During the summer of 2015, via my AptStar Program, I helped a wonderful couple, Justin and Dahlia Constantine who were relocating from Washington, DC find their new apartment in New York City.
Once they got settled Justin asked me if he could share my backstory for his upcoming Tedx talk. The premise behind the Ted Talk platform is simple-- ideas worth sharing.
The title of Justin's talk is You Are Stronger Than You Think You Are. I was flattered and from my perspective didn't believe I even remotely fit into the category of heroism.
Let me give you Justin's backstory (at least a little of it). I am sourcing his harrowing experience completely from Wikipedia because it's truly an amazing story of survival against all odds:
ABOUT JUSTIN CONSTANTINE
On October 18, 2006, Constantine was on a routine patrol in the Al-Anbar Province. He had just stepped out of his Humvee to warn a journalist about a sniper working in the area when the sniper shot his left ear. Assisted by Lieutenant Colonel Todd Desgrosseilliers, Navy Corpsman George Grant performed an emergency tracheotomy on Constantine, and then Corporal Buhler risked his life driving over 70 mph to get Constantine to an aid station. Constantine recovered at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center with the help of his future wife, Dahlia. As a result of his injuries, Constantine cannot see out of his left eye, is missing most of his teeth and the end of his tongue, and cannot speak with perfect clarity. He also cannot run because doctors removed bones from his legs to use in reconstructing his upper and lower jaws.
While I've survived and overcome many things and have helped many people, I certainly didn't believe I belonged in that category. I'm a New York City girl, not a military hero.
Despite my reservations or maybe because of them on August 27, 2015 I sent Justin the following email, (detailing most of the things Ive overcome), and I think, in a way from my perspective to let him see for himself that my story just didn't come close to his.
"Justin, I am sending this to you to look at. Please consider it private until I agree it is okay for you to share. The following is a list of some of the "obstacles" I have overcome. It is not all inclusive; however, these are the highlights, if you will, of the traumatic experiences in my life.
- At age 3 my father was placed in a state run mental institution by my mother and one of my older brothers. (Later discovered wrongly hospitalize -- but he was institutionalized for 30 years).
- At age 5 one of my older brothers, 22, committed suicide. He hung himself.
- Throughout my childhood I was physically and verbally abused by my mother.
- Throughout my childhood I was sexually molested by my mothers boyfriends and male friends.
- I was repeatedly yanked out of school by my mother (who believed I would "marry rich, did not need an education for this"), and who wanted me to help her clean the apartment. (I would self teach myself during these episodes and then push to get back into school).
- I was date raped and became pregnant in 1981 when no one knew about date rape.
- I was sold into prostitution by both my mother and my older sister (14 years my senior).
- This lead to my being ostracized by my entire family; not allowed to be part of any family event, gathering, etc. It did not stop any of them from asking for money or for ongoing financial support (especially my mother).
- When I was able to find myself again, and walk away from this world I did know about I was followed into my real life by a very wealthy and powerful individual. He would not take no for an answer.
- In 1991 a man broke into my apartment, raped me, held me captive at knifepoint (told me he was going to kill me). I managed to escape on the 5th day. After I escaped he destroyed every single item in my apartment. Nothing was left. Nothing. No pictures. My entire life was gone. 11. Eight years after being 'held as a sex slave' because it is ultimately what I became for this very wealthy man -- I found the courage to leave him. I had approximately $100 to my name the day I left.
- To this day, this man has continued to stalk me, harass me, and terrorize me.
I am sharing this with you because I believe in your story. I believe in what you have been able to overcome. I think you are incredibly brave.
And, if you want or need to use this information and you feel it will empower other people to overcome whatever obstacles they may be facing, then I will be happy to share. Let me know what you want to do. I know the list seems overwhelming, but, I am okay. I am really okay. More than okay. I do not need for you to say you are sorry for what I have been through (I know that is the normal response). I just want to say that anything is possible. I know. I have been there. -Kirby"
To have been included in Justin's Tedx Talk was and remains a pretty big honor. And having him explain to me that he and Leo Thorsness (the second person he included in his Ted Talk who is one of the most highly decorated American airmen of the Vietnam Waris a pretty big deal. Thorsness was a prisoner of war for six years at the infamous Hanoi Hilton and repeatedly tortured)-- to hear Justin tell me that he and Thorsness had a lot of help recovering while I had no one was and remains a sobering moment of: "Oh, okay, wow, yes, thats true. I did it on my own." Empowering. Wow. I did this. He's comparing me to two American heroes that survived while in the line of fire. Amazing."
ABOUT LEO THORSNESS
Leo Thorsness was shot down in 1967 during the Vietnam War and taken prisoner of war for six years. He was held at the infamous Hanoi Hilton where he was routinely brutally tortured by his captors. It was the same place John McCain, United States Senator, was eventually held. Sadly Thorsness just passed away earlier this month at the age of 85. More of his amazing story can be read here.
At some point during my life shame was replaced with a sense of achievement. I believe we can all transition to that place of achievement which leads to self-pride. I also stopped using the word "survivor" -- that would imply I was in some way diminished. My soul was never diminished. As long as one's soul is intact, we can do anything. One doesn't walk past or push away or blast through these obstacles. They, like all experiences, become part of us. One grows through struggle, not in spite of it.
I have had many struggles and I am sure I wouldn't have the enthusiasm or the desire to reach out and help people had it not been for what others see as "hardships." So while I still don't think I belong in a Tedx Talk with two American heroes -- I am open to the idea that perhaps I am.