Sienna is one survivor who managed to escape domestic violence. She hopes her story will help other women escape an abusive relationship.
Fitness for me was the start of a way out
Before I began my fitness journey, I was a victim of domestic violence. I was constantly being put down by my ex-partner. It started off with emotional abuse and towards the end, became physical. Looking back, being treated that way was outrageous, but at the time, I thought it was normal.
We have a child together, he’s 6 now but back then I was very young and I believed, staying with his dad was the best option. Despite our relationship breaking down, he remained to be a good father, so I won’t fault him for that. However, he would constantly tell me “you’ll never be able to make it on your own”, “you’re nothing without me”, “no other man will want you”. He would often point out my insecurities and make me feel extremely low. I guess after so long of hearing negativity, it becomes easy to kind of give up, listen and believe.
I became very isolated and withdrawn as a person, I remember witnessing my circle of friends getting smaller and smaller, he pushed them away, often making the atmosphere extremely uneasy and awkward. so much so that they just stopped coming by.
If I did get the chance to go out with friends, (which was very rare) never spontaneously, he’d always, somehow start an argument right before I had to leave – so that it affected my time with them. Also remember it making me feel nervous about how his mood would be when retuning home.
Finally, my son was old enough to go to nursery, and when he did, I took full advantage. I enrolled myself on a Health and Social Care course.
I studied part time for 3 years – also managed to hide the fact that my home life was very abnormal, I constantly made up excuses to peers about why I couldn’t go out with them or even them come over.
College for me was normality, home life felt like a nightmare – I hid it for so long.
My turning point
One day I remember being on my friend’s phone during class looking at Instagram… it wasn’t like anything I’d seen before. Peoples’ lives looked perfect and so far from the reality of my own. I began scrolling and came across a transformation page. It sparked a huge interest. Having seen a lot of proof that it was possible to work out and transform yourself made me want to try it.
So, I did. After class I would go home and watch YouTube videos, I also made an Instagram account specifically to watch short clips of females working out. I’d copy the body weighted exercises I saw, these included squats, lunges, donkey kicks and different variations of core engaging exercises, for example crunches, sit-ups etc.
Working out became a bit of an obsession
Exercising was a form of escape from life, in fact I worked out so much that my ex, somehow managed to convince himself that I was exercising and bettering myself for another man…which couldn’t have been further from the truth. I did it for me and my sanity. Regardless, it managed to cause even more problems between us.
But I didn’t allow it to stop me from doing what I began to enjoy. The more I worked out and started to see a change the more I became hooked and the more I believed in myself.
After a few months I started to feel confident with exercising and was ready to take my fitness to the next level, conveniently there was a leisure centre/ gym right next door to my college. So, one morning I plucked up the courage to go. I packed some leggings and a top (secretly) into my college bag before class and sneaked in during lunchtime.
How I trained
I began doing it a lot, at first, I was a little self-conscious (having never lifted weights before) but I believe it helped being in an environment where people had ranging capabilities, (rather than a thriving gym full of know it all, hot heads) made me at ease. Over time I got the hang of things and learnt to adapt the body weighted exercises I’d performed at home into weighted ones at the gym e.g. 10kg squats. Additionally, I used resistance machines such as the abductor/abductor, seated leg press, leg extension/leg curl, primarily machines which worked the lower body. As time went on, I increased the weights and saw my strength dramatically improved. To help with new variations and technique, I often watched YouTube videos and short workouts on Instagram.
Being there literally became the highlight of my days. The gym was somewhere I felt safe, no one knew me, I put my hat/headphones on and trained for as long as possible. I felt free and strong, not like the feeble, weak person I was before! No one could have prepared me for how it started to change my mind.
My relationship with food
In regards to food, I have always eaten pretty healthily, so consuming the right foods wasn’t an issue, however, I was lacking with the quantity. I’ve never had a diagnosed eating disorder but I’d definitely say I had some issues with food. Naturally, my body type has always leaned more towards an athletic one – quite slim and petite, kind of just thought that was how it would always be. Little did I know that strength training combined with the right nutrition was a method of improving one’s physique.
Ashamed to say but, if ever I felt upset or low in mood, which was often, I wouldn’t eat or have very little – which was silly, because I’ve always been aware of the importance of food.
I can only explain it as me punishing my body, almost as if I wasn’t worthy of it – still till this day, I have no idea why. Thankfully I’ve stopped all that and now have a huge love for it.
For someone wanting to gain weight, I can’t stress enough how important it is to eat, eat, eat, eat, plenty of fruit, vegetables, healthy carbohydrates and, of course protein – whether animal or plant based. Supplements such as protein shakes and weight gainers can help although it will be beneficial to check the ingredients as many contain high amounts of sugar/ salt – which isn’t ‘generally’ the weight one wants to gain. I found they gave me a bit of a pot belly lol.
My support system
It would be wrong of me to say that family hasn’t played a big part in this journey of mine; not so much the fitness side of things but I mean love care and support – especially my younger sister (cor, I don’t know what I would have done without her). But mainly, my best friend, he came into my life when things were at their absolute worst. I had not long broken up with my ex and was in the midst of being a single parent, still suffering from domestic violence, struggling with 12 hour shifts on a stroke unit and trying to be the best mother I could to my 3-year-old.
Maintaining a household and trying to portray my life was fine to colleagues’, friends and people I came in contact with on a day-to-day basis was hard! Looking back, I don’t quite know how I coped, but I did and he helped me massively.
Talking to someone who genuinely cared
He was my rock and at first speaking to him was a form of escape, but as time went on, I was made to feel at ease – happy to open up and speak about the unfortunate circumstances I was dealing with. It was amazing to be able to talk to someone who genuinely cared, was willing to give positive suggestions and actively listen; whether it be about work, or simply pouring my heart out in tears. He, along with family were in fact the ones who encouraged me to flee the dangers of my previous life to embark on something new.
One day I’d simply had enough!
The violence had gotten too much, I grabbed a few of my belongings, took my child out of school and fled to a women’s refuge far away from danger. I haven’t looked back. It was lonely being in an area unfamiliar to me – fortunately I had family close by. Night after night my friend would call to make sure I was okay (such a sweetie) desperately trying to piece back a broken Sienna. He taught me a lot and I will forever be thankful for each and every moment he was there and continues to be there.
‘For me’ gym/fitness has literally been a life saver, it’s given me a new lease of life, independence, helped strengthen my mind, build courage, and conquer obstacles I never believed I could.
I am currently much happier and now weighing at a healthy 140 lbs as opposed to an unhappy 112 lbs when I first began to workout (I am 5ft 4 by the way).
Since the beginning of my journey, I have transformed and become a stronger person not only physically but more importantly spiritually, mentally and emotionally. I have made new friends, changed my job and career aspirations. I want to further my fitness goals, pursue a career in the field and help reach others who are in need. In order to do this, I completed both L2 Fitness Instructing and L3 Personal Training. Besides my academic achievements, I believe I’ve come leaps and bounds from the person I used to be. As far as I’m concerned, I am no longer her. I now realise my worth and love myself more than I ever thought possible. Not in an arrogant way, but I’ve learnt to love and care for the person I’ve become. I have stopped smoking to escape reality, instead I face it head on and am now working towards helping others realise the same.
It would be a complete understatement to say it’s been a plain sailing journey. It really hasn’t. Finding the time to juggle childcare as a single parent, doing the exercises and lifting the weights surprisingly wasn’t the difficult part. I’d say, rebuilding my self-esteem, changing my mind set, knowing my worth, fixing my wounds of abuse and developing self-acceptance has been the hardest.
To make matters worse, I was constantly comparing myself to others (in this day and age I believe it’s a lot easier to do as almost everything revolves around body image – which is a shame.
I’d look unfavourably towards myself and hope to look like Instagram models or people within the public eye who appear to have the perfect lifestyle or body. Not taking into consideration the time, years of training, supplements, or even surgery they would have in order to get them there. What I’ve come to realise is, we are all imperfect humans that are suffering with insecurities of our own.
Even your most favoured celeb/ insta’ model has something about them that they’d prefer they didn’t. Don’t be fooled by what you see online, pictures can be deceiving and often are. We all know and, unfortunately post our best moments and angles (in my case the side pose lol because I have no hips).
Try not to knock yourself over your imperfections, instead turn that negative energy/feeling into a positive one and if you are really unhappy. do whatever it is you can to change it – within reason. Remember that your body doesn’t define the person you are.
This is my truth
Instagram is very much about peoples’ exterior, physical changes – I’m also to blame, as that’s a lot of what I post too. It is very rare that I share true feelings.
While I’m on the subject of true feelings, in all honesty I’ve been quite sceptical about sharing who I really am or what I’ve been through (the whole reason I began workout and uploading on Instagram to people, mainly because social media seems to mask the reality of people’s lives. the norm isn’t normal (if that makes sense) I’m now old enough to realise that the only way we will be able to change the dynamics of social media is by exposing the true people we are. I am not perfect, my life isn’t perfect, I don’t live in a huge house with a flashy car or have heaps of money. over time I am beginning to care less about what people think of me, it’s what I think of myself that truly matters. Not everyone will like me and that is totally fine. I am human and so long as I’m on this earth I want to help inspire as many people as I can to find themselves and live their dream – regardless of what it entails.
Words I leave you with
I know there are women/men out there who are in the same situation as I once was and I’d absolutely love to help (even if my story is able to reach just one person, I’ll feel like revealing it was worthwhile.
The piece of advice I’d give to anyone wanting to begin their fitness journey, or in fact any journey for that matter is, like Nike says ‘JUST DO IT’ sounds cliché but we only live on this earth once, don’t wait on tomorrow for everything to miraculously change, because it won’t! Begin by setting yourself small, achievable goals that you are likely to stick to. Have PATIENCE, be CONSISTENT, stay DRIVEN and whatever you do, DO NOT GIVE UP!
NEVER let ANYONE hold you back, understand that YOU ARE CAPABLE, BELIEVE in yourself and your being, realise YOUR WORTH and LOVE YOURSELF enough to know that YOU ARE UNIQUE, SPECIAL and absolutely BEAUTIFUL in each and every way just as you are! You are only wishing to prolong your life, enhance what you have already been given and be the best version of you – not for anyone…but for YOURSELF! Aim high! After all, the sky doesn’t have to be the limit – not if you don’t want it to be!
Connect with Sienna and follow her journey @mrs_dimples_x
No one should feel unsafe. If you are in an unsafe, violent relationship, you might be thinking of leaving. You do not have to leave today or do it all at once. But a safety plan can help you know what to do when you are ready to leave. Having a plan in place can help you get out safely later if you do decide to leave. Follow this link for more information on actions to take (Womens Health)