Southern Voice: Ashley Holt

“I’m worried about you. I want you to know I’m praying for you. In my 30s I kept looking for a purpose in my life. I kept looking outward … outside my home. And in the world you will never find fulfillment or joy. It all has to be on the inside. Your purpose in this life is to love Jesus first … then your husband and then your children. There is nothing that will fill you outside of that. Don’t let the world suck you in to believing that there is something better, because I assure you there IS NOT. Go read Roman 1:18:32 … please do not love the things God has created over the creator! You will be on a road to destruction.” — A note I received after informing a friend of my divorce. She didn’t know the truth of the darkness.

"My dominant intention is to shed light on the fact that love is not a place of worship, a location or a building," says Ashley. "Love is a place within our heart and within our soul."

“My dominant intention is to shed light on the fact that love is not a place of worship, a location or a building,” says Ashley. “Love is a place within our heart and within our soul.”

I would like to share my secrets as a divorced Southern woman — the secrets that almost killed me and the judgments I felt were cast upon me in the name of love, in the name of religion. My dominant intention is to shed light on the fact that love is not a place of worship, a location or a building. Love is a place within our heart and within our soul. When we allow ourselves permission to seek its truth, it will lead you on a journey of self-discovery and transformation.

In my 11-year marriage, I had spent every Sunday in church, listening on the front row. I spent every night, praying on my knees. I begged and pleaded with God to help my husband and to save our family. I put my faith in something outside of me. The more I prayed, the weaker I became. It was time for me to realize the answers to my prayers were not going to come from outside of me, but from within. I would sit in church, and my husband would be grudgingly beside me. I remember wishing and praying for him to acknowledge my presence next to him. Maybe, just maybe, the pastor would say just the right thing to make him recognize that I wasn’t invisible. Maybe he would see me and hear my begging, my pleading for him to love me. It never happened.

It seemed there was a darkness that had slowly been creeping into his heart and soul for a while. It was a darkness I was not prepared for. I wanted to be there for him. I wasn’t prepared for his self-destruction to bleed into the lives of our family. As the drugs, alcohol and anger numbed his pain, I allowed it to also destroy every bit of light within me.

There were the fights, the arguing, the late nights, the blank, distant look in his eyes — the blackness of his pupils that would scare me so badly. My entire body would freeze, and the world around me would go into slow motion, my heart pounding with fear and desperation. In the darkness, his inner demons would arise. They would be taken out on me. My daughter was sleeping, I was gasping for air. The sun would rise the next morning and all was forgotten, only to be repeated over and over and over. He declared to me again and again that I was the reason for his pain, his avoidance, his darkness — it was all my fault. I wasn’t good enough, loving enough, understanding enough. I accepted the lies he spoke and made them my truth, and they crept in to my mind, my heart, my soul, and I was victim to all they made me believe. Correction: I chose to be the victim. I had bought into the false illusion that I was undeserving and unworthy of happiness and love. One day, I decided to claim my power back.

"I took a leap of faith to leave the life I had known, because, somehow, I knew there was more. Even though the voices around me were telling me differently, although religion told me differently, my soul knew." says Ashley.

“I took a leap of faith to leave the life I had known, because, somehow, I knew there was more. Even though the voices around me were telling me differently, although religion told me differently, my soul knew.” says Ashley.

I remember the nights when I had to go to sleep with an 8-hour playlist of affirmations in my ears as he laughed at my pursuit of self-worth. I had heard you could learn another language in your sleep. Your subconscious would actually learn what it heard while you were sleeping. I would have to find a way to escape the lies and the verbal abuse that had been told to me over and over, louder and louder, day after day, year after year.

I remember putting in my earphones and squeezing my eyes tightly together as the affirmations began — they were so hard to say to myself. I would fall asleep, and I would awaken a little bit stronger every day. Today, I am able to say I know it worked.

It started with those 8-hour affirmations. “I love and accept myself. My mind has the power to create whatever I can conceive. My potential is boundless. All my dreams are possible. I am strong. I am brave. I am here to shine my light.”

I took a leap of faith to leave the life I had known, because, somehow, I knew there was more. Even though the voices around me were telling me differently, although religion told me differently, my soul knew. I left everything, needing nothing but my faith that the Universe, God, whatever higher being you may believe in was my shield, my protector, my provider. I declared my needs to the universe, and, miraculously, they were provided. I could hear the voice of the spirit within my heart saying, “I created you in love, and when you are disconnected from it, you cannot be who I created you to be.”

I remember the last time he raised his voice to me. The memory sends chills down my spine. But I knew it was the last, and that gave me hope. I would now love myself as my Creator intended me to. Within days, miracles fell upon my path. A job opportunity grabbed my attention on an app — two days later, I was employed. A home became available — and not just any home, but the perfect home right next to the elementary school with a perfect fenced yard, dream floor plan and sense of safety that came with it. New friends came into my life — friends who would love, strengthen and support me. All beautiful gifts that were perfectly given to me at the exact perfect moment, divinely orchestrated in love for my every need.

Life was still tough. Single mom, long work hours, emotional stress — all the normal predecessors of divorce and change. But I woke up every day with a choice, to cry or smile; to give up or grow; to be angry or surrender; to be sad or feel joy; to make excuses or rise; to pull the covers over my head or give all I had; to hate or love. Every moment is a choice.

"Life was still tough. Single mom, long work hours, emotional stress — all the normal predecessors of divorce and change. But I woke up every day with a choice," says Ashley. "Every moment is a choice."

“Life was still tough. Single mom, long work hours, emotional stress — all the normal predecessors of divorce and change. But I woke up every day with a choice,” says Ashley. “Every moment is a choice.”

When I finally decided to make the choice to take ownership of my life, to listen to my heart and soul, it became the life I had always dreamed of. It became the life my soul knew existed. The affirmations I used to force myself to speak, to claim — they spoke themselves into existence. The leap of faith was a quest for love, and, more importantly, the quest for “self-love” — to love myself enough to protect myself from harm, to rise up in adversity and take the leap of faith, knowing I am worthy and deserving of a beautiful and abundant life. I had embarked upon a quest to know the strength of the voice of my soul, to feel the truth and the magnitude of the light I am now able to shine and to accept the love that was patiently waiting for me to allow myself to receive.

Yes, I believe in God. I believe in His power, His love, His forgiveness. What I believe has been forgotten in our teaching is that we are of God. We are the physical body manifested with spirit. The spirit of love lives within us. It is our power, and we must — through free will — recognize the power given to each of us. We are powerful creators. We are creators of love or fear.

Allowing myself to be disrespected was disrespecting God. The day I stopped allowing the God/Spirit within me to be disrespected is the day I transformed my life. Could this be so? This isn’t in the Bible, or is it? My responsibility is to myself? Is this self-love or selfish (every Southern woman’s biggest fear)? We are bred to put others before ourselves in every situation. I am all for generosity, but at some point, it has become a dangerous epidemic of self-neglect. I believe you have to be selfish enough to have self-love, self-worth and self-respect. My body is the temple.

It was easier to look at him and see what needed to be fixed rather than to open up the deeply buried wounds within myself. No one would ever see me or hear me until I was willing to hear and see myself. I needed to hold love and compassion for myself. To be raw, vulnerable, honest and forgiving of all the seemingly shattered pieces. It was time to take a long, hard look at myself, my journey, my fears, my mistakes, my passions, my dreams, and finally see myself and, yes, even love myself unapologetically for the light of who I am.

Ashley, just after her divorce, at Laguna Beach, CA (above), and a year later in Sedona, AZ (below)

Ashley, just after her divorce, at Laguna Beach, CA (above), and a year later in Sedona, AZ (below). Each year, Ashley travels to a new place to spread her wings in celebration of love, which she says is the highest and purest form of Christ-consciousness and her guide, path and light.

To the friend who sent me the message, I choose to believe she did not mean to inflict judgement, guilt and shame upon me. I choose to believe that she sent me that message in love. However, I hope she now realizes how much more impactful and loving just saying “I love you, and I am here for you if you need anything” would have been. Never doubt the power of the simple words “I love you,” for they are the highest form of Christ-consciousness.

For anyone who is reading this, I hope I can leave you with a change in your perceptions of divorce and, more importantly, a change in your perception of love, how to find it and where to look for it. Marriage is a piece of paper perceived as love. Divorce, also a piece of paper, is perceived as the opposite. I am here to tell you, you can choose divorce and still choose love.

I respect the church and the abundance of good that comes from it most of the time. However, I have not been back since my divorce. Unfortunately, beliefs separate, and love will always connect. I choose to find love and gratitude everyday in every breath I take, in every sunrise, in the whisper of the wind, in the song of the cardinal and within the stillness of my heart. I know I have found the highest and purest form of love within myself.

As for my ex, I also choose love and gratitude for him as he has been my biggest teacher. Without the chaos, I could not have been led to the peace.

"I choose to find love and gratitude everyday in every breath I take, in every sunrise, in the whisper of the wind, in the song of the cardinal and within the stillness of my heart," says Ashley. "I know I have found the highest and purest form of love within myself."

“I choose to find love and gratitude everyday in every breath I take, in every sunrise, in the whisper of the wind, in the song of the cardinal and within the stillness of my heart,” says Ashley. “I know I have found the highest and purest form of love within myself.”

I have filled every moment of my life with the knowing of love and the utmost gratitude for it. It is simple but profound. Guilt, fear and shame have overtaken doctrine and suppressed us from our highest potential. Christ-consciousness is not guilt, fear or shame, and I have chosen to release them and their impact on my life. I have decided to move forward with the religion of Love. It knows no walls, building or location. Love is my guide, my path, my light.

In a world that teaches us that we are not enough, I hope I can inspire you to love who you are and honor the light you bring into this world. I hope you will step into the true, authentic power of your soul in all you do. I hope you will overcome the fear, guilt or shame that holds you back, and you will choose to embrace your highest truth. This is love. This is Christ-consciousness. This knows no limit, no boundary, no demographic, no religion. It is only the truth of love.

Ashley Holt is a StyleBlueprint Birmingham staffer, motivational speaker and children’s author with a mission to build self-confidence through powerful kid-friendly mantras and positive affirmations. Check out her children’s books at ashleyholtbookcollection.com.

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