1. Please tell me a favorite story about your childhood? What positive life principle did you learn from your parents/caregivers - that still informs your life today?
As soon as I read this question I sat back and exhaled a big “Oh geez”. This is a difficult one for me to answer because my childhood was unfortunately marred with a lot of trauma and abuse and my memories of those days are not entirely positive, and often hazy and incomplete. If I had to attribute one principle that I’ve taken into adulthood it would be to have strength.
My father passed away after a protracted battle with cancer when I was only 9 years old. During his illness, which spanned over 2-3 years, my mother was his primary carer, the primary housekeeper, the primary parent and the primary everything. She never complained or faltered in any way despite the enormously difficult situation she was in.
Following his death my mother became the primary breadwinner and worked long hours to provide my brother and I with security and stability.
Unfortunately, two years later tragedy struck a second time when my my older brother committed suicide. This loss was huge and yet my mother was able to push aside her grief and continue forth working and tending to the house and garden single handedly without ever complaining or showing her pain.
Things never really improved following this. My mother ended up in a de-facto relationship with alcoholic abuser for years and somehow managed to traverse the rocky waters of life with a superhuman strength which always saw her facing the right way up and not succumbing to the crippling effects of depression, grief and misery.
Her strength and determination in the face of adversity is what I’ve walked away with and is something that has served me well in my own life.
2. Was there anything in your past that caused you pain, struggle or hardship?
All of what I have written above caused incredible pain in my life. My mother’s abusive de-facto did not like me and added yet another layer of extreme hurt to my childhood by name-calling, shoving, pushing, and on occasions, striking me. I also had to witness this same aggressive and bullying behaviour towards my mother.
3. Describe a difficult event or circumstance in your childhood, teens or adult years that caused you to "act-out" or "act-in" in a detrimental way. How did your emotional pain manifest and limit your life thereafter?
WOW, this is an easy and yet difficult question.
When my father passed away I was clearly struck with grief, however, despite my mother being strong, she was also very stoic and did not display her emotions or vulnerability. This was further enhanced when my brother committed suicide because of the enormous “shame” element that existed around suicide. I was fundamentally taught to not express negative emotions, and in particular not be truthful. My mother had instructed me to lie about how my brother had died claiming that “It’s nobody else’s business”.
My mother never encouraged an open expression of emotions, and neither did she speak of anything which contained emotional content. Because she was so focused on working as a means of diverting her internal pain, she also was emotionally absent for me.
Without even realizing it at the time (and for the best part of my life) my method of coping was to internalize my grief and pain and dissociate from reality. It really was like the ultimate game of pretend; let’s pretend we’re happy when we’re not; let’s pretend I’m not lonely when I am; let’s pretend I don’t need anyone, when I do, etc., etc. In essence I was simply doing the same as the only real role model I had left in my life - my mother.
When her abusive de-facto entered the scene this denial continued. My mother was riddled with the shame of “living in sin” and I was again instructed to never reveal what their relationship really was (he was a boarder for all others), and I was never, ever to talk about what was going on in the house.
My whole life and how I felt was suppressed in shameful secrecy.
My emotional pain manifested in a variety of ways. By age 12 I began taking drugs and drinking alcohol. Following this I began self-harming and acting out in an oppositional way. But this only made things worse. I began getting into trouble at school, at home and was fundamentally labelled as a wayward and problem child. No person in the wisdom of those days considered that I was the way I was because of some underlying issue, so instead of helping with kindness and compassion, I was condemned and labelled as being “bad”.
At age 17 I was voluntarily admitted to a Drug and Alcohol Rehab unit with a diagnosis of “Multi-drug Dependency Syndrome”. The focus of treatment was purely on the “addiction” issues and did not delve into any underlying causes or the like. Many years following this admission I applied to receive a copy of my full clinical notes and was stunned to read some of the comments contained within. Comments such as: “this young lady is clearly playing games” and “she hasn’t made one decision since she’s been in here” and “I don’t believe she wants to be helped”.
I was never physically addicted to drugs. Drugs and alcohol for me were my way of coping with my feelings. Every single time a “bad” emotion presented itself, I didn’t like that feeling and drowned it out by taking substances. Naturally I didn’t realise this at the time. This is knowledge I’ve only gained through hindsight.
My life appeared to get better after this and I certainly contained my use of drugs and alcohol to within reasonable limits. I began getting on with my life and started studying in an attempt to forge a career. At age 22 I met my husband and that led to the next chapter of my life. My relationship/marriage with him is/was nothing short of a novel of the psychological thriller genre.
My husband was/is an abuser and a highly disordered man with an undiagnosed personality disorder. Naturally it didn’t start like this. When he entered my life he presented like my Prince Charming. I was swept off my feet and willingly entered into this relationship believing that I was the luckiest woman alive. It didn’t take long for his mask to slip and for his abusive side to reveal itself, however, because of my childhood I deemed this behaviour to be OK and did what I was so good at doing - I denied it and hid it. I was married to this man for many, many years before I had what I call my lightbulb moment. That was the day when the rose-coloured glasses came off and I faced the truth about him and my relationship with him.
That was about 3-4 years ago now and life for me since then has been one insane journey in which I think I have expressed every suppressed emotion that I ever felt in my life multiplied x 100. I left my husband around 12 weeks ago and am now well and truly on the home run back to self.
In summary to this question I would say that my emotional pain manifested itself in this cycle: denial/suppression —> self-harm and self-medicating —> further denial/suppression —> an emotional breakdown and experiencing a “Dark Night of the Soul” —> waves upon waves of emotional truth & healing.
My life has been limited simply by the denial of truth and has led me into making bad choices and poor decisions.
4. What has been the main theme of struggle in your life? What is the main thing that you have needed to heal in your lifetime?
Another difficult question. Strangely enough from ages 18 until approximately 5 years ago I didn’t perceive that my life was a struggle - or certainly no more than any other individual’s struggle in life. Struggle for me was the norm. Abuse was not perceived as abuse - it was normal. So I can’t really say that I was struggling. I certainly struggled with the every day dysfunctions of living with an abusive individual, and occasionally struggled with my emotions, but overall I held it together and was able to survive ….. but not thrive.
After being on this journey back to self for 3-4 years now I can see things with the clarity of hindsight, insight and increasing wisdom. My core hurt is that child - the child that was present to witness the deaths of her father and brother and then be abused by another male figure. That child never experienced love and compassion and grew into an adult who’s core belief was/is that she is “bad”. This child lived in the shadows of my existence and was a perpetual inner critic who condemned me and fundamentally gave back as good as what she received.
Through the work that I’ve been doing I’ve not only identified her, but several other children born out of myself that have worked collaboratively together for years in order for me to survive. What I’ve learnt is that they don’t necessarily have the right solutions and that they are stuck in emotional timelessness. They don’t realise that I’ve grown and many years have passed and they react just as they would have liked to back in the day.
If I had to pick one thing that I need to heal it would be that inner child. I need to acknowledge her (which I’ve now done) and embrace her and treat her with love and compassion. It’s like soothing the wounds that were inflicted years ago and allowing that girl to become part of me in a symbiotic way. It’s all about trust. Trusting yourself.
Digital Art by Julianna
5. What is your greatest strength today?
My greatest strength today is my insight and wisdom. I have grown exponentially in a matter of just 3-4 years and feel that I’ve developed a much deeper understanding of people and life.
6. What is your favorite healing modality? What makes you feel alive, passionate and whole?
My favourite healing modality varies according to need. I most definitely have found an enormous amount of healing via poetry and prose, and also via my artwork. I look at it like this. Poetry/prose goes when ordinary words fail and art speaks when all words fail.
7. Could you describe your creative process in more detail?
I intuitively began using my art to express my emotions approximately 3 years ago when I began seeing a psychologist for therapy. My drawings/paintings initially were full of pain, anger and fear and depicted either a woman or young girl. They were very dark and highly reflective of my internal state. My pictures became my voice and spoke the truth about how I really felt inside and served as a bridge between the conscious and unconscious self. They told my story.
I frequently showed them to my psychologist and we'd use them as a starting point to delve a little deeper and explore the emotions they revealed. I continued doing my art, often in cycles where I would have weeks/months of high productivity, and then weeks/months of nothing. I also began writing poetry and prose to express myself and this followed similar cycles. Without being consciously aware of it I intuitively knew how to pace myself in my healing journey so that I only bit off as much as I could chew at any given time.
As an artist I don't think that there has been a medium or technique I haven't used at some stage and my work varies dramatically accordingly - I can produce a highly abstract mixed-media canvas one week, and an insanely detailed colour pencil drawing the next. My versatility often surprises myself and is probably representative of different parts :)
Around 12 months ago I began venturing into digital art which I have found to be extremely satisfying even though I'm not technically using my hands as such. It seemed to have matched the speed of my creative juices as I can be very impatient at times when my hands don't match the speed of my mind. My productivity increased, as did the complexity of the images.
During this phase I found my other parts clearly representing themselves over and over again, almost always as a young girl - sometimes sad, sometimes angry, and nearly always full of pain. Clearly she wanted to be seen and acknowledged and this led me to identifying at least eight parts and finally acknowledging their existence.
I'm in a "dry" phase at the moment and taking an intuitive break before the next wave of creativity reveals yet another layer. It's been incredible to track my journey and look back retrospectively on my art to see the gentle unfolding of truth and a connection with those parts that were in exile.
8. Describe yourself as whole and healed. Who are you in your essence?
I am a compassionate human being that has the capacity to feel. I have empathy. I am not an adult or a child but a divine fusion of the two. I’m a giver and a healer and I actually love myself. I love the fact that I have embraced it all to become one unique living being. ME.
9. If the major healing theme of your life had a book or a movie title what would it be called?
Step Inside, Come Alive.
10. How has your past pain informed your life purpose? How do you specifically want to contribute life?
My past has given me so much insight. I’ve experienced a lot in my life. My mantra in life is doing unto others as you would like done to you. My knowledge and experience places me in a position to be able to help those less travelled. Be it from a pragmatic perspective or from an emotional perspective. I need to pass on my wisdom as best I can. Humility, honesty and the ability to express emotions is what the world needs.
11. What strength-based inspirational advice would you give someone who has suffered in similar ways to you?
Allow yourself to feel and honour your emotions. Be truthful to yourself - your deepest self. Take time to explore and delve into the shadow self. Don’t be afraid of the darkness. Without it there can never be light. Embrace who YOU are in totality and accept that we are all made up of many facets (both good and bad).
12. What famous inspirational quote sums up your life journey?
“When we protect ourselves so we won't feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, like armor that imprisons the softness of of the heart.”
“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
― Pema Chödrön
13. Create your own quote to inspire others on their life journey.
Be truthful to yourself and open your heart and mind to allow yourself to embrace your full expression. We are multifaceted beings and our facets are what give us our uniqueness. There is no right or wrong, it just is.
I’m a “mature” lady with two children from Sydney, Australia. I’ve had a tough life, but my art and creativity has always been there to soothe my soul and express my deepest emotions. Without it I wouldn’t be where I am today.