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Ashlee – Domestic Violence Survivor

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Ashlee - Deputy Sheriff

Domestic violence survivor

My name is Ashlee. I was born and raised in Hayward, CA. My occupation is Deputy Sheriff.

I was with my ex-husband for 9 years. He was controlling, mentally abusive, narcissistic and at times violent. As many victims of domestic abuse do, I felt trapped, stuck, there was no way out. It took so much to walk away from the life I “knew.” You become brainwashed into believing there is nothing more for you, there’s nothing different or better. I always thought about how good life could be but I didn’t think I had it in me to leave. One night I decided I was so exhausted from hiding, from lying to my family, pretending to be okay. I grabbed a change of clothes and went to my mom’s house where I stayed for a week or so. I couldn’t leave her house, in fear he would be outside waiting. He tried hard to convince me to go home. Believe me, it wasn’t easy. All I wanted was to go home to my own bed but I knew it would be a mistake. In the end, he got the hint. Slowly his phone calls started to die off, he stopped showing up unannounced, he didn’t bother me. The most mind boggling part of my story is that I myself am a police officer. Talking with women (and men) in my same situation was draining. I wanted to help them so bad. I wanted them to be free, as I wanted it for myself! Once I finally broke free from that toxic environment, life has been more than I ever dreamed it could be. I met a man who for me, only existed in movies! He is more than I could ever ask for, he treats me so good, and he’s my best friend. In October we found out I was pregnant. Pregnancy was something that NEVER crossed my mind in the years past, but when I got the news, I knew I wanted nothing more than to share forever with this man to build a healthy, happy, beautiful family.

Erena: What inspired you to be involved in the project, Underwater Transformation?

Ashlee: It wasn’t my initial plan to be involved in the project, as I didn’t know anything about it! When I found Erena and did some research on her photography, I learned of the amazing work she does with survivors of all sorts. I knew right away there was a reason I found her.

E: What were your plans for the photo shoot?

A: This was my first underwater photo shoot. I honestly had no idea what to expect, what it would be like, or how the day would go. With Erena’s help, It turned out to be one of the most exciting things I’ve done!

E: How was the experience with an underwater portrait session?

A: During the underwater session, I felt so free. Being in the water is pretty magical. It was exhilarating to feel the water move you, something you don’t think about when you’re out swimming. It’s challenging being aware of your body is doing while having little control of the movements, yet so peaceful.

E: How was your mood after you finished?

A: After the shoot, I felt relaxed and fresh. It’s quite a workout to do this type of photoshoot, but in the best way. Focusing on breaths before submerging, facial expressions, pointed toes, the clothing you have on, they all make for a pretty sweet challenge.

E: What does WATER mean to you?

A: I’ve always loved water and never been afraid of it as some people might be. The funny thing about that is, you think you have control over what goes on when you’re submerged. I have a whole new perspective on water after this experience. Allowing the water to move me gave me a sense of weightless freedom and comfort.

E: Do you think this experience could help overcome your trauma?

A: I absolutely believe this experience is a huge step in overcoming some of the trauma I experienced. There’s so many parts of life we want or need control over that we can’t have. Not because we aren’t strong enough though. When challenges come our way, it’s only natural to fight our way to success. This experience was so eye-opening in the sense that I knew what I needed to do for a beautiful photo, but I had to allow the water to do her part for a good shot. Life is so relatable. Going against the grain and fighting through hard times is great, but sometimes, we need to just take a breath and let the water lead the way.

E: How did you sleep the night of the photo shoot?

A: As I mentioned, I had no idea this photoshoot would be so intense. Of course, all in good ways. You challenge every part. Body, mind, lungs! Feeling tired was different, it was a rewarding tired.

E: How was Erena working with you?

A: Erena was the best coach in this underwater experience. She sent me video’s on how to get great photos, but until you’re there doing it, you don’t understand. She is so patient and explains how and why to breathe and move. She helps you every step of the way to make sure you get the most incredible photos.

E: Would you recommend underwater transformation to other survivors or anyone?

A: Realistically, I would recommend the underwater transformation to anybody, but I 100% believe in the power of healing after experiencing water this way. With someone like Erena coaching you through the physical portion, the mental freedom of being underwater is powerful.

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