Do You Know What Freedom Is?

On a warm night in September when I was just 19 my mother died after a life-long battle with cancer. I woke up and I knew that she was gone. I walked down the stairs. My stepfather had locked the house, and hid the telephone. He told me that I could stay but only if I behaved the way he wanted me to.

I somehow managed to phone my sister. The moment she came, my stepfather was on top of her, trying to beat her to death. I froze. Please don’t let this be my family. We escaped. I stood outside of the fence. The police came and said that they don’t intervene in family affairs. My mother’s doctor came. She said that my mother was finally free. I had no clue what she meant. I only knew sadness and violence. By the energy of her words I had a sense that freedom must be something wonderful. That day, I grabbed a bag and left. I promised myself to find freedom… Over the years I have found it.

For me, freedom has three essential components:

Freedom is choosing something different

My family was shaped by hatred, blame, discrimination, and violence. My parents never took responsibility for their behaviour or to heal their pain…. They were never happy.

I chose something different – I learned to trust – I chose to heal myself.

Today I know that no matter what happens to me, I have choices: I either allow it to destroy me or to make me a better person.

Freedom is standing-up for myself

I made a career change. I became a counsellor. One day I attended a large training for one hundred therapists and social workers. All was silent. In front, next to a therapist, a client sat with her head down. She sat next to the therapist, her head down.

The therapist asked: “What were the incidents in your family?” She replied: Sexual abuse and violence. Her voice broke. A shocked murmur spread.

I shrugged. For how many years had I felt stigmatized by the generic judgment of being a hopeless case? For how long had I allowed other people’s opinion to define my worthiness? … My answer was, for too long. I looked at her and ask myself: How does this murmur make her feel? She shrank in her seat. She was a picture of myself years ago.

Suddenly, the counsellor next to me said: “Poor thing, she’ll never recover.” I opened my mouth, and I wanted to tell her, it is possible to heal, but I didn’t find the words to tell it to her. I felt like a failure. I felt like I betrayed the woman on the chair.

That day I decided to write my memoir. I wrote it for the woman in the chair. It is my way to tell her that she is not alone. It is my way to tell her that I disagree with my colleagues. It is my way to express my hope that, one day, we will live in a world where people can share their stories without being judged.

Freedom is following my dreams

My dream has always been to create a sanctuary for cats that are different. When I was volunteering at a colony for feral cats in Barcelona, a shipbuilder brought a little box. Inside the box, I saw a kitten with two huge bandages around the back and another helper at the colony said he would die that night. I brought him to a vet. He said that it would be a miracle if the kitten were to survive. I called him Angel, visited him in the clinic and gave him Reiki. I told him that he had a home with me if he wanted to live without back legs. Five weeks later, I brought Angel home. Today, he runs and fights just like any other cat.

Living in Canada has always been my secret dream. In 2013, I arrived at the Vancouver airport with one suitcase and my three cats.

My dreams have always been the fuel to overcome my fears and search for freedom. Freedom means to choose something different, to stand up for myself and to follow my dreams.

I hope you find your version of freedom as I have found mine.

Thich Nhat Hanh said:

“Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice…”

Learn more about Thich Nhat Hanh and his Mindfulness Practice Center Plum Village.

Natalie Jovanic

Natalie Jovanic is a Registered Therapeutic Counsellor and Shiatsu Therapist. As a counsellor, she passes on what she believes in, but it isn’t just knowledge, theory, and professional experience. It is also her wisdom gained through her own transformative journey of healing abuse. She is the author of A Brave, True Story.