Power of Grace with Lora DeVore
Lora DeVore is the author of Darkness Was My Candle. This profound and compelling memoir traces her life as a survivor of child abuse, sex trafficking, illegal pharmacological drug research, and institutional abuse. Now she devotes herself to spreading the word on these atrocities with this personal documentation of her story. With an advanced degree in clinical psychology and recognized as a national expert and catalyst for change, she has witnessed how stories shift consciousness around the world. Listen to our interview with Lora here.
IN THIS EPISODE:
[01:37] Lora DeVore on what she is most passionate about
[02:30] Lora DeVore on her early childhood
[15:34] Lora DeVore on her college experience and Elgin State Hospital
[24:25] Lora DeVore on her time after Elgin State Hospital
[25:15] Lora DeVore on how she became a therapist
[27:38] Lora DeVore on her book’s inspiration and process
[31:47] Lora DeVore on her book’s message to survivors
[35:00] Lora DeVore on her advice to her younger self
[35:27] Lora DeVore on her dream for women
[36:22] Lora DeVore on her secret to a rewarding life
[39:57] Lora DeVore on her mantra
[42:58] Lora DeVore on how it feels to be an angel for others
[43:25] Lora DeVore on the story behind her book title
Passionistas: Hi, we’re sisters, Amy and Nancy Harrington, the founders of The Passionista Project Podcast, where we give women a platform to tell their own unfiltered stories.
On every episode, we discuss the unique ways in which each woman is following her passions, talk about how she defines success and explore her path to breaking down the barriers that women too often face.
Today, we'll be talking with two incredible women about the Power of Grace with Lora DeVore, the author of “Darkness Was My Candle.” This profound and compelling memoir traces her life as a survivor of child abuse, sex trafficking, illegal pharmacological drug research, and institutional abuse.
Now she devotes herself to spreading the word on these atrocities with this personal documentation of her story. With an advanced degree in clinical psychology and recognized as a national expert and catalyst for change, she has witnessed how stories shift consciousness around the world.
Her wisdom comes from the field of psychology, transpersonal development, and spiritual psychology.
Lora’s story is ultimately one of hope and healing, that we believe you will find as powerful and inspiring as we do. However, we do want to let you know that portions of the content of today’s show may be emotionally challenging for some of our listeners. Please be aware that this episode contains discussions about sexual assault, abuse, self-harm and suicide at times during the conversation. We just want to empower you, our audience, with the knowledge you need to decide how and if you would like to listen to this podcast content.
So please welcome, Lora DeVore.
Lora, what's the one thing you're most passionate about?
Lora: I am passionate about love. I think that's the only thing that's going to save the planet and save us as human beings. And I, I've been passionate about love and trying to learn everything I could about it since I was 9 years old when a neighbor named Dale was the first person who ever said they loved me. And it literally came alive in my body and I had this profound aha and thought that's why I was born, to learn how to experience and take in and feel this thing called love and more importantly, learn how to give it, and it really, really changed the course of my life. I think I was on a trajectory where I would've ended up dead because my life was so miserable prior to that, that interaction.
Passionistas: Can you talk a little bit about your life leading up to that and how that moment happened?
Lora: Sure. I was born from an unwed mother. There's a good possibility that my uncle was my father and we actually lived with him. And I called him daddy when I was 3. And he shot, he had come back from World War II very wounded, and he shot himself one day in front of my mother and I, and my mother went berserk and blamed me for some reason, or at least that's my, what I took in my memory of it and then threw me upstairs—I was still in a crib at the time, but the side rail was down—and left the house. This was in northern Wisconsin and I had a profound experience during the days that I was alone. I got out of the bed at one point because I was so hungry and I went looking for food and luckily I found a loaf of bread on the table. And my uncle's body had been removed. My aunt had come over to give them a piece of my piece of her mind because we hadn't shown up for dinner, and there was a storm that had started up and she saw the dead body, called the sheriff, went halfway up the stairs, but didn't go all the way up, just went halfway up, calling for my mother and assumed that Clinton and my mother had had a fight, my mother had left with me. And it wasn't till 3 days later that my mother staggered in drunk to the memorial service and they then rushed back to the house because my mother had no idea where she'd left me. And what happened is I tried to open the door and a drift of snow came in. I remember sitting on the floor just sobbing and sucking my thumb. And the wind is blowing in because now it's blizzard weather we're, it's, we are literally having a blizzard. So this huge drift of snow blew in. And I could neither close the door nor could I fully open it. And had I been able to fully open it, I'm sure I would've died. I would've frozen to death, but I couldn't get out. And as I'm sitting there, an ethereal present appeared to me that I've never forgotten. And she was very specific. She told me to go back upstairs on my bottom, sitting backwards so I wouldn't fall and get back into my bed and cover up. And that became the foundation of my life and it opened something in me that has stayed open my entire life.
But life was very hard. My mother disappeared out of my life for a couple years after that, and I lived with an aunt and my grandmother. And then my mother eventually came back and said she was moving me to St. Louis, had a horrible fight with my aunt and said she was taking me to my real daddy.
And so she married a man named Bud, and I doubt if he was my real father. But they were seldom together. There was a lot of domestic violence. There was a lot of drug use. She would prostitute and then he'd get mad at her and beat her up. And so there was a lot of violence. And when I was 9, she sold me for the first time to a man. At that point, Bud was out of our lives and that's what she was doing is primarily prostitution and primarily at Army and Navy bases nearby.
And, you know, before I go on, I just want to say my mother had a horrible traumatic history that I won't go into, but I do cover in the book. So I have tremendous compassion for my mother. And when she died, I felt grief for a woman who'd never had a life, who'd never really lived a life. But by age 9, I'd had my first suicide attempt shortly after she sold me to this man. And I couldn't figure out why anybody would possibly want to be here. I didn't know any adults that liked children or that were really nice to children. My guess is my aunt was nice to me, but I, you know, had pretty much forgotten that, it was so eclipsed by the day in day out trauma. And my mother truly, at that point in my life, hated me and was resentful, and frequently told me to get out of her sight. She couldn't stand looking at me, and so I pretty much raised myself and ran wild.
One of the things that was lifesaving is one day I heard church music coming out of the local Catholic church, and I wandered into the church, and the choir was rehearsing up in the balcony, and I just had this need to get as close to the music as I could. So I went and sat in the stairwell, and I felt like God was raining down on my head. And after that, I went to all three churches in town. So I knew when the Methodist had choir rehearsal, and I knew when the Catholics did, and when the Lutherans did, and there was something related to transcendence and being able to get out of that psychological space I lived in. It took me to another place that I think helped keep me going.
And then at age 9 I, as I said, I had my first suicide attempt. And an upstairs neighbor who'd only lived there briefly, and after an accident one day when I'd fallen through the window when some kids were teasing me, her husband had gone to the hardware store and put in a new window while she cleaned everything up. And they knew that I'd been taken to the emergency room, which was only a block away because they saw the trail of blood up there. And when I got home, her husband had finished putting in a new window and said I should go upstairs, that his wife Dale was waiting for me and had made lunch and made chocolate chip cookies. And she was the first nice adult I ever knew. And she was only there for about another month, maybe at the most, but she'd come looking for me if I was alone and I was, by then, I was frequently left alone and frequently left alone without food. And she was kind to me repeatedly. I still have the key that she gave me, that she called the ‘just in case’ key, in case I got scared and wanted to come up and sleep on their couch. And I never did because I was afraid my mother would beat me if I did. But the day she was moving away, I fell apart and begged her not to leave. And she pulled me into her arms and kept rubbing my back and saying I was a good girl and that she loved me. And she made me sit up and look her in the eyes, and traumatized kids have trouble looking people directly in the eyes. But she made me look and she said she had something really important to say. And she said, “I love you, and I would take you with me if you were mine, but you're not.” And she told me that I needed to learn to take better care of myself because my mother was too sick and couldn't care for me, which gave me a huge message. And then she made me promise that I'd reach out to others. And love came alive and a mission. So I started carrying groceries home for people without money and started raking leaves and shoveling snow, and just trying to be kind at that age, which created a whole other parallel universe than the universe I was living in. So that's how that happened.
I was eventually taken away from my mother at age 13 after another very violent suicide attempt. We had been court ordered by then to see a psychiatrist who was moonlighting. He worked at a, he was from a local naval base and he essentially became my mom's pimp and was a child molester and pornographer. And that totally broke my spirit in unspeakable ways. And that's what led to the huge suicide attempt.
So after that suicide attempt, I probably would have attempted again, if not for a very kind nun at the, I was in a Catholic hospital named Sister Sebastian. And the story of my life, it, it's, yes, it's of darkness and horror, but it's as much about light. It’s about the right people coming into my life at exactly the right time. Like Sister Sebastian, who had been in the military, she had been a WAAC in women's armed forces in World War II, and I was a candy striper at that hospital, so she'd gotten to know me pretty well. But she actually told me that she had been raped in the military and that I could survive this and that I would find a new way of living. Which I thought was tremendously courageous of her and so authentic to try to give me hope. And she told me there'd been a time when she was without hope.
And then it was at that point that I was taken away from my mother. And then I lived in a number of placements. This was pre Child Protection years. And I was a really good kid. I had poor self-concept, but I was like a chameleon. I would do anything to get people to like me. And so that they'd keep me. And so there was a failure, not because I was doing anything wrong, but from one situation after another. So there were many placements. And then my senior year in high school, I ended up having a lot of problems again, and I ended up having a suicide attempt after prom after I was raped at prom. A prom I didn't want to go to, but the foster parents made me go with a friend of their son. Now I, you know, and I knew pretty quickly why no one had wanted to go with him and was too afraid to tell them, and so my old default was, I can just kill myself. So I ended up in the county hospital. And the court worker decided she was going to send me back to my mother and nothing had changed. So she sold me to some guy the first night I was there, and I learned that I was capable of murder. And it's amazing that I did not kill her and him that night. He was passed out drunk, but there was a billy club, which is a metal object that's wrapped with leather around it. And I don't know why. I don't know if he was a bouncer in a bar or who he was. I'd seen them before, and they were pretty popular back then. Policeman used him as well. I don't think he was a policeman. And after he'd raped me, I got out of the bed and I picked it up, and my mother had lived in a kitchen at apartment and was sitting at the kitchen table smoking a cigarette and drinking beer and had watched it, and I was going to bash him in the head. And I knew if I started, I'd kill my mother. So I threw it down and grabbed my clothes and got dressed in the hallway and walked around town all night, and then had a very serious suicide attempt and woke up, I don’t know, a week or more later in the county hospital again. And the court worker again came in and she said, “You're not going to manipulate me, young lady. You're going back to your mother's whether you like it or not.” And the medical director of the county hospital came into my room one day, and I had pulled out all the IV tubing and tried to strangle myself after the court worker had left. And he said, “I want to get you outta this bed, but you have to promise you won't run away. And I've come up with a little plan. My nurses tell me you're a bright girl and are supposed to graduate, you know, couple scholarships to college, but I'm afraid that's not going to happen if we don't get you out of here.” So I agreed and he told me his nurse Connie was going to be joining me or joining us, and so he got me out of the bed and we walked up and down the halls a little bit, and then he told me his plan. And it was, if I could pull myself together and bring in my graduation certificate, he would hire me as a nursing assistant. That summer there were cottages out in back of the county hospital. It had once been a TB sanitarium. He said I could live rent free that summer out there. And that's what kept me going.
So the day I got out of the hospital and the court worker took me back to my mother's, she just dumped me outside in front of her apartment building. So I grabbed the bag of stuff I had and put it in a locker at the bus station and then was homeless for a month. And what kept me going is that promise. And the day that I graduated and took my graduation certificate to the hospital—I still tear up when I recall this—I walked into the nurse's station and there were banners and balloons and a graduation cake, a small present from the nursing staff as well as Dr. Callaghan. So it was another one of those angels who'd come into my life at exactly the right moment.
Passionistas: So, you did start college, right?
Lora: Because I'd been homeless and wasn't living anywhere. I never got any mail. And because, you know, I was moving between foster care, foster homes before that, I didn't know I was supposed to sign up for a dorm, and I got to college and there were no dorms. But the Dean of girls was standing nearby when they told me that, that there were no dorms. And I just stepped outta the line and said, I guess I'll try to come back next year. And she came and got me and took me to the guidance counselor, and they were able to find me a temporary place to live with a widow in the neighborhood. And I ended up having to move three times that year. You know, the widow decided she didn't really want a student, and then I lived with a kid who lived in an apartment, but she was on so much LSD and drugs and it was so triggering, and then eventually I moved to another place, but I was working on the weekends at a small hospital as a nursing assistant. They taught me to be a nursing assistant at the county hospital, which was wonderful. And I started getting stalked by the respiratory therapist, a man in his 50s. And he started pulling me into the room closet many times and all kinds of stuff, and then showing up in the halls at school. And one night he showed up at the bottom of my L stop. This was Chicago. And had it not been for a businessman who was coming down the steps, I don't know what would've happened. He tried to pull me into his car, and so I quit my job. And because of exams and stuff, I hadn't even been keeping track of things on the bulletin board and announcements. And then I realized that, and I really went into a funk and felt unsafe. And I had the belief that I was a grownup, so I shouldn't need any help from anyone. And I found that that's true with most kids who've been in the foster care system. With most kids, unless they've come up and have parents who can really guide them. And I realized that they were going to be closing the dorm, and I had no money and nowhere to go.
And I tried looking, you know, in the papers for jobs. I couldn’t find anything. And I was terrified. So again, my old default was, I can just kill myself. So I did something crazy, like just took a, I don't know, a bottle of aspirin or something—I wouldn't have had anything else. And then after immediately I thought, well, that's stupid. I don't want to die. And so I made myself throw up, and then I went to look for the dorm mother. I told her what I'd done, and told her I made myself throw up, and I said, “I really need a grownup’s help.” And she said she was really glad that I came to her and that she could think of a number of places that were looking for students like me for jobs over the summer. But she was going to put me in a taxi and send me across town to get checked out medically. And then I'd come back and we'd sort this out.
I was fine medically, but the next thing you know, they're sending me to another hospital. They said just to, you know, have a few days of rest. And I didn't know it at the time, but that hospital wouldn't let me out because they were doing drug research and they had sent out a flyer to all the local hospitals looking for certain research subjects. And every floor did different kinds of research. And I was put on the floor with young adults who had no family support, which meant I had no one who had my back or could look out for me. And I wouldn't take the drugs. I kept spitting 'em out. I had no idea how they figured that out. Then they started giving me shots and liquid Thorazine and eventually I ran away. They got me back, and then they had me committed to the worst state hospital in the system. This was the summer after my freshman year in college. And there was the day that I came back from the court commitment, I…I can't even tell you what that was like, because in those days they committed you for life. And I could hardly think. My mind was like in shock, and I went back to my room, and I just sat. And I couldn't eat. I couldn't move. I can't remember thinking about much of anything. I felt like I was in a fog. And there was a nurse who came in and out all evening to check on me. And around 10:00 or so, she came in and she said, “I'm concerned about you, and my shift ends at 11:00, and I'm going to come and sit till dawn if that's what it takes to get you to have some feelings, because you're not going to survive where they're sending you, unless you do.” And so she did. She was there till dawn. Her name was Sydney Krampitz. And she was getting her master's in nursing at that point and only worked there three days a week on evenings, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. And she told me before I was put on the bus that took me to Elgin, that I hadn't done anything wrong. That she felt what they were doing was illegal, and she was going to do everything in her power to get me out. But there was no way that I could trust that that could happen. How could this nurse override a judge's order?
So I was admitted to the worst state hospital in the Illinois system. And I've been told by people who worked there then and a man named Bill Whitaker—who wrote a book called “Madden America” and did a lot of research about state hospitals and the drug Thorazine—that it's a miracle that I'm alive. And I believe that too. And because at that point in history, or not in history, in that point in life in the Illinois area, there weren't as many freeways as there are now. Now you could get out to Elgin in probably an hour and a half, and Sydney lived back then, about 3 hours from there. So every, and she only had Sundays off, and she had three small children and was the Lutheran minister's wife. And every morning she, on Sunday, she'd think, “I really have to go see her.” And then she kept saying to herself, “She was a bright college student. I can't believe she'd still be in there.” And so then she wouldn't go. And so it was about nine months before she came, and it was almost too late. And she said she felt haunted by me. And so she finally decided to call, just assuming that I would've been released and was shocked that I wasn't. And then she came for the first time and then continued to come and really fight them and threaten them with a lawsuit, which she said she never could have done because she didn't have the money to have a lawsuit. But she threatened them enough and became enough of a pest that eventually she helped get me out after I'd been there for 15 months.
And then many years later, Sydney and I reconnected, and we went back there and we did archival research at the state, in the state capital, and found out that they were actually doing, during the time I was there, the legislature had created a committee to find out why they were having so untimely, many untimely, unexpected deaths at Elgin State Hospital. And one of the reasons was they were always short on staff. The wards were all run by AIDS and orderlies who had never been trained in medication management. And they had one physician, many of which were not licensed at all, or could practice medicine. But they were called physicians, and one of them per anywhere from 500 to 1,000 patients at any given time, and the same with nurses. And so the orderlies were, and the ward I was on was primarily orderlies. And not only were they afraid of the patients, they would over drug us all. And Thorazine is one of the primary medications, and what the report revealed is that because of the overuse of Thorazine, which causes horrendous constipation, and many people had bowel obstructions, had sepsis and died from sepsis. It was just, it’s a horrendous document about this thick, and I still to this day haven't been able to read it all the way through.
Passionistas: So once you got out, where did you go from there?
Lora: I had to be released to a legal relative. And a cousin of mine who was only seven years older than me, who was brand new, married, and had a baby, she was willing to take me for a few months, and then I was able to go back to college. But eventually, I left the Chicago area.
Passionistas: We’re Amy and Nancy Harrington and you’re listening to the Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Lora DeVore.
To learn more about her work and get a copy of her book “Darkness Was My Candle,” visit LoraDeVore.com.
Now here’s more of our interview with Lora.
Passionistas: I don't know how you survived all this trauma. You are an amazing human being. Did all of this trauma, is that what inspired you to make the decision to become a therapist?
Lora: No. Not directly. It might have on someone conscious level, but it didn't directly. I was a teacher first, and I was working with deaf blind children in a program in South Dakota with visually handicapped and deaf blind children. And we were off during the summer, and I had a boss, an incredible boss, who gave out weekly awards called the the Annie Sullivan Award. So if we'd have a breakthrough, major breakthrough with a child. And I got a lot of those Annie Sullivan Awards, and I was just really good with the most disturbed kids. And she bet me that, she said, “You've gotta go back to school and get a master's degree.” And I said, “I'm not smart enough.” I still carried the, you know, this old internal message.
I didn't learn to read till the end of third grade. I wouldn't have even read at all had it not been for a substitute teacher who was the first to ask me why I thought I was having trouble. And one thing was they were always put in the back room and I couldn't see, I needed glasses and then I just fell into what's called learned helpless. You know, you try so many times and have trouble with it that I just couldn't get it, I gave up. And so during a very brief time, I think she was there a week, she got me to read, and I became an avid reader. So Marge really pushed me. And so I took a couple of graduate school classes that summer and I found 'em so valuable and that I loved learning and had more confidence in myself than I'd had even when I went to undergraduate school. And so I stayed in. And I think I thought what had happened to me was an anomaly, and so I was in, and I was interested in helping people and interested in understanding people, and particularly interested in understanding families and children. So I think that's what at least consciously motivated me. But it wasn't till many, many, many, many years later that I really began—when I was writing the book—that I really began to learn about the dark history of psychiatry. And the book that I wrote is not the book I set out writing.
Passionistas: Tell us about that. So, so what finally inspired you to write a book and what was that transformation throughout the process?
Lora: You know, I was good at writing. Actually, two of the scholarships I won were because of writing an essay when I was in high school. And I was writing a very different book. I was writing a spiritual autobiography. And I had found a mentor, a woman named Dina Metzger, who's written probably 30 books herself, and she had agreed to be my mentor, and she was having me do some extraordinary practices to get ready for that, which I learned a lot about myself. She had me go back through all my old journals in my memory bank and look at, she was trying to find where the story really was and what contributed to the story. And she believes that spirit talks to each of us in different ways, and then that there are patterns. And so she was having me look through my memory bank and my journals, as I said, and notice any times in which I had gone into joy or bliss because of something that had occurred, or any time there was synchronicity or any important dreams that I had. And because I'd kept a journal since junior high, that wasn't so hard to do. And then she began to help me to see the pattern in my life.
And then one summer, we'd been working probably for a year, year and a half, and she always takes a sabbatical in the summer to write her own book. She writes a book every year. And she said, “What are you doing for the summer?” We were having our last session online. And I said, “I don't know. I have all this paid time off. I'm thinking about a road trip.” She said, “Where to?” And I said, “I don't know.” And she said, “What do you think about a road trip out to see me?” I said, “That sounds like fun.” She lives in California, in Topanga. And I said, “What do you have in mind?” And she said, “I want to interview elders on the Yakima Reservation in Washington state, and if we can get in, usually it takes a couple years to get a reservation. I want a go to Hanford nuclear site, and I'm looking for a driver and a scribe.” And so I agreed. So I drove out to the East coast. I love long distance drives, and I was working at her house for about three days before we were to leave on the trip. She had asked me to do some research for her related to some research that was done on native Americans at the Yakima Reservation and also any research that came up related to Hanford nuclear site or research related to that. And as I was doing the research one day, all of a sudden on the screen, Elgin State Hospital came up. I was in shock. I had not thought about it or talked about it. I mean, I talked about it in therapy years before, but not since then. And later that day, Dina asked me how the research was going, and I said, “It's okay.” And she said, “What's going on with you?” She said, “Is it too hard?” I said, “Well, it's pretty dark research, but I saw something in my history come up in it.” She said, “What part?” And I said, “When I was committed to a state hospital the summer after my freshman year in college.” And she looked at me with her eagle eyes and she said, “And why did I never hear you were in a state hospital?” And that became a defining moment. And I realized all those years later—this was like seven years ago—I still held shame about that. And by the end of our trip together, it became clear, there was this sense of feeling compelled to write about that history and explore and do research and understand it as well as I could. And it almost felt like a spiritual mandate. So the book then became a very different book than it had started off, or I thought it was going to be, although a lot of that early material is in the last part of the book, the transformation part of it. That’s how it changed.
Passionistas: What do you hope that survivors who read your book take away from it? What's the biggest message?
Lora: The biggest message is hope. And that no matter what kind of trauma you've experienced, you can fully recover. So that's one of the biggest messages. And, you know, the other big message is around love and kind. You know, I think we're in a period of history in which everything which has been hidden is coming up to be looked at. And I think unless we look at and examine history, we make the same mistakes going into the future. So I see that as a very good thing. And I think this time that we're in, you know, still with COVID, off and on, et cetera, has caused many people to go into self-reflection and to change patterns, et cetera. And I would invite people to really pay attention to self-love and how important kindness is, to be kind to themselves as well as to others. And so often with trauma, trauma kind of takes over the brain and that's all we can see. And there's a lot of beliefs that get formed around trauma. Like my belief was, “I must have done something wrong,” and “Why do these things keep happening to me? Must be something bad about me.” And I think most trauma survivors part of that have things like that. I've worked with rape survivors and trafficked women, and often the belief is, “I shouldn't have been dressed in that or if I hadn't been walking down that street or if I hadn't looked that way.” Because we hate feeling powerless, so we try to make up a story about how it was our fault. So if we can figure out what I did wrong, then maybe I can keep it from happening in the future. But one of the things that a Native American elder who was a spiritual teacher of mine many years ago suggested I do is, she said I needed to go back through my memory banks and find all the joy markers and literally do a graph of that. And I was on a women's retreat on her land for a month when she suggests that I do that, and I started to remember all the angels that came into my life with human skin wearing the face of compassion. And it begins to change the trauma narrative. So I strongly suggest anyone that's been traumatized do that. Because our life isn't just one thing. It’s a rich tapestry of so much more. But it took that exercise for me to begin to focus on that so much more, and it blew me away. And since then, if I work with trauma survivors, I ask them to do the same thing, and always, it's an astounding exercise.
Passionistas: If you could go back to those early days, what advice would you give your younger self?
Lora: I think at this point, because I've really, really been practicing self-love, unconditional self-love, I think I would say to her, she is just fine, just the way she is. And that she's smart and funny and creative. And that what's happening isn't her fault, and that she's going to grow strong and resilient and learn and grow through it.
Passionistas: What’s your dream for women?
Lora: My dream is that they find out, they really step into loving themselves unconditionally and knowing how beautiful and bright they are, and creative. And I think women intuitively are nurturers, even women who don't have children. There's something about feminine energy that's rising up like never before now. And I hope women can all tap into their own brilliance and step into who they're meant to be, to help begin to make the shifts that need to happen happen on the planet. And I think it's going to take—I hate to say the word army, because I don't like war—it’s going to take a collection of many, many women who do that.
Passionistas: What’s your secret to a rewarding life?
Lora: For me, it's gratitude. I practice gratitude every morning. It’s also, you know, I thank the trees when I go outside in the morning and the sun coming up and the grass growing and the sound of the birds, which sort of sets my day. And at the end of the day, I usually go through a gratitude list, as well. So I think gratitude, for one. The other thing that I have discovered, and it was a hard course to get there—I had COVID a year ago and nearly died. Had two near death experiences, was in the hospital for a month and then came home on oxygen and told I'd never, I'd probably never get off of it and couldn't walk. And I think since I was a kid, there's this determination, if somebody tells me I can't do something, I say, “Watch me.” And so here I am walking and talking and not on any oxygen, and my lungs have been healed, and all the rest of it. And then on top of that, I was just getting better and recovered from the COVID, or mostly recovered. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. But each of those experiences, what they did is they reopened a vulnerability that I'd had as a kid that I had never totally worked through and didn't even know that I'd worked through it in therapy, but, but I hadn't cried as much as I needed to. And I have an amazing coach that helped me through that time, continues to work with me. And I made a commitment that, no matter what, to be vulnerable and to be transparent, and I realized that that's my superpower. And my life has shifted because of that. And that very vulnerability—was sort of like ripping off the band aids that were still covering old scars—has dramatically shifted my life. And I would like all women to know that our transparency and vulnerability really can be our superpower. And I've just been blown away, absolutely blown away by people's response to that vulnerability. I also, when the book was first coming out, I had a, oh, I don't know, a week or two of freak out. It was like, “Oh my God, this book is raw. I mean, I tell it all.” And I kept scaring myself, and then I caught myself one day. I was saying to myself, “I'm going to feel so exposed.” And one day I sat down, I looked at the word exposed and I thought, “I need a different word.” And the word that came to me was ‘revealed.’ And then the sentence that came to me is, “I choose to reveal myself as loving presence in every moment, in every situation.” And that shifted everything.
And so now interviews, no matter who they're with or what they are, feel pretty effortless. But I had to stop scaring myself. So I think the other thing I want women and others to know is it's really important to pay attention to how we talk to ourselves. You know, we can really defeat ourselves in so many ways, and language is really important, and our nervous system takes it.
Passionistas: Do you have a mantra that you live by?
Lora: Every year I set a goal and I've had the same one for the last two years. And that's luminous presence. I want to be a luminous presence on the planet, and I want to be an inspiration and guide to others. And there's a quote that's a favorite of mine as well, and that's, “There is someone somewhere who has a wound that is the exact size of your words.” That's by a man named Sean Thomas Doherty. “There is someone somewhere who has a wound that's the exact size of your words.” And when you really let that sink in, I think it automatically brings up kindness.
An amazing experience at Starbucks not long ago, there was this young woman who was falling apart, and you could tell it was her first job on the day on the job, and she was just a mess. She kept making mistakes and they were really busy, and there wasn't anyone right behind me. And I looked at her and I said, “Do you know you have the most beautiful eyes? Has anyone ever told you that?” And she said, “No.” And I said, “Well, you do.” and then she teared up, and I said, “Is this your first day working?” And she said, “Yeah, can you tell?” I said, “Yeah, but everybody has a first day. You're doing fine. Just take a few deep breaths. You're going to be okay. I would be crazy if I was behind that booth. You know, you're multitasking constantly, so just be kind to yourself.” She said, “Can I touch you?” And I said, “Sure.” She reached over and held my hand, gave my hand a squeeze, and now when I go through that drive-through, she always thanks me. And in the same Starbucks, one of the guys there named Joe, he said to me one day, he says, “You know, you are always so kind to the people who work behind this window, and I just want to thank you, because it really sets their day. Some of these young people, they just get so, you know, depressed and feeling like they can't do it, et cetera.” And he said, “And you've also made a difference in my life. I said, “Really?” And he said, “Yeah, I'll tell you sometime.” And then one day I went through, he says, “We've gotta talk.” And I said, “Okay.” And I said, “How do we do that?” And so we set up a time, and it turns out that he was a sexual abuse survivor himself, and he had bought my book. And so he wanted to tell me that and tell me how my book had impacted him. I mean, we just never know. We just never know.
Passionistas: How does it feel for you now to be that angel that were these people that peppered through your life, that helped you get through these moments? What does it mean now for you to be that person for so many other people?
Lora: It’s a very humbling experience. I feel like the most fortunate woman on the planet. It feels like it was my destiny. And I didn't know that at the time. I became aware that writing “Darkness Was My Candle” was an act of love, but I don't know that I knew the full scope of it until the book came out, the interviews started, et cetera.
Passionistas: Where did the title come from?
Lora: I just woke up one morning and I tend to trust my intuition and there it was. But I think primarily through the years of transformation work and spiritual work, I've learned that oftentimes we go into, you know, John of the Cross used to call it the dark night of the soul, or this, you know, other, other spiritual teachers might talk about it as like the void. And what I began to appreciate is that that period of growth is much like spring before it blossoms. At least in the Midwest, I don't know if you have dramatic springs on the West coast like we have out here, but it's like everything is pregnant, and there's this sort of, it's a fertile void. You know, there's never a time in which there's a winter that's too dark, that doesn't hold spring’s promise. You know, you just have to wait till all those little buds begin to push themselves up, whether it's the tulips or other blossoms. And it feels like times of darkness in our life are exactly that. And I've also come to realize in my own life, and I believe many trauma survivors, is that trauma can become a portal into a very different kind of life of if you have the right kind of support and really do the work that's required. It's not just that another, some other shitty thing happened to you. It literally can open you to a much more magnificent life. And I think it's through the dark in which we ask the big questions like, “Why did this happen to me?” You know, “Will I ever feel different?” We ask the existential crisis, the existential questions, which are both psychological questions and spiritual questions. So another part of the book is, I'm on a mission to not just disclose the dark history of psychiatry to psychiatrists and anyone in the mental health field—and I feel excited about the way that's happening—but also we have got to bring together a world of psychotherapy in which we merge and bring together spiritual psychology and transpersonal development as well. I think it's essential. Because especially with trauma survivors, you can't fully recover unless some of those deeper questions that are in your soul, they tend to be soul questions. You know, “Does life have any meaning?” They can't be answered psychologically. They're spiritual questions. And we leave out a huge equation of what it means to be a person if we don't bring the notion of spirituality. And I'm not talking about religion, religion's how people can choose to practice their spirituality or learn in community and celebrate in community. But we all have a spiritual essence, and that's fed in different ways. For some people, it's a walk in the woods. For some people it's in community. For some people it's in deep meditation, and there are hundreds of meditative techniques. It's different for all of us, but we all have that. And that's who we really are. This is who we live. This is what we are and who we live in. But our spiritual essence is magnificent. And I think we're in a time where more people are finding a longing for that as well as a longing to change the way they’re, that we’re all living our lives.
Thanks for listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Lora DeVore.
To learn more about her work and get a copy of her book “Darkness Was My Candle,” visit LoraDeVore.com.
If you or someone you know needs help, dial 988 or call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which offers free and confidential emotional support around the clock to those experiencing a suicidal crisis.
You can also get support via text by visiting suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.
According to the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, RAINN, "Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 9 minutes, that victim is a child." If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Please call the free and confidential National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or visit rainn.org.
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We'll be back next week with more Passionistas who are defining success on their own terms and breaking down the barriers for themselves and women everywhere.
Until then. Stay well and stay passionate.
Photo courtesy of Lora DeVore ©2022sandrajulian