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  • Writer's pictureHelen Victoria

Rewrite Your Story, Change Your Future.

As I write this post, I am sitting under the layers of several jumpers that I have hurriedly unpacked from the moving boxes we brought back from Portugal, where we have recently been living in our converted van. England has quite suddenly (and rather impertinently) gotten rather chilly. After 10 years of living abroad on and off in warmer climates, the cold weather is something of a shock!

Happily, this post is all about sunnier times and much more positive outlook. Just a few a weeks ago, when the last of the summer sunshine was still lazily sitting with us each day, I spent a wonderful afternoon having my photo taken by Apryl Drew, who is an incredible local photographer here in Oxford.

I have had my photo taken many times before, as my performing career called for it. I dabbled in modelling as a creative also. I was a life model for several years, which turned out to be one of my very favourite artistic experiences. It’s safe to say that I am pretty used to adopting poses in front of a public lens. That is not to say that I always have been. Or that I was permitted to be.

Between the ages of 15 and 23, I was involved in a deeply abusive relationship. During this time I was controlled and published for being ‘selfish’ enough to want to be who I was. I was told I was vain for wanting to take part in the ballet photo shoots I was invited to model in. I was only, ‘nearly pretty’ and kidding myself if I thought I could be a ‘real’ model. For many years, I believed him.

Once freed, I went on to become a professional dancer as I had always dreamed of, travelling all over the world. I also succeeded as a model, despite all he had told me. Over the years, I worked hard to overcome the gaslighting lies my former abuser had woven into my mind. I sought therapy to heal what was still bruised and I proudly founded Living Liberté also.

But the lies I was once told still waited in the shadows in my most anxious moments. Despite all the healing work I had done, the unkind sentiments and abusive narratives he shared with me still reared their ugly heads on the days when I was struggling. As anyone who struggles with anxiety knows, our minds aren’t always as logical as we might hope they will be when triggered!

I spent the entirety of 2020’s lockdown mentoring young women who are struggling in abusive relationship situations. I heard stories from teenage women who were being threatened over digital media. I spoke to young women in their twenties who were forced to co-parent in isolation with their violent partners. I supported women in their early thirties who had nowhere else to turn.

This experience reminded me how important it is to have online resources and visual examples of the possibilities of freedom. When I was trapped in my own situation of abuse, I felt deeply alone. I knew no-one else my own age who was suffering domestic violence and at the time there were no online safe havens to access. This is the core of how and why Living Liberté was born, as a simple blog, way back in 2012.

This summer, I wrote down the ugly messages of the past on to my beautifully imperfect body. I took a sharpie and marked out the phrases that once tore through my heart so very painfully. Apryl and I literally - and wonderfully - crossed out and re-wrote each phrase one by one. We replaced each toxic message with a fresh new phrase of truth and overcoming.

As each line was crossed out and every new statement was inked upon my skin, I felt freedom fill my body. We laughed together as I contorted my limbs in all manner of position to reach each word and to photograph each literary evolution. What could have been a sad reflection moment turned into an enormous amount of joy.

Thanks to Apryl’s open minded creativity and deep technical skill, the horror stories I was once told have been rewritten in the most loving way. Each time I look at these photographs I feel as empowered as I was on that sunny mid-August afternoon. They represent the freedom we all deserve, in whatever walk of life we might step into.

Storytelling really is a beautiful thing - as are you.

With Love & Freedom,

Helen x

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