The Art of Being Alive & How I Harmonized My Life 

Ashleigh Henry. Your Conversation Pit. Podcast.

Trigger Warning: mentions of suicide and violent crimes.

If you or someone you know is walking through difficult times in relation to any of the above, please seek out resources for you or on their behalf. Community, belonging to a community, the ever-constant stream of love, care, connection, and support is why I am here today. 


The Art of Being Alive

In the summer of 2016, I survived a violent crime at the hand of someone I trusted with my whole being. 

I was just a few weeks post-grad. I had successfully moved through the ups and downs of college, leaning into pragmatic and creative modalities to fuel me (being the Editor-in-Chief of the college’s award-winning newspaper and creative literature journal) while working a handful of jobs at the same time to pay my way through college with a bit of help from family. 

I was living, you know?

I had a social life, I was at the gym several times a week, I wrote for fun & for school, I had a spiritual practice, I was dating, I met my husband, Chris, in college, I was writing, I was published in a few creative lit arenas, I traveled to NYC for the first time as a representative of one of the publications above to evaluate and expand our practices…  

College really felt like a time of experimentation for me in the sense that I was social-butterfly-ing it around, connecting with new ways of learning, expanding into new industries in my work life, receiving promotions even though I was also drowning in homework, social connections, and networking opportunities to hopefully end up with a newspaper post-grad.

I thought I had the art of being alive pretty much on lock. I thought I knew what the art of living looked like. 

We’re moving towards the tied-ending effect… one of my favorite ways to read, watch, listen, and tell a story. 

I started with the end first: the violent crime, post-grad, how’d that happen…? 

Surviving a Violent Crime

Surviving a violent crime changed the way I view life. 

Where most find pessimistic value in complaining about every little detail in life I find peace because I wasn’t positive I’d make it to the age I am now.

The details and workings of the crime don’t quite matter here, but the overview: I trusted someone in my life enough to go out for drinks with them to receive a letter of recommendation in order to advance my career into a new industry (higher education, at a law school, for a well-known southern university), my drinks were laced with drugs, I was sexually assaulted, kidnapped, taken to a location I didn’t say yes to going to, assaulted again, and my boyfriend at the time, now husband, received a phone call from the offender saying “you can come to get your girlfriend now.” 

The waves of shock continued far after that night, but that night I looked at Chris and said “I’ve been hurt, take me to the hospital.” 

After a mishandled rape kit, too many hours since the drug was originally administered, a lot of vomiting, sobs of anger, betrayal, and fear… I was in the backseat of a police car heading to a private location for revival and repair.

I cornered myself in the backseat of the police car, noticing that we were heading down a quiet, dark, canopy-lined road. My pulse was quickening, and my first fearful internal question “Where is he taking me and now what’s going to happen to me?” 

What Do I Have to Show for My Life?

My instant reaction of fear, toward someone that was kindly taking me to the Ocala Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Center, shows a lot about my state of mind just a handful of hours after my 8 pm-1 am nightmare with the person that assaulted me. It was nearing dawn as we rolled down the road to the center.

The canopy trees acted as a shroud to the quiet location of the center. I entered and immediately recognized the receptionist as an old co-worker. I said a gratitude to a higher power, made my way into my advocate’s office of peaceful ambiance, closed my eyes, and wished Chris, my mom, or someone could have been there with me. I fell into a fitful sleep on a sofa, next to a salt lamp and a wall of paintings and photographs of Horse Country, where I grew up and now had both wonderful and horrible memories to hold in one reality… in one location. 

Though being the survivor of a violent crime isn’t a memory or experience I’d love to have… it opened me up to review, audit, and edit the rest of my life with open eyes. 

I looked around and asked myself “If I hadn’t made it out of this experience, what would I have had to show for my life?” 

I’d had this desire to write a book since I was a teen. I hadn’t yet.

I wanted to start a podcast. I didn’t do it, though, because I didn’t know what to talk about. 

I wanted to travel the world, but I was a hustling college kid trying to make ends meet while staying connected to my social life. 

Almost 260,000 women were kidnapped in 2021, stat from Statista 2023.

Many women don’t make it home. 

I did. 

And I had a choice to reinvent my life and create my own life into my own harmonized experience or go down the path of never making it out of my own despair.

I chose the former, but I explored the latter first. 

When I was Powerless & Justice Wasn’t Served

I looked at Chris, about a week after the Assistant District Attorney called me into their office to let me know that they were dropping my case due to lack of evidence. They believed me. They were kind to me. They were doing their jobs and had their hands tied.

As aforementioned, the drugs were out of my system and the rape kit was mishandled. This might sound like an outlier, but after talking with survivors all around the world for the last 7 years since my experience… it’s not all that abnormal. 

I had a restraining order in hand, granted by a female judge that asked why I had a community of women behind me in the courtroom during such a private and invasive hearing (a story for another day), and I was hopeful that I wouldn’t have to rely on a civil experience to see the offender in jail for longer than 24 hours. 

The day the attorney called me into her office was the day that I unapologetically screamed at the top of my lungs in the public bathroom of the courthouse so loudly that I lost my voice for days. 

My voice was stripped.

After agency over my body was stripped. 

Justice was no where to be found.

The offender walked, unable to work in his industry any longer, but still out and walking the same sidewalks as other women that would never know what he did to me. 

I walked in a fog after those handfuls of days. I was working at the university aforementioned above, getting in with shining approval sans the desired letter of recommendation from the offender, and working within a law school where all we did was fight for justice, for more, for purposes bigger than us, for society to be moved forward with our incremental action of today…

…and I felt like I was drowning.

How Trauma Work Saved Me

I was home alone a handful of days after the case was dropped, alone in our Gainesville, Florida apartment, when I had the desire to end it all. 

To not just put a pause on life, but return-to-sender… never to be seen again. 

That night Chris was supposed to be out with his best friend, but they rescheduled, I didn’t know, and he was suddenly home as I was on the bathroom floor moving from hysterically sobbing to loud desperate prayer to eerie silence and calm. 

I knew what I wanted to do, but I was contemplating it. This was in 2016, the tail-end of September, and I wasn’t sure I’d make it to Christmas.

I looked at Chris, on the floor, with eyes filled with tears and a guttural voice, and said “I don’t know if I want to live anymore, Chris.”

He held me.

And he cast vision over me.

“If you leave, we can’t have our life together. We can’t get married, we can’t have babies, you can’t build your business, you can’t write your books.” 

He spoke so much and so long over me, while hugging me close and kissing the top of my head ceaselessly.

We didn’t leave each other’s side for four days and I began trauma-healing that weekend. 

The modalities were a mix of talk therapy, conversations with advocates on speed dial from the Ocala Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Center, prayer, visualization and guided meditation, acupuncture, chiropractic support, redefining my nutrition to release inflammatory foods that fed anxiety and depression, healing of my chronic condition (something that affected my kidneys, liver, gut, mind, and energy), gentle movement, integration into survivor groups, limiting my exposure to negative media sources (that discussed violent crime, especially against women in the way that I experienced violence), community connections and circles, nature therapies with horses, red light and saunas, and more. 

How to Live Again

This was 2016 and I looked around at my life and asked myself the following questions: 

  • Do I like this?
  • Is this what I want?
  • If I died tomorrow, would I be proud of what I did on this earth?
  • If I died tomorrow, would I be proud of my last experience with the last human I talked to?
  • Am I living out my best self and my best life? 

The answer to all? No. 

I began to course-correct. Slowly, but surely. 

I left my position with the law school in late 2017, stepping into entrepreneurship fully for the first time in my adult life. 

I started relieving myself of habits, energy, and relationships. I looked around for what I no longer felt good around or served by and considered where I was no longer serving others (or places, things, habits) for their highest good either.

Chris and I married each other at Silver Springs State Park, near the same trees and water my parents were married under; the ceremony being officiated by my childhood pastor… I felt so much peace as we entered into our new season.  

I began writing again after over an 8 month non-self-issued sabbatical post-crime. The offender had a close relationship with my creative writings and I felt powerless every time I sat down with a journal… it took time, but I found my voice, creativity, peace, spark, and connection to the written word again. 

We traveled more, found a community in Gainesville, Florida, created new pathways of thinking and being, and slowly I healed. Painstaking day after painstaking day, I showed up for myself and started to create the life I now have. 

My wildest dreams have come true in the last 7 years and it was that wake-up call that spurred me into action and acceleration. 

The trauma was transmuted into a purpose. This wasn’t the first violent crime I survived, but it was so severe that it created a space for me to look at my past, and the experiences I had in childhood and adolescence and heal to a level that I never knew was possible. 

If you’ve walked through the experience of being a survivor, picking up the emotional debris, and learning how to live again, you know what it’s like to be grateful for every sunset, the sound of birds waking the world up outside, the awe-striking connection to every rainbow, the feeling of seeing spring again after melancholy winters… and you know what it’s like to be in the darkest of storms, wondering when the lightning will strike again. 

If you or someone you know is walking through difficult times in relation to any of the above, please seek out resources for you or on their behalf. Community, belonging to a community, the ever-constant stream of love, care, connection, and support is why I am here today. 


If you feel connected to this story in any way, please consider providing monetary support to the Ocala Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center in Ocala, Florida. They’re why I’m here today, they’re why you may know me as the founder and CEO of The Cheetah Company, and they’re why many women walk out of their doors resiliently rising into their most powerful, supported, and liberated selves. 


Ashleigh Henry has been in marketing, sales, and leadership positions for the last decade and it was exhilarating for Ashleigh to climb the retail, corporate, higher education, and start-up ladder holding positions such as Marketing Strategist, Copywriter, Social Media Strategist, Manager, Editor, Co-Editor…until it wasn’t. Alongside her degree, Ashleigh decided to bring all of her experience into the freelancing world until it became clear that she didn’t just want to pay the bills – she wanted to create a company that was foundationally built on cheetah print, legacy-minded marketing, and sexy sales structures that could stand the test of trend and time. The Cheetah Company, founded by Ashleigh, does this for female entrepreneurs through their education, coaching, and consulting services. Learn more about Ashleigh here.

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