In The Rising Podcast

Episode 92 [Interview] Gayle Petrillo on Walking Away from Body Shame after a Burn Accident

August 20, 2021 Bettina M. Brown
In The Rising Podcast
Episode 92 [Interview] Gayle Petrillo on Walking Away from Body Shame after a Burn Accident
Show Notes Transcript

When some people speak, more comes across than just words.

When hearing Gayle Petrillo, you hear Confidence, Joy, Peace, Perseverance and Kindness.  In this podcast, Gayle describes the burn as a young child that nearly killed her. She describes body shame, and learning to be more confident day by day. With this, she continued to Rise Up through the management ranks, over the course of her career, as well as the book, in which she shares her experiences.

She is now the proud owner of First Impressions, a business coaching program to help women gain confidence, and their dream job!

Gayle Petrillo:  Linkd In, Author
First Impressions- Imagine and business coaching program



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Speaker 1:

[inaudible]

Speaker 2:

Hello and welcome to in the rising podcast. My name is patina brown, and this is the platform I've chosen to talk about living a life that's in alignment with your hopes, your dreams, your goals, and your vision for your future, what you were designed for. And walking away from that shame and blame game that has done nothing for you. And I always like to start off that I am not a licensed counselor psychiatrist, but I am a healthcare professional who loves to figure out what makes people tick. And right now is basically my interview season. And I have just had wonderful guests and today's guest is absolutely no exception. Her name is Gail Petrillo and she's a phenomenal woman. She is a burn survivor. Uh, she was burned quite significantly when she was younger, experienced body shame, but really just blossomed into the woman she is today. You can hear the joy in her voice as she explains her transition. So listen in first of all, thank you again, Gail for coming here and being on in the rising podcast. It's really an honor to have you here today. Thank you for your time.

Speaker 3:

Oh, it's a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for the invitation. Yes.

Speaker 2:

And so you actually had a great introduction to yourself with regards to being here on the podcast, but I want to go into that because not everyone gets to read that you said that you have come overcome many obstacles in your life, especially as being a burn survivor. So tell us a little bit what you're comfortable with. How did this whole burn start? Because that's a huge traumatic event.

Speaker 3:

It is. And honestly, I never realized until very recently how traumatic it was. And so I'll go back a minute and just real briefly tell you. So I was a gay Glade , girly girl who loved everything freely from my head into my toes and every place in between. And when I was about two and a half, my mom and I went to a adult tea party and I was trying to climb up to the very high kitchen table, which was like a picnic table. And I spotted cookies and I reached for a cookie and pulled a fresh pot of coffee off the table and all over me. So I suffered third degree burns on 40% of my little body. I was in the hospital for months. My parents did not know whether I would live or die. And one evening my mom said to my dad, as they were leaving the hospital, we have to go home and make a baby because ours may not survive. So growing up with burns. So that was 1956 and they treated burn survivors, burns period very differently than they do. Now. I was treated with radiation and with steroids and they didn't do , um, debreavement then they didn't do , um, all kinds of stuff that they do now. And back then there was no support for me or my parents. So we just continued moving forward in our family life, like nothing had happened. So we never really talked about the accident and it wasn't accident. Um, we never talked about how or why I felt different growing up, why I had no self-confidence , um, really why I had body shame because nobody can see my , my scars because they're , um, they're here. Okay. So , um, so obviously you can see what your listeners can't see, but they're on my, on my stomach basically on my chest. Um, and so I'm very lucky in that way, except for the fact that I always saw myself from the outside in and just assumed everybody saw what I saw. Um, so anyway, that's how I got burned. And , um, I only very recently came out of hiding. Um, and it was really at the persistence and insistence of someone I barely knew. So I have 35 years in healthcare leadership. Um, a lot of that is in human resources. And when I created my own business after retiring, about four years ago, I launched it with a fundraiser. I did two fundraisers, actually , um, 2018 and 20 19, 20 20, obviously didn't happen because of the pandemic. Um, but both years, the , um, beneficiary was beads of courage. It's a Tucson founded international not-for-profit and basically they support children with serious illnesses. Anyway, Jean and I, the founder we're behind stage year two. So I had known her about 18 months and we were talking, she travels the world. And I always say to her, when I see her, so where have you been expecting the orient, Europe, whatever. And she said, actually, I've just been the last three days in Phoenix and Mira Copa working with burn survivors. And I went to say something to her and the MC was calling me to come to the podium. So I went to the podium and typically Gale style. I had my script right in front of me. And I looked out there were about 200 people in the audience and I knew about 185 of them. The only person in the audience that really knows me and my full story is my husband. And so I stood at the podium for a second and tears started to flow and I had like no control and I've wiped him and I'd be like, so sorry guys. But I was just talking with Jean behind stage. And she told me she just spent three days with burn survivors. And I wish my family and I had that kind of support. When I was burned as a toddler, you could hear the room gasp and then dead silence. And afterwards, several people came up to me, but one gal in particular, who I knew by reputation, but had never met, Kathy came up to me and said, you have a story, girl, let's go to coffee. I said, let's go to coffee. I'd love to meet you and learn more about you, but there's no story. And she goes, oh yeah, there is. So we did several coffees, several wine lunches, dinners, lots of wine, more wine, more wine. And over the next, like three months, she got my story out of me. And she's like, you got to write a book. And I'm like, Nope, my husband's the author, the journalist, I don't do that. So that was like late December, just before Christmas in January. My mom was living in Florida. My sister was living in upstate New York. And I was here in Arizona and we got together, which we did every like three or four months. And so over dinner and wine, one night, I sound like an alcoholic. Um , over dinner and wine one night I said to my mom and my sister, somebody asked me to tell my story. I've never done that. What do you guys think? My mom's like, I think it's great. If it'll help you, I think go for it. And my sister said, well, let me know if there's anything I can do. She's a ghost writer and , uh , um, PR marketing professional. And so I came home and I said to my husband, the writer, how do you write a book? And he said, sit at the, at the computer and just type, don't worry about a title. Don't worry about a beginning, middle end , just type your heart out. And I think, and he's my most avid supporter. We've been together 42 years. Um, I think he really just figured I would like ramble right in words. And I came to him about 10 days or so later. And I said, I have 60,000 words. And he was like, oh my gosh. Right, let me read it. So he read it and he's like, this is really story worthy. He said, but I'm way too close. I can't edit it. So we sent it off to an editor friend. She edited it. I sent it out to, to , um, publishers and to agents because there's a catch 22. You can't get published by a publisher. If you don't have an agent , agents don't want you, unless you have a publisher. When I had sent it to this one publisher, who's in Florida. And within an hour, I got an email back and she said, my son was burned as a toddler. I want to publish your book. And as they say, the rest is history. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And so, you know, as a physical therapist to just read the 40%, like I know the math and I really thought she, she almost lost her life. Yes . And I was wondering, as you were going through your story as a child, did you realize that you lost your life?

Speaker 3:

Not honestly until very recently. I had no idea, no idea. I mean, obviously growing up, especially as a later toddler and into my early grade school, I mean, there was pain and there was a scar tissue left, right. That had to heal over time. Um, but I never thought about, oh my gosh, I almost died. Um, very recently I have become a certified soar S O H R peer support person through the Phoenix burn society. I think they're at a Wisconsin. Um, and working with the Arizona burn foundation in Phoenix. And we are creating a hub in Tucson, which is very exciting. But anyway, through the certification process, the last step was meeting with a psychologist. And because it COVID, we didn't meet in person. We did a zoom and the question she asked me, and she said, you record it. You realize you've suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. I'm like, I did, like , I had no idea I've just gone on with my life. Right. Not really realizing that a lot of the things that I experienced all growing up through teen years and adulthood, I never like thought, oh, well, this is because I was burned. It was just who I was.

Speaker 2:

Yes. And I think too , to hear that later on that you did have some PTSD, did that help you put in context some events of your life? A little bit.

Speaker 3:

Absolutely. And as a peer support, I work with people in the hospital that are survivors and with family members. And I'm also part of several national and one international out of Toronto , um, support group for burn survivors. And w what I'm learning is, as you share your story, they get more comfortable sharing their story and it's healing for everyone. And you also learn that you sometimes get triggered by something someone said. And so that to me has been a learning curve, right. It's like, oh my gosh. Like I never thought about why I was always afraid of gas, stoves, fire burns. I mean, it makes sense now, but I never put that together until about four months ago.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Yeah. And it's, it's just this learning process. And, you know, it's also good to know cause you're the support person. Now, if people could know that link and triggers so much younger and their family and friends loved ones would be able to help know how to interact with them, talk with them and help them cope, because I'm sure your parents, I mean, just to say that you're , you're just to say, I'm not sure my child will survive is deep, a deep hurt for your man.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, for sure. And they never talked about it. They never talked about it. I have cousins that didn't know I was burned. Oh, wow. And now, so, and the only reason my sister knows is because, you know, she was three years, three and a half years younger than I. And so she knew obviously growing up that her sister was different, but , um, yeah, it's just , just very interesting, like nobody knew.

Speaker 2:

And so you were, you're talking about this Phoenix burn society. You, you you're , you've written this book and now you are very visible. And the thing is, you know, you mentioned that you gave this speech to the 185 people that knew you out of the 200, because it's really something that we tend to hold more invisible. We try to hold those scars. What did you feel right after that, that moment of saying to that group of people that you were a burn survivor?

Speaker 3:

I had two thoughts simultaneously. Oh my goodness, what did I do? What did I say? And it's out. It was like a weight being lifted after all those years cut , you know, coming out of hiding all those years of keeping it quiet. And now I am very visible as I was growing up. And even into my adult years, I would do everything possible. Not to draw attention to myself as a kid in school. I would know the answer. I was pretty smart. I would never raise my hand. And if I got called on, I would stumble so badly because of the lack of self-confidence. I couldn't answer the question. So I sounded stupid as just, you know,

Speaker 2:

So, you know, I was reading more about you because I've done my research. I love to research and have this like, paragraph about all these different opportunities going out of your comfort zone, going out of your comfort zone to , to talk to people. Um, you know, yes, I want this job. Yes. I'm willing to learn this. Yes. I'm doing all of this. Where, where was the shift? What was this moment in time that changed you from, I won't raise my hand, even though I know the answer to interviewing for jobs that are way outside your comfort zone and you still like still learning how to be qualified for yeah.

Speaker 3:

Great question. And , um, and great , um, understanding, I guess I would say that's probably the wrong word way anyway. So two things I think happened maybe more than two, one, as I said, I've been married to my husband a long time, so we've grown up together and he always was in jobs where he was visible. He was running conferences, he did a lot of networking. And when I had the opportunity to travel with him, he would drag me along and he'd bring me in and say, so Jim, this is my husband, Gail , Susie , this is my wife, Gail and so on. And, and then he'd leave me. Then I'd be like, ah , got to go get a glass of water or something. Right. So he was really an influencer for me and really took me out of my comfort zone really for the first time as a young adult. In addition to that, I was really, really, very fortunate to have a lot of great mentors as I was working my way through corporate life and working up the ladder. If you will, very early on, I was recognized as a potential leader at the , um, medical center that I was working on . I was a medical secretary. I had an associates degree and somehow they identified me with 24 other people or so to go attend Dale Carnegie courses. That changed my life. I mean, I started out where I wouldn't stand up and say, Buddha in front of anybody. I wouldn't read a paragraph out loud to getting up in front of, you know, the 25 of us and the instructor and telling stories. Cause Dale Carnegie is all about telling stories to get your point across. So I owe a huge debt of thanks to the administration of that hospital, because without that, I don't know where I'd be today. Um, and then my husband encouraged me years later to pursue my bachelor's because he recognized that I really wanted more than what I was doing. And then again, years later encouraged me to get my master's degree. And honestly, without Al I don't know what my life might've been like. He has pushed me beyond my comfort zone in a great way. Just my moral support, my most avid supporter, my best friend and my husband. I mean, it's just, I've been very, very lucky and I'm ever grateful

Speaker 2:

With w with , I want to talk about Al because this is an incredible, you don't meet a lot of people that have a good source, no matter what, whether they're a partner or not. Um, but to have one person and one person believe in, you can make a life difference, but because you were so quiet, how did he even , how did you learn to build that trust to show him a part of you? Um, I don't mean like, just physically, but just completely that you were hiding because of this accident. What was, what was it about him that allowed you to finally see? Okay, I can trust someone with something that is so personal. Good question . So

Speaker 3:

I'll go back in time and give you a little background. So my first marriage was an abusive relationship. I never knew abuse. Didn't know what it looked like. I was 20 years old, 21 years old, and all my friends were getting married and having babies. And that's what I wanted. And so I married this guy who really seemed to love me. They're very charismatic, right? And we were married about a year and a half. And when he went to work, one day, I told him I was sick. I packed up my belongings and I went home while I was living with my parents. I knew I needed a job. And in those days you applied for jobs, looking in the wine ads of the newspaper. And sometimes they were blind ads because associations didn't want you knocking on their door saying, I want this job. And so I applied, I got a call to get an interview. I went in, it was in downtown Albany in a beautiful brownstone building. And my mom drove me because downtown Albany at the time was under construction. They were doing flyover bridges for highways, et cetera, et cetera. So before cell phones, before Starbucks, my mom drove me, drop me off and drove around and round for about an hour and a half. I went on this interview, this guy, and I had an amazing conversation about everything. And I came out of the interview and not my mom's dad . So I had to go and I said, I met my next husband. I wasn't even literally divorced my mom's like, I'm going to commit you. She and my dad scraped up some money. They sent me to three weeks out in Tucson, Arizona to stay with my grandparents and two weeks to stay in LA with my aunt and uncle while I was there. This guy who I'd interviewed with called me and said, I have this dilemma, we got along really great. Right? I said, yeah, he said, I really want to date you, but we have a very strict non fraternization policy here. And I think you're the best qualified for the job. So what do we do? And I said, I don't need a boyfriend. I needed a job. He held the job for me until I came back. He put attempt in there and we worked and no more. And I'll say, and I, I'm not good with calendar time, but I'll say maybe four or five months in. He called me into his office one day on a Thursday and he shut the door and he had never done that. And we're sitting there looking at each other. He said, so what are you doing Saturday night? I said, I think we're going to dinner. And a movie. He said, yup . We are. And within a few weeks we knew where the relationship was going. And we went to the executive director and we said, bill, here's, what's going on. We want you to know. And he was great. He said, so I'll give three months to find a great job. Don't just jump into something. And then while before that happened , um, my husband is a, was he's now retired, but he was a volunteer fireman. And so he would get called day and night to go respond. And sometimes he wouldn't show up at work cause he'd be at a fire call. And at some point during the course of the day, I would hear from him and he'd be like, I'm not coming in. And , um, I didn't hear from him one morning. And so at lunchtime, I got in the car, I drove to the firehouse. It was dead quiet. I drove to his apartment. His car was in the parking lot. I banged on his door. No one answered. I got the , um, janitor or whatever to open reluctantly, open the door. And I walked into his apartment, calling, yelling for him. And he was unconscious with 105 fever on his bed. Took him to the doctor. Doctor said, you have mano. And you either go into the hospital. You're not to be alone. And I wouldn't go into the hospital. And I moved in and never moved out. That was 44 years ago. That is a , that is a great story. That , that is another book. And that is another book maybe someday. So, I mean, you asked about trust, right? So he had my trust from day one. It's just that kind of very special relationship that doesn't happen very often. And my parents were married for over 60 years to the day my dad died, my mom and dad walked hand in hand everywhere. That's the relationship my husband and I have ,

Speaker 2:

And that's amazing whole relationship. And I find it interesting. And I know I'm not the only one that ever pointed it out that he is a firefighter volunteer firefighter and you were burned. Like you really was your savior in so many different ways, right? Yeah, exactly.

Speaker 3:

I love talking to you. So, oh, you're a sweetheart. This is great. Thank you for letting me share my story. I really appreciate it.

Speaker 2:

And so let's go on into what you're doing now. The first impressions you retired and now you are a coach. You help people with mock interviews, body language, eliminating self-talk with presentations. How do you believe you , you know, like again that you were in healthcare , that was a service orientation. You know, this is service. Um, maybe that's your love language is that service . But what , tell, tell us a little bit more about that and how we can learn what

Speaker 3:

So, because a lot of my background was human resources. I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly with resumes, with presentation skills, with interviews, all of that. Um, and so I think when I decided to create my own business, I never hesitated with the name of the company. It just was there first impressions image. It was just an automatic. It can't be anything else. And so what I teach and it's in the book and I think the last chapter of the book as well, we all have what it takes to find self-confidence within ourselves. We just don't know it because we always listened to that little voice in our heads that say, you're not good enough. You're not smart enough. You're not strong enough. You can't do that. Who's going to listen to you, right. Whatever it is, there's that , that voice. And so what I help my clients do is find their self-confidence by learning what their superpowers are. And the way I think we know superpowers is when someone compliments you. Wow, that top is so pretty. It compliments your beautiful blue eyes. Your smile is broad . It lightens up the room. Um, you look great. Did you lose 10 pounds? Whatever it is. Right? And there's a multitude of compliments. And most of us, you know, so if I say to you, what a pretty dress, so many of us say, oh, this old thing I've had for eight years. Right? Wrong. Thank you. That's all you need to say because they meant it from their heart. They didn't have to compliment you on something. Right. So they meant it. And so right. Gown that, that beautiful blue dress you had on was complimenting to you because when you put that blue dress on the next time you're going to remember, Susie told me how beautiful I looked and you're going to feel better regardless of what, how you woke up in the morning, when you put that dress on, you're going to remember, and it doesn't matter if it's the way your bangs lay during the day, or if it's a top or a piece of jewelry. I mean, it doesn't matter. Right? And so I tell my clients to jot down their compliments when they get compliments and then to go back and remember those, because it's so much easier to remember when somebody knocks us down there too many bullies in the world, I was bullied as a kid. Most kids are because kids can be very cruel. Um, and so it's really easy to remember the bad. So write down the good and then go back and remember it. Yes. And then wear that color lipstick, wear that color dress, wear those glasses, whatever it is and share your smile because smiles are contagious and we need so much more of that.

Speaker 2:

Yeah . Yeah. You know, you're absolutely right. And , um, my father would always say, the whole world wants to knock you down. You don't need to stand at the front of the line with both hands helping them, right. To really change that perception. And that sometimes you are your only advocate and really appreciate that. I love that. You said a smile is the best asset, because I was going to tell you that you have a great smile, but it goes all the way up to your eye . Like it's, it's in your soul. Um, and so that is, and I can tell you love what you do.

Speaker 3:

Yeah . I do love what I do because I see the changes in people. So I have a client right now. Who's a young gal. She's probably 26 or 27. She's amazing. She has some , um, immuno suppressing disease or whatever. And so she has a lot of self-confidence issues and she started her own business. And she's like, how do I get my name out there? How do I tell people? I said, you have to go to networking. Oh, I can't do that. I can't be seen in public. I , you know, I'll just pick up the phone. So you could cold call to your heart's desire, but you're not going to build your business that way. So I start taking her, we would talk about what networking is about, because it's more than, oh, here's my business card. I collected 35. What is success? Right. And so I've taken her with me side by side. Like my husband did with me. I'm several networking to several networking events. She has already grown. She just actually wrote a five star review on my Google page for me today. And so that just like, she's blossomed. I'm so proud of her. And I, I have another client who's actually out of the country and I was referred to her by a mutual friend here. And her thing was very smart woman, very, very smart. She gets into an interview like she'll pass the resume part, she'll pass the phone interview. And then it's a personal interview, whether it's on zoom or in person. And they ask her questions, she knows the answers to , and she just cannot get it out of her mouth. She just floods it. She's thinking too far ahead, or she's not listening to what the, and so we're doing mock interviews and I can already see, cause I work with her on zoom. I can already see, as we talk about what's the answer to this question, she gets confidence. She's going to now her next interview. I know that that's one of the , so it's, it's just, it's so rewarding to me. And I know I have been put here to do good. And whether it's working with burn survivors and families or helping my clients with their own self-confidence issues, doesn't matter. That's that's pardon me. That's what it's about right now.

Speaker 2:

Awesome. And then the last question I have for you, what would you, you've probably heard this too. What would you tell yourself in high school when you're being bullied to, how would you tell yourself to rise to the person, to the woman who's making the impact in the footprint, which is huge that you're making today .

Speaker 3:

That's a great question. And honestly, I don't think anybody's asked me that. It's a great question. So what I would tell my younger self now would be they, how should I put this bullies bully? Because it's a power thing and bullies believe because they don't have self-confidence. So who are they to tell you who to be? What to say and what to think?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, no, I think that's a great statement. And especially about the power, because sometimes we think they have the power. We think the word bully, they have the power. When the reality is they themselves don't believe they have this power and they're trying to pull it from you

Speaker 3:

And then you're letting them have the power. Yeah . Don't give that power away. Keep that power in yourself. I just want to make another commitment . Cause you were so kind and complimented me on my smile. So I didn't always have this smile and I never smiled until I was about 50 51. So that's a long time ago. Um, I felt like the last hold back for myself was my smile. And so I went and got braces at like 48 and a half years old. And I had them taken off at 50. I had a huge braces off party, friends and family, and my orthodontist who works with kids and adults had never cried until he met me. So this to him and he knows it. I just I'm so appreciative. You did a great job. You did a great job. I had really wicked book teeth, big spaces. I need to brace as a kid, but my parents didn't have the money to do that. So, and I don't know that I would have had the self-confidence to even go and do that anyway. So yeah .

Speaker 2:

Well now you did. That's phenomenal. Well, thank you so very much for your time. This has been such an enjoyable , um, interview, and I think you're doing great things. I'm going to put all this information out there and you know what you are helping other women rise up to their occasion and their, their footprints. So again, thank you so much.

Speaker 3:

Thank you. I really appreciate your having me on and your time and keep smiling. Cause you have a beautiful smile too. Okay.

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much. I sure hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did. I think you could tell our voices kept getting louder because we were just having such a great conversation. She really is an inspiration of what she's overcome and it does go to that. Just having one person believe in you and thrive with you can really change your life. And so if you are that one person for someone else never think that you're not enough because you are. So I hope that you really enjoyed this podcast. And if you did, please leave it a five-star review. It does so much to just broaden the horizons and put this in the ears and hands of those that could really need it. And until next time let's keep building

Speaker 1:

One [inaudible] .