By Holly Dowling – Growing up, I had an adventurous spirit. I started businesses when I was six years old. I held the title of the Homecoming Queen and loved life. But that doesn’t mean my spirit hasn’t been through dark times.

The hard times I’ve lived through have made me who I am. It’s in the face of adversity that I’ve become better and not bitter. I don’t feel that our trials should define us. I believe we should allow our trails to refine us.

As a globally renowned thought-leader in strength-based leadership my job has been to teach leaders the power and privilege that comes with leadership. There is so much attention around women and our position of power. Corporations are putting a lot of energy and money into professional development for their female employees. What women really need is personal development. I’ve met thousands of women over the last year who are looking for permission to reflect, rekindle and renew the spirit of who they are.

I’ve been hired to inspire and guide employees at companies like IMB, Microsoft, Facebook, Deliot, Mercedes, Home Depot, Kohl’s, Gap Brands and many more. Recently, after giving a talk on stage a woman asked me where my passion for empowering leaders comes from.

My personal story has never been part of what I’ve been hired to do on stage. But sitting there across from a woman who was inspired by my words I realized I had to finally offer up parts of my story that I wasn’t prepared to share until now.

I fell in love at an early age. We were married for about two years. I held a high-profile position in the small town I lived in and my husband at the time was from a well-known family in town.

And for 488 days of our marriage he called me a “stupid f****** b****” any time he felt like it.

And I took it.

During that time of my life, I felt like I was hiding in my own prison. My bright spark slowly started to fade during those years. His verbal abuse turned to physical abuse.

I reached my breaking point one night when I looked in the mirror and could not recognize my own face. My eyes were black and swollen. I got out a suitcase and got the nerve up to tell him I was leaving.

He threatened to kill me that night. And I believed him.

He turned away from me, hurried to the kitchen and grabbed a knife. I ran out the door in my pajamas, barefoot.

In the pitch black, in three-feet of snow, I ran as fast as I could out the back door and climbed up a tree. I made my way up as high as I could. My heart-raced and my breath caught in my chest as I watched him search our home for me. He walked from room to room, turning on light after light, screaming my name. He ran out the front door and then out the back door. I prayed he wouldn’t see me in the tree. I made sure to sit totally still while he scanned the blackness for me.

He turned around and slammed the door behind him. Finally, he got in the car and left. And when I felt like he was really gone, I climbed down from the tree and got in my car and drove to the police station.

He threatened to kill me that night. And I believed him.

I hid in a stash house for three days to make sure I was safe. I never really felt safe though. For the next six months of my life I walked on egg shells. I moved in with my mother. I found a new job. And I filed for divorce and got some good therapy. When I felt a little breathing room in my life, I packed up my car and moved across the country. And that’s when I could finally start my own journey to rekindling my light.

I started that journey by weeding out the toxic relationships in my life. People can be inspiring and uplifting or energy vampires. I cut out the vampires and opened up communication about what happened with a few family members and a few close personal friends. I needed to lean on people during that really low time and needed them to remind me that I could get through it.

I also adopted a Wow is Me vs Woe is Me attitude and chose to give myself permission to create a life I love. It took years of good therapy to accept the fact that I was not at fault and nearly a decade to move past the verbally abuse from that dark time of my life.

By the grace of God I survived. Now, I feel drawn to empower and be a messenger about renewing our inner light and helping women gain permission to fall back in love with who they are and not let the world define them. My resilience in life is huge and tapping into mine helped me survive.

About The Author

Holly Dowling is an award-winning global speaker, thought leader, author, women’s leadership advocate, and personality powerhouse with a disarmingly joyful and indomitable spirit. As an expert in strengths-based leadership, change management, and corporate women’s empowerment, Holly designs & delivers customized keynotes and programs for Fortune 500 companies. She is honored to work with: The United Nations Foundation, Facebook, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Deloitte, Hilton, & many other amazing partners.

Connect with Holly on her site, Twitter and Facebook. Also be sure to check out her podcast, A Celebration of You, where Holly speaks with guests (like our co-founder Jen Jones – episode 56) about their journeys and their wisdom in facing adversity and gaining profound strength and courage.