Three years ago on a quiet evening at home, I was assaulted. I was doused in petrol and set on fire, and when I managed to get to the shower and wash away the burning fuel, my head was then beaten in with a hammer. I survived but with massive injuries. Thirty-five percent of my body was severely burned and my head was a cobbled road.
He was angry. No further reasons given and in his drug damaged mind, no further reason needed.
I underwent multiple skin grafts (from my thighs) to repair the damage, spent 6 weeks in hospital and 2 years in physical and emotional rehabilitation.
An unexpected event like this is life changing. Unimagined until it happens. Overwhelming when it does.
At the heart of this event one thing has became clear for me. Violence has only one goal, one clear agenda. Destruction. Total loss. It sought to diminish me, devalue me and ultimately leave me broken and bewildered.
But deep inside of me, hidden under layers of bandages, pain, shock and horror, an indistinguishable spark refused to die. I have value! I matter! I live
The love of family, friends and work colleagues became my support network. A network that widened to include strangers, whose hearts and minds were moved to show their compassion in many small kindnesses. I never cooked for six weeks, hairdressers, nurses, art teachers, psychologists, detectives, occupational therapists’ and neighbours carried us with their love and kindness, until the day it dawned on me that the goodness of humanity had an opportunity to overwhelm the horror of human acts.
I could get my faith in people back.
I used art to heal. There were no words for what I experienced and talking it out was difficult because my mind could not begin to form the thoughts that might describe what I was going through. I used colours to express, and imagery – lighthouses withstanding storms, sunsets for closures, sunrises for new beginnings and colours for emotions that I experienced.
My art was not dark. Life was dark. A horror movie playing out in real time and my art was instinctively trying to find and capture beauty, light and hope.
My art teacher introduced me to a Japanese art form called Kintsugi, where a broken vase is put back together with resin. Gold is then overlaid over each of the cracks, until each crack is a beautiful work of art. The vase is then put back into the home and used again, but this time as a revered and treasured vessel. This philosophy spoke so strongly to me as scarred as I was. Instead of discarding the vessel as is the Western way, and being tossed to the side as damaged goods, I chose instead to begin the painstaking journey of putting myself back together again, scar by scar and over time gilded each one of my breaks in gold, until it was stronger than before. My vulnerability became my strength. My pain became my humanity, and I allowed the extremeness of the event to redefine me and make me authentic.
There is no rule book for recovery from humanity’s worst actions. All I had was a knowledge that I mattered, to myself and those around me and from this I drew strength.
I made many choices over these years. Choices to be worthy, to interact from worthiness and to allow vulnerability and the flow through of my emotion. The only thing that separates the monster from the victim is emotion. One feels, the other doesn’t.
So I felt. I allowed the feelings, and I rode them out one by one, until they were spent and became constructive again. I chose to do no harm to myself. I cared for me. And I chose to do no harm to anyone else. It has formed my life philosophy.
Today I live a meaningful, loving and adventurous life. I know that personal value is the foundation for recovery. I also know that recovery is possible and that nothing is impossible. When you choose love and can love, you have everything you need to rewrite your thinking and aim for the stars. It takes time, and it takes effort, but you can do it!
I have given my life to make a difference in the world and to show other people who also face extreme challenges that violence, and its impact in your life can be completely turned around.
#No Harm! #PeacefulThriving
This blog post was written by Anthea Van Der Pluym. Catch Anthea at momondays Barrie, ON on 10/23/2017! Get your advance tickets here: Buy Tickets
Anthea Van Der Pluym is an international speaker and coach, and the Founder of the #NOHarm initiative focused on ending violence in the world. Her life inspires and educates others to recover fully from their own challenges. She travels extensively speaking to audiences in Canada, South Africa and the Middle East. For more about Anthea, visit http://antheavanderpluym.com.