You'll probably already have gathered from my last post that my roller-coaster life has once again kicked up a gear - and with that of course has come a few surprises. After my story appeared in the Daily Mail, I have been inundated with messages; from people thanking me for sharing my story as well as from media people keen to interview me. All good stuff, all confirmation that I'm doing the right thing, and all helping to raise awareness of my message that we all have the power within us to overcome adversity.
During this process, though, I have once again come up against one of my old adversaries. A part of society that plays a necessary role in protecting the innocent - but that also, in my experience, has also become part of the circus that unwittingly continues to support the less than innocent in their antics. What am I referring to? I am talking about the libel laws and their professional representatives. More of that in a moment.
Firstly, though, I am keen to highlight what I believe to be the media's misplaced thirst for selling bad news and discord. For those of you that have followed my story, you will already know that I am all about giving people hope, together with the necessary tools, to break free from being a victim (in any way) and to live life in freedom, choice and light. I know from experience that whatever life decides to throw our way, there is always something we can do to reclaim our freedom. There is always always something that is within our control - even if, as has certainly been the case for me in the past, it felt as if the only thing that I could control was my breathing. My message is about noticing and grabbing hold of anything and everything that allows us to regain our personal power - every tiny step is a step forward - until we are free from whatever chains (real or imaginary) that threaten to keep us prisoner.
You'd think, therefore, that perhaps I have some strong positive messages to share with people, that might actually serve to bring a little positivity in this increasingly confused world we live in? You might also think that publications with the power to reach millions would be interested in promoting such stories of hope? Hmmm... I thought the same. But it appears that instead of that, most of the publications that have approached me are only interested in the headline grabber. They want to focus on the 'poor woman duped by a sociopath' - and nothing else. Take the Daily Mail, who dictated how I should look (clothes, makeup, hair, pose, expression) to sell their story. They didn't want a photograph that shows the vivacious, positive person that I believe I am. Nope, I had to look severe, serious and (in my opinion) downright frumpy. Is it any wonder that the piece received a number of 'it serves her right she looks like a moose' type of comments?
I can ride those kind of storms - of course I can. There are always people who revel in making judgemental and negative comments. Sadly there seems to be a growing culture of cyber bullying and vile comments posted by a small minority. But that's not the point. I believe that we have a bigger issue. I believe that by consistently focusing on the 'bad news' we are only encouraging the baying mob and in the process we are in the process of dehumanising ourselves. I've seen it time and time again in my professional life - working with people who are either too afraid to speak out against wrong-doings, or who simply can't be bothered. "What's the point?" is, sadly, a phrase I have heard far too often for my liking.
So back to the libel lawyers. Those who know me well are already fully aware of the absurd battle I faced in even getting my book to publication. The details of which are far too complicated to write about here in a blog, so they are going to form a large part of my next book. The series of unbelievable events I went through are enough to make anyone's teeth curl! (Another wonderfully colourful expression my mother used on many an occasion). Suffice it to say that I have learned a huge amount about what can and can't be said. What can and can't be expressed. And how the most important thing is to make sure backsides are covered - instead of focusing on supporting those of us who have been through the ringer to get a real message of hope out there. It's skewed, to say the least!
But that's ok. I worked with these laws to get my story published - as I have said in the preface to my book:
"I am an ordinary woman who has faced a series of extraordinary circumstances to become the person I am today. Privacy laws dictate that I cannot divulge identifiable details about many of the people and situations that caused me so much pain. It’s a law that exists to protect the innocent, even though many of the people I’ve come across have, in my opinion, been far from innocent in their actions. That law, paradoxically, has actually worked in my favour while writing this book because this is not about ‘them’. In truth, it never has been; it’s about me. This is my story."
So I've done the hoop-jumping, and I've played my part. I have black and white evidence to support everything I've written about. I have witness statements and more. I've changed names, places and details so that people cannot be identified. And as I said, that's ok, it's more than ok in actual fact.
So last week, when I was contacted by a well-known morning TV programme inviting me to appear on their show to talk about my experiences, I welcomed the invitation with open arms. I was well aware that they'd want to focus on the tabloid headline grabber (that was inevitable) and I knew that once I was given air space I could work on getting the bigger message across to the audience. So I started talks with the programme producers. I supplied all the supporting evidence I had collected during my publishing journey. I explained the steps I'd taken to protect privacy. And I agreed to go in with their headlines. But that wasn't enough.
Ofcom rules dictated that they had to get a 'right to reply' from the people I was talking about - which meant making direct contact and asking for comments. Now, I understand the need for Ofcom's rules - of course I do. But in this particular case it seems crazy to me on so many counts. Not least of which is the fact that, having done so much to mask identities, it would have meant divulging real names and locations to a bunch of strangers... how could I be sure that these details would remain confidential? (Not such a strange question to ask once you understand my previous experiences with another libel lawyer...) The main sticking point though, for me, was that I was once again being asked to put myself at the mercy of a disordered person. Someone who had already very nearly claimed my sanity with his lies, leaving me in a situation from which I had successfully fought so hard to escape. I was not about to give anyone that kind of power over me - not then, not now, and not ever again!
So politely, and firmly I declined the invitation, making this point at the same time: "... It's a shame that the 'rights' of someone who is clearly disordered takes precedent over sharing truths that help so many other people..."
And I felt pleased. I chose to step away from something that would have not only compromised my position (and that of others) but also given me a voice only on the condition that I talk about the headline grabbers rather than the bigger story. I had already been told "we only want to talk to you about the sociopath, nothing else..."
That same day, walking through the train station after a late evening meeting in London, I saw a young woman sitting and crying on her own on one of the benches. It was gone midnight, and there were very few people there - apart from a few policemen who were gathered at the ticket barrier - but I was astounded that nobody seemed to be helping her. So I went up and asked her if she was ok? Of course she wasn't, and as she shook her head, her face crumpled and her eyes filled with tears. I sat down next to her and held her hand as she explained what had happened.
She told me that she'd missed the last train to London by two minutes, and even though the train had been at the station, she had not been allowed to go through the barriers. She knew nobody locally, and was facing the prospect of spending the night in the train station. Hearing her story and seeing the policemen nearby, I went up to them to ask for their help. They'd been watching me all the while. Guess what they did as I came close to them?
They bristled, pulled themselves upright and shoved their hands in their pockets while the cold expressions on their faces gave me the clear message that I was to back off. You know, I actually felt I'd done something wrong! It's a darned good job that I am a trained communicator, because it took all my skills to crack through those defence barriers. They told me that they had it in hand, that the young lady was 'a mess' and was 'inconsolable' - rolling their eyes as if to say 'you see what we have to put up with?' My blood boiled but I kept calm. It turned out that they were waiting to hear whether they could get her on the last staff train home. But they hadn't told her that. And when I asked what could be done to make her wait more comfortable, they shrugged their shoulders, with another rolling of eyes, and told me that there was nowhere warm she could wait.
After making sure that they would indeed keep her up to speed with what they were doing, and would keep an eye on her while she was waiting, I made my way back to her and put my arms around her (making sure, of course, that the policemen saw what I was doing). I reassured her that they were doing all they could to get her home and that she was going to be ok. I then helped her do up her coat and put her hood up so that at least she would be warmer. I stayed with her until the tears stopped and she let me know she was confident that she was being looked after. Looking over at the policemen, I made sure they acknowledged me with nods and reluctant smiles.
So why couldn't these policemen have offered this vulnerable girl just some simple human kindness in the first place? Have they perhaps become so used to people attacking them that their automatic response is just to stay away? Was that why they all bristled when I went up to speak to them...? Or perhaps they've just joined the 'what's the point' brigade that is threatening to drown our system of humanity. Have we become so trapped by our rules, following blindly without checking the results or even questioning why they are there? Are we becoming that robotic in the way we lead our lives that we've become immune to what's really happening?
I don't know. But as I walked away from that young lady, knowing that at least I had done all that I could, I felt even more certain that I'd done the correct thing in turning down the barbed TV invitation. It's a sad state of affairs when it seems fear and separation is seeping in to our society - but it's not too late to do something about it.
I for one am absolutely determined to do all I can to stand up, speak out, and jolly well wake people up to the reality that we CAN make a difference. It doesn't take much. Just an honest reality check and a small amount of courage to shift the way we respond.
I am on the case and fired up. Watch this space my friends, watch this space.