In what world is it acceptable for this little girl to be molested, raped, groped and sexually objectified countless times? Why did she feel shame, guilt and embarrassment about it? How did this impact her life, her world view, her dreams & visions?
When I was young, I had no idea who I was. My identity was slowly but surely stripped away from me with each insult, touch and violation. I thought I was ugly, worthless, damaged goods. Inherently, I thought something was wrong with me. I was a big mistake. Underneath all of the self-loathing, I had big dreams and visions but the tainting of my body and mind buried my brilliance, my inner knowing.
I hurt myself – badly. I put myself in vulnerable positions, abused alcohol and annihilated myself through self-deprecation in every moment of every day. I was damaged beyond repair. Outwardly, I masked this with over-confidence, joie de vivre and an I don’t give a shit attitude. I was dying on the inside.
What did this manifest? Roadblocks.
They happened everywhere in my life; in relationships with boys, in my school work, in my extracurricular activities and with my family. A master of self-sabotage, I was a failure. And, I blamed everyone and everything for my horrible life while smiling; drinking a beer, having a laugh and seething as the self-hate festered.
As I prepared to graduate from high school, I had big dreams, but I was too afraid to really share them with anyone. I didn’t think I would be supported or that I had any capability to actually see them through. So, I went to the college of my father’s choosing, his alma mater. Instead of fulfilling my dreams, I was fulfilling his. I exchanged my dreams to change the world for sorority socials, keg parties and drugs. I put my mind to being the best party girl and I succeeded. Except for that time when my date went to the bathroom and never came back and when I found myself in Central Park’s Strawberry Fields snorting coke with a strange old man at 6 o’clock in morning or when I acted like I didn’t give a shit about anyone but myself. I lived on a continuum from hungover to blacked-out.
In a moment of clarity, I once asked myself the question: Who am I really?
Somewhere beneath the surface, the truth was fighting for a little bit of light to break through, quickly forgotten in a bottle of tequila.
I self-raped, abused my body, hid my secrets and cried silently at the disgrace my life had become. I had dreams and visions. I was meant to do big things in the world yet I kept losing myself in the bottom of a beer keg hoping and praying that someone or something would rescue me – the real me. But she was buried so deeply beneath the surface of masked confidence, self-hatred and shame that no one could possibly see her. This left me feeling confused, conflicted and misunderstood. Why couldn’t anybody see me?
The enormity of my disconnection was profound. It defined me and all of my experiences.
The real me was screaming to get out. She wanted to have a voice but I kept shoving her down with alcohol, late night cheese nachos at the State College UniMart and self-annihilation.
It’s no wonder I gravitated towards women’s studies and my favorite class was on the rhetoric of the women’s suffrage movement. Seeking the truth, I was desperate to make sense of all of it.
By the time I was 21, my little girl had had it. She was screaming and punching and kicking to get out. This manifested in the form of my first full blown panic attack. One Sunday night, I was in my sorority suite with a bunch of girls watching Lost Boys and out of nowhere, my chest tightened up, my heart began racing and I couldn’t breathe. Thinking it was a heart attack, one of my sisters called 911 and I was rushed to the hospital. The doctors checked me out and gave me some Xanax. Just anxiety! I guess they weren’t in the business of diagnosing PTSD.
The next weekend, I went home to Pittsburgh to see a cardiologist to be sure that my heart was ok. How could I possibly have anxiety? My parents were concerned and wanted to take all the necessary steps to ensure that my health wasn’t threatened, kind of.
No one ever asked me any real questions because they were afraid of what might lie within my answers. If they didn’t know the truth then they could just keep drinking the Kool-Aid (or chardonnay) to not beat themselves up for failing to protect their little girl. Why did my mother never ever ask me about my abuse? Why did she act like it never happened? It’s not because she was a bad mother. She loved me. I was the light of her life. When did she lose her voice to stand up for her rights as a woman and a mother? Why? In what world do mothers feel like they don’t have the right to protect their little girls?
Years later I was in a therapy session with my father. When Mona, my teacher & spiritual guide, asked my dad if he wanted to know the truth about what happened to me, he said “No!” He couldn’t bear the thought of his little girl getting hurt but he didn’t have the strength to illuminate the darkness. Why? In what world is a father unable to fight for his little girl? My dad was a deep, thoughtful soul and he loved me more than anything.
I was left to meet my truth on my own. Put together the pieces to understand what my life had become, take responsibility and find my voice within all of it.
On the eve of my 30th birthday, I laid in bed, sobbing until the sun came up. It took three decades but I had finally awakened from the bad dream that had become my life. What happened to me? I was destined to do great things yet I was stuck, shutdown and buried beneath the aftermath of molestation, rape and abuse.
When I finally got some support, I realized I was not alone in this fight. There are women all over the world that live with my story whose mothers and fathers were disempowered by the internalized sexism and misogyny that comes out of patriarchal rule. I sat in rooms with so many beautiful women, crying as I listened to their stories, desperately wanting to right the wrongs.
After years of banging pillows, screaming, Courage to Heal groups and spiritual, emotional & mental guidance, I found my voice. Sort of. Until now, I’ve only shared my story with people that were safe. Those who I was sure would not judge me or hurt me for speaking the truth.
In 2005, I left my job as a creative television executive at Paramount Pictures to take on the fight of empowering women in northern Kenya. My family thought I was crazy but they didn’t understand why I had to do it. It was my duty and privilege to stand up for woman who had no voice.
And, I continue to learn while combating the urge to self-sabotage. In the 10 ½ years I fought for African women, I disempowered myself in the form of low compensation. The good news is that the collateral benefit in this was that in its first 11 years, The Samburu Project, the nonprofit organization I founded and ran until February 2016, has provided clean, drinking water to over 80,000 people which directly provides tens of thousands of women and girls the opportunity for empowerment.
It took a while, but I am living my dreams and visions albeit a little differently than my six year old imagined it. As the single mother to a bi-racial, 8 year old boy, I have the opportunity each and every day to further the conversation about equality and basic human rights. I know that there is room for justice for all in this world and it doesn’t have to be as challenging as it was for my little girl.
As the election process heated up this year and I sat back and watched Hillary get slaughtered for being a woman, my heart hurt. In what world is this ok? My little girl dreams big and knows that after 44 men have been elected to the presidency of the United States, it’s time for a woman to take the seat in the Oval Office, especially when she is more qualified than any presidential candidate in history.
The brilliance the universe offers us is Donald Trump standing on the other side of the stage. This is polarity at its finest.
So, Donald Trump, thank you for providing me a platform with your locker room talk and pussy grabbing, you gave me the courage to shine the light on my darkness and speak my truth and for that I will be forever grateful.
Free at last! Free at last!