Belfast born Denise Robinson’s memoir offers life lessons to those struggling in similar circumstances, she tells Aine Toner
Less than six months ago, Denise Robinson started writing on her laptop. The result was Still Standing: From the shores of Belfast to the lights of Dublin. The memoir details Denise’s colourful and wonderful life, which she says, ‘has been made richer by the pain and heartache’ she’s experienced.
“I couldn’t believe it; it started flying out, the speed I was writing was unreal,” she says from her home in Dun Laoghaire.
“I got to 75,000 words and got it edited but couldn’t believe how fast it was. It was cathartic for me because I’ve been through so much hurt and pain.
“I have had loads of therapy but at the same time, the therapist always said to me until you write this down and burn it you’re not going to have a total clearing.
“In writing the book I understand now what she meant because I feel like a completely new person having written it down.
“I wanted to publish it. I think the reason why I want to do it is to help other women who have been through things like coercive control by men.”
Still Standing details her childhood in Belfast during the Troubles where the young Denise learned early that life can be both beautiful and painful.
Having parental difficulties brought a set of issues and a distorted image of love that she carried with her for much of her life. Her father’s steadfast love guided her but her relationship with her mother was a difficult one to navigate.
Despite a successful career, the road to love has been a rocky one, but one filled with life lessons that she hopes to pass onto readers.
As she navigated relationships, marriage, and divorce, she learnt the difference between love, sex and obsession.
In the book, Denise refers to her relationship challenges, something about which many readers will empathise.
“I keep saying I’ve been unlucky in love, but I’ve achieved a lot as well,” she says.
“I’ve travelled the world so it’s not all bad.
“It’s just that I probably had a bit of bad luck based on my own pattern of behaviour from my mother but I still had the courage to leave him [husband] and move on.
“I’m actually for the first time happy being on my own, being single, enjoying my life. If the right person comes along, they’ll come along at the right time...
“Getting the therapy helped me understand people and why I’m drawn to certain types of men.”
“When the edited version [of the book] came back and I reread it I was like, ‘Oh my God’, I was crying and was thinking how did I actually get through all that? But I did and I’m here,” she continues.
Moving from Northern Ireland to Dublin, Denise embraced a new life and in doing so, placed a new value on self-worth.
“I started from scratch and now value myself and I actually do like myself,” she explains.
“If I hadn’t moved to Dublin quite frankly I may not be here today: I’d lost my dad, my house and my dog at the same time.
“I had to start again. I came down here and it’s been the best thing ever.”
With time, experience, plenty of self-reflection, and an excellent therapist, Denise came to understand why she had been looking for love with all the wrong people and in all the wrong ways.
On moving to Dublin, she started an inspirational blog to help other women who have suffered or who have lost confidence and need coping mechanisms. Other opportunities followed.
“Through the social media platform I’ve created a new life, new friends, new contacts, new opportunities,” says Denise.
“I was on [TV programme] First Dates Ireland, I organised a world record speed dating event in Dublin, all these things I wouldn’t have thought I was capable of.
“It’s all in my book. I wouldn’t have been capable of doing them if I’d stayed in Northern Ireland, dying off into a shell of myself.”
Has she plans to write more?
“The rewarding bit is people saying nice things such as they loved reading it and one reader who said that every woman should buy it. The real reason to write the book is for me, but also to help other women who are struggling. I know I’m pretty confident and I’ve had a really colourful life, I was a model years ago, so I’m a pretty confident person.
“But there’s a lot of women that aren’t as confident as me, who come out of marriages or think, ‘I’ll sit and watch TV all night because there’s nothing out there for me’.
“In writing this book I hope I’ll be asked to speak at women’s events to help inspire other women to believe in themselves.
“I always said I would like to write a book but I never would have thought I would have done it. I would never have done if I was still in Northern Ireland and I certainly would never started a social media platform if I had stayed in Northern Ireland.
“I would have been too worried about what people thought of me... but now, I can be the real me.”
Her story of having loved and lost many times over, the lessons she learned, and the friends she made along the way will inspire anyone who has fought or is fighting to break free from a toxic relationship or is dealing with its aftermath.
“It was a brave move, moving down here, renting an apartment,” says Denise. “I knew nobody and now I know so many people in Dublin.”
Still Standing by Denise Robinson is available on Amazon. For more information on Denise, see deniserobinson.ie