My name is Ella Hicks, I am the founder of Rebel Thriver and this is my story:
While in my late 20’s I fell head over heels in love and married a man I thought I knew. It didn’t take long after we had said our vows that the abuse started to surface. In retrospect, there were plenty of ‘red flags’ warning me, but I didn’t know it at the time. The abuse began in earnest with a violent explosion on our honeymoon. I was terrified, and honestly all I wanted to do was go home and start over, but I was far too ashamed to admit or accept what had transpired. I was in love with him, and I felt it was my responsibility to stand by him. So I chose to stick it out and tried to get my husband the help he obviously needed. We were married for over a decade and the abuse at first ebbed and flowed. I was living in the only place that I would ever call home, and I had the career of my dreams. I just needed to help him heal from his own past in order for us to have a future together. There were great times and there were some really horrible times. He started therapy and was taking medication to help with depression, rage, and mood swings. We had a few okay years, I was hopeful.
Our first child came and the pressures of being a new parent just crushed him. I didn’t realize it then, but that was the beginning of the end. He decided not to go to therapy anymore. He threw his medication away and decided that he was fine; it was everyone else who had problems. Our life began to fall apart, within 5 years I no longer knew the man that I was married to. He was diagnosed with a personality disorder that needed serious mental health intervention. At first he seemed to understand, and was onboard, but as time went on the illness just eclipsed the man that I knew.
When I was three months pregnant with our second child there was no doubt that I needed to get out. By this time things were very volatile and I was really afraid. Like many victims of abuse I was terrified of him, and I was ashamed of what I had been reduced to. I would suffer at home and then go to work and pretend that everything was okay. I was lying to everyone out of fear and shame, including my family. He was trying very hard to isolate me the best he could. He started to tell me he was going to hurt my family members. He threatened to kill our children if I were to ever try to take them away from him. He told me, “I brought them into this world and I can take them out.” Imagine being an isolated young parent trying to navigate all of this alone?
He was high on rage and alcohol almost every night. I would lock myself in the bedroom with the kids, and pray that he would not come home from his nightly jaunt to a local bar. One night he came home and tried to open our bedroom door that I had locked. When he was able to jimmy the bedroom door open he stood over me holding a huge butcher’s knife in his hand, and demanded that I hand over my newborn to him. I sat there with one child in my arms and the other curled up in the bed beside me. I am aware that not many people can relate to this, but there are some, and it is for them that I am writing this. There is no way to put into words the fear that I experienced that night and countless others. My life went on like this for almost two years. By this time I would describe him as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Glimpses of Dr. Jekyll were becoming less frequent, and Mr. Hyde took up full residence in our home. I did not know this man. I did not trust him. And I certainly didn’t like him. He was violent, paranoid, physically intimidating, and I believed capable of anything. I was the frog in the pot of water. By the time I realized that the water was boiling I was already being cooked and had no way out.
I remember the beautiful tree that was outside my bedroom window. I would stand looking out that window for hours dreaming of escape. Seasons came and went as I watched the leaves sprout, grow to a vibrant green, and then turn to shades of yellow, brown, and red before falling to the ground. The abuse intensified and everyday the gas lighting was getting more intense. For a moment of “peace” I would lock myself in the bathroom and cry in the shower. I would repeat over and over, “I am not crazy. He is crazy. I am not crazy. He is crazy.” I was only in my early thirties, but I was broken down mentally, emotionally, and physically; the years of abuse had taken a toll. I was trapped and I knew that if I tried to leave he would kill us.
Somehow in the midst of this nightmare I kept blowing on the tiny ember of hope that lived within me. I know with the utmost of certainty that if it hadn’t been for my children I most certainly wouldn’t be here today. When I think back on this time I am nothing short of heartbroken for the young mother that I was, and the torment I was forced to endure. By this time I was actively looking for an out, but as hard as I tried I couldn’t find an open window or a cracked door to slip through. We had been locked in a cage and there was no key.
And then one bitter cold winter night a door blew open for me, and without any preparation I decided to leave. With my two small children, one on each hip, and only the clothes on our backs I left, knowing that if I walked out the door I would never be able to return. I chose to walk away from my home, my beloved career, my friends, colleagues, and even my identity in order to stay alive. I went from making six figures to living on welfare to support my children. Leaving was the hardest thing that I have ever done in my entire life, bar none.
I have no words for what it feels like to be betrayed by someone so deeply. To trust someone with your life, and then fear that this same person might take your life is something that I have not yet been able to articulate clearly. A few years of living terrified and isolated left me a shell of my former self. I second guessed everything. I didn’t trust anyone. I was always looking over my shoulder and in the rear view mirror. I had no vision for my future, and I was still trying to figure out what the hell had happened to me. We were completely broke, I wasn’t receiving child support, and the stress that I lived under trying to stay afloat was crippling. Trying to raise two young energetic and bright children was a challenge. I spent a lot of time taking them to Child Psychologists trying to fend off the inevitable diagnosis of PTSD. My ex-husband had become a terrorist and we were living a life ravaged by war. I didn’t know anyone personally who had survived domestic violence that I could talk to. I carried the shame and felt like a total failure every single day. Society was pressuring me to pretend that I had it all together when I clearly did not. There was no public discourse about domestic violence at this time and I felt like a rudderless ship who was missing her home, career, friends, and honestly myself. I was alone and we were forced to live a shadow life for many years trying to stay one step ahead of him.
Sometimes you just have to be your own hero.
My response to this was to create a safe haven for other survivors. I knew that there were others out there, but I didn’t know how to connect with them. So one day I decided to take a leap of faith and start a blog. I wanted to speak out and shine a light on the insidiousness of domestic violence. I knew that if survivors could find each other we could join our voices and impact change. I decided to call the blog Rebel Thriver. I began writing to save myself from the unbearable isolation I lived with. Finding my voice enabled me to reach my hand into the darkness, and there I found so many hands reaching back to me. I had found my tribe.
Domestic violence is a worldwide epidemic, and what makes it so insidious is that it hides in plain sight. It doesn’t discriminate across socio-economic, religious, or educational lines. It doesn’t care what race, sex, or political beliefs you have. It is relentless; and one in four women have been affected by it in some way. Did you know that on any given day the Domestic Violence Hotline (in the US) will receive over 20K calls. In times of crisis, like our world is seeing now, these numbers only escalate.
Trauma from domestic violence causes deep layered wounding and healing is a long journey. I have dedicated my life to helping women heal from this kind of trauma. What I have found is that the initial support that one can find after immediately leaving abuse, much akin to triage, often dissipates as quickly as it appears. Limited resources create a void where growth is not easy if you are going it alone. Additional holistic support is necessary in order to be able to see personal transformation into a whole and healthy person. When support is not there to help a survivor transition, recidivism is much more likely. After I left, there was no one to help me figure out who I was after I had been systematically broken down to a shell of my former self. I had no roadmap for finding my way home to me. I didn’t understand how the changes that we had suffered on a neurobiological level would affect our daily lives. Trauma therapy wasn’t widely available (it still isn’t) and I didn’t understand what the long term effects the trauma would have on our brains. I was sailing on the seas completely rudderless and afraid. I needed other women to connect to. I needed a lifeline.
I created Rebel Thriver as a place for survivors to come together, share their stories, feel accepted, seen, and understood. I believe that healing is more accessible when we are connected to people with similar traumatic experiences. It is in our shared stories of struggles and triumphs that humanity takes root. If you are feeling lost right now please know that new beginnings are possible! The first step is to accept that you are worthy of a life that is full of love and joy. Living in the liminal space that we all face after leaving abuse isn’t easy, especially if you don’t have the right kind of support. You are walking the path between no longer and not yet and you need a guide. Life is intrinsically messy. Regardless if you are working through the recovery of an abusive relationship, rape, sexual abuse or childhood trauma, we are all working on letting go of the past in order to be able to reclaim our lives and live in the present without fear.
Last year Rebel Thriver became a Not for Profit Organization (NFP). We have big plans to grow so that we can provide help and resources through coaching, mentoring, workshops, classes, retreats, and advocacy to those in need. It is our mission to help others find the path of recovery so that they can reconnect to themselves, heal, find their voice, and create beautiful lives.
The Rebel Thriver Team is made up of an amazing group of women who volunteer their time to help others who are in need. They help to keep our organization running and on a continued growth trajectory. We are a diverse group from different backgrounds with very different life stories, but we all come together with one voice to support survivors and fight domestic violence.
Thank you for stopping by and if you are new to Rebel Thriver I want to welcome you. We all have a story and they are all important. By telling your story you give others the hope that if you can reclaim your life then so can they. I would love to hear your story.
We believe in new beginnings.
Our vision is to implement sustainable programs that will help survivors of domestic violence reclaim their lives. Rebel Thriver exists to inspire, encourage, educate, advocate, and offer support for survivors so they can create healthy and abundant lives full of hope for a better tomorrow. We strive to impact lasting change by advocating for new legislation and shining a light in the darkness. Your donation means everything to us and the women that we help. Thank you for helping us help others.
“My mission in life is not merely to survive,
but to thrive; and to do so with some passion,
some compassion, some humor, and some style”
Founder, Rebel Thriver
International Life Coach
The illustration that I use for my icon is by the talented artist, Elizabeth Mayville. The reason I use this is because I am a survivor of DV myself and still not able to make my identity public for the safety of myself and my children.