I am a two-time graduate of UNCGreenboro. I hold both a BA and an MEd in Mathematics. I also minored in Dance. I’ve been a high school math teacher for more than 15 years. I was recently awarded the distinction of National Board certification as a teacher of Adolescent/Young Adult mathematics. As I reflected on this achievement, I realized that much of my strength came not from my skills in the classroom, but from my ability to critically analyze what I was doing and write about it clearly.
In February, 2010, I attended a seminar that changed my life. The North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching held a week-long session on Ocracoke Island, NC, entitled “Reading and Writing by the Sea”. I was privileged to be among 18 of the most amazing educators in the state of NC. It was also a distinct honor to be led by such an amazing facilitator who created for us a very safe and open environment to explore our own voices as writers.
This seminar happened to occur at the beginning of Lent. I chose for this year to give up my fear of writing in observance of this holy time. I soon discovered that when I released the fear and got out of my own way, I had much to say. I have been writing nearly daily for about 5 years, but something mystical happened on that little island that week. I rediscovered one of my dreams.
As a child, I was a dancer. I loved to perform and I loved to create. Through my teens and young adulthood, I had many opportunities to choreograph both solo and group routines for contests, pageants, recitals, and musicals. I loved the process of creating – of painting my dances on my dancers. Then life interrupted.
I married and had a child within the first year of marriage. The responsibility of parenthood drew me away from my dream – from my passion of creating. My second child was born and, soon after, I found myself divorced and raising my two boys alone. I gave up on my dream then. I surrendered myself to my life as a mom and math teacher. Noble? Sure. Was I happy? No, not at all. In fact, as time passed, I felt I was losing more and more of me. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I’d look in the mirror and not know the face looking back at me.
Then NCCAT happened – Ocracoke happened. One of the most meaningful moments of that week came when I had the privilege of meeting an amazing lady – Marcy Brenner. Her story (see http://www.deadgirlwalking.net) touched something deep in me, stirring things I’d buried for a very long time.
In Marcy’s song “Dead Girl Walking”, she speaks so honestly about her own battle with cancer. I bought one of her CDs and kept listening to that song over and over again. What I learned about myself from this dear woman is that I had been living with a unique form of “cancer” for about 34 years. My cancer was not one that could be detected by scans or biopsies. My cancer was not one that could be treated with radiation or chemotherapy (well, not exactly). What I had been living with for all these years was a cancer of the soul.
I was sexually molested by a great uncle multiple times over the course of several summers in my pre-pubescent childhood. The abuse only stopped when I reached puberty. That was when my body image issues began. Things were compounded when, in the summer of my 19th year, I was gang raped by a “boyfriend” and five of his friends. I began rapidly gaining weight as the compulsive eating took over my life. I have even gone so far in cycle as to attempt purging my emotional eating binges with regular doses of laxatives.
For many years, I buried all of the guilt and shame of these events and my consequential actions, thus causing the growth of the tumor on my soul. Symptoms were there. People would notice little cracks now and then in the mask I wore to hide the disfiguring pain. Until I couldn’t anymore.
Within two months of my return from Ocracoke and that life-saving seminar, my emotional walls came crashing down. I could no longer maintain my false appearance that all was well. I had thoughts of suicide – of ending my own life so I wouldn’t have to feel the pain or try to hide it any longer. But I kept being drawn back to Marcy’s story and her music. After 4 days of hospitalization and the beginning of intensive psychotherapy and (perhaps) a type of chemotherapy in anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, and sleep medications, I am beginning to get a clearer picture of who I really am…who the woman is behind the mask, behind the layers of weight she’s lived behind for too many years. The woman is an artist with a very deep desire to create.
Marcy says it best in one of her wonderful songs: “Live while you’re alive”. That is my new mantra… I’m tired of going through the motions of life. It’s time for me to live while I’m alive!
Thank you, Marcy, for the wake-up call!