National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

From Survivor to Mountaineer

By Kathleen Schmidt

My name is Kathleen Schmidt, and I’m a survivor of domestic violence and abuse. I fled for my life over 15 years ago from extreme emotional and physical abuse, and created a new life for myself.

When I was living in a shelter for battered women, I kept telling myself over and over, “I have a brain, two hands, two feet and I know how to work; I WILL make my life better.” I chose to become a victor instead of a victim.  Books became my source of education and inspiration, and not only did I work on my own healing, I also had to find a way to earn a living. Not shy of hard work, I at one point sold pictures out of the trunk of my car. My efforts paid off, and it won me a trip to the Bahamas that allowed me to dive with sharks (I learned how to scuba dive while living in the shelter).

I entertained the idea for a very long time, since I lived in the shelter, to write my story. So finally, after many years needed to grow and heal, I wrote my little blue book “Escaping the Glass Cage: A Story of Survival & Empowerment from Domestic Violence.” It isn’t a big book, but something a woman in crisis can read and find encouragement in. I wrote it for women in shelters, but my hope is that it also helps those on the outside get a basic understanding of domestic violence and its effects.  But getting my book published didn’t feel like enough.

I wanted to find a way to reach more people on a global scale. So I created “Project Empowerment,” a blog talk radio show dedicated to empowering survivors of domestic violence and abuse, as well as others. I truly believe we each have a voice, and if people are able to listen to another’s story, it can help them make different choices and empower them to live a better life.

My guests have included Betty Makoni, Top 10 CNN Hero of the Year for 2009 for her humanitarian work rescuing rape victims in Zimbabwe. I’ve also interviewed actress/author Mariel Hemingway, as well as the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s Operations Director, Katie-Ray Jones. My guests have also included many shelter directors from all over the world, authors, psychotherapists, counselors and survivors, each sharing their story, their passion and the work they are doing to make our world a better place. We talk about the tough subjects, and at the end of each show we share our ideas of solutions to the issues discussed, such as why the victim stays, where do abused men get help, how a can victim get help to rebuild their life, and how we can empower the children.

It is humbling to be contacted by listeners from all around the world, to learn the vital resources shared and how their sheer willpower helped them gain the strength to leave their abuser. My dream to build “Project Empowerment” into a global resource tool is coming true.

But again, I felt there needed to be something else to raise awareness. So I am very excited to announce “Climb for Empowerment,” with the mission to empower survivors of domestic violence and abuse … one step at a time. I will be climbing Mt. Rainier September 1–3, 2011, in honor of all those who have struggled to start their lives over.

It is by choice, to take one step after another. My dream is to show the world that if I can make a new life, so can you, one step at a time. I know how hard it is to rebuild a life. It takes a lot of courage to start over, learn how to live again and grow through the pain. So this climb is a symbol of that growth. It takes time, training and a lot of determination to do this, and I will need your support. Donations will be shared between Girl Child Network Worldwide and The Pixel Project. Both are global initiatives working very hard to help end violence against women.

I truly believe that all healing and empowerment begins from within. And for us to have peace in our world, we must first have peace within our homes, within ourselves. If you can find that spark, that driving force that pulls you in the direction of doing something bigger than you, listen to it. We each have a voice, we each can make a difference in the world, and it all starts with us.

To learn more about my work, Project Empowerment, Climb for Empowerment and upcoming Empowerment Workshops (New!), you can visit my website at