Have you ever been a party to or a witness of domestic violence? The statistics are shocking, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence 1 in 4 women experience severe intimate partner violence including both physical and verbal abuse. Research has proven that in many cases, verbal abuse can be far more traumatic over a lifetime than physical abuse. It can lead to the development of disorders like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder if left untreated. After speaking with this weeks SHERO, Holly Dowling, she is oh too familiar with the lasting effects of verbal abuse after her ex husband trashed talked her into a deep level of fear that left her fleeing for her life. A heart pounding escape that ended in pajamas, a tree, snow and bare feet.
Me: Take us back Holly to when the abuse begin.
Holly: It all started back in college. Perhaps I aligned with this person because of growing up with an alcoholic father. Although my father never abused me nor did I witness him abusing my mother, I was a witness to his drinking. It felt like we were constantly walking on eggshells in our house. Perhaps that’s what was programmed within myself that I was not aware of. Therefore I attracted what I later found out was an alcoholic in my life. I am very close to my father today and I’m super proud of him as he has been in recovery for quite some time.
I didn’t know that my boyfriend was an alcoholic, although he was Mr. Fun, the life of the party, I never registered that he was an alcoholic, the binge drinking is just something that people did in college. Despite witnessing this, I still found him fascinating.
But what ultimately made me migrate to him is the story. Since I was a little girl I watched Love Boat and Fantasy Island, I would dream of being Julie and that was a vision I held tight to my heart and in my mind, I didn’t want to let go of it for nothing. I became Julie and worked on a cruise ship, then I moved to St. John and this guy over 3 years would come to see me until 1 day he asked me to marry him, this was the guy from college.
Me: So wait a minute, are you saying you fell in love with the story in your mind of being Julie from Love Boat, or did you truly fall in love with your ex?
Holly: He was from a very wealthy, influential family and that did captivate my attention. He was the Big Man On Campus; there was something about the charisma and the party attitude that made me curious. So once he asked me to move back and marry him I did. But before we tied the knot, the night of the rehearsal dinner, this huge wedding planned, my fiancé at the time hit me in the head in the car on the way back to the house. He was 6’5” and told me to shut the F*** up. Here my father had taken out a second mortgage on the house so I could have this big hoopla wedding. I remember telling my sister that I was scared to get married, but I felt like I needed to go through with it after the sacrifice my family made. I went through the motions but inside I was freaking out because I couldn’t believe what I had experienced.
Me: Many women I speak with get caught up with the story they play in their mind and as givers they feel that once they make a commitment and others make a sacrifice for their commitment, they have to follow through at all costs. When in reality all they are doing is giving up their power which later spills over on to others once their life is left in shambles. Destruction is clearly what followed after you got married is that correct?
Holly: YES, we skipped the honeymoon because his parents bought us a house. I remember him sitting me down on the bed as if it were yesterday, looking me straight in the eyes at 6’5” tall, he said, “You are in my town now, you play by my rules and if you don’t like it you can get the F*** out!”
Me: Oh my, gosh he said that right after you got married? Why in the world did you stay?
Holly: I was afraid to leave! For 488 days I was told everyday that I was a stupid f******* Bitch! That behavior I had never seen before. I worried what my family and people that knew me would think about me if I left. “How does a girl like me end up like this?” is what I thought their reaction would be. I kept thinking I could change and make it better. Things continued to escalate and I got thrown up against a wall because I had the wrong salt and peppershakers on the dinner table when he came home from work. His drinking made the abuse worse.
I FELT SHAME!
Me: How in the world did you last 488 days?
Holly: I had a safe place behind my shoe rack in the corner of my closet where I would hide and try to make things feel OK, but there were so many nights that I would cry myself to sleep. My closet was my safe place.
Me: How did you finally escape?
Holly: I had attempted 2 months prior to the ultimate escape when I packed up my car and went to the gas station to get my oil changed. We lived in a small town and he showed up at the station. He threatened me and followed me home. He said, “I will kill you if you try to leave me you F****** Bitch!” The F word was dropped constantly in our house. He kicked me that night so hard that I fell over the back of the couch. Fast forward 2 months and I started to see a local therapist and I had filed reports in the past with the police. That day I vividly remember, there was snow on the ground. That was the day that I finally talked back, February 1989, he was upset that I didn’t have dinner right and I told him to F*** off. He told me, “You can’t talk to me like that, I’ll F****** kill you!” I grabbed a little knife, he grabbed one bigger, I ran to get my purse and then to the car, he slammed the garage doors and tried to trap me. I am in my pajamas, he was beet red as if he was the devil and he said, “Don’t you dare leave me, I will f****** kill you, get that knife out of your f****** hands,” and he turned around to get another knife. I ran as fast as I could in the other direction through our ranch style home and out the front door bare foot in a few feet of snow in my pajamas and I climbed up a tree in the back yard as I continued to hear him scream, “Where are you, you F****** Bitch, I’m going to kill you, you F****** Bitch!” I stayed in the tree watching him run through the house flipping on lights looking for me. I saw him get in his truck and slowly drive down the driveway and around the neighborhood. I was in the tree so long, I can’t even remember how long I was up there but I do know there is a power greater than us that got me through that long hiding period in the tree. After I was sure the coast was clear, I ran back in the house, I grabbed my purse and keys, no shoes or anything else and I drove my car straight to the police station. The police hid my car and me for 3 days in another state, Oklahoma. That’s how bad things had gotten. The police then contacted my parents and I went to live with them.
Me: WOW, did you end up filing for a divorce after that?
Holly: I did! However his mother contacted me and we never spoke over the previous years about our relationship. I will never forget what she said to me! She said, “I wish you would have told me you were leaving. I would have told you that this is what he has seen his whole life. His father has abused me his entire life and I put up with it for the life and money that I have.” It made me sick that she was justifying her son’s behavior. The divorce took about 1 year and thankfully I wasn’t living in that city, my attorney took care of everything, I wanted nothing. I was in my early 20’s.
Me: What did you do to heal from the toxicity of your marriage?
Holly: I was going to therapy. I was determined to heal and get better. I moved back home but now my parents were getting a divorce after 28 years of marriage, which saved my father’s life because it forced him into sobriety. At that moment I was back home in a familiar pattern and I put others before myself so I repeated a familiar pattern. One year later, another guy who drank too much. My internal dialogue kept hearing when I made mistakes what my ex said to me, “Oh you stupid F****** Bitch.” Those words annihilated my self-esteem. I want everyone to know it doesn’t take a lifetime to make an imprint on another human being good or bad. 488 days left a deep scar!
I got pregnant right off the bat with this new boyfriend, it was a marriage of friendship but then the stress of everyday life caught up with him and abuse transpired. We were married until 2001, we had 2 children and all in one week during that time, my eldest son was diagnosed with a rare cancer, we had no health insurance, we lost our home and my youngest boy was being born. Life felt out of control. One day when I feel ready, I will publically make a video statement with all of the riveting details but for now, for my son’s sake I will leave you with the imagination of that week, can you imagine all of that news happening all in 1 week? But I found a shack to live in and I was grateful for our shelter. The journey with my son’s cancer was 5 years; there were only 11 cases over 19 years in the U.S. with this rare cancer. My ex’s violent tendencies were showing up and his drinking escalated. Again more verbal abuse and my co-dependency of making him look good. We were living in Colorado and I decided time was up; I couldn’t take any more!
Me: So you divorced, headed back to your support tribe in your home town and you realized at that point that it takes a strong confident man to champion a strong confident woman. That statement alone is priceless. I want every reader to jot that down and remember that. It’s super important to make sure that you feed your destiny and not your history.
You also learned that you attracted men that loved the trophy of Holly but wanted to crush Holly. After that you took a long pause in dating and focused on doing things that brought you joy. You finally put yourself first and focused on your boys and therapy. You healed and 8 years later once you were whole you attracted another whole person. Thankfully you recognized your old patterns so you didn’t self-sabotage an amazing relationship that later turned into marriage. A marriage that formed out of meeting each other through your children’s activities, well done Holly!!
Holly’s closing words: I refused to let my children be a victim of divorce. It’s important to take a date night by yourself so you can recharge your batteries.
Today I am thriving which is an intentional movement. I am living my soul’s highest calling and being a messenger to the world brining hope, joy, and inspiration. So if you are going through a dark space right now, stop living in whoa is me and start living in Wow is me, nobody has power and control over you unless you let them. It’s time to rise up and be a victor, you have a choice everyday to transform your mindset. Start living a life you are creating versus living a life of fitting in. If I can transform, so can you!
Holly Dowling is a highly sought after award-winning global keynote speaker and inspirational thought leader. She has addressed hundreds of thousands of Fortune 500 executives around the world in the past 20 years and impacted the hearts and minds of millions in over 90 countries worldwide with her “A Celebration Of You” podcast via iHeart Radio.
An expert in strengths-based leadership and corporate women’s empowerment, Holly is passionate about the privilege of leading others. She keynotes and facilitates high-level business engagements for Fortune 500 companies, including Facebook, Wells Fargo, Home Depot and IBM, among others. She is a two-time Stevie Award winner and recipient of The American Riviera Women Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Her mission is to continue to inspire millions of hearts and minds across the globe to have a better life.
The #SHEROproject will include stories of SHEROS from around the world throughout the next 12 months. In an effort to support our SHEROS that are thriving there is a panel that will be selecting the most inspirational story for the 2019 SHERO of the year award, which will be announced on 12/1/2019. To connect with the SHERO project visit us on Facebook where all stories are featured. The SHERO of the year award winner will receive a 4-day/3-night retreat at 1440 Multiversity. An opportunity to explore their potential in an environment like no other; get away for rejuvenating downtime and immersion learning on their state-of-the-art campus in the redwoods of Scotts Valley, CA and experience the perfect blend of learning, vacation, and space for reflection.
1440 Multiversity is a place to experience time differently—exploring what matters, while surrounding yourself with fresh air, delicious food, many ways to unwind, and opportunities to connect with yourself and others. SHERO, during your stay, you can look forward to daily 1440 specialty classes such as yoga, meditation, qi gong and Pilates. Or enjoy hiking in the 75 acres of redwood forest surrounding the campus and finish off your day with a soak in their signature infinity tub.
The creation of 1440 Multiversity stemmed from a desire to establish a beautiful and nurturing physical location where people of all walks of life could come together in community—to explore, learn, reflect, connect, and reenergize. (www.1440.org)