For those of you who follow 100 Things on social media, you may think that this story of saving of life is centered around that of a stray dog called Parker who was due to be put to sleep. In part, it is (we saved him by finding him a ‘Forever Home’ through the 100 Things community!), but I think it’s time for me to instead share with you a story that I’ve kept to myself until now.
It’s about a brave girl who if not for reaching out for help, may well have lost her life.
This story marks one of the most significant developments in 100 Things and I’m ready to share it with you.
About a year ago I was sitting at a restaurant having dinner with some close friends catching up on all the things that friends tend to. Waiting on an important email from overseas, I decided to discreetly check my phone in between courses to see whether it had arrived. Quickly I saw that it hadn’t, but just as I was about put my phone back in my pocket I noticed that there was one other email sitting all alone in my inbox. It was from a stranger called Sam. Even though I was sat with friends, something compelled me to check it.
I have contemplated what to say and even considered not sending this at all but I think I’m just going to go with my heart on this one.
I am 21 years old and feel as though my life has spiraled out of my control despite my best attempts to put on a brave face. No-one in my life knows how hard things have gotten for me inside. I can feel the tears running down my face as I write this because I am at the point where I have recently begun considering taking my life and no-one else knows. Except you now that I’ve written this email.
I know you’re probably much too busy but this feels like one of my last shots at reaching out for some help. I’m hanging on by a thread here.
Occasionally in life we experience something that makes all else seem insignificant. This was the case half way through reading this poor girl’s situation. No longer was I thinking about the other email, or for that matter dinner or any of my surrounds, instead my only consideration was helping someone in need.
100 Things over time has developed from a story of ‘me and my list’ into a source of community inspiration and hope. This was unplanned and something I believe linked to the positive messages hidden within the journey. Ideas of pursuing happiness, meaning and purpose in life resonate with everyone and are not just preached, but also embraced, realized and shared by the incredible online community who engage with it. I couldn’t be prouder. Over time of course this has led to people seeking advice and on occasions help from me. It’s a role that although has come unexpectedly, is something I naturally try to embrace as best I can. Although the results had been great up to this point, Sam’s plea for help was the most extreme I’d been approached with.
Not questioning why it was that a young girl in need had not turned to anyone else in such a dark moment in her life, I desperately emailed back asking for her number. Her message had been sent a few hours prior to me reading it and so I prayed that nothing had happened in this period. Thankfully I received a reply from her almost instantly, her number included, and so I excused myself from the table and called her.
Armed with nothing but a genuine care for another person, the mere fact that Sam picked up the phone when I rang was a relief in itself.
“Sam it’s Seb here, are you OK?”
The reply was a teary yes.
Attempting to steer clear of directly talking about the dark thoughts that the quietly spoken Sam was having, I started to ensure her that everything would be OK and we’d get through this together. It wasn’t long though before I began to feel quite worried myself as my words unsubtly covered the fact that I was petrified of what might happen if I failed to connect with her.
Sam was scared; seeking help but too nervous to share. Disturbingly, most of Sam’s sentences were laden with reasons as to why ending her life was the only solution.
“But it’s all too hard. No one is on my side. You won’t understand. He’s not going to stop”
It was this last sentence that for the first time gave me an inkling about what was driving Sam’s pain. The plot had thickened.
“Who’s the person you’re talking about Sam?” I asked with hairs standing up on the back of my neck.
“It doesn’t matter!” came the snappy response. I felt as though as I was trying to unravel an intricate riddle and had to start all over again each time I presented a question too directly. I was learning on the run how to converse with someone buried in such a dark place.
Five minutes turned into ten and soon we had been speaking for over an hour. As time past it became clear that Sam didn’t want to be reasoned with, instead she had reached out to be heard. It was my silence that she appreciated the most and soon things began to flow from her. This was a positive sign but also a horrific insight into what Sam was going through.
An abusive and seemingly mindless boyfriend was the cause of Sam’s thoughts of self harm but each sickening story that she shared was followed by defense of his character. Sadly it seemed that Sam’s clarity had been stolen along with her freedom.
From being locked in a bathroom for days on end to being threatened on a daily basis, her reality was gut wrenching and unbelievable to hear. It was the most intense conversation I’d ever had and each time I tried to offer a solution, I was met with frustrated resistance. As such, family support, police intervention, help-lines and the like were not considered by Sam to be vital steps forward, but instead impossibilities immediately brushed to one side. Sam demanded that she would only talk to me. I knew I needed help.
Domestic violence is an issue prevalent throughout our society. From emotional abuse to physical violence, it’s a crime as inexcusable as it is dangerous and something that in extreme cases can lead to loss of life. Most victims suffer self-loathing and guilt as a byproduct of the emotional abuse.
Sam’s situation was extreme and my focus turned from support to trying to get her to leave her house straight away. Sadly though she refused. Fear had overshadowed hope.
“Sam but can you guarantee your safety when he gets home?” I pleaded,
Thankfully by this stage my friend Tahnee, a psychologist, had left the dinner table and had stood at my side. Having seen me on the phone for almost two hours and now listening as well, she was completely aware of what was happening. In between long pauses in conversation she would whisper in my ear some direction on where to take the conversation. Walking through each scenario with Sam, the hope was that now supported, Sam could slowly begin to listen to her true self and shed light on at least a few positive options previously masked by fear.
The concept of suicide was for the first time unmasking itself to me; it was not, as I’d previously thought, just a bad decision, it was increasingly seeming like a disease that incapacitated the victim. Sam truly was a victim
Wanting only to help, my mind raced as it tried to make sense of what was the most confronting conversation I’d ever had. Her safety was paramount and getting her to leave the house immediately was surely the first step? Thoughts of racing to Sam’s aid by scooping her up, putting her in my car and driving to a police station were made impossible as she refused to give me her location, or any other details for tht matter. It was a delicate and volatile situation with ramifications of a mistake conjuring up images that I wanted out of my head.
With Tahnee’s guidance being crucial, I asked Sam if she would like to talk to her. Hesitant at first I suggested that Tahnee would know exactly how Sam would be feeling. Thankfully she agreed and immediately Sam was getting some incredible guidance.
With Tahnee at the helm, Sam slowly plucked up the courage to begin thinking for the first time about her feelings. Yes; she was scared and yes; she felt hurt but only after creating a safe space for her to think did she began to see some truths of the situation;
“And what do you think about his behavior, Sam?”
“Well it’s not very nice, I guess.”
“Would you like to see him treat your friends like that, Sam?”
“I guess not.”
“And so is it fair that he treats you like this?”
“Ummmm. No i guess not”
Although slow, we were making progress.
The phone call ended two and a half hours later. In this time Sam felt comfortable enough to explain her situation in more detail but sadly she refused to leave the house. Instead the best alternative was to map out a safety plan if things got too dangerous for her. This involved running to her neighbor’s house for safety. Sadly she wouldn’t talk further about this. Her partner had alienated her from all her friends, family and support networks.
Finding it hard to disregard my huge anger and desire to find this man myself, the truth was that he himself was in need of help. He was mentally ill and in my opinion was a risk to society. The important person now though was Sam.
“Sam can I call you in the morning and see how you are?”
“Are you sure? I don’t want to waste your time.”
“Sam there’s nothing in the world I’d rather do.” and I meant it.
The act of being cared for was sadly something Sam was not used to anymore and I could tell she appreciated it. The notion of speaking ‘tomorrow’ was a subtle but important point that I was relieved she embraced. It was all I had to let me know that she was OK.
If I could keep this up by speaking to Sam everyday, my hope was that she would start to believe in better things happening down the line.
Gathering of the Troops
By early the next day, Tahnee had already gathered the phone numbers of all the crisis support centers and safe houses in southern Queensland (this was the only location Sam told us) and forwarded them to me. I rang them all as well as contacting the police to explain the situation. The key as I saw it was to build a support team for Sam so that when she was ready to reach out everything would be in place. Waiting for this moment though was the part I couldn’t control. Tahnee explained that this would be a long journey that would take time.
Dealing with the police unfortunately didn’t yield the result I was after. With no information on Sam and no proof of her situation, there was nothing they could do. I was told that it would take Sam to come forward herself to action any response and although I had her number on my phone, Sam had made me promise that I wouldn’t share it with anyone. The police agreed that with this being our only thread of connection, and the likelihood being that if they rang her she would most certainly deny any problems, the risk of losing her trust with me as her only point of contact could lead to her losing all hope. All I could do was continue to speak to Sam with the hope that our conversations would lead her to a place where she wanted to connect with professionals. It was like walking a tight-rope with a fall spelling out the worst.
With my mind racing, it was a lady named Claudine who offered the most support. Working for a community center aimed at helping those in Sam’s position, she not only showed immediate care for the situation but offered to reach out to some of her industry contacts who would be able to offer crisis accommodation. Slowly, Sam’s support network was growing.
The frustrations that I was feeling in not being able to fix the problem was something Claudine explained was common.
“All you can do now Seb is to show her that we’re here for her and that leaving the house is a positive step forward. Remember though, it takes many attempts for a victim to stay away for good.”
Building a Friendship
Thankfully Sam did pick up the phone when I called her that first morning. In fact she picked up the phone everyday for the next 3 weeks as I rang her each morning. Having never been in a situation remotely similar to what Sam was experiencing, I often got off the phone in utter disbelief and on occasions it would take me hours to digest our talks. The confronting reality was that Sam was with a man who was extremely bad to her and the side effect of his abuse was that Sam was too petrified and confused to make a decisive and positive decision.
On a few occasions I’d found myself desperately trying to convince Sam to run out of the door before her partner got back from work but this panicked her. Offers of arranging taxis, hotels, flights and more would always be denied and ultimately Sam never moved. Learning the balance between assertiveness and strategy was a skill. One thing was for certain though, Sam had amazing resolve and resilience to what was constant abuse both physically and emotionally. This I tried to remind of her daily. The very fact that she knew that her situation was bad was due to her healthy moral compass, but there was a lot of work that needed to be done to convince Sam of her strengths.
Her family and friends were crucial elements to the progression but Sam had built up resistance to the idea of contacting any of them. Although she claimed that they’d all abandoned her, I thought it might be more a case of her partner strategically removing them from her life.
One day though, we had a breakthrough. It was a standard morning phone call with Sam, but she picked up the phone in an unusually upbeat manor;
“Seb, I want to leave him. Can you help? I think I want to go to my friends place”
Jumping on her realization that Sam had finally made a positive decision, I did my best not to sound overly excited and suggested that she also contact Claudine who had offered her full support. This though was quickly dismissed; Sam always set the pace. Her plan was simpler; she rang her friend and asked to stay there for the night. Supporting every moment, I made sure that everything went to plan and that night I received a text from her telling me that she was out of the house and safe with her friend. I was over the moon. Sam had showed great courage!
The sobering reality though was that as soon as her partner returned home, Sam was flooded with threatening phone calls and texts, all of which began to play on her mind. She had been so strong to come this far but sadly things were not as easy as I’d hoped. The next day she rang me and told me that she’d returned to her partner’s to try and work things out. She finished by saying that she’d be fine and thanked me for my help. This was testing.
Over the next few weeks Sam became hard to contact and often I had to wait days for her to reply to my messages. Messages of care and advice would go unreturned and having prioritized Sam’s situation in my own life, I found it hard to sit still. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else and if the truth be known; I didn’t want to either.
When fishing as a kid, I remember hooking onto a large fish and trying to reel it in. After 5 minutes of slowly trying to draw him closer to the boat, I got frustrated and pulled the line as hard as I could. The line of course snapped as I exerted all my efforts at once. I was too aggressive, too early. The situation with Sam was similar to this; I had to practice caution and patience. If I got too anxious, no matter how serious the situation, and tried to force the issue, the risk was that my line might snap. Timing was crucial.
Within the next few weeks, Sam left and returned to her partners house on numerous occasions and before long it had become a predictable cycle. I couldn’t help but feel that we were going nowhere. In what was a swinging pendulum of emotions, Sam would at one moment show complete frustration and hatred towards her partner, but a day later would be protecting him. This, as Tahnee reminded me, was symptomatic of someone in Sam’s position. Support and structure was all that we could offer.
Via the numerous emails that I’d collected from Sam, I’d noticed one day that she had left her friends contact details at the bottom of an email by mistake. Knowing that Sam needed support, I decided to contact the friend. A risk in that Sam may be offended that I’d gone behind her back, I knew that something needed to be done to break this yoyo-like so I took the chance. Thankfully the friend’s response from was one of compassion and on top of giving me Sam’s sister’s email, she explained her similar concern for Sam in the relationship. She’d always had a bad feeling about the partner. Anything she could do to help was offered instantly. Running with momentum, I contacted Sam’s sister straight away and within a matter of a few minutes, two more people who cared for Sam now knew of her situation and reached out to her to help.
Although a great step forward, the next day I received the message that I feared; Sam felt betrayed that I’d gone behind her back to help. Her message went onto say that she was big enough to look after herself and didn’t need my help. Had I pulled my fishing line too tight, too quickly?
“You did the right thing, Seb. Don’t worry.” Came the response from Tahnee and Claudine. The support team that I’d set up for Sam were now also helping me!
The Calm Before the Storm
At a point where I thought I may have ruined our chances of helping Sam, my saving grace was that by this time Sam had actually taken my advice of calling up the ever-helpful Claudine who had quickly formed a solid bond that Sam needed. A female connection was important and thankfully this meant that even though Sam stopped contacting me, we still had contact with Sam through Claudine. As such I’d soon found myself keeping up to speed with Sam’s progress via my contact with Claudine.
“You know she wants to go back to uni and study? She also loves photography?” Claudine told me one day
The progress was promising. Sam was now thinking about brighter times and suicide it seemed was a concept that was behind her for now. The only issue was that she was still living with her partner and refused to reach out to the police. Although Claudine and the police, who’d I’d been keeping up to date with all that had happened, were happy with the developments, I couldn’t help but get frustrated that there was still a lot to do.
Weeks on and out of the blue, I heard from Sam. Initially I was please but as soon as I began to read her barrage of texts it was clear something wasn’t right.
‘What should I do in a an emergency?’ read one of the texts.
The tone of immediacy scared me. Not thinking to exercise caution as I pressed dial, she picked up the phone and spoke to me as though she was being watched. This of course was exactly what was happening; he was standing right next to her;
“I’m fine. Me and my boyfriend are fine. Thanks for helping us.” The phone hung up moments later.
Not knowing previously whether her partner knew that Sam was talking to people who were all trying to help her get away from him, my fear was that he would cut out all communication immediately, or worse. I slept little night and could only hope that Sam would get back in touch the next day when he’d gone to work. Thankfully this is exactly what happened.
“Seb, there’s something I can’t tell you, but it serious”
“What is it? You can tell me Sam”
With multiple scenarios all racing through my head, I eventually explained to Sam in the most passive way possible that unless she opened up to me, there was very little I could do to help. Taking a realistic approach to the conversation, Sam finally confided in me;
“He’s threatened to kill me or members of my family if I try and escape. He’s got a gun.”
The severity of the situation made me stand up immediately and pace around the room. I pleaded with Sam to call the police. Whether his threats were real or not, this was no situation for delay.
“Sam I will come up there and pick you up right away if you let me know where you live but with that type of threat you have to call the police straight away. This is not good! It’s absolutely illegal and it’s a police matter”
We spoke for an hour at pace but with every mention of the police Sam would close up and avoid the reality of the situation;
“I’ll be OK. Thanks for everything, Seb”
Up to now I’d been diligent with my promise not to give out Sam’s number but with the threat of what was murder, I had to step in.
“Sam, I need to do my best to guarantee your safety and if you’re not willing to contact the police, I am going to have to. I’m sorry but I have to.”
Although she pleaded for me not to, there was no alternative. In a time where Sam could not think clearly and was overwhelmingly influenced by fear, I needed to draw a line and act sensibly. The risk of Sam cutting off all contact with me due to me calling the police far outweighed the notion of what her boyfriend may do with a gun and so moments later I called the police and let them know everything.
Over the period of what was now almost 16 weeks, police intervention was now for the first time the best strategic way forward. Promising to visit her house and check up on her, I was told not to contact Sam again by the constable on the phone. Instead they would get back in touch with me when and if needed. Accepting that this situation for what it was, I called up Claudine and told her the news. There was now nothing else we could do. We both knew that we’d done all we could and that the right people were now involved
Relief battled with concern and loss for priority in my mind. I was exhausted. This was the most intense 4 months of my life. Focusing solely on the pursuit of helping someone, I suddenly felt useless. What was happening with Sam?
Claudine, armed always with a sense of humor, explained cheekily that Sam was just one of many cases she dealt with on a daily basis. My respect for her and Tahnee was huge and so we left it at that, promising to fill each other in with any news that we heard.
We had become quite good at waiting.
Two months on, whilst sitting on my balcony one evening, I received an email from Sam.
It was titled ‘Thank you‘.
It’s Sam here…hoping you remember me a little because I really wanted the opportunity to say thank you for helping me out of such a terrible situation this year. I am so deeply thankful!
Talking to you for the first time over the phone a couple of months ago I remember how afraid I felt to reach out to someone for fear of being judged or hurt. Ultimately though I knew I had nothing to lose because I planned to take my life that night…but when I hung up that day I felt that I wasn’t facing my problems alone for the first time in a long time so I kept going…and the next day and the next because of your commitment…I truly believe it changed the course of my life in a time when I didn‘t think things would ever get better. Even though there was no simple solution in my mind at the time, I feel looking back that it was the day my life started heading in a different direction, the day the idea was planted in my mind that my life actually could truly be better (amazing even, I know that now!) and that there were people and things out there for me so much more positive and healthy than the darkness I was facing at the time- people that actually cared about me and the opportunity to be happy.
Thank you for tracking down such an awesome support person for me which has led me to even more support that keeps me going…which led me to having family and friends in my life again…living more openly and honestly…your support and leadership and friendship had such a huge ripple effect in my life. I feel lighter and happier than I ever have and feel in my heart that it’s only going to get better from here
Seb I remember one day you told me that I was the most powerful person on my planet…I have never forgotten it! I remember those words often when I feel afraid and I know that I have the ability and power to make changes instead of using fear as an excuse…I can’t wait to see what happens! I know my life will take off
Being on the receiving end I now know that something as simple as a phone call or a kind word has the ability to change someone’s life forever! Huge realisation. I know first hand the depth of the impact it can have on someone’s heart, mind, attitude and perspective. I’ve felt it. I can’t wait to help someone else to feel that way. The possibilities are there every day and they are endless!
I’m not sure if you remember but I was sure my sister knowing anything about the situation would only be negative for me…you told her anyway and it turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened to me. Such a huge positive having her back in my life and something I wouldn’t have had the courage to do myself at the time so thank you! A lot of my family know now just as a flow on from that. I mentioned a ripple effect…
We talk occasionally over the phone but I haven’t seen him in person since the middle of October. I’m living with a friend, I’d say he knows where I am but since someone (Claudine or yourself?) were in touch with the police I think it frightened him a fair bit and I haven’t seen him around.
I think I am a different person since I have pulled away from him and I can’t see myself wanting to be back in that sort of relationship or negative headspace. These days I feel like there is more to life, more to me, this zest inside that just makes me want to laugh until I hurt, explore until I fall into bed at night and wake up ready to do it all again. I get up in the morning with a zest for the day ahead, feeling energetic and wanting to go for a long walk, smell the roses etc etc. This works, this has made a huge change, this is something big for me, and if this is the result of leaving him and it’s getting better every month then I am happy to keep going and can’t see myself going back to something that causes me so much fear and unhappiness.
Having a support system truly changed everything for me. Claudine has been away but I was seeing her every week or so…she is so kind to me, compassionate, makes me feel so cared for and has never made me feel wrong or judged. So lovely and such a find Seb! I think I have gained so much faith and trust in people through your kindness and hers. She really has been an invaluable support.
I still struggle every day and will for a while but I know you really do have a choice to give up or to let the challenges fuel you…I started feeling that inner strength and power as soon as I pulled out of the mindset of being somebodies victim. It held me back so much in life.
I think significant things happen to us that make us look at life differently. My whole world changed. I try not to take things for granted. I try to live each day like it could be my last, I try to appreciate everything I have been given. There is humour and lightness in my life again. Such huge gifts and shifts in perspective when 6 months ago I couldn’t think of anything other than ending it all. It’s unfortunate that it often takes something so devastating for us to realise the things in our lives that are most important but it seems to be the way it goes.
I’m enrolling back in my study, I would love to finish it overseas, I have a trip planned to Sweden next year. Unthinkable 6 months ago! I’m not sure what my future is but I think you just have to live with the question mark and expect magic
I think this sums it up and says everything I want to thank you for teaching me, I thought of you when I read it and I think you live it so well;
Ready or not, some day it will all come to an end. There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days. All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else. Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.
It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed. Your grudges, resentments, frustrations and jealousies will finally disappear. So too, your hopes, ambitions, plans and to-do lists will expire. The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away. It won’t matter where you came from or what side of the tracks you lived on at the end. It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant. Even your gender and skin colour will be irrelevant. So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?
What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built; not what you got, but what you gave. What will matter is not your success, but your significance. What will matter is not what you learned, but what you taught. What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example. What will matter is not your competence, but your character. What will matter is not how many people you knew, but how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone. What will matter is not your memories, but the memories that live in those who loved you. What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what. Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice. Choose to live a life that matters.
You really touched my life Seb and I will never ever forget it, you are so special, thank you so much
It’s been almost 18 months since I received the above email.
Sam did not end up going to Sweeden. She instead travelled to Japan….. and had an amazing time!
Having just called Sam to say hello, I can tell you that she is also excited to start studying in the field of nutrition at university. I finished the conversation by asking her whether she would mind me sharing her story. Without missing a beat she said that she’d love her story to be shared in the hope that it may help others who may be experiencing similar thoughts or circumstances to that which promopted her to reach out to me in the first place.
“I’d love to be able to help others if possible, Seb”
Sam is a changed person and by connecting with selfless professionals trained in the areas of mental health and safety, she was able to act on her bravery. These professionals sit amongst us in our community and show us the way when it comes to listening. The key is of course linking with them when needed.
Sam’s positive upturn in spirits and predicament is not entirely over just yet, It is a long process in which many things have to be covered. What is special and important though is that she is seeing a light and is running towards it. Her mindset is clearly changing and there are people committed to seeing that she recovers fully
As for her partner, well that is another matter that I respect Sam is dealing with as she needs to. Having been apprehensive about further exposing a traumatic past, she now has plans to engage the authorities so that the right outcome is realized.
When I first penned down my list of 100Things, I remember thinking that in wanting to save a life (Number 5) I would most likely stumble upon a person in need of resuscitation or perhaps find myself in a restaurant administering the Heimlich Maneuver to a choking patron. Never did I think that it would be my own journey through life that would in fact create an opportunity to help someone in need. I am emotional to think about it and if the truth be known, Sam was only the first of many people who have reached out to me with similar hurdles in life. All of these stories have thankfully ended well, too.
These moments in my life are so much more valuable to me than a simple ‘tick’ and I’m so thankful that 100 Things now stands for something so more far reaching than the story of one man and his list. There’s been a discovery of sorts that has uncovered a much more serious and beautiful dynamic that now sees a large community of people helping one another.
What happened with Sam was thanks to a group of committed people all of whom realized that they could help. It also took the strength of a girl in need to reach out in the first place. As people we all have this ability and I believe we are surrounded by good people all ready to extend a hand of help when needed.
Number 5 may have been ticked, but something far bigger has been realized by doing so.
And for those of you interested to see what happened to Parker the Dog; well he’s now living happily with his newly parents in his ‘Forever Home’
Here’s a little video
100 Things… What’s on your list?
For anyone in Australia seeking help with mental illness or domestic violence, here are a few details that you might find handy;
Beyond Blue (Depression) - 1300 22 4636
Life Line- 13 11 14
White Ribbon (Domestic Violence) 02 9045 8444