Speak Up, Be Seen & Be Heard
Guest Blog Entry for Speak Up Women Conference
That which angers you, you’re meant to solve. That which grieves you, you’re meant to heal.
When I was growing up I thought I wanted to be a TV host. In fact, I was pretty sure of it. Many a conversation have Oprah and I had in my bathroom mirror. I just loved asking questions, and getting to the ‘heart of the matter.’ It made me feel like I was doing something good, and it made me feel like I was being heard.
Later when I grew up a little, well… a lot a bit, and started confronting my own childhood history of neglect, abuse and trauma (reluctantly at first, but more on that in a second), it made me realize something about those epic bathroom interviews — I still wanted to get to know people’s stories, for sure, but more than that, I wanted to help people feel seen.
In my twenties, I eventually found myself working as an actress/model and TV host/journalist in New York City, while on my way to find my biological family. You see, being on TV equaled being seen, and, boy, did I want my family to see me! I was raised by just my maternal grandfather. After he suddenly passed away while I was still a teenager, I set out to find my biological mother and father once and for all. I figured if I was on TV, it would up my odds of them finding me, or vice versa (classic teenage logic).
When a chance trip to India fell in my lap, I decided I should take it and “meet my people.” While I was there, I was exposed to the realities of the child sex trade. For the first time in my life, I not only met people who kind of looked like me (I’m half German and half Indian), but who also shared really similar stories of abuse and neglect, and who didn’t have access to education like I did.
I came back to the United States charged to change the world! (Think: Avenger-like enthusiasm.) And what I got in return were blank faces and stares. I didn’t realize it then, but I was overwhelming people with my zealous enthusiasm.
Simultaneously, also unbeknownst to me, all this talk about sexual violence was triggering me, and I was leaking out my trauma story like a helium balloon. I can only imagine my listener’s inner confusion at my impassioned advocating about sex trafficking victims buffered in between my own dissociative ramblings about that time I was raped, or the times I barricaded myself in my room to save myself from my grandfather’s nightly drunken rageful fits.
Some brave souls did try and gently nudge me into self-awareness by suggesting counseling, but, honestly, by that time, as a know-it-all 23-year-old, I had already survived all of this ‘stuff’, so the last thing I wanted to do was go backwards. Besides, I thought to myself, I was going to change the world.
Now I understand that the first step in changing the world, is changing our own worlds. Our past, the scary, and even the dreadfully sad bits of our stories, our purpose, how we show up for our lives, and how we become ‘the change we want to see in the world’ are all inextricably linked. Sometimes the only way to truly move forward is to go back to the beginning. So, in the spirit of speaking up, being seen and being heard, here are three key takeaways I’ve learned in the process of becoming a healthier person, with a voice, who knows how to use it:
Be Curious: “That which cannot be named, cannot be healed.”- Dr. Dan Allender
Part of getting better is knowing what we need to get better from. Science tells us that what we suppress will be expressed… whether we like it or not, if not verbally, instead in the form of chronic health issues or mental illnesses. Case in point, I struggled with unexplainable anxiety for years. Only when I started diving deep into my history and getting really curious about who I was, where I came from and what I experienced, did I realize just how impactful my childhood trauma had been on my adult life.
Lean in: “You can only free someone else, insomuch as you have freed yourself.” -Dr. Dan Allender
Throughout my humanitarian work, my supervisors would always encourage us to be examining our own stories as we engage with our survivors. If we were feeling some internal resistance, that was an indicator of an opportunity to lean into our stories a bit more. That indicator may be pointing to some of our history that’s inhibiting us from ‘feeling’ pain.
There was something else about trauma survivors that I once heard. “Abuse survivors will scare you with how much they know about you. They can take one look at you and know you inside out.” They’ve been trained to be hyper vigilant in order to survive their situation, so in our work on their trauma, they can sense when we’re resisting something, or when parts of their stories are making us uncomfortable. Part of getting better is visiting your past and leaning into the parts that still burden us so we can free ourselves, and free others too.
Embrace: “Feel the fear, and do it anyway.” -Dr. Susan Jeffers
Trauma can sometimes make us scared to take risks, or believe in ourselves, or feel valuable and lovable, all making intimacy and important relationships terrifying. Equally, though, building solid social support helps us ‘relearn’ or even ‘learn’ for the first time, (like in my case,) what healthy people are like; the irony being that the intimacy and vulnerability effort is sometimes the scariest part of everything.
Still, having been through everything I’ve been through, having heard the survivors’ stories of some of the worst atrocities history has even seen, I can tell you with 100% certainty, healing is possible. It may be really frightening to articulate what’s happened in your life, but there’s freedom down the road. Yes, the struggle is real, but so is redemption and so is hope.