Feeling Triumphant, Transforming the Traumas of my Life Through Storytelling

Recently I viewed an inspiring Ted Talk by Andrew Solomon titled, How the Worst Moments in Our Lives Make Us Who We Are. Solomon presents a provocative argument outlining how challenges have the power to change us when we use them as opportunities to forge meaning in our lives. He then expands to the next task, which is to build identity, and in the process, change the world.

 

If, as Solomon adheres, stories are the foundation of our identity, then the stories we tell about ourselves are vitally important. I decided to look back at the worst moments of my own life and examine how I might forge meaning and build identity and tell a new, empowering story.

When I was four years old I was sexually abused, repeatedly, by my babysitter’s son. It is extremely difficult to forge meaning from that, but, if nothing else, I developed resilience and strength from that experience. I protected my light and I kept my faith in humankind. But the gifts were even greater. In therapy, years later, I had a vision of that time. God took my face in his hands and turned it away so I couldn’t see what was happening. That trauma gave me my first opportunity to accept and receive God’s love.

At the age of fifteen, I was raped. The triumph for me inside of that worst moment was in my ability to forgive. I recognized his insecurities and lack of self-love. I felt sorry for him, that he was so deep in the darkness. I knew what happened ravaged my body, mind and emotions, but it didn’t touch my spirit. He tried to steal my light, but he could not. My faith in God grew stronger, and accordingly, my inner strength.

I was pregnant with my second child when I was diagnosed with Diabetes. The doctors presumed it was Gestational, but as it would turn out, I had Type I Diabetes as well as Hyperthyroidism. Having two chronic immune diseases has been a gift for me in so many ways. It has given me deep empathy for others who suffer from illness. It has given me a profound appreciation for my life. I am grateful for medicine and invention and life-saving insulin.

Solomon conjectures in his presentation that being married and having children has special meaning for him because it hasn’t always been that way for the gay community. In fact, it is a right recently granted, yet still denied in many places across the planet. I feel similarly about having Diabetes. The discovery of insulin was only made in the 1920’s. Before then, I wouldn’t have survived. But for the miracle of when I was born, I did. I am a survivor.

My father passed away when I was only 34 years old. I was a Daddy’s girl. My relationship with my father was one of ease and flow. I always was present to his unconditional love. I loved how I perceived myself through the mirror of his eyes, and when that was gone, I felt lost. My grief took me on yet another spiritual journey, where I learned how to love eternally. It took me seven years, but I finally understood that my father lives forever in my heart.

In 2007 I experienced a major depressive episode. I was 41, and my age, wisdom and maturity created the possibility for incredible transformation. I was determined to uncover the causes of my extreme unhappiness. It was uncomfortable as hell, digging through all the muck, but the excavation of my authentic self and the revelation of many truths was a priceless outcome.

Most recently, at the age of 51, the most devastating and difficult to overcome trauma occurred in the form of a disclosure. It was horrifying. It turned my life upside down. It re-wrote the story of my life and challenged my identity. But it also had the power of making some of my relationships even stronger and deeper than they were before. It had me call upon my inner strength and my faith in God and brought me back to daily prayer.

I am beginning to learn the spiritual law of detachment. My ability to discern is developing. And I am making huge strides in my Letting Go journey. As I said in conversation with my Mister, “Life’s challenges are the sandpaper that smooths out our rough edges, revealing the masterpiece that God created us to become.”

According to Buddhist teachings, difficulty is inevitable and in fact is an important part of the spiritual path, where real transformation can take place. Pema Chodron states, “We can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is.”

 Adversity is addressed in the Christian faith, and in James we read, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”

My perception of reality and my relationship with myself and the world all work together to create the story of my life. Yes, there has been great pain. There has also been great joy. That is Life, for all of us. I get to choose my reality. You do too. What is your story? How can you reframe the worst moments of your life to forge meaning and build identity?

 

So yeah, I’m feeling triumphant, transforming the traumas of my life through storytelling.

 

Feeling Called to Action, Ready to Speak Up for Women’s Equality and be a Feminist

Thursday, March 08, 2018 is International Women’s Day and this year the theme is the Time is Now.

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Around the world events are being run by women’s networks, corporations, charities, educational institutions, political parties and media. In London they are celebrating women in Technology; in Alberta the focus is on influential women. Brisbane is hosting a fun run while Melbourne’s theme is 1000 Women, 1000 Futures. In Vancouver they are presenting Making the Case for Women’s Equality: Reframing a Hyper-Sexualized and Pornographic Culture. In Ontario they are hosting a Shefights amateur Mathai event; in Dubai there is a women’s Art Expo and in Nigeria the main event features Fashion Business. The possibilities to get involved are myriad, with something to inspire everyone.

The Women’s March movement has shown endurance from its inception, with more than 120,000 protestors gathering in New York City advocating for causes from reproductive freedom to immigrant’s rights. According to a statement made in Vox on January 20, 2018, “We’re not going anywhere.”

Movements like #MeToo and #PressforProgress are calls to action to end patriarchy and support gender parity.

The lack of gender parity in education is one of the most important situations that needs to be addressed. It continues to be a significant factor in many parts of the world, including Pakistan, Africa, and Afghanistan, to name a few. In a powerful Ted Talk titled, To Learn is To be Free, Shameem Akhtar advocates for change in opportunities for education in Pakistan. Shameen is a trailblazer for a woman’s right to an education in her community. Posing as a boy to receive her own education, her success planted the seeds of change for other women and girls.

 

Global Sisterhood is a movement of women devoted to transforming themselves and transforming the world together. Their vision is one of a world where women respect, trust, and uplift each other.

You don’t have to join a movement to make a difference though. You can start right now, by making a conscious choice to empower the women in your community. You can notice when you think or speak judging statements and reframe them, choosing to practice compassion and empathy instead.

Currently I’m reading Warrior Goddess Training by Heatherash Amara. One of the activities in the work book was to explore female role models in your life with the goal of identifying their qualities that inspire you. My list was long, but my top three were Oprah, Margaret Atwood, and Brene Brown. Oprah for her awareness and commitment to make a difference, Margaret for the power of her voice in the written word, and Brene for her willingness to be vulnerable and address social issues. It is my wish to embody those attributes in my commitment to myself and to making change in the world.

Living as an ex-pat in Saudi Arabia, I have witnessed incredible change since my arrival in May of 2015, and progress for women is no exception. In October 2017 King Salman decreed women would be allowed to drive, to be effective in June 2018. Women no longer need a man’s permission to travel, study or make complaints. There are more women in the workforce. Recently I read an article where a religious cleric advocated that women should no longer be required to wear abayas; that it should be a choice.

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Choice, freedom, and equality are the central themes of feminism. Unfortunately, the ideology of feminism has been given a bad reputation. Some men who feel threatened by women reclaiming their power would have you believe that all feminists are lesbian man-haters, but these ridiculous statements are merely smokescreens to distract men and women from creating real and honest change. Writer and self-proclaimed feminist, Ngozi Adichie, speaks passionately in her Ted Talk, We Should All Be Feminists. She urges us all to be begin to dream about and plan for a better world, where men and women all take a stand for equality and women no longer need to shrink themselves to feed a man’s ego.

 

It isn’t only women who suffer from the restraints of a patriarchal legacy. Men suffer too. They are driven to be hard, macho, insensitive and unfeeling. They are told not to cry and to buck up. Men need to be given the space to embrace their fullness as human beings. They are so much more than the genetic result of the y chromosome.

As for me, I feel called to contribute using the talents and gifts I have been given. I choose to be a positive advocate for change by using my most powerful tool, which is my voice. I choose to speak my truth, to be open and honest in my conversations. I will continue to write my blogs and write my books. I will not tone myself down to make other people more comfortable.

I choose to change the world by changing mine. To quote Maya Angelou, “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” I may not be a young girl, but I’ve still got some ass-kicking left in me.

So yeah, I’m feeling called to action, ready to speak up for women’s equality and be a feminist.

Feeling Compelled; Wanting to Recover the Feminine from the Bonds of a Patriarchal Society

I’ve been feeling with intensity the rising global energy of women who are tired of being subjugated, belittled, or treated as ‘less than’ in any way. It resonates deep inside me, within the legacy of my own inheritance of the cycle of abuse, as well as in the experiences of women from other cultures, with other experiences, all over the world.

The bondage is pervasive and complex. It is woven into the fabric of women’s stories about our bodies, our minds, our emotions and our souls.

Women are dictated to by men on how to treat their bodies. In some cultures, women are viewed as prizes or trophies, to be displayed or hidden. In others, we are viewed as objects to be used as seen fit by the men who desire us. And often it begins when we are girls.

Waking Times featured an article, What Rampant Cyber Pornography is Doing to Adolescents by Christina Sarich. She talks about the dangers of “wacked social norms about sex” that are prevalent on the internet. Sarich claims there are “pedophilia dark-net websites … child trafficking… (and) extreme sexual behavior.” Boys view these pornographic images and build unhealthy ideas and expectations about what women want.

It is a socially accepted myth that when a woman says no, she means yes, or at least maybe. According to Sarich, “Doctors are now reporting … girls as young as eleven to thirteen years old showing up with incontinence and ripped up anal and vaginal tissue due to being forcibly entered.”

http://www.wakingtimes.com/2017/07/18/rampant-cyber-pornography-adolescents/

 

Research found one fifth of girls to have suffered violence or intimidation and that one in five boys demonstrates extremely negative attitudes towards women. I believe the numbers are much higher, that the tools of blame and guilt and persecution keep many girls from reporting.

Margaret Atwood, known for her futuristic writing, including the bestselling novel The Handmaid’s Tale, speaks out about a woman’s right to control her own body on the issue of abortion. She talks about how, when governments, like those in Texas, adopt anti-abortion legislation, they force women into a lifetime of servitude and debt. She talks about the real expenses of prenatal care, health insurance and in-hospital delivery, not to mention the costs of caring for and providing for a baby into adulthood. Atwood goes so far as to suggest that governments that enforce such legislation should foot the bill.

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While the argument of the financial burden of forced parenthood is a viable concern, there are also emotional and mental ramifications that anti-abortionists fail to consider. There are women who get pregnant who are unable to provide loving, stable homes to their children. Women who are suffering from mental illnesses, addiction, and poor self-esteem. Women whose role models were parents who abused them. Forcing these women to have their babies perpetuates cycles of dysfunction. A baby born into a home where they are not wanted is likely going to experience attachment disorders, making them at risk to develop serious psychological and social challenges as adults.

Let me be clear; I’m not pro-abortion. I’m pro-choice. We cannot, as a society, determine what is the right decision for everyone. Every woman who becomes impregnated has a different story; a different set of values, different supports, education, income, and health.

When a woman is raped, her choice is taken from her. To take away her choice on how to deal with a resulting pregnancy further traumatizes and punishes her. Some women are raped within the supposed sacrament of marriage. There is no singular solution, but forcing women to have babies that are the result of rape is, in my opinion, barbaric and cruel.

For women who do choose motherhood, it is increasingly challenging to feel positive about the necessary changes that occur to our bodies. Our society’s view of sexy is limited to the physical attributes of young, slim-as-models, pre-motherhood women. All outcomes of motherhood are deemed unattractive, needing to be fixed, eliminated and annihilated.

In an emotionally impacting video featured on Allure, titled Dispelling Beauty Myths, Alexa Wilding shares her personal story. She talks about the wad of flesh she was left with after post-pregnancy muscle diastasis. The obstetrician recommended that she undergo a Mummy Makeover, which is essentially a process involving a tummy tuck, boob lift, and liposuction to erase all physical evidence of her transformation from maidenhood to motherhood.

Cultural messages of guilt, blame, and shame are all emotions inflicted upon women. They are held responsible for the abuses inflicted upon them, for being too pretty, too bubbly, too naïve, too weak, too sensitive. The list goes on.

We read in the news about women in India who have acid poured on their faces for the shame they place on their families by being raped. We read about women in Africa who are genitally mutilated in a custom that is upheld as cultural, but is really a sadistic form of control and manipulation. Women in Afghanistan are oppressed by being denied the right to education. Women in North America and Europe are objectified as sex objects, their exposed cleavage and ass used to sell everything from beer to cars.

I spoke personally to an Imam in Bahrain who stated that women need to cover themselves with abayas and burkas because they are too sexually arousing for men. I spoke to a taxi driver in Toronto who self-righteously claimed to cherish his wife as his most precious belonging, justifying the limits on her social behaviour and restrictions of her dress because of her value as his possession.

I challenge these beliefs. I suggest that all people, men or women, are responsible for their own behaviours and cannot blame anyone but themselves for what they do. I know men who have greater expectations for themselves, who have control over their sexual and physical desires. It can be done. Blaming a woman for being raped, ever, is ludicrous and unacceptable. Placing restrictions on women because of a perceived inability of men to control themselves is demeaning to both sexes.

So, how do we move forward? My daughter, Scarlet, is wondering the same thing. Like me, she doesn’t have all the answers. But she knows, “it’s going to take a transformation… that she needs to participate in the conversation … (and) be a part of the movement.”

Holly Truhlar, in her post The Environmental Movement Has Failed, believes that as a society we have a problem with long-term engagement. She posits that we are not emotionally resourced to deal with experiences “that will break our hearts and bring us to our knees if we feel them.” She goes on to say that we are living in a traumatized society suffering from intergenerational wounding in a system set up to divide and exploit, oppress and abuse. She, like Scarlet, believes we need to have the conversation. We need to engage in “an emotional and spiritual revolution requiring us to expand into the largest sense of Self that we can.”

http://www.hollytruhlar.com/environmental-movement-failed/

I believe that the heart and power of a transformational movement begins with girls; the women of the future. And I’m not the only one. G-Day Fundraising is a growing celebration of the spirit of girls. Its aim is to support and guide girls in as many communities as possible to discover their power and become champions of the future.

Humankind would evolve towards reaching its highest expression if all abusive behaviour could be stopped. Right now. It is a worthwhile goal, but the reality is that we live in a society where many people don’t get the help and support they need, and so these cycles continue. What we can do, right now, is empower children to speak up. We can teach them appropriate boundaries. We can tell them to honour their bodies and that they can say no. We can trust them. We can give them back their voices, helping them to find the language they need to express their feelings. There is a global rising. We won’t keep quiet.

So yeah, I’m feeling compelled; wanting to recover the feminine from the bonds of a patriarchal society.

Feeling Passionate About the Rising Global Sisterhood on International Women’s Day

 

When I was on Vancouver Island in January I was gifted with the opportunity to attend a Celebrating Your Sacred Divinity Workshop. Led by my talented daughter, Scarlet and her friend, Jayde, it was an intimate gathering held at the Matrea Centre in Duncan. After introductions and making a commitment of confidentiality we were led through a series of experiences and postures. It was empowering and had me feeling grateful and honoured to be a woman.

Then, a few weeks ago, my attention was drawn to a series of posts Scarlet shared on Facebook highlighting the Global Sisterhood synchronized meditation that is taking place today, March 8, 2017. I contacted her to ask more about it and checked out the post in more detail. The objective of the meditation is, “transforming ourselves and transforming the world –  together.” Last year there were over 650 circles in 65 countries world wide. The Global Sisterhood is working to bring women together to transform jealousy, competition, gossip, shame and exclusivity and heal through unity. In the Circle, everyone is equal and sacred.

https://www.facebook.com/Global-Sisterhood-315309372198226/?fref=ts

I decided I wanted to be a part of the collective experience so I asked the women in my book study if they were interested. They agreed, and when I set about determining what the Circle might look like my thoughts were taken back to the first International Women’s Day I participated in. I was teaching in a special education setting for girls with emotional and behavioural challenges. The girls I taught were marginalized; victims of the cycle of mental illness, poverty, and a lack of education. They were often difficult to engage, but not that day.

We began the lesson with a circle. We borrowed one of the Aboriginal Nations customs of smudging to cleanse ourselves and the classroom. We lit candles and held hands and sat in silent communion and support of one another, honouring everyone there. After our brief meditation, I shared a TED Talk on the Smart Board, featuring the powerful Eve Ensler. The title was Embrace Your Inner Girl, and they did just that.

https://www.ted.com/talks?sort=newest&q=Embrace+Your+Inner+Girl

The girls listened and viewed the presentation with rapt attention, as Eve Ensler described girl’s ability to survive and overcome adversity. Before it finished, they were erupting into a volcano of chatter, joining Eve enthusiastically with their exclamations, “I am an emotional creature,” “You don’t tell the Atlantic Ocean to behave,” and “I love being a girl.” It was a joy to witness these young women come alive with excitement, celebrating their girl cell. They left behind, if only for a moment, their hyped-up sexual grasping for control for something so much more pure and powerful.

My wish is to share a list of inspiring women, hoping to light up readers with the same kind of passion and excitement that was palpable in my classroom that day. Women still have a long way to go to achieve their full glory and equality with men, but there are remarkable strides being made with courageous women blazing the trail.

My list of women who have been the most influential on me must begin with Oprah. Born into poverty, she has since been ranked the richest African-American and the greatest black philanthropist in American history. When I was a young mother of three, struggling to balance work with raising a family, watching Oprah often lifted my spirits. When I saw her interview Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame, I was inspired to continue pursuing my dream of becoming a writer. And then there were all her give-aways, charities and foundations. Mister bought us tickets to hear her speak at a live show in Vancouver in 2013, which has become one of my fondest, bucket list kind of memories.

 

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Meryl Streep is another woman I look up to. In the world of Hollywood, with all the gossip and competitiveness, she is not only outrageously talented, but conducts herself with integrity. I’ve also listened to many speeches made by Michelle Obama. She is another example of a woman who rose above her circumstances through hard work and determination. Women like Princess Diana, Toni Morrison, Mother Theresa, Brene Brown, Emma Watson, Adele and Beyoncé. They have all touched my heart with their passion and commitment to make a difference in the world.

https://www.ted.com/talks?sort=newest&q=Michelle+Obama

On a personal level, there are many non-famous women who inspire me to be my best and reach my highest purpose. My mom set an example for me, raising me with open and accepting attitudes that were years ahead of her time. She always encouraged me to pursue my dreams, was adamant that I could do anything, and loved me unconditionally. My mother-in-law is a woman I respect deeply as well. She is a woman who acts with integrity and discipline and who raised her four boys to be strong, sensitive, and confident men.

My daughters are all amazing women, each with their own special talent and contribution to their community. Scarlet is a social worker who works with passion and determination to empower youth who struggle with addiction. She is a loving, dedicated mom who is always challenging herself to be her best in that most precious and important role. Tamara is an artist who refuses to be identified by a label and is constantly reinventing and rediscovering how to show up authentically in the world. She’s passionate about her role in the collective consciousness of the world and uses her talents as a writer, artist, yogi and spiritualist to make a difference. Kara is a young woman of incredible resilience and intelligence. She is a self-described highly sensitive person who demonstrates deep compassion and empathy for other people.

Then there are my friends. Carol is a Yogi who emulates deep wisdom and a gentle heart. She is an incredibly vibrant, healthy, and beautiful woman who inspires me to embrace being over fifty with grace. Kim is a woman who I look up to for her fierce expression of the Goddess. She is a self-confessed woman of many faces, and it’s hard to decide which expression of herself I am most fond of.  Anne Marie is another woman who dares to be outstanding and doesn’t let anything, including her age, stop her. Newly retired from a brilliant career as a lawyer, she still finds energy to work as a consultant in conflict resolution, practice yoga, and be an integral part of her social community.

Currently, there is a plethora of Women’s Movements working for change in the world. Be Girl is a social enterprise focused on empowering women. NFCC International, based in Nepal, is empowering women and girls and ensuring human rights through support in education and work opportunities. Miss Heard Magazine is a submission-based digital start up magazine created by teen girls for teen girls. There’s U.N. Women, Women for Women International, WOCAN, and Plan Canada’s “Because I am a Girl” campaign, just to name a few.

For more inspiration, you can check out TED Talks, which features an array of internationally acclaimed speakers. Some of my favourites include Brene Brown’s: The Power of Vulnerability, an interesting perspective on human connection and our ability to empathize, belong and love. I also found Amy Cuddy’s: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are to be a thought-provoking study on the effects of what she terms power posing. Jill Bolte Taylor’s: My Stroke of Insight is an astonishing story of the many complex functions of the brain.

As Eve Ensler stated so eloquently, women are the key to the world’s healing. Ultimately, the very survival of humanity and the Earth is at stake. Our emotions call us into action and our passions ignite change. The time for the Rising Global Sisterhood is now. The time for women to be regarded with respect, dignity, and equality, is now. The time for women to thrive in roles of leadership is now.

So yeah, I’m feeling passionate about the rising Global Sisterhood on International Women’s Day.