I am an outlier. I was not born in Africa, but Africa was most certainly born in me.
I am preacher’s daughter. Born and raised in the Confederate Capital state of Virginia, in the real South. My father was a Bishop – no less. From birth, I was groomed, dusted and polished and put on a shelf - a shining example to the world of what is good, proper and holy. It didn’t matter that no one bothered to interact or play with me as a child. It didn’t matter that as a teen-ager I was running wild. It was all about image – and as the last of eight siblings – I was hell bent on destroying myself. And along with me, the soul-murdering constraints of perfection that rigid, conformist, hypocritical thinking had inflicted on so many others in my family.
My wild days started early. When my folks left the safety of our tribe and moved west, matters got worse. With my mother working all day, my father consumed with the church and my older siblings married and away from home, my sister (6 years my elder) and I were literally running wild in the city. By the age of 10, I was shoplifting regularly. By the age of 13, I was smoking cigarettes and marijuana and failing in school. At the age of 14, I was arrested for stealing my father’s car (again) and held as an adult at the request of my father. He thought it would teach me a lesson. What I learned from the prostitutes in that holding cell was indeed a lesson (although not the kind my father had anticipated).
And then something really big happened. That same year, I was brutally raped and dumped on the curb by a relative. I heard it said by members of my own family, “She had it coming.” The following year my father moved us back to Virginia. But it was too late. The untreated trauma of being a rape survivor, coupled with the failure of my parents to protect me and pursue the rapist was simply too much. I went from being a troubled teen to a harpy; a young siren that would not only make my family pay for the abuse and years of neglect, but the world would burn - with me in it.
At 17, I had moved out of my parents’ home and was living with a sailor from Saudi Arabia and was studying the Koran just to spite my father, the well respected and much admired Bishop. My parents tried, but they simply didn’t have the resources or the energy to take me on. Vengeance was mine and I was not taking any prisoners – especially not my folks. When I did bother to go to school, I was told often by many people that I was just a bad seed, a waste - and that I would never amount to anything. I had a “Phi Beta Kappa” brain, but the spirit of Medusa. I thought, “Who cares?” School was the last thing on my mind, anyway.
I married a Muslim. I was young and he was needy and dysfunctional – just like me. A year later, I had a child. When my daughter, Tatiana, was born I managed to pull it together for her. I actually excelled in law school with her on my hip and landed a job at one of Wall Street’s top firms. It seemed that I had proved the naysayers wrong. I was on my way; flying high in fact. However, that traumatized, neglected, abused 14 year old girl was still there; right beneath the surface. It would be another 30 years before I could muster the courage to embrace her and allow real healing to begin.
That catalyzing event came under the guise of my second husband. He was a brooding dark horse; full of sex appeal, mystique and wore a flashing neon sign that said, “Warning! Danger!” Of course I had to go there. Before long, I was playing the “let’s end this relationship song” for failed marriage number two and I simply didn’t want to live anymore. I was a model citizen on the outside and a broken, shattered girl-woman on the inside. People were proud of me. Glad to know me. I was the woman who had it all. I spoke at events, travelled the world for one cause or another and was very adept at keeping up the image of a successful, well adjusted woman. But my life had always been a lonely and empty one. Underneath the successful banker/lawyer babe was that fragile and disillusioned young girl who felt that the world had let her down.
Like many overachievers, I have always suffered from low self esteem. For most of my life, I felt like a fraud. I suspected that I didn’t deserve the success people thought I had. Needless to say, I had a real knack for attracting men who fed on my low self esteem. But I had finally reached a depth of despair where I was in a word – tired. I was tired of a demanding career that although high profile, really meant nothing to me. I was tired of relationships with narcissistic and irresponsible men who cared nothing for me. And I was tired of pretending to be this great person when deep down inside I was lonely and unfulfilled.
I had developed insomnia and I was reluctant to take sleeping because of my proclivity towards addictive behavior. I had been up for days and the pressure of all the past mistakes, failed relationships, self abuse, guilt and despair was too heavy to bear. In this vulnerable state and feeling very sorry for myself, it was easy for me to consider just ending it all. I spent that entire sleepless night contemplating suicide. At some point, I promised God that if I made it ‘til morning – I was committing my life to serving God. I made it through and I remember laying on my bedroom floor facedown and giving my life to the Lord. I asked for guidance out of the mess that I’d created.
I was led to resign from my position and from all boards. I gave my ex-husband the Mercedes, the house and everything in it. I moved into a flat. Friends were embarrassed and turned against me, but none of these things mattered to me. I promised the Lord that I wasn’t going to do another thing until I got clear directions from Him as to what and how I was to live my life. He kept his promise and he answered my prayer. I was told to write a practice manual for transformation and then to follow it. I was afraid to do it and I wrestled with this mission for months. What would I say? What was transformation? Would anyone want to read a book written by me? What was going to happen to me during this process? But God had a plan. The book was really a guide for my own healing and transformation. But I resisted because of fear. Fortunately, I couldn’t pray, eat or sleep until I began working on the book. That is the genesis of “From Gifts to Greatness” and the rest is - as they say, “her-story”.
Today, I have an up close and personal relationship with my Creator and that empty space is filled. It could only have been filled by self love and a love of Spirit anyway. Each day is a new adventure in learning to love. I am a wonderful gift to the world and as I’ve grown in love, I have come to accept that writing about my life and my views is not only my right, it is my responsibility.
Today, I can finally look at myself in the mirror and say, “I love you”.
Today, and finally, I mean it.
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