Interviewing the #UndauntedWoman: Danelle Woods

I've been doing these interviews for a while now, and sitting down to share the stories of the Undaunted Women I encounter has become one of my most favorite things about blogging here. This blog has been so many things over the years - a place to share about and promote myself as a writer, a place to keep in touch with and update people interested in my life, a way to empower and inspire the readers who spend their time here. Most recently it has meant so much to me to be able to share this space with the rest of the Undaunted community ... especially this month's woman.

I've mentioned her a thousand times or more here on this site over the years. She's my cousin, so we grew up together; we actually lived together for large portions of our lives. We were born just a few months apart - we shared friends, troubles, secrets, triumphs, loads of laughter, and more private jokes than either of us could ever hope to remember. We've insulted each other, defended each other, provided for each other in so many ways, and I've always thought of her as the sister I wasn't born with - my Irish twin in so many ways.

And while I've shared so much of my personal story here, I've left out a lot too - both to protect my own privacy and also to protect the privacy of those who lived through my story but may not have wanted so much to share it. There are members of my life and family who have never been - and will never be - so specifically mentioned here, but Dana rises to the top, representing so much more than the simple bond of cousinhood. She's my best friend; we're so aligned that we even managed to end up pregnant at the same time and had our first children within months of each other (How's that for 2nd Gen.?). She's been the close eye scouring all of my novels, the person I trust to nit-pick my work until it's as polished as it can be.

But in between being super busy with all of that ... she's also got her very own story to tell. So let me introduce you to the one person who knows all the parody lyrics to my favorite Sugar Ray song ...

Tell me about yourself - what's your story, and how did you become an undaunted woman?
I come from a dysfunctional family. As a 5 year old child, I witnessed the aftermath of my older brother being shot under the chin while he was at my uncle’s house. We are not sure to this day what actually happened that night. I was physically abused by my father, and witnessed things he did no child should ever be subjected to. Eventually, we were removed from my parent home, and placed with my maternal grandparents. Although my mother tried to regain custody, it was in our best interest to remain with her parents.
"At 17, I became depressed, and was denied therapy. I was told I didn’t need it."
I will never forget the evening I brought home a report card with straight A’s and was told I could do better because one of my grades was a 96 instead of a 100. I was an honor student. I called my boyfriend and begged him to come take me away. The only way that was going to happen was to marry him. So, that’s what I did. That didn’t last but 3 months. His whole family took advantage of our situation, forcing me to clean up after their zoo of animals, take care of his nephews, right on down to running his mother’s bath water. I was a senior in high school then, and was desperately trying to keep my grades up. Once I had had enough of that, I asked him to move out of his mom’s house with me, and he wouldn’t do it, so I left him.

The path I went down after that isn’t something I’m proud of, but it taught me a lot about myself, and those I used to hang around. My next relationship would be the one that took the most out of me. I was abused in every possible way by this person. I have been beaten, raped, belittled, forced into getting drunk and doing things I would not have done otherwise, held at gunpoint, and that just lists some of the things he did to me.

I got pregnant in 2003 by him. I was 19. I thought after our son was born all of that stuff would stop. I wanted so desperately to give my son the family life and home that I didn’t have as a child. I forced myself to endure more of the same abuse until one day I realized that he would eventually kill me, even if by accident, and that my son was watching what was happening, and I didn’t want him to learn to be that way. I left, and after years of custody battles, he no longer has any rights to my son.

It's strange reading that as if it were someone I didn't know so personally, remembering so much of that story but from the sidelines. It's bad enough looking at it from where I am though, just on the edge of it - I hope you know how amazing your resilience is, and that you recognize how strong you are. With that being said, have you ever struggled with confidence and/or self-worth - and if yes, how did you overcome that struggle? If no, how did you avoid it?
There are days that I still struggle with confidence and self-worth. I don’t think that is something that ever goes away completely. There is always that nagging voice in the back of your head telling you that you aren’t doing things right, or that what you are doing isn’t good enough. Most days though, I just take a deep breath and tell myself that it doesn’t matter if it’s good enough or not, it still has to be done, and no one else is offering to do it. If they think they can do better, they are more than welcome to do it.

I'm laughing, reading that last answer. It's such a "you" thing to say. But there's a lot of truth in it anyway - sometimes you just gotta do what you just gotta do, the best way you know how, and accept that that's going to have to be enough. So, what is the one thing you've survived that makes you feel most like an "undaunted woman?"
The one thing I survived that makes me feel most undaunted is my terrible ex. One night, he got drunk, called me at work cussing me so loudly my boss could hear. She escorted me home that night to make sure he wasn’t waiting on me (we lived separately at this point, but were on again off again).

He called me after I got home and threatened to shoot himself. I went to his apartment to check on him. I should have called the cops, but hindsight is 20/20. When I got there, his front door was wide open. He was laying in the living room floor with a shotgun by his side. It was 1 in the morning, and I couldn’t tell if he was bleeding.

I walked in, and was checking him out when he come up off the floor, grabbed me by the arms, kicked his door shut, and pushed me against the wall. I was screaming for help. I tried to call 911, but he took my phone and busted it against the floor. He grabbed a pistol from his tv stand, put his forehead to mine, and told me he dreamed we would die like that. He held the gun first to my head, then to the back of his own, and said it would only take one shot to kill us both in the position we were in.

I looked him straight in his eye, and scared to death, told him I was not afraid of him. That really made him angry, and he pushed me through his wall. He called 911 himself after that, and was on with dispatch while I was desperately trying to get away. He pulled me away from the door and guarded it. I tried to go through the open window, but he pulled me back in. The cops finally showed up, and he swore up and down that I was the one who did all the damage. He went to jail that night.

What aspect of your current life do you find most rewarding?
Since then, I have married a man who loves and respects me. He adopted my son after parental rights were terminated from his biological dad. Being able to trust another man after what I endured has certainly been rewarding. It was a long road, and took lots of patience from my husband, but we are right where we need to be in our relationship.

I love that I can read that and smile, knowing personally how much your husband has stepped up and stepped in to be what you needed. You two give me hope. ❤️ What is your favorite successful strategy or coping mechanism for dealing with challenging people or situations, and how is that strategy impacted by what you've survived?
I don’t encounter challenging people in public really, but I do at work every single day. I am a CNA, and some of the patients are just difficult to deal with. They can be physically combative as well as verbally. I go in with the “kill them with kindness” attitude. Most of the time it works. In the times that it doesn’t work, I simply give them the space they need to cool down before attempting to approach them again.

I can totally see how working with the elderly could be rewarding enough to make up for that though - and in the meantime, those people need more people like you, who come in with the patience and compassion of your experience. Clearly I'm admiring you just like always, but what other woman do YOU most admire, and why?
I don’t have one specific woman I admire really. Everyone has had one battle or another they’ve had to endure in their lives, and anyone who can pull through a little stronger is worthy of admiration.

Well said. So, what one quality serves you best as an undaunted woman?
I really don’t know what quality serves me best. Maybe the fact that I’ve learned over the years that I don’t have to be a people pleaser, and I don’t have to give any f*cks. I’ve learned to take control of my emotions instead of letting my emotions control me.

Ugh, if I could get a firmer hold on that lesson!! Maybe someday. But in the meantime, what one quality are you most looking to improve in yourself?
My patience level could stand to be improved. I am doing my best to work on that currently.

Aren't we all! So if you could do any one thing right now to help other women become undaunted, what would you be doing?
Just being a friend to women in need is a huge help I think. I am not always the best at giving advice, but that doesn’t stop me from listening.

You're definitely good at that - I can't even count high enough to put a number on how many times you've been there to hear me out even if you had your own stuff going on. And I'll second the point that that helps other women grow and embrace their own stories; it has certainly made a difference in mine. If you could stand in front of every woman on the planet right now and speak into their hearts, what would you most want to say to them?
You have the power to overcome any adversity life throws your way. You are worthy and beautiful and smart and everything anyone says you aren’t.

Thanks for letting me feature you here, Dana! I've been wanting to have you share your story for ages because it's such a story of personal strength and willingness to keep moving forward, but also didn't want to share it out of respect for your general tendency to be a private person. All the same, I'm thankful, and I think my readers will be totally inspired by getting a more personal look at my personal bestie!

If you liked this post or related to anything from Dana's interview, definitely let us know in the comments - or if the comment section is ever too public to be comfortable, feel free to message me on any social media platform, email me, or even reach out to me with a letter in my P.O. Box! I'd love to hear from you!

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