(From the Updated Edition of Finding Paris: An Unusual Love Story)
When I first wrote Finding Paris in 2013 I had no idea of the impact that publishing this book would have on my life. This book is based on a true story. A very personal true story. Finding Paris is my story. I’ve since come to learn it’s also a lot of other people’s story. Yet at the time I started writing, this wasn’t something I was aware of. When I first began writing the book, I wasn’t sure whether or not I would publish it. There was no plan. I was just happy to be writing again after a long, self-imposed absence.
The actual writing of this book was perhaps one of the most enjoyable, creative experiences I’ve had to date. Every day I would wake up and throw myself in front of the computer, eager to continue writing. The words would fall easily and effortlessly on to the page; it was as if this was where they belonged. The story had a life of its own. It wanted to be written. That’s how it felt, anyway. Although when the manuscript was finished, I read through the first draft and thought, There’s no way I’m publishing this. It was simply too personal.
My editor from the previous book I had written, a very different book on the topic of public speaking, pleaded to read the manuscript. Reluctantly I agreed and emailed her a copy. She called back a few hours later. ‘I’ve just finished your book,’ she told me.
‘Already?’ I asked, shocked.
‘Exactly! I loved it. You have to publish this book and I’m going to help you.’
Based on this unexpected feedback, I began entertaining the idea of publishing Finding Paris. Unwilling to risk having my personal story rejected, I bypassed the big publishing houses and self-published. Less than a year later I was holding a copy of the book in my hands. This was a story that wanted to be told. It wasn’t until shortly after publishing the book I began questioning my decision to be the one to tell it.
This moment came on the morning of April 2, 2013. A few months earlier I had written a blog post about the book. The post had caught the attention of a journalist from a leading newspaper and she contacted me asking whether I would be willing to be interviewed for the publication’s online site. I agreed, thinking it would be great publicity. The journalist and I met in a café where over coffee I shared some of my story. When I opened my computer on the morning of April 2, the article was live. My story was now the property of the public domain. It was tucked away in the safety of the ‘lifestyle’ section, where I figured only a few people would see it. As I was still nervous about going public, this suited me perfectly.
By lunchtime, however, the article had gone viral and my story had been picked up by every major news site across the country. On the front page was a close-up photograph of my smiling face with the headline, ‘Hedley Galt: Addicted to Love’ and my very personal story. My heart began racing as my phone and email started beeping. It felt like everyone had seen the article. Family and friends, some of whom knew nothing about this part of my life, were sending messages of encouragement and commenting about how ‘brave’ and ‘courageous’ I was to go public with something so personal. I quickly learned what they meant.
Everyone who read the article had an opinion on my story and within hours the article had attracted hundreds of comments. Many of these comments were supportive (apparently I have nice teeth) but the majority were cruel and vicious personal attacks. I made the mistake of scrolling through these comments, many which mocked and ridiculed my story. I couldn’t believe that people could be so cruel and soon found myself in a state of shame, despair and regret. Thankfully this lasted only a couple of hours before I pulled myself back together, reminding myself that I had a book to promote.
With the article attracting so much attention, publicity opportunities came pouring in. I was invited to share my story on television and radio and in magazines. I said ‘yes’ to these invitations in the belief this would help sell my book. Having invested a year of my time and several thousands of dollars of my own money to publish it, this was a priority. Yet I was naïve when it came to the media juggernaut I was confronted with. I didn’t realise until it was too late that my story had become sensationalised fodder while I had become the pawn in a game I had no idea how to play.
As quickly as my story went crazy, it was ‘old news’. Yet what I hadn’t taken into account was that ‘old news’ is still news. Forever. My story was now cemented in the public domain thanks to the internet, in particular Google. By publishing and promoting my book, I had chained myself to my past and thrown away the key. There was simply no escaping my story even though, as time went on, it was no longer a true representation of who I was as a person. If anyone Googled my name, a potential client or someone I had just met, they would come across the hundreds of articles about my so-called ‘addiction to love’. I felt embarrassed and humiliated. Yet even worse was knowing I had brought it all on myself. Publishing this book had become the biggest mistake of my life. And there was nothing I could do to undo it or take it back.
The shame I felt led me to withdraw from the outside world. I became introverted and reclusive. I deleted my social media profiles and stopped seeking out new clients for my coaching business. Paranoid about meeting anyone new and giving them my name in case they looked me up online, I stopped socialising and going out. I also pulled Finding Paris from all online bookstores and shredded the physical copies I had left. I continued writing yet the passion and excitement had all but disappeared. Everything I wrote felt flat and lifeless. Eventually I stopped writing too.
The turnaround came in 2015 when I made the decision to change my name. Until this point I had felt trapped and powerless. By choosing to change my name I was reclaiming my power as well as the narrative of my life. Hedley Galt was the name given to me by my parents. Up to this point, my choices and behaviours as an adult were driven by events I experienced as a child over which I had no control, influence or choice. As children we are under the care of adults, including parents but not limited to. In most cases this care is appropriate and adequate to ensure our healthy development. In some cases, this care fails. In other cases, this care was never there to begin with. We only really start figuring this later in life when on our hands and knees picking up the pieces of our shattered lives and wondering ‘what the hell happened?’ This was true for me.
The choice to change my last name to Derenzie, an old family name on my mother’s side of Irish, Dutch and Italian heritage that can be traced back to the 17th century, was a declaration of independence. No longer would I be a victim to the events of my past. No longer would my behaviour or choices be dictated by external factors. No longer would I live a life based on other people’s opinion of me. It was time to claim complete responsibility for myself and my life. It was time to start writing a new story; a consciously chosen one, starting with a new name.
It’s been a long, slow and, at times, torturous process that’s taken me the best part of two years. Yet today my life looks very different to the one I have just described. While it’s not perfect, I’ve emerged from under the rock where I’ve been hiding, having realised I can’t hide forever and nothing good can come of doing so anyway. This time in the wilderness was necessary for my return to wholeness as a person. One of the most important lessons I learned during this time is that our stories are sacred, especially those stories that reveal our brokenness. We all carry parts within that are a little bit broken and a little bit wounded. It’s called being human. This is nothing to be ashamed of.
I’ve learned that we must treat our life stories as we would someone we love. That is, with empathy and compassion and forgiveness. We must do our best to see shame as opportunities to love those wounded parts of ourselves a little bit more. And we must know when is the right and appropriate time to share our stories, if that is something we feel called to do. Stories are to be shared if we choose but only when we have spent time with them, become familiar with them and allowed them to grow into the cracks and crevices of our being.
The decision to republish Finding Paris has not been a simple or a quick one. I’ve tossed and turned the idea over and over in my mind. After much consideration I finally reached the conclusion that Finding Paris was a story I poured my heart and soul into writing. It was also the most fun I’ve had creatively in my life. I literally loved writing this book. Its pages are infused with this love. As well as much laughter and many tears. That’s a good enough reason to send it back out into the world.
The book you now hold in your hands is an updated version of the original. The only changes I’ve made are the corrections of the few spelling and grammatical errors that snuck into the original draft. In addition, there were a few sentences in the original draft that didn’t flow as well as they could which I’ve adjusted slightly. I’ve also included a new Introduction (this one you're reading now) and an Epilogue that wasn’t in the first edition. The epilogue briefly explains what happened after returning from Paris and an idea of where I'm at now. Otherwise, the story has been left in its original form.
I would like to finish by saying this: while I’m no longer ashamed of this story, it's a story that is not representative of the person I am today. Instead, this is a story that is one of many stories which have helped shape me into the person I am today. Finding Paris is part of my internal fabric. For this reason, it’s a story I am incredibly proud of and one that I feel honoured and grateful to be able to share.
Thank you for allowing me to share it with you. Again.
Hedley Derenzie, 2016