When I first meet Simonne Butler, I am in awe at the powerful woman I’ve seen all over the news talking about the healing journey she has been on after being brutally attacked by her ex-boyfriend with a samurai sword. She is even more striking in real life—standing on the front porch of the cottage she rents in the country, barefoot, with her reddish hair over her shoulders, and piercing blue eyes. I am so star-struck that I can only vaguely remember something I wasn’t meant to do. Something to do with hands…
I swoop in for a handshake—and it’s only then that I remember—Simonne Butler had both hands hacked off by her violent ex-partner. I was supposed to remember NOT to shake her hand. But Simonne is gracious about my handshake faux pas—and she can shake my hand in turn. Her right hand has about 85% of function left, function that Simonne has had to earn through a gruelling routine of daily physiotherapy sessions, stretching exercises, and working with hand weights. She laughs when asked about her left hand: “It’s really just for show”, she says; “my fingers can go up or down but that’s it. They’re all on the same tendon.”
After the attack, Simonne’s hands were re-attached in a marathon 27 hour surgery. Simonne has lost track of just how many procedures she has had in the 11 years since, estimating that she has had about 100 separate procedures to piece her hands back together, with 12 general anaesthetic surgeries. Her hands have been reconstructed bit-by-bit with tissue from her body; she has had bone chiselled off the inside her hips to restore structure her hands, the delicate skin covering her hands is from her inner thigh, the tendons that help her right hand to move have been taken from her legs, and the veins that keep the blood flowing in her hands are from her feet. “I have no spare parts left!” she jokes.
Simonne speaks of the 10 weeks she spent in hospital after the attack with a certain wistfulness. “Hospital was a really nice time for me, because I had never had anyone look after me before.” Physically weakened by the trauma of the attack and the subsequent surgeries, Simonne had to learn to walk again after the surgery. With no use of her hands, she had to have help with every single thing she did, including going to the bathroom and washing. Simonne’s advice for people in similar situations is to “leave your dignity at the door. You have to tell yourself that you have a job to do, and any self consciousness just has to go.”
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Not only did Simonne have to adjust to a life with a disability, she also had years ahead of contact with her abusive ex-partner, Antoine Dixon. Even though the relationship had literally been severed, Dixon insisted that she visit him in jail to discuss their joint property. “I still remember the pain, the abject humiliation and sense of complete disempowerment I felt at the time.” Reflecting on it now, Simonne thinks that there were elements of Stockholm syndrome in her relationship; even after the attack, she still felt that she had to protect him.
“I did love him a ridiculous amount, and I was so young when I met him, and so silly. I already had no self-esteem and I was so desperate to be loved. And I loved him more than I’d ever loved anyone before when I met him. And I lied to myself about a lot of things—or he lied to me—and I knew they were lies, and I pretended they were true.” Coming to terms with the dark reality of her relationship hasn’t come easy; with Simonne acknowledging that even four years ago, she couldn’t admit that as freely as she does now. When she talks about the suicide of Dixon, on the eve of his sentencing for his second and final trial, Simonne is refreshingly honest; “I’m happy. I don’t say that with malice—it just works for me. It’s an end”.
While the procedures to piece her body back together number in the hundreds, it’s clear that her journey to heal her inner scars was a much harder road to tread. “I had to be patient,” says Simonne. “I couldn’t put timelines on when I was going to be fixed or when I was going to be healed, I just had to let it happen organically and deal with the frustration. And there was so much frustration, so much stress and anxiety.” In the 11 years since the attack, Simonne has built up an impressive resumé of treatments. She has tried all of the traditional medical avenues, but none of these offered the holistic healing that Simonne felt she needed to recover from such a traumatic past.
For Simonne, the real healing began when she branched out into alternative medicine. In 2004, she met a shaman who specialised in traumatic abuse. Shamanism involves “journeying” or visualising ways to recover lost parts of your soul. “As soon as I’d had my first session, I knew it was something I was born to do. I couldn’t wait to get myself sorted till I could get doing it into the world.”
Simonne is now an apprentice to a Master Shaman, with a year of training left. It is clear that shamanism lit a spark in Simonne—when she talks about shamanism and Flower Essences, the Holistic Therapy business that her shaman mentor runs, her whole face lights up. When she describes what it involves, it is clear why; “It involves bringing back fragmented parts of the soul that run away through trauma and abuse. Often you hear women say ‘I’ve never felt the same since this happened’ or ‘I feel like there is part of me missing, and that’s where shamanism can help.”
I ask whether shamanism resonated with her because she needed something with such powerful and transformative symbolism to recover from a relationship that literally left her in pieces; “Yes definitely,” says Simonne. “You’re constantly dying to the old self. You are a new self. You’re getting rid of all your baggage. You’re facing all of your fears—that’s the big part of it. You have to be really honest, really self-observant. You have to be objective.”
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It would be easy to say that this was a linear journey; from surgery, to shamanism, to ultimate healing. But Simonne is frank when discussing her recovery, “It’s been long and hard. It’s 11 years later and I’m still not sorted, but I’m on my way.” It’s also clear that there is so much more to this story. During our 1-hour interview, Simonne talks about the generations of abuse in her family, the drugs that catapulted Dixon’s violence into murderous rages, the control that Dixon had over her life, and the anxiety and depression she suffered after the attack. It’s compelling, and beautiful, and heart-wrenching, and I want to know more.
Simonne is currently writing a book about her life, and raising funds to get it published. “It’s about childhood mothering issues; abandonment issues; date rape; abortion; anxiety and depression; fear of leaving the house; emotional eating and being overweight. It is about regaining freedom and independence after being abused for most of my life. It’s my life. The good, the bad and the shocking. It’s raw and graphic, funny and heart wrenching and true. So yes it is my little book of healing, but it is also about sex, drugs, violence, manipulation and control.”
Simonne’s ultimate message is one of hope; “It wasn’t a good thing to happen—no person should have to go through that, no person should inflict that on anybody else—but finding my strength in the recovery has been amazing for me. Finding my purpose in life. Rising from the ashes of my life. My healing journey afterwards has been phenomenal, so I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone and if I had the choice I wouldn’t go through it again, but right now as we stand, everything I’ve been through has led me to this moment, and my life is amazing. I’m on track to fulfilling my destiny, I am going to help as many people as I can.”
Simonne is halfway to her goal of raising $30,000 to get her book published. To donate to her campaign to empower women to leave abusive relationships, please see her PledgeMe site Horrific experience inspires unique book.
Part Two of a two-part series.