in and day out for your kids. They are not the only ones feeling cheated. I really want to be a grandmother one day.
I know that it’s not always easy when you’re a kid to see the big picture. It’s not always easy as an adult, but I believe it is our “duty” as parents to guide our children the best we can until they are capable of seeing it for themselves. The days are coming at us faster and harder. And I am not here to give answers. I am attempting to let others know that this is how things are right now. This is a window into our youth at the moment, and the world needs to be aware of it. There are children growing up all around the world in much more dire situations than my own. Where war is the norm what does the future look like?
The looming question that I try to answer daily is how do we instill a sense of hope and calm in our children while living in the midst of what feels like a cyclone? I want to help them see that peace is within reach, it is within them, at the very center of the storm. I remind them that while this world is seemingly unstable, they are not of this world. They are destined for far better things. I want them to understand that right here and now is of the utmost importance. That having HOPE in the midst of dire circumstances is possible. At the moment they don’t understand how I am continually looking for silver linings, because they have a hard time seeing them. I tell them that gratitude allows for a special type of endurance. When they fully can understand that they are divine beings having a human experience they will know that their time here is means to have a greater purpose. That they are here to help others understand that we are so much more than we appear to be on the surface. That time is not linear, and that our spirits will continue no matter what shall befall us.
I don’t have all the answers and to be honest, I am really scared myself. I have days that are riddled with anxiety and then depression as a result of my overbearing dread at the state of current affairs. It’s hard to watch the suffering of this world rolling by on its 24/7 media loop. So, when my child tells me that it’s hard growing up in a world that is coming to an end, I will always take a deep breath and listen. I won’t try to solve unsolvable problems. I will just listen to them, love them unconditionally, and hope for the best.
Being the uninformed technical person that I am I realized that I had been overlooking something very important for the past few years. While cruising around the WordPress dashboard of the Rebel Thriver blog I realized that I had 54 pages of mostly unread comments on many of my posts from over the years. These are comments that were left for me that I had never seen. I spent last night reading some of them and I was really overwhelmed with gratitude. I also felt very dumb. How could i have missed them for so long?!
Nevertheless, I kept writing.
I just want to say thank you to all of you who have been a loyal reader and supporter. I am honored and blessed to know that you are here with me on this journey.
I haven’t been able to write for a very long time. In part it’s due to being thoroughly immersed with my children, two masterminds, classes, and work. I just didn’t have the band width to focus on writing, although every inch of me desired to ooze out into words what I have been feeling. Much of this past year has been about me wrapping up the past and focusing on moving forward. I am laying new foundations and creating new dreams for my life. This has been a time of healing.
After leaving my abusive marriage I was completely disconnected from myself. I really had no idea who I had become or if I was anyone at all. My ex-husband left me a shell of my former self. I did the best that I could to be a single mom to my kids as I navigated the financial turmoil of a divorce while leaving behind a six figure salary for welfare. But, it was in the midst of all of this chaos that Rebel Thriver was born. In fact, it was born shortly after I lost one of the most important people in my life.
Roger Price St. John came into my life three years after I left my marriage. It started out as a professional friendship, but very quickly became more. He was the most interesting, creative, and intelligent man that I had met in a very long time. A recovered addict (14 years) who always supported others in the program. He worked the steps, donated his time for working the hotlines on holidays, and was a sponsor. He knew that good support was key in being able to make it through to the other side of recovery. Which is why it was so incredibly heart wrenchingly hard that he died of an overdose.
He was a teacher at a local college, film maker, Billabong surf camp photographer, frequent volunteer, and he ran his own non-profit surf camp that benefited needy kids in Costa Rica. Both of us artists we shared a love of photography, surfing, Pablo Neruda, and my children. After a long Summer beach day of surfing and family, he got down on one knee and proposed to me on the top of the sand dunes. The Atlantic bore witness.
I never got to marry Roger. About seven months later, after getting very sick with bronchitis, he relapsed. His doctor prescribed him cough syrup with Codeine and that was the beginning of the end. I had no idea what was coming down the pike when I saw him taking a chug of that cough medicine straight out of the bottle. Within a month he was barely functioning or even recognizable to me for that matter. The once fit and vibrant man who could tread water forever just to get the perfect picture of someone surfing out of a wave could barely shuffle his feet to get from point A to point B now. What the hell had happened? When he showed up to my home barely coherent I wouldn’t let him in. That was the last time he saw the kids, who by this time had already started to call him “dad”. And just like that he slipped away.
I watched Roger fall deeper and deeper into his addiction. The “monster”, as he called it, had laid siege and taken over. He lost his job, ended up in jail, and a psychiatric hospital before overdosing. It had been only thirteen months since he had proposed to me and only seven months after falling face first off the wagon. It was intense and it all seemed to happen at once. I was not in the head space to take this on. I was still healing from my 11 year failed marriage with a man who was mentally unstable and violently abusive. It was more than I was equipped to handle. Roger Price St. John was gone.
Writing became the outlet for my sadness, which in turn gave birth to Rebel Thriver. I started writing this blog in hopes of connecting with someone else who might have been feeling as lost as I did. If that was even possible. I never expected the response would be so great! I quickly found out that there were many other women from around the world who were in a similar place as I was. We were all trying our best to survive as we walked through that liminal space following the death of a relationship. The space of no longer and not quite yet.
Many people never get to experience true love, but I certainly did. I loved my husband with all of my heart, and it shattered into a million tiny little pieces when I had to leave him. Even though he was severely damaged before I met him, I felt like I had failed him. Roger came into my life when I believed that I would never be able to love again. He met me where I was and held a safe space for me on my path to recovery from abuse. In the end, I felt like I had failed Roger too. I had loved two incredible men, and lost both of them.
This week marks the eighth Anniversary of Roger’s death. I cannot believe that so much time has passed. He is still very much with me, and I could give you example after example of how he stays in touch; his sense of humor intact. He walks with me on the beach everyday and that gives me great comfort. Roger gave me the greatest gift that he could, love. He showed me that my heart had the capacity to love again after it had been shattered. He led me out of the darkness, into the light, and inspired my life’s work. This incredible man showed me that my heart will never stop expanding. And so on this eighth anniversary of his death my heart breaks open a little wider and my love grows a little deeper.