After learning more about Deanne Matthews and then having a conversation together, I realized I had met a woman who is truly living life with intention. (This is my ultimate daily practice!). I cried when I heard Deanne’s story of her abusive childhood. And then I was overwhelmed with humbleness and gratitude when I learned how she has chosen to overcome her past.
We each have a unique story (and one is not greater than another). And none of us are exempt from pain or difficulty through the life experiences that we’ve had. These stories change our lives and through the power of choice, can change them for the better. What Deanne shares (and teaches) is that no matter what we have gone through as individuals, we each have the ability to live a life of freedom from our past.
There is a wealth of wisdom, healing and life changing lessons that Deanne’s story offers and I know it will speak to you, as it did me.
Be You and Thrive (BY&T): Deanne, you had an alcoholic mother who physically and emotionally abused you and were sexually abused by your stepfather until 16 years of age, when you told him he could no longer touch your body. In your story you shared, “This was a huge declaration and it took every ounce of courage I had. I wanted to thrive and I knew I could. I couldn’t blame anyone else, I could not ask God why or hold him accountable. I had to let go of the belief that I had no choice other than to continue in my old life and become like them.” You later explained that you, “…found an inner courage that I imagine a warrior going into battle might possess.”
For those that are reading this interview and are struggling with their past or present, can you share how you found this ‘inner warrior’ that helped you move past these horrific life events?
Deanne Mathews (DM): When we have challenging stories, I think on a whole it’s difficult for us to look at them, because they ask us to really face what we’ve experienced. And it’s important to meet our painful emotions, which for me was shame. I was penetrated with shame. It was oozing out of me. There was shame, humiliation and there was the embarrassment I held towards my family. I think as women when we have difficult stories, (and it doesn’t have to be this severe to impact us), we keep them quiet, not wanting to reconcile them because we are afraid of what that will mean.
An analogy I can share is about my dog Wallace, that I just rescued. He’s been abused and was neglected, so he spends a lot of time in his dog kennel because he doesn’t quite trust me. But I don’t go and pull him out of where he feels safe. I sit there with him and I’m patient with him and I allow him to build trust with me.
And I think that’s what we have to do, is to sit with ourselves in this same way, not denying our feelings, but also not allowing them to define us.”
When we embrace our stories with a full heart, it’s with love. For me, if I were to share how I’ve healed—is absolutely through the power of love—the love for myself.
BY&T: That’s so powerful. And when you say, ‘sit with your feelings,’ I’ve been pondering on that for a few years now. As I sit with them, I have more ability to manage through my hard experiences and understand them. Self love is truly powerful.
After leaving home, you moved into an apartment at a young age and ‘did the work’ as you described it. You journaled, cried, grieved and found direction through a counselor who helped you face your past. And eventually, you shared:
“I started to look at my Stepfather with feelings of compassion and understanding. The anger that I had felt for so many years was replaced with empathy. I was learning that we do not have to be victimized by anything in life no matter what situation we are faced with.”
Your word ‘victimized’ struck a cord with me because I think many people have individual stories of child or adulthood where they feel as though they were victims of a situation. And they hold onto anger and it changes their world. How was learning this valuable lesson, life changing for you?
DM: I want to talk about victimization. I think victimization is something that we’re conditioned to believe and is something we have to buy into. We live in a world where we hear victimization in every place we turn our eyes to, and it boxes us into believing something about ourselves that’s really limiting. I’m very much a fan of letting go of any sort of language that defines us into a smaller idea of who we are, rather than what’s possible. And so with my childhood, I look at that time of my life as, ‘this is what I experienced.’ I don’t put a box around it, calling myself a victim because I’m not. Labels are really damaging and limiting because they don’t allow us to be with the full breath of that experience. It keeps us separated from it—and we cannot heal ourselves when we are separated.
The ‘victim’ says you have to be mad. You have to be angry because you’ve been victimized. And this is so untrue. I don’t have to be mad. I can actually just say, ‘You know what? That guy was really screwed up and it doesn’t mean that I have to own that.’
BY&T: That’s a completely different outlook and perspective, isn’t it?
DM: Yes, absolutely! I think so!
BY&T: I just love the joy that you emanate. You are an amazing woman Deanne!
DM: Ah! I just feel so alive in life. It was a crappy situation but it doesn’t have to be that in life. I’m sitting in the sun right now thinking, ‘Wow! I’m alive…this is pretty cool!’
BY&T: You moved to Australia from Canada when you were around 21 years old and ended up meeting a man who became your husband a year later. You became pregnant and two years after you were married, your husband passed away from cancer. You learned what unconditional love was in your mid-twenties. You share that you, “…loved your husband as he prepared to die.” And that, “…it strengthened my understanding of how precious life is and how easily it can be taken away. And it helped me to accept that while situations occur, over which we have no control, we do have a choice in how we respond to those circumstances.”
Tell me about your belief in the power of choice and the power of how we respond to circumstances.
DM: I look at my experience with my husband’s death, and even in the pain, I saw so much beauty. I’m not going to say that it was smooth and it was an easy experience to move through—of course not. I felt really lost in the aftermath of that. But during his death, I was in such a present moment with all that was happening, I felt like I noticed every detail; like a nurses kind words and just the real undercurrent of what life is about. And that’s what I wanted to choose, because I knew I only had a short period of time left with him. So it was like, ‘What am I going to do with this time? Am I going to be really present in this moment and really experience what love is?’
He saved my life, really—in terms of showing me what love was, and acceptance, and embracing me as who I was at that time. I was and I still am very flawed. I was in my early 20s and was finding my way. I was moving through a lot of stuff. He really allowed me to experience love on a deeper level and I wanted to know what that was like. So that was my choice. I knew that I could be wasting that time by looking at what I was losing or actually just staying in the present moment and receiving what was available to me, which was an abundance of love. I remember one night when I carried him to the bathroom because he couldn’t walk anymore. It was the night before he died. And he said to me, ‘I’m so afraid.’ And I said, ‘I know. It’s going to be okay.’ It was upsetting for us, yet there was also so much connection. I remember carrying him to the toilet and cleaning him up and the amount of love that was in that moment—because it was so raw and vulnerable. That memory will stay with me always.
We undervalue the power of choice so much. We think we have to ‘choose hard’ because we live in a challenging world, but we don’t have to follow that train of thought. We can choose to not be seduced by challenge and stress. We can actually move into our purest nature, which is love. Choosing is available to all of us. We just don’t give ourselves the permission to do so.”
BY&T: When you share your story and I hear you talk about your husband, I feel like he was such a gift to you—like an angel.
DM: Aaah! Amazing! But so was my stepfather. I wouldn’t be the person that I am today without that experience, because I learned a lot about compassion and forgiveness through that. So all these gifts, they might turn up looking a bit dirty and nasty, but when we peel them back, it’s really the diamond in the rough. You have to have faith in that.
BY&T: I’m certain there are women that are reading this article wondering how you were able to get to the place that you are today. Do you think that it takes practice to have this positive outlook in life?
DM: You have to have the courage to practice it every moment and every opportunity that you get. And you’re going to fall down, because we all do. It’s important to allow a big scope for our humanness. This is not about being perfect. This is about a devotion unto ourselves. I am devoted to this way of life. I am devoted to staying true to the integrity within myself.
You might ask, ‘How do you do that?’ And it’s through the smallest of steps. I was recently working with a woman who has a huge past too. And she said, ‘Oh, I haven’t been doing all the ‘stuff’ that we discussed.’ And I said, ‘But you spent 30 seconds making the choice whether to come here, rather than making an excuse not to.’ And that’s what I want to celebrate.
Our growth doesn’t happen in the fireworks. It doesn’t have to be in these flashy moments. It’s in the small moments, because this allows us to build the resources within. In that 30 seconds she made her own decision to do something of value for herself. So now, she knows she can choose again when she comes across another opportunity to make another decision—and has that inner resource to do so. That will empower her as she cultivates this. She chose empowerment over easy. She chose what’s right for herself, over what’s easy for herself.
It’s really about bringing self-awareness to the moment. It’s in the smallest of steps. I often think, ‘What small thing am I going to experience next that is going to allow me to move into more wholeness.’
BY&T: It’s changing our thinking pattern. And it’s so available to us, but we do see it as being too big to even enter. I love how you’ve described this.
DM: And really it’s not! We simply have to muster up the courage. We have to allow our spirit to drive us, rather than our fear.
BY&T: As an adult, you were able to tell your stepfather that you forgave him. And about 5 months later he took his own life and you delivered his eulogy. You state, “I spoke with care and compassion. There was no reason to hang on to anger and hate, and my life is so much better for it.”
There is so much unforgiveness in the world between friends and families. I imagine everyone who is going to be reading this can think of people that won’t forgive others due to various circumstances. Will you share with the community at Be You and Thrive why forgiveness is so important?
DM: Because it releases us. We take off the big backpack full of boulders. Forgiveness actually allows us to live our truest life. Because when we can live in the lightness of ourselves, we become unburdened. It’s not even about the other person. When I told my stepdad that I forgave him, I wasn’t thinking I hope he accepts this, it didn’t matter to me. I wanted him to hear what I did with my pain and who I became. It was about where my heart could soften in the moment—within the most damaging experiences in my life.
When we are unburdened, our focus and energy doesn’t tumble into all the terrible things that this person did—our life is not defined by that. And it’s true, that this was a really damaging experience in my life, so I had to do a lot of work on myself. Going to this place of ‘I’m unburdening myself through forgiveness,’ allowed me to claim my power back.
Had I not forgiven my stepfather, I would be taking that abuse, that burden, and burdening myself with it, which would be the focus of my life. When we don’t forgive, we move into a place of self-induced suffering. Does that make sense?
BY&T: 100%! And suddenly, through forgiveness we can express our gifts, our talents and can live to our full potential. I’ve carried that backpack of boulders and understand your analogy well. Deanne, Is there someone in your life that has empowered you and helped you become the woman you are today?
DM: My biggest teacher has been life and stepping forth with courage. It’s been my willingness to go into the places that frightened me the most. It’s also been through my spirituality which to me is all about self connection. It’s not through what I can see, but what I can feel. And I have to give credit to the counselor that I saw, because she really helped me on the path. It’s been more about my own observations and really moving through my own pain.
BY&T: And through everything that you have experienced—through your childhood, the difficulties in your life and the celebrations—have all of these experiences developed a passion that you now have to give back to women and help them forgive, live and view their lives differently?
DM: I share my story not to have people go, ‘Wow look at what that girl went through.’ It’s not about that. It’s about showing what’s possible. And for me if I weren’t to share my gift, I wouldn’t be of service. And being of service is really important to me. I think when we liberate ourselves we experience true freedom, however that is expressed in life. I am a mirror reflecting back what’s available to all of us no matter what happens in all of our lives.
• • • • •
BY&T concluding thoughts: At the end of our conversation, I asked Deanne if anyone has referred to her as a hero. Her reply, “No. No one has told me that before.” I continued to share with her that I felt she was and explained why.
“Because you weren’t shown love or safety as an innocent child should and now you offer it to others. Because you forgave what many would consider ‘the unforgivable’ and you thrive because of it. Because you are a shining example of what happiness and love truly is—it’s created and developed from within. And because you’ve turned your difficulty into a passion and are helping other women by sharing your story openly—in humility and grace.”
What a joy it was to sit, listen and talk with Deanne. Her story has impacted my life and I’m certain it has also impacted yours.
Self Love Woman Resources:
Read Deanne’s full story on her website
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