Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A life worth living.. Really?

When I gave my presentation in St. Louis in that standing room only space, I wanted everyone to hear how those in the streets can live a life worth living with a hand up and not a hand out. 
I am sitting at home today and pondering that philosophy. Life is not easy. Of course, it is easier NOT being in the streets, but still... there are days that are so dark that I wonder if I will ever feel light again. There are memories that need to stay buried. Forever. 

The past few days I have been in a funk. Feeling the darkness creeping up on me. Depression is trying to rear its ugly head. Why now? What is going on?

Then it hit me.

When I was in St. Louis and someone asked me how I got out of that room when the guns were pointed at my full belly.. I could not remember. I never have been able to retrieve that memory. Then I started to go through my memory bank and wondered about those other times that are blank. 

I remember being "in a wall" when my body was being brutalized. I could see things happening to me, but I was not there. The body was vacant. Or was it? There was some piece of consciousness in that body. That piece was talking and carrying on to allow me continue to live. 

I am really afraid of the words that are coming out now.. but it seems to make perfect sense. I do not remember the things that happened to me because I was not in my body at the time. Someone else took over. Someone else came to protect the "me" that I was then and am now. 

I remember the days when I was in intensive psychotherapy and that my therapist told me that I had experienced a "merging" that was the day that I had so many memories flood back into one space. That was the day that when I laughed I could feel my 3 year old, and 7 year old and 10 year old and teen and young adult and mom all become one. The laughter joined me to those pieces that I thought were lost forever.

But now.. I wonder. No. I know. There is more that has been buried. I am not ready for those dark memories. I do not want to know what happened to "me" when I left for three days to escape the tortures and brutality that were performed on my kidnapped body. I want to keep the series of events that occurred behind that locked door, locked behind another locked door. 

I think her name is Saqui. I remember having a kitten by that name and loving the way she was so brave and fierce for someone so small. I believe that Saqui took over my body at those times that I had to leave. 

This is a path that I am not ready for. Not now. I do vow to one day shed light on that darkness, to remove its power and exorcise those demons that still are buried deep, deep inside.

But today I will push on and push back on the depression. Now that I know where it is coming from, I can let it go. For today.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Coming out of the closet... or the first time I spoke about my alter ego.

These were all fantastic talks but …
It was DAKINI VERONA, who brought the house down. She shared her personal story about how being homeless when she was young didn't stop her from getting back on her feet and becoming a successful association executive. When you confront homelessness, it's not about where people on the street are, it's where they have come from. Compassion and assistance are gifts we can give back to people who are in this situation through no fault of their own. SupportWorld Homeless Day, October 10, 2011. We'd all like to thank Dakini for a courageous, inspiring, and important talk. That standing ovation was a testament to the immense power held within five well-told minutes.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ignite Session Final Draft Response to Proposal

Here is the link to the YourTube Ignite presentation:

Why am I doing this?
I am preparing to not only let my skeletons out of the closet, 

but to embrace them and let them teach me to dance. I have hidden my past for two long...

What do you think your 'true-calling' is?  
I believe my true calling is to follow my passion to find a way and help others. Whether they are disabled children of Belarus, throw away teens living in the streets or even leading staff to be the best they can.      

What is one interesting thing about yourself that you want to share?  
You can share your interests, hobbies, fascinating travel experiences, education, etc.

I was a teenage runaway that fought for my life in the streets. I am now happily married with a wonderful family and career as a successful association executive with an advanced degree in business management.

In 75 words, please provide a short bio about yourself.  
I have been serving as the Chief of Education of the International Right of Way Association (IRWA), in Gardena, California since 2003. I am currently a DELP scholar, was awarded ASAE’s CAE designation in January of 2011 and received my Master’s in Management in 2009. I reside in Redondo Beach, California with my husband, Jeremiah, my assistance dog Isis and three cats.

Tell us about your IGNITE idea!
Please share your ideas regarding the IGNITE session you would like present at the 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo.

Suggested IGNITE Session Title :  

I was a teenage runaway.   

Ignite Session Description
Describe the session topic and what you intend to cover in your five-minute IGNITE presentation. Please limit your write-up to 100 words.

I am a survivor. My life began as a neglected and abused child in search of love and affection. As a teen I was seduced into the world of the hippies and ran away to become a flower child. However, life went from good, to bad to ugly over the course of nearly five years living in the streets.

The defining moment that changed my life was the result of a bad drug deal. Shotguns were pointed at the belly of a pregnant girl. I was that girl. I not only survived the streets, but was able to turn my life around and eventually became successful in life with a wonderful family and a career association management.  

I hope my story will change the perspective many people have about runaways, teenage homeless as well as to give hope to those that followed a similar path.

Short Session Description
In just 15 words, what would the marketing blurb be to advertise your IGNITE session?

True confessions of a homeless flower child: releasing, learning from and embracing the skeletons in my closet.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ignite Session Draft 1

I need to develop a response to a call for proposals for a presentation at a conference.. this is my first draft of the overview... comments and feedback welcome:

In pursuit of the love I craved but did not receive at home, I ran away from home to become a flower child. I ended up spending most of my teen years either fighting for my life living in the streets or serving time as a ward of the state. By the time I was 18, I had given up hope of a normal life and had resigned to the fact that I would spend the rest of my life as one of those sad faces that no one wants to look at; one of those that call the street their home.

The defining moment in my life was the day I found myself in the middle of a really bad drug deal. It was just another day for the girlfriend of a dealer. I sat on the living floor and watched the transaction go down; suddenly, the front door was violently kicked in. Men in masks were wielding shot guns and demanded money and drugs. The dealers refused; and at that point, the shotguns were aimed at the belly of the pregnant girl. That girl was me. The year was 1973.

Through sheer willpower and determination I was able to overcome insurmountable odds and led a life that was somewhat normal. I got off the streets, went back to school to not only complete my associate degree, but a bachelor’s degree and then even furthered my education with a master’s degree in business.
I have faced many demons on my chosen path but I have a firm belief that it was for all for a higher purpose. My passion is to find others that may be lost on that same path and give them back what the streets have taken from them. Hope.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Coming out of the "other" closet: I have muscular dystrophy and am disabled

The following is an open letter that I sent to my friends, colleagues, staff and other business acquaintances. It was sent in March, 2006 after I was accused of drinking on the job when  my boss noticed I was staggering and had fallen at a work related social event.

Until that day, I did not disclose my disability to anyone at work.

Dear Friends,

On August 17, 1989 my son (who was 16 at the time) and I were diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy called Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy (or FSHD).  You can search on the internet to find out more about  FSHD, and its symptoms.

FSHD is one of the many neuromuscular diseases covered under the umbrella of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA).

FSHD doesn’t shorten life expectancy, and for most people it progresses very slowly, giving you time to prepare for and adjust to changes. Unlike some other forms of muscular dystrophy, this one isn’t threatening to heart and breathing function. In my case, it is affecting my shoulders, neck, back, arms, hips and lower legs.

I trust you all and wanted to tell you my story…..

The first time I noticed anything out of the ordinary was when I was pregnant with my son, when I was 19 years old in 1973. I would be walking down the street and my legs would just give out for no apparent reason. The doctors were unable to find anything wrong. I was a waitress at the time and had to stop working since it affected my ability to work waiting tables. After my son was born, the symptoms abated and I stopped falling. It wasn’t until after the birth of my daughter, nine years later, that my symptoms came back.  I started falling more often, sometimes more than once a week. The doctors still had no clue as to what was going on.

They ran all kinds of tests and determined that my right leg had lost 10% function and my left 5%. They thought it was from over-exercise using weights and pulleys. However, even after time to heal, I never regained the muscle loss. I found that wearing supportive shoes helped me maintain my balance and lessened my falls. I started to wear cowboy boots as they seemed to help me the most.

In 1987 I had an episode which caused a severe rash, and lesions developed on my face. My eyes swelled close and my sinuses became impacted. My immune system was being compromised by an allergic reaction, but the doctors could not figure out what was causing it.

The doctors thought I had Lupus and began running extensive tests. This continued for two years until I was referred to UCLA Neuromuscular Clinic (funded by the Muscular Dystrophy Association – and the Jerry Lewis Telethons) where it was determined the exact nature of my disease. Muscular Dystrophy.
Apparently, my disease was progressing rapidly and the atrophying muscles were releasing proteins into my system causing my liver to malfunction. My immune system all but shut down and my body was in a form of shock, causing an allergic reactions to everything in my environment.

As you can imagine, I was in shock and denial- being diagnosed with an incurable disease has a way of doing that to a person. To further complicate the matter, my health insurance company dropped me, claiming that I must have known I had this disease and did not claim it at the time my insurance was issued. They refused to pay for all the outstanding medical bills which were over $30,000. I decided to fight back and filed suit, which settled out of court three years later.

I didn’t let the disease stop me from any of my plans. It did slow me down a bit, but I persevered. I went through a divorce, finished earning my bachelors degree, and raised a family on my own. I even started and grew a very successful business (property management).

 The disease did not go away and slowly affected me more and more. It wasn’t until 1999 that  I finally decided that I needed the help of the MDA and was fitted for leg braces. 

It was a very difficult decision for me, as I felt that I could no longer deny it. However, after I was fitted for the braces and saw how much they helped me walk I realized  it was the best decision I had made. I regretted that I did not ‘give in’ sooner. With the help of the leg braces I was able to regain stability and found I was falling less and less.

During the next few years I was quite active with MDA and participated in local fundraising and at one point was even on the local broadcast of the telethon. I never let on to my staff or colleagues that I myself was a victim of muscular dystrophy. In fact, I never even told those running the fundraiser, that I had MD.

The braces helped, but as the disease progressed I once again lost stability and began falling. People began to notice that my limp was worsening and that stairs were no longer an option for me. Even street curbs have become a challenge. Staggering was the norm for me and sometimes I would just lose my sense of balance. This was especially true when I am in a period of high stress, or have been ill. These events seem to make the symptoms worsen.

Well here I am again, making a very difficult decision. To “come out of the closet” so to speak, about my disease. Writing this letter has been, again, one of the most difficult decisions for me to do. However, I felt I owed it to myself to not try and deny it any longer.

I do not define myself as having this disease, but it is a part of my everyday life. I cannot just close my eyes and will it away. When I put on my braces every morning I am reminded of my limitations. My physical limitations affect my mobility but in no way do they hinder my performance here as a mother, a loving partner or at work. I have full intension to continue working full time just like every able bodied person.

I feel that the emotional challenges that I have faced with this have made me much stronger. There isn’t anything that I can’t overcome!

Please do not be afraid to ask me any questions about this, as I am very willing to discuss this with you all.



Monday, January 17, 2011

Bands and Concerts and Musicians from 1968-1973

61 Concerts, events, musicians I "kind of" remember.

Pre- Woodstock:
1. Johnny Winter
2. Edgar Winter
3. The Band
4. Van Morrison
5. Sound outs, coffee houses, etc.

Woodstock (the acts remembered):
6. Santana
7. Canned Heat
8. Grateful Dead
9. Mountain
10. Creedence Clearwater Revival
11. Sly & The Family Stone
12. Janis Joplin [ of course]
13. The Who [the windmill arm was awesome]
14. Jefferson Airplane
15. Joe Cocker [love, love, love Joe.. saw him again a few years back 2008 or 09]
16. Country Joe & the Fish [got to see him later as well]
17. Ten Years After
18. The Band [had seen them locally too]
19. Blood Sweat and Tears [saw them several years later as well]
20. Johnny Winter [use to see him perform in coffee houses]
21. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
22. Paul Butterfield Blues Band
23. Sha-Na-Na [never liked them, but saw them twice]
24. Jimi Hendrix [best guitar player… saw several times before his death]

NYC – other
25. Janis Joplin [met on streets, saw in December 69 in concert]
26. Richie Havens [got to meet him backstage, friend of his opening act, was at Carnegie hall]

Met –outside of performance
27. Arlo Guthrie – Eugene Oregon
28. Tim Hardin – his house, Woodstock
29. Art Garfunkle – coffee shop, Woodstock
30. Janis Joplin – St. Mark’s place, NYC
31. Jimi Hendrix – coffee house in Woodstock
32. Richie Havens- back stage at Carnegie hall

Filmore East:
33. Jimi Hendrix
34. Grateful Dead
35. Blood, Sweat and Tears
36. Voices of East Harlem
37. Iron Butterfly
38. Canned Heat
39. Sly & the Family Stone
40. Ike & Tina Turner
41. Santana
42. Sha-Na-Na
43. Procal Harem
44. Edgar Winter
45. Allman Brothers
46. Isaac Hayes
47. Youngbloods
48. Chicago
49. Humble Pie
50. Joe Cocker
51. Big Brother & The Holding Company
52. Moody Blues
53. Credence
54. Jethro Tull

On Road:
55. Emerson, Lake & Palmer

56. 1972 June Rolling Stones

Berkeley Era:
57. 1973 June Led Zeppelin
58. B.B. King
59. Country Joe & Fish
60. Doobie Brothers
61. Asleep at the Wheel

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The day they pointed the shotguns at the pregnant girl. © 2011 Dakini Verona

The day they pointed the shotguns at the pregnant girl © 2011 Dakini Verona

 “Hi, I'm Rebecca. Call me Rebecca, Becca, but never Becky." Funny how those little things stick out in my mind. When I was introduced to my “old man’s” friends that is what I remember. Her name was Rebecca. She had long shiny vibrant red hair, which fell just below her shoulders. She had soft full lips that when stretched into a bright radiant smile revealed teeth that were impeccable. She seemed more like a loving older sister than a hard assed drug dealer.  

I guess that was because she was always kind to me. 

Rebecca’s “old man”, Daniel, was a drug dealer. The typical kind. Not the happy go lucky pot smoking, acid dropping dealer. Oh, no. He was the hard edged, gun toting, tough son-of-a-bitch cocaine dealer.  His clothes were dirty and his long stringy hair was flat and greasy. You know the type, the ones you see in the movies.  I am sure that not many of you have come face to face with this type of a scenario, so I will try to give you as many details as I can, or want to remember.

Outlaw. Part 1. © 2011 Dakini Verona

Outlaw. Part 1. © 2011 Dakini Verona

The first time that I can recall any run-ins with the law was when the local police in the small Upstate New York town of Saugerties would tell us to move along. We weren’t doing anything wrong; we were just a bunch of local school kids hanging out. But the police did not want us to gather. Maybe they thought we would start some kind of trouble, maybe they thought we were conspiring against the local government or maybe they thought we would riot like the rebellious students from Berkeley that they heard about.

We were not that sophisticated, in fact, the people I hung out with barely had a thought bigger than themselves. Small towns tend to breed small thinkers. The only thing we were conspiring to do was to find a way to stay out after curfew. We would be looking for dark corners or alleys where we could just hang out and get high: smoking pot, dropping pills, eating acid. Just your “normal” illegal drug activity; that is, if you consider any drug use normal.  Oh, there was one other thing on the minds’ of the boys: they wanted to see if they could “cop a feel”. Big aspirations, right? Major outlaws? Never.

I found myself gravitating to the nearby Village of Woodstock. Not to break the law, but because the people there were more accepting of those that did not fit into the pigeon holes of the high school cliques. I was one of those that never seemed to fit in. I tried to, believe me. I did a lot of things that I later regretted, thinking it would help gain me acceptance in the tightly knit groups. But as you can probably gather by now, I never was able to really fit in, not in Saugerties. Woodstock was a whole new world that greeted me with open arms.

This was the Pre-Festival days, when the town was not on the map and was invaded on weekends by the successful and even not-so-successful artists and musicians. Woodstock was always a mecca for the hip. It was “The Place”. To the locals, it was known as an “Artist Colony”, which really was just a label to put on a place that had an usually high number of very talented artists and musicians.

Woodstock was known for its laid back atmosphere. Coffee houses were filled with the aroma of freshly brewed espresso. The kind that was so thick you had to dilute it with 8 spoons of sugar. The kind of coffee that “puts hair on your chest”, as my father would say. The coffee served in the commercial coffee houses of today does not for one second resemble that rich liquid.

 It got to a point that the local Woodstock cops all knew me by my first name. They would actually drive up and call to me: ‘“hello Valerie, I see you are ditching school again… you know we will have to call your parents to take you home. Get in the car and let’s go, NOW!”  In fact, it became a routine. Like the typical cat and mouse game. I was the kid, hiding and running from the cops (or pigs as we called them back then).  

~ continued in the book ~