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.”
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.
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.