The Color of A Million Midnights

Although this has not been my own personal experience, it so easily could have been. And so I write this poem to honour the women, who at some point in their lives stopped seeing the world in color.

The Color of A Million Midnights

Little girl lost. I see your struggle. I feel your pain.
Beyond the darkness of a million midnights, I hear you and you matter

She’s been alive for 2000 night falls.
Wide eyed wonderful little girl. I see you
Borrowed promises, unapologetic confidence and a belly full of laughter. I hear you
A beautiful naivety exists within her heart. In her little body contains the eternal ocean of endless possibility. Of reliable, relentless currents and tides.
Welcoming waves of unconditional love as she dances the shoreline of her lifespan
She is brand new shiny bike proud

Shame is not the watchman standing guard of her gate to worthiness
For she is love. And she is safe. And she is the sum total of unconditional forevers. Because for now, even though she doesn’t know why, she knows she is worthy… and that she matters.
She is 5 years old and her favorite color is purple

Every night she would climb up to her window and look out to a sky of limitless potential. Her head held high for she knew no other way to carry herself – other than with pride. The fullness of the moon, like a pregnant belly of hope carrying with it a future so bright, the stars pale in comparison.
And in the light of day, resides an unwritten promise that the sun rises and shines just for her. And though she doesn’t know it yet, it would be the last setting sun, pregnant moon and scattered diamond sky that cradled her future and held tomorrow’s hope

Little girl lost. I see your struggle. Little girl lost. I see you and feel your pain. Beyond the darkness of a million midnights, I hear you and you matter

She said the betrayal was worse than the pain. And her tears fell like rain
Into an open hand casket on the day she buried her childhood
Every No – Every please – Every bone shattering scream – Every muffled cry – Every stop you’re hurting me, landed on deaf ears. But not hers. Her ears remained wide open and welcomed every bad name. Every fire breathing threat – Every no one will ever believe you anyway but if you do tell, I will kill you little girl.

She lay broken and bled a river of red into that dirt road behind her grandfather’s farm.
Staring up at a million midnights, her moon had fallen from the sky. She picked herself up. She dusted herself off and she said aloud, ‘You don’t need to kill me. I’m already dead.’
She was nine years old and her favorite color was purple

2000 suns have risen and set in her empty sky childhood. Same blue eyes lookin’ but she hasn’t the ability to see. Because her girlhood broke in a hundred different ways by five different men. Three who were kin…by the time she was ten.
And after five years of black skies she passes the time pushin’ harm up her arm.
Her hero is heroin. Her highs blind her eyes – numbing her heart to the pain as a million midnights rush through her veins. That once held high head slumps back and falls forward – chin to chest. She feels nothing. You don’t need to kill her. She’s already dead

And not that she kept count but from 12 years old, at a guess she lay down 400 different times for 400 different men. Each encounter killing her in 400 different ways
But helping her forget the five different men; her grandfather. Her uncle. Her cousin. His friends
She is fifteen years old and in a world of grey her favorite color became the shade of a million midnights

30 years old, abandoned by everyone who once loved that wide eyed wonderful little girl. Whose future burned bright and whose hopes and dreams were once held by the moon. The same moon who pulled tides and the same girl who carried within her tiny frame the eternal ocean of endless possibility.
That same little girl who danced like no one was watching now sits – a shadow of her former self, upon the shores of her lifespan with 1300 Sundays of unanswered prayers behind her. But more hopeless than the unanswered are the unspoken that will forever remain stuck in her throat. Because one reaches a point in one’s lifetime where faith and hope die if you haven’t the help needed to keep them alive

If she could turn back the hands of time or reach back for the hands reaching for hers, maybe she would still be ok. But instead of help she had heroin. Instead of hope she had hell. Instead of ‘I believe you’ she had ‘you must have done something to provoke him’. Instead of worthy. She had shame. And instead of love she will forever have judgement.
40 years old and her favorite color is the shade of a million midnights

If there was a way she could reach for a different brush to paint the life she once saw in her dreams, don’t you think she would? If she hadn’t been robbed of her ability to see the world in color, don’t you think upon her blank canvas, with a broken brush she would dip the tip in to the deepest of purple and create yesterday’s masterpiece and title it:
‘What Could Have Been Had He Let Me Be Me’

50 years old in search of her soul. Because beyond the darkness of a million midnights, her favorite color will always be purple and her now dull eyes; once brighter than the stars- will always be blue – and hold the sparkle of a distant memory – back when she knew love and was love and still believed herself to be the sum total of unconditional forevers.

If choice was truly a luxury the world had gifted her, don’t you think she’d have chosen differently? 50 years old with 2,600 Sundays of unanswered prayers behind her.
And 26,000 different men to help her forget the five men she couldn’t get from her head. No matter how high or how hard she tried. The stars stopped holding her future the moment her grandfather. Her uncle. Her cousin. His friends – took without asking. Her parents never bothered asking and so the eternal message imprinting her soul that no amount of anything could mend was unanimously this; You don’t matter. Forever broken was the backbone of a little girl’s dream

A million midnights of moonless skies to claim the brightly burning star she once was
And the sad reality of this Unhappily Ever After: it could have been prevented
Had somebody told her all those years before when her head was still high, when she was her own watchman. When she was still love in the sum total of unconditional forevers
And the unsung hymn she was longing to hear that never played to her welcoming ear;
Little girl lost. I see you beyond the darkness of a million midnights. I feel your pain. I hear you and you matter and you are worthy of love. The moon still holds for you a million IOUs. The sun still rises and shines just for you. You still have every reason on earth to be brand new shiny bike proud and your favorite color can forever be purple.

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A Mother’s Love

I received another amazing review for my book yesterday. This one came from my mom’s boss in Canada. Her words meant so much to me because my biggest fear in putting our story out there, is how people will perceive my mother. So when the one person who loved my mom like I did, read it, got it and loved it; I was so relieved. My mother was loyal with an unmatched work ethic. Putting my story into the world to be read and judged and picked apart leaves little to be desired. But what worries me more than anything else, is making sure I capture the essence of my mother and paint the picture of her suffering as best I can so that people prepared to sit in judgement, by the end of my book, will place it in the direction of the only person deserving of that – my father.

photoPeople who hear a portion of my back story always say to me, “Where was your mother when this was happening to you?” And it hurts me every time it happens. I felt so much guilt because I used to think that too and in my teens and early twenties I placed blame on her for everything. And she never deserved it. She was a broken woman. But she was also love. She was integrity. She was loyalty personified. She was determined to never be someone else’s burden. But more importantly, she was the product of what my father put her through, and because of what she endured, she was unable to see herself as worthy and never got the support she needed. It was important for me to capture that. To ensure people understood the damage domestic violence and years of severe abuse does to a woman. How limiting poverty can be in the way it robs you of true choice and leaves you vulnerable with few options. How it strips you of every bit of wonderful and steals the life from your eyes.

Even though I am proud that my words are landing in the way I intended, I understand that sometimes it isn’t possible to recover from the unimaginable hell another damaged soul inflicts, because many times, shame and fear prevent a woman from reaching out for help. So even though I am anticipating judgement, I hope that after reading our story, because in writing it, I realised it was my mother’s story as much as it was mine, my hope is that I have been able to shed light and birth compassion for a number of issues – domestic violence being one of them. I am in no way naive enough to believe that all reviews will be positive and filled with praise. I will catch my share of awful, and I am preparing for this as best I can. No one has the world as her audience and that’s ok. I need to know who I am and not be attached to the praise or the criticism upon release of this book.

I understand I am holding up a very uncomfortable mirror for people. Some will rise to the challenge and make changes in their lives. Some will receive it and have their eyes open to a world they didn’t know existed. While others will choose to remain in the dark with their head safely buried in the sand. And it is all ok. So to those who will judge, I am doing it anyway because I know there are people out there who are starving for hope and stories of resilience. I am shedding a light on the underbelly of a first world epidemic we are shamed to keep silent. I am no victim and what I love more than anything hearing the feedback from those who received advance copies, is that people are getting that message loud and clear. My story is seen as triumphant, authentic, courageous and brave.

I hope I can open people’s eyes wide to the insidiousness of family violence and the devastation caused by this and sexual abuse. The secret. The shame. The impact. The damage. The prison. The potential perpetuation of the cycle. But most importantly, let people know it is NOT YOUR SHAME. To get out. To get help. To find the support. To break the silence and to let the healing begin. It won’t be easy; but it will be worth it.

At the end of the day, we are all responsible for our destiny and we are all worthy of love and belonging. The rewrite of our past may not be possible, but we are the only ones with the pen in our hand and a clean sheet of paper holding infinite potential to a destiny of choice. The most powerful weapon we possess is the ability to choose. Use your lived experience as lessons. Learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others. You may have suffered but that doesn’t make you irreparably damaged. In our darkest hour our deepest insights can be gained.

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My Memoir pre purchase link

My Memoir pre purchase link

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Flying on Broken Wings will be out this October in Australia and New Zealand but you can pre order where ever you live and receive free delivery.

To be honest with you, I am feeling a range of emotions – fear, pride, terror, excitement, relief, anticipation, anxiety, joy. But, I know my putting my story out there is the right decision and that courage really is contagious. People see me up on stage owning my story and letting go of that shame and it gives them permission to do the same. Many for the first time in their life. And it is thrilling to witness. When I stand up and perform my spoken word poem SOLD, I make a point now to look at as many faces in the crowd as I can. Many look shocked, sad, terrified. Tears have become the standard reaction. Some even look as though they wanna kill me,  which, as you can imagine jacks up my flow. But I have learned that it isn’t about me. I can’t take it personally because I don’t know their back story and what it is bringing up for them. All I am doing is planting a seed. Creating awareness. That’s it. If people then choose to nurture that and do what they need to do to step into their power and the life they were meant to live, that is up to them. I am just there to speak to the possibility of healing trauma

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FLYING ON BROKEN WINGS a memoir

My book is coming out this October! As many of you may know, I have decided to use my lived experience with the intention of becoming a beacon of hope for others lost in the sorrows they harbour in their mind as a result of past abuse. I want people to know that recovery from deep personal trauma is possible and feelings of hopelessness and despair, fear and shame can be absolved. That you can do so much more in life than just survive. And so it is with a mixture of nervousness and excitement that I introduce you to my upcoming memoir, entitled ‘Flying on Broken Wings’. 

Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 10.12.30 AMAll of us are broken to some extent but I am speaking to the possibility of rising on our broken wings and soaring. Stepping out of victim and transforming that mentality. What I have found, is I am reaching people who are the ones placed in the “broken beyond repair” category. They see me. They hear me in a way they are unable to with those who have not lived it, and they do so because they know that I can see them. I am their peer. I’ve been there. I get it – but most importantly, I have found a way to go beyond it. And I have done so by putting in practice gratitude and hope, while embracing my vulnerability. I finally decided to stop listening to those who told me to hide who I am. That I would get hurt. That I need to trust less and hide my heart. Coming forward with my story has helped me silence the critic and follow my own wisdom.

I was 9 years old when I was sold into a pedophile ring. This is the story of my escape from unimaginable suffering in Canada to my struggle to build a life many deemed impossible in Australia. Documenting my battle with the Refugee Review Tribunal in my fight for protection and the beautiful people who have helped me along the way as I navigated my way through the horror if my past.

I wrote this book to honour the capacity of the human spirit and it’s ability to not only endure, but to rise above. To show that we can still thrive in the face of adversity. Most importantly I am putting my work out there so that others can realize the shame they carry was never theirs to begin with.

This is my heart and soul bled on to each and every page. I am aware when artists put our work out there to be seen and judged, many of us in the process of creating, hold back. I did not. I tell the story from my heart to honour the child’s perspective. I was not explicit in the detail of the horrific abuse I suffered as a child, not because I feared judgement, but because I truly believe it is irrelevant. Where I am explicit is in describing what the abuse did to my spirit as a child and the impact I will likely always carry as an adult. I did not hold back there because it is critical society stop viewing the abuse of children in the apathetic way in which it does. Judges, parents, law makers, police officers, teachers. Everybody needs to be aware of this one fact: the first time a child is interfered with, their life is never going to be the same. The global response of sweeping sexual abuse under the rug causes irreparable damage. The message of shame and unworthiness that is embedded by this blatant inaction holds the equivalence of the abuse itself.

A good friend of mine recently told me that my words have confronting beauty. I am authentic in the message but I write in a way that although confronting, is poetic and creative. I give enough to describe what has happened but as mentioned, I am more explicit in the emotional impact. My publisher put it to me like this; he said the way I write about the details of abuse is like being close to a train wreck and you are able to turn away at the moment of impact. I thought that was a brilliant analogy. I do this for two reasons – for myself and others. When dealing with such heavy subject matter you risk people shutting down and turning away. I needed my message to not only land, but to resonate, transform, teach and inspire.

To order my book you can pre purchase here and receive free delivery 🙂

I will keep you all posted as to publication date and when my book is finally on the shelf and you can grab a copy for yourself. Again, thanks to all who support me. It means so much.

Carrie J. Bailee

 

 

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Not Letting Moments in Life Define You

“The Cave You Fear To Enter Holds The Treasure You Seek” – Joseph Campbell

 

Joseph Campbell was an American scholar, mythologist, writer and lecturer. In his book “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” first published in 1949, Campbell uses mythology to illustrate the ‘call to adventure’ bestowed upon all of us.

‘A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.’

The Hero’s Journey, while unique to every individual, the theme of overcoming adversity is universal and occurs in every culture since the beginning of time. As humans, we are all faced with challenges at some point in life. Campbell terms this the ‘call to adventure’. Initially, fear of the unknown may prevent us from crossing the threshold. Once the hero courageously accepts the challenge for growth and healing, they encounter trials, enemies and allies. At the height of their journey they face their greatest tribulation. Once they ‘slay their dragon’ and survive, they are rewarded with the gift of important self knowledge (boons). On the journey back they will encounter further challenges. But if the hero is successful in their journey of self discovery, the gifts (boons) they now possess can be shared with the world for the betterment of all.  

While our life experiences may play a part in shaping who we are, it is up to us to take control of our lives and determine where we are going and how gracefully we wish to get there.

It is all about not letting moments in life define you. 

As Campbell so brilliantly puts it:

“Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”Joseph Campbell

Begin with the reconstruction of your destiny. Build the life you want and stop making excuses. Take with you the knowledge gained from the painful experiences in life you took the time to work through and overcome. Don’t hang on to that which doesn’t serve. Why would you? It’s like dragging a dead horse around town. I mean, it can be done, but what on earth for?? Someone once told me we don’t hold onto anything that isn’t serving us in some way. I remember feeling really offended my that comment. But after walking away and thinking about it, I believe it is true. Feel the fear and do it anyway!

We cannot change our past experiences so why spend so much energy getting upset over something that no longer exists? Why do we let negative moments in the past define and limit us when the only time that matters is now? People get so worked up and stressed by things that have already happened and things that may never occur. And in doing so they miss out on the only time that actually exists…NOW. Yesterday and tomorrow are an illusion – neither exist in the moment and the only way we have access to them is in our mind – through our thoughts. Eckhart Tolle

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What to do when you are feeling overwhelmed:

  • Focus on your blessings – what you have rather than what you are lacking. Things you can’t control don’t waste your time worrying about them. Let it go.
  • Practice gratitude.
  • Find joy in the little things.
  • Live in the now.
  • Laugh.
  • Surround yourself with those who love you and build you up – not tear u down. Image
  • Have a look at the 5 people you spend the most time with. What do they add to your life?What do you learn from them? Seek out those who share your outlook. Your passions. Consciously seek out in life that which brings you joy. Also having the understanding that thoughts are powerful. So be mindful of where your mind tends to dwell.
  • Work on being that silent observer.

I was doing work with a friend once and he asked me a simple question. I can’t even remember what it was but it triggered a strong response from me as a memory of my childhood came up. I immediately fought back tears and anxiety. Too proud to cry, he knew I was struggling and told me to get up out of the chair and stand by the window.

‘Look at that girl in the chair.’ he said. ‘Remember what she was thinking and how she was responding to the thought.’ 

He gave me enough time to recall but wasn’t expecting me to tell him what the thought was. Within an instant I could feel the tears well up again. He noticed the shift in my energy and quickly told me to stand over by the wall.

‘Now look at that girl in the chair.’ he said. ‘Now notice the girl by the window. They are both experiencing sadness, yes?’

Finally I had my ah ha moment delivered via the gift of perspective.

I was upset in the chair and then again by the window, but for different reasons. The girl in the chair was experiencing deep grief for a trauma she had endured as a child. The girl observing this happening standing in front of the window was experiencing empathy for what was happening for the girl in the chair. It wasn’t until I had the distance between myself and what was going on that I was able to articulate what was happening for me. I was able to become the silent observer of my thoughts and not get sucked into the emotion of it. I let it be, knowing I would be fine, and the emotion passed.

 

I remind myself daily what is important to me. Being courageous, kind and authentic always appear at the top of my list. I don’t always achieve this but if I can get to the end of the day and say in all honesty I did my best, I’m good with that. We are not going to play anyone in life better than we can  play the role of ourselves. I believe we are all blessed with unique gifts that will benefit the world in some way. I also believe it is our experiences that make us able to do so. In our darkest hour our greatest insight is gained.

 

For me, going through the hell I endured as a child, I know that I am incapable of breaking. There is a knowing in me that exists not because of what I have endured, but rather what I have overcome. Hitting rock bottom doesn’t have to destroy us. If that was the case, I would have been dead a hundred times over. I’m ok with failing. Because I know if I fall, I dust myself off and get back up – and am always stronger for it.

I want to illuminate the way for others who have suffered what many consider to be insurmountable traumas and speak to the possibility of overcoming and rising above anything. And it is working!!! Every time I speak to people, whether it be large groups or individually, I am simply planting a seed. Showing another way to go about our lives. Changing our thoughts and the way we feel about ourselves and our place in the world. We don’t have to be victims, limited by past experiences. It is up to us to decide how we spend our life on this planet. Why stay stuck on the past and have the present moment pass you by?

I came across a comment the other day I would like to leave you with. It resonates such truth and wisdom. It really is the simplest of changes that can make the most dramatic shifts possible.

 

“The potency of your highest thought, the strength of your strongest belief, the balm of your softest word and the truth of your most honorable action can shift everyone’s experience of life on this planet. – Change your words. Change your world.”  –  Andrea Gardner

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Courage is Contagious

authenticity

Last week Melinda Tankard Reist invited me to present with her to a group of Year 10 students at a Melbourne girls’ school. I had written a blog post a few days prior to my visit and couldn’t bring myself to publish it. I felt too vulnerable, too exposed. I promised myself that if the girls’ response was positive, I would publish it. As I was reading my piece, containing confessions I had never told a soul, the room fell silent. All I could hear was my heart pounding. I was too scared to look up so I continued to read. The end of my writing seemed a million miles away and all I wanted to do was finish and hope I wouldn’t be judged too harshly. As I was speaking about the importance of vulnerability for healing, I was feeling so uncomfortably vulnerable myself.
Part way through my reading, I remembered my friend’s advice to me earlier that morning: “Speak from your heart, be true and you will always hit the mark.” Taking a deep breath I looked up at them for the first time. They were still. Some were crying. My heart sunk. But I continued to read. Owning my story I focussed on the greater message I wanted to resonate with these girls; let go of the shame that is keeping you disconnected from who you truly are and know that you are worthy of love and belonging.

The tissue boxes were being passed around, as I continued to deliver my message. When I got to the part about my hospitalisation for a suicide attempt in grade 9, I could feel my stomach tighten. I hoped so badly I wasn’t going to be judged. Admitting to the eating disorder was, strangely given all I’ve been through, the hardest to confess. I carried a lot of shame for this. But I also know that it is so common amongst girls and if I can reach one girl who is struggling with it and let her know she isn’t alone, I just had to do it.

Straight after the blog post was shared I launched into my poem. 1185542_10151926557689923_163433392_nI had only performed it once before and never without reading it. Feeling confident I now knew it, I began to recite off by heart. It naturally flowed as though a memory deep inside held the words and all I had to do was trust and surrender and my soul would do the rest. When I had finished the room remained as still as when I had begun sharing 20 or so minutes before. Taking a deep breath I looked into their faces. I wasn’t prepared for their reaction. The room erupted. Through their tears they clapped and cheered me. I was honestly shocked. I turned to Melinda who was crying as well and insistently pointing across the room and  for me to look. I turned and in that group of maybe 100 girls, one brave soul had risen on her own to give me a standing ovation. Crying unashamedly, she stood tall and clapped. It touched me so deeply I broke down and for the first time, I began to cry.

In that moment of affirmation, I realised the importance of my own voice and how risking vulnerability and being courageous gives others permission to rise above and do the same. I knew then that what I was doing with my life mattered. Probably most importantly, everything I had been through wasn’t in vain. My father may have taken much away from me, but the gift rising above years of suffering has given me, I am now ready to bestow on others.  And anything that was once lost in my childhood, I am getting it back ten fold.

Dr Brene Brown, an American researcher and storyteller defines courage as the ability to stand up and tell your story with your whole heart. She has a Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability. UnknownHer talk gave me the courage to do what I am now doing with my life. She speaks of the “wholehearted” having an ability to live authentically. To stand up in all of their imperfections and be seen, truly seen. Admittedly, this has always been me, but I certainly never saw this as a strength. Many friends of mine have always given me a hard time for this. Warning me I was too trusting. Too open with my honesty and lecturing me on how it would get me hurt. I never understood this as I always valued honesty very highly. And despite everything I have been through in life, I see the good in humanity and am always shocked when people lie and hurt others.

I had honestly questioned if anything I had to say could possibly be of value to the girls. During the question time a teacher made a comment about none of them having been through anything near as traumatic as what I had. I was so glad she brought this up because it gave me the opportunity to say this:

We live in a society that compares our pain and suffering to others. We rate it. If we have been through something awful, we judge someone who is not coping with something relatively minor in comparison. If we have been through “minor” and are feeling hopeless we are ashamed of ourselves because we feel we have no right. Out of everything that has ever happened in my life, the most devastating blow for me was the serious knee injury I suffered, ending all hopes I had of playing university ball. Basketball had become my savior as a child and teen. I may have felt powerless off the court, but on the court I dominated. People respected me. Pain is pain and all loss is grief. It is all relative and felt and handled differently by everyone. We have no right to judge another by what we perceive they should be able to handle and in turn, we have to be gentle on ourselves and if something hurts, it hurts. And we reach out and tell someone.

After Melinda and I finished the workshop, I was surrounded and completely embraced by the girls. Some came  up individually to have a chat to me, others came in groups and hugged me tightly. As everybody eventually began to file out, I looked up and that girl who gave me the standing ovation was alone in front of me. She was crying and shaking and I reached out to hold her. In that moment I truly got it. We all have pain that we hide from the world and the relief we feel when we know we are not alone is so freeing. They weren’t crying out of devastation. They were crying because they realised they weren’t alone in this struggle of life and that if shame keeps us disconnected and silent, standing up and being seen and embraced despite our imperfections is critical to healing. So if by owning my story and talking about shame and how letting it go paves the way to help set others free, I’m happy driving that truck and laying down the road for others to walk upon.

I will leave you with several of the responses I received on my Melbourne Freedom Page from the beautiful girls. They say I have made a difference in their lives but what I would like them to know is that they have profoundly affected mine. I walked into that room ready to discuss letting go of shame while I myself still had a little of my own and feared they would judge me. To experience not only no judgement but young girls looking up to me and seeing me as brave and courageous, made me become even more fearless in my determination to reach as many young people as I can. They showed me that what I had to say mattered. That because I risked vulnerability and stood before them in all of my imperfections and was embraced for and despite everything, it gave them permission to do the same.

I guess courage really is contagious!

Dear Carrie,

I know that after your talk to my school group on Thursday that you have probably received quite a few of these messages but I far too often bite my tongue and don’t say the things I want to so, in the spirit of Thursday talk, I felt I just had to tell what an impact you had made on me.

I have anxiety, quite badly. I’ve had it for around 2 and a half maybe three years and it can also send me into depressive states, the two are sort of linked in a chicken/egg manner where it’s hard to tell which causes the other. My anxiety is confusing, I know a lot of things that make me anxious but not a whole lot that doesn’t and I know that I can get very sad for no reason at all and then suddenly it becomes about everything. I am getting help but for me both my depression and especially my anxiety have been very shameful things.

When you started talking about shame, a lot of things clicked in me and a lot of things triggered. Shame of my anxiety kept me from telling my parents about my anxiety till only a few months ago, shame of my anxiety had me passing panic attacks off as dizzy spells and sudden sickness, shame of my anxiety made it so much worse. Shame stopped me from telling anyone anything, let alone everything. I guess I thought that maybe I deserved my depression and my anxiety, that this was all punishment for things that I had done, even when I hadn’t even done anything wrong.

So, when you started talking about shame , something inside me clicked big time. I was crying and listening and every word you meant made sense. I cannot imagine the horror you have gone through nor the strength it has taken to have turned your life in the amazing gift it is today, but every word you said about shame sunk into me , it stuck, something that’s never really happened before. You made me honestly believe that I don’t have to carry this weight with me, that shame is a wall that can be broken down, that I am worthy and I matter. The last 24 hours have been a bit of a blur but all I know is that you have honestly changed my life Carrie and will never be able to thank you enough. I know that my anxiety and my depression are not quick fixes or solvable at the flick of a switch but I feel like you have turned on this little light in my head and its slowly getting brighter.

I also have to say that, as a writer of poetry and songs, a huge lover of spoken word poetry and just as a listener, your poem was one of the most moving and beautiful works I have ever heard. You are incredibly brave and compassionate and I cannot imagine the immense strength that you have, please don’t stop doing what you are doing you have so many more lives to change.  x Ace

Hi Carrie,

I just wanted to say the biggest thankyou to you, for coming to talk to us today. It was the most inspiring speech I have ever heard. It truly gave us all an insight into the harsh reality of our world, but it also gave us motivation and courage, that things that are tough and challenging can be overcome. Personally, I have been/am going through a few of the things you talked about, and to hear you talk about it in such a positive way, truly gives me hope.

I was crying all through your talk today, because through every word you said, I felt so much emotion. Again, I would like to say the biggest thankyou. You are so brave, and I hope everyone you talk to sees the pain you went through, but I hope they all see the positive outcome of everything. So again, thankyou x x x Traci

Hey Carrie,
You were at my school today and I wanted to come talk to you about how amazing you are for what you talked about and have been through, and how a lot of what you said I’ve felt and been through and am still going through now but I was too nervous. I just wanna say you truly are an inspiration and have so much courage. I know what it’s like to feel like im not worth it and at the end of year 9 I tried something stupid too. So yeah I dunno just thank you for making me feel like I’m not alone. And I’m so sorry for what you went through. To come out the courageous woman you are today is amazing. I really wanted to (come up and tell you this in person) But people in the year already whisper about my scars and I didn’t want it anymore. Wow you are actually such a gorgeous person. I wasn’t having such a good night but its amazing what a few words can do. Thank you. I know everyone today absolutely loved you so I do hope you keep telling your story. I love writing too and that poem was omg just took my breath away. Melissa x

Hi Carrie, Thank you so much for coming to our school today. I’ve heard a lot of speeches and talks at school and your poem was honestly the best of them all! It really inspired all of us, and it was so empowering.

“I will be that voice and rise up and speak for the 27 million voiceless,” is my favourite line from your poem, and I really hope that you can achieve this. Good luck for the future, and thanks again for the massive impact and inspirational talk you shared with us; it really taught us a lot. Alyssa xx

Hi! You spoke to my year level today and at the end I gave you a hug but I just wanted to say thankyou so so so so much from sharing your story and your poem with us and I think that because you can laugh and smile even after everything you’ve been through is the bravest thing ever! You really are an inspiration for girls and a role model. I was going to tell you today but I thought I would cry so I didn’t but thank you so much xxxxx Anna

Hey, I just wanted to say thank you so much for today’s talk, honestly you have changed my life and your now on the list of people who I will never forget. For me personally you reminded me to stop playing the victim to my own situations of depression and sexual abuse from the past, you reminded me that should be proud and happy to be where I am and you unpowered me to be the person I want to be and for this I can’t thank you enough. What you are doing is so incredibly brave and inspiring. to be honest your entire story made me ‘ugly girl cry’ for quite awhile, for awhile now I have felt like teenagers and society need to learn about the things that were discussed on thursday, but I honestly didn’t think anyone was actually doing what you do. For a large number of teenagers I know boys and girls, I know they have dealt with guilty, mistreatment and in some horrible causes like mine some form of sexual assault. I felt un empowered to stick up for myself and had no idea how to spread the message that these things can be risen above and we shouldn’t have to just accept them. I’m so happy to see that someone as amazing and inspiring as you is spreading the message. Thank you Maritaxx

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Little Girl Lost – If I Knew Then What I Know Now

images-1Last week I shared my story for the first time so candidly with a group of grade 10 girls. A few days prior to the school visit I had written my most vulnerable blog entry but hadn’t the courage to publish it. I figured, if I was brave enough to share it with the girls and their response was favorable, I would ‘dare greatly’ and put it out there. In my wildest dreams, their reaction to me could never be as astounding as it was. They have been so affirming in their acceptance of me that I found in them the courage I was lacking. So as promised to the girls and to myself, here is my most vulnerable piece to date.

I often wonder if men and boys ever consider the damage their unwanted hands on the unwilling bodies and souls of girls does to us. Would they still abuse, degrade and objectify even if they knew the end result 100% of the time at the very least leads to shame? And at the worse leads to irreparable damage to the girl’s self worth. How she views her body. How it impacts her sexuality and spirituality. Impairs her ability to trust and be intimate and many times threatens her desire to even live?

Shame is a topic I have become somewhat of an expert on during the course of my life. I remember the first time I felt it, how it consumed me, how it made me view myself as unloveable and how it kept me disconnected and silent for years.

When I was 4, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. It had spread into her lymph nodes and her chance of survival was very slim. The day she left for the hospital I was given two outcomes from both parents. My mother took me aside and told me she was going away to work really hard at getting better so she could return to my little sister and I. My father told me she was going away to die. That she would die because I was bad and that my mother blamed me for making her sick.

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My fourth birthday

His words did two things to me that day. They disconnected me from my mother and they kept me silent for 10 years while he tortured me in ways I don’t have the words to tell you.

For so long I believed I was the cause of my mother’s illness. That even though she somehow managed to ‘survive me’, I knew deep down she must have hated me. And as I write this, I am only now realizing the main reason I kept my father’s abuse to myself was because I believed that was the punishment I deserved for nearly killing my mother – with cancer.

Although I will not get into the specifics of what happened to me in that 10 year period, what I will do is specifically tell you what the sexual abuse at the hands of my father and the men he sold me to did to me as a child, a teenager and a woman.

As a child, I walked around in a state of such dissociation, I often wondered what it felt like to be alive. I would watch other kids play while I sat on the sidelines pulling out my eyelashes and have no ability to connect with their joy. Other times, I would somehow manage to play but it was never really me doing it. Even when I laughed, a sound and expression so foreign to me in my early years, I remained so far away that I became the silent observer to the shell of myself that showed up every day in the world to represent the facade.

As a teenager, I got even better at sending the “representative” girl out into the world. My humor became the lie that would hide the truth of my pain. I knew what I was hiding no person would understand, and so for years I stayed silent. Out of fear of the threats I received and most probably because I believed at a deep level I was as bad as I was told. And so I would try to be as good as my damaged soul allowed. But anger consumed me, shame blinded me to my own potential and I hated myself for existing. I hated my mother for hating me, I hated my sister for all the times I protected her and I hated my father for destroying my soul daily before the divorce and then every other weekend there after. But mostly I hated life for not ever giving me a chance to become the person I could have been had it been different for me.

I tried to kill myself at the end of grade 9. I was 15. It was the last time I would ever see my father. I developed an eating disorder not long after that. My life was spiraling out of control, at least the one thing in my control was calories. The strange thing about it was when I wanted to punish myself or reward myself I would do it in the same way – through starving. To this day it is a battle I continue to manage. I ran away 4 months after my suicide attempt and lived in a shelter for a few weeks. I met a man who was 10 years older than me (though I knew to cut the age gap in half when others asked) He turned out to be the pimp who would pick up where my father left off. The common denominator in all of this abuse was me. So naturally the conclusion I drew was unanimously this; my worth as a girl was universally nothing. Some unwritten permissive clause I came with that gave men the go ahead to hurt my body again and again. This became the confirmation in a lifetime of lessons bestowed upon me since I was 4 years old – Girls don’t matter.

As a result of everything I have been through, I have never in my life been able to have a close, intimate relationship with another person where I feel safe enough to be completely in the moment. Even when I work hard at being fully present, my fears eventually surface and old trauma causes me to drift away into the familiar places my mind would take me as a child. Triggers surround me and every person’s expression holds a certain piece of my past.

Men scare the hell out of me and to be honest, I don’t know how to relate to them. I become frightened and angry at unwanted attention and I believe my ability to trust any man has been irreparably damaged. We live in a society where growing up as a girl isn’t safe. And if you’re not safe in your own family, how on earth do you find a way to trust you will be safe in the world? The fact of the matter is, even women who have not experienced abuse and assault still have the fear of vulnerability somewhere on the back of their mind. We all at some point have run through safety plans in any given situation when we are alone with a male and something just doesn’t feel right. When alone at night and walking an empty dim lit street to the car. When we have to leave our friends to make that taxi ride home. When we are out jogging and hear the footsteps of a stranger’s approach.

Now multiply the hyper vigilance for those of us who have been victims of violence perpetrated by men. How much more difficult must it be for the girl who has been raped to have to climb into a cab at 3 in the morning and trust that the male driver will get her home safely? How much faster does our heart beat when we get into an elevator and we are alone with other men? When we have to walk quickly through the car park and only properly breathe when safely in the car? When you personally know the damage a man is capable of committing, I don’t know how you find a way to navigate your way through life, trusting that you will be safe.

But what I do know is this. If I knew then what I know now, the conversation I needed to hear when I was four and thought I deserved it, would have gone like this;

imagesYou matter! You are worthy of love and belonging. You are precious and deserving and not once did you ask for any of this. Girls are gifts to be cherished and protected. Valued and respected. You need to know that you weren’t to blame for anything anyone ever did to you. That the burden shame forced upon you was never yours to begin with. Baby, it wasn’t that you were un-loveable. It was that they were incapable of loving. Your father was so blinded by his own hurt, hate and pain that he missed out on the one gift that had the power to save him from himself, had he let you. He didn’t see the way you looked up at him. Or knew of the perfect relationship you both shared when you dreamt. He missed the times you reached out to put your hand in his, looking into his eyes hoping to make that connection. The connection that could have changed everything. He hated himself so much that he couldn’t see the love your eyes held for him – even during the times he hurt you.

Do you know the greatest gift a daughter can give her father is her heart and her trust? And you were able to do that time and again – even when he didn’t deserve it. At some level you knew that your love was exactly what he needed to experience healing and transformation. You gave it freely and despite the pain inflicted upon you, you continued to love him. Do you know how special that makes you? Do you know how much you matter? Do you know that you have never been the names you were called? That not once did you deserve or invite what they chose to do?

I see you in all that you are and love you without conditions. I marvel at who you will come to be and am in awe of the courage and vulnerability co-existing within. You have an untouched dignity despite what was done to you. Your ability to laugh through the pain while the tears fall like rain down your face makes me shake my head in wonder. You will rise above as you have time and again because you have a resilience and a knowing that words fail to express. Thank you so much for keeping hope alive on the darkest of days. For continuing to trust the ground was always below you even when you couldn’t see it. And I have only now realized perhaps the reason the ground was never in your sight was because you continued to look to the sky. Knowing always that one day you would soon be free to soar and reach the infinite heights of your destiny.

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A Canadian Refugee’s Reunion with the Woman Who Helped Secure Her Freedom

According to the Australian Parliamentary Library, in 1998, the year I applied for refugee status, there were 8257 protection visa applications lodged. Of that number, only 1834 were granted – 985 at the primary decision stage and 741 following review by the Refugee Review Tribunal. 108 were granted visas by ministerial discretion.

One of those was mine.

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As there are hundreds of thousands of refugees worldwide each year, fleeing my home country and standing before the Tribunal in no way makes my story unique. Nor does the fact I was rejected for political reasons and later successful in joining that small group of 108 people who were chosen to be issued a visa on compassionate grounds. What I believe sets my story apart is the fact that I did not originate from a war torn or politically unstable country. I fled a country that actually takes in thousands of refugees each year. So of those 8257 applications I’m fairly confident that I was the only refugee fleeing Canada.

When I was 20, I fled Canada and came to Australia for two simple reasons; it was English speaking and as far from my past as I could travel. I stepped off of that plane 16 years ago not knowing one person and began to build the life I had always dreamed about as a child. I reported the abuse I suffered in Canada to Australian authorities. Knowing my life was in danger and there was no life for me back in Canada, I went underground and spent 2 years hiding in shelters and women’s refuges. I was put in contact with Australia’s leading trauma therapist, Dr Helen Driscoll. She had a lengthy wait list and was taking no further referrals. I had no money, no entitlements, but she took me on anyway. And in doing so she changed the course of my life.

In December 1998, I was told to apply for Refugee Status because the dangers I faced were as real and the suffering comparable to many refugees seeking protection.  My advisors said I was one of the “invisible refugees”.The problem with my case was it had never been tried before. There were no legislation, clauses,  or regulations stipulating that human trafficking survivors were to be protected. We knew I would be rejected – – and I was. During my battle to seek asylum I became pregnant. It didn’t make any difference. I was going to be deported anyway. What was being said was “Get rid of both of them before she is 7 months pregnant and can still travel”  and “Let her stay and have the baby. As the baby has an Australian father she will be able to stay but the mother has to go back to Canada.”

Dr. Driscoll never gave up. She continued to write to humanitarians,  Members of Parliament and anyone having any political influence who might be interested in helping my plight. My case landed in the hands of dozens of people who could have at least tried to fight for my freedom. Sadly, most people contacted we never heard back from or if we did, the standard response was, “Although we empathize with your situation, there is nothing we can do.” It was difficult to not lose hope. There was no way I could return to Canada and spend the duration of my life in fear – or worse. But it looked as though my dream of gaining freedom in Australia would never come to be. That is, until my letter came across the desk of Melinda Tankard Reist. She was working as an advisor to Independent Senator Brian Harradine and handled refugee matters. Unlike the others we contacted, Melinda looked at my case and instead of throwing it in the too hard basket, she took it personally and cared enough to write a compelling letter on the Senator’s behalf to the Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock.  I have never forgotten how the letter ended: “Minister, I ask you to act in the best interest of this young woman and her unborn baby.”

I was eight months pregnant and even though I had moved in with my baby’s father, once you apply for a visa and receive a rejection – you are not awarded another chance. All other avenues had been exhausted. This was my final stop. My fate rested in the hands of one man. All we could do was wait for the Minister’s decision and hope it was favorable.

In June 2000, nine months after receiving the request to intervene, the Minister had come to a decision. After carrying my baby for nine months without any entitlements to health care, insurance or money to receive assistance in delivering my daughter, my fight to remain in Australia was over. I had been granted asylum on compassionate grounds at the Minister’s discretion and had been awarded a partner visa. I could finally begin my life a million miles away from where it initially began.

Fourteen years have since passed, and I never did thank Melinda for writing that letter. After being granted asylum I just wanted to leave that part of my life behind. I had two wonderful daughters, we were safe and I was content with that. I had survived and was focused on moving forward. But I realised  I could do so only because of the help of others, and when so many women in situations similar to mine continued to be left behind, it was my turn to go back and offer my hand.

I decided then to tell my story of determination, hope and love in the face of extreme adversity in a way that resonated with people and inspired them, rather than just caused them to pity me. To open people’s hearts and minds, helping them realise that they have the internal resources to rise up and not be limited by past suffering. That it is possible to not only survive trauma, but to flourish and go on to live a significant life.

And then, as it has so many other times throughout my life, serendipity breezes by and the universe helps fate along. As I started sharing my story, some significant names in the social justice arena began showing interest in what I was trying to achieve. A friend introduced me to Elliot Costello, son of Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision Australia. One Saturday morning a few months back, Elliot introduced me to his parents. We went to a cafe and they listened as I told my story. What I hadn’t expected was the twist that would surprise us all. Tim Costello seemed most interested when I started talking about never losing hope and the message I wished to convey to others about the freedom in forgiveness. When I mentioned my desire to bring awareness to the fact that human trafficking is not just a third world issue, he appeared to have had an “ah-ha” moment and told me he knew the perfect person to introduce me to – Melinda Tankard Reist, a strong advocate for women and girls and a leading voice in the anti-trafficking coalition.

As soon as he mentioned her name, my mind flashed back to the hundreds of support letters and documents I had filed away after gaining asylum. Scribbled across one document’s fax cover read, “For your records. Regards Melinda Reist.” The reason I remembered it so vividly was because after winning my freedom, I read over that support letter at least one hundred times. I quoted the closing words of the letter she drafted to anybody I told my story to. I shared it again. Elliot couldn’t believe it. Neither could Tim.526470_10151796509275115_1179150946_n

Tim looked at me with a smile and shook his head. Picking up his phone early that morning, he rang the woman who helped secure my freedom. She answered straight away. They spoke briefly and then he said, “Melinda listen, I have a young lady here with me at the moment who says you wrote a letter for her to Phillip Ruddock when you worked for Harradine that helped her get asylum.”

She then asked if I was the Canadian girl sold into the pedophile/prostitution ring. In his loud booming voice, Tim repeated her words across the table to me. I wanted the earth to swallow me whole as half the room dropped their fork and stared. Instead of nodding politely, I shot back, “Easy cowboy, I’m not printing t-shirts just yet!” Clearly she remembered me…as would the rest of that crowded cafe.
One month ago, again as luck would have it, Melinda and I were in northern Queensland at the same time. I was holidaying with my girls, and she was speaking at an international conference. We decided to catch up. I cannot begin to describe the emotions that came up for all of us. Fourteen years ago she wrote a compelling letter to help save two lives and standing before her was myself and the now teenage ‘unborn baby’ she wrote about. After spending all these years wondering how we had fared, now she could see for herself. Mother and baby were indeed very well!  And now we are working to address the trafficking issue.

My life may have been tough to begin with, but I have had more good people go out of their way to help than anybody I have ever met. The blessings in my life far outweigh the tragedies. I am loving living and very excited for the journey that lies ahead.

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2013 The Year of Courage – How Brave Am I Willing To Be To Help Inspire Enduring Change In The World?

I have decided to stand up and use my lived experience to inspire others who have been traumatised and let them know it is possible to come out whole on the other side of anything, and show them how I did it. I survived being sold into a child pedophile/pornography ring when I was 9 years old. I am willing to tell my story of despair, determination, hope and love in the face of extreme adversity in a way that resonates with people and touches on their inspiration – not their pity. My goal is to open people’s hearts and minds, helping them realise that they have the internal resources within themselves to rise up and not be limited to past suffering. That it is possible to not only survive trauma, but to flourish and go on to live a significant life.Image

My intent with this blog is to track my story since deciding to go public with my past life experience. I guess you could say I took a massive leap of faith back in early January when I made the decision to trust and surrender to whatever would come my way. No easy task, can I just say. But I did it! (not before losing 14% of my body weight…but that seems to be under control! Ha!) I continue to do it and doors keep opening up for me. And I truly believe you know you’re on the path of grace when things fall into place effortlessly. When everything aligns with no rhyme or reason and the right people “just so happen” to present themselves.

In just a few short months I have gone from being the girl who would take a zero in high School before she would risk getting up and speaking in front of 20 classmates, to now putting myself out there, risking vulnerability and finding the courage to stand up in front of many people to be seen and heard. And I mean truly seen in all of my imperfections. And people are responding to it. I am inspiring others to risk vulnerability as well. Because I believe that deep down, we all want to be seen and heard. Every single one of us wants to deeply connect. The only thing that holds us back is our fear. Our fear of being rejected. What if who I really am isn’t good enough? If people really knew how I felt they would hate me. Well, I’m here to tell you it just ain’t so.

Come take this journey with me as I risk everything I think I know only to discover a world beyond my expectations. The kindness of strangers has been staggering. Learn of my journey writing my life’s story. Documenting the horror and the triumph. Walk with me as I discover how brave I am willing to be as I conquer my fears and push myself beyond my comfort zone to help bring awareness to a cause and create enduring and sustainable change tackling a global problem many don’t want to know about. But more importantly, share in the stories I will tell of those inspired to step out of the victim mentality and boldly reclaim the life that never should have been taken from them to begin with. Because the most important point of my journey is to transcend the victim/trauma story.

Happily Ever After is a possible ending, no matter how horrific the beginning!

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