According to research conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), trauma and traumatic experiences are inextricably linked to both behavioral health and chronic physical health conditions, especially those traumatic events that occur during childhood. It has been established that these behavioral health concerns can present challenges in career advancement, relationships, and other aspects of life.
For women inside the military, trauma in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is growing as more women enter and exit the service. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs National Center for PTSD, five out of ten women in service experience trauma.
Even though government efforts like the Center for Women Veterans are doing their part inside communities, certain individuals recognize an increased need for severe trauma support not just in the military but throughout the female population as a whole.
Dr. Sonja Stribling is one such individual who dedicates her experiences and knowledge to making a difference in women facing trauma. Applying a unique background that includes 21 years of service as a retired army major veteran and semi-pro basketball efforts, she has built her life out of the rubble of trauma to offer direct support to those in need.
Stribling’s current efforts as a licensed clinical counselor, author, business coach, and mentor are empowered by a very personal story littered with trying times and life challenges that nearly destroyed her life.
In her own words, “I remember the suicidal thoughts and all the pills. I took pills to wake up, pills to function during the day, and pills to go to sleep. I just got to this place where I was just tired. I told myself that if I was going to live, I couldn’t live like that. So that began my journey of helping women. It really began from healing myself.”
Today she has manifested what she wanted from life and is helping other women do the same in their lives and careers. Dr. Stribling’s life has been a testament to perseverance and manifesting a next-level life and career.
This reporter spent time with Dr. Sonja Stribling to understand the sum of her experiences and the role it plays in educational efforts to support women of trauma.
Rod Berger: You talk a great deal about your past and how the difficulties shaped you. Could you share more of your backstory?
Sonja Stribling: Well, I’m the youngest of 12 kids. It’s a long time to be having kids. I was born to a sharecropper mom and a housekeeper dad, so understandably, by the time my mom had me, she was already 45 and tired. Unfortunately, this reality gave me certain liberties, which allowed me to do things that a young girl like me probably shouldn’t have done.
By the time I was 15, I was strapped to a table having my first child, a son. Then, at 17, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was assaulted. Five years later, I was married with two kids. I also served in the military for 21 years and had to go through a harrowing divorce that took three years while I was deployed. It was truly a terrible time.
Berger: You experienced so much trauma from such an early age. How did those experiences and the divorce affect your life, not to mention your time spent in the military?
Stribling: Both the divorce and military led to serious moments of clinical depression and self-doubt. First off, the marriage lasted 18 years, and during those three years it took to conclude the divorce, it took a massive toll on me emotionally and financially.
Then I had to contend with that while juggling a career that deployed me to places like Kuwait and Iraq, places most men would not want to go. Not that I’m complaining because I volunteered to serve. At the end of my military career, I was dealing with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury. I also had three kids to care for and had to figure out what I wanted to do with myself.
Berger: It appears as if there is a brick-by-brick building of trauma to overcome with all your experiences. How did you find healing, and how did that lead to your decision to start counseling and coaching?
Stribling: It took a while. My life was a mess. I knew I wanted more, but I wasn’t even sure what more was supposed to look like at the time. I eventually discovered my ‘why’ when I realized I did not want any other woman to ever live in regret. I started by helping women through the process of divorce, but I soon transitioned into coaching and mentorship after one of the women asked me for help building her coaching business.
That was the moment of truth for me. So, now I help women build their coaching and speaking businesses from their kitchen tables. In the past five months alone, I’ve helped 35,000 women develop their businesses, and I absolutely love what I do.
Berger: What inspires you to keep going?
Stribling: My own experience and a desire to help as many women as possible avoid the darkness of trauma. Far too many women today lead an existence that’s less than acceptable. These women have an inner power that they just haven’t discovered. We have an innate resilience within us to rise above our circumstances, but unfortunately, too many people have gone to the grave, never being able to tap into that strength.
My job is to help them find the trigger and empower them to ascend to the next level in their lives, relationships, and career. And without sounding pompous, I dare say that my life is a good example of how a next-level woman lives and what she looks like after overcoming her trauma and brokenness. All my books, courses, and training have been about this.
Berger: The coaching industry continues to explode across the world. Do you feel this reflects the overwhelming need people have to connect? Should we begin to rethink how we educate kids and adults about self-care, health, and wellness?
Stribling: This industry is growing to massive levels, with coaches popping up everywhere. But one of the biggest things that the overwhelming number of people need is more people to help them, so there shouldn’t be a need for more coaches to show up just to make up the numbers.
One of the biggest things about this world of educating people as coaches, trainers, and teachers, is that we need to have the experience first to support our clients. Coaches popping up like roses and flowers is a welcome development. Still, the greatest tool in the arsenal of a coach or counselor is empathy, and real empathy is derived from personal experience.
I believe my experiences humanize me to my clients. It’s much easier when your clients see you as an inspiration. After all, you can’t give what you don’t have.
Berger: Are there any habits or principles you’ve developed over the years that have helped you and other women achieve your next-level lives?
Stribling: I especially love the initiative, effort, and performance (IEP) system I teach women because it’s been one of the most helpful things for me. I have a lot of initiative. When I have a thought, I just need to get my eyes on it. I’m just set that way. I guess part of it stems from the resiliency that the military and my mom have taught me, and I try to teach women to develop this power of vision.
When it comes to effort, I’m either all the way in or not in the fight at all. There’s no in-between state. You are either going to do it or not. It’s always a delight to see these women begin to develop this same sort of dogged perspective.
The third aspect of performance focuses on thinking about things long before they happen. It applies the law of manifestation, which I believe is very real, not just in my life but in the life of thousands of my clients.
The IEP principle changed the game and helped me accelerate my success when many others had been in the game much longer. I played catch-up early in my career, but these principles have helped me bypass the competition over time.
I’ve seen the women I’ve helped embody this principle and deal with their trauma better. They have developed a laser focus on their dreams and goals, losing the deadweight that holds them back to come into their own a lot quicker.
There is so much more outside the lens of your trauma. Once we can rise above it, it’s like viewing the world for the first time.
The American Psychological Association (APA) describes traumatic stress as a normal reaction to an abnormal event. However, unresolved symptoms can manifest in life-altering stresses that can reach PTSD levels, unconsciously sabotaging learning, career, personal relationships, and health.
Sonja Stribling’s heightened awareness of PTSD from military deployment and life represents a more amplified set of circumstances that affect women every day. She believes every woman has a power in them that’s begging to manifest if they are committed to the work.
It’s a power Stribling drives to implement, offering hard-fought personal empathy as a tool for women to break free and step into their destinies.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.