It wasn’t until she understood her past that Sophie Pham was inspired to pursue her future. Born into a first-generation Vietnamese family on the rougher side of Melbourne, Australia, she had to grow up fast. When she was five, her father developed a heroin addiction that was to end, 13 years later, with a lonely overdose in a housing commission flat. Her parents soon separated and, witnessing her mother’s sexual vulnerability and submission in successive relationships, Sophie learnt to protect herself.
In her adolescence, Sophie sank ever deeper into self-destruction. At age 14 she was victim to what she later recognised to be rape, and she retreated from her social life, falling into a five-year battle with depression, alcoholism, sex addiction, anorexia and bulimia.
At the same time, she was under pressure to succeed academically. “I was going to become a doctor,” she says. “I was determined to become a psychiatrist, and I managed to make the cut-off for biomedicine at The University of Melbourne.”
Sophie would reach rock bottom during her years of tertiary education. Disengaged and lonely, she sought power and company in sexual encounters and would go out each night to meet and drink with new people. One night she was found drunk, crying and alone, by a prostitute, who promised to help her and delivered her to a brothel. At only 19, she decided to join them. “I figured if I was going to be a slut, I might as well get paid for it.”
Sophie left the brothel when the madam abandoned it, running away with heavy debt and taking much of her and the other girls’ money. Moving back to Melbourne, she was ready to reinvent herself, but she eventually fell back into sex work and took up a job in erotic massage.
It was here that she met someone who she refers to as The Man. “I was attracted to him even though he wasn’t physically striking,” she says. “I became shy and awkward when I was with him. He saw this vulnerability and he accommodated for it, becoming more and more loving.” At the time she was also learning to take better care of her health and as she became better she became happier.
“Spending time with The Man also made me happier,” she says. “While he certainly had a bad side, the good parts of him were really good and I was drawn to them.” She gradually let go of the defensive facade she had protected herself with.
In August 2013 Sophie attended a Tony Robbins seminar, learning about masculine and feminine energies. In the context of her relationship with The Man, this talk had a huge impression on her.
“I realised that I had based my entire external self on blatant masculinity, covering the softer, feminine me,” she says. “I was quite afraid of being feminine.”
Sophie decided that it was time to leave The Man, severing ties to her past in order to embrace her future. She wrote him a letter to express her love and thanks, a process that she found hard.
“I had a panic attack,” she says. “I had been protecting myself from my vulnerability all these years, and now I was about to expose it.”
The panic was followed by elation as Sophie found a new lust for life. “Letting go of my fear allowed me to experience truths that were new to me,” she says. “I finally had love for myself, for others and for life.”
She found purpose in sharing her experience with other people and began to change her previous fascination with mental illness into a passion for self-realisation and spiritual philosophy.
To Sophie, life now is about remembering this purpose. “It’s less of a pursuit and more of a recognition,” she says. “It’s about constantly reminding myself of my truth — I try to allow purpose to penetrate everything that I do.”
She sets aside time for introspection each morning, starting her day with yoga, music and meditation and setting herself up for the day.
Driven to share her message, she has just released her first book, Pain is Potential, which documents her life story. The book is a precursor to The Introvert Project, a conference centred around the idea of life purpose.
“It’s a space for the introvert in all of us to share our stories and inspire one another to reach our potential. I figured I had to share my own story first.”
For more info on Sophie’s book, Pain is Potential, click on theintrovertproject.com.au/book
To read more stories about people who have made substantial personal change, click on the following links:
Todd Gilmore, The Triathlete
Sophie Pham, The Introvert
Ha Minh, The Woman
Laura Sheehan, The Mentor
Robin Babu, The Fitness Dude
Sheereen Amran, The Pastry Chef
Mitch Brookman, The Hairdresser
To read about some ideas for personal change, click on the following links:
Get Into Stand-Up Comedy
Take Art Classes
Get Professional Help
Nutrition and Vietnamese Food
The Power of Habit