Contessa Akin

My story can be overwhelming to some people, but it’s a tale of overcoming and resilience and finding your worth despite your circumstances. When I was three years old, my biological mother decided she didn’t want me or my two-year-old little sister anymore. She stopped on the side of a highway here in Dallas, put us on the side of the road and drove off. I have a half-sister who was about a year old who she kept in the car with her. I don’t necessarily remember getting out of the car, but I distinctly remember being on the grassy hill and all the cars whizzing past. A motorcycle officer eventually came by and kept us safe as he handed us teddy bears and talked to us until somebody came to pick us up. Starting from this event I developed an inner conviction that women are terrible and they will hurt you and can’t be trusted.  I carried this conviction with me all through childhood and beyond. I lived with my father, who was a truck driver and was always on the road. While I say I grew up with my dad, he wasn’t always physically present. Still, he remained that guy who always called and talked to us while he was on the road, and did so consistently even though I didn’t have much to say to him over the phone.

My biological mom was still somewhat in our lives, but to a very small extent. My sister and I had gone to visit her when I was six years old and she was five. One day she went away to work, leaving us home alone. Two men (whom were strangers to us, but were known by my biological mother) came into the apartment and one of them raped me. At six years old, your body and your brain are great at doing what they need to do to keep you in survival mode, so I don’t remember a whole lot about the trauma itself. My memory picks up after the actual assault. After the rape occurred I went and sat next to him on the stairs, because I thought, “well, I must be in love with this guy because we just had sex.” He was super handsome and I had somehow come to think the world of him in the few hours that we had been together. As we were sitting there on the stairs my dad walked into the apartment, as he had come to pick us up. Because of the kind of person my biological mother was, it wasn’t out of character that she would have a rotating door of strange people in her home. My father wasn’t alarmed by the discovery of random men in her apartment and I didn’t alert him that anything dangerous was happening. In the moment I didn’t even recognize my father until he spoke – my mind was just in another place. But when he spoke, I crumbled into pieces and fell apart. Essentially he has been that solid person in my life – the one person who never left and never gave up on me – so I felt safe to fall to pieces. He was alarmed at my reaction but he had no clue why I was upset, and he just took my sister and I home at that point. I came up with all sorts of stories as a six-year-old to protect my dad from being hurt by what happened. I thought it was my job to make sure he didn’t feel horrible about what I had just suffered through, so I never told him.

My secret was inevitably discovered because the body doesn’t lie, and I had to go to the police station, meet with detectives and point to pictures – all that investigative process stuff. Eventually the legal proceedings commenced and my perpetrator was put behind bars. I wasn’t yet seven years old, but I was carrying a heavy burden and sense of responsibility that this was all my fault. I had really considered lying to the police and the judge along the way because I felt so guilty for what had happened. The impression of guilt was a very defining moment for me, and it left behind a thought pattern that rippled throughout my life. In P1, guess what my numbers are… I have “guilt numbers.” I don’t know what everyone else experiences in that moment, but when they handed me those guilt numbers it was like my whole entire life flashed before my eyes. I learned how to feel guilty at six years old, and to do it really, really well and function through it – until I wasn’t having the life that I wanted anymore.

My father got remarried to a woman with two children, including a teenage son. From the ages of 9 to11 I was sexually assaulted by my stepbrother. Any time I refused his advances or stood up for myself he would show me who was bigger and badder. He broke my arm, suffocated me under pillows and blankets – really anything he could do to facilitate my surrender or teach me that he was in charge. I often woke up to him performing CPR on me. I had to endure that treatment for three years and there was no possible way I would tell anybody. My dad was always on the road and I concluded that my stepmom wasn’t a safe place because she would have loyalty with her own son and wouldn’t believe me. I truly believed that this trauma, too, must be my fault and my guilt just compounded. This was more confirmation from the world that this is was my assigned station in life and this was how I’m supposed to be treated.

It was in these moments that I decided that the world hated me and that I hated me. Because my experiences confirmed that I wasn’t good enough, I decided to go in the total opposite direction from people-pleasing and became a rebel. Anytime anybody in authority gave me direction I would do the exact opposite of what they told me to do. My stepmother saw me fight at home frequently with my sister and stepsiblings, which prompted her to tell me, “You don’t go to school and fight, you hear me?” So that’s what I did – I went to school and I fought pretty much everybody. I got into fist fights almost daily, and these weren’t little kid play fights. I was knocking people’s teeth out of their mouths and sending kids to the hospital. I was a really angry child and I took it out on everybody around me.

One day I determined that home was no longer the place for me, so I decided to run away for the first time at 13 by hitchhiking across the country from Midland, TX to California. Since my father was a truck driver I figured that they might be a safe alternative to just sticking my thumb out on the side of the road, so I went to truck stops and looked for lonely truck drivers and asked them to give me a ride. I’m sure you can imagine how that played out – a young female and older male confined to a small space at high speeds. After eventually returning home I ran away again at 14, this time to El Paso. I came back to Texas again, but this time I went to live with this boy with whom I was in love. I was free and independent, and felt like the world had already taught me everything I needed to know and no one was going to tell me differently. Not only did I have a know-it-all approach to life, I really felt like I had enough life experience to do it on my own.

My dad ended up divorcing that stepmother, effectively ending that reign of terror in my life. Although it was the least of my traumas, she had been very abusive to me as well. She would chase me around with scissors and cut my hair and attack me viciously with her words. She was that voice who said that I would never amount to anything. She made sure I knew that I wasn’t her child, that I was nobody’s child, and that I was an ugly child. She was yet another influence from the world that reinforced my narrative that I wasn’t good enough for anybody to love me, that I would never make it in this world, and that everything was my fault.

With his focus solely back on me and my sister after his divorce, my dad finally recognized that something must be going on with me emotionally if I kept running away all the time. He soon married my current stepmother and moved the family to Longview, TX for a fresh start, thinking that a change in environment might clean the slate for me. This idea backfired in a big way, because I felt like we might as well have moved to Timbuktu. Here I am starting the ninth grade without knowing a single soul, starting high school as a complete stranger in a small town where everybody knows everybody. My whole world had been flipped upside down, and this is where I learned to isolate and be lonely. Before this, I had really enjoyed the company of others and gravitated toward togetherness, but now I had no choice but to embrace being alone. I got really comfortable and really good at being a loner, and I hated my new stepmom for putting me in this position. From my perception she was changing everything. I still had a fighting spirit, but I couldn’t fight the kids at school anymore because I hadn’t developed an intimidating reputation yet and they hadn’t done anything to deserve it. As an outlet for my anger I turned to fighting her instead, and amazingly she stuck around for it. Her steadfastness was confusing to my adolescent mind, because in the past when I wanted someone to leave me alone I just ran them off with my rage and my violence. She would even say to me during heated moments, “I’m still staying. I’m still not going anywhere, no matter what you do.” Up until this point, life had taught me that women leave. Women hurt me. I was doing terrible things to this woman – why wouldn’t she leave?

As she sought out root causes for my behavior, my stepmom decided that I was rebellious because I needed my biological mom back in my life. She took it upon herself to find her, except I didn’t want to talk to her – she had abandoned me and I had essentially washed my hands and my heart of her. I reluctantly agreed to take a phone call with her, during which my mother proceeded to open up the conversation by saying that she had nothing to apologize for and had no regrets. At that moment I firmly made up my mind that my biological mother would never change and that there was no reason to ever invest in her. This again confirmed my long-held notion that women were evil, except now it was juxtaposed with a contradiction to that belief, in the form of my stepmother who wouldn’t leave no matter what I tried. This was the first time in my life where I actually could decipher that maybe it’s not that all women are terrible, and I started to piece together that my biological mom might be the one that had all the problems. Still, I didn’t quite know which version of womanhood was accurate. I could see the dichotomy but I couldn’t determine who was the outlier and who represented the norm, so I decided to stick to what I knew best, which was rebelling — because it worked.

My dad was a Vietnam war veteran and maintained pristine, old-fashioned beliefs. He would tell us, “I have just three rules for you girls. 1) Graduate high school. 2) Don’t get pregnant. 3) Don’t date outside your race. If you break any of those, I’ll disown you.” I decided to test his constitution and I latched onto the first African-American boy I could find, which was indeed a deal-breaker for Dad who then kicked me out of the house at 16 years old. I wasn’t going to let him think I couldn’t make it out there, so I decided to show him that I was fully capable and could do it on my own. I decided I wanted to go to Illinois, so I met a boy who was moving to Illinois, developed a relationship with said boy, and followed him up there. He allowed me to come along and I met his dad and eventually his stepmom, who welcomed me because I had told them I was 18. They believed this lie for quite a while until his mom asked me to buy her a pack of cigarettes and I had to explain why I couldn’t honor that request. The romantic relationship I shared with this boy became an unsafe place, where I was thrust back into the familiar routine of sexual assault. He would force himself on me and demand that I perform in ways that I choose not to revisit.

Illinois hadn’t been a random idea, but rather a deliberate choice, because the state of Illinois would accept all my high school credits and I could graduate in half the time that I could anywhere else. I started school and worked my tail off to get ahead, and I also had a full-time job – I was doing everything I could to avoid going home at night until I absolutely had no choice. I ended up graduating in December, an entire semester before all of my classmates. When the family I lived with ended up taking a trip back to Texas I eagerly followed so that I could escape that situation. I wasn’t overly thrilled about being close to home again, but it was okay because I knew I wouldn’t be there for long. I had plans.

In the following February, at 17 years old, I committed to the military and joined the Air Force. My dad was a diesel mechanic and passed down that mechanic passion to me, so I decided I’d work on airplanes. I became a jet engine mechanic on F-15 jets, and I went to Japan and had the time of my life. I worked around nothing but men on the flight lines and around airplanes and felt entirely at home, which may sound ironic. Even though the majority of my trauma was carried out at the hands of men, it was women that I trusted the least. My life lessons had helped me to understand men – they were predictable, easily manipulated, and I had figured out how they operate. That made it easy to fit in at my job, be accepted and become one of the boys. It made me feel special to work with these guys because they respected the fact that I was a woman doing the same job as they were, which took a lot of work, and I also felt safe because they were staunchly protective. If anything ever happened, I knew I had a whole group of men to come to my aid and make any wrongs right. Having never outgrown my rebellious spirit, I did get into some trouble in the military. I did some crazy things in Japan that landed me on international hold, but I was having fun.

I decided to get out of the military when reenlistment came to the table, because in my mind I felt like I hadn’t fully expressed my independence, experienced enough life or seen enough of the world yet. In reality I think that too much stability made me uncomfortable and I had to keep moving to stay unattached. I threw a dart at a map and it landed on Sacramento, California, so that’s where I went. I worked at a motorcycle shop which kept my hands busy, but my mind was scattered and burdened. In the military you have this structure and support, and you’re given provisions and directions, which translated into not having to make my own decisions about my welfare. Now operating outside of that structure that I’d come to rely on, I discovered that I had no idea who I was or what I was supposed to do with my life. On top of that, I felt very lonely and isolated because I couldn’t talk about my work in the military with anyone and I couldn’t talk about my adolescent life experiences, either. This loneliness was a familiar feeling, but this time it wasn’t by choice. This time I didn’t have anyone around me that was invested enough to care and I also didn’t feel right in my own skin, so I felt like the world misunderstood me and that trying to make myself known was a futile effort. To cope with the solitude and the lack of clarity, I began to numb out. I got heavily involved in smoking marijuana and I pretty much stayed high the entire time I lived in California. One day, I just woke up with the realization that I wasn’t really living, so I moved to Dallas to be a little closer to my parents. While I had good intentions to make better choices, my patterns of behavior followed me to Texas. I again sought employment in a motorcycle shop and continued to numb out with weed and be alone.

It was at this time that I met my husband – a motorcycle policeman. The full-circle gravity that I was being rescued again by a motorcycle cop wasn’t lost on me, but it gets even better. One of my parents’ favorite pastimes when we gather together for fellowship is to relive my glory days as a rebel and rehash all the horrible things that I did. When I took my husband to meet my parents, they started telling a story that led us to a grand realization. Right before I got kicked out of my house at 16 I got into a fist fight with my stepmother in front of our home. As the physical altercation subsided, I walked away with the intention of never returning and she called the cops on me. An officer arrived and took me home and that was it. As she began rehashing the story to my husband, a look of disbelief fell over his face and we connected the dots that it had actually been him who had brought me home on that day many years ago. At the time he had just finished the police academy and our domestic call was one of the first interactions with the community that he engaged in on the job, so his memory of it was strong. He was able to confirm where we were and even what I was wearing – I guess I make a strong first impression. You must also consider that this had occurred in a tiny town called Caney City, not where we all currently resided. It was obvious already, but this just confirmed that God had placed my husband in my life in various ways for varied reasons. It’s hard for me to even get or stay angry with him now, because it’s evident he was placed in my path on purpose and I know I need to protect that relationship always.

I had been on a downward spiral ever since leaving the military and I hadn’t really done anything to heal the loneliness or anguish that caused me to numb out in the first place. Now I had met this wonderful guy and we found out I was pregnant. Because of the sexual trauma I experienced at a young age I had been told by many doctors that I wouldn’t be able to have children, so I was in a complete state of shock. The very first thing I thought about was that I didn’t know how to be a mother. The only examples of mothers I had in my life were not people I aspired to be like, in any form or fashion. I didn’t want to be like them. I knew exactly what I didn’t want to be, but I also didn’t have any clue how to get to where I wanted to be, or even what that looked like. I gave birth to my firstborn, Luke, who is currently 13 years old, and then four months later I got pregnant again with my daughter Aleeya. The spiral continued to spin down, down, down and I really wasn’t a happy person – I definitely wasn’t much fun to be around. I wasn’t comfortable with babies and I didn’t deal very well with them. Where I used to be aggressive and fight the world because it hated me and my feelings were mutual, I now turned all of that anger inside because that’s what I thought was best for my kids. It was a loud, internal conversation of condemnation going on in my head and my heart. It was only seven months after giving birth to my daughter when I learned I was again pregnant with my third child, who is no longer with us and is living in Heaven. The loss of that child ended up being my rock bottom. I concluded that this was a final confirmation of my inadequacies, and I was now certain that I was not good enough to continue going on. If the universe felt so negatively about me that it would take my child from me, clearly I had no reason to believe I was worth anything at all.

I became very suicidal and I had a strategy in place. I made a pact with myself and I knew when, where, why and how I was going to go out and the time was coming. I disconnected from everybody and essentially the last thing I had on my agenda before permanently checking out was teaching my husband how to take care of my kids. I started putting all the family responsibilities on his plate and he demonstrated that he could fulfill my role, so that gave me the green light to initiate my plan. One day my husband came home and handed me the phone. When I said hello, this lady came on the line and said, “I’m Suzy from the Suicide Crisis Hotline.” Instantly I was filled with raging anger. I had done everything I could to prepare him to take care of everything, and I had done everything I could to remain invisible and not bring attention to my scheme. I was staying neutral and numb, and my husband wasn’t supposed to see through that behavior and unveil my pain. He was participating in an extra-marital affair at that time, and part of my narrative about why it was acceptable for me to end my life was that he didn’t see me and didn’t care about me and wouldn’t be hurt if I was gone. His recognition that I was in an unsafe place and his concern really destroyed the story I had been telling myself, so I hated him in the moment for seeing me. In my gut I really believed that the world was better off without me since the world had shown me that I wasn’t good enough for anybody. My husband’s actions showed that I wasn’t enough. I perceived that I was a terrible mother and that having no mom would be better for my kids than having me as a mom. I definitely wasn’t enough for myself… so really, what did it matter if I made my exit? The lady on the phone did most of the talking, some of which was a blur because of my fury, but because of one simple question she asked me I was forced to make a paramount choice. She asked me if I had a plan, which just infuriated me more because I felt exposed and ashamed. Of course I had a plan and wasn’t in the least willing or ready to tell her all about it. In that moment of trying to decide whether to lie to this hotline operator or be honest about my intentions, ultimately the question as I heard it in my head was, “Are you going to go through with this? Yes or no?” I had to decide – and what came out of my mouth was “no.” Somehow, in that split second, I had determined that I wanted to live. But now what the hell was I supposed I do?

Having chosen life, I decided to just open myself up to seeking understanding and personal growth, doing my best to learn skills from all sorts of resources. I would attend real estate seminars, art classes – anything and everything as long as there were real-life humans there, being inspiring. It was a slow crawl out of the hole. After dabbling in several areas I decided to go into direct-selling and that’s where I met Charla Gervers-Thompson. One day I was participating in this panel of directors for that direct sales company as part of an encouragement rally of sorts. I was asked to explain what I loved about the skin care, and instead of touting the benefits of our night cream, I answered, “Well, it saved my life. I was at a low point in my life and because someone cared enough to reach out and offer me this opportunity, I have something to invest my energy into and I can now really engage in life.” Charla was the host of this event, and like a cat on a mouse she approached me afterward, saying, “So, I’ve got this program for you…” I was still very much hungry for new ways to improve my well-being and bolster my participation in life, and if you’ve ever met Charla you know that she’s impossible to say “no” to, so I agreed to attend Pathways on the spot.

Upon arriving at Pathways I cried literally the entire Weekend, from beginning to end. I am sure I was a distraction to the rest of the class who looked at me with caution, curious to know my story but afraid to get too close. Though I didn’t share much during that first session, I got it at the depths of my soul and I poured my heart into it for the rest of the journey. The training was where I discovered how to let go of things that don’t serve me or my family, my purpose or my mission. Now I love to give back and help other people heal and engage in life, and live a life with intention rather than reaction. Pathways gave me back peace, joy, confidence and love for myself, which translates into a full bucket that allows me to pour into others.

After my Core Training there were still many things I hadn’t forgiven myself for, and I didn’t feel like I deserved any forgiveness for them, either. When it comes to my spirituality, I had been forced to go to several different denominations of churches during my childhood, and I never felt like I fit in or that those churches had anything to offer me. I always felt different than the rest of those folks, and the rebellious spirit that thrived within me wanted nothing to do with their fire-and-brimstone messaging or their cookie-cutter approach to redeeming my soul. The leaders of the churches were never initiating conversations with me about the character of God, the nature of God, or who He could be to me – they were only harping on the salvation prayer and getting baptized, so that just made the whole thing feel like a charade and gave me a legitimate reason to resist.

Step Beyond was the place where I learned how to establish a relationship with God in my own way, instead of trying to fit my complexity into someone else’s mold of what that relationship should look like. Before Step Beyond I viewed spirituality as having to endure these organized rituals – go to this specific place, and speak these specific prayers that aren’t personal to me at all, engage in this specific tradition, and subscribe to a doctrine that all believers must follow exactly the same way. That just isn’t how God designed me. I found freedom in Step Beyond – freedom to engage in a relationship with God that works for me, without it being dependent on what everyone else says it should be. The confidence I found by accepting that God just wanted to connect with me in whatever way felt right to me just took me to an entirely different place. The disdain I had for myself about the way I had shown up in the world when I was younger and the pain that I had about losing a child were washed away and replaced by a genuine love of self. I already knew that God had forgiven me and didn’t hold my transgressions against me – the problem was that I was still holding myself in contempt for my mistakes, which meant that there was no power in His forgiveness. Letting go of the guilt and shame of my past allowed me to accept God’s love into my heart and feel worthy of His love. It took me to a place where I truly believed that I deserved that love, and I realized that it doesn’t have to be externally validated by anyone human or any religious organization in order to be true. Naturally, I am deserving of love, whether it’s demonstrated and reciprocated or not. In a move that proved to me that God showed up in the room just for me, He revealed to me through Step Beyond that I could actually be a spiritual rebel of sorts and that He was not disappointed in that. The rest of the world might see the way I engage that relationship as rebellious or deviant, but the truth is that me and my spiritual Father are tight and aligned, and He loves the rebel inside of me. He made me that way and He is okay with me being myself in front of Him, showing Him all my authenticity. That’s the only way a relationship can actually thrive, right? I get to be real before Him and know that He’s got my back and He adores me exactly the way I am.

After my Pathways journey, I ran headfirst toward the next chapter in my life, determined to make up for lost time. In my Life Plan, I had indicated that I wanted to help people heal, whatever that looks like. I worked in direct sales, so I was making connections with many people, but it was all in the name of business and that felt incongruent to my new found outlook on life. I had a gift for hearing people’s pain and identifying what was holding them back, but I no longer felt right about having to sell them stuff in order to reach a level of reciprocity in the relationship where it became personal and I could start using that gift. I started brainstorming about what a different career path would look like. Growing up I always wanted to be a psychologist, but the idea of several tedious years of schooling didn’t fit into this stage in my life. I knew that I must find a way to both develop one-on-one mentoring relationships and feed my family, and thus the revelation to become a life coach was born. I had a life coach myself after I graduated from Pathways, and I really loved that relationship and that interaction, so I felt confident to pursue that vocation for myself. I was personally inspired by Tony Robbins’ approach to life coaching, having read all of his books and owning all of his CDs. I reached out to his company, hoping that they operated a coaching school, but they informed me that they didn’t actually offer that program. For the next year, I researched other avenues for school but none of the other programs out there felt like the right move. To make sure that I didn’t lose the intensity behind my goal I initiated a lot of self-learning, reading books about psychology and human behavior and coaching methods. I also started volunteering regularly as a TA in Pathways, which filled that space inside that was itching to motivate others down the path of healing.

You can imagine my elation when, a year after my initial inquiry, I learned that Tony Robbins was opening a brand new coaching school. I jumped all the way in with no hesitation. After completing the program, I essentially gave all my coaching away for free for several years. I hadn’t yet discovered my own value – I thought it was attached to the dollar amount I would give people. This was a newly discovered opportunity for growth that revealed itself long after Pathways – it turns out that I had found love and peace and joy in my life, but I still didn’t see myself as valuable. I attended a live Tony Robbins conference for the first time when he made a stop in Dallas, and just like in the Pathways room there are processes that you go through during his events. During one specific process, I told my “dyad partner” that I was coming to understand the difference between giving value and being valuable, and that I wanted to start charging for my coaching but that I didn’t know what that looked like or how to get started. Another gentleman attending the conference apparently overheard this conversation, because he approached me and asked me to coach him, right there on the spot. I agreed to coach him and proceeded to tell him that there would be no charge for the session, and then he caught me completely off guard when he promptly repeated back the words I had just spoken. He said, “Are you going to deliver value right now, or be valuable?” It floored me, and I finally got it. He paid me $100 to coach him for 10 minutes. I truly believe he fully intended to be a blessing to me, but it also turned out that I was a blessing to him, as in those 10 minutes he made some important life decisions, right there on the conference room floor. In that moment, my Life Plan became clear and tangible and came alive for the very first time. Before that it was just words on paper and pictures on notebooks that represented what I wanted, but I didn’t quite believe I could attain. Once it resonated deep down that I had value, my Life Plan suddenly had value. My perspective and my approach to coaching and business changed in that instant, and my current coaching career was born. The rebel in me truly loves to sing at the top of her lungs, so I didn’t want to be like every other coach out there. I wanted to do something that would set me apart from my colleagues, so I started studying Neuro Linguistics Programming and became Firewalk Instructor Certified. Within the first year after finding my value I was able to accomplish what I had scheduled to take five years in my Life Plan. Now I go back to my Life Plan every year to review what I’ve accomplished and what ended up on the backburner and why, reevaluate what I want, let go of things that no longer serve me and decide on new lofty goals to set on fire.

The biggest accomplishment on my near horizon is the publishing of my first book, which is currently in the final editing phase. It is entitled, “Rebel Acts of Self Love: How I Went from Wanting to Be Dead to Loving Everything in my Head.”   The first part is my autobiography, putting my history out there in detail, and the second half is about how to start a journey toward healing. My ultimate goal in life is to leave a legacy of healing and wholeness behind me. I truly feel like I’m on my way to honoring that calling, and I’m so grateful that I found my way back home.

“I am a courageous, worthy, self-loving woman. I am a free, connected, loved-by-God woman.”