Charlotte Flair pulls back the curtain on her past issues in 'Second Nature'

After five years of projecting strength on WWE TV as Charlotte Flair, Ashley Fliehr is finally opening up about her past and what she's had to overcome in hopes of being able to help inspire others who find themselves in difficult situations. Patrick T. Fallon for ESPN

Charlotte Flair is the embodiment of strength and power in the ring. She is a four-time WWE Raw women's champion, and well on her way to having a Hall of Fame career like her father, Ric Flair, who was a 16-time world champion -- tied for the most in the history of the wrestling business.

She is one of the most popular wrestlers in the WWE, male or female, with more than four million followers on social media and, along with Sasha Banks, the two were the first women to ever headline a WWE pay-per-view event last year inside Hell in a Cell.

But while Charlotte has risen to international fame over the past five years, Ashley Elizabeth Fliehr, who performs as Charlotte in the WWE, has largely remained private and guarded against talking about her personal life outside the ring, and her relationship with her father.

That changed when Fliehr decided to work on an autobiography with her father, "Second Nature," which focuses on "the legacy of Ric Flair and the rise of Charlotte." While Fliehr could have focused the book on her wrestling career and working with her father, she decided to open up about her personal life for the first time, and talk about subjects she had never made public before.

"I was very hesitant to open up about my past because I feel like for the past five years I've been hiding behind this character, Charlotte, that I've created," Fliehr said. "This character isn't vulnerable and she's not relatable. So I let down my guard and said, 'OK, this is Ashley, and I am vulnerable and I am relatable and I've been through all these things that I'm ashamed of.' I just committed to it and it was extremely therapeutic, and it took me two years to work on it. I just hope it saves someone's life."

While many WWE fans are aware of Fliehr's close relationship with her brother Reid, who died in 2013 from a drug overdose, very few know she was divorced twice and left her first husband, Riki Johnson, after multiple incidents of domestic violence, which she chronicles in the book.

"Riki was the hardest to write about," Fliehr said. "It was hard because I never dealt with it. I'm embarrassed and ashamed and why would I let myself go through something like that? If you would have talked to me six months ago, I probably wouldn't have gotten through the interview without crying. I was still so raw, and even when talking about Reid I can feel it in my throat but I'm stronger now."

Fliehr must still wipe away tears and take a deep breath when she talks about her brother, who died when he was just 25 years old in Charlotte, North Carolina. He had a promising wrestling career and actually had more to do with convincing his sister to become a wrestler than their father did.

"I spent all this time trying to save Reid's life but ultimately he saved mine," she said. "I couldn't save my brother's life and that's something you have to learn through addiction; only they can make that decision. Reid never got to see me wrestle. I'm doing something that he wanted to do every single day of his life. How did he not get to see me wrestle? It's not fair. It just stinks, you know?"

Opening up about losing her brother to drug addiction and being the victim of domestic violence weren't easy subjects for Fliehr to relive, and she often wavered on whether or not she wanted to talk about it. She ultimately decided addressing it could possibly help others dealing with the same issues, and she's currently working with the WWE to become more of an advocate to help others.

"I'm not ashamed," Fliehr said. "I went through all of these things and I've come out on the other end stronger. Through the two years of writing this I'd be like, 'Oh, this is a good idea, bad idea, good idea, bad idea.' I'd be going to work thinking about the boys and are they going to look at me different because they don't know this about me? I had a friend who I've known for five years at WWE come up to me and say, 'I didn't know you were married twice.' I just haven't opened up. If someone would have known me five years ago and read this book and to know where I am today, it's the most unlikely journey. I literally had no idea what I was getting myself into when I showed up at FCW in Tampa."

It would be easy to assume that Fliehr always dreamed about being a wrestler as the daughter of one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, but the truth is that she never seriously considered it before her brother convinced her to sign a developmental contract with the WWE in 2012. She was assigned to their development territory at the time, Florida Championship Wrestling, which soon became NXT and moved to Orlando.

When she had attended WrestleMania 24 in 2008 to watch her father's last match, and to see him get inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame, she had no thoughts of being a wrestler. In fact, she wasn't much of a wrestling fan.

"I didn't realize what my dad meant to wrestling until his Hall of Fame speech. Everyone was standing up and chanting, 'Thank you Ric!' and I said, 'Wow, I guess he is kind of a big deal,'" she said.

Seven years later, with a prolific run in NXT and a title win in WWE already behind her, it was time for Flier to get her own WrestleMania moment.

"When I was at WrestleMania 32 in Dallas, before going out for our match, I looked at Becky [Lynch] and Sasha at Gorilla and I was thinking, 'Man, they worked their whole life to be here.' It's always crazy to me to see people live out their dream," said Flier. "I can't say that I'm living out my dream because at 16 I was thinking about what college I wanted to go to and if I was going to be in a sorority. It wasn't my dream. It was my brother's dream."

Fliehr's transformation and journey to becoming Charlotte, one of the greatest female wrestlers in WWE history, over the past five years is still surreal to her -- especially as she looks at the cover of her book, which features a photo of her and her father both wearing their signature feathered robes, and holding their respective championship belts.

"It's crazy," she said. "Back at WrestleMania 24, Sasha and I sat across from each other. She was there for Snoop, and I was front row for my dad. We didn't know each other. Fast-forward to last year and there we were, main eventing Hell in Cell. That's so crazy. It's been an amazing journey."