Do You Believe in Dignity?

Have you ever looked in the mirror?

What image did you see?

I looked at one a bit too long and no longer could see me! The joy in my eyes was gone. What the hell happened? How did I fade away into the darkness of hate and hurt? I remembered the part of me that used to dream about sharing my joy with the world. I was determined at that very moment to save that part of me. Save my story. Save my joy!

I knew after the first date that it was a mistake to continue the journey with a man who would disregard my dreams, goals, and joy—but for some reason, I was determined to hang on to the dream of a family and stability that I never had growing up.

At first, our journey was full of laughs and adventure that over time dwindled into abrupt spurts of anger, remorse, and resentment. Spending almost a whole decade being abused, broken down, and shattered into what seemed like a million pieces, I finally did the one thing I’d been talking myself into doing: I left! The summer of 2007 would force me to embrace my deepest fear and triumph.

Up until that day, he constantly told me that I was not good enough, that I was a waste of time and didn’t deserve to have any feelings or respect. Any demand on my part was quickly met with a variety of physical attacks that silenced my voice.  

I would downplay the abuse as if it wasn’t that bad. “It was only a slap—he could have punched me this time.” I said it enough so that I believed I deserved the abuse. There were friends who would hint that they knew what was going on. They didn’t say it outright, but the looks were there and loud whispers filled every room that I walked into. Looking back, I remember the hints to leave and comments encouraging me to get out, but nothing could penetrate the fear and lack of self-love in my heart.

Ten years of being put down, pushed down, and made to believe I deserved to be there ended in what seemed like moments. In one moment, I chose me, and my new journey began. I finally owned my part in this chapter. I finally knew that there was nothing more I could do to avoid the attacks. He had become cruel and cold. It was the last time he would call me a stupid bitch with that smirk! That smile!

I could no longer deny my ache for freedom from this prison of pain. I finally heard him deep in my soul and could no longer deny that, truthfully, he was right! I was being stupid for allowing someone to treat me lower than I knew I deserved to be treated. The truth had finally set me free. But it was my truth! And I had to own it.

On that day, I walked into our beautiful Atlanta home, looked at each room, and felt the anger and resentment that loomed in the air. Then it hit me—this place was a house of lies. It was no longer a home. Too much had transpired here, and I’d lost myself.

I walked out of our home and left everything. I knew it was time. The marriage was a lie and it was time for the lie to end.

In a mad haste, I darted out of those doors with grace as my guide and hope on the horizon. I was not going to turn back. But after my emotions subsided, I quickly realized I did not have a plan in place. My close friend who’d told me she was there if I ever needed a couch was out of town.

Reality sank in. I was alone and had nowhere to go. The interesting thing about having your back against the wall is that most people in that situation will go into survival mode, which is exactly what I did. I slept alone in my car for eight days. Now, hearing it out loud, you wouldn’t think that’s so bad, but every minute was an hour and every hour was a week while I was homeless.

Everything I’d had access to quickly slipped away from me. I desperately wanted to feel “normal” again. I wanted to feel warm water on my hands and wash the dirt and grime away. I would dream about feeling the blankets on my body while I slept in my comfy bed…preparing my meals, feeling the comforts of home. Even if it meant waking up to bruises and scars.

Thankfully, God had other plans for me. I was able to connect with a close friend who invited me to stay with her until I could figure things out. I was finally on my way to my next chapter.

Still, I felt I was at rock bottom. I’d never thought I would be in this position. I was a decent person, and here I was asking, “Why is this happening to me?” That is the question I asked myself every hour: Why me?

I was so close to my independence but still not there. Soon, I would be back to the me I remembered. I spent days on the road and finally made it to Seattle—to my family, to the start of it all.

Coming “home” was bittersweet. I had my whole life in a few bags and no idea how I was going to put it back together. My family did their best to support me, but no one could fill the void I felt in my heart.

I slept in my niece’s bedroom and felt completely depleted and demoralized. I decided right there in the midst of my shame, pain, and dismay that I would turn all of it into power and purpose.

The looking glass became so clear now. I could feel confidence again. I could feel my smile returning. Time and again, I found myself in deep conversations with other women who were in the position I’d once found so familiar. I could look in their eyes and see my pain. My despair. I knew exactly how I could soothe some of the pain I knew they were feeling. I wanted them to feel clean and hopeful about their future.

In August 2012, I started Dignity for Divas. In my heart, I knew it was what I was supposed to do.

I never knew God would allow me to do something so meaningful in my life. This mission started with me but came to life after running into several versions of myself through women I encountered on the streets who I knew needed exactly what I needed when I was sleeping in my car, feeling lost, hopeless, and ashamed. I knew they needed to feel like that version of themselves looking in the mirror and liking what they saw.

Dignity for Divas is breathing life back into thousands of women who had forgotten what it feels like to breathe—I mean, really breathe and feel the breath through your entire soul.

Dignity for Divas believes that self-care is the first step on the road to stability and self-sufficiency. Dignity is the first step back to yourself. Dignity is finding your why. For me, it began with the questions: “Why did I marry an abuser? Why am I feeling like I don’t deserve more?”

Once I found my why, I knew my purpose. Today, I share my story with you because I know there is power in our pain. There is grace with every turn we make. I share my story to help someone find the courage to share theirs.

I healed a part of me today…

A hurtful part tucked far away…

I healed a part of shame today…

That part of me I gave away..

Thankful for the journey…

Thankful for the pain…

Today I see ME…

About the Author | Nikki Gane

As the Founder and Director of Dignity for Divas, Nikki Gane is committed to creating an impactful and replicable approach to supporting women as they transition out of homelessness. Her focus on self-care as a way to restore self-worth was inspired by her own experience fleeing an abusive marriage and becoming homeless herself. She knows first-hand how easy it is to lose your dignity.

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