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'Your past will not define who you are today': Edmonton author rises from homelessness to inspire others

Kathy Tuccaro has used her life experiences to inspire girls and women to stand up against violence

Kathy Tuccaro is holding a book launch for 'Dream Big!' at the Edmonton Inn & Conference Centre on Dec. 6 from 5 to 9 p.m.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Kathy Tuccaro is holding a book launch for 'Dream Big!' at the Edmonton Inn & Conference Centre on Dec. 6 from 5 to 9 p.m.

After a life of sexual abuse, domestic violence and unresolved trauma, it was a friendly slap on the back from a man nicknamed Toothless Joe that shifted Kathy Tuccaro’s perspective.

Tuccaro had been homeless for seven days after getting evicted in 2011, and was outside Boyle McCauley Community Services waiting for lunch. A man approached Tuccaro, slapped her back and said ‘This is the life. Live it, love it’.

“That slap on the back actually cleared up the fog in my head. I saw clear for a minute. And I said … this is not my life. I actually stomped my foot and said it again – this is not my life,” Tuccaro said.

It was a long and hard path that led Tuccaro to that moment of clarity. Tuccaro had lost her job as a nurse, was addicted to alcohol and estranged from her daughter.

But an opportunity from Women Building Futures and a helping hand from several inner city agencies turned her life around.

Today Tuccaro is a heavy equipment operator in the oil sands and the author of ‘Dream Big!’ which chronicles how she overcame a life of trauma to become an inspiration to others. She now speaks at schools, shelters and other community organizations on the importance of overcoming trauma.

She proudly tells the tale of how she went from homelessness to literally driving ‘The world’s biggest truck’.

“The picture on the cover of my book was the first time I was standing by the truck,” Tuccaro said. “I’m looking up at this thing with tears in my eyes, I’m thinking of Toothless Joe and I’m thinking, how does this even happen in two years?”

And while it took two years for Tuccaro to quit drinking, face her trauma and find a new calling, her progression from victim to inspiration has been a lifelong journey.

Tuccaro’s childhood was tumultuous. She was put in a foster home at an young age, where she was sexually molested. A very vivid memory of a man covering her mouth as a child and climbing on top of her haunted her throughout her life.

But she never told a soul.

“It was as if that hand that covered my mouth as a child subjected me to never being able to speak out,” Tuccaro said. “I never said a single word to anybody until I was 40.”

The pattern of abuse continued into her teenage years, Tuccaro says, where she learned to escape the pain inside by smiling to the outside world – in front of a camera lens as a model.

“I learned from a very young age to wear a mask," Tuccaro said.

The violence didn't end as an adult, where she ended up in several abusive relationships. Looking back, she recognizes that pattern continued for a reason.

“The reason that pattern of abuse continued was because of my chronic low self esteem … It’s easy to sense, especially if you’re a predator,” Tuccaro said.

At one point, she was working as a nurse by day, while hiding from an abusive relationship and sleeping in a women’s shelter by night. Seeing people face conditions like cancer made her downplay the abuse she had experienced.

“Even during my nursing years, it was so easy for me to wear that mask,” Tuccaro said. “For me to take care of other people’s problems took care of my own.”

But over time, she found new coping mechanisms. She started drinking at 30, and turned to self harm as suicidal thoughts consumed her.

Her life gradually unravelled, and the mask she had hidden behind for so many years became unrecognizable. She finally realized she needed help.

That came in the form of the Hope Mission’s Wellspring Recovery Program for Women, where she learned to overcome co-dependency and build up her self esteem.

“It has completely changed my life. It’s given me a backbone, a voice … It’s given me an inner strength for leadership roles,” Tuccaro said.

Tuccaro credits Women Building Futures, the Hope Mission’s program and the Lurana Shelter Society for helping her find the strength to reinvent herself.

Today she speaks at women’s shelters, schools and First Nations on topics such as self esteem, date rape and peer pressure, and is donating partial proceeds from her book towards a boxing rink for youth in Fort Chipewyan. She also runs a work boot recycling program for inner city agencies.

“I’m trying to educate and raise awareness to as many people as I can that you can change your life. It doesn’t matter what you’ve been through – your past will not define who you are today.”

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