Monday, October 31, 2016

The living hallows

It’s All Hallow’s Eve and tomorrow is All Soul’s Day.  For many people around the world, it’s not only a time to wear costumes, go trick-or-treating, and enjoy a plethora of candy, but also a time to honor those who have passed away.  Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) celebrations are held in remembrance of friends and family members to help support them on their spiritual journey.  In many ways, celebrating the dead joyfully acknowledges the cycles of life that we all must encounter, the last one on this earth being our inevitable death.  
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling’s last installment of the series, Harry was faced with the truth about the purpose of his life...and death.  Having inherited the Invisibility Cloak from his father, then the Resurrection Stone from Dumbledore, and winning the Elder Wand from Draco Malfoy, Harry was finally prepared to walk alone into the Forbidden Forest, knowing he would ultimately sacrifice his own life to save his friends.  Harry pulled the snitch from his pocket and read the words, I open at the close.  Then, when Harry’s parents and loved ones surrounded him, he asked if they could be with him.
“Until the very end,” his father answered.
“Stay close to me,” Harry said to his mother.
“Always,” she whispered.  
And so Harry bravely met his destiny…as we all must do one day.
I wondered if I had met mine in the fall of 2010 when I thought I was dying of a heart attack.  Alone on Thanksgiving, I didn’t know who to call or what to do.  In the end, I knew I had to make a crucial decision:  either try to drive myself to the hospital where I would spend an incredible amount of money that I didn’t have or allow myself to die.
I chose death and prayed to be taken quickly.  Obviously, that didn’t happen.  In the six years since that desolate night, I’ve resurrected a new perspective of how I spend my precious time here on this planet, for in finally surrendering my fear of death, I have also shed my fear of being truly alive.  

Recently, a friend told me about a workshop she had attended.  “The leader asked each one of us to think about what we might want people to say about us after we die…what qualities we would like to be remembered for."  Christy smiled.  “What a deep question! It was profound to listen as everyone wanted to leave the world a better place because they had been here, because they contributed something meaningful.”
I nodded. 
“At the end of the workshop, three of us wanted to hear from the oldest person in the room, a wise man we all deeply respect…the person who is closest to death.   He talked about how his children are his legacy and how he wants to be remembered for being a good father, being a good role model for his kids.
"You know, fifty years from now when we’re gone, no one’s going to remember my husband and me for how we mowed our lawn every week or how much money we made or that I stamped cards or that he was an athletic director."  Christy paused for a moment.  "What we're leaving are our kids and we need to invest everything…not just our money…but ourselves into making them the best they can be.”
“Not to take away anything from what you just said,” I gently replied.  “But what about someone like me who doesn’t have any children?  What’s my legacy?  I’m hoping it’s the peace I bring to the world…the heart that I lead with when I’m writing or I’m teaching or whatever I’m doing.”
“Right,” Christy nodded.  “Your books and your writing are what you leave behind...and the feelings and emotions you stir in people that change the way they think about things.  I have the genetic connection with my own children,” Christy smiled.  “But you can have connection to any child, to anyone, everywhere.  That's your destiny.”

Last August, on my flight home from Sedona, I thought that if the Invisibility Cloak, the Resurrection Stone, and the Elder Wand could make Harry the Master over death, what would make me the Master over my own life?  What elements do I possess that allow me to live more fully and fulfill my own destiny?   In doing so, I discovered that my living hallows were no further away than my fingertips.
Twenty years ago, I purchased a gorgeous batik wrap that I often use when practicing yoga, wrapping myself in its light, lovely warmth.  It often protects me when I feel sad, angry, or lonely, shrouding me with the energy of thousands of hours of silent meditation.  When I travel, the cloak is always in my backpack, ready to veil me from the over-stimulation of airport mayhem and keeps me warm and cozy during long, cross-country flights.  On a particularly long layover in Atlanta, I found a quiet corner and lay down for a nap, the batik a security blanket of comfort.  While I wasn’t completely invisible, for that precious half an hour, I was completely at peace.  
On my flight home from Sedona, I snuggled beneath the Cloak of Comfort while flying over Lake Erie.  In the past, whenever I returned from Big Sur, seeing the lake brought tears of sorrow to my eyes, for I didn’t want to return to the place of my birth.  I wanted to stay out west and create a new home.  Now, shrouded in the same cloth that had been with me during all of those flights, I felt my heart filling with peace, felt tears of joy filling my eyes, for I knew that home is wherever I am, not a destination outside of myself, but an undefinable place deep within.
As the plane landed on the runway, I held a gift from a gentleman Sandy and I had met on our way down from the Boynton vortex in western Sedona.  He was on his way to the summit to play his flute, but before climbing higher, placed a heart-shaped red rock in each of our palms saying, “May you find love wherever you go.”  Later when we heard his melodic flute playing high above us, Sandy and I found a quiet place in the shade and listened to the haunting sounds, the rocks in our hands a visceral connection to not only the earth, but a steward of peace who crossed our paths and was now serenading us with a musical meditation. 
I have rocks from all over the world in my yoga studio, in my bedroom, and in my office.  Stones from Paris and Kabul and New Zealand.  From Hawaii and Alberta and London.  To touch even the smallest portion of the earth is to touch the infinite antiquity of our planet, a reminder that long after I am gone, the rocks will remain, harbingers of history, talismen of the passage of time.
I realized how my shawl and red rock are very much like Harry’s Invisibility Cloak and Resurrection Stone, the former protecting me while I retreat from the world for a while, and the latter more fully grounding me when I return to it.   But what would be the equivalent to the Elder Wand?  What allows me to create magic?  To transmute thought into form?  To shine a light in the midst of darkness?   Moments later, it dawned on me…my pen has the infinite power to channel messages from deep inside and tangibly put them on paper.  The power to write novels and blogs and letters to friends.  To bring me more fully into life again and again and again.

It’s a magical thing that on this All Hallow’s Eve, I can fully celebrate the season of darkness with gratitude for that which has passed away.  To honor the life-cycle in all its various incarnations.  To respect both the light and shadow within us all.  Someday, when my own death is near, I pray that my living hallows will be with me…my cloak, my rock and pen…to remind me of a life well-lived and the peace I hope to leave behind.  
Then I will open my heart at the close of my life and joyfully embrace a mysterious, new beginning.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Dude, treat me like a lady

At the end of September, I had the pleasure of visiting the Toledo Museum of Art with my friend, Steve.  We both dressed to the nines – for me that meant I even donned my best black dress and high-heeled boots – as we were also going to the season opener for the Toledo Symphony.  As Steve lives next door, he walked over around six to pick me up and the first words out of his mouth were, “Wow, Snow…you look amazing!”
“Thanks,” I smiled.  “I clean up well…and you look pretty nice yourself!”
We spent an incredible hour or so walking through the galleries at the Art Museum.  Trying my best not to totter on high heels, I knew Steve would catch me if I happened to twist an ankle or slide on the polished floors.  Since he moved in six months ago, my pal always watches out for me…and in more ways than one.
“There’s a painting you need to see,” I told him as we walked through the Great Gallery.  “When I brought my first graders to the museum, it was one the docents liked to share with them.”  I saw one of the guards near an open walkway and asked, “Do you know where they moved Saint George and the Dragon?”
“I think so…,” he replied.  Indicating the next gallery.  “Works by American artists are in there.”
We quickly discovered a stunning painting of Archangel Michael slaying a dragon. 
“He’s my favorite angel,” Steve told me.
“Mine, too,” I nodded.  “He can really kick some serious ass with that sword.”
Steve laughed, knowing that no matter how well-dressed I might be, a little of my Joan of Arc usually shines through.
Moment later, the guard found us.  “I’m sorry,” he said.  “The painting you’re looking for is in gallery 16.”
“Thank you!” I smiled. 
Moments later we were standing in front of the small painting that depicted Saint George in the foreground, his sword piercing the dragon’s head.  In the background, Princess Cleodolinda stood as a silent witness.  “There you go,” I said, patting Steve’s shoulder.  “That’s the ultimate White-Knight-Dragon-Slayer.”
As we’ve become good friends over the summer, Steve and I have talked about the numerous dragons we’ve had to slay…and the ones we’re still battling.  I’ve learned that he’s quick to play the white knight, especially where women are concerned, and it didn't take long before another opportunity presented itself.
When it was time to walk to the Peristyle for the concert, I noticed a man with his visibly pregnant wife tottering on stilettos.  “Why don’t you go ahead of us?” I suggested, indicating the stairs.
“I’ll be a lot slower,” the woman laughed.
“Don’t worry,” I smiled.  “I have to be careful in these heels, too.”
Without missing a beat, Steve took my arm (as he did while we walked through the parking lot, through the door, and up the stairs to the museum).  “You’re doing really well in those boots, Snow,” he said. 
“Yeah…who knew?” I laughed. 
Then, much to my surprise, I saw the woman’s husband walk directly in front of her, leaving her to wobble up the stairs while she supported her belly with one arm and clutched the railing with the other.  As we arrived at the entryway, the husband gave the usher the tickets and walked right into the concert hall, his wife still trailing behind. 
When Steve and I found our seats, l leaned over and whispered, “Did you see that man walk right in front of his wife?”
“Yeah,” he nodded.  “In the old days, I would have stepped right up and done his job for him…you know, took her arm and led her up the stairs right in front of him to make him feel like a jerk.  Now I practice acceptance and try to let it go.”
“Me, too,” I replied.  “But thanks for treating me like a lady.”
“Of course, Snow,” he smiled.  “I’ve always liked to be in the company of women and my mother taught me that they like to be treated well.”
As the conductor walked onto the stage, I thought about how for nearly thirty years I’ve lived alone, doing everything for myself, taking care of business, taking care of myself.  I didn’t need anyone to hold the door for me.  Carry in the groceries.  Cut the grass.  Fix things that were broken.  But it sure was nice to have a man looking out for me in small, yet incredibly gracious ways. 
The swell of the music filled the Peristyle and suddenly I thought about how six months earlier, I had been stood up.  At that time, when I finally accepted the fact that Trey had no intention to follow through on our plans, I chose to go to the Art Museum by myself.  Then I came home and wrote True colorsonly to discover I still had to slay the inner-dragons of feeling hurt, disrespected, and unwanted.  Since then, I’ve been focusing not on the bad behavior of men who don’t know how to treat me like a lady, but fully appreciating the ones who have shown me how it feels to be valued for being a strong woman.  
In the process, I've also discovered that even though it may seem mortally wounded, chivalry isn't completely dead.

The next day I was having dinner with a friend and noticed a teenage boy and his mother walk into the restaurant.  He loped ahead of her to the counter, then gave his order.  When it was ready for carry-out, he passed it to his mom, then walked in front of her to the door.  To my surprise, he opened it and passed through, never looking behind him. 
“That reminds me of what I saw at the symphony last night,” I told my friend.
When I had finished relaying the story, she sadly shook her head.  “That’s where it starts,” she sighed, glancing toward the mother and son who were driving out of the parking lot.  “And really, at the end of the day, we teach people how we want to be treated.”
Ain’t in the truth?
It’s taken me a while to stand up for myself in all kinds of difficult relationships.  I know my priorities and when to pick my battles.  I certainly don’t need anyone to slay my own dragons for me, nor do I desire another relationship that leaves me feeling as though I’ve been abandoned in tower of my own making.  It's time to rethink what I'm looking for in a man, and one of the most important things includes knowing how to make me feel wanted and respected.
This month I’ve been reading It’s a Guy Thing:  An Owner’s Manual for Women by David Deida.  Now, I don’t completely jive with the title, as no one should feel they own anyone else.  Still, Deida makes a good point – that in order to attract a healthy masculine man, I need to embody my own healthy femininity.  He explains that if women continually attract men who can’t make decisions, who are wishy-washy and needy, who disappear out of their lives with little to no accountability, it’s because they are leading with their masculine side, not the feminine. 
That certainly sounds like the story of my life, so now why not try to fully embrace and soften into my XX chromosomes to see what they have to offer?  I’ve got nothing to lose…and perhaps everything to gain.  It doesn’t mean I need to use my feminine wiles to manipulate or get what I want.  It doesn’t mean I pretend to be something I’m not.  It simply means I need to look deeply within to that which makes me a strong, sensitive woman, lead with those qualities, and see what I begin to attract in my life.    
        Perhaps someday soon there will be a Sir Lancelot standing right next to me, sharpening his own blade while I sharpen mine. He’ll treat me like a lady but will know when to stand back and cheer me on, while I slay my own dragons.  And I’ll be overjoyed to do the same for him.  Then, once our work is done, I’ll shift from kicking ass with my inner-Joan of Arc into embodying a softer Lady Godiva and slip into my brand-new leather mini-skirt and high-heeled boots so we can go out and celebrate our individual victories together as one.

At the Peristyle with Steve,
who knows how to treat me like a lady.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

You're not the boss of me

I wasn’t potty trained until I was three-years-old, but not for lack of enormous effort on the part of my mother.  I must have frustrated the dickens out of her when I refused to give up my cloth diapers and finally wear big girl underpants…which was probably every day from 1967 until the summer before my birthday in 1969.  She tried everything, including plopping me on the little potty and pouring water over my bottom to give me the right idea.
Scowling at her, I snarled, “Don’t you never, never do that to me again!”
Of course, I have no memory of this, but Mom loved to tell the story of how I was stubborn, right from the very start.  She’d laugh whenever she regaled someone about how ox-like I was about toilet training until the day when she walked up to me, her hands splayed on her very pregnant belly and said, “Kate, we need those diapers for the new baby.”
Once I asked her, “What did I do then?”
“You unpinned your diaper and said, ‘Here…take it!’”  Mom frowned.  “It made me so mad that wouldn’t just do it, that I had to give you a reason!”
I shrugged.  “You had to give me a good reason that didn’t include the words because I said so.
I'm reminded of one my bosses at Esalen who used to tease me whenever he'd tell me how to properly hoe or plant or harvest and I'd respond, "Oh, that makes sense."
"Does everything have to make sense to you?" John asked one afternoon while we were planting fennel on the farm.
"One some level, yes," I replied.  "I guess it's the teacher in me.  I don't mind doing something as long as I know there's a purpose, even if it's thinly veiled in mystery."
To this day, I'm the same way.  I don't mind following directions if there's a good reason behind it.  Still, I'd much rather make up my own rules as I go along.

When I was an elementary school teacher, every year on the first day, my new students and I started the morning by creating the classroom rules.  As someone who preferred to be authoritative rather than authoritarian, I felt it was important that everyone be involved in the management of the learning environment, especially first graders. 
"To keep it simple, there will be only five rules," I explained, turning on the overhead projector and uncapping a purple pen.  "As your teacher, I'll write the first one, but you get to decide the rest as a group."
Twenty-five little faces beamed at me, as I imagine it was a novel idea to make up the rules instead of only having to follow them.
Carefully, I wrote the cover-all edict Please follow directions.  "Does anyone know what this says?"  
Typically one or two kids knew the word please, but I needed to read the rest.  "So this simply means that if I give you a direction, or a classroom helper, or any other teacher does, then it's important that you follow it.  I'll do my best to explain the direction so you'll understand that I'm not bossing you around.  I don't like that, do you?"
Twenty-five little ones shook their heads.
Then I'd regale them with my potty-training story, and they all squealed with delight.  Imagine your first grade teacher not wanted to surrender their diapers!  Imagine her even being a little kid!
"Okay...what's next?" I asked, my pen poised.
Every year the students came up with variations of the same ideas:  Keep your hands and feet to yourself.  Raise your hand to speak.  Do your own work.  I always liked to suggest Please be kind to one another.
Once the rules were completed, I bounced my eyebrows.  "Now you get to make up the consequences."
I swear that every single time I said that, a few of the kids rubbed their hands together in gleeful anticipation of formulating penalties they hoped they'd never have to endure.  Of course, I made sure none of them involved inflicting bodily harm or humiliation.  Still, I remember the consequence the kids disliked the most was having to take a chair  to the back of the room for five minutes if he or she shouted out an answer instead of raising their hand.  All I'd have to say would be something to the effect of, "Sheryl, rule number three, consequence number four," and the child knew what they had done and what it would cost them.
There was rarely any argument; however, in the event that a child refused, I'd calmly reply, "Now you're breaking rule number one.  Consequence number four again."  That meant another five minutes in the classroom penalty box.  For some of my kids, it was a heck of a way to tell time.
Once the rules and consequences were complete, I turned off the overhead and smiled.  "Okay...the first question I'm going to ask you is the most important one I'll ask all year -- who is the boss of you in our classroom?"
"You are!" a child always answered. 
"No," I'd reply, shaking my head.  "I'm your teacher, not your boss."
"My mom?" another replied.
Looking around the room, I asked, "Where is she?  I don't see her."
The kids wrinkled their little brows as if to say, If you're not the boss of me, then who is?
Sometimes there was a wise, old soul who raised their hand and said, "I'm the boss of me."
"That's right," I winked.  "You're in charge of you."  Then I looked at another child and say,  "And you're the boss of you."   Then I'd repeat that to every single child around the room.  
As they looked at me wide-eyed, I said, "Every one of you is responsible for whatever you do in school...or don't do.  You're the boss of your body.  You're the boss of your hands and feet.  And you're especially the boss of your mind.  So whatever you choose to do or think or say has consequences.  Some of them you might not like."  I nodded toward the list we had just written.  "Others you might really like, for example a good grade on a spelling test because you studied for it.  Or maybe I'll catch you following directions and you can pick a bookmark or a pencil from the goody jar.  Just remember that since you're the boss of you, you need to accept the consequences for every choice you make."
There were always kids who tested my limits.  Who wanted to circumvent the extent  of the boundaries.  The first six weeks of school were mainly about establishing the reality that the children were indeed their own bosses and had to be accountable for their behavior.  At first, that didn't sit well with some of the more challenging children, but when one of the best-behaved kids inadvertently shouted out or broke another rule, I'd be consistent in asking him or her to take their consequence.  After that, no one gave me any guff because they soon learned I might have been firm, but I always tried to be fair.  Not every day was perfect, but most days were filled with lots of learning, creativity, and love because the children understood that to take responsibility for their actions was the quickest way to move forward.  
When grade card day arrived, some of the kids thanked me for their good marks.  "Go look in the mirror," I replied.  "Thank that person, not me.  I'm not the boss of your grades...."
"I am!" they chimed right in.
"Oh, Miss Ingersoll," one little boy laughed.  "I'm so glad I get to be my own boss."

Today, more than ever, I'm thankful for the very same reason.
Over the years, I've had a few bosses I've admired and respected.  A couple I've reviled because of their lack of integrity and accountability.  Now that I've been my own boss for the better part of seventeen years, I've learned that to go it alone is wonderfully empowering, yet a huge responsibility.  It's been an incredible blessing and sometimes an overwhelming obligation.  Still, after twenty years of practicing mindfulness, I now make choices intentionally, no longer allowing myself to be unconsciously motivated by fear, anger, or disillusionment.  The decisions I make about my work, how I live, and how I interact with others aren't necessarily conventional, but then again, I'd much rather be a salmon swimming upstream, returning to the place of my birth to continually spawn new ideas, to launch new levels of creativity, to constantly and consciously challenge myself to grow beyond the person I used to be.  
Last week I was having lunch with a friend at a local deli.  The teenager behind the counter overheard us talking about our teaching days.  He heard me mention a preschool at which I taught yoga and asked if I knew a couple of girls who live in his neighborhood.
"Oh, yes!" I smiled.  "I taught Heather's class way back when."
"I sometimes babysit for her," the teen nodded.  "She can be a real handful."
"She was back then, too," I agreed.
The teen gave me a knowing look.  "Yeah...both of them are just like their parents."
"Aren't we all?" I deadpanned.  "Until we get some good therapy."
My point wasn't to slam my mother or father, but to remind myself that with time and patience, I've learned how to unwind the thought and behavior patterns from my childhood so that I can integrate the ones that are healthy and gently let go of the ones that are not.  Only then can I be more aware of what I say, how I think, what I believe, and how I behave based not on parroting someone else's choices, but based on who I truly am.
Now it's easy to get up every morning and pull on my big girl panties, recognizing that while I may not know everything that lies ahead, I'll move through each day being my own boss and accepting the myriad of consequences as they arrive moment by moment...the best ones still being thinly veiled in mystery.  

Friday, October 21, 2016

She speaks for me, too

In early June I wrote “She speaks for me”, which has become the most-read blog since I started writing Open Road.  It was a humbling experience to so publicly share my experience of being sexual assaulted.  In 2013, I published a memoir, Open Road: a life worth waiting for and knew that the chapter “Undone” might be the most difficult to read as it was the most harrowing to write.   Since that time, I’ve been honored to listen to women of all ages share their own stories with me.
In the past few weeks, the hashtag #whywomendontreport has had a powerful impact on how we view rape culture.   As I was violently assaulted when I was young, I suppressed the memories until I was able to finally come to terms with the truth shortly before my thirtieth birthday.  It took over a year before I was able to admit I had been raped.  Five more years until I felt human again.  Even now, I find the healing is an ongoing process.
When Michelle Obama delivered her speech in Manchester, New Hampshire, I was brought to tears, not only because of the subject matter, but also because she was speaking for me.  Like the Stanford rape survivor, Mrs. Obama reveals the often uncomfortable reality of being a woman in our culture.  What I experienced every day on the long journey to wholeness.  So now I'll speak for myself…and perhaps for those who cannot find the words that adequately explain what it’s like to live with the aftermath of sexual assault.  
May we all continue to heal by courageously telling our truth.


I sit alone in my closet, the door only partially cracked open.  I sit in the dark, curled into the corner, oily tears sliding down my cheeks.  I sit in disbelief of all of the dreams and memories roiling through my brain.  I can’t believe what Sue said during my session today...that these omens of my past, images from my subconscious, are calling out for me to finally allow them to rise like ghosts from an empty grave.
My life this year has been a mess of falling in love with a narcissist and enduring the fallout of all that came after.  The only reason I got into therapy in the first place was to work on myself so I that could have a relationship with Marshall...or with anyone.  I’m so tired of being alone.  All I want are answers to the questions everyone's been asking me for years...questions I finally stopped dodging in order to face them head on:  Why aren't you married?  Why haven't you ever had a boyfriend?  Why don't you go out and meet people?  Why is it that you still live alone? 
Now I don't know if I really want to know the truth anymore.
Not if it means suffering through more of this train wreck.  Not if it means everywhere I go, something will remind me of my childhood and the sticky, gruesome memories that have begun to escape from the Pandora's box I opened last summer. 
So here I sit in the dark, just like I did as a child, rocking myself into a dull sense of protection from the nightmares that have bombarded my sleep for the past two years.       
Every night I wake up at 3:11.  Every single night I lay sweating from exhaustion, from this horror that never seems to end.  But I have to get up in three hours and go back to school.  I have to put a smile on my face and pretend that my spirit hasn't been destroyed.  Pretend that I'm not walking through life barefoot through splintered shards of glass. 
I feel dirty and ashamed. 
Who will want me now...knowing what I know to be true? 
I'm not sure if I can do what Sue act as if the memories are truly real...then choose later on if I believe them or not.  I’m afraid I’ll kill myself if they ultimately reveal themselves to be true.  But I’m dead already…or at least a part of me is.   
And so here I hide in my closet, safe from my bed and the never-ending cycle of torment that threatens to drown me in its muddy waters.

Because I had lived most of my life inside my head, the initial spiritual journey came through talk therapy and an awakening that left me mentally and emotionally drained, questioning everything I had once believed.  And then Spirit came calling for me once again.  Only this time I was led straight into the guts and mire of my own delusions.  Through hideous memories of long forgotten events in my childhood.  Events repressed and subjugated until I was mentally strong enough to endure the long, arduous journey through a hell I could never have imaged.
I thank God for providing a faithful, patient ally to light my way to the other side.        
 My first session with art therapist Sue Jackson was not successful, at least not by my standards of “let’s get this moving as quickly and efficiently as I want it to go.”  Sue was too quiet, too calm, too still.  I walked out of Sue’s office thinking, How is she going to help me?  She just sat there and didn’t say more than five words. 
I wanted fast results so I could hurry up and get on with my life, which meant that she was supposed to fix me so I that could have a perfect relationship, be the perfect mother, and live the perfect life.  In my mind, all these things were supposed to follow a logical timeline.  I was heading toward thirty faster than I cared to admit, utterly lonely and miserable...single and hating myself for it. 
I deflected many of the questions Sue asked week to week, not wanting to talk about the past, only wanting to figure out how I could let go of my anger in order to move forward with my present life.  After one of our early sessions in which I skirted most of her questions, Sue asked if I had been sexually abused. 
“Absolutely not,” I said.  
“Have you dated many men?”
“No,” I admitted.  “It’s hard to meet people when you’re stuck all day in a classroom full of six-year-olds.”
“Do you go out much with friends?”
I quickly diverted the question, giving her one-word responses in the hopes that we could focus on something else. 
Sue asked how long I was willing to commit to counseling and I told her that I thought a month or two might do it.  I didn't want to wait for years to pass before I could find out what was wrong with me.  I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it, which always meant right now.
I had no idea how dirty my hands were about to become.

And so began a year of tremendous unfolding.  My creativity thrived in an environment of artistic freedom.  During this time I found myself alone in a sea of uncertainty.  I survived in any way that I could.  Teaching became an anchor during the day, but my nights were filled with writing, meditating, and living in a spiritual reality where I could be insulated from the outside world.  Eventually my nervous system became so depleted that I had little energy to do anything more than work, write in my journals, and try get through the night without being awakened by night terrors.  
There were times when I wanted to quit therapy because the weekly poking and prodding of my subconscious revealed shocking images.  Over a period of several months, I dreamed of being hunted, tied up, and sexually humiliated.  Nightmares and flashbacks haunted me, but I continued to deny what Sue had suggested...that these were events from my own life.  They were just dreams, I thought.  Nothing more.  It was too hard to think of myself as someone other than the person I thought I was.  I was not going to see myself as anyone’s victim. 
If it were not for a few close friends and the touchstone therapy had become, I don’t know if I could have survived that horrific time in my life.  My body was exhausted from lack of sleep and emotional fatigue.  A year into therapy, I had a nervous breakdown and contemplated suicide a few times.  Still, I was able to function well enough at school, shoving the other parts of my personality into the back of my mind until I could come home and fall after day.  Week after week.  Month after month.    
After nearly six months of denying that what I was remembering was true, Sue gently asked, “Why don’t we pretend that it did?  Then later on you can decide if it really happened or not.”
A few days later, I was in a store and passed by a table of Maya Angelo’s books.  I Know Why theCaged Bird Sings was prominently displayed, and while I had heard of the novel, I didn't know much about it.  So I picked up the book and flipped through the pages until I felt an urge to suddenly stop.   As my eyes scanned the paragraphs, I came to Ms. Angelo's description of having been raped as a child.  The emotional authenticity with which she told her story was eerily similar to what I had been remembering, and the shock was almost more than I could bear.  The book fell from my hands.  For the first time I stopped lying to myself to protect those parts of me that didn't want to be wounded. 
The following week when I saw Sue, I tearfully told her, “It happened.  I know it did.  Now I want to do the work to heal myself.”
Within the security of Sue’s office and in the stillness of my home I began to unwind the horrific memories of my past.  By finally accepting the reality of the sexual abuse I had endured, I began another journey into darkness, shame, and indescribable fear. 
But…finally…I also began to heal.

Some people say I may be scarred by this experience for the rest of my life.  I'm not certain that is entirely true, but I realize that being abused as a child has clouded much of my adult perspective.  Still, I know that since the moment I accepted the truth about my past, I got better.  I let myself feel.  And I let myself open up to new ways of being.
For more than twenty years, I have been steadfast in continuing my healing journey.  Throughout the process, I often fell back into old patterns of isolation and emotional suppression.  I was attracted to men who initially showed interest, but when I made myself available to them, they either ignored me or were cruel, sometimes even denying their behavior and blaming me as the source of the problem. 
Over and over, again and again, I had to walk away from relationships that mirrored the abuse from my past.  I learned to recognize those characteristics in a man or a colleague or a friend who would surreptitiously take advantage of some vulnerable part of myself that I was willing to share.  Then when they were satiated or realized I would no longer allow them to hurt me, they disappeared...many of them literally vanishing from my life altogether.  Like the abusers from my past, they came clandestinely in the shadows, usurped my power, and then stole away in the night.
Yet what they took from me was not real.  What they took was an effigy of my spirit, a hollow form of who I was in the moment, an outline of a dead body at a crime scene.  But the real flesh and blood had been removed.
And I have lived to reclaim myself and resurrect a new life.