When Cayla Pothan was elected to the Yass Valley Council late last year, an outgoing councillor offered her the following advice: “Don’t tell anyone anything about your personal life.”
Too late, Cayla thought at the time. Her first book Building in Bronze: Creating the Future Through Healing the Past had just been published, telling the story of how she survived childhood violence. But it was a story, she believed, that needed to be told.
Today, the book is an international best-seller on Amazon.
Cayla had always been “a bit of a storyteller”, so when friends and family suggested she record her life story, putting fingers to keyboard felt right.
“It was so exciting when I heard it had become a best-seller,” she says, “but then it dawned on me that people were actually reading my story, my very personal story. It was quite overwhelming.”
Today, Cayla is a proud partner, mother, councillor, artist, writer and businesswoman; the brains behind Yass’s popular Tootsie gallery and cafe. She is also, proudly, a mentor to anyone who needs her.
Back then though, she was a victim. Her father, a Vietnam veteran, used her as a punching bag. Her mother’s response? “I don’t know what to do.”
“There was a lot of violence in my childhood,” she says. “When my father came back from Vietnam, he brought the war back with him, in his head. That’s what my mother always used to say. She just didn’t know how to cope.
“Back in the 1970s and 80s, there was no support available. Sure, there is help now, but there was nothing back then. People were just told to ‘get on with it’.
“I remember going to a counsellor who says it was my dad’s fault. But for me, that made it a lot worse. It fed my victim mindset.
“Looking back, my father had lots of unresolved feelings … he’d just snap for what seemed like no reason.”
Cayla remembers being beaten black and blue by her father, hiding under her bed to avoid the blows, trying to disguise the bruises so no one at school would know.
“There was so much shame among my family. It was all about hiding what was happening and being told to just get on with it.”
Through her book and her life, Cayla now works to mentor others. She speaks to people who were in a similar position to hers as young women. “Not as, ‘you poor thing’, but rather talk to them about how they can make it different, not feel like a victim anymore,” she says.
“Having a victim mindset can be a real trap because it’s so easy to believe you are – my book is about getting out of that mindset.
“It’s about turning those feelings of feeling sorry for yourself into passion and hope.”
Cayla says her beatings as a child set her on a path, as a young woman, where she rarely felt safe, particularly around men. She thought learning karate would help give her the power she felt she needed.
“I ended up getting a black belt in karate, but it didn’t mean that much. I worked out it wasn’t about strength, it’s about self-confidence and awareness. When you have those things, self-defence becomes almost redundant. If you’re self-confident, you tend to stand up a bit straighter,” she says.
“I learned that with bullies, it’s their problem, not yours. Chances are, you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
According to Cayla in her role as mentor, using the right language plays a key role in getting the best message out there. Asking ‘Is there something I can do to help you’ puts the onus back on the person in need of help. “It tells them that you are listening, that you care. For me, it’s all about listening, not telling.”
Original Article published by Sally Hopman on About Regional.