Dawn's Story: The Tale of the Beautiful Disaster
Long ago, at a time since passed, there was born a PERFECTLY IMPERFECT Princess in a STABLY UNSTABLE environment, which led to her having a gift of being PREDICTABLY UNPREDICTABLE and eventually becoming a BEAUTIFUL DISASTER.
I am a Legacy. The child of a traumatized BEAUTIFUL DISASTER who would have laughed at you if you told her she was beautiful. My dreams, goals, and desires in life were simple. I wanted to be anyone, but my Mother. I felt like I was born into the wrong family. I wanted a life, to make a difference, to see the world and to be of service to humanity. I wanted to be a part of something bigger. I did not want to end up a teenage mother or an alcoholic, and I definitely did not want to be trapped in an unhappy marriage living in a two-bedroom apartment with three kids above my husband's mother. I couldn’t see for the longest time that my Mother did the best she could with the knowledge that she had. She had her own trauma to deal with that my teenage brain could never comprehend.
My quest to break free, find myself, serve others and be different than my mother led me to join the Canadian Armed Forces at 18 years old where I had a brief 23-month career as a Naval Signalman that earned me a fast-tracked PhD in Hard Knocks University. I learned adaptability, resilience, and that if you report being sexually assaulted you got made an example of. Then, after they damage you even more, they throw you away like a disposable plate that is of no more use. I knew when I joined the Military, I was signing a blank cheque that was up to and including my life, but I didn’t think I would be signing over my body, my mind and my soul to be used as a toy or that I would return home at 20 years old a “Living Dead Girl.” I felt like such a failure and an attempt to take my life landed me in a psychiatric ward where I found out I was pregnant (this was not military related). I had a reason to live and keep going, even when I did not want to.
I had no self confidence, no self worth, no self respect, and I could not see I had skills that had allowed me to overcome any obstacle placed before me because I was stuck in the hurt and conditioning of others. I thought I was an object, a possession, something to be had and I went to great lengths to people please so I could feel wanted and needed. This led me down many dark paths filled with more trauma, rejection, abuse, abandonment, hurt, betrayal, and self sabotage. I knew I was not the only one in the military who had experienced what I had. Systemic discrimination, sexual harassment and assault, abuse of power, a suck it up attitude, and fear of reprisals for reporting. I could not let go of what happened to me, as I could still not comprehend how I ended up charged for reporting my rape or how I was denied my chance at a career because I did not want to “learn to be a slut” or “keep my mouth shut when I had things done to me.”
In 1998, myself, and 12 other brave, courageous women stood up and called out the Canadian Armed Forces. I was featured on the cover of a national magazine called MacLeans with “Rape in the Military” beside my head. There were follow-up articles, public outcry, a reckoning for “we must do better” and then it was quickly swept under the rug. This was 1998, Society was not ready to deal with that paradigm shift yet. I was vilified and ostracized for telling the truth. Something I became accustomed to. This put me in a negative mindset for years thinking that I was bad, irrelevant, nobody and incapable of being loved. My desire to serve and wanting to assist others like myself led me to University at 30 years old to get a nursing degree so I could learn the skills to help myself and to help others. My childhood trauma, attachment issues, abandonment and rejection issues left me caring too much, feeling too much had having no boundaries. I was a people pleaser, that never felt wanted, so needed to feel needed and I ended up burning myself out. My kids and their friends were my lifeline although they often took advantage of my kindness and mental state. Throw in three abusive marriages to narcissists and you end up with a woman that says, “Hey wait a minute, things need to change.” I knew if something did not change, I was going to give up, implode or explode.
My moment of awakening came when my third husband hit me in the side of the head with my cell phone. It was like a light switch was turned on and my whole existence screamed “You deserve better,” “There has to be a better way.”
I was almost 45 years old. I was 100% disabled with PTSD and Agoraphobia. My 2 sons were grown, and I had a 6-year-old granddaughter. I finally realized that the only person that was going to save me was me. No doctor, no therapist, not even a man. I was the one with the power and control and I had been all along.
Ready for change I gave up all my safety and security. I sold my home, left my family behind, and moved to a different city which was again a blessing and a curse. I was alone for the first time. No kids, no man, no mom (who had been sober for 25 years and passed on) and a family that never understood me, so I was easier to just write off. I met new people. People that respected me for me, that did not judge me. I reconnected with the Veteran world and learned I was normal for me. I met a friend that allowed me to reframe my whole past and see what I thought of as my failures as successes through his acceptance, compassion, and advice. He reminded me of who I really was and what I was capable of.
I made a conscious decision to use my pain for purpose, to turn my hurt into lessons, and to see that every decision I made was with the knowledge I had at the time. When I knew better, I had to do better. My experiences, no matter how bad, had all taught me something. Imagination, gratefulness and positivity allowed me to transform my knowledge into wisdom and transmute my darkness into light. There was a certain grace in realizing my trauma happened for me and not to me. It all made me me. I have been able to overcome any obstacle placed before me and my adversity has made me resilient. I also realize that with great trauma comes a great opportunity for empowerment and growth and I have a responsibility to share this with others so that they know that change is possible and that it doesn’t matter how many times you fall down (literally or figuratively) as long as you get back up. It's okay to feel, when you do you deal, and then you can heal.
Finding myself, accepting myself, and loving myself (demons and all) has allowed me to see that hurt people hurt people and healed people heal people. I have the same story as many others, but I have chosen to be vocal and speak out, so others do not feel alone. I am working on breaking free of my own stigmas and know I am not a walking disaster like some would like to think.
I learn from every experience and I am working to be a better me every day so I can BE THE CHANGE and LEAD BY EXAMPLE for my two sons, my 9-year-old granddaughter and anyone else that is coming out of the dark and needs a helping hand to see their light. My favorite piece of clothing from Beautiful Disaster was the one that led me to the site. A shirt with an anchor on it (I was Navy) that said, “Be the one to guide me but never hold me down.” I have had too many people try to dominate, suppress, gaslight and project on me to attempt to keep me submitted, docile, and subdued. It never worked because I am a free Spirit, and I will never allow myself to be caged by others’ behaviors, opinions, judgements, or attitudes ever again. I have learned that people are not intimidated by my darkness, or my demons. They are afraid of the light that shines despite them. Perseverance and persistence pay off as the Canadian Armed Forces is finally recognizing and acknowledging sexual misconduct and harassment and is slowly working towards a safer work environment. Change takes time. I have been fortunate enough to watch this issue go from being swept under the rug to a $900 million dollar class action lawsuit being won to acknowledge the issue in just over 20 years. I like to think I am the timestamp that the government or Military cannot deny. They can not say they did not know. It is a Google search away.
Beautiful Disaster Clothing reminds me I am not alone and there is a Tribe out there of Beautiful Disasters not dictated by their past or the opinion of others, taking back their power, using their voices for change and moving forward. The world needs more of that.
Dawn V McIlmoyle, BScN, RN
Veteran and Advocate Against Abuse