Finding Myself One Snowy Night in a Candlelit Chapel

by Lorraine Marden

The snow had started falling around dusk in the small college town where I had just finished my first semester.  As I walked through deserted streets, streetlights glowed with a soft halo.  All was peaceful, and it was a quiet evening, but I was alone and feeling utterly desperate. Tonight was the first night of the winter break and most students had already left town for their vacations. I was scheduled to leave on a bus in the morning, having waited for the last possible hour before heading to my childhood home for the first time since I left home in August.  I dreaded having to return there – facing my alcoholic father and all of the painful memories that I thought going to college would relieve me of; these were further compounded by another fear, for I was quite sure that I was flunking out after my first semester.  A combination of hard partying and inattention to my studies had resulted in many unfinished assignments and numerous absences from class, yet more evidence of my inability to prove myself worthy of any goodness in this life.

I had been hounded for years by feelings of inadequacy; nevertheless I had continued laboring to raise myself above the waterline of mediocrity and failure. Even so, on that night, I let myself down once again.  Looking back now, with perspective, I wished I possessed the insight to celebrate my perseverance, to bolster my efforts rather than condemning myself for what I viewed were my failures, Attending college was a miracle. Growing up impoverished made the dream of escaping my circumstances through a college education seem quite far-fetched.

But now, here I was, returning to a home that I hated with a limited view – fearing that mocking gaze from my father, who had admonished me with “Who do you think you are?” when I announced that I wished to go to college.

And so I trudged with leaden footsteps through the snow-filled streets, my tracks fading quickly in the snowfall.   Presently, I came upon a tiny chapel, which I had noticed before on the main street but had never given much thought to.  On that night, a faint light shined near its door, a surprising contrast to the rest of the darkened and abandoned town. Without a thought, I made my way up the buried pathway to the small wooden door.  Surprisingly, the knob turned when I tried it.  Unsure but curious, I continued through the doorway into the small sanctuary which was alight by a few candles.  I sat on a wooden pew just inside the door.  I felt embraced by the simple quiet within the small sanctuary. Immediately, a heaving sob erupted from deep inside my body and I just broke down and wept.  All of my fear and disappointment washed over me. For quite some time, I sobbed as if trying to exorcise years of failures and misgivings. Eventually, there were no more tears.  I sat there exhausted but peaceful, feeling the comfort of resolve.  Courage to face an uncertain future began building.  Inside, my heart flooded with the peace that had earlier hovered outside of myself.

I stood and looked around the deserted chapel.  Deep gratitude that the door had been unlocked replaced my lack of will to live.  One hand reached for my other hand, each holding the other with the strength and comfort of a trusted friend.  I smiled slightly when I realized the protection that I now felt surrounding my heart.

Closing the door as I exited, I started back down the little path following the tracks I had made earlier, once again, just a faint outline in the snow.

I knew on that night that something very special and enduring had happened.  The peace and strength that I had encountered in that small church would remain.  While I never became religious, I always seemed to find small little chapels, wherever I traveled, that offered similar solace in trying times.  While I didn’t fail out of the college, it was a struggle of many ups and downs throughout the next several years before I finally graduated.  In later life, I eventually even earned a master’s degree, although many years of stumbling and doubting remained in front of me.  However on that snowy evening, I took with me, a feeling that I wasn’t alone. Time and again, I renewed the courage I needed to continue the course despite how futile or dismal the path looked. That night, I found a pathway to a higher purpose and a greater strength that I ever knew was possible or could ever be contained by the likes of me.  For the first time in my young life, I felt as though I was truly playing on my own team.

For websites which address the issue of failure in college or transition challenges from high school to college:

http://www.ctl.ua.edu/ctlstudyaids/studyskillsflyers/generaltips/causesoffailure.htm

http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2012/09/14/make-the-leap-to-college-and-land-well

http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2010/09/for_college_freshmen_first_yea.html

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/higher-education/why-so-many-bright-kids-fail-t.html

http://www.whatkidscando.org/featurestories/2012/05_college_struggles/

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Posted in Finding inner peace, Speaking the truth, Uncategorized

Nothing Was Wasted

 by Katy (Henry) Drews

Most of my life I had an image of courage, a  fire fighter running into a burning building to save a child, a soldier carrying a wounded comrade through enemy fire to safety.  But little did I know that courage trembles, cries and most often is accompanied by a familiar  “punched in the stomach” feeling.  Courage is fear moving forward into the unknown, often with many solitary actions, alone, unseen, kept in the secret of one’s heart.

I was given this gift and I did not recognize it right away. It was a cold sunny day in December, a few days after Christmas. I had just arrived home after filing charges against my husband of eighteen years for domestic violence. I stepped down from the old pick up truck, driven by my nineteen year old son, and walked across the frozen dry ground to the porch.   I felt like I was moving in slow motion. I remember thinking, “What just happened? I feel so different.” I was experiencing something I had never known before.  Self love, self respect and I even tasted empowerment for the first time. That day I discovered what courage really was.  The courage to love myself came in a cloak of anger, an anger that made me physically ill.  A blessed anger that took me to a county office some 15 miles from our old rented farm house in a rural county in Kentucky. Filing the charge was only the beginning of many choices that led me from my “P.O.W.” camp into the woman I was meant to be.

There was a lot of confusion and at times, even torment in this necessary growing up I had to do. I knew it was time to take responsibility for my own pain, the many choices that led me to marry an alcoholic and to live below the poverty level in that drafty old house, raising four kids.   “I’ve come so far. How did I ever survive?” I sometimes wonder.  I had no driver’s license, no job, no money, no self respect, and no vision for my life.  My only focus was to

“Hang in there, don’t piss him off, don’t let him knock out your teeth, and don’t go off the deep end and kill him, kill yourself or both.”
So often I  want to say to the ignorant people who judge women who stay in  abusive relationships, “You just don’t understand – she’s trapped, imprisoned by her fears every bit as much as being chained to dungeon walls.”  Truth is the answer, like light piercing through a crack in a stone wall. Truth made me hungry for more. Truth came to me through the unconditional love of family. My husband, a controlling alcoholic, tried so hard to keep me from spending time with anyone who loved me, especially family.

He was unsuccessful. I felt the love given by my mother, father, brothers and sisters. I knew I had to fight for me. I just didn’t know how to speak up, much less stand up for myself.  The answer was not retaliation. No, the answer was empowerment.

I was a seeker from early on. I asked questions and I wondered, I prayed, and I cried. I wrote poetry, I painted pictures and I sang along to the encouraging songs on the local Christian radio station. I was processing my pain and confusion as best I knew how, through it all.

I do believe that there is a universal energy that respects the seeker and brings across their path questions that lead to more questions, all the while moving them in the direction of an awakening. An awakening to the Real Self.  The Whole Self. The Completed Self.  So it was not by accident that I discovered  a self help group called Ala-Anon. It is for families and friends of alcoholics. I feel certain that going to these anonymous meetings gradually fed me spoonfuls of courage, courage that led me to stand up for myself.  Courage is contagious, it really is.

It was in those rooms of church basements and school libraries, that I joined the courageous group of wounded healers. We spoke the same language and felt the same frustration of trying to save someone who was hell bent on self destruction.  I was given Truth, spoken in words that only we could understand. It just works that way. Light spilled into my dudgeon and I began to believe or maybe hope that these  “chains” could be broken.  I was introduced to a Higher Power.  At first I thought it was some sort of religious program. No, it was explained to me that it’s a spiritual program.  The difference being that religion is for people who are afraid of hell, and spirituality is for people who’ve already been there.

I soon realized that my religious beliefs were not adequate. I knew that I needed a God who could hear a nobody, and love me enough to enter my pain and lead me out.  So I began to talk (not pray a memorized prayers) to my Higher Power, which I call God.  I cried out the most honest naked prayer of my life.  I told this “God,” who I could not see, hear, feel, understand, nor could I locate, in person, that he or she had to talk to me. That I needed more than a religion, I needed a relationship.  It happened, a spark, a whisper from inside. It was alive and real and deeply involved in my ugly mess. I experienced this God as Father, Mother, Friend and even a Higher Self, who could taste my tears and hear the unspoken wordless prayers of my heart.  Thus began the most powerful journey of my life. The journey into the self. I had to face my own fears, lies, and illusions.  I had a new empowerment that I had never known before and it led me to make a series of choices that seemed to fall across my path again and again, after that memorable day in December.

Over the next few years I began “growing up” by taking responsibility for the choices that led me there.  I eventually got my walking papers, a divorce. I paid for it myself with money I earned from a part time job. And soon after, an opportunity showed up so I took it.  I enrolled in classes at the local university, and within months, I was given a job that enabled me to move to a second floor apartment with my three teenage daughters. My son had moved out on his own at my request.

The first night in the apartment, we slept on the floor with pillows and blankets as we because we hadn’t moved the furniture in yet.  Early the next morning, I witnessed a sunrise in March unlike I had seen before. It was like a sweet kiss from God on my forehead. I sat on the floor wrapped in a blanket and looked out the window.  I could barley take it in.  I was really free! I had made my way out of my dungeon.  The chains that held me there for twenty years were no more than fears and lies.   I heard the voice of my God whispering deep in my heart, “Your life will continually get better. Never will you suffer that way again. You will never go backward, but always forward, I promise”.

I want to close my story with a few lines from one of my many poems. Poems  that served as sacraments to teach, heal, and empower me as the feelings spilled from my heart onto the lined pages of my journals.

Nothing was wasted and all was used. And the end was sweeter than a dream for she was given nothing she asked for but everything she needed.  And the gift to trust in her tomorrows unseen.

Katy (Henry) Drews

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence, there is help. Here is the National Domestic Violence Hotline Website: http://www.thehotline.org. If a family member is an alcoholic, you may seek support in Al-Anon Family Groups: http://www.al-anon.org.

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Posted in Living with a loved one's illness, Surviving and healing from domestic violence, Uncategorized

The Whisper

by Debra L. Pirsos

Secrets you keep to yourself, about yourself, are the ones that become land mines within and as time passes, the mines get closer to the surface until the day will come where you will explode. Literally, figuratively and spiritually, we can ease the burden of our minds by being the only one who can detonate the wrath within. Secrets cause people to whisper and whispering causes unrest.

When I wrote the children’s book, Why Is Everyone Whispering?  I was sitting in yet another waiting room looking around as the next person prepared to get biopsied, scanned or hear the ‘news’ that would make or break them at that moment in time.  I could feel the tension in the air, was it my own? was it there at all?  were we ‘immune’ to the sounds of cancer? I shall never know but I do know that when I wrote that book, it was from the perspective of a child, my daughter, because we were living the whisper. Something was going on, however while the intuition was strong for a young person, unless it was talked about, no one knew. As cancer took the body of a beautiful man, the spirit it could not swallow has been the force that lies within,  the  non-traditional cancer survivors; myself and my three children.

As grief took its uneasy path, I continued to swerve toward the middle of the road, balancing my love for Tom, the peace of its reality and the steps needed to allow full grace to set in. It was in my quest for more peace that I allowed the doors to fly open and find myself – the self that knew that whispering was causing a pain, holding me back and allowing the conditioned mind to become my mind. Amazingly, when someone dies, you begin to live – knowing that you really have nothing to lose if you move forward. After allowing my grief counselor to read the book,   she asked me if I was the little girl in the book! I realized at that moment in time, I was in every way,  shape and form. The true me, was trying to raise my voice to an audible level, at least the one that I could hear, reflect upon, embrace and take action to heal more than a loss but the suppression, limitations and fears I placed on myself.

Growing up around family members with special needs, alcoholism and other forms of mental illness, I was constantly wondering why everyone was whispering and not just saying what needed to be said. How helpful it would have been if someone had explained instead of expending energy on keeping it all so quiet. Thus, the poster in my pre-teen room clearly defined my distaste for secrecy, it read:  “I must be a mushroom, everyone keeps me in the dark and feeds me lots of bullshit.” and I can remember it was placed directly next to a gigantic poster of stick figures ‘building a rainbow.’ The light within the dark in my mind. What truly was the bullshit – what I felt, what was going on or the fertilization I stood rooted in and grew as much as one can to survive.

So here I am 47 years later still sensing the whispers around me with a  scowl. I know, however, unless I speak my truth and others do, the soul can not heal, the life around me not move. Perhaps it is a journey, to experience the utter silence that prevails when a person dies of a cancer ravage –  left speechless, deaf,  blind and  motionless – yet the last gasp of air, a final whisper of love that was expressed for all to hear, became the catalyst of renewal. The paradox of it all.   To breathe away a life for another to live. For I now see, hear, move and give an audible voice to the whispers I endured. The whispers of alcoholism, cancer, depression, suicide, and any word a person deems not to be said out loud. We learn,  that it is not so hard after all to let those words roll and be spoken at an audible decibel.  For they are just a string of alphabet letters. Not definitions, not archetypes, not you.  In fact, to say “them” is cleansing, liberating, empowering, healing, and, in the long run, (as I whisper) quite “orgasmic” for their daily benefits. As we allow ourselves to finally hear all that has been whispered around us for years, we can finally… reflect, embrace and take action on what we need to do to get our lives back, our blocks unblocked and move forward in a positive, de-lightful path.

For those of you experiencing the loss of a loved one from cancer, visit these helpful websites:

http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/emotionalsideeffects/griefandloss/

http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/emotionalsideeffects/griefandloss/coping-with-the-loss-of-a-loved-one-intro-to-grief-mourning-bereavement

http://melonoma.org

For meditation techniques: http://www.beliefnet.com

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Posted in Finding inner peace, Living with a loved one's illness, Speaking the truth, Uncategorized
About Writing Our Path
Welcome to the Writing Our Path: Stories of Truth and Empowerment blog. The stories posted here are written by women who are from many different walks of life, professions, and places. Every woman’s journey is unique, so the stories they’ve written are on a range of topics from surviving domestic violence to getting an education to recovering from alcoholism. No matter what each woman has gone through, all of these stories share the commonality of courage, hope, and empowerment. Here, at Writing Our Path, we believe writing and sharing our stories heals us, and those around us. If you are a woman going through something similar to what you have read here, we hope you find the strength and the help that you need, and know that you are not alone. At the end of each story, there are links to women’s resources related to the theme of the story. Also, if you are ready to share your story, please contact us at info@writingourpath.com. We would like to thank all our writers and readers for their courage and their commitment to the empowerment of women.
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