When I first was released from the relationship that was killing me, I felt lost, frightened, alone. I needed to focus my attention on something bigger than me, something beyond the despair of having being abused. I needed to connect to people who didn’t know me, didn’t know my story, didn’t know about the man who promised to love me ’til death do us part and took the death part way too seriously, and so, I decided to volunteer. I thought, if I can give while I feel so impoverished, I will be reminding myself that I am not as “useless” as I feel.
And it worked. Once a week, I joined a group of women and men at the church down the street from where I was living to make sandwiches for street people. In the act of giving back I received the gift of feeling valued.
As I grew in confidence I began to do more. Regularly I joined the woman who went down to the East end of Vancouver to distribute the sandwiches to the homeless, addicts and prostitutes who frequented the street. I joined a choir and sang at senior’s residences and hospitals. I took over the newsletter for a woman’s support group I belonged to and volunteered with an organization that worked with at-risk youth.
Giving back gave me the gift of knowing I can make a difference. Giving back helped me find the strength to start giving myself the love and respect, dignity and grace I deserved and so desperately needed. So three years ago, when I joined the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre, (The DI) as their Manager of PR, I found a home serving people without a home. The DI is a large shelter in Calgary, Alberta. Open 24/7, every night approximately 1,250 individuals seek shelter, and every day, over 3,500 meals are served. My job encompasses creating awareness for the DI, building bridges that extend from homelessness to the media, citizens of Calgary, government officials, police service and other agencies we need to interact with in order to ensure we have the resources to meet the needs of the people we serve. I also volunteer as a teacher, coaching clients on self-esteem, goal setting and creating more of what they want in their lives.
I love what I do. Every day I have the opportunity to make a difference. Every day I live in gratitude. And living in gratitude is the greatest expression of self-love I can give myself. From gratitude stems the joy of living at peace with who I am and the world around me.
When I leave the shelter at night, I drive past the people hanging around our property. Some are high on drugs. Some are drunk. Some are simply sitting on the curb trying to make sense of what is happening in their life. Some are coming from work. Some going to find a job. When I drive out of our property towards home, I am grateful for the fact, I have a home. I have food on my table, a job I love, people I love and people who love me. Every day working at the shelter, I am reminded of all that I am grateful for, and I get to share my gratitude with everyone I meet.
This video comes out of an art program I started when I first joined the DI. I believe life is filled with possibility. Sometimes, however, our worldview becomes limited to the dark corridors of our despair as we forget to look up from the mess at our feet to see the limitless possibilities of the world around us. Finding a way to tap into our unique creative expression is a powerful tool that can unleash our belief in ourselves, and our ability to change our lives for the better. The art program was the first step in making creative expression possible for clients at the DI. From there we have branched out to writing, mask-making, singing, theatre, dance. The possibilities are limitless — we just have to believe in the possibility of making it happen.
When we started this video, I had no idea the power it would have to touch hearts and open minds. For me, being part of making it happen has opened my heart to the realization that what happened with the man who abused me is not my reality today. My reality today is the beauty and wonder of living free of his abuse. It is the joy of knowing I am okay. That was then. This is now. And now is what really counts. Now is when I get to make a difference in my life, and in the lives of those I touch.
I use my story a lot when working with clients at the DI. I use my story as an example of the power that comes when we can let go of the pain and sorrow of the past to leap into the joy of being alive in the rapture of now.
This video is a testament to the power of song to awaken each of us to the joy of being alive without fear we will never be enough. The performers you hear and see are client musicians of the DI as well as Calgary musicians. Some are homeless. Some are not. We chose not to differentiate between who was who. We didn’t want to label someone as “other than” simply because they did or didn’t have a home of their own. In this video, it is the power of community that makes the difference. Everyone is good enough to stand together and sing. Everyone has value. It is an immutable truth of life. I am good enough. I do enough. I am enough. So are each and every one of you.