Heroes Among Us

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Telling their tales in the spotlight helps them to heal: 'We can’t heal what we don’t confront.'

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Posted at 4:29 PM, Aug 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 18:27:58-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- After more than a year away because of COVID concerns, Tara Culton returned to her church on Hull Street.

“Is it wonderful to be sitting in the sanctuary. Oh my God,” said Tara. “It really is wonderful to be back. It is home.”

For the Spotsylvania woman, it was worth the wait.

“It was such a journey toward my healing, and where I am today,” said Tara.

The road to get to this point in her life has been long one.

“If you continue to sweep things under the rug, it's going to become a big trip hazard and you’re going to trip over it,” said Tara.

The 60-year-old is confronting her painful past.

“I had physical injustices thrust upon me from men and women from the age of five,” said Tara.

The burden of abuse built up over the years.

“Then I tried ending the pain with suicide attempt at the age of 17,” she said.

As an adult, she sought counseling and set herself on a path of mending.

“We can’t heal what we don’t confront. We can’t make progress if we don’t recognize there is a challenge somewhere,” said Tara.

Tara started sharing her story with friends. And now she is finding a wider audience and faith in another organization.

“It has been such a healing story to tell my story,” she said.

The If You Could See Me Project encourages mental health wellness by encouraging people to sharing their personal tale with others.

“The intimacy the If You Could See Me Project brings to the table for all of us that are involved is unique,” Tara explained.

Erin Mahone is the founder of If You Could See Me Project. The therapist, singer and author who has dealt with mental illness in her own family said sharing your story is a powerful tool.

“There is never any pressure judgment expectation or fulfillment of what your story should be,” Erin said. “It's one of those things that you don’t know how much healing is in it till the second after you’ve done it.”

Through podcasts, on Zoom and stage appearances the Richmond native, who recently moved to the west coast, said her group encourages others to go at their own pace.

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Erin Mahone (left) and Tara Culton (right)

“Timing is everything. If you come to our table and feel that the timing isn’t right that is OK,” she said. “Once you come your seat is always there and ready for you when you’re ready.”

“I saw myself in a coffin. I didn’t think I would live to see 25,” said Tara.

Tara Culton said Erin Mahone’s passion to help people like herself is immeasurable.

“There are no words to say how grateful I am to her. Her bravery is unmatched in my life,” said Tara. “Erin stands on the stage with me because she allowed me to stand on the stage with her.”

Tara and Erin’s bond helps bridge the 3,000 miles that separate them. Tara said The If You Could See Me Project works wonders.

Tara and Erin agree that standing in the spotlight is not the only way to find healing.

“It was extremely challenging. It was extremely difficult,” said Tara.

“I think a lot of us come from places where we are stigmatized or it's taboo to talk about mental health. To talk about struggle,” said Erin.

Whatever obstacle or pitfall a person may be dealing with, the friends agree silence is not the answer.

“While it is incredibly hard to ask for that help. There is no shame in it,” said Erin. “There is no reason not to say ‘Hey. I’m not OK.’”

“Not everyone will be one of those people who will tell their story,” said Tara. “We need you. If we could see you then we know you’re OK.”

If you would like to learn more about the If You Could See Me Project, click here.

If you know of someone I should feature in my “Heroes Among Us” story email me at Heroes@WTVR.com

Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.

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