Dear Christine at 15…

I found my very first diary. The cover is graced with two white doves etched with gold tipped wings hovering over an ocean lit by moonlight. With each turn of the aged pastel pages, a sweet scent lingers which lives in the recesses of a forgotten room in my brain. On the inside cover was my best attempt at handwriting my name along with the year 1989. I received this diary for Christmas. On New Years I chronicled my adventures in babysitting. I made $25 for a 7 hour shift. I vaguely remember the parents getting home at 3 a.m. and trying their best to steady themselves on drunk ankles. ha!

I chronicled little and big moments from 13 to 18 years old. Some days my handwriting was scrambled and scrawled, and other days it was intentional with pretty cursive. The margins were filled with doodles and drawings. Hearts followed by broken hearts.

As I read some of my more life altering entries, I felt compassion, sadness, and a deep feeling of empathy as I knew how my story would unfold.

In those 5 years of teenage dairy entries, I wrote about friends passing away, moving (running) to a boarding school, my Grandfather’s death, being used and cheated on, feeling like an outsider in social circles (I drew a photo of my body with arrows to the areas I hated), smoking/drinking/sneaking out, my parent’s separation/divorce, and the hardest to read: being raped.

The journal entry for the rape started and ended with this sentence…

“I hate myself”.

The entries after were a spiralling of self, full of confusion and a complete lack of self-worth. My writing was full of shame and blame and wanting it all to end.

Thirty years later, I am a Mother to a teenage girl the same age. As I read the words of 15 year old me who was trying to articulate rape, I felt the love I have for my daughter. Within the recount, I remembered things I had pushed down. Among the hardest words to read were:

“I let a lot of people down.”

“I did a really dumb thing” (by putting myself in that position.)

“He started kissing me and pushed me to the ground.”

“He was around 20 years old.” (I must of wrote that understanding he was an adult and I was a teen)

“How am I going to tell Mom and Dad?”

“This is awful. I never meant for it to happen like this, my first time was supposed to be special and with someone I loved. He hardly even knew my name.”

“When I got back I threw up 3 times all over the road.” (I do not remember that)

“I hate myself.”

Signed Christine (at 15)

As a Mother, what would I want 15 year old me to know? That question spoke to me the entire time I read that diary. I almost felt like I was invading her privacy by reading it, like she was not me. What an odd feeling…

Dear Christine at 15: You are so very loved and worthy. You did nothing wrong, and I’m proud of you for sharing. You will never let me down, my love for you is never-ending and without conditions. Please allow those who love you to lift you up. When you speak aloud and share with those who are safe to do so, shame can’t abide in that same sacred space.

Now, in saying that, I’m not sure I would have been able to accept that love. I blamed myself, and stuffed that shame with food, partying, running away, outer silence/inner turmoil, alcohol, etc.

As was evident by an entry after, written by my childhood friend, I had a supportive loving network. I must have let my friend read my diary a few days after the rape. Side note: I forgot how much I trusted my childhood friends…enough to let them read something so intensely vulnerable. There were other entries from more friends in the years after. I think this is when I learned to share by writing.

This is my last page of the rape entry, followed by her letter to me…

When I read “Don’t ever cover up that picture again.” I had a memory flash of covering up my photo, blocking my face. I couldn’t look at my reflection. She poured her love and acceptance over me. She is still my friend today, we meet yearly for a family photo session. I forgot why I feel such a connection and kindred spirit with her (beyond the obvious fact she too is P.S. cool and I love her). When I closed my photography business in 2020, I felt it on my heart the importance to continue to document her life for her. I didn’t remember she wrote me this until I read it today. Thank you Merrilyn for the gift of your friendship and whole-hearted acceptance.

I’m still sorting through all of this, the healing thirty years later. I know I’m finally doing the work, this has been my gift of isolation within 2020 and 2021. I took another big step a few weeks ago and spoke about Shame on a podcast. I am nervous to hear my outside voice, but I’m proud of myself for pushing down the fear and doing it.

I was listening to a podcast from Brene Brown where she quantified how she knows its safe to share something traumatic in a public forum (like a podcast, blog, book, post, etc.), and it has stuck with me. This is not an exact quote, rather how I perceived her words…. If my healing is dependent on another’s response, then it’s not safe to share publicly. I will share with a person who’s earned that trust.

Today, I’m in a position to talk about this more openly as my healing is not dependent on your response. I feel like this is something so many women carry within, the shame and blame, the feeling of unworthiness.

The idea that another woman may also be feeling this way guides my spirit to speak. To write about it. To be honest and transparent that I’m still working through it and I don’t have all the answers yet as to how I will reclaim this part of my spirit.

I want you to know…

You are worthy.

You are loved.

You are not broken. You are healing.

You are brave.

I am so sorry for what happened to you.

You did nothing wrong.

You have nothing to feel shameful about, sharing erodes shame.

As you speak and share…that shame will meld way to open a powerful space rooted in love and compassion. There is beauty in the breakdown. I’m so very proud of you no matter what stage of healing you are in. Vulnerability is incredibly courageous.

From my heart to yours,

Christine

Empowering Strangers

I’ve thought of ways to empower my daughter to build up her confidence. Which led me to the realization that my confidence level is not what I would hope for my daughter. Which led me to thinking how I can build up my confidence to be an example to my daughter. Which led to the realization that I feel most empowered and confident when I uplift other women. My friends, family, and strangers too.

So how does one empower other women?

You know when you think a positive thought about another woman when you see them? You might admire the way they parent, the way they light up a room by their positive energy, the way they go after their dreams without fear, the way they volunteer their time, the way they work their ass off. Insert positive thought here.

Tell them. Even if you don’t know them. I promise you, a positive affirmation (even from a stranger) will lift up their spirit. They will remember it.

I was at the gym the other day, and I was admiring how hard this one woman was working. She’s there often, and she has definition is her arms that takes a whole lot of sweat and dedication to obtain. And I wondered to myself, does she know that her hard work is paying off? So I silenced the voice in my head that said “don’t compliment a stranger, that’s weird.”  I walked over to her and said “I really admire how hard you work, do you know that you have crazy definition in your arms? Your arms are my goal” She just stared at me for a minute, sort of stunned. And my head thought “oh my, she thinks I’m a wack-a-doodle”  Finally, she replied with a smile “Thank you so much, I’ve worked at it for years.” Years people! That’s dedication right there. And that was that. We walked our separate ways and continued our workouts. A couple of days later, she was walking in as I was walking out. She stopped me and introduced herself with a big smile and asked me my name. Which officially makes us no longer strangers. ha!

In the process of highlighting the strengths of women around you, you will start to distinguish your own strengths. It opens up the mind to positive. It’s the very reason I love photography so much. To me, photography is looking for beauty in everything. We see objects around us so much that it becomes “ordinary”. We no longer see. Canadians: how ordinary and everyday is snow to us? We live in a sea of white for 6 months of the year. Have you looked at snow with different eyes lately? A snowflake is the most delicate, intricate, beautiful of our “ordinary objects”. Watch the excitement in someone’s eyes who has never seen snow before!

Open your eyes to the beautiful, it’s all around us and it lives within everyone. A face transforms with a smile. There is nothing more beautiful than a smile. It exudes warmth, kindness, connection. Expand your vision of what beauty is, and think about what you find beautiful about your Mom. Your sister. Your daughter. Your friends. When you think about them, it’s not about their outer. It’s who they are as people that make them beautiful…their spirit.

Beauty1

I have very vivid memories of the women who took the time to uplift my spirit. I specifically remember the women whom I didn’t even know. Why would a stranger spread positivity to me? She doesn’t even know me, so there’s nothing in it for her! I guess that’s why it stuck with me.

So today, find something beautiful within the women who cross your path, and then tell them.

From my heart to yours,

Christine

P.S. You are ridiculously beautiful