There are times when I am asked what the greatest privilege afforded to me as a published author has been. Always a tricky question because I don’t really see myself as an author with a book, but more an individual with a story I am sharing for a greater purpose. In a recent interaction I had with a woman who has contacted me several times now after reading my book, I sat back and realised I am finally able to answer that question.
Without doubt, the greatest privilege has been the natural creation of that sacred space I am honoured to hold for people who read my book and find the courage to break the silence and find their voice. A space where others share their pain and are granted the assurance they will receive understanding in the absence of judgement.
This courageous woman, I suspect has survived far more than I. She reached out to me a while back and then again last week on the day she was to have another corrective surgery related to the trauma she suffered as a child. During our conversation, she shared with me something she does unconsciously when she is stressed or anxious. It made me think about the impact abuse continues to have long after the physical stops. The mental and emotional trauma lingers on. I decided to share with her something that I never wrote about, never speak about actually, mainly because it isn’t conscious and I hadn’t given it much thought until she shared with me what she does with her hands when she is anxious (I do know I wring mine a lot though if I’m stressed). Or perhaps, because I still carry shame at some level and there are many personal things I will likely never tell a soul.
I told her I bite down hard on the inside of my cheeks. Always have for as long as I can remember. I don’t realise I am doing it until the pain brings me back. To this day, I have two scars inside my mouth and I often run my tongue along both sides and feel the raised thickness. I believe I started doing this to distract from the pain my body endured as a child. Before the pain hit, I would bite down with my back molars on my cheeks… I’m actually doing it now as I write this and remember. I would continue to do it throughout the course of the assault. Maybe it was my only measure of control. A temporary distraction. A more tolerable pain to focus on. Whatever the reason, it is still a habit I have yet to break.
So on we spoke about issues both she and I have (both physically and emotionally) as a direct result of the childhood abuse. I have ongoing health issues related to the abuse (my back being on of them) so I could relate to her anger. I still feel it myself. But despite the anger and frustration that were definitely touched on, the underlying, unspoken tone of the messages we sent, held the answer to what could be the opposite of shame. I asked her if she would mind if I shared some of what we discussed. Her response was beautiful. She said, “If your post can reach someone else doing it tough, then I am absolutely in.” And then she sent me this amazing piece of writing she found on Facebook. Please click to enlarge and read it before you go further. (and especially follow the directions at the bottom)
I thought it was so brilliant and reading it the first time through, very reflective of where our emotions can go when we isolate ourselves or don’t have those hands to reach back for, helping us out of darkness. To be honest, when she sent it, my heart dropped as I read to the bottom. This is not a woman who shares her pain and her story with people. So while it made sense to me, given her situation, that shame and fear were present, my heart still broke in that moment. And then I read from the bottom back up and the message she sent along with it, finally made sense.
“Carrie from my heart to yours I thank you for bringing some light, humor and comfort to my day. Honestly it has been the difference between a fucked up day to a day that has so much more meaning and light. Someone cared to check in on me. Blessed xxx”
All I did, was carry through on a thought I had before starting my day. I receive messages from people often who have been moved by my story or struggling with their own. So I wrote to a few of them yesterday morning – this woman being one. All I did was reach out and ask her how she went. Pretty simple gesture and, unbeknownst to me, it changed her whole day. So beautiful. And how easy it is to let someone know that they are on your mind and you care.
What an honour and privilege sharing my story has been. But as I said to her and others, it is critical we have people in our lives to reach out to. We aren’t meant to walk this journey on our own. I am absolutely the product of people stepping in and making it their business to care. The product of women who believed in me so deeply, that I started to believe in myself.
Shame is so crippling in the way it isolates. Makes us live small and apologetic for taking up space in this world. And that is exactly why I decided to lose my shame, find my voice and show others that if I can do it, they sure can too. And they deserve at least that. We all do. So in that conversation with that woman, I believe it is shame that prevents her from letting others in and getting the support she deserves. She is a wonderful, considerate person who opens that space for others to share, but doesn’t believe she is worthy of receiving the same.
Up until that particular conversation, I always believed the opposite of shame was feeling proud. But what I came to understand yesterday after we spoke, was so much more than that. When we lose our shame and realise that we are in fact worthy of love and belonging, it isn’t a sense of pride that fills us. When we discover that we are enough exactly as we are and have gratitude for all that we have, the state we experience is grace. And when we trust and surrender while walking that path of grace, the universe rises to meet us where we are at. I have had it happen far too many times to call it coincidence.
I will end this blog with an example of this;
One year ago exactly to this day, the universe lined up yet again and brought back into my life a very significant woman from my past. When I was homeless back in 1998, this social worker saw me every week, supporting me though one of the roughest times in my life. Natasha stood up and gave evidence at the Refugee Review Tribunal on my behalf when I was fighting to stay in this country and seeking protection. When I was rejected at the refugee stage, she wrote to the Immigration Minister asking for his intervention in my case. (I was pregnant at the time (as was she) and they were considering basically two options; deport both myself and the baby before I was seven months pregnant, or allow me to give birth and the baby could stay but I had to go back.)
“If Carrie is to have a chance at recovering from the significant trauma she endured as a child, it is imperative she be granted protection so she can feel safe and secure. It is for this reason that I support Carrie’s application to remain permanently in Australia.”
Now we come to the one year ago part. I created a page on Facebook roughly a year before I received a publishing deal. On this page I would share my journey and speak on the importance of supports for young women dealing with trauma. Once receiving the publishing contract, I shared my back book cover and spoke about the Young Women’s Project Gatehouse was creating. 25% of the proceeds of my book go toward this project and I was most proud of that. Now this post was seen 25000 times because it was shared by so many.
When I wrote those words, I was specifically thinking about the Young Women’s Project that took me in when I was homeless and the organisation Natasha worked for when she was my therapist. All morning I received notifications on my phone when someone commented or shared this post. (Here’s where the universe comes into it) The organisation who supported me and to whom I was actually referring, saw my post and shared it on their Facebook page! (having no idea who I was or that it was even them I was speaking about!)
I stood there shocked for a minute, even though this trippy shit happens to me all the time. I was meant to be catching up with a friend later that day but instead jumped in the car, rang my friend and said there has been a change of plans. I told her to get ready cuz we were heading to a part of the city I hadn’t been for nearly 15 years.
It was so strange being back there and having someone from my present revisit my past with me, if that makes sense? Having a car and not having to walk everywhere was a real bonus as well.
I knew Natasha moved overseas after she had her baby so I wasn’t expecting to see her. I just wanted to go in there, introduce myself and let them know that even though they had no idea who I was, that post they shared was directly related to them. They appeared as shocked as I was (in hindsight, perhaps their shock was more related to my excitement and the off putting manner I spat out the explanation like I was Busta Rhymes.)
Anyway, to make an already long story short, by fluke I ran into the counsellor who replaced Natasha on maternity leave. She is rarely at that office but just so happened to be there that day… I know right? And she said to me Natasha was back and working with her at their other office down the coast. NO WAY! She gave me her email and I messaged her as soon as I got home.
Subject: Hello Ladies!!
I am so pleased to be able to contact you both and THANK the two of you for the role you both played in my broken life way back when. Truly grateful.
Susan, that just made my day going back there after 16 years and getting to see you! Wow, words fail me. But going back empowered with something to give back to a community that gave me so much. Truly an honour and things like this excite me far more than launching a book to be honest with you.
Natasha, wow, it has been a long time. I was so pleased to hear that you are back and you work with Susan. What a trip out. I’m pretty sure you were one of the women who came with me to the RRT back in 1998? I know you worked so hard for me researching and helping me put a case together. Drafting a support letter (all of which I still have all these years later). haha This has truly made my day!
And not long after I received this…
Cosmic forces work in strange ways ….
I was just on your sight reading your story when your email came through AND last night, school sent a notification that my daughter, aged 10 years teacher who is about to go on maternity leave is to be replaced by Carrie from Canada!! I was thinking of you at about 10 pm last night, wondering how you were doing! … your memory is very good – I’m sure that’s not always a great thing for you, but yes I did attend the RRT with you. That is still a day I remember well.
I am so pleased you have been able to turn your experiences into something so positive.
Thanks so much for the email.
I suppose the point of my story is this, life is sometimes a real struggle and isn’t seemingly fair. But when you know you are worthy of love and support, a world of healing and recovery opens up to you. When we hold onto the shame and believe the lie, we stay stuck in the struggle of self hate and isolating circumstances continue. I have been so blessed to receive the amount of love and support by significant woman I met on this wild and wonderful journey. Women who continue to walk that path beside me. But the other obvious fact for me going back to revisit my past last year was this; I worked my butt off to do better and be better and get better. When people offered their hand, I took it. When I was homeless and pregnant and seeing Natasha sometimes twice a week, I walked over an hour to get to see her each way. Whether it was 5 degrees and raining or 40 degree disgusting summer heat, I never missed an appointment.
Grace and gratitude don’t just miraculously happen. It requires effort. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when it hurts to be me and I find myself frustrated with a strong desire to break things. But I make a conscious effort to focus on my blessings always. Because when we jump out of our head and drop into our heart, the positives become far easier to see. When we give ourselves permission to let go of that which isn’t serving us, and we stop the punishing and self sabotage, trusting and surrendering become so much easier and our focus then naturally falls upon our blessings. Better enabling us the opportunity to continue on our journey toward the goals we have yet to achieve. All the while, holding onto the belief that while they are not yet in our grasp, one day soon, they will be.
Just don’t lose hope. And on this journey, know that you are enough exactly as you are and worthy to reach out for those hands waiting to reach back.
Now that, is grace.