The Potency of Story
When you use your voice to tell your story you give permission for others to do the same.
In telling your story you become a witness to the truth of your experiences. How you have made sense of your path, and found a way to walk it, can give hope to and inspire others in their own journeys. Your testimony can push back against the voices of influential people who find realities like yours uncomfortable, inconvenient, or challenging. Sharing your personal story can shift culture, joining with those of other people to change the popular narrative from one which represents only a few, to one which allows space for diversity. Your story, along with other stories like yours, can topple the powerful.
See what happened with the #MeToo movement; the stories of a group of women emboldened by one another, who recognised they had a shared experience, collected first into a stream, and then into a flood, which literally overthrew an oppressive system, and enabled change.
The New Zealand public has had an opportunity in 2021 to re-think the history of Centrepoint and to consider further how it affected the children. Within 2 weeks of the release of "Heaven & Hell - The Centrepoint Story" in May 2021 it was the 5th most viewed TVNZ television item of 2021, with over 700,000 views. Recently it was nominated for a number of television awards, including best documentary for 2021. While it looks a lot like the former adults of the community are not listening, the rest of New Zealand does not seem to be struggling to hear. Those who have nothing to protect are looking at this from the outside and they are concluding that it is actually quite simple; for many of the community's children the experiences that they had at Centrepoint were devastating and damaging. The old invalidating narrative, which was bred from deep within the abuse-enabling culture of the community, that blamed either the children or society for what went wrong, is simply old and tired now.
When I read Rachel King's excellent memoir "Surviving Centrepoint" in 2016, I was deeply moved, and most importantly, I was supported. I felt I had found a friend. We had never met, but her boldness in sharing a story which resonated so deeply with my own, and in which she spoke out the unspeakable awfulness, was life-changing for me. Her courage to tell her story gave me the impetus to use this website platform to start speaking my own truth. She stood up, and I stepped onto her shoulders.
Others have talked publicly about their experiences as children and teenagers at Centrepoint too - in the 2010 documentary series "Beyond the Darklands", magazine interviews in 2015 and 2018, the 2018 movie "Angie", plus other shorter television interviews at various points over the years. As the children have gotten older, and the cultural context has changed, we have felt safer to talk about what happened to us. There is a growing sense that the story is only just starting to open up. Soon a podcast series produced by Stuff will be aired, which will tell the stories of even more of the children of Centrepoint. Each time I hear of another one of these strong people boldly standing by the truth of their own difficult experiences, my courage grows a little more. Each further account diminishes the prominent self-protective narrative which has been skilfully and manipulatively crafted around the former children of Centrepoint community, and has been designed to keep them quiet and isolated.
The narrative is changing, and no longer is the writing of the story in the hands of the older generation. They don't get to tell us anymore what happened to us, what it meant, and how we should make sense of it - that now belongs to us. Some of the child generation of the community are daring to speak about how it was for them. They are exposing themselves to criticism, and they are taking risks to do so. While I understand that this is unsettling and unwelcome for many, and that there are likely to be unpredictable ripples which throw families into disarray when someone starts to own their own story, I whole-heartedly believe that even if the course might be rocky, in the end the truth heals.
I also know that when families rely on everyone keeping quiet about their experiences (because honesty might start a cascade of unpredictable and undesirable outcomes), and instead prefer to believe in the narrative which they have been given (because it is more palatable than the truth), this makes authentic relating impossible (because being honest isn't safe, and trust has been eroded). One person coming into the light and unequivocally stating their truth can be the spark which sets the dry bush on fire. It is dangerous to start telling the truth, and the longer we avoid it, the harder it gets, until eventually only a crisis will force it out. As Plato once said, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light.“
Now that I am starting to hear some more of this truth being spoken, I am imagining what it would look like if we could hear the stories of so many more than just a few of the child generation of Centrepoint. What would it look like if many of them shared what happened to them? If the history could be written and informed and shaped by many, by a chapter in each of their stories? What would it have looked like to the me of my past - when I was just starting to look at this painful part of my history - if I had not just read or heard the account of one or two people, but I had read or heard the accounts of 10 or 20 or even 50 of us? What would that have looked like for me, for you, for many of us in our struggle with the shame that was given to us? If we had read or heard about so many others going through, and even triumphing over, parallel experiences to our own? Would you and I still have struggled under the weight of years of accumulated shame? Or would we have thrown it off in disgust and trampled it under our feet?
This website offers us all a platform for our stories. I want to invite you to be part of something new. I am embarking on a project to gather and collate the personal stories of the children of the Centrepoint Community, in their own words. Could you be a part of this? I invite you to consider if you could contribute a part of your story to this project. Could you be one of those 10, or 20, or 50 stories? Could you write a part of your experiences down on paper (or work with me to do so if writing is not your thing) for me to publish here, in such a way that honours yourself, yet keeps you and your loved ones safe, and if you need anonymity, protects your identity?
There has been so much silence, and the silence has collaborated with one version of the story. This version is controlled by dominant voices, who have motivations which are not really about you or me, the truth, or justice, and at times this version actively works to squash, diminish, limit, control, constrain, confuse, shame and invalidate. I am tired of this version of events, and I really want to hear now what it was like for everyone else.
Please consider if you could be part of this story-telling project. I would really like to hear your story, and if you wish to be part of it and don't know how, I would like to help you tell it in your own words, in a way which is safe for you. If you would like to know more, please reach out.