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L.A. O'Neil : Just When I Thought Nothing Else Could Go Wrong . . .

Just When I Thought Nothing Else Could Go Wrong . . .

On healing spiritually and creatively after a physical assault.

By L.A. O'Neil

Note: The following essay deals with sensitive subject matter. Proceed with care.

On April 21, 1982, I clearly remember telling a friend of mine that for the first time in a very long time, I felt like nothing else could go wrong.

I was raped on April 22, 1982. At 12:55 P.M.

Without going into a bunch of lurid details, I think it's safe to say that April 22, 1982 changed my life forever. In 1980, when I was twenty-six, the docs diagnosed me with breast cancer and I had bilateral mastectomies. Including biopsies and everything that goes with them, I had eight operations in four years and I really felt that I had run the gamut of crummy luck. Uh . . . not so much.

As a victim of sexual assault (that sounds so much more palatable than 'rape'), I can tell you it is something I will never get over. I felt as if my life were a kitchen blender, and all of 'my ingredients' were crushed into something that was no longer identifiable. My physical body melded into my intellectual body, and my spiritual body was nowhere in sight. I was stubborn, though. I refused to admit that there were massive fractures within me; I thought I dealt with the pain and degradation, and that the physical signs were simply a memory. It's probably the Irish in me. I out-and-out refused to believe that I needed help.

Life moved at warp speed. I decided I needed a change and I moved to Colorado without realizing that it was a valiant effort to heal. I knew I needed time to be away from people, as much as I possibly could without compromising my ability to make a living. I lived in a small log cabin with my two dogs and a cat, plus two horses. And I cooked.

Cooking, as I learned when I had breast cancer, was the one thing I could pour my heart and soul into without feeling as if I were giving up a part of myself. Up until April 22, 1982, I was a musician — a singer and pianist; it was that day, though, that I stopped singing and playing the piano. I stopped for thirteen years. Music requires baring one's soul and I wasn't willing to do that. I think it's safe to say that surviving sexual assault took the singin' right out of me. Until 1995.

One fall Sunday morning, I jumped out of bed and announced to my husband that I was going to church. What? Church? He thought I was kidding. I showered, slapped on my make-up and 'dressed up' in my jeans and cowboy boots. Off I went. Somehow, I managed to arrive at the wrong time for the service, which, to this day, I blame on our small-town yellow pages. I waltzed in just in time for communion and many heads turned as I took my turn at the rail. I'd never been to the church before, so I didn't know anyone — I'm certain they looked not because I looked fabulous, but because I dared to arrive in jeans and boots. A sacrilege? I don't think so.

I sat in the last pew, because I didn't want to talk to anyone. Parishioners filed by, dutifully shaking the hand of the minister, and chittin' the chat. I tried not to listen. Or, watch.

Then they were gone. The minister sat down beside me and looked straight ahead, never making eye contact. "Why are you here?" he asked. I kept my eyes on the altar. "I was raped thirteen years ago," I replied. "It occurs to me that I've dealt with it physically and intellectually, but not spiritually. Can you help me?"

"Maybe," he said. "I'll give it a try."

Then he was gone. And I knew it was up to me. I contacted him the next day and I began counseling. I began counseling for two years.

Somewhere along the line in our counseling sessions, I spilled it that I loved to cook. He got a glint in his eye and asked if I would be willing to head up 'small gathering' event that required food. How could I say no? I owed him. I was deemed 'head of the food committee' and it was my responsibility to plan the menu, figure out the logistics of getting the small gathering fed, and make certain the other volunteer parishioners did their part. In our first planning meeting, the conversation raised my antennae and I asked how many people constituted a 'small gathering.' Two hundred and fifty. I gave the minister 'the look' that let him know he owed me! This was a weekend gig, not just a little get together. People from around the country were coming to Faith Alive!

I'd never heard of it.

Finally, after several months of menu planning, the big event was in full swing. There were people I worked with on the food committee and others in the church who hated my guts, and they viewed me as 'a rogue' parishioner — cowboy boots and all. I didn't fit their mold. They didn't like my asking that if the food part 'went south,' what was Plan B? The truth was, I didn't have enough volunteers to commit to making enough food for two hundred and fifty people. When I expressed my concern, the answer was, "God will provide." My question to them was, "Does God cook?" That response didn't really endear me to the food committee, and I cooked everything with one guy as my right hand.

Speeding ahead. It was the end of the first day of Faith Alive! Participants were tired and hungry and you know there's no worse combination — and, I think they expected a run of the mill buffet dinner. Clearly, they didn't know me very well. Everyone filed in to a softly lit banquet room, tables beautifully set with matching tableware. Votive candles added to the ambiance, as did the smell of homemade lasagna. Before long, I was the hit of the party . . . but I just did my job.

Here's the cool part. There were evening festivities planned and everyone adjourned to the chapel. I cleaned up, got bored, and decided to see what all of the fuss was about. I took my place in the third row from the back and listened as they sang songs of faith, joy and spiritual understanding.

Then I started to sing.

Heads turned, wondering where the sound was coming from — a clear, trained and strong sound. It were as if I never took a day off from singing, let alone thirteen years! I'll never forget that following Sunday — an older gentleman was behind me as we slowly made our way to the altar for communion. I heard a voice whisper, "I want to sing with you."

Oh, yes. My faith was very alive. It still is.

© 2010 L.A. O'Neil. All rights reserved.

Article written by L.A. O'Neill for April Jones, who first discovered green smoothies at the recommendation of a close friend and it has developed into a fun hobby teaching others how to get started. More »