Sarah Houlahan

 

This month we're bringing you the story of Sarah.
Sarah is a beautiful and intelligent woman who has put a lot of time into learning about herself and self love. Sarah has come along way since her abusive relationship, we believe this babe has moved mountains.

Keep reading to be inspired!

 

 
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Can you tell us about your journey towards self-love?:

My journey to self-love and acceptance is always ongoing. Looking back I realise I’ve always been a bit of a people-pleaser. This meant as a young woman I wasn’t clear on who I was or what my own opinions were. I didn’t realise how making other people happy first would impact me in my life - it did.

I met my ex at church. I was attracted to how confident he was, I wanted to be that confident myself. He seemed to have a way with words, people listened to him, and he also seemed really smart. When we first started dating he would tell me I was amazing and he called me ‘perfect’. I hadn’t been in a relationship before and this made me feel special. I was in love with the idea of our relationship working out and this blinded me to the early signs that our relationship was not healthy.

In the early days I noticed that he spoke to others horribly, but I naively thought he would never speak to me like that. I also noticed that he was quite controlling but I saw that as being ‘protective’ - I didn’t know it was a red flag at the time.

After four years of dating we married and that’s when things changed almost immediately. Everything I did seemed to irritate him, he would call me ‘stupid’ and ‘crazy’ when he was annoyed. Initially I would stand up to him, but he would always have an excuse. The put downs and verbal abuse would continue and I gave up on trying to fight back. Things became more controlling, I’d be told that I was 'emotional' and 'unwell', if I tried to disagree he would become angry and stand over me yelling, waving his fist around.

Eventually things did escalate and become physical after 6 months of marriage. We were travelling together and I remember fighting about something silly when he grabbed my wrists. I was shoved on the bed and shaken while he screamed threats in my face. I remember when it happened I felt completely overwhelmed and confused. This behaviour continued and I just shut down.  I think I was in shock that this was actually happening to me and I didn’t want to face reality.

I felt like the world had been turned upside down and I’d completely lost my way. There were times where I was so scared in my own home. I would leave the house in the early hours of the morning and ask my Mum to pick me up. I couldn’t seem to do anything right and needed to get away.

The behaviours continued. I’d make a small comment and we’d end up talking about it for hours because he’d get so upset. He would dig his fingers into me when we were around friends and family to subtly tell me that he wasn’t happy with something I said or did. I found myself apologising for myself, crying and sometimes screaming at him to leave me alone. All this time I didn’t think of this behaviour as ‘abuse.’  In my mind abuse was only when people had been badly physically hurt . Thankfully, now I understand all of this behaviour was abusive both emotionally and physically.

At the time I felt as if I didn’t have a voice, because no matter what I said he wouldn’t listen to me. He would say that he knew what my weakness was and he could ‘tear me to shreds’ at any moment. It made me realise he wasn’t someone I could trust and that’s a tough realisation in a relationship.

Looking back now I can’t believe I went through all this and I wish I could go back and say to myself – you don’t deserve this, you’ve done all you can and this isn’t your fault.

 Finally there was a turning point. He threatened me and then denied it straight away. I realised then that he wouldn’t change. I started to question – is this really what my life is now? Is this all there is for me? I knew that there had to be better things out there for me than this. I knew I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice my happiness and dreams for this relationship and I certainly wasn’t ready to accept this behaviour anymore.

Thankfully I found the courage to walk away.

I think some people think that walking away is the hard part, but it was actually harder to stop myself from going back. I wrote a list of all the hurtful things that happened and read them when I was missing him or doubting my decision. That really helped. I was terrified to tell people what had happened in the relationship and in a strange way I felt like I was betraying him, but once I started to speak that's when it became obvious his behaviour wasn't acceptable. I also received amazing support from friends and family at the time who reminded who I really was and what I deserved.

Since leaving, I have put a lot of time into learning about myself and reconnecting through self love. I've learned that I need time to myself to reflect and have space on my own. I find that going for a drive, walking, spending time with family and friends, going out for lunch and even watching movies, make me feel refreshed and happy. Now, talking with my family and friends is important to me because I value those relationships. Showing love to myself is about keeping that balance of following my passions and also giving myself space to re-charge. I recently started using a bullet journal and I love it because it's creative, but it's also time to both plan and reflect - two things I love doing!

My life has changed so much through practicing self-love. In the last few years I’ve finished my masters, which  is something I never dreamed I would do. I applied for a study award and got it! I was really proud of this and super happy with my grades! I’ve bought a house and made it a family project to renovate it. I've started to say 'yes' even if I’m a little outside of my comfort zone'.  I realised that no one is ever really ready for anything and being brave isn't about not feeling fear, but doing what you want to do anyway!

One thing I am really proud about is not closing myself off to love from others. I’ve recently married again and he is an incredible man. We are both very respectful and empathetic towards each other, and we also have lots of fun!  I've never felt any pressure to change anything about myself for my husband, Ryan. I am the truest version of me and he loves me for that. We both support each other to achieve our goals and we support each other's dreams for the future. Ryan is a very relaxed, easy-going person and this makes the relationship feel effortless plus we laugh all the time! We don't talk badly about each other and I know he would have my back in any situation, that sort of love makes you feel ready to take on anything in the world! 

I’ve got so much to look forward to in life right now. In July I'm presenting on my masters at a conference in the Gold Coast - I am going to have to pinch myself because it's such an awesome thing to be doing. Ryan and I are going to Europe in September which is going to top our year off! We are also looking forward to buying a place in Wellington and one day having a few little Crusaders supporters… (okay Hurricane supporters because relationships are all about compromise right!)

 

 

 
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What does self-love mean to you?:

Self-love for me has in a large part been about learning how to put up healthy boundaries with others.  

I’m someone who wants to help other people, but I’ve learned that this should never result in sacrificing yourself. Being able to say no or express my thoughts and feelings in situations is a form of self-love for me, because I am saying my opinion matters too.  I think that time to reflect on things and empower myself was a really important part of saying that I am important, I deserve love and to be safe. I stayed a long time in that relationship because I didn’t value myself and self-love to me can involve walking away from people or situations that are not healthy for you.

Why is self-love so important to you?

I think knowing and loving the person you are is so important in all areas of your life – work, love, friendships and family. Being able to own who you are and your story is vital to boldly go into the world and say ‘this is me and this is who I am’. I believe having the confidence to be authentic and fully present with people is what connects us and also what makes us grow. For me being able to separate what my ex had said about me, from the real truth of who I am was so important to reclaim who I am  as a woman. Having self-love is about respecting yourself and knowing your worth.

 

 

Tell us what makes you proud of the woman you are today?:

I’m proud of how I handled myself through a difficult situation and focused on the good.

I decided I was going to work on myself and I did that. Then I decided  to tell my story as a way of helping others avoid or leave similar situations. There have been people tell me that I was wrong to leave a marriage and I felt a lot of judgement for this, but I think whatever your beliefs are, there is nothing that justifies trying to control someone else. I don’t believe you have to stay in a relationship for the sake of ‘saving face’ or ‘keeping up appearances.’ I’d much rather be happy and be able to live my best life possible and I’m proud that I gave myself the chance.  

I’m proud of my studies and for achieving my masters.  I have taken every opportunity to do public speaking, something I used to not feel confident doing. I’ve also married a lovely man who is the love of my life.

I recently caught up with people who haven’t seen me in a while and they say you seem so much more like yourself, happy and open, and it's good to hear that from people. My past sometimes feel like a bad dream, because my opinion of myself and how I am living my life now are miles apart from those times.

 

 
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What values are important to you when it comes to love?:  

I think communication and respect are important.

We are all individuals and valuing your partner for who they are is needed in a relationship. Everyone has different perspectives and opinions, when you are a couple you need to respect that in your partner.

Being listened to is important, when you truly listen to someone you are holding space for them and saying I see you, I am giving you my attention and I believe what you have to say is important. Being able to trust each other is also really important.

I also think laughter and the acknowledgement that no one is perfect is important in love.

 

 

 
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What does a healthy relationship look like to you?:

A healthy relationship to me is full of laughter!
 

It definitely has more good than bad and is safe even when things get difficult. In a healthy relationship you can raise any topic or any concern and have this listened to and respected. It’s not about one person trying to be better than the other. I love my relationship with my husband, Ryan, and we laugh together every day.

He is very empathetic and he has a kind strength that means I feel safe to be fully myself with him. If you find someone who respects you, will sit with you and try to understand you and wants to share their life with you; it’s a better feeling than winning the lottery!

Don’t settle for anyone who thinks you are a problem or tries to change you into someone you are not. Instead find someone who is amazed by you and will love you exactly as you are.

 

 
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If you could share one piece of advice with our readers, what would it be?:

My key advice would be to trust your gut.  

I believe we all know deep down when we are being treated badly and deserve better, sometimes we just don’t want to face it. The problem is that an abusive relationship has such long term and damaging effects for you.

Who do you want to be and what do you want in life? There are better things out there for you than being stuck in a horrible relationship where you are being disrespected and unheard. I want anyone reading this to know that you are more valuable than you could ever comprehend and you deserve the absolute best – yes you!

Think about it – if you had a daughter.
Would you be happy with her in the same type of relationship?


Love yourself enough to put boundaries in your life and attract the love and respect you deserve. It may be painful and hard work but trust me it is really worth it in the end.

 

 
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Thanks again Sarah for being so brave and sharing your story!

There is an enormous amount of courage that goes into sharing stories of our past and how we became the fabulous women we are today. At Prepair NZ we think that this courageousness is the most powerful way to start shining a light on such an unspoken topic.

We've said before we want our stories to spread like wildfire across NZ, sparking conversations and helping to burn out domestic violence in our country. If you've been inspired to share your story - we'd love to hear from you! Click the link below!