Silken Laumann strives to be authentic.
She seeks the highest form of herself, and as a motivational speaker boosts others to do the same.
Penning her autobiography, Unsinkable, released late in January, was in part an exercise in doing just that, though it meant revisiting the lowest points of her past including abuse, anorexia and struggles with mental health.
“Whatever I’m experiencing I write about and speak about,” she says, sipping peppermint tea to stave off the last vestiges of a severe head cold as she heads into a busy week of book promotion across Canada. “I’ve always been a writer and I’ve always shared whatever I was going through … because I believe that we learn from each other and it’s an important part of my life.”
Her journey started six years ago, when she realized she needed to move through the “bumps and bruises” of childhood.
“I reached a place with my kids where, for no reason other than they were being kids, I would feel overwhelming rage. I didn’t know where that rage was coming from and I felt ill-equipped to be the kind of parent I wanted to be. And it was that moment of humility that I finally said ‘I need help’ and I called a friend,” she says. “I wasn’t strong enough all by myself to understand the kind of emotions I was feeling, how the past was affecting my parenting today. Many people reach that place of melting down with their kids.”
As she journaled her way through the healing process, Laumann realized her roots were a significant part of her being.
“I almost felt inauthentic speaking and not sharing it, because people would ask questions ‘why were you so motivated? How did you learn to be so focused and driven?’”
The answer: her past.
Previously, the Olympian and founder of Silken’s Active Kids’ Movement, shared insights about her divorce, parenting a child with ADD and another with autism, her Olympic dreams, goals and challenges. This time, she scratched deeper, delving into a troubled youth that included physical and emotional abuse from an unstable mother, self-harm and an eating disorder.
“It was not healthy. It took a lot of courage to come forward and tell this story. I had to get to a place in my life where I could let go of how the reader would respond.
“Obviously I’m not 17 anymore so I don’t remember if I was wearing a red sweater or a black sweater but I remember the feeling of being desperate when I was 17 and having self loathing and having an eating disorder and how alone and angry and how much inner contempt I felt. And so I would write that piece of the book from being 17 again. I actually tried quite consciously to avoid, as a writer, coming back as an adult and telling the reader what it meant today. Because I think the power in the book … is not making it mean anything except what it actually is in that moment,” she says. “I’m letting the experiences speak for themselves. In order to do that I have to tell the experiences as if I was seven, as if I was 17.”
The effect of releasing her raw experience has had ramifications on her family relationships. Laumann focuses on the good, others may take time.
Her partner David Patchell-Evans and her children, are proud.
“I think he’s seen how strong I really am and he’s observed how much I feel a story needs to be told.”
“Both William and Kate, are incredibly proud,” she adds. “Writing this book and talking about this book has also made us have some really deep conversations about being authentic and what that means.”
Her brother in Toronto “has been incredibly supportive.” However, the relationship with her mother, father and sister – who all signed a letter sent to media disputing the abuse allegations – will “take time” to heal.
“My mom has an undiagnosed mental illness,” she says. “So their reaction, of course it’s hurtful on one hand, on the other hand … I understand that everybody is on a different journey with their past. Not everybody in my family is ready to process the past and that’s okay.”
She’s pleased with the response from the general public as emails pour in with an exchange of emotions – from agreement to anger – over the themes throughout the pages from mental illness to parenting challenges.
“We’re saying it’s good to talk about these things, it’s what increases awareness,” she says. “I’ve learned so much on my own spiritual journey to become who I am, that I really do understand that however you react to a story you’re told, will be very much reflective of where you are in your life. What you’ve experienced, what your own bumps and bruises are.”