Women Empowerment Project

There are so many people in the world who are silently suffering, who feel alone, who question whether life is worth living or feel unworthy of love/happiness. Through social media forums, I connected with 11 strong women in hopes of discussing some of life’s most difficult challenges–topics that are rarely discussed and easily misunderstood. These brave women are sharing a piece of their hearts and revealing a very personal part of their stories in hopes that someone will hear them. Someone, who is in the midst of their darkest times, will see that they are not alone in the fight. You are stronger than the hard things that happen to you. Your worth is not defined by the negative things you experience or are told. Women possess roles and talents that change the world.  We are stronger when we are in this together.

 

KARLI –Addiction

It’s 5 am, I haven’t been to sleep in 2, maybe 3 days.. I’m not sure, I’m starting to lose count. I need to be up and at work at 7, but I think instead I’ll go meet my dealer to get some coke to get me through the day, I’ll get just 1 balloon of heroin to bring me down a little. I’m now 19, 97 pounds and 5’5. My family is starting to ask questions, but I can’t tell them I’m a druggy since my Brother Alex passed away last year from drugs, so I’ll hide it as long as I can…. but that only lasted a few more months until my mom found me overdosed and rushed me to the hospital.

I have been through years of addiction. I was a cocaine and heroin addict for a few years. I know what it feels like to loose someone close from addiction too; I’ve lost 3 brothers, 2 from addiction. I never thought I would say that I would be addicted to heroin or cocaine at the age of 17, but I was, and it all started when I was sniffing Adderall in the school bathroom on one of my books. 

As I have experienced addiction, death in the family from it, and being in recovery, the most important thing that I learned is that life is so very fragile and family is the most important thing in life, to me. I lost my very best friends and the people I looked up to the most growing up. I took my own life for granted and didn’t think about the ones I was hurting.  I realized that my family needs ME, and now more than ever my parents need their daughter to live life to the fullest. 

After becoming a mom, I realized that there are more important things in life and that someone very much needs me in their life. Being a mom is one of the most powerful and wonderful experiences a woman could ever go through. Growing and birthing a child to me was the most validating moment, and from there I found a love and bond that I hope could never be broken or taken away from me. That is why I feel my mom and I are even closer now, she lost her other babies, but we stand strong today with each other. We know motherhood, we know addiction, and we know how to overcome some of the toughest challenges. 

I found a new passion just before motherhood, and that was the gym! One year after giving birth, I stepped on stage at my first bodybuilding show. It was a new found hobby and interest! The woman’s body is so much more capable of things you never knew before. With hard work and dedication, you can truly transform your life and your body to be how you want it to be!

I truly hope that anyone going through addiction, or knows someone going through addiction, would just speak up. Tell someone you need help, or if you know someone, please don’t wait to help them. It may be a day too late and if there’s one thing you can’t take back, it’s time. There are so many resources and meetings out there to help, just go sit in one and you’ll find out that there are so many of us, more than willing to offer a helping hand and share our experience, strength, and hope. 

  

CANDACE–Domestic Violence

My throat Is getting dry and my face is getting wet. We have been yelling back and forth for what seems like hours. Tired and defeated but I can’t back down now. He’s not listening. He never listens. My voice once buried, has dug it’s way out and there is no stopping it now. Oops. Did I just say that? Now I have his attention. Our eyes meet, I am looking into a strangers eyes. I don’t know who this man is. Help. His fingers are around my neck, his eyes locked on mine, inches from my face. I can’t hear what he is saying, my ears are filled with ringing. I fall to the ground, hot tears burning my face. My head ripping apart from the inside out. Why is the back of my head throbbing? I stare at the hole that wasn’t there before, molded into a perfect imprint of the back of my head. Curled in a ball, I can feel my heartbeat pounding against my knees. I don’t know what to do. So I pitifully wait for an apology that I know will never come. His apology, if ever spoken, would have only been a bandaid to a wound that would never heal.

In the days to follow, as I gather my things, I notice a picture hanging on the wall. An attempt to cover up a memory that still plays in the back of my mind. Even 2 years later, memories like this still escape from the prison I worked so hard to lock them in. Things that I didn’t know were rooted so deeply have become a branch for my anger. A trigger to an outburst of rage followed by instant remorse towards the ones I love the most. Because in these moments of lost control, I become that abuser I hate most.

I decided that the only way I could truly be free was to forgive him. So, I forgave the man that stripped me of everything I was and clothed myself into the woman I am today. He made me a better woman. Not from building me up, but from tearing me down. I owe my strength to the man that made me weak. I owe my realization of my worth to the same man who made me feel worthless. I owe my voice to the man who kept me quiet, and how to love to him that showed me how not to. I am no longer who he made me believe I was. I am stronger than I ever thought I could be.

The strength of a woman is everything. We have the capability as women to use the stones thrown at us to build a foundation of strength. I love my strength, the strength that I gained for my 2 children. The strength to pick myself off the floor. To realize that the picture that was hung over the indent in the wall wasn’t going to cover up my new found empowerment. It took being dragged down to my darkest moments to realize I already possessed the wings I prayed for to take me away. All I needed to do was spread them and soar. Wings outstretched as if they had been locked in a cage that was too small, I flew far away and never looked back.

Domestic Abuse in any form, destroys everything beautiful in a relationship, and it can destroy the beauty in you if you let it. I endured every aspect of verbal, sexual, financial, mental, and physical abuse. Would I say I’m a victim of domestic abuse? No, I would say I am a survivor, a warrior, a WOMAN. I now have 3 beautiful children and an amazing husband that looked at my past and saw a future. That alone has given me the strength to face each day. Some days are easier than others, there are days I can smile, laugh, and be the woman filled with the same empowerment I felt 2 years ago. While other days I can feel every pain, every scar, every memory radiating from my soul. It took a long time for me to accept that it’s ok not to be ok. No one should have to go through what I went through. But because of my past, I am able to stand here today and tell you that it is far from easy, but know this, the darkest hour of the night always comes just before dawn.

 

VANESSA–Antepartum Anxiety + Depression

Logically I knew I had no reason to be sad. I had a wonderful and beautiful life, but chemically my brain wasn’t balanced it was sick. I felt crazy and my mind was so tired of worrying about nearly everything!  I was so lonely and the only thing that kept me going was feeling that I needed to protect and care for my newborn. I never thought I would say I stayed within the walls of my home for nearly six months due to fear of someone hurting me or my child. I never thought that I would break down bawling after someone touched my baby’s hand. I never thought fear would steal relationships from me.  I know what it feels like to feel hopeless and to feel like your fears are eating you alive and slowly possessing every reason for living.  I know what it feels like to have no hope and to daydream about how to erase yourself from this world. If you have any of these thoughts don’t give up.

During my pregnancy, my fears and anxiousness started to grow and take over my zest for life. Although I didn’t know at the time, I had antepartum (prenatal) anxiety and depression. The anxiety continued long after I gave birth and grew to its greatest intensity about three weeks postpartum. My anxiety remained at this intensity for months and I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety/OCD about a year postpartum. Slowly through pregnancy and first few weeks after I gave birth to fear and worry possessed my mind, body, and spirit. This left me feeling useless, mentally incapable, and physically incapacitated.  My life turned upside down. No one in my circle really understood what I was going through, I felt alone. My anxiety negatively affected all of my relationships, took away my ability to participate in activities that used to bring me joy, and made my dreams seem forever out of my reach.

I have started the journey of climbing out of that deep dangerous pit. I wish I could say I was out of this cycle but I’m not out–I’m still climbing.  Even though I feel so grateful for how things have improved over the years, just a couple of days ago I was fighting some deep fears and feelings of uselessness as I struggled to write this. There are days I take a few steps forward and days I take two steps back. However, I’m slowly emerging from the pit to see more and more light and I promise there is more light waiting for you too! I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve thought, “I’m done. I want out of this life.”, but I’m grateful to say I haven’t given up. I am in a much better place than I was years ago and I can only be more grateful for that- it is my God given miracle!

Love, love has and is my saving grace. The love I have found is in the form of my angel baby and comes from the strength that unexpectedly appears in those darkest moments to take one more breath, one more step, to get out of bed, to go outside, to get out of the car, to find/feel hope, or even just simply exist even if I don’t have strength or motivation to literally do anything else. I promise there is love around you during any challenges in your life. I pray you are able to see it because you are not alone and love is there, you may find it in someone, some place, wherever it maybe it will be so unique and special and perfect for you. Get help, talk to your doctor and together you can come up with a path for you and your recovery. Lastly, know you aren’t alone. You aren’t alone.

JESSICA–Pornography + Divorce

I always considered myself “the good girl” growing up. All I really wanted was to do the right things and live a normal life. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. When I was 23, I married the man I thought I’d spend forever with. I’d love to say our marriage was blissful but it was far from it. At first, it was just an argument here and there, then it quickly escalated to constant fighting and I could never figure out why. Slowly, my relationships with family and friends started diminishing. I was feeling less and less like myself; the “good girl” was gone, but I always put on a happy face for outsiders. About a month into our marriage, I found the first traces of pornography. I’ll never forget how sick I felt inside when I realized that he was comparing me to what he saw online. I had never felt so alone or broken in my entire life. But because I wanted my marriage to last, I thought we could work it out. However, things only got worse. Verbal manipulation turned into physical and sexual abuse, and after a few short months, I knew it was no longer safe for me to stay with him. My life had officially come crashing down around me.

The girl that walked away that day was just a shell of who I had once been. Thankfully, my family and friends were there to pick up my broken pieces. It took me a long time to rebuild all that had been damaged. Even though that was several years ago, I still struggle with bouts of depression, anxiety, and self-doubt, but it gets better with time. From the second I got out, I knew that I didn’t want to be defined by what I’d been through. I let myself grieve, but I also pushed myself to rebuild. J.K. Rowling said once, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life” and I realized that though I was hurt and scared, I was free to rebuild my life however I wanted. And that’s exactly what I did. I found new friends and strengthened relationships. I took myself on crazy adventures, like my first trip to New York, to relearn that I have so much to live for. I took myself shopping to remind myself that I am beautiful. I started designing my first line of wedding dresses because I realized that my dreams are worth chasing. And best of all, I allowed myself to fall in love again. From my rock bottom, I now know that I’m a fighter. I can do hard things. I learned that I have a huge capacity to love. I can make things happen for myself. I became so much more than what I would have been if my life had been simple and normal. I may not be that “good girl” anymore and my life is far from perfect, but through my grief and pain, I found myself and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

 

EVA–Death

   

ANNA–Prenatal Depression + Suicidal Thoughts

I remember sitting on my bed, crying like I did every morning. However, this time was different. I held a bottle of pills in front of my 6-month pregnant belly. There was one thing I wanted more than to take all of them and that was to keep my baby safe. My brain was battling my heart and I decided just to lay on the floor and cry until I was too exhausted to deal with any of these feelings. Not many people talk about prenatal depression. I wish they did so the shame hadn’t consumed me so much. I was supposed to love my baby more than anything. However, the main focus of my pregnancy was spent not letting the suicidal thoughts get the best of me. My doctor and Google scared me out of the option to take depression medicine until after I gave birth. Way too many possible side effects on the baby. People thought I was lazy but really I slept during the day so I didn’t feel alone while my husband was at work. That’s the most important thing to know if you’re dealing with this. Find someone who listens even if they don’t understand. My sweet husband never doubted my ability to be a good mother. I should never have doubted myself either. My son is now 2 months old and I know that I am an amazing mom. He is happy, healthy, and loved. I love that I was able to overcome such a dark time and be the mother I always wanted to be.

  
KAURI–Rape
I’m not sure if I was even breathing, or even alive when it happened, I was so shocked with fear. I’m not even sure how long I laid there in the sand afterward. I was terrified to move, to get up, to walk. Was he in the trees waiting again? I didn’t know what to do. I was so scared. It all just seemed so unrealistic, just a blur of clouded fear. I don’t remember when I made it back to my dorm, but I remember laying in my bed and staring at the lightbulb above my head in the ceiling. I stared at it for a couple of hours and I didn’t sleep. I didn’t do anything but lay there and stare. I couldn’t believe what had happened, I was so shocked. It felt like a bad movie & I still wasn’t sure what was going on. I remember hurting really bad and at one point I was sobbing by the toilet after I had finally gone to the bathroom. I didn’t understand, my reality felt too scary to be true. Weeks passed, my mind kept trying to tell my body I was okay, but my body was breaking and my soul was crushed. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I felt humiliated and disgusting. I felt so unworthy, gross and worthless. I began hating myself so much because I hated what had happened & I began to not care what anyone did to me. Eventually, I started acting out in weird ways that I didn’t even realize & for awhile thoughts of suicide ran through my head.
It’s been 3 years since someone took my virginity away from me, 3 years since I almost let what someone else did to me define me. The abandonment of both of my father’s used to make me feel insecure about myself and then when I was sexually assaulted I began to think that’s just how all men were. They leave and take every part of you, leaving you feeling hopeless and not keeping their promises, making you feel ugly both inside and out. But here I am today…. stronger than I have ever been with a deeper meaning of what not only love is but most importantly self-love. I have learned to truly love myself flaws and all no matter what circumstances I am in. I am worth it & I am beautiful. I am more than how I was treated that night in the sand. I’m strong & resilient & I don’t let others get to define who I am.
The thing is everyone goes through hard things in life, but it’s in those dark times in our lives that we are able to decide how we want to end up, how we want our story to unfold & who we want to be. Nobody gets to choose that for us but ourselves & mine taught me that even when others hurt me and take away something I never would’ve gave away that I am stronger and capable of more than I ever thought. At a time in my life where everything seemed to hurt so badly, I was able to cling a little harder and search a little deeper for that strength that we each hold inside of ourselves. You just have to choose to be stronger than those inner demons, choose to move forward no matter how hard it seems. To search for the good things in our lives and most importantly in ourselves. I am so much more than what I’ve done or been through. I am loved dearly by God and He has a plan for me. I am beautiful exactly how I am & nobody gets to tell me differently. I walk a little softer and at times when I’m triggered or have a bad day I may walk a little slower on my journey in life, but I will never let someone else or any situation make me feel small and insignificant ever again. I am beautiful and whole because at one point in my life when I felt that I was broken I was able to pick myself up and put myself back together. It doesn’t matter how many times we fall, but how many times we are determined to get back up.
 
HAILEY–Sexual Abuse + Suicidal Attempt
Between the ages of 4-6 years old I was molested by my cousin. Growing up, I had issues of irrational fears (much anxiety) because of the abuse. It was not until the age of 13 that I found out why I had so much anxiety for that is when I found out what had happened (my cousin came forward). I found out from my mom in a parking lot and a lot of memories of my cousin and I playing together that I didn’t think were wrong at the time flooded my mind as I realized my innocence was gone. From then on I saw many therapists but none of them helped me feel better and I felt like it was something I needed to hide which led to a bigger struggle with deep depression and of course anxiety. As I continued to grow up, I never felt worthy, I never felt loved, I never felt like I could be ANYTHING important. That all followed me through college as I dated guys that only wanted sex and something easy. Because of the abuse and the “one-on-one attention”, I received as a child, I thought that was the only way to feel loved. “
After hearing from one particular boyfriend in college tell me, “Hailey, I never loved you I only lusted you.” I fell into a very dark place. I was filled with suicidal thoughts and thoughts that I was absolutely NOTHING to this world which then led to me trying to take my life in the bathtub. Although I did manage to pull myself out, I constantly felt like the abuse defined who I was. I eventually got married to an amazing man who helped me through a lot and loved me like no one else had but it was also filled with many struggles and heart ache as I kept getting more depressed because I did not know who I was or my worth. In early of 2016, everything began to change as I was connected with an incredible therapist who helped me see a little bit of light.
Then in October, I was able to attend a retreat for women that had been sexually abused as children and that’s where I truly found my worth. I finally realized that I am a SURVIVOR and not a victim. I found that being open about my struggles will create bonds with other women, I realized that I could set boundaries in my life (those boundaries have turned my life around) and I absolutely should stand up for myself. I realized that I deserved to be completely happy because I AM WORTH so much! This and our many differences has led to my divorce but has also opened me up to a whole new world of happiness and love and respect for myself. After a lot of therapy, self-healing, meditation, yoga, self-help books and boundary setting I am finally so happy to announce my depression is no longer there (sadness some days yes, but not depression), and I KNOW without a doubt that the sexual abuse I went through as a child does not define me or my future! I KNOW that I am BEAUTIFUL. I KNOW that setting boundaries, sticking to my values and standards is so important. I KNOW that I deserve the WORLD. I know that I am ENOUGH. And I know that I am STRONG! I know that by being raw, open and honest will not only help me become stronger but hopefully it will help other women become stronger. So I leave you with this, EVERY SINGLE WOMAN OUT THERE that has been abused in any way has dealt with suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness or trial in their life, you need to know that you have so much light, love and life to offer! Fall in love with yourself, do something for YOU every single day that makes you feel good or smile. Get in the shower and imagine you are washing away all anxiety, all negative feelings and thoughts. Reach out to someone. Create boundaries. YOU ARE STRONG. YOU ARE INCREDIBLE. YOU ARE AMAZING. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. YOU ARE WORTH IT. YOU ARE LOVED! And lastly, YOU ARE NEVER, EVER, EVER ALONE in your struggles.

  

CHANDI–Type 1 Bipolar Disorder + Postpartum Panic Disorder

I’m a mom of 2 boys who has survived postpartum panic disorder and I am currently living happily with type 1 bipolar disorder. I know what it feels like to almost wreck your entire life and not have any control over stopping yourself. It’s terrifying to go from the pit of hell to entirely uncontrollable in a matter of days. I can remember the day I realized that my mania had wrecked my family. I spent every penny in our account and then some on nothing we needed and we couldn’t make our mortgage. I hadn’t slept for over 48 hours and was living off adrenaline rushes, late night parties, and coffee. The guilt and loathing all set in while I laid on my bathroom floor. My kids were crying in their rooms, my husband was gone at work, and I was just screaming to whatever is out there to put me out of my misery and save my family from me. Going back and forth from insane and reckless to hating myself to the core is more than I am strong enough to handle. I was too scared to leave my home, I resented my second child for upsetting the balance I had and I just didn’t care about taking care of anyone or anything. In this moment, nothing could be more painful or terrifying than facing the people I let down. I never thought I could say that I feel happy and in control, but with a killer support system and the right medication, here I am, loving life, marriage, and motherhood.
Going through a panic disorder and living with bipolar has taught me so much. It’s not only okay to need help, but it’s better to ask for it. I couldn’t give to my children what I didn’t have. It’s also taught me to never judge, you never know what a person is going through to put them in their current situation. We need to love more. I guess it’s also taught me to love myself and I’m not broken.
I love that I am happy. I haven’t always been, but it feels so good to have a say in my emotions, that I try to always choose happiness. I would like to think I make other people happy, too. Everyone deserves to feel that way. If there is anything I could say to someone surviving bipolar, it’s that it gets better. Getting help is scary, but it’s the first step to being able to live a functional life. It’s the first step to loving yourself. It’s the first step to being happy.

SHANNON–Severe Postpartum Depression

I was choosing a gallon of milk in the middle of the grocery store with my two boys when I lost all feeling on the right side of my body. My vision blurred and darkened, the milk fell limply from my numb hand, and mid-sentence my words turned to gibberish. The first thoughts that ran through my mind were, “I’m having a stroke, and it’s my childrens‘ fault. They are literally killing me. Maybe now I’ll be able to get some sleep.”

For some reason I thought to have my boys 20 months apart was a good idea. I had a very traumatic birth experience ending in an emergency C-section with my first but once he turned one my husband and I both felt very strongly that we needed to have another baby. I tried for a VBAC with my second and it ended in another C-section. I started his life feeling like a failure and like I betrayed my older child by bringing his brother into the world.  Then came the 7 full months of this “imposter baby” screaming for 18 hours a day for no apparent reason. I was so stressed and sleep deprived my body simulated a stroke and I landed in the hospital for several tests and an MRI. This wall between me and the rest of the world grew higher and higher as I became a miserable hostage to my two boys under 2. I wanted to run away, I wanted to hide, but these two little guys needed me, so I pushed on. Eventually, the screaming stopped, the sleeping got better, and we are now fully entrenched in the world of two toddlers, but the feeling of despair has only deepened. Finally 14 months later, I am seeking help for severe postpartum depression and finally making my mental health a priority. I find it so amazing how absolutely resilient women can be in the face of their lives being uprooted with each child. A time that should be full of joy turns out to be the hardest of your life and you keep fighting for your kiddos, that to me makes a real superhero. I lived in a state of “pretend happiness” for a long time and the best thing I’ve ever done is admit that I needed help, I couldn’t fight this battle in my head by myself anymore, and I would urge anyone feeling remotely similar to seek help.

I find it so amazing how absolutely resilient women can be in the face of their lives being uprooted with each child. A time that should be full of joy turns out to be the hardest of your life and you keep fighting for your children; that, to me, makes a real superhero. I lived in a state of “pretend happiness” for a long time and the best thing I’ve ever done is to admit that I needed help. I couldn’t fight this battle in my head by myself anymore and I would urge anyone feeling remotely similar to seek help.

I love that I get to be a mom and that I’m a dang good one, even if on some days the arbitrary mom guilt tries to consume me; those little boys were sent to me for a reason and I’m the best mom for them. And I absolutely love that I kept fighting for them. They are so worth it!

   

KENZIE–Intense Anxiety

As early as I can remember I have been nervous. At first, I had it all together, then it started to fall apart and not in a predictable, everything-at-once way. It fell apart in waves. One-quarter my grades would plummet, then the next 3 I would have straight A’s. I would hang with friends every day for a month then shut everyone out for 2 weeks. I would be an insomniac one week and then sleep 14 hours a day the next. I realized I could be two things at once. Driven and immobile. Social and reclusive. Smart and flunking. Kind and irritable. Could I be any more of a contradiction?

I have dreams and intense drive. Anxiety just interrupts sometimes. It steals energy from even the most important things in my life. I have lost opportunities, friendships, and so much TIME to the mother-sucking black hole of anxiety.

I was an honor student 3 years of High School. Then anxiety interrupted.

I was a full-time student, newlywed, and Division I Athlete. Then anxiety interrupted.

I miscarried at 8 weeks and spiraled into extreme, crippling anxiety.

I was drained, on edge, and felt perpetually dull. I did not have the energy to brush my teeth or even get out of bed. Just thinking of what I had to do during the day used up the little energy I did have. After a year I continued to spiral and a new fear began to eat at me.  Would anxiety inhibit all my dreams and dearest wishes? Could I ever be an exceptional mother, wife, employee, friend, or just plain human; or would anxiety intrude? So I sat down in a dreaded doctor’s office and mustered the courage to ask for help. I should have gone sooner. I learned how to better process my emotions and work through an anxiety attack.

It wasn’t perfect and we didn’t agree on everything. My counselor said maybe I should come up with a new definition of happiness. And possibly accept that my happiness is different than others. I haven’t been able to accept that. It feels like I would be accepting a lower grade of life.  I do not have the privilege to “choose to be happy”, I fight to be happy. I’ve changed my diet, sleep habits, exercise regime, and thought process. I have to be patient with myself. I have to take the time to stop and recognize the progress I have made.

I worried I would never be able to say these things but I can. I am a loving mother to my 6-month-old son. I can meet his needs. I can successfully run a household and still hate doing the dishes. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree and plan to continue my education. I have healthy, strong relationships. I like running again.

I have 2 pieces of advice for someone going through something similar to me. The first piece is, talk about it. Then you can see who is really there for you. It stings when people you hoped would be supportive aren’t but you’re better off knowing. I’m very comfortable talking about it now. I just had to start with one person and didn’t have unrealistic expectations for their response.  The second piece is to get some blood work done and have your hormones checked. Turns out my thyroid has a large part to play in all of this.