Lima Hansen is an extraordinary person. She is a survivor, a fighter, a believer. She helps others. She gives hope. She encourages. But she is also a very talented writer. Her memoir, ‘Grace Brought Me Here’, is a book everyone should read. Lima was kind enough to answer a few (very important) questions.
Pasifika Tales: Why did you decide to write ‘Grace Brought Me Here’?
Lima Hansen: Get to the point of writing the book was a bit of a journey. I had taken up a role, pioneering a home for sexually exploited women. In order to partner with an organization that was already working with rescuing girls I had to become transparent and authentic with their mission and plight and doing so meant sharing a part of my story with them. They were not interested in the fact that we were foreigners coming into lend a hand. What they needed to know was, did we understand the heart behind their organization, and I believe my story was able to connect with that. As time went by, more opportunities started opening up where sharing part of my story was found to be adding value to others. My husband then approached me with the idea of writing a book. Which at first I laughed off, like an impossible task. However, after a couple of months thinking about it, I realized that if the only obstacle that was holding me back was the actual task of writing a book, then it wasn’t a good enough excuse. Because by that point I understood the power my story had in adding value to others still navigating through the broken parts of their journey. So my purpose outweighed my fear.
PT: Was it difficult to write such a personal book?
LH: I think the difficult part was reaching so far back into my past and giving certain images and feelings words. Transporting myself back into the different spaces to capture a 360-degree view of those times. Then write it all down and describe it in a way where readers would feel they were in those moments with me, was very difficult. However, I went into each moment with a great sense of knowing that I am far removed from those times, places and emotions now. I’m not that person anymore. I believe very strongly that I can not have been the only one to endure such brokenness. So I kept the shadowed faces of those that may find my past recalls as their present struggles near the front of mind. This helped me to push forward, believing that I am reaching out to many with a story of hope and courage. A story that tells people that ‘you are not alone’.
PT: Has your family had a chance to read your memoir? What was their reaction?
LH: Actually, the book came after an event that I was a guest at, in which I shared parts of my story. They watched the event on a live Facebook feed. After which I received messages of support and tears from them, as they started to open up about different parts of their childhood, including the older generation of my family. So when the book was finally published, it was well received. I had originally used Samoan names to describe their characters but later, with their permission, I made the decision to use their real names. The book has become somewhat of a tool that has unplugged some unspoken parts of many different members of my family’s own journeys, giving them words to a lot of their own forgotten pain. Of course, there are parts of my story that they were not aware of, which brought tears to them and a sense of reconciliation over the lost years. This book has done more healing for us then I could ever have imagined.
PT: I’d say that the book, even though it’s quite grim, gives hope. Do you agree?
LH: I certainly hope so. I made a strong point to be as a real and as transparent as I could. I didn’t want to fluff over, sugarcoat or minimize the dark and broken parts, because those moments give the purpose of hope an even stronger and more determined footing. It sets the precedence that hope belongs here.
PT: Domestic violence is a big problem in the Pacific. In your opinion, why?
LH: I think domestic violence is an epidemic in every part of the globe and no one culture or ethnicity is immune from it, with 1/3 women globally experiencing it throughout their lifetime. Which means there is an overwhelming amount of children that are seeing these behaviors as a way of managing anger and emotions. Like many other cultures, secrecy has allowed a lot of these behaviors to remain hidden. I have witnessed our Pacific culture using pride as a shield to excuse away it’s excessively hard hand in the disciplining of others. Displaying a false sense of perfection to those looking in has given things such as domestic violence a place to thrive. Disguising violence in a cloak of what is labeled as love, whether that is in a religious setting or within the family and wider communities. As I said earlier this is not just a Pacific island epidemic, this is humanity everywhere if we are prepared to look deep enough.
As victims, you are stripped of any worth, broken down to believe the lies that keep you chained to a perpetrator emotionally and physically. When you are stripped of everything, anything becomes better than nothing. Growing up being a Pacific Island women meant being treated as second class, the lesser of the sexes in every setting. Fearing the rejection and further punishment from the curated community placed around us by our perpetrators. This only meant that is was much harder to come out of and that much harder to have a voice, to speak about the violence and be heard.
PT: Would you say that the situation now is better than it was in the past?
LH: Things are changing, times are changing. Pacific Island women everywhere are discovering how strong, courageous and resilient we are, how vital our voices are in shaping the world around us, for us and for those following our echoes. We are being more intentional with taking the lead in creating the communities around us, we are learning to embrace each other’s vulnerabilities rather than fearing its impacts. We are no longer afraid of our own strength and how others would respond to it. So in this sense, our self-awareness as individuals is getting better. However, domestic violence on a larger scale is still on the rise and unless the wider communities and our government start to talk about it openly with transparency and authenticity to empower the victim, not the perpetrator, to create systems to prevent a breed of new perpetrators then I believe our movement forward will always be out of reaction rather than prevention.
PT: What advice would you give to Pasifika women who are victims of domestic violence and abuse?
LH: Find a safe person to talk to. Get an escape plan in place. Then when it is safe, leave. As a survivor of abuse, we need to understand we are not the problem, there is nothing wrong with us and we CANNOT save or change them. The longer a person stays in a violent and abusive relationship the more at risk they are of losing their lives. As overwhelming as leaving maybe or even the thought of creating a new future is, the benefits of leaving far outweighs the dangerous nightmare and prison that you currently living in. Trust me when I say you are not alone in this journey. There is someone out there that has walked out of the exact same situation that your fear is holding you to. Your life is too valuable to be spent living in a relationship where the fear of what is to come next, is consuming your mind, body, and soul. You can do this. Don’t underestimate the person you were created to be. Strong and courageous.
In all honesty, I could go on here, it’s a place where building blocks are essential because you don’t just wake up one day and you’re all of a sudden brave. It takes time to sew the seed and then believe it for yourself. For many of us women who have left abusive situations it takes a great deal of time to get our minds and hearts to that brave place. For a large majority of us, it takes several tries at leaving before we reach the no return zone. When we hit that zone, there’s no turning back. It’s the love zone when we learn to love ourselves and believe that we deserve better.
PT: How can other people help if they know their relative, friend, neighbour, colleague is a victim of domestic violence. What can or maybe rather should we do?
LH: Creating a nonjudgmental safe place to talk is a great start. Learning to empathize with the individual is a great skill to learn. Brene Brown has a great video on YouTube that teaches about the difference between empathy and sympathy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw
For a lot of people that I talk with I try to focus on them, not the perpetrator as such. What I mean by that is, usually a victim views the perpetrator with a sense of love and adoration and can often block out the negative side, so going into a conversation with them by attacking the perpetrator can further isolate the victim and create a block in the victim speaking out. As a listener, it’s extremely hard not to get emotional over someone being hurt, but we must refrain in attacking where possible. We need to make those moments of courage for the victim all about them.
So I often guide conversations to where the victim can talk about how they are feeling about what has been said or done to them. Then suggest various individuals and organizations that could help according to what they have shared. It’s important to remember we are not to take on the role of a qualified counselor but provide a safe and nonjudgmental place for them to speak. As a listener, we should try to encourage them to seek further help. So we are not left feeling completely burdened with the responsibility to save them.
PT: For many people faith is a way of dealing with tragedies. What has faith taught you?
LH: For me, I had to take full ownership of my faith much like my healing journey. It wasn’t enough to float on other people’s belief systems. I needed to be intentional about what faith looked like for me. I needed to be brave enough to step out and question things and do the research needed along the way. We can’t use our faith as a hiding place for too long for what lays hidden beneath. Our faith needs to grow to the point that gives us the courage to be at our weakest part of the healing journey and know that we cannot remain there but that we need to find the strength and wisdom to work through things and move forward.
We must get beyond treating our faith as a passive hobby or limited to a building or a day of the week. My faith gives me a strong foundation, that allows me to fail on the best of days and get back up. It’s like a bungy safety cord. If I venture too far from it in regards to entertaining old mindsets and behaviors. it bounces right back to where my hope comes from, where my faith is anchored which is in God. On the other side of that. If there are things I need to deal with that benefit my movement forward, then I do so knowing I am attached and anchored to God. So taking that scary leap into the unknown, so the fear no longer holds my heart hostage.
PT: Do you have any regrets in life? Is there anything you would have done differently?
LH: Yeah definitely. I have a handful of regrets, some of which weigh heavy on my heart but have informed how I deal with things now. Which I think is the best way to deal with regrets, using them to our advantage.
I believe if we focus too much on the what if’s there is the danger of living on the negative side of regrets and failures. My past is riddled with things I should’ve done differently; however, I would not be the woman I am today if I had not walked through some of those very tough life lessons.
PT: Could you name three places/things/activities worth visiting/seeing/doing in Samoa.
LH: I wish I could speak from experience with this question, but truth be told, I’ve never been back after being born there. My culture was not one I embraced growing up. It was one that was used to heavily abuse us. So when I could finally escape my home life, I made it a point to disconnect from every part of it, including my culture and it’s rooted. However, there are parts of my culture that have been embedded into me such as the traditions, customs, and my language. Things which could not be so easily discarded. Now that I am a mother I understand the importance of giving my children the opportunities to learn and grow into their culture and heritage in ways that encourage their curiosity rather than scare them from it.
In saying that, the place I would like to visit most, would be my birthplace – Faleasiu. I would love to learn more about the history of our family. I have a lot of questions. I would love to visit our family members that I have never met, sleep in the homestead that my mother grew up in. I mean I won’t lie, I think it will be quite an emotional trip. I think doing this trip with my mother and aunties would open up many stories of courage, strength, heartache, and grief. Some of which are starting to be told since the writing of my book. I think being there I would be overcome by emotions because of the beauty that will continue to come from being amongst these brave, strong women who have withstood trials and tribulations to finally be at a point in their grace journeys to give their stories the power of their voice.