From Surviving to Thriving: How I Escaped a Toxic Marriage and Launched the Business of My Dreams

Photo by  Sydney Sims  on  Unsplash

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

The Devil doesn’t come dressed in a red cape and pointy horns, he comes as everything you’ve ever wished for.
— Tucker Max

I remember how the carpet felt pressed against my face. We spent so much time selecting the perfect color, pattern and type of carpet for our dream home. As he pressed against me, pinning me down on the staircase, I felt the beautiful swirling pattern of the carpet leave an imprint on my cheek. I shed a single tear as I looked through the iron spindles of our staircase and into the fireplace. A somberness washed over me and I thought to myself, “He’s going to kill me tonight.” This was the first of many nights like this before I left for good.

How it All Started

Our courtship was something out of a fairy tale. He made me feel like the most beautiful, hilarious and intelligent woman to have ever lived. He took me on expensive dates, showered me with attention and affection and proclaimed I was his soulmate and that he had never experienced a love like this before. To say I was smitten, was an understatement. I left my entire life and identity behind to be with him. I quit my job and started a new career, sold most of my belongings and moved in with him 30 miles away from home. Red flags were popping up left and right but I was much too in love to care and he found an excuse for every behavior. We became pregnant with our son within 90 days of living together and flew to Las Vegas to get married shortly after.  

Something Wasn’t Right

I began googling the weird things he was doing in the fall of 2010. We had been married maybe two months or so and something was very, very wrong. He was not even the same person. I remember the term ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ kept popping up in all of my searches. I would read through the list of traits associated with the diagnosis and my eyes would get wider, and wider as I scrolled down the page. Grandiose self-image, superior, controlling… the list went on and on and the pieces started to come together. I had been duped.

I endured psychological, emotional and physical abuse for the duration of the six and a half years we were married. Narcissists are the most insidious personality type that one can encounter. They lack empathy, compassion and the ability to love anything but themselves. There is no cure nor is there any way to medicate someone with narcissism.

By the time my marriage ended, I was a shell of the person I used to be. I had no self-esteem, I was in very poor health due to adrenal fatigue (my body had been in ‘fight or flight’ mode for years) and the kids (4 and 5 at the time) and I were living in my old bedroom at my parent’s house. Previously, I had been a stay-at-home-mom but went back to work earlier that spring during a trial separation. Up until then, I had relied on him for everything and he loved to remind me of that. I can still hear “Bitch, I made you!” and “If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t have anything!” in the back of my head.

A New Humble Beginning

The next three months would be one of the happiest seasons of my life. With a protective order in place, the children and I had no contact with him. We quickly moved into an apartment with the odd bit of furniture, clothing and toys that we were able to get from our house and started our new life. All we had was each other and it was absolute bliss. The apartment was an upstairs unit and it was stark white, light and airy. Our living room window faced a field and often there would be deer grazing in the early morning sunlight. I would sip my coffee and take in the view. Thankful for small moments like that. Thankful for peace. Thankful for calm.

The Start of a Great Idea

In the months ahead, the divorce would be finalized and he would take the children every other weekend. On those weekends, I spent a lot of time with a guy that I had been seeing. I had recently gotten back into fitness and he was very fitness-minded and we bonded over that as well as other shared interests.

One thing that I had a tremendous passion for was meal-prepping. I loved to cook! I began prepping meals for him and he would post them to his Facebook page and received tons of comments and likes. Once word got around that I was the one creating these delicious dishes, I had several people reach out to me and ask if I would consider doing it for them.  I couldn’t believe there was such a demand for something that came so simple to me!

At that time, I had just closed on my new house and I agreed to take a few people on as a way to put a little cash in my pocket and help finance all of my new home furnishings. My first prep was 15 meals and I charged my client $100. After purchasing a box of 150 containers and the groceries for the prep, I had made a profit of $20. I was pumped! I thought to myself, “Wow! I’m going to have an extra $80 a month! This is awesome!”

In High Demand

It took one post to social media. One. And I went from one client to five clients. I was doing around 40 meals a week the first month off of an a la carte menu that I created. I did not have any of the time saving strategies that I have today nor the business sense but I thought I was really doing something great. And I was. I’m proud of the girl that did it the hard way and never gave up.

After a month, I formed a business page on Facebook and started to offer a weekly “menu” and I did everything by hand. I would open ordering at noon on Mondays and tons of people would private message me their order and I would write it all down. I scheduled pick-up for Sundays and gave myself a week to do all the shopping. By this time my boyfriend was jumping in and helping, spreading the word and recruiting people to give us a try. He managed to get us a deal with SupZilla Clarksville to use their site as a pickup spot so that we could offer deliveries down south.

Officially a Business

On June 27, 2017 FitFuel Fitness and Nutrition, LLC. was born. I’ll never forget that summer. I worked day and night, multiple nights a week to the point of burnout. We ended up closing up shop for the entire month of August to get our bearings straight and then again in the month of December. Each time I shut down meal prep production, I used that time to make improvements. During our December shutdown I launched our e-commerce site so that I would no longer have to take orders by hand via private message. I simply googled ‘storefront website selling things’ and boom the first hit was the site I went with and with that small act, I would elevate my small business to the next level.

We offered meal-prep 44 out of 52 weeks in 2018.  I also completed my coursework and became a Certified Holistic Nutritionist. What I have learned is that initial grind and hustle is absolutely essential to lifting any small business off the ground.

Two years later, I still have the same grind and hustle but it’s a more intelligent grind and hustle. I know what works, what doesn’t work. What makes sense and what doesn’t make sense. The little prepping-meals-from-my-home-kitchen-for-friends side hustle has turned into a legitimate business in the last two years.

By never giving up, continually making improvements and providing world-class customer service I have been able to lease a professional prep space, buy a full-size SUV for the business, build an e-commerce site and I’m making REAL money and regularly earning 3x my salary at my day job!

If Narcissistic Abuse Has Touched You…

This is article merely touches the surface of my story. If you or anyone you know has been a victim of narcissistic abuse, please know that there are tons of resources available to you and that there is hope for a better life. Getting educated and finding support is the first step. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

If you are interested in FitFuel or want to know a little more about starting a small business, hit us up on Facebook at FitFuel Fitness and Nutrition, LLC. or find us on the web at www.fitfuelfitnessandnutrition.com.

By: Ashlee Campbell, Co-Founder and Head Chef of FitFuel Fitness and Nutrition, Nutritionist, Mama of 2, Cat Mom, and Survivor