I was invited to share my story on two different filmed segments that will air this week. Part of the process included a photo and video shoot of me surfing.

Some think an opportunity like this sounds amazing and fun… right? 

I was texting with one of my surf sisters who was also interviewed. She is thrilled to have participated and excited to see it. 

And I get that excitement…


Surfing evokes thoughts of endless summers, surfin safaris and carefree hours in the sun and sea. 

For me, surfing has been a trauma tour-guide. 

Learning to surf has offered me a way to experience mini-trauma over and over…

Each wave I encountered was a risk, or potential threat, showing me over and over how the unresolved sexual trauma from my childhood impacted how I’ve been processing information for most of my life. 

This allowed me to see how my brain had learned to respond in ways that often did not match what was happening around me, and how that became exaggerated when delayed-onset PTSD became a part of the life…

Fight. Flight. Freeze. 
Fight. Flight. Freeze.

You see smiles and joy in the photos.

What you don’t see is the mountain of painful feelings that flooded through me as I tearfully drove down for the photo shoot.

An experience much like my drive down to the very first surf therapy session with Groundswell Community Project last year.

Well, the drive down for that very first session was way more intense…

In fact, I felt like I was going to throw up. I’m not afraid of the ocean, I love the ocean… it was confusing, overwhelming, and following through with the process has been the most significant pattern interrupt I’d ever faced.

Fight. Flight. Freeze. Fight. Flight. Freeze. 

I was straight up terrified that someone would see me.

So when the surf therapy sessions ended up at the beach I call home, it was like being dropped into a fun-house nightmare flooded with conflicting feelings…

I was afraid, embarrassed, ashamed, and incredibly uncomfortable.

I was also excited, grateful, determined, bold and brave.

I felt imminent danger every time.

I would go to great lengths to not be seen and to stay out of the way, on my solo surf missions. 

I did not want to be seen in a wetsuit. 
I did not want to be seen in the water.
I did not want to be seen falling down. 

I did not want to be in the way.
I did not want to hurt someone.

Did I say that I did not want to be seen in a wetsuit? 

The grip of the trauma response has been so strong…

In fact, I have not been able to look at pictures from my adolescence without a visceral wave of aversion so strong it hurt and at times taking my breath away. 

For much of my life, I’ve also had that same feeling when looking in the mirror at my body.

At times I could see glimpses of my beauty… those moments were quickly seized and replaced with the shame and self-loathing that many sexual assault survivors grapple with as a result of the trauma.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom…”


Anais Nin’s words make more sense to me than ever before.

The reality of PTSD forced me to face it all, to face myself in order to survive.

With determination, time and dedicated professional attention the deep-seated perceptions I was able to be with the memory that my young brain was not able to integrate. 

Surf Therapy and EMDR were the tools I used to remove the distortions.

The path to healing and reclaiming my life has been intense, and it has worked.

I can see clearly.

I have released the cage that bound me.

And I’m blessed to be surround by supportive friends, family and angels like Natalie Small, the licensed mental health provider who has been my surf therapist…

Thank you Natalie for helping, via text message, turn my photo shoot with Bri Redfield into a healing opportunity. It worked! 

What’s happening now is humbling and vulnerable… Exposing my deepest darkest secret publicly was not on my bucket list. 

Yet, I’m not seeking this, it’s seeking me. 

I’ve reflected deeply and even consulted with professionals to determine if this is a healthy choice for me. 

It’s time. I say yes. 

You know why? Because it’s not a deep dark secret anymore. The grip of shame in all its manifestations has lessened and the ocean continues to help me wash those distortions away.

That’s a victory.

So I write and speak because if even one person gains helpful information, direction, inspiration, or hope my experience has a purpose.

I choose to let go. To live this second chance of life with peace, self-acceptance, joy and infinite stoke…


Here I am world…just me. Nothing to hide. Nothing to prove. I am free.

Many mahalos to you for reading my words and being my witness on this journey.
I’ll be sharing the links this week to both filmed pieces if you’re interested.

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Leanne is a local San Diegan committed to creating healthy community experiences that ignite authentic communication, self-discovery, friendship, and professional connections. She is a facilitator, speaker, and writer. Leanne is known for her ability to create safe spaces for small and large groups where truth, transformation, and connection happen. Her knowledge base includes emotional literacy, communication, leadership, mindfulness, grief, trauma, bereavement, surf therapy, PTSD, community, conflict resolution, and personal development. You can reach her at leannetibiatowski@gmail.com

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