“True healing of violence begins with our personal story. When we gather the courage to tell our story, we come out of the closet. We break the shackles of shame not only for ourselves, but for the world we live in. This is Freedom. This is Love.”
When I was a young girl I took permanent markers to a piece of torn fabric from my mother’s sewing closet. Deliberately I wrote in bold red letters at the top, “God Loves Felicia.” In a heart below, I wrote my declaration of devotion, “I Love You God.” This was my truth. This was my sanctuary. This was the place of grace and love I lived in for many years until Life happened.
I was born in Hollywood during the 1970s, at a time when the passion of the 60s revolution had burned off, and the drizzle of the lost generation was underway. My father had moved my mother and sister from the windy city of Chicago to Los Angeles before I was born. He had a vision of starting a rock n’ roll band with his hometown’s namesake. Fortunately, his big dream was realized and they became wildly famous. My parents had decided to raise my older sister and I in a sleepy suburb of the San Fernando Valley. Celebrities decorated the neighborhood I grew up in, not ice cream trucks. My nearest neighbor was soul singer Aretha Franklin. In the afternoons, I could hear her sing gospel songs and play the piano.
My childhood was to be a split existence between normalcy and uniqueness. In one world, I was like many other children. I went to school, got good grades, and regularly attended church in my Sunday best. In the other one, I was exposed to all the hedonism of the music business: sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. Of course, Life seemed grand on the outside. Inside however—behind the closed doors that protected my family home—was chaos, the din of addiction, alcoholism, and depression. I was the truth-teller of the family, laser-like in pointing out what I saw. Therefore, the terrible disease of denial was my worst foe. Fear and loneliness mottled my existence, and I could not understand how to make sense of the paradoxical Life I was living in.
Still, the feeling on that piece of fabric, which held my truth of not only who I was, but how I viewed the world, stayed with me. I constructed an altar in my closet so that I could pray to Jesus. I sang the Psalms to improvisational melodies in the backyard when no could hear me. I sat in my family’s church, staring beseechingly at the cross, wondering what it meant for God to be omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient. I also took refuge in the world of creativity as a classical pianist, and by the age of eleven, I was being groomed to concertize around the world. This world of sacredness and peace helped me make sense out of a Life which scared me.
Life continued on and the secret suffering of my family progressed. The violence of addiction continued to run rampant. In order to survive, I internalized the unhealthy dynamics around me, thinking that if I just loved enough, just accepted this more, just kept reaching, everything would be different. By sixteen, I was in trouble. My surroundings were so unbearable that I began to look outside for an escape route. The road I took led me deeper into the fire. I became embroiled in an extremely abusive relationship with someone twenty years my senior. During this period I began to show my first signs of violence. Without a way to cope and a healthy way out Life was becoming too much. I turned on myself and began replicating the addictive cycles—eating disorders, drugs, alcohol—I grew up in. However, at twenty, I mustered up the bravery to break free from the prison of abuse by leaving the man who I now consider to be one of my biggest teachers of nonviolence.
It seemed Life was going to be calmer now. I had extricated myself from a violent situation and was going to college and studying psychology, theater, and music. Instead, my respite was short lived and the bottom began to fall out. The glimmer of addictions I showed in my teen years grew into monsters by my twenties. I was in and out of hospitals after suffering from complications from anorexia nervosa and I was a regular at the nearby emergency room for near fatal overdoses. Life was careening out of control and part of me desperately wanted it to finally stop.
There is an old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” This was true in my case. Life did stop. Just not the way I thought it would. At twenty-five years of age, after touching the veil countless times, I went into a treatment facility for the last time. The well-known quote from the film Shawshank Redemption—“Get busy living or get busy dying”—was on my lips. I was tired of hurting. Tired of hurting myself. I wanted to live. I wanted the child back who knew God loved her, and that wholeheartedly, unabashedly loved God. This was my truth, my sanctuary, the place of grace and love I lived in, and it was time to return home.
The healing took place in slow undulating movements, not all at once. Sometimes it seemed as though I was walking in place and not moving forward. Though regularly attending 12 step meetings and therapy, my main quest was to connect with God again. The God of my childhood was not feeling like my own anymore and this left me cold. It became evident that I was going to need a really big God to heal me from the violence that had been my Life. I began a mission to connect with Source, Spirit, Higher Power. I decided I would not stop until I developed a consistent conscious contact with a God that made sense to me. My relentless pursuit brought me back to the sacred sanctuary of my youth and more. I received an infinite supply of Hope.
I am one of the lucky ones, the blessed ones. Why I survived my Life, to not only live but thrive, is truly grace. I have had a colorful, roller coaster, circus-kind-of-rock n’ roll life that just keeps getting better with age. After healing the family wounds, what I consider one of my biggest successes, I realized my purpose in this life is to give people hope and love. I dedicated my life to peace and to God by becoming an interfaith minister and claiming Love as my religion.
We all have a sacred story. What is yours? Our story of suffering is shared, for we all have experienced violence of some kind. Moreover, our story of healing, forgiveness, joy, and Love is also shared. It is this truth that reminds us that no matter how Life has happened, we need only go home. Home to God. Home to Love.]
By Rev. Felicia Parazaider