Doritha Skinner, 36, almost lost herself in an abusive relationship. But a love affair with fitness and a bundle of emotional support brought her back from the pain of domestic violence. Here’s her transformation story, and how she’s helping other women survive like she did.

Tell us a little about your experience with your abuser.

I met him when I was 22. We connected through basketball – I was the manager of a team, and he played. Eventually, we were living together. Early on, there was dishonesty in our relationship, but an abuser will often say the right things to get you to take them back. For years, I was emotionally abused and didn’t realize it. He told me I wasn’t a good cook, said my kids would never respect me, and made me feel like I wasn’t good enough to be his one and only. Then it turned to physical abuse. After I was tossed across the room and pinned down to the ground the second time, I decided to get out.

Doritha Skinner

Skinner shed 35 lbs by eating healthier and exercising.

What part does fitness play in your life?

I have been athletic since I was nine years old. I played sports through college. After my second child was born in 2012, I wanted to lose the baby weight and started working out. We had a friendly “Biggest Loser” contest at work. I got back to having that athlete mindset. I really started pushing myself in the gym. I felt amazing and empowered!

How did your fitness journey impact your ability to overcome your abuse?

Working out and living with a maltreater (abuser) was like oil and water for me. A maltreater is all about control. When I began to exercise, and look and feel better, that would make him upset. I was beginning to learn how to regain control over myself, which to him was not acceptable. He would say things like, “the gym is more important than me.” He called me a “lazy fat cow” on this journey. During this time, I saw a therapist and sought spiritual support from my church family. I did this for me and to better my marriage. This was huge for me. Sometimes we need to be reminded that there is something greater than us to find our purpose, live and share it. When I began exercising my mind, body and soul, I realized that I wasn’t as happy as I thought.

When did your journey shift to advocacy and why?

By 2015, I wanted other victims to know that what they are experiencing is NOT love. That there’s a good chance you’re in an abusive relationship because you lack self-love, and you’re looking for love in the abuser.  It is never too late to transform into that beautiful person that you are. I reached out to the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence Hotline to offer my help. I’ve been an active member ever since.

Tell us about your work.

I am active on a survivor task force for my state coalition against domestic violence. We raise awareness at any events — 5K races, county fairs, painting events. We also have a presence at legislative meetings that will affect the rights of domestic violence advocacy. We speak at shelters to encourage women to take that first step to get away from the abuse.

What do you tell survivors of domestic abuse?

Everyone is on this earth for a reason. Choose to live in it and create the best version of yourself. I want you to live, your children want you to live and your family wants you to live as well. You do not have to let the abuser win. You can regain your power back. It will take time. But if you honestly want the change, if you want to experience life for its fullest and be the best you, then get surrounded by positive people and feed yourself positive affirmations daily. Things will get better.

What would you say to a survivor who wants to start exercising?

Exercise not only changes your body on the outside, but it can change how you feel on the inside. It helped me get my athletic mindset back, the mindset that I am UNSTOPPABLE. Start by setting a reachable goal for yourself. It helps to start with a partner sometimes. I would ask them to join me for one or two days!

What’s next for you?

The year 2017 is going to be a full, adventurous, goal-accomplishing year for me! I am in the midst of writing my story to share with others who might need help. I am working on a ministry at my church to raise awareness about abuse. I also am getting certified to become a personal trainer to start a fitness program with women in abusive relationships, working moms and others to help them relieve stress.

Any last words for our readers?

No one is perfect. No matter what has happened in the past, it does not have to live with you in the present, and it does not have to be in your future. Learn to love yourself completely — mind, body and soul — and everything else will follow. Being comfortable is being stagnant. Don’t become comfortable in life. And lastly, as women we have intuition. DON’T IGNORE IT! If something does not feel right about the other person you’re in a relationship, walk away early.

If you are in an abusive relationship and need help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233.

Gabbi Gilliam is a freelance writing, world traveling, essential oil lathering, yoga teacher and tea enthusiast whose guilty pleasures include wine and pizza (preferably together and always in moderation).