Tonight at around 3am (July 26) is the anniversary of a violent experience that unalterably shaped me and my family of origin for the rest of our lives. Strangely, without my conscious intent, I found myself exploring this event this morning.  Even if my mind forgets, my body remembers, to the day.  How very wise we are, even if we don’t know it.

The excerpt below is from my book, SOUL COMPOST; a story about my life and our resilience when we call on our inner resources to overcome life’s challenges.  This excerpt has physical and sexual violence in it, and I therefore issue a TRIGGER WARNING.  I hope and trust that you will take care of yourself around this.  I’d like to remind you, though, that this writer is the person who lived through the experience, and she is pretty awesome.  Keep that in mind when you feel afraid to confront the violence in the world.  There is hope when we acknowledge and deal with the darkness.

Licia reading at International Womens Day 2013 capitol steps

Licia reading from SOUL COMPOST at International Womens Day 2013 capitol steps

SOUL COMPOST was not an easy book to write, and it isn’t an easy one to read, even though it has a VERY happy ending…but it is written and available to be of help to those of us who have been affected by violence.  It is written with women in mind who want to recover their joy after being victims, but who are bound by the secrecy and shame that surrounds this topic.  The secrecy about sexual abuse/assault and shaming of the victims of these crimes is so, so wrong. It is as perverse as the acts themselves.  It is insanity.  It is a crime.

1 in 3 of us are sexually assaulted…33%! And when we hear another woman tell her story, it can sometimes open the gates for healing.  How many women have written or come to me privately, apologetic and tentative in voice, with their eyes downcast but looking up at me as if they are hoping they have permission to tell their story… how wrong it is that women are made to feel it is wrong to open their mouth, to cry to shriek and scream at the madness!

(I have put the book on special sale today, if you’d like a copy, or want to buy one for a friend who needs support.  It is available in PDF format, as an ebook for Kindle and several other online retailers, and print.  See at the end of the post below for details on ordering.)  

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“A brief one and a half years we lived in Wilmington until my father was transferred to Little Rock, Arkansas. I was 12 and just beginning to feel my power in my life at school. This move pulled me out of my gifted class and placed me, mid-year, in a new middle school in inner-city Little Rock. It was a hard half year adjusting to a new peer group, but I took refuge in my inner life as it was deepening. I became interested in lucid dreaming, religions, empowerment of disenfranchised groups, spiritual matters, and creativity. I began to win awards and recognition for my writing, as well as my art. My teachers reflected what my family could not.

“Little Rock seemed to be in the heat of desegregation; in fact, a legal saga began in 1978 due to a settlement that gave the court oversight over the school district’s desegregation efforts. The racial tension was palpable, much more so than in North Carolina. In school, there were wars between groups of white and black students. I was picked on by some black kids and learned to be as invisible to them as possible.

“My parents chose an unusual house; made of stone quarried from the nearby mountains, it looked somewhat castle like on its hill. It was built in 1923 in what must have been a good neighborhood; however, over the years the neighborhood declined and by the time we bought the house, the inner city had overtaken the grace of the neighborhood. Our property happened to be directly across from low-income housing. When my sister, brother, and I were in the yard, kids from “across the ditch” yelled and threw things at us.

“Being in this location seems an obvious misstep to me as an adult. My parents, however, did not seem to be concerned with the unrest that we encountered, either in school or in our backyard. My thinking is that they were enamored with the grace and charm of the house, and making this decision based on their limited vision, changed our lives forever.

“Here my family experienced a violent reflection of the dark secrets held deeply in my family’s psyche. In July, a scant six months after we moved there, a young African American man high on drugs broke into our house in the middle of the night. Wielding a gun, he grabbed me by my ponytail as I was closest to him and held me in front of him like a shield. He held the gun to my right temple,  using me as his tool to direct my parents, my little sister, and little brother to different rooms in the house. I spoke to him as kindly as I knew how, offering money from my bedroom as he faced my parents, my knees knocking. I distinctly remember calling him “sir” in an attempt to calm him down.

“However, his aim was rape; facing my parents, he held me against him, molesting me with his left hand as he played with the trigger against my right temple. I held his hand tightly to my body as it moved up and down between my budding breasts and my vagina. He said, “Open up” into my ear, and even though I didn’t quite know what he meant, I said, “I can’t.” What I did notice was the oddly familiar feeling of holding this violent man’s hands tightly to me as he explored my private body parts, as if I knew that embracing him, pushing him into my skin, and absorbing his perverted desire, was the one way I would survive the attack.

“At one point the man demanded that my sister, brother, and I lay on the floor of the living room; he stood over us with the gun pointed at us, threatening to kill us. I lay in the center between their bodies, my sister to my left, and brother to my right, putting my arms around their backs. As I waited for the bullet, I felt something that makes me cry to this day. My love for them was so huge, and my desire to protect them so intense, that I felt my heart grow to bursting and what seemed to be wings growing from my arms, shielding their backs. No bullet would be able to get through, I felt; these wings were made of something impermeable. Looking back, this was one of several moments that I recall a feeling of some larger presences with me during the event. While I cannot explain in a logical way, my sense was that I was surrounded with and filled by angelic light, and that I was held in protection even though there was every threat to mine and my family’s safety. For some reason, the attacker decided not to shoot us, and the nightmare continued.

“Finally, he made motion to take me into a private room, away from my family. In the single act of true and appropriate sacrifice that I ever saw, my mother screamed “NO!”, demanding that he take her to a separate room instead of me, where he raped her. The exchange was made, during which the gunman instructed me to hold my father and siblings in a closet in another room. My father whispered to me to leave my station at the closet door and call the police. He said, “He’s shooting blanks.”  I don’t know how I knew they weren’t blanks, but I refused to budge.  I can only imagine what would have happened had I listened to my father instead of my own inner guidance, a move that surely would have raised the ire of the man with the gun..  My father also owned a shotgun, which was in the closet with us; for some reason, he did not pull it out, perhaps he could not find it in the dark confusion.   

My father pushed against me, trying to get out of the closet; I somehow kept him in despite my size and age. As he pushed against me a final time, the gunman was bringing my mother around the corner of the room to put her in the closet, too. He saw my father pushing out of the closet and fired the gun at point blank range. My father ducked back in to the closet as the bullet grazed the doorjamb, about 2 inches above my head. I would have been shot in the head had the gunman been aiming at me instead of my father.

“The man stuffed my mother in the closet with the rest of us and left the house. After several minutes, we came out and the police were called. They arrived shortly, searched the house, and interviewed my parents. My mother stood in the front hall with my father as they spoke to the police, looking broken. I, however, was jubilant. I felt unafraid as I ran around the house, and then corrected by a policeman who wanted to finish searching the house first. The only thing I can feel as I relive this moment in my life is an extraordinary gratitude to be alive, and the awareness that I had, in fact, lived. This turned out to be a kind of initiation for me, a nod to my indigenous awareness of experiencing a profound danger and psychic death, only to be transformed into something stronger and wiser. My parents went to the hospital, and us kids were taken in the back of the police car to an acquaintance of my parents’ for the remainder of the early morning.

“Later that day, I was taken to the police station to identify the man, as my parents apparently could not identify him. I had to stand on a chair to be able to see into the window of the room that held him and the other suspects in the lineup. He was the second from the left, and wearing the same green jeans and dirty white t-shirt from the night before. The man was tried and found guilty; he is still in prison.

“This event speaks to me on so many levels: metaphorical, psychological, historical, and spiritual. The epic nature of this experience as a defining moment in my family history can’t be denied; there is pre-and post-Little Rock when reviewing the family historical narrative.

“From a Jungian point of view, the exposure of the sexual predation and other violence in my family through this man’s actions place it squarely in the realm of revelation of dark complexes. The family unconsciousness was played out in front of us, acting on us in the night from an outside source, right in our home. When, as an adult I shared this with my therapists, they were stunned at the revelatory nature of this event.

“We left Little Rock, our family in shock.  What I remember about the transition between Little Rock and our next home is feeling as if I were in a dream. We flew to Hatteras in a private plane; I remember what I wore, and that my grandmother made a comment that I needed to start wearing a bra. At some point, my parents left us to be with our grandparents, and later we were taken to Charlotte to be with my mother’s parents. I presume my parents were required elsewhere, dealing with legal matters, the sale of the house in Little Rock, and securing a new home for us. Being separated from my parents put me, as eldest, squarely in the position of being the surrogate parent for my sister and brother. I was a terrible surrogate parent, as I had been broken open by events in Little Rock and had not received any kind of help or even an invitation to talk about what happened to me specifically during the incident. Plus, I was 12 years old.”

-Excerpt from SOUL COMPOST – Transforming Adversity into Spiritual Growth, copyright Licia Berry, 2012  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

As I listen to the sides about gun control, I am very clear in where I stand.  To me, the right to bear arms does not trump the right to be alive.  If it comes down to keeping children safe, I feel we ought to sacrifice anything we hold dear, including any “right” or privilege.

How many of us are impacted directly by guns?  How many of us are willing to open our hearts and FEEL the loss of lives of little children, their hopes and dreams and “right” to life cut short in an instant?  Can we truly cut ourselves off from the truth of that loss by closing our hearts against the grief?

No.  The way of the future must include the heart’s voice, the interconnection of all people, the awareness of the sacredness of life.

I wrote some years ago about the movement of larger culture as we birth the next age.  It includes how we will be feeling grief more acutely, and how this will change the world.

Feeling is the New Frontier

Soul Compost Cover Final for web

An intuitive, empathic little girl with a photographic memory growing up in the southern Bible belt has a love affair with God even as she experiences violence, at the hands of her family and the church.  Raising poignant questions about the keen awareness of children, this book details the remarkable journey of an intelligent and intuitively gifted girl who stays alive and connected to her spiritual self through direct experience. As she grows into a woman, she loses her connection as her culture and environment requests of her.  However, through astonishing spiritual experiences and unconditional love, she finds the strength to rekindle her passion for Spirit and reemerge into consciousness, returning to her Light.  With her healing, she is able to move through the stages of victim, survivor  thriver, server, and empowered server.  The choice to make good from her challenges was a decision to “compost” the adversity in her life, growing a thriving, enlivened being full of heart.  With a keen eye of observation and understanding, the author shares an inspiring story of finding her way home to herself and to a growthful, joyous life.  Insightful, moving, and courageous, SOUL COMPOST argues that each of us has the resilience to recover from difficulty and to make beauty out of hardship.    (Memoir, Inspirational – 222 pages)

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