I started this first series by telling you about Monica Place and how the work I do there and my experiences working with women and young girls in the community have been a catalyst for sharing my story.
I told you about how I sit and talk with these women, listen to them share their feelings of fear, dread, shame, and worthlessness - with tears rolling down my cheeks along with them.
Why? Because I can relate. I can transport myself right back to the time in my life when I felt that very same way. My heart aches for them, physically aches. They share their stories of abuse, physical, sexual, mental. I feel honored to have their trust, their willingness to bear some of their deepest experiences and thoughts. I know the courage it takes to open up when shutting down has been the only way for you to be able to make it through.
I told you about how I share MY story with them. My deepest experiences, I bear my scars to them. I also bear something else. Hope. Most days, that word feels like an unattainable luxury to them, but something special happens on this day for me as much as for them.
I promised you in that introduction and in last week's share on some of the startling statistics surrounding sexual assault that I would be opening up and sharing that story here with you. I am ready to do that now.
Let's start by backing up (a lot of years!!) to my teens. I'm pretty typical for that time and where I lived. Good grades, good friends, I live with both my parents, have a part-time job, big dreams for my future, a life of privilege, and no reason why they can't become a reality.
I got off shift early one night, and I was so excited. I didn't even bother getting changed out of my Swiss Chalet uniform; I had just enough time to meet my friends for a movie. Now, this is before cell phones, so I couldn't message them that I was coming or to get me a ticket, but I knew they would be excited when I showed up. I might even have time to grab popcorn too!
I really didn't understand how in one moment, EVERYTHING can change.
I parked my car at the end of the lot. It was dark out, but I would walk quickly. I made it about four cars, and I heard voices. I looked over and saw some guys before suddenly realizing that one of them was behind me. My head snaps back from my hair being pulled.
One moment changes everything.
Right there, in the parking lot behind the arcade we would go to on our lunch break, he raped me. His friends cheered him on. Watching. I fought back; it didn't matter. I was left there with a warning that if I said anything, they would hurt me worse. Huh, worse. I know who he is. I know he's not lying.
I didn't make it to the movies. My friends didn't know to expect me, so they didn't think anything was off. I had called my parents from work saying I was going to the movies, so they weren't expecting me either.
I lived in the County. I got in my car. I drove. I just remember shaking. Tremors. I don't know how I didn't put my car off the road. Over the bridge, onto a county road, turn right from the school, and hide in the marsh. I looked in the mirror, and I didn't even recognize my face. I didn't know who that person was in the reflection.
I got home after the movie time, went to my room, then straight to my shower. I didn't sleep.
People ask me all the time WHY I didn't tell my parents when I got home. Simple. Confusion and fear.
I remember thinking the next day that I would tell my best friend at school. That would be safe. Nobody would know I had told her. I was walking from my first class to my second and froze, literally froze in the hallway. The brother of the guy who raped me was walking directly towards me, eyes locked to mine. He passed by me and said, "say something bitch, and you die." Further down the hall was my best friend, brushing her gorgeous long brown hair at her locker. All I could think was that I didn't want them to hurt her.
I kept quiet. And each day, more of me died.
The threats continued—the intimidation. And my self-destruction inside.
Fast forward a year, and I cracked. I couldn't take the threats anymore.
That night I sat in my parents' basement and told them what had happened and the continuing threats.
Three days later, I was gone. Moved. Hours away from my family and friends.
Talk therapy. Exercise. Pretend.
I did everything. But the result was the same. The "damage" was done.
So, I sit humbly in front of these young women, and I share my story with them. But even more importantly, I share with them my life NOW and my journey of healing and relearning WHO I am and how to love ME.
We are all ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. We get to be a masterpiece and a work in progress. It is part of the journey.
"You're like wonder woman," the one young woman says to me, her eyes wide with what can be the greatest gift I can hope they take from my story. HOPE.
I have so much more to share about my journey how the impacts of trauma reshaped my thinking and led me to unhealthy relationships, toxic friendships. It filtered into and impacted every aspect of my life.
I did the work to heal myself. I have built a life that I love, by design, filled with joy, love, and purpose. In future writings, I will share about my journey to where I am today, but without understanding where I was and what I have come through, it gets lost.
Some people tell me that I shouldn't talk about my experiences, my life, that people won't want to work with me. The shame culture is real. But my purpose is so much bigger than the words of caution or hesitation.
When a woman sitting beside me, who I met 15 minutes earlier, reaches for my hand underneath the table, then leans to me and shares with me her story, whispering to me because she has never told anyone, I know the power of that moment.
Whether I am speaking at an event, working with women on leadership capabilities, developing next-level goals, identity work, or mindset, the work that I do, the programs and products I create are so much bigger than a business. It is my PURPOSE to empower women to shatter THEIR glass ceilings.
We all carry with us limiting beliefs, be they from trauma, cultural experience, our upbringing, subconscious bias. But we also have the POWER to free ourselves of those limiting beliefs holding us back.
When I needed a hero, I became my own.
WONDER WOMAN isn't a person, she is a MINDSET, and she is within all of us.
I invite you to continue on as I tell the rest of my story - and if you feel motivated to share, know that I consider it a privilege to be a trusted ally and resource for those who are battling their own internal struggles - confronting their own traumas.