Sometimes we don’t realize how strong we are until we have no other choice. Dealing with the pain and emotional scars of trauma can cloud our vision, or make us lose sight of who we are and what we’re capable of. The truth is that as humans, we are much more resilient than we think we are, we just need to tap into that inner power that lays dormant when we’re going through a bit more than we can handle.
When it comes to being resilient, there’s no better example than Ashlee Donohue. Ashlee and I recently had the most honest and raw conversation about her experience growing up facing prejudice as an Aboriginal woman, living through child abuse and years of domestic violence in a toxic relationship. She took all that sadness and tragedy and turned in into a superpower for helping other women in the Aboriginal community face their own battles.
Ashlee has spent the better part of the last twenty years raising awareness on the horrific unspoken dirty secret of domestic violence. 1 in 3 Australian women will face domestic violence in their lifetime, and for Ashlee, this statistic is unacceptable. “Every single person in this world has the capacity to make their homes, their communities, where they live as safe as they want it to be. And that’s determined by how much violence you’re willing to tolerate”, she so eloquently explained.
Find Your Voice
Domestic violence, or any abuse for that matter, can become a heavy weight on your soul if you keep it a secret. I want to stress here that every situation is different and no victim is to blame for keeping silent, it is an incredible burden to bear. As Ashlee said, “The blanket of silence that is put on women not to speak about domestic violence is very heavy.”
But the key to healing, the key to ending the cycle, is to find your voice. For Ashlee, it was many many years before she found the courage to leave her abuser and even more time before she was able to speak about what she went through. But with help from the right therapist, she eventually found her voice.
Find the Right Therapist
Therapy is so essential to dealing with trauma and finding the courage to tell your story, even if it’s just to your loved ones. And you may not find the right one for you right away. The first therapist Ashlee went to asked her straight away to talk about her childhood. There were skeletons in Ashlee’s closet that she hadn’t yet dealt with and this question was jarring, so she left that office and never went back. But she hadn’t given up hope. She tried another therapist, and another, until she found one that just “clicked”. “When you find the right one, you’ll just know. Talking to them will feel easy,” she says.
Tap into Your Inner Strength
The funny thing about beginning to share your story, even if it’s only with your therapist or a trusted friend or family member, is that it begins to lose the hold it has over you. Once we lift those massive weights, ounce by ounce, off our chest, we can breathe, and remember who we are.
For Ashlee, her incredibly rich ancestral history was such a source of hope for her, and she felt almost obligated to use it for good. She needed to stay connected to that power source, so that she could draw from it for strength.
“I stay connected because I know that the bloodline I carry is powerful and resilient, from the oldest living culture in the world.” Those words gave me chills when she said them to me, almost as if I could feel the gravity of her sense of self. It was indeed powerful.
You don’t have to carry centuries of culture in your veins to tap into your own inner power. It’s about staying still, listening to that inner voice that we all have, and staying true to who you know you are. Trauma has the tendency to knock us down to the point where we feel defeated, only because we forget the power we’re capable of. You are in there, trust me. And you can rise again.
Help Others Find Their Voice
Like so many others before her, Ashlee found a renewed sense of purpose by helping others going through the trauma of domestic violence. “I knew that my story wasn’t just my story, it was a lot of women’s stories”, she says. By helping others find their voice, and ultimately change their situations, Ashlee was able to turn her own darkness into light. What an incredibly inspiring, beautiful thing.
You don’t have to have your own domestic violence story to help others find their voice. If 1 in 3 women are going through it, the chances are that you know someone in your life that is, even if you’re not. If you begin to notice that something is off with your friend or family member, if they’re withdrawing from their normal lives, if you see bruises or marks on their skin, if they suddenly begin changing their behaviour- speak up, SAY SOMETHING. Ashlee says it’s so important to break those norms of staying quiet and instead intervene. “People say “It’s none of my business”, but the truth is, it’s everyone’s business”, she says.
But it’s more than just looking for the signs. Ashlee says it’s also about prevention. “We need to talk to our kids about safe touching, healthy relationships and what to do if they’re in trouble,” she stresses. Having an open dialogue with your kids, and everyone in your life, can make the tough stuff easier to talk about.
Domestic violence is a heavy subject. If any of this was triggering for you, please, reach out for help. This is not the end of your journey, it’s only the beginning. The human spirit is incredibly resilient, and we are capable of turning everything ugly that has ever happened to us into a glowing beacon of hope for others around us.