Surfacing

September 11, 2001

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.

Ella xx

Buckle Up

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.

(1) Census.gov
(2) thehotline.org
(3) efsgv.org

Love Your Beautiful Self

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. 

-Leila Dashtara

Empty House

“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.
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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
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Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233 (United States)
The hotline.org
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✨ 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.

Lay it Down

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.

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.

Howl

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.

xo Ella

Bottled Up

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 

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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.

By Joseph Dittrich

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

13256494_1057993907616031_3195574131118398619_nWe are in the cross fires of a political situation that shouldn’t be political at all. I know there are people who will call me brainwashed and misguided. They will say that George Orwell is turning in his grave because 1984 has come to fruition. I know these people well. Some of them have my same blood. Some of them know what happened to me back in 1984.

I was taken advantage of by a guy from a prep school. He locked me in his room, laid on top of me and hurt me. He took my virginity. I cried for him to STOP! He didn’t. When he finally got up, he put his pants on and leaned against the wall of the darkened room, the candle light was flickering across his evil face as he said in a very flip way, “What do you expect? I have wanted you for over a year?”

I was staying with my best friends family at the time. I was bleeding heavily. I was terrified. However, I didn’t call my parents. I didn’t tell them when I got home. I didn’t tell anyone. I tucked that experience away inside of me for years and “forgot” about it. Funny thing about trauma…it likes to pop up every now and then in the worst of circumstances. When I turned 22 I finally told my mother. She took to her bed for 3 days and cried the entire time. My father doesn’t know to this day because I saw how my mother reacted and I just knew it would kill my father.

People have been blaming the victim forever. Seriously, it is the culture of the world. A victim can be your mother, father, sister, brother, child, friend, and yes, even you. To add insult to serious injury it is also made clear that the victim is in someway responsible for the attack. This creates a wall of isolation and shame. This wall can barricade a victim behind it’s tall chalky cold walls for years. Sometimes for life. The mind is a mysterious thing. We have learned some about what trauma does to a persons mind though. I can speak to this because I am not only a survivor of rape, but of domestic violence. In an attempt to protect you, your mind will selectively shelf memories. It’s as though it opens a door within and shoves the trauma into it, and then it slams the door. Sometimes the door opens up again. Sometimes it doesn’t.

I live with debilitating PTSD. If you were to ask me what I struggle most with day to day I would say, my memory. I have big blocks of time missing due to domestic violence. I can’t remember much of my child’s first years. This is because during this time his father was so abusive to me that in order to survive my mind shut the memories away. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

I am not mad about my situation. Rather I have chosen to channel that into helping other women recover, reclaim their lives, and move on after abuse and assault. This is how I heal. I run Rebel Thriver and this has become my life’s work. One of our agreements is no politics and no religion. This is because we know that this type of trauma doesn’t discriminate. I do not want to alienate any survivor over a political opinion or a religious belief. I believe that a victim needs to be heard no matter how long it takes for them to find their voice. And when they do finally speak they should not be shamed for it.

You do not know the path another has walked. We really need to start taking a step back at how things have been so that we can make changes and learn to move humanity forward in a more positive way. I believe that education is the only way. People can learn to become more understanding, better listeners, and develop empathy. We are capable of re-framing our thinking and doing better than the generations that came before us. We need to move towards coming together to tear down the old ways that allow isolation and victimization. We need to try to make this a better place for our children.

All I can do is continue to help the people who are trying to rebuild their lives and heal after trauma. I do not take political sides. I will never make a victims story divisive. It’s hard to stay out of the firing line these days. I pray the truth comes out and that people in powerful places are no longer able to wield their power to hurt others. Perhaps I am a bit idealistic, but that’s how I am and I will never give up striving to do better. My calling in this life is to help heal the wounds of survivors. It’s not fancy work, but it is everything to me, for how can we heal the world if we don’t work on healing it’s wounds?

xo Ella

Following Breadcrumbs

“We rise by lifting others.”
-Robert Ingersoll

For those of you who follow my blog then you know already that I started the Wildfit 90 day Challenge 6 weeks ago. Wildfit is a program that helps you to find your way back to how we evolved to eat. In the last 6 weeks we have cut out everything but vegetables and proteins. Sound horrible? It’s not. Eric Edmeades, the founder of Wildfit has this program down to a science and because so much of it is psychology it doesn’t allow you to really feel deprived. Of course I miss my coffee and my avocado toast, but let me tell you about how I feel. I feel incredible. My energy levels are soaring and my skin is glowing. My allergies have been diminished and I am losing inches. It’s working.

A few weeks ago I was cruising Instagram and an invitation to join a free three day seminar on Business Freedom popped up. The facilitator was none other than Eric Edmeades from Wildfit. Now I am a trained artist/designer with commercial experience, but never have I been trained as a business person. Most of you know that my dream is to one day open a retreat for women and children who have survived domestic violence. I feel like I am treading water though because I just don’t know where to start. Aside from the complexities of my personal life (needing to stay on the down low for safety) I need help. So I decided to sign up for this live three day Business Freedom seminar and see what it was about.

I had the benefit of “meeting” Eric through Wildfit already and I knew that he has a communication style that resonated with me. Perhaps he could actually talk business with the same effect. For 3 hours a day, 3 days in a row,  I was glued to my computer for this live seminar. It wasn’t boring at all. I understood everything that was being presented. It got my blood pumping and my mind churning for all the possibilities. I started re-working my vision board and I stuck this image in the center of it.

944443_480424378706323_1885200404_nI created this little image back 2015 when I first started toying with the idea of creating a place where women could come again and again to reboot, recharge, re-connect with themselves, and re-energize. A place where healing could begin after domestic violence had ended. You see there is help to get you out of the crisis. Shelters, domestic violence advocate organizations, churches, etc., have programs to help you to safety. But, after the triage is over you are left alone with someone you don’t really know. Domestic violence is the systematic breaking down of a person over time. It is not easy to just start over when the person you used to be is lost and you don’t recognize the face staring back at you in the mirror. I know this because I lived this. In fact, this is why Rebel Thriver was born over 8 years ago. I was isolated, scared, and completely lost. If I could connect to one person a day I would have felt successful. I knew that there had to be other women out there who could relate to me, I just didn’t realize how many. There are thousands of us from every walk of life around the globe. Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate against social economics, education level, gender, or religion. Domestic violence is all inclusive, and whether you realize it or not there is most likely someone in your life who has been affected by on some level. True Story.

On the second day of the business seminar we were told that there was going to be a giveaway of two tickets to the Business Freedom five day intensive conference in Tallin, Estonia (March 2019).  I needed to write an impact statement as to why I thought that this would help me with my business (Rebel Thriver). You can read my impact statement here: Sweet Lemonade. I wrote about the retreat that I want to create so desperately to help other survivors so that they can reclaim their lives and learn to be thrive again.

On the third day the winner was called. I knew that my chances of winning were slim to none. I knew that there were hundreds of others from around the globe in this group who already had thriving businesses and knew exactly how they could make an immediate impact. I prayed to God right before the winner was chosen. “God, if you want this dream of mine to become a reality then I need help. I need this help. Give me a clear sign.” Then I heard my named called out as the winner! It came to me as though through a wind tunnel. Out of nowhere the girl who cannot cry started sobbing. I couldn’t have gotten a clearer sign from above. Divine Intervention? I am sure of it.

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I started following the breadcrumbs that have been left for me, and now I am going to Tallin, Estonia in March to learn how to turn this dream into a reality. I am also starting a year long Mastermind Group next month to make sure that I stay on track. I will be meeting and working with so many other amazing talented people who are going to help me make this dream a reality. Now part of the reality is that there are going to be costs associated with the travel and the Mastermind. I will be starting a fundraiser to cover these costs and I will ask all of you to help me. Help me help Rebel Thriver. Help me help you.

There is so much work to be done, but I don’t feel overwhelmed about it anymore. I know that it’s going to come together. One day Rebel Thriver is going to have a Hotel for the Soul. Until then we will keep supporting each other the way we know best, through love and understanding. xo Ella

* If anyone reading this feels that they might have a skill that can help me along this journey I would be thrilled to connect with you. I cannot do this alone. It takes a tribe. You can reach me at rebelthriver@gmail.com.

Dear Evan Hansen

In February my sister took the kids and I to see the brand new musical, Dear Evan Hansen. The story is about Evan Hansen, a high school senior who deals with crushing anxiety. He see’s a therapist, takes medicine, and just doesn’t fit in…anywhere. My darling son also deals with these issues at times and we thought that it might be a great way for him to see that he isn’t alone. There are so many people out there struggling from depression & anxiety, and it can lead them to feel incredibly isolated. For a moment we worried that it might actually trigger him, but in the end I thought it was worth the risk. It was.

What an incredible show! I cried through most of the show (as did everyone else). Evan’s is being raised by a single mother (like me) and it was so incredible for me to see that I am not alone. There are plenty of other parents who have highly sensitive children like mine…like Evan Hansen. Her struggles are my struggles too. His struggles are my sons struggles too.

Last night at the 71st Tony Awards, it was nominated for nine awards, winning six including Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Actor in a Musical for Ben Platt who was AMAZING as Evan Hansen. I am still cheering today!

In this crazy upside down world, leave it to the artists to keep us grounded. I never thought that a musical about an awkward and anxious kid could sweep the Tony’s and win over the hearts of so many, including mine. And in the process shine a much-needed light on the struggles of mental illness that are more common than we like to think.

I tell my son that he takes his medicine because his brain doesn’t make enough of a certain chemical. It’s like a diabetic who needs his insulin to balance his blood.

Thank you Dear Evan Hansen for helping me show my son that he isn’t alone. That there are others that understand him and his very personal struggle. Last night was just the cherry on the top as it won critical acclaim, reminding us that it’s okay not to always be ok. What makes us different is also what sets us apart and makes us unique to this world.

If you get a chance to see this amazing play, do it! If you have a teenage kid who struggles like mine, and Evan Hansen, then save your money and try to take them to the show. You cant get much better therapy than this. xo ella

“Don’t waste your time trying to be like everybody else because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.” – Ben Platt

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https://youtu.be/0vkTxakkho4
(click on link to see the performance of Waving Through a Window at last night’s Tony Awards.)

Waving Through a Window
I’ve learned to slam on the brake
Before I even turn the key
Before I make the mistake
Before I lead with the worst of me
Give them no reason to stare
No slipping up if you slip away
So I’ve got nothing to share
No, I got nothing to say
Step out, step out of the sun
If you keep getting burned
Step out, step out of the sun
Because you’ve learned, because you’ve learned
On the outside always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?
’cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass
I’m waving through a window
I try to speak, but nobody can hear
So I wait around for an answer to appear
While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass
I’m waving through a window
Oh, can anybody see, is anybody waving
Back at me?
We start with stars in our eyes
We start believing that we belong
But every sun doesn’t rise
And no one tells you where you went wrong
Step out, step out of the sun
If you keep getting burned
Step out, step out of the sun
Because you’ve learned, because you’ve learned
On the outside always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?
’cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass
Waving through a window
I try to speak, but nobody can hear
So I wait around for an answer to appear
While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass
Waving through a window
Oh, can anybody see, is anybody waving?
When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound
When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound
When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound
When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound
Did I even make a sound
Did I even make a sound
It’s like I never made a sound
Will I ever make a sound?
On the outside always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been
’cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass
Waving through a window
I try to speak
But nobody can hear
So I wait around for an answer to appear
While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass
Waving through a window
Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?
Oooh, is anybody waving
Waving, waving, whoa-oh, whoa-oh-oh-oh
“Waving Through a Window” is a song performed
by Ben Platt (Evan) from the Broadway musical
DEAR EVAN HANSEN.

Endless

love

“Love. It will not betray you, dismay you or enslave you. It will set you free.”
– Mumford & Sons

I used to have a warped idea about love. I believed that if I loved deeply and intensely with all of myself I could change the world. My ex-husband walked into my life-like a black hole. He sucked everything that I had out of me and then he demanded more. Everyday I paid a toll for being alive and it wasn’t cheap. He took everything I had to give, spit it back into my face, and then took more. I loved him though. I just kept scraping up what I could find of me to give to him. Little pieces, tiny shards of myself, were all I could find in the end. Never have I met another who could find so much to take from so very little. I left him as a shell of the person I had met him as, but I also left him with so much more than I had come to him with.

My world has never been the same. Even after years of separation he is with me everyday. How can you turn off love? I have my moments of anger and regret, but my love for that incredibly sick and imperfect man is still there. It’s changed in scope and I don’t respect him, or speak to him for that matter, but for a fellow human, hurting and damaged, I still have love. As a child I was raised to love and turn the other cheek. As a wife I learned to survive. As a single mother I learned to fight back to protect my young. We live so many lifetimes over and over in this single life we are given. And we have the potential to love many times over. When my marriage crumbled I thought that was it. Party over. The ship sailed. I didn’t think that I could ever have the capacity to love another person in that way again. Love taught me differently though.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;  does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;  does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.  1 Corinthians 13:4-8

After my marriage exploded I focused on what I knew would never fail me; the love for my children. Pure and unconditional love knows no deeper depths than that of a mother for her children. I poured myself into them so that they would know that I could love them enough for both their father and I. I alone was going to be enough for them. That was going to be enough. I was going to be ok. And as time passed I realized that love was not a one way street. If you loved the right people then love could come back to you as well. Loving people has always been easy for me, but It took me a long time to get comfortable trusting someone enough to allow them to love me back. To be able to believe in that love and accept it was something  I had to learn.

I learned, that I needed to love myself first, way too late into the game. If I could love myself then all future relationships had a chance of being balanced and healthy. It’s somewhat impossible to have a solid relationship with another person if you don’t love and respect yourself. People throw the word love around like its candy. Love, true love, is so much more than that. It is layered, rich, and runs deep. It has a foundation of trust, loyalty, and an innate desire to bring happiness into another’s life. If you can have that kind of relationship with yourself how can love fail? True love is complete freedom to be you while sharing your life with another. It is fail proof because even if you part ways, love finds a way to carry on.

In our youth it is hard to comprehend the magnitude of love’s depths. Love has a very narrow view. We know love for family and then we know the Hallmark version. As we grow, get hurt, heal, and deepen our personal awareness we learn that love can be so much more than that. We humans get so hung up on the idea of romantic love to come and save us and it’s a sham. Love is peddled as an industry generating millions each year. It starts with Valentine’s Day and continues through, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and funerals. Our society spends so much money trying to buy and capture love when in reality true love is free and it is endless.

Love is not something we buy in a store. It is living, breathing, alive. It has the ability to change the course of your life. Love can end wars and change nations. If we want this world to survive than love is the only thing that can save us. Love is stronger than any kind of hate. Love endures and love is the only thing truly worth fighting for.  Love is boundless. And if  love finds you worthy then you must be prepared to love in return. Love is not one-sided. It is patient and it is kind. Love is long-suffering, humble and loyal. It will be the sunrise and the sunset of your days. Embrace it and cherish it. Give it space to grow and nourish it. Just know that true love can crown you and crucify you, but if you want to love then there is no half stepping. Love is endless…it goes on and on and on.

xo Ella