We all have a story to tell. Our experiences, good and bad, shape us. Sometimes the journey is so turbulent and arduous that we fear we won’t reach the other side. It is during this time that we can become a stronger, more resilient versions of ourselves. We can even share what we have learned to help others on their journey, offering assurance that they are not alone.
That is just what 11 brave women recently did in the powerful photo and story project titled “Women Empowerment Project” created by photographer Rachel Garrett. The profiled women come from all walks of life and have one thing in common: a desire to share their greatest tribulations, darkest moments, and most difficult challenges in the hopes of helping another who may see themselves in their story.
The revelations are harrowing and heartbreaking. Addiction, domestic violence, rape, severe depression and anxiety, and the death of loved ones, to name a few. Garrett creator tells Babble she got the idea for the project after “talking with people who expressed how they have silently suffered through intense, personal experiences.”
She goes on to say “they didn’t feel there was a place they could talk about their hard feelings, or with people who could relate.” She adds, “My vision for this specific project is to show the world that women are stronger than the hard things that happen in their lives.”
For the project, Karli takes us back to when she was 19 and addicted to cocaine and heroin. At that point, she had lost one brother to drugs and didn’t want her family to know that she could be next. After overdosing and being found by her mother, her secret was out. Karli says that recovery has taught her that “life is so very fragile and family is the most important thing in life.” She has now lost two brothers to addiction. The experience helped her realize, “My family needs me, and now more than ever my parents need their daughter to live life to the fullest.”
Karli has found a new lease on life through motherhood and a passion for bodybuilding.
Her advice to anyone struggling with addiction is this:
“I truly hope that anyone going through addiction, or knows someone going through addiction, would just speak up. Tell someone you need help, or if you know someone, please don’t wait to help them.”
Candace is a domestic violence survivor, but don’t call her a victim. In her story, she describes in gripping detail the fights and abuse she endured, along with how she was able to escape her abuser.
“It took being dragged down to my darkest moments to realize I already possessed the wings I prayed for to take me away. All I needed to do was spread them and soar” she says.
Candace also made an amazing choice to help free herself. “I decided that the only way I could truly be free was to forgive him,” she says. Candace left her abuser and is now married to an “amazing” husband and has learned much through her struggles.
“The strength of a woman is everything,” she says. “We have the capability as women to use the stones thrown at us to build a foundation of strength.”
Vanessa, Anna, Shannon, and Kenzie share their struggles with various forms of depression and anxiety. Anna describes the shame and confusion she felt in dealing with her prenatal depression. “The main focus of my pregnancy was spent not letting the suicidal thoughts get the best of me” she says.
Her advice to other pregnant women suffering with depression:
“Find someone who listens even if they don’t understand. My sweet husband never doubted my ability to be a good mother. I should never have doubted myself either.”
Vanessa’s anxiety was so intense that she says she stayed within the walls of her home for nearly six months “due to fear of someone hurting me or my child.” She also describes the crushing emotions that accompany depression.
“I know what it feels like to feel hopeless and to feel like your fears are eating you alive and slowly possessing every reason for living. I know what it feels like to have no hope and to daydream about how to erase yourself from this world. If you have any of these thoughts don’t give up,” she explains.
She advises getting help and talking to your doctor and says that love has been her saving grace.
Shannon, who suffered from severe postpartum depression, waited 14 months to seek the help that she needed. She says she is now making her mental health a priority.
“I love that I get to be a mom and that I’m a dang good one, even if on some days the arbitrary mom guilt tries to consume me; those little boys were sent to me for a reason and I’m the best mom for them. And I absolutely love that I kept fighting for them.”
The other women share stories of rape, abuse, divorce, loss, and mental illness. Their stories are unique and powerful and deserving of a read. There is so much that we can learn from these women and their willingness to share.
Garrett tells Babble that she has been “blown away” by the response to this project. “My inbox was flooded with messages from people expressing gratitude, their stories of resiliency, and deep appreciation for addressing topics that are difficult to discuss,” she says.
Garrett goes on to say, “There are so many people in the world who are silently suffering, who feel alone, who question whether life is worth living or feel unworthy of love/happiness. Imagine if we all focused a little more on understanding and loving others and criticizing and judging less; we may discover we have more in common than we realize. I want to thank these 11 brave women who put a piece of their hearts out in the open and revealed a very personal part of their story in hopes that someone will hear them. Someone, who is in the midst of their darkest times, will see that they are not alone in the fight. We are stronger when we are in this together.”
Amen to that.
We all have battles and private struggles and it is easy to find the common threads in these women’s stories with our own. I grew up hearing that these issues should not be addressed openly. The problem with that message is that life’s struggles are not conquered through silence; they are tackled by one’s willingness to confront and address them.
These 11 women demonstrate the strength and resilience that can happen when you don’t let your hardships define you; what a powerful message for us all.