I sat down with Teen Dating Violence Survivor and Vice President of the Choose Courage Foundation Danyelle in a busy (and noisy!) coffee shop. Note to self: Find someplace quieter! We discussed change, growth, possibilities, and giving back in a candid look about how abuse can impact you and how beauty can emerge from the hard. 

Rhonda: So here we are 3 years later….. A lot has changed! Could you imagine 3 years ago when we ran your campaign in February of 2017 what your life would look like now?

Danyelle: Absolutely not. I think Choose Courage is a space that encourages growth and healing and I think the healing is the biggest thing that you don’t even realize you need. I didn’t even realize I was carrying so much from the past. Now I can see how much I needed that healing and in that healing I have found so much personal growth.  I definitely had NO idea what would transpire once I did this. You can’t go back.

Rhonda: What has been the biggest change?

Danyelle: If I had to choose just one thing it would probably be self confidence. Being able to see myself in a different way and a different light from a different perspective.  It has really boosted my self confidence. It’s kind of that trickle down that goes into other things and other growth. But I think the biggest thing is just seeing myself in a different light. 

Rhonda: What one word would you use to describe your emotions the day of your original photoshoot?

Danyelle: Empowered. Absolutely empowered. 

Because I had no idea I was carrying so much stuff that had weighed me down for nearly 30 years. I have carried this stuff to the point that I didn’t realize it was there. So to suddenly bring it all out and I didn’t have to carry it anymore. That shame, that embarrassment, and the hurt and all the stuff that I had carried for so long was gone. I felt incredibly light and empowered. I felt like I could do so much that I never felt like I could do before. 

Rhonda: What one word describes your emotions after your campaign was run on social media that first time?

Danyelle: Oh gosh, thats a tough one! I would say… probably… 

Rhonda: Let me ask you this, what was your biggest fear about running a very public awareness campaign for being a survivor of Teen Dating Violence?

Danyelle: The fact that most people, and I mean the majority of people in my life, had no idea. The amount of people that knew back then was less than 5. So coming out after 30 years and saying oh by the way… something so big that impacted me so much and my friends and family had no idea. There were a lot of questions. My biggest fear was the shame. Am I ready for everybody to know? I had to really battle against that feeling of shame. That people were going to judge me. That was probably the hardest, feeling like I was going to be judged or people were not going to believe me after all of this time. 

Rhonda: What motivated you to say yes?

Danyelle: (laughing) What motivated me would definitely be YOU. 

(laughing) Hearing you talk about Choose Courage and what your vision was, I wanted to be a part of that. I probably hadn’t spoke about it in 20 years. To start speaking with you just about it in general, not even really telling my story, just talking about it opened the door and I felt like it was a door that couldn’t be shut again. So if it was going to be open I might as well jump out there. 

Rhonda: Fast forward to today and you are now the Vice President of the Choose Courage Foundation. (Thanks for that by the way!) What about this position and the work you are doing helps you heal the most?

Danyelle: This is a good one!  I think seeing other people go through this process helps me heal and helps me on my own journey. When I see their courage it reminds me to be courageous. It reminds me that we all have a voice and that our voices matter. No matter what our DV situation whether it was teen, child, or as an adult it doesn’t matter. We all have a story and they are all important. We should be able to live without feeling that shame. I think watching other people going through that process and being able to give back. Giving my time to help other people helps me grow so much. 

Rhonda: How are you inspired to keep growing?

Danyelle: You and I have had this conversation quite a bit. Once you open this up and start the growth process and start the healing process, which is a huge part of the growth process, you can’t ever imagine going back. You can’t imagine stuffing all that back in and living the way you lived all those years. I’ve spoken to many of our survivors who say the same thing, you think you dealt with it and it’s over and you’ve moved on. You don’t realize how much of that stuff you are carrying with you and how much it hampers you from being the person you are meant to be and living to your full potential. I think that just continuing to watch others go through growth inspires me to grow. Continuing to feel like I have momentum behind me. The more I see the potential of the things in front of me the more I want to grab onto them, which is something I’ve never felt in my adult life and that’s exciting.

Rhonda: What has been the most surprising thing about this journey? Is there anything that has shocked you?

Danyelle: I think just the depth of how much I carried for so long. How effected I was in every aspect of my life and to see how far and how much I could change and how much this process changed me.  Even if you just go through the photoshoot and you just go through that little bit of healing and growth. For some people that might be enough.  But I think that once you get it started it shows you the potential of what all you can do and how far you can go. How different your life can be if you can just heal and believe that you are enough, that you are worthy, that you have value. As a survivor I think most of us carry around that verbal baggage that was left behind. The voice of  “You’re not good enough”, “you’re not pretty enough”, “nobody will ever want you”. You can think you are living confidently but you’re not because that voice is always back there reminding you that you are not really good enough. This process, seeing myself through your lens, through a different light has been like a 3rd voice. We all have that negative. It can be hard to accept anything positive about yourself when you already have that and then the voice from your abuser that says you’re not good enough. Suddenly someone comes to you, takes your photo and shows it to you. You see yourself as a completely different person. You see you have value and you start to believe that you have value. It’s world changing. 

Rhonda: World changing. I like that! 

Rhonda: You are a teen dating violence survivor.  If you could talk to teen Danyelle today what would you tell her?

Danyelle: I would tell her that I’m not talking about physical beauty. I’m talking about inside beauty. She has value, she has beauty, and she has potential. She doesn’t have to be ashamed to own her story. I would definitely say to seek help. Especially as a teen you feel like you are at a weird in-between of not being an adult or child. You don’t really have a place and trying to navigate normal teen years is difficult. Adding something so large, heavy and adult to somebody who isn’t emotionally ready at this point to deal with that, or emotionally at a point to be strong enough to know it’s ok to seek help. You are even more susceptible to that negative voice. Seeking help sounds really hard as a teen but all it takes is one word. Just that one word and that’s all it took for me. And once I used that word there was the relief of turning that over to an adult who could help me… I can’t explain it. You just have to be brave enough to get that one word out to an adult that can help you. 

Rhonda: As a mom of 2 boys what do you hope for them in their relationships? 

Danyelle: I hope that they have learned from listening to my experiences (and through seeing my relationship with my husband) how to be a good partner and how to set boundaries. I hope they find someone that will love them and treat them the way they deserve and that they do the same. 

Rhonda: What brings you joy?

Danyelle: My family. I think giving back brings me a lot of joy. That’s a tough one to answer! 

Rhonda: What about the future excites you the most?

Danyelle: Possibilities. Possibilities is something I never really thought about and I never realized that I limited my possibilities down to a small amount. It was a self and emotional protection. To even begin to imagine the possibilities for my growth, the growth of CCF and the impact we can have for survivors is super exciting. 

Rhonda: Ok… What is one surprising thing about you?  Hidden talent or maybe a secret obsession? Something that might entertain us!

Danyelle: laughing… I don’t know!

Rhonda: Other than you can plank for over an hour. (That’s crazy!)

Danyelle: I’m a pretty open book now, I really don’t know. Ok… I’m a sugar addict and I love dessert. 

Rhonda: Thank you for choosing courage and thank you for having the heart to give back and make a difference.