#leapfear Day 13 – Carolina

I have only known Carolina since last summer but she already feels like one of my oldest friends.  Age, background, language? Not an issue.  Her soul is timeless.

Her story speaks for itself.  But what I have learned from her is that women are the best advocates for women.  This project #leapfear, and Carolina’s non profit Feminine Harbor have very similar goals.  We both understand that our stories don’t have to limit us, but rather free us to reach higher and farther than we ever imagined.  When I grow up, I hope to have Carolina’s passion, fearlessness, drive and belief in humanity.

I suggested to all the women that participated in Leapfear, that they should bring in something that has meaning.  I squealed with delight when Carolina opened up a backpack full of books.  I have 1000’s of books in my home so my respect and admiration for Carolina grew even more in that moment.  I asked her to grab her favourite book. As we were shooting, I could see through my lens a very noticeable shift in her energy.  I didn’t say anything and kept shooting.  I finally paused and asked her what happened.  She looked up and said that this was the first time that she had noticed, that her favourite book was one that her father had bought just days after she was born.  It was her favourite because it spoke to the power and beauty of family.  I included some of the photos from that series in a panel of 6 images below.

I also asked Carolina to dance.  She had her own music and played one of her favourite songs.

And.

Then.

She.

Danced.

I have rarely seen someone move so effortlessly and easily to music.  Fearless. Passionate. Without any self-consciousness.  It was perfection.  Those images appear at the bottom. Tell me I am not right!

Carolina’s website:

https://www.facebook.com/feminineharbor

What changed that made you realize you were living a life of fear?2016-02-13_0008.jpg
Life happening, not as I had planned, not as I thought it was going to be. A series of losses. A huge one was definitely the end of my marriage about two years ago (I was married for ten), and another massive one was a miscarriage I experienced in October of 2014. My daughters were just babies when my marriage ended (my oldest was almost three and my youngest had just turned one). Today I recognize that I was holding onto a very sick relationship because I was afraid. Afraid of being on my own in a country where I have no family, afraid of not ever finding love again. Then halfway through 2014 I got pregnant unexpectedly. I was in a very loving but very new relationship, which in the end could not be sustained for several reasons (wrong time and wrong place). About three months after I had moved on from that relationship, I realized I was pregnant. It was terrifying and it felt massively unfair. I had been as responsible as I could have been, and this was a total accident. I was alone with my two daughters and about to have another baby on my own! Because I did make the very difficult decision to actually have my baby taking single motherhood to a whole new level. Two days later I had made that decision, I experienced a miscarriage. Those two instances of incredible loss – the loss of who I wanted to be, the family I wanted to have (I really want more children) have forced me to take a very serious look at my life and appreciate what I do have. They have forced me to change my priorities dramatically. It was after the miscarriage that I decided to launch Feminine Harbor for real, and recently I realized that my baby and Feminine Harbor would have been the same age. Turning one in March, around the same time as the International Women’s Day this year… It’s bittersweet, to be honest. But it’s real, and beautiful in its own way.

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Once you realized that you were living a life in fear, what stopped you from moving forward? What held you back for so long?
My marriage had ended once before, in 2007. But fear took over me in a very deep way. I actually experienced panic attacks and I had to work very hard at learning to trust people again. Back then I made some really poor choices attaching myself to another man instead of looking for wise women to guide me away from toxic relationships. I was on my own, I was young, and I was looking for love without any guidance. I had a terrifying experience with that person where I almost died, and so my ex-husband and I ended up getting back together and trying again because it felt safer to go back to something I knew, even if it was a very damaged relationship. At the time, I failed to understand how our marriage was also incredibly (mutually) abusive in many ways, and that both of us were truly broken and hanging onto each other in a very negative way. Susana Balán, a therapist from Argentina says that “our generation has learned how to fight, but no one taught us how to love.” I really see that within my own experiences. Now, I don’t regret it though, because it was during that second half of our marriage that we had our daughters, and let me tell you, they are a gift to this world. In fact, I believe that they have both turned my ex-husband and I into much better people. He is a very loving and caring father, and now I see that we could no longer go on together, because we wanted completely different things from life, and from ourselves. It wasn’t simple though… Or harmonious. But we’ve grown. So God has a Time and a purpose. But the fear of having to face life on my own, having to face my mistakes, and having to take charge of my dreams, in a country where I have absolute no family ties was something that overwhelmed me and stopped me from trusting myself and taking the leap for many years. That and the stigma of leaving a marriage.

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Once you did take the leap, what did you have to let go of?
I had to let go of control, and my need to understand things in a simple way. I had to let go of a linear narrative, and exclusively rational explanations and start searching for a more richer way of understanding life and how it works. I had to let go of my skepticism, and embrace faith in a way I had never experienced before. I had to start being open to the fact that life might just truly be bigger than what we are conditioned to explain in acceptable ways. It’s a funny thing because I was raised Catholic, I work for a Catholic institution (I am an educator) and we talk a lot about faith. But this was something else… I had to really feel faith, in my bones, and let go of my own rational judgements. And this is a very vulnerable place to be – to accept my insignificance, and to trust God’s Time, nature, and the flow of the universe. I had to let go of my prides, my assumptions, and my judgements of other people. It’s a weird place to be, but it has taught me to say yes… You don’t really have anything concrete to hold onto, and yet, there is a feeling of being in communion with time, space, people, and you feel that you are just where you should have been all along and that you have everything at your fingertips. I had to let go of my narrow views of my own existence and accept that perhaps there is truly way more to this life than we can fully articulate. This has been an incredibly humbling journey…

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Once you let go, what did you find on the other side that was worth taking the leap?
Oh my… the list is huge. I found almost everything I had longed for, and dreamed of. I found strength, I found a connection to myself, I found love all around me. I found old memories and old dreams, wisdom, healing, old friends, family (it turns out I have a cousin here in Montreal and a childhood friend which is a full story of life’s miracles in its own), new friends, beauty, God, challenges, growth, magic, peace, freedom, and the amazing understanding that being on my own is an incredibly powerful thing. I found independency and my own strength – which to be honest, I think is what I was afraid all along. I think my biggest fear was the fear I had of my own strength. I have to say however: this wasn’t easy. I committed myself to growing – and growing is as painful as it is wonderful. I actually said a prayer when I woke up on January 1st 2014, and I asked the universe to guide me, and that in turn, I would put my very best effort forth, and that I would listen to the voice of my intuition and respect it. There have been some very tough moments along the way. I am convinced that stories of our precious lives are not straight lines, and they are more like ellipses, going up, and down, in a circular motion, but also in a forward motion… Just like the rest of the universe. I am actually writing a book about that. Maybe I will finish it in a few years. And perhaps then I will find love again… I still have hopes that some day I will fall in love in a very healthy, consensual, nurturing way.

 

2016-02-13_0004.jpgWhat would you tell someone whose fears are still holding them back?
That you will never know what you are capable of and what you were meant to be or to do, unless you take that leap. That failure is a precious gift and not something you need to be ashamed of. That shame comes from the stigma our society puts on struggles, but struggles provide an opportunity for growth and learning, and so we have to stop being ashamed of it and instead use it for our own development. That means you have to be ready to ask for forgiveness, you have to forgive yourself, and you have to be committed to learning from your past. It feels like it’s the scariest thing you’ll ever do, but it will be the best thing you’ll ever do for yourself and for the people who love you. I think it’s very much what Brene Brown talks about in The Power of Vulnerability. People may not understand it right away, and the beginning might feel difficult (establishing Feminine Harbor was a labor of love even within my own family and I am just starting), but there is no price to your feeling of integrity, and self-respect is an amazing feeling. I would say that once you know who you are, no one can take that away from you, and that today we live in a world and especially in a country where our human rights will prevail. So whoever you are: gay, straight, trans, immigrant, single parent, indigenous, black, arabic, young or elder… There is love, support, and help out there, and there is nothing wrong with you. You may believe that you are not good enough because you were told that by most people who are actually hurting and unhappy with themselves so they projected their fears, their judgement, and their failures and inherited ideas onto others… But that is not your truth. Only you know your truth, and your purpose. As long as we choose kindness, and self-respect, I say everything else is fair game.
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Is there anything else you would like to share with people on the blog?
Yes – do the work! Life is not easy for most people, but it is worth it, and be open! Most people who accomplish their dreams, are deeply committed to them. The reward is the feeling of alignment and integrity that you are no longer lying to yourself. It’s not an easy journey though, but it’s a worthwhile one, and there are many ways to get there. Choose kindness, choose understanding, choose to do no harm to others, set your boundaries clearly (because learning to say no is just as important as learning to say yes). Build respectful and consensual interactions. Then move forward with your life. And always, always reach out. Our notions of privacy here in North America are very harmful and they cause an enormous amount of mental health issues. No one needs to hide for being human. Share your stories with honesty, your successes with humbleness, and your failures with wisdom because when you do, you pave the way for someone else who might also be struggling, who might also be suffocating under their own judgement, the judgement of others, or their own fear. I read this the other day from the House of Friendship in Kitchener: “Any stigma still connected to mental illnesses or substance addiction, continues to prevent people from choosing life saving treatment options.” For me, I had to stop worrying about what people thought of me, and I embraced hobbies that helped me heal – kayaking, sailing, camping; being connected to nature saved my life from some dark places. I know that some people think that I am selfish. What they don’t realize is that whenever I carve time for myself to bring joy to my life (be it through yoga, biking, or dance) I am putting forth my sincere effort at staying balanced, and well so that I can be a good, loving person – because I am finally learning how to love, and it starts with myself.

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