Photo: Amanda Lindhout; File: portraitofAmandaLindhoutbyStevenCarty.jpg
I stumbled upon an article in The Huffington Post about Amanda Lindhout recently, that gave me pause and made me think. In 2008 when she was 26 years old, Amanda, a Canadian and a beginner journalist, was captured in Somalia by teenaged Islamist insurgents. She was held hostage for 15 months, during which time she was beaten, raped and tortured continuously, before being released. Since her ordeal, Amanda has focused on her healing, and as well turned her attention to philanthropic and humanitarian causes. She has been active in aid projects to Somalia, and she has acknowledged that her captors themselves were in need of some assistance due to the sociopolitical climate in that country. She is a sought after speaker and her memoir, A House in the Sky,which was written with a co-writer, has been lauded with multiple awards and optioned for film. Her story has been described as “an extraordinary narrative of forgiveness and spiritual triumph.”* I’ve read her memoir, which I found gripping, and I’ve seen her speak.
The Huff Post article which is from April of 2016, is a report on one of Amanda’s facebook posts from the same month. In it, she describes an upsetting experience she had at a speaking event in India where she was invited to speak on forgiveness and compassion by a group of successful entrepreneurs, many of whom had lived outside that country.
As a backdrop for the event, the group had set up a large banner behind the podium consisting of words in very large print. The caption “Amanda’s Story,” was featured in red and white on a black background. Other words in varying shades of gray and white surrounded the caption, including “rape,” “brutal,” “beaten,” and “misadventure.”
Amanda was taken off guard and stunned by the display; the words made her feel sick. She writes in her post that she felt that her dignity was at stake. Sitting at the head table and unsure of what to do, when it was time for her to speak she went to the podium and announced that she could not speak next to the banner. When she walked off the stage, she was jeered by a male audience member, to which she responded, “Would you want your daughter, sister, wife to stand next to those words if they had been assaulted?” Then, one of the male organizers of the event shouted that she was disrespecting people who had traveled long distances to come see her speak. It appears that she was not offered any understanding or apology. She concludes her facebook post about the experience by saying that a few months earlier, she would not have had the confidence to do what she did, and that she has “learned a lot about the culture of victim shaming and also the way a lot of people see a story like mine as entertainment instead of inspiration.”
Reading the Huff Post article, I realized that under similar circumstances I would not have had the courage to do what she did. Amanda’s facebook post woke me up to the healing I still have left to do after years of chronic and severe emotional and intellectual abuse by my father. Abuse that took place over my lifetime in full sight of my mother and siblings, but hidden from outside view. Although the violence I experienced was not of the same magnitude as what Amanda experienced, I, too, was a hostage of sorts, in my own childhood home.
For twenty plus years, I was pitted in a battle with my father for control of my mind. A deeply wounded, paranoid and irrational man, he insisted that I listen to him talk for hours at a time and validate him emotionally and intellectually. The smallest things could set him off into a rage and disagreements were not tolerated. I was intimidated physically, his six feet, two inches, 185 pound body looming over my thin, young frame. The rages were chronic and could last for days; he followed me around the house. My self-esteem decimated, I had trouble leaving home when I grew older. He refused to provide any support to me when I did.
I was an object to him, to be manipulated and toyed with for his purposes, not a subject with my own views and needs. Withstanding that kind of abuse for so many years, I lost almost all of my sense of my own subjectivity; I disconnected from myself and saw myself the way he did, as an instrument to meet others’ needs rather than a woman with needs of my own. I became almost robot like.
I would not have had the strength to do what Amanda Lindhout did in India because I would not have seen my own needs as important. In a similar situation, I might have dissociated from myself, my feelings and my needs. Still suffering from the conditioning of my childhood and my father’s insistence that I bow down to his needs, I might have bowed to the expectations of the crowd. I might have bowed to their perceptions of me.
I’m working on strengthening my connection to myself, through therapy. I’m working on listening to my self, my body; and I’m working on speaking and living my truth. And I’m grateful for Amanda Lindhout and other survivors like her who write about and share their journey of healing. In this way, when one of us becomes stronger, all of us can become stronger.
Yours in healing,