Content warning: this article deals with themes of sexual assault.
In 2017, I did a TEDx talk called Moving Beyond #Empowerment. When I started out on the path to give a talk, I had no idea where the process would take me.
When I applied to be a speaker on the TEDx stage, I knew that I was passionate about empowering women and I knew that I had a lot to say. I had been speaking and running events for decades and I felt confident I could handle a TEDx talk.
You don’t really understand the process until you are in it.
Giving a TEDx talk is very different from giving any other speech. It can’t be about you, your business or what you offer. It has to be interesting and compelling. It has to draw on your life story and humanity while weaving your experiences into a bigger lesson for the audience.
I thought I had a great idea for a talk, but I had no idea what would happen inside of me to make that talk real. I was blessed that the TEDx stage I was invited to be a part of included a coach.
I had thousands of stories about my work with clients and that was what I originally planned to speak about. I did end up talking about a client, but something pivotal happened in my life during the TEDx drafting process that shifted my entire narrative.
The night before the first meeting of the TEDx speakers, I learned that my mom had passed away.
She had abruptly gotten sick the week before and had been rushed to the hospital. Unbeknownst to me, I was her health decision-maker. She hadn’t gotten around to changing that over to her husband, which left me making all of her medical decisions. I was in Australia and my mom was in the US, and traveling home would require a 14-hour flight where no communication could happen.
Being the primary decision maker meant that I couldn’t leave Australia to see her or say goodbye. If I had only known that our last conversation would be our last, things would be so different. I know everyone says this, but it still feels so true.
You can never be prepared for a parent dying. If you have experienced deep grief, you know that it is also never complete or logical. It comes in waves and even years later it can still hit you.
Like so much of my life experience, I focus on integrating my feelings and bringing them into whatever I am working on. I don’t do well with stuffing things down inside of me, so understanding and integrating my mom’s death became a part of my TEDx process. She became a focal point in my story, allowing me to make sense of her life, my life and her death. It was pretty powerful.
At the same time (life really likes to hit me all at once), there were a few other traumas resurfacing and demanding to be acknowledged and dealt with.
When I was barely 15, I was date raped. For years, I never acknowledged it as rape. For years, I told myself that I put myself in an unsafe situation with a friend and a bunch of boys who were drinking. I was passed out when I was raped which made ignoring it even more compelling. I let myself drink. I let myself be in that situation. I deserved what happened. This was the story I told myself over and over again.
But as I was taking this TEDx journey, memories started to surface. I realized that I had trusted the friend who raped me. I had said no before I passed out (or my brain protectively blacked out). I had been pushed into a room by a bunch of guys even though I kept saying no.
Had I fought back as much as I could? Maybe not. But did I deserve what happened to me? Definitely not!
This is not just my story, but the story of so many others. Women who have felt compromised, scared to say no, intimidated by the situation they are in and left to feel like they are to blame. If only they didn’t wear a short dress, or put themselves in a compromising situation, or fall in love with the wrong guy, or trust someone they shouldn’t. This is a huge problem in the world and one I am now passionate about advocating for.
All of these memories, emotions and traumas bubbling up had an incredibly important lesson to teach me.
I learned that we must reclaim ourselves and our stories.
And the way I did that was to finally acknowledge that I had been raped. That acknowledgment was just one tiny line in my TEDx talk, but for me it was a massive reclamation of my purity (after all, I had been a virgin) and my innocence. It was sharing it for the first time publicly and naming what it really was. I was raped and there is no need to qualify it.
It is amazing what growth can come out of our deepest and most painful life experiences. The journey of creating my TEDx talk pulled out of me healing that I never would have imagined when I began.
Being willing to take our pain and roll it into our life’s work is a brave choice, but rewarding for everyone that work touches – especially ourselves.