I have travelled a long, hard road to today and I am who I am. I’ve made many mistakes, some of them big and disastrous, and I have done things I carried shame about. I have at times in my past been blind, mute, deaf, unloving and unempathic, unfeeling and unreal. One thing I have never been is untrue. That may not make sense and I don’t need it to, I have known me for a relatively short time. In fact, until 10 years ago, I did not know who ‘I’ was. I knew facts about my experiences, I remembered minute details of my existence but I did not have the slightest sense of ‘I’. But even then, I did know who I wanted to be and I tried with all my might to be that. What I didn’t know then was that I didn’t know how to be me. I read masses of books, studied, sought professional counselling, psychotherapy, psychiatry, medication, and expert advice in my determined effort to be who I knew I wanted to be but I did not know that the answers I was seeking were already inside me. I learned that through the support of other survivors at Heal For Life. I had a great counsellor and support network who encouraged me to go to Heal For Life. I had friends who had been and come home glowing with joy, turning their lives around. I wanted that too but I was scared. I knew nothing about this place and my friends said I had to experience it for myself. I did the only thing I knew how to do well, I researched it. I found out that Heal For Life is run by survivors for survivors and does not give counselling or advice. I learned that they have strongly enforced safety guidelines and I learned they really care about each person who goes there. I felt terrified but I trusted my counsellors and I took the step.
That was back in 2006. At that time, I was broke, disabled and feeling close to hopeless. I saw no future and I looked at the world through a broken lens. I believed I had nothing much to offer and I’d actually been told by Centrelink and 2 specialists that I would never work again.
Going to Heal For Life was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Thanks to many wonderful people, most of whom were also learning who they were, I know now who I am and what ‘I’ means for me and to me. I also have a full time job again which feels fabulous. I did a lot of training and volunteering with Wesley and Lifeline and returned to study in Welfare, Community Services and Mental Health and, even though at the beginning I thought that if I passed at all I would barely scape through because I believed I was stupid, I got 100% on 1/2 of my exams and not less than 90% on all the rest barring 1 (67%). I then began training at Heal For Life myself to become a volunteer and later a facilitator. I would not have studied what I did if not for Heal For Life who insisted that if I wanted to join their team, I must have external qualifications too. Even after such great grades, I still thought I might fail but I had never had the support I was now getting and it made a huge difference. Heal For Life did not just throw me in to support other survivors, they stretched me to aspire and helped me, encouraged me to aim higher than I ever thought possible. They taught me so many things, not just trauma healing but, academic skills too. I did not know how to write essays or reports before I went to Heal For Life and now I write them easily and without fear.
I have learned so much at Heal For Life. I have learned the real definition of responsibility and self care. To let go of the need to blame. To re-parent my self in a healthier way. To see mistakes as opportunities to learn. To give and receive feedback. To love myself and others equally. To give and receive in life in balance. To listen. To strive for quality and leave the need for perfection behind. To know that my feelings cannot destroy me and that other people cannot make me feel anything unless I give them the power to do so. To become the cause of my future and not just the result of my past. I underwent 2 different psychological evaluations at Heal For Life as a condition of being a volunteer there and the results gave me such hope.
The positive effects of what I have gained from Heal For Life have impacted more than just me, it has positively influenced everyone around me and I decided in 2012 I was going to enrol in a Grad. Dip in Counselling at ACU. I had called up the uni and began the application when I received an email advertising for a full time position at Heal For Life coordinating the programs. I thought that as much as I would love to do that, everyone else stood a better chance (because I was sure they had better qualifications and skills) but I decided to apply anyway. I was interviewed by an external person in Newcastle and then I went back to Sydney to complete my uni application. (Sadly, until about that time, whenever I prepared my CV, all I saw was that I only got as far as Yr 9 at school. I did not see until that very application, just how many courses I had done since or how many qualifications I had gained along the way) and…….I got the job! I started 9th Jan 2012.
I was very excited in 2012 when Heal For Life gained accreditation from QIC. That was a dream of mine as I have seen the immense growth in the organisation since 2006. I’ve seen people come and go, I’ve made friends along the way and said goodbye to some also. I’ve grieved losses and celebrated triumphs and I’ve learned to listen, something which I know I was once totally unable to do. I know when to refer someone for professional support and I know how important it is for that to happen because I’ve learned that at Heal For Life. In the 2 years I’ve been in my new role, I have again given up the life I once knew to start over and I’m glad I had the courage to do that. I love the work we do. I love the people I meet and the joys that they share. I appreciate the feedback that every person is invited to give and I love that sharing stories is not part of the program coz I’m done with the story of my misery. I’ve been at Heal For Life since 2006 and most of my friends there don’t know my ‘story’ because those details are not who I am. Who I am is who I am and I believe in what we do with all my heart.
I believe everyone has the right to ask questions, make complaints, be heard, speak up. It is so important for survivors to take back their power – I have total respect for that and I encourage it although I feel terribly sad when it is done out of malice, that is not empowerment. If my actions hurt others I am disempowering myself all over again, and others. If I feel the need to make a stand on something, I get facts first, healthy balanced information so I can make an informed choice, because I learned to do that at Heal For Life too. That is the person I have always wanted to be. A person with integrity and congruence. A person who is flexible yet firm. I am still learning but it’s much easier now thanks to the lessons.
I’m not a fool, I know Laws, ACTs, policies, procedures, ethical guidelines. I know how to adhere to them and I am pedantic about it, which anyone who knows me knows. I have also trained in finance and admin and, If I make a mistake about anything, I am grateful to have it pointed out, I apologise and I begin making whatever change is necessary, then I look at what I can learn from it so I won’t make the same mistake again. I also know the people around me do it that way too – I see it daily. I’m not ever going to say Heal For Life is perfect because nothing can be perfect. What I do know and I stand by is this: the volunteers and staff are skilled, trained, capable and committed to excellent service delivery. With the vision of flat-style management and consensus decision making, with every person having equality and ownership, Heal For Life is an incredible place to be a part of and will continue to become even better as time goes by thanks to the survivors who continue to be the incredible people they are, giving as much as they do. Each person there has fought their own battle and wants to walk alongside others as they themselves were supported at Heal For Life and each person tries to embody the philosophies of Heal For Life and supports each other in continuing to grow and learn and thanks to them, I have learned to do that too.