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.
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.
“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.
After I left my husband I had a hard time finding a path to healing. I didn’t know anyone who had lived through domestic violence. No one spoke about it at least. It felt shameful. It was as though I had arrived at a cross roads in my life. Do I hide behind a mask or do I choose to be my authentic self…scars and all. I chose the later and decided that I wanted to help smash the stigma that surrounds domestic violence. The shame that the survivor feels is due to societies perception of it as a whole. People understandably will feel sorry for you, but in doing so that can trigger feelings of embarrassment/shame. Here’s the thing, the survivor did absolutely nothing wrong and the shame should be placed squarely upon the shoulders of the abuser.
Abusive people are a plague on society. Period. They infect the same invasive sickness from one generation to the next. Without education and support there is no way to end this cycle. The abused becomes the abuser. I want to impact the lives of others through Rebel Thriver. I want people to be aware of the red flags. I want to be a part of the public discourse about DV as there is with the #metoo movement. We cannot be afraid to be honest. We cannot be afraid to use our voices. The shame is not yours so lay it down.
Where do the feelings of shame come from anyway? Is it because you didn’t walk away sooner or because you went back time after time? Often a person will endure abuse quietly for years. I wore those shoes. Now think about how you got there in the the first place? Was it because for some insane reason you didn’t think you deserved better? That in and of itself is an entire other chapter. You are enough. You have always been enough.
What happens when you combine a person with low self worth with an abusive controlling partner? An intense psychological game begins that slowly breaks the victims sense of self down as the game is played out in increments. Once you actualize the situation your realize how hard it is going to be to get out. My husband threatened to kill my kids, my family, me. What do you do when you are literally a captive, a hostage in your own life. It’s hard to break free. I lived that life for years and when I finally got out I know that people thought, ‘how could a woman who looked like she had her shit together be living in such duality?’ When your reality is skewed you can find yourself just struggling to survive around the daily landmines. Survival becomes the game. Later, my mother told me that I deserved an Academy Award. My father told me that I earned a Ph D in domestic violence. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.
Back to standing at the crossroads. I chose to not give a damn about what other people had to say. I’ve taken my life back. I declared that I am not what happened to me, and I have learned some serious lessons. I am a deeper, wiser, more empathetic, and a very soulful person as a result. This is the time to heal. If you are holding space for your own healing be open to asking for help. It is a hard path to walk alone. You have lived in scarcity and fear for far too long and you need to learn how to rewrite the script that is in your head. You need to realize that not only can you move on, but you can live a thriving life.
Rebel Thriver has been my voice piece. It has allowed me to step up in a public way to tell my story and educate people to the fact that there is no discrimination with domestic violence. It can control the life of a highly paid, college educated, executive just as easily as it can any other person. It’s hard to shine a light on the fact that the person I loved with all of my heart had chosen to treat me like an enemy. I lived a life of “normalcy” during the work week, but once I left the office it was back to the cage. Trust me, if it can happen to me it can happen to your sister, your child, your mother, your best friend, your brother, your uncle, etc. Domestic violence is intrusive not only to the victim, but also to their entire universe.
The sooner we start to smash the stigma and speak out about our experiences the sooner we will be able to educate and shift peoples perceptions of what domestic violence truly is. When the laws change to hold abusers accountable in a real way then maybe we will see change. As for now I want to use what I’ve learned to help others begin to heal and live again. Shortly after I got divorced older women would say, “You’re still young with a pretty face and you will find another man, don’t worry.” As though that was what I wanted, a another man. Some will jump from partner to partner trying to fill that void. They never stop to take a breath, thus never healing or realizing that they are enough unto themselves. A personal relationship with oneself induces healing and can bring about transformative life changes. I lost my marriage to domestic violence, but in the process I found myself. I won the game.
Hi everyone, I would like to introduce to you my friend and fellow writer, Joseph Dittrich. He shared this with me and I just loved it. He followed a writing prompt on Reddit and here is the story he wrote in tandem to it. I hope you enjoy it like I did. xo Ella
PROMPT: One day, you’re approached by a rather annoyed angel, who takes you to a warehouse filled with nothing but thousands of bottles. Turns out, every time you’ve bottled up your emotions, it’s literally filled a bottle of that exact emotion in the warehouse, which is nearing capacity… RESPONSE:
Real men don’t cry.
That’s how I was raised. That’s how my dad was raised, and my grandpa, and my great grandpa, and probably every man in my family forever.
Real men don’t show emotion. Well, happiness is okay, and anger if it’s controlled. But sadness? Crying? Never.
So when they said my six-year-old daughter had leukemia, I stuffed it. Every time I took her for treatment, every time I saw the pain she was in, every time someone asked me how her recovery was going, I stuffed it.
And when she died three days before her eighth birthday, I stuffed it. The worst of it is, I wanted to hurt. Well, I know that doesn’t sound right. But I think you know what I mean. I wanted to express it. I wanted to be sad. I wanted to cry. I wanted to be angry, but I knew I couldn’t control it. So I stuffed it all.
I became cold, impersonal, antisocial. Nothing was good enough to make me happy, to make me smile, to make me laugh. I wasn’t proud of anything or impressed by anyone. I had no interest in anything that I had once enjoyed. I was just trudging through life. My hopes, my dreams, my only child. All gone. Even my wife left me. She said she’d rather be miserable and alone than miserable with me. And I stuffed it.
After the divorce, I sold the house and moved a thousand miles away. I wanted a fresh start, away from everything and everyone that reminded me of what I had lost. I rented a crappy little one bedroom apartment. I got a crappy job. I bought a crappy car. And every crappy, miserable day, I stuffed it.
But you see, the problem is that no matter where you go, you take you with you. My little girl would’ve graduated high school this past spring. So, yeah, I’ve been stuffing it for a lot of years. It’s not like I could go talk to a therapist or anything. That was against everything that my father had taught me. You handle your own problems. You don’t bring them outside the family. You don’t show signs of weakness like that.
Anyway, a couple weeks ago I got a visit from someone claiming to be an angel. I don’t really believe in that sort of thing, so of course I was skeptical. They always tell you that angels are dressed in white and have huge wings and they’re beautiful and they carry harps and they sing and all that stuff. Well, my supposed angel looked like she was pulled from the front row at a Rancid concert. Red flannel shirt, ripped jeans, black spiky hair, tattoos and a nose ring.
She didn’t float down from a cloud or anything like that. She popped up in my backseat after work one day and told me to drive. I couldn’t figure out who would want to carjack me, or what part of my crappy life gave anyone the idea that I was worth kidnapping. She started to laugh, but I couldn’t.
So as we were driving, we started talking. She didn’t have a real or official name. She went by whatever people called her. I asked her if it was OK if I called her Sweet Pea, because, you know, my daughter’s name was Piper and that was my nickname for her. She told me that would be OK. She started to sob a little, but I couldn’t.
After what seemed like forever, we pulled up to a giant steel building. There was a huge lock on it with 16 spinners. She told me the combination was the best day of my life followed by the worst day of my life. That seemed simple enough. I rotated the dials so they showed the day Piper was born and the day she died.
I pulled on the lock, but nothing happened. I looked at Sweet Pea, but she just shrugged her shoulders. There was no better day and no worse day. I tried the day we found out she was sick. I tried the day the doctors said there was nothing more they could do. I tried the day we buried her. I tried every horrible thing I could think of. Still nothing.
I sat down on the ground in front of the door, staring at the lock. I had no idea what it could be. After what seemed like weeks, it dawned on me that I had to be there for a purpose, for a reason. I spun the numbers so they read today’s date. Well, the last date I knew it was, the day Sweet Pea appeared in my car.
A knowing smile began to crawl across her face. I did the same with the first eight digits and cautiously pulled on the lock. It finally released. I shoved it in my backpack, not even considering the fact that I wasn’t wearing it when I got out of the car, or the fact that I didn’t own a backpack.
I pulled open the doors and we went inside. The building was massive, somehow larger on the inside than on the outside. It was full of shelves, floor to ceiling, wall to wall, each row maybe three feet deep and three feet apart. And every shelf was packed with glass bottles. They were mostly clear, some green, blue, brown, and a few red. They all had a strange glow inside them.
I turned toward Sweet Pea to ask what was in them. For the first time, she looked serious. She said they were my emotions. Whenever I bottled up what I felt, they appeared here. She told me the red ones were a recent development. They were emotions like despair, regret, loneliness, anguish, and hopelessness. They were the ones that usually took the place of sadness and anger and were a sign that someone was about to give up completely and try to end it.
Now, I had never considered the possibility of taking my own life. But everything that she said made sense. I can see that I was heading down that path. When I asked what to do, she told me that I would have to either take a taste from every single bottle or smash them one at a time.
It seemed easy enough. I reached for a brown bottle on the shelf next to me. Sweet Pea snatched it out of my hand and placed it back on the shelf. I felt something ugly welling up inside me. An orange bottle appeared next to the brown one, then a blue one and a red one as I tried to regain a sense of calm.
She then explained to me that they had to be eliminated in the order in which they appeared in the warehouse. She pointed to the three new ones, labeled confusion, despair, and rage. Three more bottles in less than a second. For the first time, I realized how difficult a task this would be and how quickly they could accumulate.
We climbed up dozens of stairwells and walked along miles of catwalks and scaffolding to reach the very first bottle. I was barely a year old. My brother had just been born, and my mother was spending all her time with him and ignoring me. I watched my father telling me to just suck it up and deal with it, that no son of his was gonna be a wimp, that I’d better not cry because crying is for babies.
I could feel the jealousy and the anger and the frustration all over again. I could barely reach the pale green bottle marked jealousy on the end of the shelf, but I knew it was the first one. I removed the cap and took a sip. It was bitter, as I somehow expected. It disappeared from my hand as I grabbed the second bottle, this one with a pinkish tint. As much as I like spicy food, I was no match for the fire from anger that hit my tongue.
Every emotion that I had never felt burnt my lips, tore down my throat, seared my insides, torched my soul, and fried my brain. Even joy in its sunny yellow cask felt bittersweet. The worst part was that as I was going through the old ones, I knew that new ones were appearing. I was exhausted, I was frustrated, but I was determined to get through this.
It seemed like months had gone by since that first taste of jealousy. I had never been on such a painful journey in my life. Dealing with the death of my little brother, all my failed relationships, the roller coaster that was Piper’s last couple years on earth, and ultimately the deaths of each of my parents. I cursed my father’s memory hundreds of times because of the way he raised me. I never should’ve had to go through this.
We finally reached the doorway. A pearl white bottle stood alone on the threshold. She told me this was the last one, that it was something no one would ever consider. Happiness, joy, satisfaction, they all fade away. Anger, frustration, regret, jealousy, they can kill you. Ignorance, apathy, hatred, they can kill someone else.
No, she said this one was special. I picked it up and examined it. It was unlike all the other bottles. It had no label that I could see. No markings, no etching, nothing. Sweet Pea looked serious.
“It says peace,” she stated. “But you can’t see it unless you drink the contents. Obviously, a sip wouldn’t do the trick. You would have to drink the whole thing. Dumping it, breaking it, that won’t work. Neither will leaving it alone. Everyone drinks this one, but no one realizes it until it’s too late. I will tell you this, though. You don’t have to touch it, at least not yet. I told you what you needed to do to clear this place out, but this last bottle…I can’t tell you what to do.“
“I’m not quite ready,“ I replied, stumbling over the words. I turned to put the bottle on the shelf and was stunned by what I saw. The entire room was maybe twenty feet in each direction. I could reach the top shelves while standing on the floor. They were narrow, with wide aisles between them. “What the…?“
“You finally dealt with it. You finally allowed yourself to feel. You finally realized that it’s OK. You finally accepted that your father was wrong. Don’t ever forget what happened here, and please, don’t ever give yourself a reason to come back.” Sweet Pea smiled and walked out the door.
“Wait! I still have so many questions for you.“ I ran through the doorway after her and found myself standing next to my crappy little car. She was gone. I climbed into the driver seat, leaned on the steering wheel, and for the first time in my memory, I cried.
I started Rebel Thriver a few years after I fled an abusive 12 year marriage because I was isolated and needed to know I wasn’t alone. I fled one night with the clothes on my back and two small children on my hip. I left my home, career, colleagues, car, identity, and my life behind. And just like that I found myself broke and broken with nowhere to go. I have a supportive family, but I was afraid to put them in harm’s way. I was on the run and I had lost myself in the process. What most people don’t understand is that domestic violence is the systematic breaking down of one’s self. When you step outside of that reality you are lost. I found little or no support in any outside organizations to help with the process of rebuilding myself or my life. When I could not find connection locally, I looked internationally. I knew that there were other people who would understand and would want to join into a positive and supportive conversation with me.
Enter Rebel Thriver.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that Rebel Thriver would grow into a vibrant worldwide community. For those of you who do not know my story, I still live in fear of my ex-husband finding us which is why I cannot post pictures of myself. I am still in harm’s way, and yet I won’t let this stand in the way of the work that needs to be done. This past year was incredibly difficult on a personal level and I questioned everything that I was and wasn’t achieving in my life. I decided that it was time to commit myself to serving this community of survivors with all that I am.
Once I made that decision things started to connect in miraculous ways. As a result (Following Breadcrumbs Blog Post ), I am now part of a year-long international Business Freedom Mastermind Group run by Eric Edmeades. I am heading to Estonia in March to participate in a week-long intensive business conference that will help me to be able to achieve my ultimate goal. That is to open a retreat house that will be able to help people learn how to re-connect with themselves, and to each other, so that we can heal, grow, learn, and find support; a place that will help in all areas needed to live a healthy life. I won the ticket to Estonia (Value $4k) because my pitch for Rebel Thriver laid out why I believed that this conference would help me to make the greatest impact on this community (Sweet Lemonade Blog Post ).
Now this is the hard part for me. I have taken a leap of faith and I have already started the Mastermind, but now I have to raise the money. For almost 7 years I have worked daily to provide insight, inspiration, education, and support for many. I have run women’s groups, workshops, coached, counseled, and even helped some women leave abusive relationships. This is all because of my love for you and the burning desire to help. I have never asked for a money, but now I need help to further my dream to be able to serve all of you better. I need the education and the connections that will help me to achieve my goal of opening a Retreat House to teach people how to reconnect, reboot their lives, and thrive.
I am raising money to cover the cost of the year long Mastermind and for my lodging and airfare to Estonia. I want to be able to serve you better and this will take time and resources. Invest in me and so that I can serve you better.
Thank you for taking the time for reading this and thank you in advance for your generous help.