Alison is best known for the ordeal she suffered in December 1994, when an extraordinary event took place in Alison’s ordinary life. She was abducted by two men and taken to the outskirts of the coastal city of Port Elizabeth in South Africa, where they raped and brutally assaulted her. She was stabbed in the abdomen more than 30 times and her throat was slit from side to side. The men left her for dead in the bushes, the full moon looking down on her barely recognisable body. Somehow she was able to use the light of the moon to find her way back to the road where she collapsed. A car finally stopped and found the near-dead Alison. Despite the odds, she lived.
Since the ordeal, Alison has received numerous awards, including the Rotarian Paul Harris Award for Courage Beyond the Norm. She was named Femina magazine’s first “Woman of Courage” in 1995 and was honoured as her hometown of Port Elizabeth’s Citizen of the Year in 1995 for her contributions to the community. Her career changed as she began sharing her story, and she became one of South Africa’s most sought-after public speakers. She has travelled all over the country and to over 30 others internationally, sharing with her audiences the horror of being physically attacked, then offering insight into her own recovery and the power of inner strength. In 1998, ‘I Have Life’, Alison’s first-person account of her ordeal and recovery, was published by Penguin Books, South Africa, and has been a best-seller ever since throughout the country. ‘I Have Life’ has been translated into seven languages in Europe.
Physicians call her survival a medical miracle, but perhaps the true miracle has been how she has chosen to deal with the experience. Rather than becoming bitter, she uses her experience as an example of the power of the human spirit. For Alison, it has become her personal mission to make a difference in other people’s lives. She believes that although we don’t always get to control what happens in our lives, we always get to control what we do about it. People around the world are inspired after hearing Alison’s message, inspired to believe in the strength within each one of us to overcome the obstacles on our own life’s journeys.
Please tell us a little more about yourself and your journey so far.
I was born and raised in Port Elizabeth, matriculating as Head Girl in 1985. That was a big achievement for me, but although I was bright, I didn’t have a specific direction for what I wanted to do as a career. I studied for a year and then began working. When I was 21, I travelled overseas and stayed there for 4 years. On returning to South Africa, I took up a job as an Insurance Broker, until my ordinary life changed on the night of 18 December 1994. The ordeal itself has been covered in the media in detail – horrific to say the least and definitely life-changing. The various, difficult journeys of that time include the painful physical recovery, the trial at which the two perpetrators received life-sentences and the horrifying emotional struggle against depression. I found the latter the most exhausting and daunting. I had an deep-seated knowledge that I had changed irrevocably but didn’t know what that meant to my life. It was impossible to continue my work effectively, so I left my job without knowing (or even caring at the time) what else I would do.
The first glimmer of a possible direction and my own recovery, came when I was invited to share my story with a Rotary club in Port Elizabeth. I will never be able to aptly describe the feeling of purpose I felt when standing in front of a group of strangers and sharing my thoughts with them. The rest, as they say in the classics, is history. Since that time, I have spoken to thousands upon thousands of people all over the world – always with the hope and belief that I will make a difference to just one of them each time.
Sharing with others in this way will always be my ‘reward’ for what I went through. There are now exciting new developments and projects that I am working on. I have eventually, after being approached many, many times over the years, decided to give the film rights to my story to Uga Carlini of Towerkop Creations. I have liked and trusted Uga from the first moment I met her. I have always known that I had to be 100% comfortable that the director of such a project would honour my story the way I need it to be told. I am very, very excited to be an integral part of the process too – as Executive Producer for the documentary, which we are working on before tackling the feature film. I am already learning a lot about the process of film-making and am in awe of the work and preparation that goes into the end product. Apart from the work that I do, by far the most important ‘job’ that I have is single mom to my two boys – the reasons for it all!
You have written a very successful book, “I Have life”. Do you have any advice for someone that wants to write a book about their own experiences?
Well, I was stalling writing my own book as it would have been a difficult autobiography to write. It was suggested that I approach a ghost writer, and that was the best advice I received. Marianne Thamm, a journalist friend, agreed to write the book for me. Both Marianne and I were passionate about telling the true, complete story and I deeply admire her ability to ‘find my voice’ in the retelling of my story. I guess the best advice I could give anyone writing of their own experiences would be to always write what you personally know and to be as fully honest as you can be. I have been amazed at the smaller details that have meant so much to some people – things that I debated including or not. Oh, and the advice that Marianne gave me on writing my second book (which I really, really want to do myself) is – Just write! Something. Anything. Just start. Even if it seems at first that you’re writing nonsense – the act of writing will inspire the right thoughts to flow. So, I have to take that advice too soon…..watch this space!
What is it that you are passionate about?
Inspiring others to realise that their lives are actually fully in their own control. So many of us live continually with a sense of hopelessness – it’s very rewarding when someone changes that mindset because of something that I might have shared with them. We are each in control of how we respond to what Life sends our way.
Lots of other things too – Love. My children. Reading. Cooking. Camping. Turquoise. Beads. Butterflies. Friends. Nature. Joy. Picnics. Coffee. Words. Photos. My blackberry. Chocolate. Rain. Travel. Sharing. Creating. That time when you know, in amongst the present chaos, that you going to be okay. Cheesecake!
Who or What has been the biggest influence in your life and why?
Without a doubt, my mother, Claire Collier. My mom was a single mom from when I was 9 years old. She struggled through a divorce, finding a job, caring for two children but never letting us feel the depth of her struggle. Without knowing it, I learnt how strong a woman can be. She was also the one who taught me the values that I still have today – the one who told me that I ‘had greatness within me’ – the one who instilled the value in myself which made me choose to fight for my life – physically and later, emotionally too. To have an example of that in my daily life has been my greatest benefit and a precious gift. I consider it a great honour that I now have the opportunity to give that same gift to my sons.
What is your personal “motto”?
‘No matter what the circumstances are, I can always choose how I respond to them.’ (you can quote me on that one).
What advice would you give your younger self?
The same advice that I give myself now – “You are enough. Already perfect – you don’t need to try so hard. Just love and accept yourself. Don’t worry about the judgement of other people – just always be true to yourself. And have fun.”
Who or what is your inspiration and why?
I am always very inspired by the courage and strength and tenacity of people who have survived hardship – be it physical or emotional. Sometimes hardships are inflicted on us by other people or circumstances beyond our control, and at other times we choose to test our limits by taking on challenges that might seem to many as insurmountable. It’s the spirit inside people- that ‘thing’ that keeps them believing in themselves during the darkest times – that inspires me to believe in it in myself.
Your favourite daily affirmation?
Although I don’t always remember to remember it…….”Accept whatever. Choose to be happy!”
Your favourite quote
I have LOVED quotes since I was young – so there are a many – and these will be added to continually. Some of those that are my favourites are:
“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” ~Erin Majors
“If you can’t fight and you can’t flee – flow” ~Robert Elliot
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” ~Marianne Williamson
“It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are not. You are a child of the universe, no less that the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, the universe is unfolding as it should.” ~Max Ehrmann
“If this world were a perfect place, where would souls go to school?” ~Emmanuel
Which book are you reading now?
‘Codependent No More’ by Melody Beattie – because Uga Carlini (last month’s Xtraordinary Woman of the Month) bought it for me and keeps quoting it when we chat. I think I should read it and give her a break from having to repeat it to me all the time.
Which book can you read over and over again?
I rarely read a book twice as there are so many still on my ‘list’ that I would usually choose a new one to read. However, there are a few inspirational books that speak to my soul and that I read sections from over and over…
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by by Richard Bach ‘Illusions.
The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by by Richard Bach.
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.
When I Loved myself Enough by Kim McMillen.
The World I Used to Know by Walter Rinder.
I Want One Thing by Frances Horn.
The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer.
One piece of (general) advice that you’d like to share…
Oh wow – this is where I can just go on and on – when I do my presentations, I struggle to cut it to an hour. Having said that, I do not ‘give’ advice easily as I have a belief that we all experience things differently anyway, so specific advice might be meaningless to some. All one can do is share what works for oneself – and hope that someone feels the same way. Probably the most all encompassing and simple-yet-powerful advice I could give is…’You are in control of your attitudes and your choices – take responsibility for them. You do not need to take responsibility for the actions of others – they do not control you so don’t blame them for how you are feeling. Your choices and responses are YOURS – choose well. Choose to be happy.’
Is there anything that Xtraordinary Women can do to assist you on your journey?
Should any of you need or know of someone who needs an inspirational, speak-to-the-heart-and-from-the-heart kind of speaker for an event or function – then please remember me. The purpose of Xtraordinary Women is ‘To encourage and support Ordinary Women to do Extraordinary Things.’ I LOVE that! So, I thank you for your encouragement and support on my own journey – I hope it inspires yours.