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Strip Yourself Naked: Your Journey toward Self-Empowerment
Inspiring Success Stories on Overcoming Adversity, Hardship, and Challenges
By Valentina Rise
Balboa PressCopyright © 2013 Valentina Rise
All rights reserved.
There I am, sitting and marvelling at my surroundings. My new Burberry handbag resting on my knee, I finish my breakfast. Elated to the point of hardly being able to contain my excitement, I gracefully unzip my new bag, reaching inside and anxiously feeling again for my passport, house keys, and money.
Dressed in a gorgeous, sexy black frock, draped with a glamorous three-quarter ivory-coloured coat and stunning black leather Italian high-heeled pointed boots, I look and feel glorious.
Knowing that upon touchdown a driver shall collect me, my name displayed on his sign, I feel important. He will chauffeur me to BMW, where I will collect my brand-new, specified Mini Cooper, which I have already named Bertie. Although Bertie arrived at the showroom the day before I flew out, I have not yet laid eyes on him. Red all over, complete with optional extra overhead airbags, he is my dream. I begin to wish I had thought to hire a photographer to take shots of me as I move through arrivals and head outside to be whisked away to the showroom by my private driver.
Visualizing a continuous array of photographs capturing the emotion and sense of accomplishment that I feel, reaching an important milestone, on track to fulfilling my dreams, I imagine the photographer follows me to the showroom, where I eagerly await the unveiling of my little car. It seems like a fun idea and would be great to include in a book if I ever get around to writing one. Oh well, I concede. It is too late now.
As I sit there in my airplane seat whilst we descend, I am still feeling important. I remember the saying, "Pride comes before a fall." I think to myself, I do not want to fall. I love the life I am creating. I recount the enormous effort it has taken to get where I am: the countless late nights and early starts, the seven-day weeks, the constant challenge of being a working mum pressured to organize and fund private nursing care when my children are ill and I have appointments to keep.
I remember all I have learned about myself and about life. I remind myself that life is not about being arrogant. Life is about giving and loving. In that moment, my sense of importance falls away, replaced by humility. With ample room to play and forty-five minutes to spare, my excitement about driving Bertie re-emerges. My thoughts float away, and I plan a glorious drive home from the city in my freshly polished new red car.
Forgetting where I am, I become like a girl sitting in the playground. I cross my ankles and swing my legs back and forth, jiggling and fidgeting momentarily. Soon, after it is too late, I realize that I am being observed. Another passenger sitting across the spacious aisle smiles. I politely and sweetly return the gesture, adjusting my pose appropriately, sitting up straight and returning to a state of sophistication. Note to self: I must ensure that I behave in accordance with my environment!
My attention shifts outside, through the window. I am overjoyed about Bertie, about my life, and about the future. In an effort to relax, I purposely draw slow, deep breaths, choosing to savour the moment. I remember how I got to be here.
The journey to this point in my life started nearly five years earlier. Thinking back to that time, I feel the way I felt then: terrified and emotionally bruised, my heart pounding, my fingers fumbling as I twist the key in the lock for the final time. I am fretting that our moment to escape will disappear. Feeling nervous and anxious, I know I have made the right decision to move on and leave this horrible relationship behind.
I do not know what is going on in my husband's mind. I am grappling with making the necessary choices. With excited anticipation and feeling extremely vulnerable, I know I need to give myself the permission to start afresh with a new life, a new beginning, and with my children beside me, I start that journey.
What is the right next step? I am making it all up as I go along. Putting one foot in front of the other, I tell myself that our physical safety is paramount. It is a tough call; I choose to leave. With my survival instinct heightened, I fail at nothing to keep the children safe. This means ensuring that my life remains intact. Fleeing without a trace is our best chance.
In the car with my children, I lock the doors. Not knowing what we are facing, but knowing what actions I am now taking, I fasten my seat belt and turn on the ignition. I am petrified. Navigating my way through this terrifying time, I am acutely aware of the danger if things do not go according to plan. Purposely, I breathe deeply and slowly whilst preparing myself to take the stand required. I am aware that this action will require of me more than I have ever known myself capable of being. Time appears momentarily to stand still.
My internal monologue is calling out in panic, bordering on terror. What if he sees us? What if he comes home early? What if I have forgotten something important? Many unanswered questions flood my mind.
The trauma of living in fear for nearly eight years shows itself as I breathe a sigh of relief that I have left the house spic and span. At least he won't arrive home and fly off the handle, I think to myself. Hopefully, Strip Yourself Naked: Your Journey toward Self-Empowerment he will take a moment to sit in quiet and think. Maybe, just maybe, he will choose to move on with his life and let us go. The possibility exists that he will be relieved by our departure. I say a prayer, take a deep breath, and use the time in the car to gather myself.
We have to survive, no matter what; I have to live, to love, and to care for our children. They are so incredibly helpless, exceptionally vulnerable. I draw on everything I have internally and personally to focus on creating a better, brighter life.
That was then; this is now. My change began when I drew a line in the sand, etching out a new future—a life full of possibility.
Being in business class aboard an international airplane takes tenacity and commitment. It takes being self-reliant and placing all my belief in my own capability—concentrating on strengths, not weaknesses.
As I soak up the comfort and service that accompany a business-class ticket, tears begin to fill my eyes. I am thrilled at what I have achieved. What a stark contrast this is to my life before. Taking a return business-class trip halfway around the world is a dream fulfilled. I sit there expecting that the best is yet to come.
A few weeks after returning from my trip abroad, I return—in Bertie—from business in the city, driving back over the seven-lane Auckland Harbour Bridge. The sun shining, the scent from the leather interior still strong, my heart expands almost to bursting. The joy and happiness overwhelm me. The sea below glistens like diamonds. Empowered and on track, I realize that I have ticked off another goal: paying cash for a brand-new car that I would never have normally allowed myself to buy. Being responsible for two young children, their future opportunities, and their day-to-day needs meant that buying a brand-new car would not normally have been a priority.
Ordering Bertie was an act of patting myself on the back. What a momentous occasion—my first little something for me, done in recognition of all the right choices I had made for the children and myself as I carved out our new lives together, totally separate from their father. The pathway I had chosen was far from easy. Bertie is my reward; he is a symbol of my success, and he is brain food.
When friends and family kick back, enjoying their downtime, I am working through. I have little help with the children. They are my responsibility. There are a few other mums from kindergarten and school whom I can call on now and then, but I do not want to drain their kindness. I am on my own as far as funding care is concerned. We get through, just. Besides, I want the children around me. This is their life. I am being a role model for their future. I am it—the buck stops with me. Who they become and how they interact with the world will come from these moments, their developing years.
Buying Bertie has never been tinged with even a single element of regret. It has been five years since I ended the toil in our lives. However, I still face each day with fear for my children and myself. Always, in the back of my mind, I do not dare to entirely relax. I have to stay alert. Although we are at opposite ends of the country now, I cannot be 100 percent sure. The fear has not yet left me. There are still recurrent nightmares where I wake up terrified and drenched. It will take years for the fear to leave. In fact, I am not entirely sure that it will ever completely disappear. At least with time, though, I have a sense of having won out. The more time that passes, logic says, the safer we are.
In Bertie, on top of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, this is my moment. Whilst Bertie marks new beginnings, stages, and dreams, he signifies much more—a part of my life that has been undeniably difficult. As I have alluded to, every day has consisted of reaching for the stars. The hard work is not over yet, far from it. However, with the new skills I am continuing to gather through experience, the work is getting easier. The hard times are fewer and fewer, interspersed between longer stretches of good and exhilaratingly fun times. Reaching the apex of the bridge, the excitement runs deeper and deeper, enveloping me, filling my eyes over and over with tears of joy. The experience of being on top of the world compels me to call out "Woohoo!" Windows down, the light breeze carries echoes of my excitement away with the wind.
The immense satisfaction comes from fulfilling my dreams. Considering the canyon between where I once stood as a single parent lacking confidence, a voice, and emotional strength to where I currently am in life moves me to tears when I reach the apex of the bridge in little Bertie. Today and every day hereafter, I will be heard calling out "Woohoo!"
I am present to the fact that my current life is a victory over my past. My previous life is unrecognizable to me now. I looked different then, and I was different. I have emerged from my shell. What a contrast: my life on the bridge verses my life five years earlier. I cannot resist imagining a life in which I never left. Truly thankful, I wipe away the tears of joy. What an extraordinary achievement.
What makes my past life unrecognizable is how my thinking has changed. I went from thinking that I had to honour the vows I made on our wedding day and stay married until death do us part to a much more freeing perspective.
That way of thinking is ludicrous. What an impossible situation. I remember when I began to entertain the idea that breaking my promise to my husband was justified in these circumstances. In that moment, I suddenly realized for the first time that he had not kept any of the promises he had made on our wedding day. I had spent the best part of eight years believing that I had to stay true to the vows I promised without realizing that he had already given me the out that I required. Thank goodness for that light-bulb moment.
Once I realized my thinking had been skewed, I was free to create a new life full of hope, passion, fulfilment, and accomplishment. I took the driver's seat in my life. I took accountability and responsibility for how things were and what was missing. I then took the ownership required to put myself out in the world and make life happen. It was then that I became the unstoppable force to be reckoned with that I am today. As soon as I realized that nothing stood in my way, I was off.
My children and I live an extraordinary life together that keeps on growing and expanding year by year. There isn't anything that is beyond us. We are the masters of our own destinies. We have what it takes to get what we want, and because of where we have come from, we give back to others and always make sure that all our work projects are fair and just for all people that are involved so all may benefit.
Practicing new ways of thinking and living has created a pathway for living the life we love. With practice, we all realized that we were the only ones in the way of achieving our dreams as human beings.
Jacqueline Harrison is an author, mentor, and speaker on inspiring greatness. She is also an advocate for domestic violence victims and a campaigner to help end child abuse. She also facilitated much needed funds for New Zealand women to pay for 12 months Herceptin in the fight against early HER2+ breast cancer between 2006 and 2008. Jacqueline's newest project is as the business owner and creative designer behind www.poeology.com.au You can find more information about Jacqueline at www.jacquelineharrison.com or e-mail her at email@example.com.
You do not need to be wealthy to give generously. Gifts of the heart are the greatest gifts of all.
Becoming Free to Be Me ...
We all have times in our lives when we experience a moment that ultimately defines us; the person we have been dissolves, and we are never the same again.
One such moment I vividly remember was a business conversation that took place not in the boardroom or an office but ironically on my college campus, where I had been taking evening classes in pursuit of a dream to break away, to live a life aligned with my values, and to fulfil my purpose.
The words seemed to hang in the air as they were spoken, letting me know that the role I had identified with for so many years was now under question. Even though I had mentally decided years ago that the relationship needed to end, this final act of betrayal filled my entire being with a rush of mixed emotions—first shock, then a sense of rejection, and then anger and resentment. Finally my whole being was numbed with disbelief.
Eventually these feelings were replaced with excitement, immense joy, and a true sense of freedom; these gifts were waiting around the corner, but at that time, I couldn't see that far ahead.
This energetic kick in the stomach had stopped me in my tracks, so nothing else was registering, and I was constantly plagued with the mental chatter of "Will I be ok?" and "Why has this happened to me?" These thoughts seemed to pop in and out of my awareness for several months afterward as I walked through these times of immense change.
Yet I was still expected to dust myself off and continue to perform, pull on my corporate mask and attend scheduled business meetings, and connect with our stakeholders and remain the "leadership face" of our state. I needed to ignore my emotional state and get back to business, for this was what I was being paid for: to understand that these were just business decisions and shouldn't be taken personally.
However, this underlying law of the business world to see the pursuit of the bottom line as more important than the recognition of the soul of another had challenged my core values for quite some time. This was when I started to realize that my world was being pulled apart and that there was nothing I could do to stop it.
This marked the beginning of my transition from a role that suffocated me, restricted my creativity, and had me locked in due to financial commitments and my sense of responsibility. What I transitioned to was the life I live today, a life that enables me to breathe, live with purpose, and enjoy the freedom that only comes when you allow yourself to be 100 percent congruent.
However, as the days unfolded and the ball gained momentum, I didn't anticipate how it would impact me physically, emotionally, or mentally.
Just as in the movie Sliding Doors, where the character's life could have gone down two different paths based upon a given decision or a comment, several alternative scenarios kept running through my head as I second-guessed myself on whether I had made the right call.
You see, no matter whether change is invited or thrust upon you, it can still rattle your being and hold you in a void, waiting for the new life to begin. Feelings of anxiety, confusion, and self-doubt start to creep in, filling this void, and you start to question whether you really want this change, what lies ahead, and whether everyone will be safe.
Getting up and functioning on a daily basis was sometimes all I could muster, and the highest achievement of my week was to keep it all together.
For the following weeks, I remember watching everyone going through their daily activities, as life seemingly had not changed for them while my world had been severely dismantled. I was relegated to the sidelines of a play, with no real role or relevant lines to speak, just watching and waiting for my next play script to arrive.
Excerpted from Strip Yourself Naked: Your Journey toward Self-Empowerment by Valentina Rise. Copyright © 2013 by Valentina Rise. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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