|Painting by Arna Baartz|
I cannot remember exactly when I learned to be ashamed of my femininity and the power that accompanies the feminine; I certainly had a sense of it at age twelve. By 13, my shame and self-hatred were so consuming that I began to harm myself by drinking alcohol, using drugs, and nurturing an eating disorder. Being raised in Ireland in the 1970s – in a Catholic society – ensured that I became afraid of all that I was, and all that I had the potential to be.
Before my self-loathing began to destroy the very essence of my being, there was a time when I had a deep knowing of the divinity that lived and breathed inside me. I did not have the vocabulary to express what it was. It didn’t need to be expressed because it was part of me, just like my eyes, and skin, and hair – and I loved it. What was in me was also in the trees and the ground, in the water and the stars. I saw it in the moon and I felt it in my heart. I was at one with nature and the beauty that surrounded me in my rural home.
I looked to Mother Mary, the Goddess of my Catholic faith, as a comfort during the difficult times and when I was very ill. Mine was a troubled alcoholic home with much unrest and fear. I lay in bed at night talking to Mother Mary to bring peace of some kind. May was her feast month and I would make an altar in her honour, and I placed primroses and bluebells on it that I collected from the woods near my home.
I must have been about eight years old when, one day, we were discussing prayer in class. I told the teacher that I prayed to Mary because she was a woman and she made me feel safe and understood. I heard the snickers from other children echo around the room. I knew they didn’t understand the depth of feeling that I experienced, so it didn’t bother me.
In fact I felt quite privileged to be so connected to something other children my age had no concept of. I loved hearing the story of Mary Magdalene washing Jesus’s feet and I felt a great affinity with her. Although she was presumed a fallen woman, I admired her strength and conviction and I loved Jesus because he showed love and respect for her regardless of her situation. I had a sense that she knew deeper mysteries than were ever expressed in the Bible.
I felt the powerful energy that surged through my female body – my instinct and intuition so sharp I could pick up on a person’s intent in an instant. I kept my distance from those I didn’t like and those who made me feel uneasy. Often, these people held some sort of authoritative position – teachers, priests, always adults – and very rarely other children. These people seemed to be respected, almost worshiped. The Catholic religion infiltrated every aspect of society in Ireland, from politics to education. Its influence, to me, was dark and heavy and oppressive, especially to women.
The words and opinions of these people were listened to intently by society. Nobody questioned them when they wronged or harmed another. I began to distrust my instinct. I was told my feelings were wrong, and my instinct was based on my imagination. These people were important and always right. I was taught that it was me who was wrong and unimportant.
Once, I witnessed a boy being brutally beaten by my teacher, a religious fanatic. My little heart broke and I choked back tears of fear. Because nobody said it was wrong I began to believe that my reaction to such a horror, was indeed, an over-reaction. I was weak for feeling compassion and wanting to help. But this is not what the God of my understanding taught us. He taught love and compassion. He got mad with those who harmed others – didn’t He? Perhaps not. Perhaps I’d gotten it all wrong. Perhaps my feelings of warmth and sacred divinity were my imagination. Perhaps nothing lived in the trees, or the ground, or the stars like I thought.
Later as I developed into a young woman, and began to understand that women and children in my society were treated unjustly, abused and ridiculed, I began to feel mind-numbing fear. Our traditional marriage vows required that you love, honour, and obey your husband. Was I nothing more than a slave? Was this the only option for me as a female? Rage engulfed me as I recognised the injustice surrounding me. Priests were sexually and physically abusing children, and every day, a new story would appear in the news about another unearthing of systematic torture and the cover up by the Vatican.
Everything I had been taught in Catholic schools now presented itself as a lie and the shroud of darkness was beginning to lift in a most spectacular way. People left their traditional Catholic faith (handed down from generation to generation) in their droves. I too fell away and as a teenager I began to fall away from myself also. The feeling that used to burn inside me of safety and knowing died. My heart was troubled from my own abuse and now I didn’t believe in any divinity. There was no safe place. I was nothing and felt nothing.
I was taught that my body, my sexuality, and my beauty were all something to be ashamed of and hidden away. Women were here only to serve men, bear their children, and be used for their pleasure. Everywhere I looked there was violence against the female. I endured violence of all kinds right into my adulthood. I crumbled further into nothingness. For years, I shut myself down and used chemicals to survive. I hurt my body, poisoned it, and gave it to men to do with as they pleased – in hopes of receiving love (or even acceptance) back from them. But there was nothing but further abuse. I was battered and bruised and spat on. I was put in a mental hospital and told that I was insane. I felt like a plastic bag, floating around aimlessly, worthless, and polluting the earth.
When I became pregnant and gave birth to my two children, something stirred in me once more. Despite the chaos all around me, these children ignited that flame of divinity inside me again. I felt them move inside me. I felt alive. I felt fierce and protective. I held them in my arms and fed them from my breast and they awoke me to myself once more. The flame began as a smouldering ember for many years, but it was there nonetheless. I remembered the little me, in the woods, talking to the fairies, barefoot in the river – blissful – divine.
Equally, the shame of my upbringing screamed inside me as I drank and drugged myself into acceptance and conditioning. I must conform or be damned for eternity to hell – to burn in anguish for being dirty, sinful, and shameful. I still lived outside my body and wanted so desperately to return to myself. I remembered Mother Mary; gentle and soft and all loving. I remembered Mary Magdalene overcoming adversity and standing strong and I once again began to recognise that feeling grow inside me from my childhood.
The Divine Principles of intuition, forgiveness, creativity, wisdom, healing, nurturing, and love still lay dormant inside me and I wanted to reawaken them. I began to search for a better way of life for me and my children. It began with ceasing to poison my beautiful body with alcohol and drugs. I then learned how to stop poisoning my mind and heart with self-hatred, and found that first, I must love myself as much as I love my children. I returned to the woods and there I cried out for help to my God and Goddess to make themselves known to me.
|Painting by Arna Baartz|
I struggled to heal myself and my children from the darkness. Most days the struggle almost broke me. But inside my divinity held onto me tight. The Goddess was reawakening stronger and fiercer than I had ever known. I went deeper and deeper to find her through prayer and worship and ritual. I began to speak and write and found myself on a path I’d never expected. Recovery was tough. Many times my body broke down, but inside the Goddess was healing every wound that I possessed. The desire and passion in me to be well was overwhelming.
Today I am still healing and recovering, but I am the best and strongest version of myself I have ever been. Today I know with all my heart and soul, that the little girl in the woods was right all the time. That little girl has now grown into a powerful, exquisite woman and she and her children have grown strong together. Without the re-emergence of the Divine Feminine in my soul, I would have no life, I would barely exist. Today I thrive and conquer and experience bliss once more.
by Nicola O’Hanlon. An excerpt from the upcoming Girl God Anthology, Jesus, Muhammad and the Goddess.
Already an expert on how not to live life Nicola is a constant seeker of new and better ways of being. It is through seeking the Divine Feminine internally that she has been able to recover from the suppression of her own spirit. She is a believer in the power of magic, nature, energy healing, crystals and blames the phases of the moon for her multi personalities. She is Editor-In-Chief of www.iloverecovery.com, a new online publication for people in recovery from addiction and mental health issues, who want to express their own journey through all forms of the Arts. Her own work is widely published in several recovery magazines, including Recovery Today, In Recovery Magazine, AfterPartyChat.com to name but a few. Her passion is to help people discover that wellness starts with self-empowerment.