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Occidental, CA, USA
How films change lives: personal stories
Good stories have long been recognized as having far more
value than mere entertainment. Throughout human history, stories have
taught people valuable lessons about themselves and their culture, about
their past, their present and even their future. Today, films are one
of our most powerful storytelling methods, and some films have had important
impacts, on individuals and on entire societies.
Below are personal stories of how films have touched our
lives in a variety of ways. If you would like to tell us how a film changed
your life or had a significant impact in some way, please send an email with your story to email@example.com.
When my son was killed in 2003, along with going through a divorce, getting a second job and trying to find my way, watching movies about death is something that really helped. I did not even know there was such a term as "cinema therapy" but I believe that was what I was doing. Probably for the first 2 years after my son's death, I would feel better, at least momentarily, while watching DVD's with death themes, whether they were black comedies or serious drama. I only know that this worked for me, as well as the reading of many first-hand accounts of others who have experienced tremendous loss, especially those involving children.
San Antonio, Texas
I would urge anyone to watch the 1987 John Huges' comedy "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" starring Steve Martin and the late legendary John Candy. While the majority of the film makes you laugh out loud, there are in many respects, important lessons in friendship, forgiveness, and personal growth. The movie examines the lives of two men who unexpectedly cross paths on their way home for the Thanksgiving holidays. Both men could not be anymore different, yet they are forced to share many experiences together on their journey home. Including sharing rides, beds, hotels, and moments of conflict and uncertainty. Through it all, both men form a bond that teaches us that friendship and life lessons come in the most unlikely of times and in the most unusual places in our lives. I am not a spoiler for endings, for those of you who have not seen this movie. However, I must say that the ending is one of the most powerful and emotionally gripping endings I have ever seen in my life. The end leads us to believe that forgiveness often gives room for us to learn new things about ourselves and explore special qualities in other people. It is rare that such a movie can move you to laugh and cry all while teaching us powerful lessons in growth and friendship.
San Antonio, Texas
The 1984 teen comedy "Revenge of the Nerds" is commonly regarded as a funny American classic, however when seen for what it really is, a film of courage, it can touch and move you in ways that you least expect it. The story focuses on the obstacles and cruel acts that a group of social outcasts must endure during their freshman year in college. This group of social outcasts known as "nerds" face much discrimination and humiliation as exhibited by their school peers.
Throughout the movie these individuals experience hate, prejudice, and violence. The moral of this movie is that eventually we must come to grips with who we are, it is not society that determines what is or is not acceptable within ourselves. It is rather us who makes that choice. At the end of the movie the nerds stick to their guns, in spite of all odds they face, they find a way to rise against the challenges that are presented before them. After many years of running away and never standing up for themselves the "nerds" do just the opposite at the very end. When they do they discover who they really are and what they truly are capable of doing when life presents them their greatest fears and biggest obstacles. The movie demonstrates that we are all different and at times society will challenge this difference and demmand us to change. The movie also successfully reminds us that we can either run away from the problem or we can face it head on. That it is what we beleive within ourselves that truly makes us who we are and only when we face our greatest challenges in life can we ultimately know who we are. Above all "Revenge of the Nerds" is a funny movie, but it teaches us lessons on courage, character, and humanity. Don't miss out on this funny yet prolific film.
San Antonio, Texas
After watching "Big Fish" by Tim Burton I found it very emotionally uplifting. This movie examines the relationship between a dying father and a grieving son. The movie also highlights the ways in which we humans percieve the events in our lives. The movie basically offers 2 theories as to how to how we choose to remember the events in our lifetime. We can either choose to remember as them serving a purpose along our way in the journey of growth or we can choose to remember as events having no purpose and as a result all we become is victims. Simply put there is meaning in everything that happens to us. Meaning comes in how we tell our stories to those we love most. And above all a story doesnt have to sound true for it to serve a lesson in our life. The son in this movie eventually sees life the way his father chose to see it. And when this happens the viewer also has a life altering moment as well. Very sad yet very insightful to say the least. Please go out and rent this movie tonight.
Dr. Craig Shifrin
I am a psychologist. I once had a 13-year-old adolescent male who refused to discuss much with me. He had a severe anger problem and was in behaviorally disordered special education. As he would not talk to me much, I hit upon a discovery. He loved to watch the T.V. show "The Honeymooners" with Jackie Gleason and Art Carney. As this show always involved Ralph making an impulsive decision, did not listen to others, and his wife always trying to get him to think before he acted. It was very fruitful to process the previous nights episode with this adolescent. We would 1) talk about the plot, 2) discuss the roles each main character had in the episode, 3) talk about how Ralph would not make a good decision, 4) Alice's reaction 5) how did Ralph's anger impacted his ability to be relate to his wife and best friend, and 6) what could have Ralph done differently if given the same situation or what could he do in the future?
Winnepeg, Manitoba, Canada
I wanted my graduating class of S4-grade 12 predominantly aboriginal at-risk students to be exposed to native issues on a global scale. I developed a one-month unit entitled "Aboriginal Cinematherapy." The four movies I used were "Once Were Warriors", "Little Big Man", "Rabbit Proof Fence" and "Smoke Signals." Besides viewing and discussing the movies, we read excerpts from books ....Guy Vanderhaeghe's "The Last Crossing", listened to guest speakers, discussed CBC radio interviews with Alan Duff author of "Once Were Warriors," concluded the month with a sweat lodge and used a Semantic Differential Rating Scale pre and post unit to test student responses. I was very pleased with the results of how both aboriginal and non-aboriginal students in class now viewed native culture, their acceptance of native role models and their more "worldly" perspective.
The most powerful film I have seen so far in my life that has made a big difference was the Lord of the Rings. I was severely abused by an eclectic religious group as a child and both parents, and saw a lot of violence and abuse. Watching all three films and seeing the healing at the end was like watching good and evil, personified and literally, right in front of me. And here are these little people, simple people, loving, family-oriented, being ravaged by beings much bigger and powerful than they. And the little people won with perseverance, love, courage, inner courage, and facing their fears squarely in the face. I don't care that many say "oh, it is just a movie." I don't care. It changed my life. It is not just a movie to me.
Three films that improve my state are Bride &
Prejudice, Last Holiday and Danny Deckchair. The music & singing in the first one,
a Ballywood version of Pride & Prejudice, was so uplifting. All three movies left
me feeling hopeful and liberated.
Bay City, WI
I watched "The Wilderness Family" (over and over)
then I quite my job with the San
Francisco Police Department and moved to Wisconsin to build a log cabin in the woods
(where I still live).
I also watched "Baby Boom" and "The Associate" to learn how
to market and promote my own business (fledgling, but it's coming along).
I watched the old Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney movies about, "Hey, kids,
let's put on a show" I have written and am currently promoting a one-woman
show on the dangers of methamphetamine and trying to teach others that they can put
on the same show in their own communities.
And I watched "Independence Day" to learn how to strategically plan an
all-out offensive in the fight against methamphetamine; literally trying to get
communities to stage a fight all at the same time. (A challenge, worked better in the
movie, but I'm only 2 weeks into my tactical plan.)
San Ramon, CA
About a month ago I rented the movies
Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. I
watched them as a pairor double feature--with a short
intermission between. When I finished them I called and
sent e-mails to friends letting them know that these were
the "most romantic movies I ever saw."
It had been a long time since I was so
taken with a movie. I watched them three times before I
returned them. I then purchased them and am still
watching them and inquiring into why they affected me as
they did. The only other movie I saw so many times in a
short period isn't even out in video or on dvd. That
movie is Enchanted April, which I saw ten times
in theatres or on TV.
As I inquired into the affect they had
on me I reflected also on Enchanted April and
why, after over ten years, it remains my favorite movie
and how the song "A Peaceful, Easy Feeling" still
touches me to my depths. With Enchanted April
I came to see that it speaks to me of the magic of life
– the things that are there, but what we often
don't "see". I began exploring how much I "see"
things – intuitive senses or just a sense of knowing – but
how I often don't take it seriously or how when it is
very personal I don't trust it. After many years of
noticing this phenomenon I am now beginning to trust
what I "see" more and more. In fact it's this #"eeing"
that is my creative process. This is similar to how the
main character (whose name I've forgotten) creates the
magical month in Italy because she #saw# it. Plus, in
trusting her intuition she was finally seen by others,
most notably her husband.
What comes up for me as I write this is
how I am touched by the quality of really being seen and
how that comes through trusting the situation
(instincts) and valuing myself.
As for the song "A Peaceful, Easy
Feeling" it's been my favorite since I was in college.
Now, some thirty years later, I still play it over and
over again. Each time I hear it's as if I'm hearing it
for the first time. It still speaks both to me and for
me, especially the lines "she can't take you anyway you
don't already know how to go" and "I know you won't let
me down, 'cause I'm already standing on the ground."
This song really says how I feel about love – that
it should be simple and easy and fully grounded.
This sense of love now brings me back
to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset
– "the most romantic movies I've ever seen."
While watching Before Sunrise I was enjoying
how they got to know one another as they wandered the
streets of Vienna talking of life, philosophy, and love.
This is my ideal – just getting to know someone by
walking, talking and observing him interact with others.
In this movie Jesse was cynical, while Celine was sweet
Although the whole movie affected me,
the line I remember most was then they were playing
pinball and Celine asked "why is it that we obsess about
people we don't even like?" This really hit me hard as
I realized that this is something that I do.
The feel of Before Sunset was
quite different. Nine years had passed and they had
changed since their first meeting. In this movie Celine
is the cynic. This movie bothered me at first. The
more I watch it the more I appreciate it. I was
bothered by how closed Celine was. When I first watched
it I really disliked the scene in the car. Now I see
this scene as the most important in the movie. This is
where Celine opens up to her vulnerability and, as Rumi
says "renders her veils". As she talks about the
loneliness of being in the wrong relationship (something
which I have known for years) and of how the men she's
dated all marry the women they date immediately after
her (the story of my life) she opens and relaxes. To
me, this is a movie about vulnerability.
These are movies about being open and
trusting the situation so that the trust is there to
accept love. It is this that I've wanted and have
waited all these years for. For this I'd rather be
alone than in the loneliness of being with the wrong
s I write this what strikes me is the
common thread of Enchanted April, "A Peaceful, Easy
Feeling", and Before Sunrise/Sunset. All of them are
about trusting the truth of who we are and it's this
truth that is love. My sense here is that just being
true to myself is the love that I've always sought.
San Francisco, CA
LOTRevolution: One of the themes that
attracted my attention in THE LORD OF THE RINGS is that of
personal evolution. Each one of the members of The
Fellowship is simultaneously a participant in two
quests; one which revolves around the destruction of the
ring, and another which revolves around the
confrontation of demons/fears that obstruct that
characters' personal growth. Although each member of the
Fellowship faces this challenge, the character I'm
interested in at the moment is Gandalf the Grey.
When he is first introduced into the
story he enjoys eating, smoking and play. He's somewhat
ragged, with unkempt hair/beard and a staff comprised of
tangled roots at its end. He's also a bit unsure of
himself. He's lost his edge from spending too much time
with the Hobbits. Together these seem to represent
Gandalf's development as being somewhat arrested. This
resonated with me, since I too, feel as though my
development has been somewhat stunted. I made an
agreement with myself a long time ago, that I would stay
a child for as long as possible. Recently, I've been
frustrated by this, but more so hesitant about moving
forward with personal evolution. I am afraid of what I
A couple of events forced Gandalf to
ultimately face the demon Balrog. They bring Gandalf to
a point of no return. He fell, and what seemed like
certain death resulted in Gandalf's evolution from
Gandalf the Grey, to Gandalf the White. Gandalf the
White seems to have a very solid sense of himself, what
needs to happen in certain circumstances, and in
organizing others to make that happen.
All of this has me reflecting on my own
situation. Although I feel so hesitant about being an
adult, there are certain events that are forcing me to
face this fear. For one, my body developed into that of
a woman, all hips and boobs. The second was the death of
my mother. Somehow it's difficult to continue to view
myself as a child when she's dead, even if I've been
successful in ignoring what my body had developed
into. The third is the realization that children are in
an almost constant state of disempowerment. It's
probably this last realization that's hit me the hardest.
I'm unhappy with my current situation, and feel like I
have no power to change it. I cannot continue to exist
feeling I have no power, because the frustration and
pain I feel from that far outweighs any consolation I
might derive from keeping my promise.
Looking at Gandalf's experience has
helped me realize that I wont be a totally different
person, just an evolved version of myself. I will be
able to help myself as unfortunate circumstances present
themselves, hence better able to help those around me.
In fact, I would venture a guess, that forging on
through these fears would help empower one's sense of
self-love, which is of inestimable assistance in facing
fears. It would seem to be the creation of an upward
spiral, that continually reinforces itself. What a
wonderful tool in coping with LIFE.
Coping With Death: Shortly after my big brother
Erick died at the age of 29, I saw a film about the premature
death/murder of a young man. The film starred Brandon Lee
(Son of Bruce Lee) as a character by the name of "Eric
the film was sold as an "action genre" it intrigued
me because of Brandon Lee's premature death on the set
of this film as well as the premature death of the protagonist
Eric Draven. At the end of that film, there was an interview
with Brandon in which he spoke about life and death. In
doing so, Brandon provided a quote from the book "Sheltering
Sky". Below is an excerpt from that quote. The quote
itself was something that was not only prophetic when one
considers Brandon Lee’s sudden death shortly after
he said this, but because, at the time, it was the most
profound statement that I had ever heard. It was something
that I really needed to hear at that time in my life because
it put so many things into perspective for me! So much
so, that to this day I feel that it has become a major
part of who I am...
"Because we do not know when we will die, we get to
think of life as an inexhaustible well; and yet everything
happens only a certain number of times - and a very small
number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain
afternoon of your childhood? An afternoon that is so deeply
a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of
your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more? Perhaps
not even that. How many more times will you watch the full
moon rise, perhaps twenty? And yet it all seems limitless."
I’d like to add that I now know that
the potential of my life is limitless! In fact, I have yet
to know my full potential! And so I will never cease to test
it! For more info on the impact of this film on my life,
please visit the following link: http://members.migente.com/e31arenas/
University of Malta
I have always found films as very enriching
in the process of self-discovery. I found movies to be fundamental
in the understanding the dynamics of human interactions as
projected through the characters in films. During some less
glamourous times, story lines and their characters made me
feel less alone and understood better than the people around
me. This strengthened my thinking patterns of combining psychology
and films. I almost always take something with me on viewing
a film, a deeper insight, whether psychological, spiritual,
emotional, a good line to remember or a good joke.
I am a young girl with no mental problems,
I think. I don't know if you'll accept my testimony but there
is one movie that I identify with wholly, it really gives
me comfort. The movie is "Little Darlings." I don't
think this movie is on the Cinema Therapy list. The movie
is about two girls and their experiences with relationships
and sex. Although I am a teenager, I don't think about boys
and sex constantly. But I was having a slight problem with
my relationship with this boy and I could identify with Kristy
McNichol's character. She didn't know what she wanted but
she knew he wasn't it. She knew that she had to find herself
first which is a such a cliche but I didn't find it cheesy
at all. I think this movie should be added to the list so
teenage girls have a movie that displays feelings like this
as a visual.
Grand Junction, CO
Recently I watched the movie, Steel Magnolias.
This was not the first time I have watched this movie. It
was probably the 20th. It makes me feel so happy. I like the
closeness of family and friends. The mother and daughter have
a close inner bond, but on the outside the bond isn't as obvious.
When the mother loses her daughter to diabetes she is so distraught
that she herself wonders how she will make it through this
life without her daughter. Thankfully the greeving mother
has a core group of dear friends to help her with her loss.
This movie makes me feel so thankful that I have a great group
of friends who are like family to me. It also makes me long
for a close family of my own someday.
The movie Contact really hit home. As I cried
through the movie I wanted to shout, "That's me!"
My battle began in the 50's being born a girl
who loved science. Where I grew up this was unacceptable.
My father encouraged my passion, but everyone else saw it
as abnormal. Dad was pushed aside by what seemed like the
rest of the world, bound & determined to squeeze me into
a stereotypical "one size fits all" mold for females,
complete with conditioning.
Contact did contact me - inside. The
truths learned have impacted my life. I learned from this,
oddly enough, "science fiction" movie: 1) molds
are not "one size fits all" - avoid them & just
be "you", 2) the Truth is everything - even if it
it makes you unpopular, 3) yes, there will always be those
waiting to steal your work & take credit for it, but those
who live by the sword die by the sword, 4) there will be those
who will try to discredit you the best they can as a way to
increase their own power & control - don't give in to
them, 5) you must be true to yourself no matter what, and
6) we must each find our own way & do what we are passionate
I agree with the main character - The world
really is what we make of it. I now find the world especially
sweet when I get to do what I love. This movie gave me strength.
It left me feeling inspired and very hopeful about Everything.
When I was a child my parents were hyper-protective
persons and very fearful. Anyway, the situation here [in Romania]
made people to be very fearful and anxious about almost everything.
Then and unfortunately, now, the Romanian streets are not
a safe place. So, I was spending a lot [of time] indoors.
I can’t say I haven’t got friends (I still have
friends from my childhood!), but one of my dearest friends
was the movie. I was watching all I could get, on TV and VCR,
especially Romanian, Russian, Bulgarian, North American, Italian,
French and Indian movies. What a great American sociologist
said once, “The television is the teacher and the preacher
of our society” was very true in my case. I used to
talk a lot about movies with my grandparents. Sometimes the
western mirage made us dream about another kind of society,
where freedom and security were “at home”. Of
course, in this case the movie had a transparent and strong
evasion function. But I could also learn a lot from all those
movies. I still love the Russian and the Italian movies, even
if I couldn't’t understand too much of them as a child.
Now it’s different.
…I myself experienced movies in different
ways: as a [means of escape] …, as a lesson, as entertainment,
even as a wiser friend that can teach me a lot. There were
some situations when a movie thought me something that nobody
else could do at that time. [There] still are. It’s
quite sad to me, but if somebody [asked] me to [weigh] what
my parents taught me, good and bad things, the scale of “bad
things” [outweighs] … the other scale. Now, after
10 years of psychology and self-searching I can say that I
[learned] from my parents what I shouldn't do [more] than
[what] I should do. There are movies that showed me how could
and should the members of one family behave to each other,
how they should solve a conflict without yelling and threatening,
for example. Actually, I think there are too many aspects
of life that I [learned] from movies to put all of them down
After being drugged and raped at a professor's
housewarming party, I became afraid to leave my house. When
I finally did venture out, "my" rapist stalked me,
and I had to drop out of school, and quit my job. Soon, I
found myself in a very, very dark place. Unable to steady
my concentration enough to sink into a good book, I turned
to movies, which could command my attention, distract me,
and also leave my hands free, to cuddle one of the attention-hungry
feral cats I had rescued the year before. What finally lifted
my spirits-- what gave me the courage to venture out again--was
a delightful film called "Uncorked," starring Nigel
Hawthorne, Minnie Driver, and Rufus Sewell. This movie truly
is quite literally life-changing; it's about having the courage
to embrace life, make peace with one's own flaws and one's
family's eccentricities, and being at one with the beautiful
world around us. Furthermore, it's rife with enchanting music,
perfectly succinct character studies, and wry humor. I wish
the whole Western world could see it! 5 stars!
I watched the movie "Ordinary People",
the first movie directed by Robert Redford. What an incredible
movie! I identified with Conrad, the teenager in the movie
who had to cope with grief, guilt and anger over the death
of his brother. His unfolding emotional revelation reminded
me of my own process, where I'm beginning to uncover deep
rage and grief left over from early pre-verbal childhood.
The movie left me feeling open and vulnerable.
I had an experience with the movie Dirty Dancing
(which I saw l6 times!) fifteen years ago when I was in my
40's. It was a very unexpected catalyst to some pretty huge
changes in my life. I'm not sure I've ever completely understood
the effect it had on me,but there was definitely intense transference
involved at a number of levels. According to a Time magazine
article I read at the time, there were many women nationwide
who were tremendously affected, some going to see it 100 times!
The movie opened up very intense feelings for me.
I just saw "Nowhere in Africa", the
German film that won the Oscar for best foreign film. It's
about a German Jewish expatriate family in Africa during Nazi
times. The story "hooked me right into" the pain
of the past. I was born in post-war Germany and am married
to a Jew here in California. I belief that movies that touch
us in this kind of way can help us process grief and pain.
I am trying to be as conscious and aware as possible about
my emotional responses. It helps me to talk about my feelings
to others right after watching the movie.
I wanted to tell you about a particular movie-watching
experience I've had numerous times. It primarily involves
the movie “Gandhi” but also others, like “Fearless”
and a few more. They provoke an uncontrollable emotion in
me: I get all choked up, sometimes I actually cry, which I
don’t do that often (sometimes it can be years between
cries). I watch many other movies, enjoy them fully, but I
don’t experience anything comparable to the uncontrollable
emotion that breaks to the surface when I see certain movies.
The very few movies that provoke this reaction
in me seem to share a common element: they involve me intimately
in the experience of someone who is doing something that is
very selfless and giving, and is somehow absorbing the world’s
pain. Clearly I have unresolved issues with my “Jesus”
About Schmidt is one of the most depressing
movies I have seen this year. Four English teachers, three
retired and myself (near retirement) saw the film last week.
We split on our enjoyment with two really liking it and two
disliking it intensely. It was only afterwards that I came
to any realization of why I hated it. With retirement less
than two years away, it may have struck a chord a little too
close to home in its depiction of life after work: the bad
retirement speeches; returning to work when nobody really
wants to see you anymore; the frailty of your life or your
spouses; relationships with kids; the rv ignominiously named
Adventurer which seemed to be a metaphor for Schmidt's life--cumbersome,
directionless, unwanted. The recreational vehicle should be
up for best supporting actor.
Can a film affect you that negatively yet have
an upside in cinema therapy? The message to me was don't sit
on your butt waiting for something to happen to you after
retirement, start planning now. I have in fact begun discussing
it with my wife and we have had a number of excellent plans.
Retirement will begin with the purchase of a Winnebago. We'll
see where life takes us after that.
I was angry with my boyfriend. We'd had a fight.
I'd yelled at him. Now I felt bad about it because I saw that
the small mistake he made didn't justify my acting out this
way. The real reason for my reaction was my hurt about his
plans to leave the next morning on a fishing trip with his
buddies for a couple of weeks. I felt excluded and abandoned.
As I thought about it the next day , I suddenly
understood that my anger was a way for me to push him away
by defending against my vulnerability and fear of abandonment.
I sensed it would help me to tell him about these feelings
when he returned, but I was too afraid to look stupid. It
would make me feel too weak. He might take advantage of my
vulnerability, criticize me, see me as needy, and push me
away. Then I would feel even worse.
At that time I happened to watch a movie: Sliding
Doors (starring Gweneth Paltrow). Somehow it stuck with me
that Helen, the main character displays a combination of strength
and vulnerability when she meets James again on the street
and expresses her interest in him even though she is not sure
whether he is still interested in her. James responds with
emotional openness too and they develop a close relationship
from this point on.
When I watched the movie I noticed that Helen
didn't look weak at all. In fact, she seemed kind of courageous
and strong allowing herself to be so open and emotionally
vulnerable. I can see myself as Helen. I realized that what
Helen can do, I could do too.
I was very excited about this and I told my
boyfriend about it when he came back. This film taught me
how I could experience more emotional closeness if I allowed
myself to be vulnerable with him. At times of emotional stress
I'm usually not in touch with my strength and courage or the
means to access them. But discussing my reaction to this movie
scene with him, it sank in that I already carried these qualities
San Francisco, CA
I was grieving the impending end of my marriage.
I was in therapy. My husband and I had had a big fight which
I told my therapist about. I felt he was oppressing me again.
For a long time he had been my main purpose in life. Now it
was clear the marriage was over. I had tried for a long time
to make it work. During the session I cried a lot. I felt
good. I told my therapist, "I believe that something
good will come out of this but I can’t be sure”.
My therapist told me that many movies have
been made that begin in despair and end in triumph. If I could
identify with characters, who are trapped in their circumstances,
and share their disappointments as well as their unsteady
steps toward liberation, I could start finding reason for
optimism in my own situation. My therapist said it could help
me gain the courage to do what is necessary to change my situation.
She encouraged me to let a film inspire me
to learn how to survive my loss without succumbing to it,
possibly coming out of it transformed. She suggested several
movies and asked me to choose a film that had touched me when
I had seen it before. She said it wasn't crucial that the
plot match my situation exactly as long as a character was
going through some kind of transformation.
I chose the Alan Alda film, “The Four
Seasons.” After discussing it with my therapist, I started
to enjoy my newly gained freedom after her separation. I discovered
new strength and compassion. I got in touch with my autonomy
and a new purpose.