On this Day August 31st

–With love from my heart to yours, Laura

On this day, August 31st, years ago, I got released from solitary confinement. After an entire month in isolation, I received my eyeglasses, my underwear, a pair of khaki pants, a short-sleeved top, my bra to put on my body. Street clothes felt a bit strange after feeling freezing, being naked underneath a thick scratchy hospital gown, not the right word for a garment that seemed far away from a ladies elegant evening gown, or the one Cinderella’s fairy Godmother magically gifted her.

Mysteries in life create opportunities for sleuthing, a persistent hunt for the truth of what happened.

After all these years I’ve solved most of the mystery of what happened to me that landed me in an all-white room with three doors like an eerie episode of “Let’s Make a Deal.” Behind thick white door number, one was the exit to greater freedom. Behind door number two were the leather restraints used on human out-of-control bodies to forcefully constrain them to boards. Behind door number three was the toilet, sink, and shower.

I know I told the truth at church camp about witnessing the rape of my friend and tent mate. I know the next day a man took me on a boat ride in the middle of the lake. He said, “You had a great time at camp. You’ll tell your parents you had a great time at camp. This didn’t happen and even if it did, you’d get your counselor fired. Do you want your counselor to get fired? If that happened, it would be your fault he got fired.” I knew enough from past experiences with large men threatening my tiny self to remain silent or to whisper begging mantras. I did not whisper begging mantras while riding in that boat.

Letters I have read from a box of memorabilia sent from my sister after she cleared our parents’ house in the wake of my mother’s death indicate I got drugged at camp during the chili dinner I ate. Hallucinogens triggered an internal experience of several alternate realities I remember vividly to this day. I saw myself marrying a handsome black minister. I thought I became Barbra Streisand waiting for a rocket ship to fly me to the moon. I thought I’d become some version of Christ about to be crucified on a cross. I experienced a euphoria I had not ever felt, a deep peacefulness and immense bliss with all of life. I was sort of aware of what happened to me on the outside without a thorough understanding of those outer realities. I mostly became consumed by a lively inner world experience.

My witness consciousness showed up for the entire experience. That’s why I can recall so many details after all these years.

Someone walked me to the main office of the church camp after I began hallucinating. I was guided to a bed, encouraged to climb into the bed. Next thing I knew I was riding in the middle seat of my parents’ blue Chevy station wagon as I screamed at my parents to roll up the windows because they were trying to kill me with the smoke, the fumes. The dust from the dirt road leaving church camp got kicked up by the station wagon. A certain paranoia, obviously, kicked in at this juncture.

I did not sleep for several nights and days at my parents’ house. I remember my mother wrestling with me in my own bed. I guess she attempted to restrain me into some sort of sleep through arm and body slapping. I fought her off as best I could.

A strange man with smoker’s bad breath sat with me in the family room of my parents’ house. He asked many questions. I kept telling him he should stop smoking because smoking cigarettes can kill you. I have no idea if these words I thought I said out loud actually got spoken out loud. Again, I have clear recollections of my inner world, one that likely did not “land” in the outer world of these human interactions. I remember laughing and crying, likely talking to myself, maybe even gibberish, even as I thought I was being articulate and eloquent.

I’m certain my adventure on my bicycle onto country roads on a hot summer day became the final straw for my concerned parents. I rode away with a clear internal commitment to my own certain death or escape. When I arrived at a cornfield far from the city limits, I got off my bicycle. I walked my bike deep into the rows of tall corn. I wanted “them” to come get me. Aliens, space people, angels could take me away from this place. I begged them to come get me. Much like the scene in the movie, “Forrest Gump” I became the little girl character, Jenny, begging in a field to be turned into a bird so she could fly, fly away from her sexual molesting father. And to be clear my father never molested me. Other men had, however.

When the angel space people didn’t come, I walked my bicycle back onto the two-lane country road. Then several different people in their cars or pick-up trucks stopped to ask me if I needed a ride. At this point, God, for certain, had my back because I didn’t get into any of those trucks with creepy men. When a family in a station wagon pulled up next to me, the mother seemed quite concerned and incredibly kind. She spoke to me softly. I agreed to the ride. They loaded my bicycle into the back of their station wagon. Her oldest son had crutches because he’d recently broken his leg. I began speaking in Spanish in response to their persistent question about where I lived. Then someone handed me a pen and paper. I wrote down my parents’ address. I believe that’s how they finally figured out how to get me back to my parents’ house.

Soon after my bicycle adventure, my parents packed a bag and drove me to a psychiatric facility. When I arrived, I talked happily to the plants in the reception area of the building where I’d be staying, Stratford Cottage. It wasn’t anything like a cottage.

Because no one in my family ever debriefed these events, I have no idea how they experienced me. Clearly, I lost touch with certain realities. I know my parents made a difficult, yet likely life-saving choice on my behalf. No one talked openly about mental meltdowns in my childhood town. Window blinds got pulled shut tight, like black-out curtains covering over physical, mental, emotional traumas, sexual molestation, heinous abusive behaviors committed by tortured soul adults. Ugly secrets smolder in shame and darkness.

During my years of sleuthing for answers, I came across an article about a mother’s psychotic break with reality in Mothering Magazine. While breastfeeding my infant daughter, I read the essay. Goosebumps of resonance happened as my heart pounded. I gained many clues about what had happened to me. The mother’s account felt incredibly like my fourteen-year-old experience. Because there’s such deep misunderstandings and negative connotations about psychosis, I chose to see my experience as a spiritual awakening, which it also happened to be.

I now know I got dosed with a form of Thorazine while in solitary confinement and throughout my almost three-month hospitalization. I found the piece of paper prescription among the letters in the boxes my sister mailed me. Upon release from the hospital, I no longer ingested any medication. I now know why I locked myself in the downstairs bathroom of my parents’ house while bawling my eyes out with a heart-wracking grief I had not ever experienced. My mother would pound on the door raging at me to pull myself together. I refused. I sat on the lid of the toilet seat wailing loudly. Not titrating off a potent anti-psychotic drug does, in fact, cause some emotional imploding.

I gained weight during my almost 90 days stay in the hospital. The vega-protein and morning donuts diet with no aerobic exercise ended up not being an optimal combination for the athlete in me. The weight gain continued during my return to the halls of my high school. I topped off at 160 lbs. on my five-foot three-inch frame. I couldn’t see my ankle bones or my collar bones. I had a double chin. My mother begrudgingly bought me some new clothes including bras a whole size larger. Bigger me meant fuller boobs. Not something I really wanted.

Understandably, I began a search for a faith community with integrity. My own faith community betrayed me at every turn. Even my minister, after I met privately with him to share my truths about the church camp experience, laughed and said, “Gosh, I guess I won’t eat the chili at that camp.” Oh. My. God.

When people say the worst crime is not being believed, believe them. Not being seen, heard, understood, and believed is the worst crime perpetrated upon children who are enduring heinous abuse or witnessing heinous abuse at the hands of people who are supposed to be their protectors. For this reason and many other reasons, I continue to share my real, lived experiences.

I will not ever understand why my family did not seek family therapy. This became one of my persistent anger-filled requests when more ugly dynamics emerged in my family of origin. I will not ever understand why this period of our life as a family would remain lumpy, bumpy swept under the rug as though it never ever happened.

These events of my life impacted me profoundly. These experiences at the young age of fourteen years old shaped my life, including my fierce search for freedom, for the truth of everything that happened to me as a child, a teenager, and a young woman.

I want to thoroughly understand how a hallucinogenic can trigger a mental meltdown for a young person who has already endured many heinous traumas. I wanted to know with what medicine the staff laced my orange juice. I wasn’t stupid. Once lucid, I knew OJ couldn’t taste that nasty. I wanted to understand why adults cover up crimes committed on young people. I wanted to keep telling my truths even though no one believed me because I trusted I wasn’t the only one enduring heinous events and their impact.

I’m grateful every single day for my vivid DVRs, my recordings of scenes of my life because these vivid recollections allow me deeper understandings, a chance to keep connecting facts to experiences, to form wisdom, compassion, and an awareness no one can steal from me. When you have direct experiences, no one can waft their limiting beliefs onto you or your body’s truths.

I’m grateful to my sister for mailing me the box of memorabilia for I have much evidence for the truths I lived.

Here are additional realities from this events-a man raped a young girl at a church camp and never faced consequences other than maybe thinking he got another notch in a bedpost. A young girl, now a woman today, was raped. If she is still alive, may she have found healing from this heinous experience. She had been too afraid to tell the truth. I hadn’t been. I hope with all my heart she discovered the courage to eventually reveal her truth and begin to heal from that godawful trauma.

May the non-understanding of trauma’s impacts, of mental breaks with reality become deeply understood today, and even more so tomorrow, especially considering decades of research and heart-centered work by people like Dr. Bruce Perry and many others.

I highly recommend the book, What Happened to You by Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey. It’s an accessible read filled with real-life stories of healings, post-traumatic wisdom, hope, and love.

If even one person finds value in the sharing of my experiences, I will know I have done an act of kindness, of courage, and grace in a world of human beings desperately needing compassion, deeper understanding, and wisdom.

You are loved more than you can even imagine. You matter.


Laura Staley
Laura Staley
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura Staley passionately helps people thrive by guiding them to a holistic transformation of space, heart, mind, body, and soul. Laura knows that there’s a relationship between the conditions of our homes or workplaces and the quality of our lives. Trained and certified with the Western School of Feng Shui and seasoned by almost two decades of working with a variety of clients, Laura uses her intuition and expertise to empower her clients to produce remarkable results in their lives. Her trifecta of serving people includes speaking, writing, and compassionate listening. As a columnist, Laura writes personal essays focused on self-discovery, feng shui, emotional health, and transformations from the inside out. Laura is the published author of three books: Live Inspired, Let Go Courageously and Live with Love: Transform Your Life with Feng Shui, and the Cherish Your World Gift Book of 100 Tips to Enhance Your Home and Life. Prior to creating her company, Laura worked as a fulltime parent and an assistant professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University. Her joys in life include laughing with loved ones, dancing, reading, meditating, running, being in nature, and listening to music she loves. She resides in Black Mountain, NC with lovable dog, Layla. Laura is a contributing author to the inspiring book Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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  1. I had no idea what to expect when I began reading this essay. I’m so very sorry that you had to endure all of this with zero support and understanding. I have so much compassion for the young Laura, the young you who still very much exists within you. I say to her, I see you and I believe you. To my friend, the Laura of 2021, thank you for your courage, your unwavering compassion and your willingness to share your story and life lessons. I’m in awe of you.

    • Thank you for speaking to my 14 year old self-Lately, I’ve been having conversations with her regularly. There’s something quite profound about seeing her through eyes of Huge Love-to shower her with compassion-for too long the grown up parts of me mostly shoved her into a closet filled with boxes, fat girl clothes, and I kind of froze her into an silent shame ice sculpture with a Disney like Frozen superpower. Now having done enough growth, healing, evolving with all the other parts of myself I could finally thaw her out-and listen to her fully and completely-and then go through the boxes my sister mailed me–read all those letters she had written during her time in the hospital, the other letters people wrote to her, to her parents, etc. She and I cannot interview my parents. They are dead. Interestingly, my dad’s voice is silent as I sift and re-read some of the letters. There’s no paper trail of my dad-it’s like he disappeared during that time period-at least in the paper trail left behind. And know I’m taking really good care of my 14 year old self. Thank you for your kind words to the 2021 me. I appreciate your love and support more than you may ever know. Thank you, Carol. Much love to you.

  2. Laura Staley. You are one of the bravest women I’ve ever come in contact with. And not only are you brave, you are compassionate, intelligent, warm, inviting, and powerful. Reading your words – I just want to go find the 14 year old Laura and give her a hug and a safe place to talk.

    I believe you. I see you. And I am astonished by your unfathomable resilience. And not resilience in the way that you simply keep getting back up. But resilience in the way that you open yourself up to learn and grow from your tattered and stunted roots.

    Thank you for being open. Thank you for being brave. Thank you for being a part of my life. And thank you for being you. I love you just for that. For your ability to be yourself. No matter what.

    • Oh, JoAnna, you have no idea-well, hopefully you have many ideas of how much your kind, supportive words mean to both my 14 year old self and 2021 Laura self. And trust me, she’d fill you with an earful and would absolutely welcome a hug from you. Oh, the stories she could tell you of the camp experience, the summer prior to the camp experience, the days in the “bin” with her “bin mates.” Probably could write a book or screenplay with all that content. Thank you for seeing me, believing me, for honoring the resilience, an unrelenting rising from all the shattering and tattering-seemingly chronic and constant. I had an astrologer a couple years ago let me know that I was born into a lifetime “mercury in retrograde” which made me laugh so hard. The good news about this is I focused on cultivating deep introspection, the inner fly on the wall -now Inner Quiet Charlotte-the audacity to survive and thrive amid the crazy inside my parents’ house and outside of my parents’ house. As so many of us who LIVE through serious tough sh*&, we figure out what brings us JOY and then KNOW in our bones what gets us out of bed in the morning. Every “boring” day I live here in the mountains never feels boring, but rather a rich, delicious gift of scrumptious stability amid the utter chaos of what was my past life. Thank you for being you. Thank you for your encouragement. Thank you for being part of my life. Thank you for being YOU-unapologetically You. I love you too. And yes, no matter what I love, accept, and will be myself-everyone else is taken–even those delightful fictional characters! (like Wonder Woman and Mary Poppins) LOL. Hugs and much love to you, JoAnna. THANK YOU!!! Post traumatic Wisdom is REAL!!!

    • I’m honestly stunned to have just read your story published by Dennis “There’s No Room Service in the Psych Ward” -to realize, once again, these similar/different -soul sister stories we share-I appreciate your words, your courage in finding your voice more than you may ever realize. Thank you for your affirming words-especially I. Believe. You. because I noticed as this story got published a tiny part of me got scared-people won’t believe me… When you are constantly told, “No one will believe you.” or some version of this-you begin to believe that no one will believe you- Speaking truth to lies takes great courage. Much love to you, my friend.

    • Thank you, Carol. I remain incredibly grateful for your love and support, your friendship. Growing in our ability and capacity to love, accept ourselves-and all that happened- can be some of the richest and most rewarding work of all.