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

Shifting Focus: a Letter of Love to Women

Women, we are too hard on ourselves my friends! As a photographer, I am acutely aware of this fact.  You see I photograph families. I am beyond excited when I capture an image that portrays the love that lives within the everyday. The kind of natural exchange of love that lies within a look, a gentle swipe of hair off the brow, an embrace, a shared laugh with locked eyes. I share this lovey dovey image with my client and she tells me she doesn’t care for it because her thighs look big, or her arms look chubby, or her stomach looks saggy, etc.  Rather than focusing on the love, she focusses on her physical body.

I understand it all too well. There was a time in my life, more predominately when I was at my heaviest, when I refused to be photographed. I saw a camera and I ran for the hills. If forced into a photo, I opted for the “Gopher” pose. You know the old hide-behind-everyone-in-the-back-row-and-poke-your-head-up look. Looking back on it, I now realize I took years of printed memories away from my children.

I had a revelation the other day while I was trying in vain to fall asleep. A memory popped into my mind from a few years ago that happened while I was visiting my little sister Brenda. We woke up on a lazy Saturday morning. Brenda and I poured our coffees and sat in the filtered sun surrounded by our children who were in their glory to wake up and play together. The girls were playing dress up and skipping around the house filling the room with laughter. My son Lucas was composing his very own piece of music on the piano while my other son Ty laid on the floor playing with his iPod. Brenda’s daughter banged her chin on the ground and ran to the reassuring arm’s of her Mom so she could be inspected for injuries.

Click….

Click…

Click…

As Brenda talked to my Dad on the phone, my niece ran over to me and asked for an airplane ride. I laid down the camera, and my shutter-bug son Lucas picked it up.

Click…

The reason I have this memory is because of these photographs. Had this moment not been captured, I would have never remembered this hour of everyday life. Through time, this seemingly insignificant everyday life moment has transformed into an extremely significant memory that tugs at my heart-strings every time I look at it.

Here’s a weird fact: If I see something I want to remember and I don’t have a camera, I hold up my hand to where a camera should be and click the air with my right index finger. Yes, it’s weird but I swear it forces the image into my mind.

Moms: our children don’t look at our physical body. They just love their Mom. They see  our spirit, our heart, our love…not our body. I think about how I love my own children, purely, wildly, and with all that I have. It has nothing to do with aesthetics, yet I hold so many judgements when it comes to my body.

Those self-deprecating thoughts that play in our mind about our body are damaging, not just to ourselves, but to those who love us.  Can you imagine saying any of those things to a loved one?  Imagine telling your sister, or your mother, or your girlfriend, or your child:  “Great family photo, but your arms look huge.”  Yet, we accept this as our own truth. What does that say to our children? What are they learning from us?

My sister Janice is unable to walk without support because of MS. Can you imagine if I said to her “I hate my jiggly thighs.”   The thought of it makes me cringe.

To all you Women out there…

Appreciate your bodies. Your legs allow you to walk/run/dance, your arms allow you to embrace, your smile lights up a room and exudes warmth and joy.

Be good to yourself, children are listening, watching, and learning from you.

You are not defined by your physical body, it’s a part of who you are as a whole but it’s merely the vehicle for the spirit.

Let’s stop trying to be something that we are not but rather shift our focus to all that we are!

We can blame the media for our focus on the physical, but we buy into it.  To change it, we need to take responsibility for feeding our insecurities.

What would be so wrong with loving ourselves the way our loved ones do? The person we are as a whole. The generosity we show, the love we give, the energy we put into making the world a little brighter. The raising of spirited little children into confident self-assured adults.

When you wake up in the morning, be proud of the person you see in the reflection of the mirror.

You are beautiful.

You are amazing.

You are loved.

You are different!

Just be you with confidence and pride.

Treat yourself with the same level of love and respect as you treat those you love most.

And the next time someone asks to take your photo, remember that photo will produce a memory. Your loved ones need those.

From my heart to yours,

Christine

Back to the School Yard

Kids can be cruel.

Over the years, each one of my 3 kids have come home with hurt feelings from some sort of school yard incident.  My daughter is the youngest, and I find cruel words are more prevalent among girls.  I tell her it will all be OK, just continue to be who she is, and don’t worry about what others think of her.  She’s perfect as is.

I realize this is easier said then done.  I work from home, so it’s not very often I actually dress professionally when I’m editing photos alone in the comfort of my office (think yoga pants and baggy well-worn t-shirts I refuse to give up).  Today I managed to get up early and I actually did my hair, makeup, and dressed like I was going to work where *gasp* I would see other people.   Three O’Clock snuck up on me, and I quickly put on my favourite pair of brown heeled boots and ran out the door to pick up my kids from school.

You see, I love these brown boots. I feel confident when I walk in them, but since I’m usually at home I don’t wear them often.

I felt good getting ready for the day, so I suppose I did walk to school with a bit more zest in my step.  As I waited at the doors of my daughter’s school for the bell to ring, I noticed two Mom’s talking quietly beside me.  They looked over at me, and then continued whispering. I felt like they were talking about me, but told myself that was ridiculous, what could they possibly have to say as I was just standing there minding my business.

As they walked by me, the one Mom said to the other Mom loud enough so I could hear them “I didn’t know it was wear-your-stripper-boots-to-school day”. The other Mom looked down at my boots and giggled as they walked away.

I just stood there stunned with my mouth open, staring at my much-loved boots. “These aren’t stripper boots” I mouthed.  And then I felt stupid… just. for. one. second. The anger quickly set in, and in that moment of anger I wished I had something witty to say back.

It wasn’t until I got home that the patronizing words I tell my daughter rang in my mind…”Just be yourself, don’t worry what anyone else thinks about you.” The thoughts I had a few moments before in the “school yard” also replayed in my mind and I pictured myself saying to my daughter “Be confident, but not too confident or other women will think you are stuck up. Be happy, but not too happy or other women will think you are annoying. Be kind, but not too kind or other women will question your motives. Be proud, but not too proud or other women will think you are vain. Work hard to be successful, but not too successful or other women will be threatened by you.”

Bull Shit.

To all you women out there, I learned something today and it’s also raised more questions in my mind. Perhaps you can share some of your wise insights with me. Please feel free to comment on this topic!

Why can’t women support other women? Forgive me for generalizing because this certainly isn’t the case for the women I am so thankful to have as friends. I’ve met some incredibly supportive women. I’m just questioning the times in our lives when we are cut down by other women.  Those times when catty comments filled with judgments and misunderstanding are delivered when one just needs support, kindness, and understanding.

There’s many distorted messages in the media that influence women in a negative way regarding how we should look, how we should dress, what our role  in society should be…and yet, rather than women supporting and uplifting other women, there are times like the one I just experienced that places us right back into the school yard full of insecurities.

So this is what I learned today:

Do not make assumptions about another person based on their outside appearance. We are all just people. All deserving of respect and kindness. If a judgment pops up in my mind about another person I’m going to take some time to evaluate WHY I feel that way…because it’s more about my own insecurities. It truly isn’t about them.

Kindness is important.

Positivity is important.

It’s OK to walk with your head held high. There was a time not so long ago when I walked with my head down. I refuse to go back there.

I will continue to support, uplift, encourage and genuinely appreciate the women I meet in life. It DOES make a difference.

Positive out, Positive in. You receive exactly what you give. I’ve never been so sure of this fact in all of my life than I am now.

I will accept and love those who I do not understand.

I will not hide my strengths because of another’s weaknesses.  There is nothing wrong with loving who you are. I was trapped in self-loathing for much of my adult life. It’s not a fun place to be.

There is nothing better than watching a friend succeed. Successful, independent, confident women motivate and inspire me. Thank you to each wildly imaginative, accepting, successful, caring and kind woman whom I have had the pleasure to meet. You make me a better person.

Tomorrow I will walk with my head held high back to school, and I may even try to find higher heels to walk in.  Who am I kidding, I would twist an ankle. My doctor once prescribed me high-tops for my weak ankles. Sadly, this is a true story. But a smile will still be on my face. 🙂

From my heart to yours,

Christine