Owning Our Story

5 02 2009

jump-for-joySomething we all struggle with growing up is finding and expressing our authentic self, who we really are. Sometimes even more difficult is being able to honestly express it to others. This is a struggle I think we will continue to have until the day we die (as we never, hopefully, stop growing). There are so many forces at play, trying to be a part of molding who we become; our parents, families, friends, belief systems (spiritual or otherwise), schools, society, cultures and all the traditions, dogma’s, teachings, patterns, baggage, etc. that come along with them. Combine their constant, non-stop stream of input and efforts to influence how you interact with the world, with the very experiences you face and live through, it’s no wonder one of the greatest challenges we will ever face is finding what truly lies at our core, valuing the uniqueness of what we have to offer the world and where our place in all this is.

Now I’m not going to say something like, “All of those influences and experiences do not define who you are, your true authenticity comes from within” which is something that seems to be becoming a part of our everyday lingo (as witnessed in the oodles of self-help, self-empowerment books, courses, etc that we see so commonly in the media nowadays). And I’m not saying any of this is bad, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. There just seems to be a huge emphasis on the “self” part, taken to the point of leaving everything you’ve experienced or been a part of or struggled with behind, to start anew. Although true to a certain extent, that our authenticity comes from within, all of those experiences and inputs ARE a major part of shaping who we are. We actually NEED those challenges and interactions to find our authentic self, the real us. The very struggle with it all is the fire that offers to reveal our truest form, to forge us into achieving our greatest capacity. What comes from within is the faith in ourselves that what we choose to influence how we interact with what we encounter is right, the courage to stand by those choices, the honesty to recognize when those outlooks or perceptions will no longer help us forward and need to evolve into something more, the humility to accept the lesson we are meant to learn.

In the last few months, the theme of taking responsibility for ones actions or “owning your choices”, has brought itself to the forefront of my mind. I’ve been seeing it in what I read, hearing it in conversations and thinking about it in reflection. I believe that owning our choices is a key component in our journey to authenticity. If we do not acknowledge the experiences we’ve had, take responsibility for the choices we make, the subsequent actions taken at any given time and the outcomes that follow, whether a success or a failure, then we fall prey to becoming a victim to our circumstances, the result of someone else’s doing.

Now although I feel I’ve striven as best I can to own my choices, to be authentic to my true self, only in the last few years has it felt like I’ve started to get what that is….kind of. And something that’s been hammering itself home is that to fully own the choices we make, the experiences we face and what we take away from them, is to own everything that’s come before. So long as we do not acknowledge what’s come before and own it, whether brought upon us by choices we’ve made or forced upon us by outside circumstances, we relinquish power to it all. We relinquish strength, confidence, love, courage, honesty and so much more. Power and qualities that we need to forge ahead in unearthing our utmost capacities.

From start to finish, we need to own our life, “own our story”.

bookI’ve recently been moved and challenged to take yet another step towards discovering and expressing my authentic self. And that has manifested itself in completely owning my story. I’ve felt blessed to have had the life I’ve had, to have had the people, the experiences and the learning that have come with it. They have all been a part of who I have become, in discovering who I am. But there is a part of my story that not many know, because I am hesitant to share it. Not because it traumatized me so (I’ve made my peace with it and the people involved), but because I think “what value does this hold for anyone else?”, “I don’t want anyone to pity me or feel sorry for me”, “I don’t want to seem like I’m looking for attention or sympathy”, “It may make people uncomfortable to hear these things”, “Others have gone thru far worse, what makes my experience of any significance”, “If I say anything, people may think less of me” and so on and so forth.

But in that hesitation, I relinquish the power generated by that part of my life, to those thoughts, to those outside influences. Power I need to move forward. I need to fully embrace it, to acknowledge it, to own it.

Sharing in this manner, laid out for the whole world to see, is by no means the only way to own your story. It is merely the way I need to do it, to own mine……

When I was 5 years old, my family moved to a small Native community in the Northwest Territories of Canada. This was a huge change coming from suburban Quebec. It was 750 people, accessed only by plane (or winter road when the lake froze over). It got cold and dark, bright and buggy. We were also one of the few white families there (often the only white children). We were immediately seen as outsiders, expected to be around no more then a year or two. We were also the only Baha’is in a predominantly Catholic community. So not only was there skin color and cultural background going against us, there was also a perception of spiritual differences.

My family was on the receiving end of intense racism and prejudice. A day didn’t go by that I was not sworn at, spit on or ridiculed. My sin, I just wanted to be their friend….and I bore the skin color of those who had heaped great injustice on the First Nations of North America. I was told I worshipped the devil and the rocks. I had my homework shredded by my teacher and told I was shit. I was sent to the principal’s office when I got beaten up. I was constantly told I was no good at anything, that I was inferior and could never hope to be as good as them. My life and the welfare of my family was constantly being threatened.

I was sexually abused by my peers. “Okay, whoa, whoa! Going pretty far to claim something like that, Shane. Kids do stuff all the time, they don’t know any better, it’s just part of discovering their bodies, their sexuality”. Yeah, I’d brushed it aside very much the same way, until by fluke it came up years later. I’d actually not thought about it for years. But there was no mistaking the maliciousness, the force and intent of what I experienced. And if we are brushing those things aside as “kids exploring their bodies and sexuality”, then it is a sick state our society is in and needs to change. I also need to take responsibilities for my actions. Although I was on the receiving end in these cases, there were numerous occasions where I was on the giving end of sexual impropriety. It was never meant as malicious or forced, but I don’t know how those on the receiving end perceived it or felt. Even though it was all before the age of 12, there is no excuse. To those who experienced any injustice at my hand, I’m sorry. bullies

I was beaten regularly, on a weekly, often daily basis. Never one on one. Always at least five of them. I had my head kicked in, choked to near passing out, pummeled until I couldn’t breath and then some more. Faced innumerable firing squads, with rocks as their weapon of choice, attacked with sticks. Not just from the kids my age, but ranging to as much as 10 years older. Always an outcast, always excluded. Even on my own hockey team, as their goaltender, I was blamed for every loss. I constantly had to defend myself from beatings in the dressing rooms and outside the arena.

I ran…..alot. As often as I was made to fight. Actually when I went to high school, in a different community, I joined track and field. My coach said I was a great runner and asked if I ran a lot back home. Hahaha. I replied “Yeah, you could say that”.

Now one might ask, “where were your parents in all this?” They were there like you had no idea. They too faced many challenges, though in the form of mental and emotional. They instilled within us the strength, the patience and courage to persevere in the face of intense hardships. At one point, out of concern for our well-being, they even offered an out. After a particularly rough beating, my Dad asked if I wanted to move. I said no, as I thought what message would that send, to just give up and leave. Especially after all the challenges we’d already endured. Maybe I was just a sucker for punishment. All joking aside, the harder they came, the stronger and more resolute I became. A fire had been sparked within. And at the end of the day, after coming home from the onslaughts, I had my haven of love and support to go back to, a place to recharge my batteries. I counted myself lucky. Because I knew, most of my tormentors were not. Many didn’t have a safe place to go back to. Alcoholism, drugs and physical and sexual abuse were prevalent in the community.tp-nwt

Now this all paints a pretty bleak picture of my childhood, the community and the people. And although I acknowledge that it was as real as the words on this page, there were also beautiful, amazing things about being there. And some beautiful, amazing people. It was an experience that was a major part of forging me into the man I am today and continue striving to be. It saw us become accepted by the community, by our very tormentors, referred to as one of their own. But that’s the part I usually share with others, openly and happily.

This was about sharing the flip side of the coin.

About owning my story……

All of it.

s.

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9 responses

6 02 2009
Deb Currelly

Hi Shane,

You stuck it out! It’s hard to prove but I sense that attitudes are beginning to change and that people are coming to an understanding of the Bahai message as a result of such suffering. Your family was there to deliver that message and for that we all need to express our appreciation. Thank you for playing your role.

“Verily this is that Most Great Beauty,…, through Whom truth shall be distinguished from error and the wisdom of every command shall be tested.”

The testing is so painfull but understanding the wisdom of the commands is stronger as a result. Obeying these commands, now that we are seeing their validity, will lead us to better times. Thanks for telling your story.

Sincerely,
Deb

6 02 2009
mudspice

Shane, your courage to share your story with everyone is an incredible gift. In it, I am sure, everyone who reads it will find some part of it that resonates with them and opens up the path to healing in their own life. Your childhood is the kind that we, as parents, all want to protect our children from. And yet, it has made you who you are – someone with incredible determination, focus, strength, self-discipline, confidence and faith. It is a wonderful reminder for me that the challenges we all face, and our children will face, are there to spiritually strengthen us. Thank you!

6 02 2009
makingtracks

Shane, my heart ached for you, in reading what you had to go through. Suffering is a great mystery while you are going through it. But looking at who you have become, I see how much you have been shaped by the hardships and persecution you faced. You have tremendous courage, strength of character, and detachment from what others think. You can take disappointment, failure, and rejection, and not let it deflate you. You follow your own path with integrity and cheerfulness. And now I understand why! Your parents played an important role in offering such loving support and being a shining example to you and your sisters. And you have chosen the path of forgiveness and acceptance of others – and yourself. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. Debby

6 02 2009
Stuart North

A pretty harsh experience Shane. One that you probably would not want your own children to go through. If anything it certainly helps us realize why the world needs to learn how to eliminate prejudice and to treat one another with compassion. Too bad it’s such a slow process and there is so much suffering in the meantime.
When I was a child growing up in the UK I had a school friend who was Jewish. This made us the target of aggression from the other kids with the result that the playground became a battleground and we seemed to spend our days fighting to survive. Not a happy situation and not one that would be tolerated in schools nowadays. Even more disturbing for me however was finding out that actually, at the time, my own father was prejudiced against Jews. In later years after emigrating to Canada this experience helped me understand the importance of the Baha’i teachings on eliminating prejudice.

6 02 2009
Nicola

Shane, I am quite shocked to read your story. When you came to us in Ft. Smith you were confident, happy and out going. You would have never guessed what had happened to you in your former community. I realize that these things do occur but it saddens me that they do. I really hope that the people there will come to accept outsiders that have come to possibly do good. You are obviously stronger than many to have persevered. I am happy that you have taken to helping others are spreading your strength to them. We still miss you here in Ft. Smith. Come visit any time (I hope we have been always welcoming).

7 02 2009
Richard

Shane,
Thanks for sharing. The really nice thing about your childhood that I get from this story is that even as a very young person, you seemed to realize that it wasn’t about you and what they were doing was not really them. It seems to me that that is a huge gift that you have. I guess a lot of people are going to be affected in a really positive way by what you have been through.

9 02 2009
Lucie

My Dearest son Shane,

As a parent and as a mother, protecting one’s children from any kind of hardship is always at the forefront of one’s mind. You are correct in saying that your father and I experienced both mental and emotional turmoil when you and your sisters experienced hardships that were beyond any hardship we had ever encountered in our own childhood.

I remember the time that a mother was kind enough to call me to let me that 10 kids were beating you up and that I better come right away. As I ran in the direction of the fight (leaving your younger sisters alone at home) the crowd dispersed before I knew who could do this to my son. I remember that evening your dad and I sat you down and gave you permission to fight back as long as you were not the first one to throw the punch. That it was ok for you to defend yourself if you were in danger. Ever the gentle soul that you are, your response was that you did not want to fight. You would try to run away.

This was a number of years after your first encounter with injustice. I would like to share my part in your story. Some of which you may recall and some you may not. I was 25 and your father was 26 (younger than you are today…(I know it’s hard to believe that your parents were once young:), parents of three at the time, embarking on a new adventure. Although we had always talked about homeschooling our children we decided to place you into the grade one class in the hope that this would allow us to be accepted into the community. We feared that homeschooling you would give the wrong impression. And so you were enrolled in the school.

My first encounter with your teacher, who was a member of the community, was regarding keeping you after school to finish your work and then proceed to rip your work and throw it in the garbage. I could not understand this behaviour on the part of the teacher toward a 5 year old child. It made me sick to know you were treated in this manner, extinguishing any enthusiasm for learning. I had a number of encounters with your teacher. I don’t think he liked me much.

Another encounter regarded the sexual abuse you received from your peers. Every week, in lieu of a gym class, the students were sent to the showers. This was to ensure that students had washed at least once a week. As there were many students who would not have the opportunity to get a wash at home on a weekly basis, the school made sure that they did. When you told me what had happened I confronted the teacher once again. He of course referred to it as ‘part of discovering their bodies, their sexuality’ and that I should not be concerned. Well I was concerned. We were concerned. I told your teacher that you were to be exempt from taking showers as you had them regularly. Over the period of 6 months I saw my happy, joyful little boy become someone I did not recognize. It pained me to see you suffer so much. Fitting into the community no longer matter. The physical, mental and spiritual well-being of my children was far more important. And so began your homeschooling years. This did not illiminate the hardships but they were somewhat reduced.

As I look back, you have always been attracted to states of survival (like camping in -40 degree weather), always challenging yourself, always trying to improve yourself, always trying to overcome difficult situations. I have also witness on a few occasions your intolerance towards those who inflict injustice onto others. I think I now understand where that comes from.

As a parent and as your mother I am so very proud of the man, the husband and the father you have become. I would like to think that your father and I, in our limited abilities, were able to provide you with all the love and support to counterbalance the harchness of this world.

I am always reminded that tests are liken to a piece of metal. If left alone, the metal will rust and decay. But when the metal is vigorously rubbed it begins to shine. When God tests us it is to make us shine. He is rubbing our metal.

And Shane, you shine indeed!

I Love You
Mom

11 03 2009
Running With the Pack « Gym Jane!

[…] It wasn’t until the next day I realized my initial reaction was “they’re putting limits on me”.  “They’re  stopping me from doing everything I can to get the benefits of this system (which I really see the value of) to others.” Say what?! Why would they do that?  Well, they wouldn’t. I wasn’t reacting to what the CST Head Coaches were saying. I was reacting to the idea of a group, or “pack” if you will, telling me I “can’t” do something, placing “limits” on how much I can do to realize my full potential. An idea that had been a major reality for me growing up. […]

6 01 2010
9,000 Days… « Dare To Evolve

[…] me think about my “9,000 days” and reflect on the purpose it’s served. The purpose it’s still serving. And how I have […]

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