OMHG is on a break from our usual businessy goodness for a couple of weeks while I ensure my mama Stephanie Douglas is safe & stable in her mental + physical recovery after a life threatening illness. This is the first in a series of posts for her and includes carefully worded references to suicide, abuse, addiction and self harm that may trigger strong emotions-please care for yourself and only read if you are able. While I wish it was more unicorns & cupcakes this is part of our story and the heart of why I try every day to choose a life of community and compassion. Thank you to every one whose strong arms held me tight this week from all over the world- may all of us (men & women both!) always have the comfort of a sisterhood of strength.
Always, always, for my mother.
The most courageous acts of extraordinary strength go unwitnessed and uncelebrated every single day. Our true heroes don’t show up on the news, have fancy slick websites, or a bank account full of zeroes. Bear witness to the strong hearted sisters whose struggles go unseen, because if a woman cries out in the darkness and there is no one there to hear her, she is still weeping.
Witness the strength of the mother as she crawls out of bed after two hours of sleep to cradle her baby and pulls, from somewhere deep in her gut, the tenderness to whisper words of hope into those tiny ears. She doesn’t feel hopeful-her heart is a pile of broken shiny bits that she is piecing back together, yet she reaches inside to find some speck of joy and breathe life into it. Day after day she puts her children to bed only to hit the books, until the sun peeks through her window, and it is time to get the kids dressed for school.
Witness the strength of the advocate as she stands up into the silence to call out injustice, not once or twice, but every single time it slaps her in the face. She is the dark face in the white room, the other, the lone fist raised. She armours herself in conviction and steps out to be a voice for the unheard in a thousand little ways no one will thank her for. She is at city hall asking why the only community centre is being shut down, taking on school administrations to include children with disabilities, working for the rights of sex trade workers in our cities. Her passion for change makes her seem invulnerable so she goes home to her apartment and falls silently, completely apart, then puts on her breastplate and goes back into the battle.
Witness the strength of the survivor as she swims up fierce dark rivers of the heart. All alone she becomes her own life line and pulls herself to shore but she can’t find moorage, the bank is slippery, and she is adrift. No Cinderella happy ending for the battered girl as she claws her way back to herself to become her own prince. She knows there are things so terrible they can strip everything from you and leave you raw and broken. Yet she pulls from somewhere the strength to believe she will one day face her own reflection unencumbered and free.
A moment for all those mamas who gather their hopes around them like superhero cloaks and put one foot in front of the other on the road to a better life. A moment for all the women who speak out into silence in the hopes we will join our voices with theirs. A moment for the creative hearts who are making something beautiful from the wreckage they’ve inherited. A moment for all those who have been broken by others and who are on the journey back to wholeness.
I witnessed these stories of strength as my mama fought her way through my childhood. Five foot nothing of African-Cherokee-Jew she was a natural force of pure mama-love struggling to hold it all together. As a young single mother with no emotional or physical supports she kept us afloat while always making room in our lifeboat for others. She rebuilt herself after a past filled with abuse and horror stories but refused to be a victim, trying to teach me about my own beauty and value while struggling with mental illness that made it so hard to see her own.
When my grade 4 teacher told me I was stupid and tore up my work because he hated the colour of my mother’s skin and my mixed race, instead of backing down because he was well connected and up for the vice-principalship, she held him up to the light and lost him his job and reputation in the community. She was doing all she could to teach me that I didn’t have to endure injustice no matter how all-powerful the opponent seemed or how small they could make us feel. When my Aunt Lizzie put a gun in her mouth and took her life just before my 12th birthday my mama held us together and moved across the country to make a new start. When I took out my anger on the world at her, and on my own body with razor blades, drugs and violent men, she never stopped fighting for me or reminding me of my potential for greatness-a gift no one had given her. When my Nana killed herself four years later my mama flew to her in a heartbeat arriving too late to say all the things that needed to be said. Throughout all this conflict she took herself from unemployable and undereducated to an award winning journalist with an honours degree in Philosophy all entirely, heartbreakingly, alone.
Years of banging against the injustices of the world, trying to make it see some sense or failing that, bandage up some of its more painful messes left my mama without the resources to keep shining and she has been swimming hard upstream against her dark rivers this year. I try to give her back the gift she has given me every day of my life-the knowledge that I am not, and have never been, alone. Now it is my turn to hold her with my strong arms as she births a new life for herself, the relationship shifting as we mother together now, moving from strength to strength.
The sad thing about strength is that it isn’t infinite, you can use it all up and not realize you’ve run dry until you call on it for back up and find yourself drained of resiliency. The one thing that really fuels strength is being witnessed and celebrated by others who are willing to see and love you with all your broken bits. So when you see your sister struggling, reach out and hold her tight whether you know her or not. Hug her with the fierce love you can only give to another woman who is standing where you could have been and looking up. Let us never forget that we must create our own sisterhoods of strength so that when we cry out in the darkness there are arms to hold us safe and keep us in the light.
Originally published in Watch Her Thrive I wrote this story last year for my mom who is now in the hospital weaker than she has ever been. She needs strong sisters and brothers to remind her of her own strength and help with recovery. If you are able you can donate directly to her recovery fund here or please share a story of hope, strength, survival or inspiration with us & brighten the site + our days during this difficult time. Visit here to learn more about #StoriesForStephanie & to submit your own.