I came back with some lovely new friends and a far greater understanding of the power of blogging and what it means to be part of a community of writers.
But the true highlight for me was Katie Piper’s talk. You may remember her from Channel 4′s ‘Katie: My beautiful face‘.
Although I’d read about the show, I had not watched it. I did not know her story.
She is amazing.
When she talked us through the years of recovery, operations, procedures and skin protecting sheaths she had to wear, she did it with humour.
“My family called me earthworm Jim in that suit” she said, or ” Once, when I was feeding myself blackberries through a tube in my tummy, I forgot to put the lid back in. We all laughed as it shot out everywhere.”
She had to feed herself via a tube because her throat was so badly burnt by the sulfuric acid thrown at her during her attack. That was after she had been raped, then beaten.
When she got tearful it was not because she was remembering her ordeal, or because she was feeling bitter or sorry for herself. It was because she was talking about her mum, who had been her rock.
She did not come to speak about horror, or rape, or pain. She came to talk about survival. About hope, and moving forwards. She spoke about learning to love ourselves as we are.
I thought of the posts I’d written about my stretch marks and felt ashamed.
I thought about how I hated my frizzy hair and bemoaned my long horse face and felt sick with embarrassment.
I remembered how I’d thought people were judging me when arrived I alone, and cringed.
I was listening to a girl speak who still gets asked to leave shops because of her scars. Scars left by a hideously brutal attack which was not her fault. Scars made by a man who stole what he wanted by force after she had said no out of choice.
But in her own words: “My attackers took my beauty, but they did not and cannot take my soul, that is a part of me that no one can ever steal.”
When Katie read out a poem she’d written to her old face, she was the only one not crying. She was smiling. She talked about loving her scars, because it meant she was alive. I put my hand on my tummy and for the first time I felt proud of the puckered skin under my hand. Scars mean life.
Healing. Growth. Strength.
Katie went on to set up the Katie Piper Foundation, to help other burns victims. Her vision is ‘A world where scars do not limit a person’s function, social inclusion or sense of well being.’ Instead of hiding herself away, she immerses herself in disfigurement, shining her torch in darkness and bringing other people back to life.
I felt like I was listening to Rudyard Kipling’s If.
‘If you can lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss,
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew,
To serve your turn long after they are gone.
And so hold on when there is nothing in you,
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!..
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be an (amazing, inspiring) Woman, my girl’