I considered myself smart, independent and tough. Prior to the abusive relationship I was in, I excelled in school, bought my first property at age 22, and supported myself and my child as a single mom without anyone’s help -- all while putting myself through college. I thought the only missing piece was a partner at home and that finding “the one” would mean living happily ever after. I never thought one Friday evening, just a couple hours after making dinner and planning an evening at home, I would be lying on a table in the emergency room, having my face x-rayed to see if any bones were broken.
The relationship that looked so good from the outside had been a lie. It might sound strange, but I never felt sorry for myself after that night. I felt tremendous relief that things had gotten bad enough to jar me into action, to take back my power and begin again. But rebuilding my life after domestic violence was a long and arduous process. I felt a deep sense of shame, having allowed things to go so wrong. I was penniless and embroiled in bitter legal battles for years afterward, a common form of control that abusers use to keep their victims stuck.
One thing that saved my sanity during that period was developing a healthy fitness habit at the ballet barre. Barre classes are based on a method designed by former German ballerina Lotte-Berk. They fuse ballet conditioning, Pilates, yoga and calisthenics. Diving into the realm of mind-body fitness became much more than a stress release. This graceful workout cultivated the grit and strength I so badly needed.
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The more I practiced, the stronger my body and mind became. I was able to leave my anxiety at the door during each one-hour class, providing me more clarity and resilience to tackle the challenges I was facing, and eventually, to realize my calling as an entrepreneur. When I trained to become a barre teacher, at first it was a way to earn money while I figured out what was next for my life. I had no idea the process would uncover a deeper calling that would one day lead me to open my own studios.
As I worked though my own healing, gaining confidence each time I got up in front of a barre class and used my voice, I went from feeling isolated to realizing I was not alone. When I became brave enough to share my story of domestic violence and recovery on my blog, I began to receive messages from women of all walks of life who had worked through similar situations.
I’ll never forget one woman, a high-powered executive who appeared to be at the peak of success in her career, who shared with me that she was essentially a prisoner in her own home. She enlisted help from a therapist, lawyer and local law enforcement to eject her abuser from the house, but she kept postponing out of fear for her safety. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. It truly can happen to anyone.
I want every woman in the midst of a struggle to know that she is not alone, that she is more powerful than she has yet imagined. This was the driving force behind Barre & Soul, the business I have built over the past three years. The strong and supportive communities at our Barre & Soul studio locations help empower clients to take control of their mind-body wellness and in turn, their lives. This mission is resonating, and we’re continuing to grow rapidly.
I couldn’t be more proud of how far I’ve come -- with studios from Portsmouth, N.H., to Providence, R.I., and dozens of dedicated staff who share in my mission to help women become their strongest, most centered and fulfilled selves. When we read success stories in the media, we’re usually seeing the highlight reel, not the behind-the-scenes. As a leader, I feel deeply that it is crucial to be authentic and expose our trials and tribulations. So I continue to tell my story and explain that my road prior to achieving success with Barre & Soul wasn’t an easy one.
I never planned for any of it -- losing my self-esteem, feeling like I didn't deserve better, ending up in the E.R., fighting in court for orders of protection, uprooting my life and the lives of my children, relying on crisis centers, rebuilding from rock bottom, feeling ashamed of this secret disaster my life had become. What I didn’t know then -- that I want you to know if you are being abused -- is that it doesn't mean anything about you or your potential to succeed and thrive.
The best advice I can give you is to tell someone. I know you are ashamed and afraid of the battle ahead. Just tell someone. The more people who know, the less likely you are to ever go back. Your past does not dictate your future or limit your potential. There is so much waiting for you. I felt so ashamed and unworthy. Now I feel brave, confident and successful. You deserve the beautiful life that is waiting for you once you take that first courageous step, and speak up.