At 12 years old, the secret that I carried around with me was ugly, dark, and dirty. I was too ashamed to tell anyone my father would wait until we were at home alone and then he would make me dress up so he could take pictures of me. He would tell me that it wasn’t a sin because God had given me to him. He told me that no one else would understand.
It progressed as I got older. By the time I was 17 he was regularly having sex with me and would bargain with me for sexual favours in return for something like an outing with my friends. He said he wanted to give me an ultimate experience in life. An ultimate experience meant lots of things. One time it meant taking nude pictures of me riding my horse. One time it meant tying me up naked, putting a gag in my mouth, and beating me with a riding crop until I was black and blue. One time it meant watching another man have sex with me. And, then they changed places. Life was almost not worth living – and I considered a razor blade and a tub of warm water to end it.
At 19, I met a knight in a shiny Camaro who helped me escape. I left home soon after meeting him, leaving behind the father who abused me and the mother who blamed me for it. I didn’t have a job, a car, or even a high school diploma. I had a few pillow cases stuffed with clothes, no money, and few options. After I left, I built a wall around what happened to me. To survive, I locked my past up tight behind that wall and threw away the key.
But, it’s not what happens to us in life that’s most important. It’s who we become because of it.
I started my career working as a waitress in a pizza restaurant. I was waiting tables and picking up the half eaten leftover pizza crusts off the floor for $2.13 an hour plus any tips the lunch buffet customers chose to leave. There’s nothing wrong with that. It was good work, and I was glad to get it. But, it didn’t take long to realise I didn’t want to stay there the rest of my life. I set my goals high and started working to achieve them. I worked my way through college and up through the ranks. At times, I was working two jobs and going to school full time. It took me ten years to graduate with my MBA. But, I did it, and I maintained a 4.0 grade point average throughout my college career.
I had a very successful career in the healthcare field, spending several years in upper management, including working as the Director of Compliance and Regulatory Affairs for a large healthcare organisation.
In 2013 at a conference, I heard motivational speaker Les Brown say, “You have a story to tell and someone needs to hear your story.” I knew I had a story. I just didn’t want to tell it. I wasn’t sure I could. For more than 20 years the bonds of shame, fear, and pain had kept me silent.
Mark Twain said, “The two greatest days in your life are the day you are born and the day you discover why.” On August 14, 2013, I found my “why” and shared my story publicly for the first time.
We all experience pain, grief and loss at some point in life. Resilience is learning not just to survive, but thrive. Resilience is rising from the ashes of what happens to us in life and becoming more brilliant because of the flames. Resilience is the difference between “I didn’t die” and “I learned to live again.”
We can’t always control what happens in life but we can control what we think, feel, and what we do about what happens in life. As Viktor Frankl said, “When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Overcoming adversity in life is a journey. And, if a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, don’t just take the first step and stop. Take a step forward each and every day. It’s important to move forward consistently and it’s important to realise joy comes from within, regardless of our situation. Joy is not a product of our circumstances, it’s a choice we make.
I left my corporate career in 2014 to pursue my calling full time. 10 books, a TEDx talk, and several years later, I work with organisations and individuals who want to develop resilience and increase influence in life and leadership.
I don’t share my story so anyone will feel sorry for me. I share my story so everyone can say, “If she can do it, I can do it.” We can take what life hands us and be bitter about it or better because of it. Your life story isn’t about what happens to you. It’s about what you do and who you become from that moment on. What matters is the rest of your story.
About the Author
Like many, Ria faced adversity in life. Raised on an isolated farm in Alabama, she was sexually abused by her father from age 12 – 19. Desperate to escape, she left home at 19 without a job, a car, or even a high school diploma. Ria learned to be resilient, not only surviving, but thriving. She worked her way through college, earning her MBA with a cumulative 4.0 GPA, and had a successful career in the corporate world of administrative healthcare.
Ria’s background includes more than 10 years in administrative healthcare with several years in management including Director of Compliance and Regulatory Affairs for a large healthcare organisation. Ria’s responsibilities included oversight of thousands of organisational policies, organisational compliance with all State and Federal regulations, and responsibility for several million dollars in Medicare appeals.
Today, Ria is a resilience and leadership speaker and author of 10 books. Ria was selected three times to speak on stage at International John Maxwell Certification Events. Motivational speaker Les Brown also invited Ria to share the stage with him in Los Angeles, CA. Ria and her husband, Mack Story, co-founded Top Story Leadership. Ria works with organisations who want to develop resilience and increase influence in life and leadership.
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