October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and to shed some light on how serious the problem is, the U.S. Department of Justice has reported, that 1.3 million women each year are victims of physical abuse by their partner and that every 9 seconds, a woman in the U.S. is beaten or assaulted. Domestic Violence destroys self-esteem, causes PTSD and a cycle of continuous abuse. These are symptoms that champion runner Heather Hennessy knows oh too well when her marriage to JP Howell, pitcher for the LA Dodgers, was the ultimate defeat until she gained the courage to take control and turn her life around. Here’s what she wants women around the world to know.
Me: Heather, what was life like, growing up as a child?
Heather: I was born in Houston, TX, and I was a honeymoon baby, I was born very early in my parent’s relationship. My mom took me as a baby to California so I could stay at my Grandparents house but my father followed and kidnapped me. That was the start of the string of abuse in my childhood; there was a lot of domestic violence. Although my father was there a lot for me in sports he had an opposite side that was extremely dark and abusive. One of the things I had to get a grip on is the confusion between the 2 sides. This pattern actually started when I was in the womb and into birth, the abuse became part of what I was used to. My father was physically, verbally and emotionally abusive to my mother. He was very controlling and jealous; he would throw things at her. Back then the authorities didn’t take emotional abuse as serious as they do today.
I remember my father pulling my mother’s hair, yelling and threatening her, he was very intimidating; my father was an addict. He started with substance abuse and he consumed alcohol; this was a pattern that was passed down from his father. My mother finally left my father when I was 13 years old after she discovered he had been cheating on her.
Me: Did your father ever personally abuse you?
Heather: Yes, he would call me a Bitch; he didn’t have much of an outlet after my mother left him. So being the female with two brothers, not that my brothers didn’t take abuse too; I must have reminded him of my mother. I knew in my environment that being a female meant I was less than. My father tormented me and chased me around the house, he would then slap me in the face; it was a constant state of confusion as he cheered me on in sports and said he believed in me yet he would abuse me.
Me: How old were you when you left your father?
Heather: I was 15 years old; my mother got a small apartment in an area near the school I needed to attend for running. She had nothing and started over with 3 kids, I shared a room with her and my brothers shared a room. It was hard to see my mom start over but I was super proud of her courage.
Me: How did all of this affect you with your schooling and dating?
Heather: I went through abuse with a coach when I was around 13 years old. I was a freshman and I started track; he was an assistant coach at the school and he started to get very friendly, he saw my talent. At that time I hadn’t had a sexual relationship and I took my coach seriously. He started out by giving me rides home, one time he pulled over the car, he started out by say he believed in me and then he made moves on me. I remember he took my hand and put it on his pants; it was confusing and terrifying. I was lucky I got away after awhile but he turned girls on me, and it was a lot of drama. Despite the abuse, I became number one in the running league, people didn’t understand my intensity but I was running out my problems; it was my outlet.
I was a really high achiever, I did well in school and I went on to become number one in the country for track; America’s fastest 800 meter runner, primed for the Olympics, and I achieved it all by my Junior-year of high school. I used everything I was going through as fuel; I poured my pain onto the track.
Today that assistant coach is in jail and a lot of girls have come out in the Bay area confessing that he was a predator and he has done this to a lot of girls; all of this took 20 years to come out.
Me: How did all of this affect your health?
Heather: By swallowing my truth and holding in shame I have suffered from a lot of stomach issues and endometriosis. I never felt safe or had anyone to stand up for me.
Me: What age were you when you started dating and how were the relationships that followed?
Heather: I was 16 when I started dating and the relationship was controlling; verbally, emotionally and sexually abusive. He displayed lots of yelling, jealousy, and screaming, he threatened repeatedly to commit suicide. I lasted in the relationship for 2 years but it was difficult, nobody knew what I was going through. Going off to college was my final break away.
Me: What was dating like in college?
Heather: In my freshman year I met JP Howell, our relationship was on and off. We got back together when I was 23 years old and then engagement followed when I was 25; we got married when I was 26. I was working at a career in television; I worked really hard. He was in the minor leagues and was struggling and begging to come back around. Finally I let him visit me in LA. He promised not to drink and to be committed to the relationship, it was 2007; I agreed to get together because I had deep love for him. I saw red flags but he really wanted to win me back and was happy to court me. He later went on to pitch in the World Series for the LA Dodgers, this was a high point and he was on his best behavior. I was trying to balance being an on-air National sports broadcaster with flying across country to support JP; we had a long-distance relationship that year.
Once I got engaged I saw more red flags, lots around his family’s dynamics and the wedding planning; JP was really insecure about my career, this caused lots of fights.
He was also insecure about me being around other guys.
Me: If you saw the red flags, then what made you proceed to say, “I do!”
Heather: Believing that things would change, that’s something that I own for myself, that I played an idea in my head that was false; that I would support him so he would support me back. I was also brain washed into believing that when you fall in love you get married; that’s just what you do. I was listening to things around me instead of to myself; I became a people pleaser. I longed for stability and love! I believed that the marriage would supply that.
I had everything going for me and I gave it all up to help JP achieve his dreams.
Me: At what point did the marriage start to take a really dark turn?
Heather: There were multiple times. Right after we got married JP suffered a severe injury and he needed to have surgery, so I stopped my job for a while to help him through it all. It was the first time I got bombarded with it all. His career was on the line and I quit my job and was caring for JP, everything hit me at once; I questioned getting a divorce in our first year of marriage because the abuse was awful.
Me: Are you willing to dive in and be descriptive with that abuse? What was being said and did JP hit you?
Heather: I went through physical, emotional, verbal and spiritual abuse; JP tormented me. I stayed for a long time to work through it. I remember taking him to counseling to work through it all and he proceeded to call me a cunt, bitch, and much more; he poured all of his anger onto me with what he was going through. My dog Rose and I slept in another room for a year while we were going through it all.
The confusing thing is, I didn’t have a punch to my face or have bruises externally, that probably would have given me a clear direction to leave. He was a pitcher and I remember him throwing things really hard at me but because he didn’t hit me or push me into a wall I stayed believing things would get better. I did have bruises on my arm from him squeezing me but I down played it. The emotional stuff is what broke my self-esteem, day in and day out. Even if you are a strong person, experiencing all of that, it will break you down slowly. Don’t get me wrong physical abuse is awful but verbal and emotional abuse beats down at your soul and tears at your spirit.
I ended up in the hospital with flare-ups and all kinds of crazy internal health problems. I was in and out of the ER not knowing what was going on with me, I think it was my body’s reaction to everything I was holding in and digesting all of the emotional things that were being said; all of the name calling. Some of the things said to me I can’t even repeat. He would make off the wall comments about my body parts and beat me down, a true self-esteem stripper.
There were times when things got better and I became vulnerable but then the next morning we would wake up and he called me a bitch; I didn’t even know what he was mad about. He had a lot of addict behavior.
I became extremely ill and ended up having multiple surgeries. You don’t see the outer wounds but constantly putting up with the kind of negative energy I endured everyday it eventually breaks you down; it completely stripped me and I eventually left.
I have realized through my spiritual healing journey, that there doesn’t have to be an understanding of narcissism to know that the energy was negative and detrimental to my well-being.
Me: What was the final straw that caused you to leave JP Howell?
Heather: We had bought a big home, I believed if I bought and helped JP with the success he wanted then he would no longer be insecure; I bought into my dream. He had landed a pitching position with the LA Dodgers and everything we could have wanted on the outside was there. I wasn’t happy despite having it all on the outside, I realized if you aren’t fulfilled on the inside then nothing else matters, and there isn’t anything on the outside that will fix it. This was all a big wake up call for me.
I found a top counselor in LA and I agreed to give the marriage one more year; JP wanted a child. I knew from my past that a child wasn’t going to fix this so I didn’t agree. JP’s insecurity got to it’s highest level and he didn’t want me to be on social media or go back to my dream job in TV; the counseling session was the aha moment. JP was telling me everything I had been praying for, he wasn’t going to change; I decided I could no longer be co-dependent. My health and my sanity was far more important than the time burned up in this relationship. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy path but the decision to come home to my own was far greater than the fear; everything started to align.
Me: How did you make your break?
Heather: I had my bags packed, I was afraid but I was tired of living like we were. I got myself a small apartment, it was during the day and he was away playing ball, that’s when I made my break. It was heart breaking leaving my house but I had to do what was best for my health and sanity. I left all material possessions behind, my dog Rose and I left because I just wanted to sleep peacefully at night. JP did go fairly crazy when I filed for a divorce at the age of 33, but I took the steps necessary to protect myself. My mother was a big help in it all.
I struggled with PTSD and as sad as it was to leave my house, I realized that home is within!
Me: Over the past three years what are some steps you took to bring healing to your life?
Heather: I have done a lot of different things. I threw myself into a spiritual healing path; I did a lot of traveling, meditation, and spiritual retreats. I did a writing retreat in Maui and said yes to just about anything that brought healing to the inside. Counseling was a big help, but the largest contribution is my service dog Rose.
I had a passion to heal my inner being and a burning desire to understand why I attracted JP into my life. I have since realized that it’s a mirror shining back to me showing everything that I needed to heal from my childhood. I am in Awe at how much we repeat what has happened in our childhood. I wanted to become the champion that I new I was designed to be.
Today, Heather is thriving! She is an author and coaches other women who have been abused; she has taken everything she learned and experienced, and she has made her pain a powerful platform. It’s her passion to empower other women and make them aware that they don’t need to settle in life; it’s possible to break free from debilitating patterns of life.
Heather wants anyone who is going through tough times to know that you are enough, you are here breathing and you are worth the best. Don’t ever settle for being mistreated because you deserve better and there is light on the other side. Heather said the work that’s required to connect within is worth it!
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The #SHEROproject will include stories of SHEROS from around the world throughout the rest of 2019. In an effort to support our thriving SHEROS, there is a panel that will be selecting the most inspirational story for the 2019 SHERO of the year award, which will be announced on 12/1/2019.
The SHERO of the year award winner will receive a 4-day/3-night retreat at Multiversity. An opportunity to explore their potential in an environment like no other; get away for rejuvenating downtime and immersion learning on their state-of-the-art campus in the redwoods of Scotts Valley, CA and experience the perfect blend of learning, vacation, and space for reflection.
1440 Multiversity is a place to experience time differently—exploring what matters, while surrounding yourself with fresh air, delicious food, many ways to unwind, and opportunities to connect with yourself and others. SHERO, during your stay, you can look forward to daily 1440 specialty classes such as yoga, meditation, qi gong and Pilates. Or enjoy hiking in the 75 acres of redwood forest surrounding the campus and finish off your day with a soak in their signature infinity tub.
The creation of 1440 Multiversity stemmed from a desire to establish a beautiful and nurturing physical location where people of all walks of life could come together in community—to explore, learn, reflect, connect, and reenergize.
Each featured SHERO will receive a private invitation to The B.E. A S.H.E.R.O. Foundation annual Gala in Las Vegas 2/8/2020 where they will be interviewed on the red carpet. B.E. A S.H.E.R.O. foundation’s mission is to provide resources needed to support, sustain and empower young girls and women under the age of 25 who have been abused, abandoned, and exploited. We intend to accomplish this mission by bringing other agencies with similar missions together and being a resource center for these organizations.
Also, each SHERO featured will receive a relaxing mix of Nectar Bath Treats’ most popular bath and body treats. Nectar Bath Treats is a cruelty free bath & body company that creates bakery inspired treats for deliciously smooth skin. Their delightful handmade treats range from adorable cupcake soaps and milkshake inspired coconut milk bath soaks to stress blasting bath bombs, all natural sugar body scrubs, ice cream shaped bubble bath scoops and so much more. If you need to relax after a long day or give yourself smoother more kissable skin, Nectar Bath Treats has you covered head to toe. Each treat is handmade with love by their team of professional soap artisans and skin care specialists for skin so soft and smooth you’ll swear you just left a luxury spa treatment.
Each featured SHERO will also receive a Rustic Cuff representing Joy & Courage. Celebrities such as Miranda Lambert, Giuliana Rancic, Kristin Chenoweth and Gayle King to name a few, wear founder Jill Donovan’s designs. Her bracelets have been featured on a multitude of national talk shows and in magazines including Elle, People, In Style, etc. For Jill it’s all about the inspired connection that is made between two people. The SHEROs will also receive a candle by Sugarboo and Co…Dealers in Whimsy, reminding them that they are a light in the world. Sugarboo believes in putting good out into the world whenever possible. Their hope is that each Sugarboo piece sent out into the world will add a little good! Rebecca Puig’s (artist and owner) inspirations are family, nature, animals, old things, children’s art and folk art. She loves juxtaposing old and new, light and dark, serious subject matter with fluff and anything with a message! Sugarboo’s Motto is “Put Good Things into the World”