Exclusive interview with author "Lora Devore"
Lora DeVore is a writer and catalyst for transformational change for both individuals and systems. Her wisdom comes from the field of psychology, transpersonal development and spiritual psychology. Most importantly, it comes from the inside-out, from facing the darkest aspects of human experience and mining the dark for the treasures that can be found.
In doing so she has not only moved through post-traumatic growth, but beyond as she is transcending all previous limitations to living a Luminous Life.
With an advanced degree in clinical psychology and recognized as a national expert and catalyst for change, Lora is also known as a powerful storyteller. She has witnessed how stories shift consciousness around the world.
Lora is a respected professional - and has experienced trauma that once lay secreted in a dark inner world wrapped in shame, confusion and a ravaged nervous system. She's learned how to navigate in the dark and the light. Lora is a survivor of abuse, sex trafficking, illegal pharmaceutical drug research, and institutional abuse: she can speak for those like her, who have been silenced for decades.
Lora can show those who've experienced trauma the way through the dark. She also speaks as a respected healthcare professional to those who want another way, a more conscious way to see and work with others.
Lora integrates her experience as a psychotherapist and educator in her role at PrairieCare in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and she has been a senior faculty member with the internationally recognized Center for Mind Body Medicine in Washington, D.C. for the past twenty years. Here she share’s more of her story.
Tell us about your new book, Darkness Was My Candle: An Odyssey of Survival and Grace.
My early years were filled with violence, poverty and vulnerability. I spent long evenings in the spell of neon lights outside the military bases of my childhood where my mother picked up men. She sold me to a man for the first time at age 9. I found refuge in the world of language, books, and nature. Throughout my life there have been critical times in which strangers came into my life, like angels with a human face of compassion. Each one taught me that I was valuable and my life could be different than that of my mother.
I was eventually taken away from her at age thirteen and then moved between a number of foster homes. I went to college on several scholarships and grants. I was illegally institutionalized the summer after beginning college. I would not have survived, if not for a courageous nurse who fought for my release. When I first began this book, I searched and then learned from her that Illinois State Psychiatric Institute where I was first held and met her, was conducting experimental drug research. My unwillingness to be compliant and take the prescribed pills led to my commitment to the worst state hospital in the Illinois System. Dr. Sydney Krampitz risked her career to get me out of that court ordered commitment. It took fifteen months. As I began writing my book, together we revisited Elgin State Hospital and conducted archival research. We discovered that throughout the Cold War our nation used thousands of vulnerable, unsuspecting citizens as research subjects: newborns, institutionalized children, African-Americans, Native Americans, prisoners, mental patients, and our own military. Declassified documents name us as “less desirables.” A new sense of urgency for truth telling is emerging. Democracy is under threat and demands examination of the past. Everything is coming up to be looked at on a collective as well as individual level.
I began to see a pattern of the dark history of psychiatry. I was told by a psychiatrist who is a colleague and friend that he hopes that my book can serve as a form of truth and reconciliation for the psychiatric community.
This book is built on the building blocks of survival and grace. In surviving the impossible, I discovered the wellspring from which visions and dreams originate, where soul survival and thriving is fed. It is about the presence of a constant companion of spirit infused into the essence of all of life, always present and always attempting to communicate with me, especially through some of my darkest hours. It’s a story of restoration of spirit, transcendence and the medicinal quality of compassion and love.
How long have you been working on this project?
Reading and writing saved my life as a child. I think parts of my book have been simmering like a slow cooked stew since I was about 12. Three of my short stories that are written about in the book, were first published in magazines over the years. About seven years ago, I intuitively knew that it was time to write a book and found a marvelous mentor in the author and teacher, Deena Metzger. Working on this book began in earnest about five and a half to six years ago.
The book is very personal, did you find it hard to write at times?
Occasionally, but I had done so much healing work prior to writing it that, I felt ready. However, I originally began writing a very different book than the one coming out on April 5, 2022. At that time, it never even occurred to me to write about the state hospital or some of the other darker things I’d experienced. That time in my life had been deeply painful and traumatizing. But that was only a small part of why I wasn’t willing to talk or write about initially. By then, I had experienced years of therapy and other healing modalities and was trauma free.
I was actually at Deena’s doing some research for her, on a book she was writing that summer. Suddenly, the name Elgin State Hospital came up on the screen about research they had been involved in. I was horrified. It stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t until later in the day when Deena and I met for dinner and she asked me how the research was going, I reluctantly told her about what I’d read about the state hospital I had been in. It was then that a profound sense of shame rose to the surface. The shame of course was not mine, but the institutions that had failed and exploited me. Professionally from working with rape victims and women and adolescents who have been trafficked, shame is common feeling that comes whenever we feel defenseless. We automatically blame ourselves. If we can think of some way that we could have done something different to avoid or stop what occurred, we won’t feel as powerless. It was in Deena’s kitchen that the additional healing of that period in my life began. I ‘d had no idea that sense of shame was buried in my unconscious. It became clear over the next several weeks that this parr of my history was an essential piece that needed to be told and fully healed. Following several dreams, I knew that writing this book was a spiritual-soul mandate. I also had every impediment to doing so fall away and the writing, publishing process has moved with ease, with the right doors opening.
You seem to have suffered so much in mental health institutions, yet you went on to pursue a career in mental health. Tell us a bit about this.
I was working with deaf-blind children and my supervisor commented one day that I had very creative and intuitive skills working with the most challenging of the kids. She strongly encouraged, pushed and prodded me to consider going to graduate school in clinical psychology. I decided to take a couple classes that summer and stayed in the program. In part, I wanted to better understand how things had gone so wrong in the psychiatric world, I’d been plunged. It is only by looking backwards, I can now see that being a professional in the field offers me some expertise and credibility. It also helps to make it more likely that the medical schools and other institutions are more likely to be open minded and perhaps curious about my experiences and willing to hear ideas around what needs to change in many of the helping professions. Perhaps, out of honest authentic discussions changes in dysfunctional organizations can begin.
Who are some of your personal heroes?
There are so many and you read about most of them in book but, I mentioned Sydney Krampitz earlier. She was an incredible model of moral courage, determination and enough grit to risk her career for me––because it was the right thing to do.
A neighbor named, Dale was another heroine who was the first and only person who ever told me they loved me as a child. At the time I met her, I felt as though life had no meaning and I didn’t belong here. Here– felt like a foreign, dangerous planet of cruelty. That shifted, as Dale held my sobbing body in her arms as I had to say goodbye. I’d only known her for about a month. As she held me, murmuring that she loved me and wished I was her little girl so she could take me with her, a living, pulsating energy came alive in me, more necessary then food and water. In those moments, I had a spiritual epiphany and knew that I had been born to learn how to love, to learn about giving and it.
There was Dr. Callahan from the local county hospital. He promised to hire me as a nursing assistant and I could live rent free in a little cottage in back of the hospital the summer after graduating from high school. The day I brought him my diploma, there was a graduation cake, balloons and a graduation banner. He’d known I was in a very difficult time in my life when he made that promise. What he didn’t know is that I was homeless the month before graduation and he had thrown me a life line.
What would you tell someone who is struggling in life, who seems to have lost all hope?
There is always hope and if you really can't find it for yourself, be willing to take a risk. Be open to meeting someone who is willing to hold a flashlight out to you as you explore that darkness. Someone who cares and wants to hold your hope for you, like a lantern or candle in a wind tunnel, until you can get it back. Someone who will consistently remind you that there is always hope as long as there is still breath and that you matter and are here for a reason. Be willing to reach out and to ask for help. Stop believing the stories that run around inside your head that tell you that you’re worthless, unworthy and not enough.
Your book is very inspirational, what is the one thing you would want readers to take away from reading it?
That you can change the course of another person’s day or life with a compliment or kind word. Your presence is more important then the quantity of time you might have to give someone. If you’re stressed, learn mind-body, mindfulness tools. Keep a gratitude journal, it is far too easy to get caught up in spiral of negativity. How you talk to yourself truly matters and impacts your emotions and your body.
What can we expect from you next?
To be a luminous presence in the world who inspires others, to create the opportunity for truth and reconciliation to be achieved within the field of psychiatry and psychology. To be a catalyst for conversations that begin to shift self-awareness and consciousness.
And––An earlier book I wrote previously that wasn’t quite finished and I set it down to write this book is ready to be relooked at. It also feels like another book is slowly simmering inside me and hasn’t revealed itself as of yet.
For more information, visit: http://www.loradevore.com