Lora De’Vore is an incredible role model for grief and rebirth. She is an author, a therapist, an educator, and a catalyst for transformational change for both healthcare individuals & institutions. Her wisdom comes from the inside out, from facing the darkest aspects of human experience and mining the dark for the treasures that can be found. Born into poverty and violence, Lora was prostituted at the age of nine and she suffered unspeakable treatment from those who should have protected her. The impact of this early trauma led to her institutionalization soon after she started college, and an incarceration she would not have survived but for a courageous nurse, who fought for her release. Fifty years later, Lora has had a long career as a successful mental health professional, she is recognized as a leading educator, and she is also a sought-after public speaker.
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- Lora’s spiritual epiphany at the age of 9 when her neighbor told her that she loved her.
- Lora’s attempted suicides and the dark history of psychiatry.
- The angels wearing human skin who helped Lora change the course of her life.
- The wisdom Lora gleaned through the study of psychology, transpersonal development, and spiritual psychology.
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS LORA:
- How can facing the darkest aspects of human experience transform a person from the inside out?
- In what ways does your memoir Darkness Was My Candle promote a shift in consciousness and speak to transformation and redemption?
- Why is cultivating self-love as well as unearthing early beliefs formed at the time of traumatic events, critical to helping us heal?
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Lora De’Vore: Prostituted For The First Time At The Age Of Nine, Suffered Unspeakable Treatment From Those Who Should Have Protected Her, Incarcerated In A Mental Hospital, Attempted Suicide..
I hope this finds each of you well. I’m speaking to you from my studio in West Orange, New Jersey. I’m inspired to have this opportunity to introduce all of you to Lora De’Vore, who is an incredible role model for grief and rebirth. Laura is an author, a therapist, an educator, and a catalyst for transformational change for healthcare individuals and institutions. Her wisdom comes from the fields 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.
Lora’s early childhood was one of extreme vulnerability. She was born into poverty and violence. She was prostituted at the age of nine. She suffered unspeakable treatment from those who should have protected her. The impact of this early trauma led to her institutionalization soon after she started college and incarceration. She would not have survived but for a courageous nurse who fought for her release. Several years later, Lora has had a long career as a successful mental health professional. She is recognized as a leading educator, and she is also a sought-after public speaker.
I’m eager to talk with Lora about the inspiring theme of grief and rebirth in her life and some of the angels wearing human skin, which helped her change the course of her life. The work she now does with traumatized individuals around the world and her remarkable new three-category award-winning memoir titled Darkness Was My Candle: An Odyssey of Survival and Grace.
It traces her life as a survivor of child abuse, sex trafficking, illegal pharmacological drug research, and institutional abuse. Having experienced such horrifying and traumatic events, how did Lora survive, and to what purpose? This is surely going to be an insightful and unforgettable interview with a truly remarkable woman. Hi, Laura. A warm and heartfelt welcome to the show.
Thank you. I’m honored to be here.
It is such a pleasure. You knocked me out. Your whole story is amazing. I can’t wait to share you with everyone.
Let’s start by asking you about this mandate. You had a spiritual mandate which inspired you to write your award-winning book Darkness Was My Candle. Do you want to talk to us first about that mandate?
I was writing a different book, and through a number of circumstances, I heard that I was to write this book as an act of love.
It came into your head like a message.
What happened to me didn’t happen to me. It has happened to thousands of others. My story is a part of our collective shadow. We are in a time in which everything which has been hidden is coming up to be looked at that is around the globe. My story is not only about that. It is also about redemption, grace, and being able to survive the unspeakable.
Before we get into this childhood that you had, which set the stage for what you have been through, you have also had some near-death experiences that resonate with this spiritual mandate. Do you want to briefly tell us a little bit about them?
I had a number of suicide attempts throughout my childhood. I felt like I was born on an alien planet and I couldn’t understand why anyone could want to live here. I will talk a little bit about what began to shift that for me, but that is not the same as a near-death experience. I had a near-death experience that I had a premonition of when I was in France leading a pilgrimage many years ago. It was profound.
I could hear everything that was going on. I could see the monitor and could see that the closer I got through this tunnel of light, the more my SATs and blood pressure went down. As I stepped away from the light, the numbers would go up. I played with it until I stepped far over into the light, and suddenly all the monitors went off. Someone was ripping my gown off of me and starting to do compressions. I had this moment of decision. I thought, “No, it is not my time. I need to stay.” When I made that decision, immediately, I heard the doctor say, “Stop. She is coming back.” They stopped the compressions.
How long ago was this near-death experience?
This was several years ago.
You had another one. Have you had others also?
I had COVID in April 2021. I was in the hospital and was sick. The book wasn’t out yet. I remember thinking, “If this book is meant to touch lives, it will be released, and someone else will deal with it. I don’t have to.” I was tired. It was increasingly hard to breathe.
Were you in the hospital?
I was in the hospital for over a month. One night a doctor came in, and he said, “We are going to have to consciously sedate you and move you to intensive care.” I was in the step-down unit from intensive care because the oxygen was no longer working. I shook my head no. He said, “You are going to have to sign a DNR, Do Not Resuscitate order.” I nod my head and sign. That night I felt like I was hovering in a space between. I don’t remember at that moment consciously deciding, but I know that I did. I also know I didn’t choose to be intubated because I was giving up. I chose that as a way of letting go. There was a way in which I was surrendering to the divine or all that is, and I survived.
That night you came back. You started getting better without having to go into the ICU.
I knew from that moment on I was a different person.
When you felt that you were given these decisions, were there spirit guides or anyone around you, or was your consciousness processing this?
It was primarily my consciousness and there was a lot of brilliant light that was compelling. It is difficult to step back or step away from that light because you feel so at one with it and want to be there. I believe, in the end, it was because my soul knew that I had more to do. I do have more to do.
Let’s begin your story from the beginning. Let’s talk about that ethereal, precious little girl you were and this early childhood you had that was filled with so much vulnerability. It is heartbreaking. Would you like to tell us about that?
I was born to an unwed mother who had a traumatic history herself. I don’t know where my father is, but there was a period in which we lived with my uncle in Northern Wisconsin. He and my mother were living as husband and wife. I called my uncle Daddy.
This was her brother.
Yes. He had come back from World War II traumatized and deranged. He would have flashbacks regularly. He pulled his gun out and told us to duck because there were Japs all around the house. One Thanksgiving day, he shot himself in front of my mother and me. My mother went berserk. He had been very jealous of me and wanted my mother to himself. She went crazy. She beat me and threw me upstairs in the crib. I was still in a crib, but the side rails were down. I had turned three.
There was a raging blizzard outside, and she left the house. My aunt, my mother’s oldest sister, came to the house later that day to find out why we hadn’t shown up for Thanksgiving dinner and found his dead body on the kitchen floor and went halfway up the stairwell to call for my mother and assume that she wasn’t there. They fought all the time.
My Aunt said later that she, at the time, believed my mother and he had fought. She had taken me and left. She called the sheriff. The coroner came and removed the body. She said, “I already checked upstairs.” Nobody checked upstairs. I was in the house for three days by myself. At one point, I got out of the crib because I was hungry. I have no idea how many days had passed at that point, whether it was 1 or 2. I went looking for food and a grownup.
I was able to pull some bread off the table, sat on the floor, and ate it. I went looking for someone and couldn’t find anyone. There was a blizzard roaring outside the windows. I tried to get out the front door. A snowdrift drifted in, and the snow was almost higher than me. I couldn’t shut the door, nor could I get out. It is a good thing I couldn’t get out.
I sat down, started crying, and sucking my thumb. An ethereal presence came to me and told me that I needed to go back up the stairs on my bottom so that I wouldn’t fall and get back into my bed and cover up, and she would be watching over me. I have never forgotten that presence. I believe that it became the foundation of my life.
Can you describe how that presence appeared to you, or was it like a sense?
No, it appeared to me. I used to call her the luminous lady or the lady in gray because it was luminescent. It wasn’t a fully formed person, but it was the shape of a person and it had a voice.
You also had a spiritual epiphany at the age of nine. When your neighbor told you he loved you, was this before or after you were raped as a child also?
My mother sold me to the first man at age nine. An upstairs neighbor named Dale, whom I knew only briefly after I had fallen through a window and my mother had been gone for days. Her husband cleaned it up. She had made cookies, brought me upstairs, and gave me lunch. She invited me to sleep on the couch and gave me a key I still have that I call the Just in Case Key. I never slept there. They only lived there for a few weeks, but she was always kind to me when she saw me.
The day I had to say goodbye to her because she was leaving, I was devastated. I fell apart and started sobbing, saying, “You can’t leave me. I found you. I don’t know any nice adults. You can’t leave.” She pulled me into her arms and cradled me. She was rubbing my back as I was sobbing. She is rocking and holding me. She kept saying, “You are a good girl and I love you. I would take you with me if I could, but you are not mine. I can’t, but I love you so much, and you are lovable.” She kept talking to me. As she talked, something came alive in me. I felt that love is a living thing. I knew with every aspect of my being that the reason we are born is to learn how to receive and give love, and it is all about love.
The other thing that Dale told me is I needed to learn to take better care of myself because my mother was too sick and couldn’t care for me, which gave me the message that what was happening was not my fault. She also made me promise that I would reach out to other people and let them help me and love me as she had. I did all those things.
Many years later. I wrote a short story about Dale and was able to refind her. It turned out she had a fourth-grade education, and she had been considered mentally defective in school. She had not gone all the way through school, but she had this incredible wisdom, and she had never forgotten me. Shortly after I found her, she was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. I got her to a doctor because she had no insurance. She was working as a poor cleaning woman. We never knew anybody else’s story.
I got her to the doctor and got her some assistance. She was in and out of a particular hospital with palliative radiation. I went to see her at one point. I started to weep and said, “Dale, I’m sorry it took me many years to find you. I’m going to miss you so much. We have missed so many years.” She reached across the table and patted my hand, and she said, “Don’t be sorry because you did find me. Now I’m not afraid to die because I did one good thing in my life. Look at you. You are like a ripple that goes out.”
She asked me, if she needed me when she was dying, would I come? I said, “I would come.” One night, I dreamt all night that she was calling me. I called her home the next morning, and she wasn’t there. I called the hospital. She had been in and out of her palliative treatment. The nurse said, “She was actively dying. She was terrified.” I said, “Tell her I heard her calling and I will be there as soon as I can.” I was living far away at that point but I got the next plane. I flew to where she lived. I got there around noon. I got to sit with her until dawn when she finally passed, which was such an amazing gift.
The other thing that was foundational in my life that I want to mention and the cover of my book makes me think of it. This is me at age seven. At that age, I discovered music in churches. I wandered into the Catholic church on a Saturday and the choir was rehearsing. I knew that I had to get as close to the music as possible. Finally, I realized they were up in a choir loft. I went and sat in the stairwell. I knew that something greater than myself that God was raining down on me. I went into a sense of awe and bliss.
After that, I discovered when the Methodists did choir rehearsal, I would make my rounds all week long. My mother couldn’t stand the sight of me. I ran wild. I was feral in the way I was being raised, but that created something for me. I always had this sense of there being something more and something ethereal.
It gave you some structure. Not to go into it a lot, but everyone who has read this blog knows I had this amazing spiritual awakening. When I have been through things, that sustains me also. I always go back to the messages that I got and received. I know there is so much more and it provides such comfort. As if this wasn’t enough, you were also homeless during your senior year in high school and you found an angel.
Do you want to describe the amazing kindness of a doctor at the county hospital who created a bridge so that you could graduate and go to college? You are this feral kid. You are going to churches and doing your thing, but you have a wild upbringing. Now you are homeless while you are in high school. Tell us about that.
My mother prostituted me for the first time at age nine. That continued until I was thirteen. I had a suicide attempt that was serious. The court decided to take me away from her. This was the pre-trial protection year. I was in one placement after another. One after another failed, not because I was a bad kid or did anything wrong. I was like a chameleon. I would be anything anybody wanted me to be so that they would keep me.
The last foster home had failed. The court worker decided she was going to send me back to my mother. I was a senior in high school at the time. The first night I was there, my mother went out that night, and she came home with some man. She lived in a small kitchenette apartment and I was in bed asleep. The next thing, I woke up. He was on top of me and he was raping me. She had sold him to me. She was sitting at the kitchen table watching it.
He had a belly club that had dropped on the floor outside of his pocket. I don’t know if he was a bouncer in a bar, but I picked it up. He had passed out. I was going to bash his head in. I knew if I started, I wouldn’t stop. I would kill my mother. I threw it down and grabbed my clothes. I got dressed in the stairwell and walked around town all night.
In the morning, I went to the drugstore and bought three bottles of Sominex and took them. I climbed under the bushes in a park. Later, a biker found me and called an ambulance. I woke up many days later in the county hospital for basic needs. They make sure you have food and those basic needs met. The highest level begins to open you up to transcendence.
I would call that consciousness or awareness.
Increasingly, as you go through these stages of development, there are more awareness and a shift of consciousness. We can do a whole lot of things and practices to help promote and help that shift happen. There are some amazing spiritual teachers alive in the world. That is a little bit about what transpersonal development of spiritual psychology is. There is also a whole movement. You have probably heard of the word emotional intelligence. There are books written about spiritual intelligence which talk about the same thing. It is about how we continue to evolve as human beings.
It is what this show is about. It is to help people to become conscious, evolve, and heal.
Besides writing this book for those who never had a voice, part of why I wrote this book is to reveal the dark history of psychiatry. A psychiatrist, who is the owner of the publishing company that published my book, said to me that he thought the book could become a form of truth and reconciliation for the psychiatric community. Many of them don’t know that dark history and do not understand how it continues to impact mental health in subtle ways.
You are going to make such a difference on many levels. One of the things you talk about is explaining, from your own experience, how a traumatic event can create an opening to the opportunity to discover a more expanded version of a person, which is what we are talking about and how facing the darkest aspects of human experience can provide treasures that can transform a person from the inside out. We are talking about that, but is there anything you want to add to that as we are talking about that for people?
It is my experience that when we go through trauma, we can choose the hallmarks of post-traumatic stress disorder. I don’t like the word disorder because trauma happens when the nervous system is overwhelmed with too much and it can’t handle it. It is a brilliant system. It is not a disorder. It is something that is right with us that saves us and often creates a sense of distance through dissociation. The impact of the trauma, in some ways, is lessened. The pain is lessened. You feel far away from it, much like you do in a near-death experience. I don’t like the word disorder despite being mental health.
You have dealt with many people like you who have faced these dark aspects of their experience and made it through.
Depending on how we choose to navigate the realm of trauma, symptoms can make a difference in terms of how we recover. I believe that anyone can recover 100%, as I have. I no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder. One of my roles is I work with an organization called The Center for Mind-Body Medicine out of Washington, DC. I have gone to places where angels feared the tread. I have gone to Gaza, other parts of the Middle East, and Haiti after they had the worst earthquake there. I have gone down to Parkland after the shootings. I have watched people move through their trauma like this when they have the right assistance.
It sounds like your next trip should be to Ukraine.
I was asked to be part of the team in Ukraine. Dr. Gordon, the Head of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, has been back and forth through Ukraine many times and has a team of people working with Ukrainians. It’s because of the stuff related to the book and having moved, I had to say, “No, not now. Maybe I will get on board later.”
I’m happy that people are helping them that way.
Trauma can create a portal in which we begin to open to more than who we are. There are certain things that we have to practice while we are recovering from trauma. Some of those things have to do with self-compassion and unconditional self-love, which is one of the hardest things for someone who has been traumatized to do.
What happens if you have been traumatized as a young child? As we are egocentric at that age, we take it in and think all of it is our fault. We have that belief system that continues to hold us hostage and keep the perpetrator taking up bandwidth in our hearts and heads. That has to be healed. Unconditional self-love and self-compassion are essential. As that begins to happen, there is this profound transformation that happens. We step into a bigger yes in our life. Shame is toxic. Trauma survivors often have a lot of shame. You internalize the shame.
I have come to realize that freedom is in my vulnerability. Being vulnerable is great. I have never felt free and completely transparent. I have no shame. I have no more secrets. I can’t tell you how liberating that is. That is also essential for healing. As we do those things, what happens is we let go of the false self we have created to survive. The soulful self becomes closer and can begin with the right techniques, meditations, and assistance to take up full residence.
In many ways, your whole story is about shifting consciousness and transforming. It is amazing. You have transcended all these previous limitations, and you are living a luminous life. What would you like to share with us about your career as a successful mental health professional? We have learned a little bit about that because you have traveled around the world. You are helping people. You are talking a little bit about that too with traumatized individuals around the world. Is there anything else you want to add to that?
It is important that you begin to care for yourself. When we have been traumatized, we want someone else to rescue us. It is wonderful to also have those who are willing to be way showers, mentors, and coaches along the way, but we have to rescue ourselves.
You had to have enough self-love. From hearing your story, one of the things that sustained you were the spiritual heads-up you received. They told you that there was something more and the fact that you were a seeker. That was part of your personality. I can relate to that because I’m a seeker. I went through a lot also but I was always open to trying to help myself, find out, and understand.
The other thing that I have found working with others as well as myself is enormously helpful is practicing gratitude and reaching out to others. We are in this period in which everything that is hidden is coming up to be looked at. There are many people terrified and they don’t know what to do, particularly our youth. By being kind to somebody in the drive-through at Starbucks, I have seen it and been told that I can change the course of a day, and it doesn’t take a lot. We feel good when we give. What happens when we have been traumatized is we often become pretty egocentric for some time because we are turned in on ourselves, but it can be useful to focus on others.
I was working with a client many years ago at PrairieCare where I still do some work. She was depressed. I can’t even tell you. I gave her the assignment. Even if it was one thing that she came up with that she was grateful for each day, she needed to do that and bring that to the group. Before you knew it, it was like a snowball rolling downhill. It was built and she would come in with 20 to 25 things and share it in the group. Her depression went away because the way we talk to ourselves impacts our nervous system and which hormones are going to be secreted, whether it is the feel-good hormones or the hormones that turn on fight and flight or freeze.
The other thing is it is important for trauma survivors to understand how these amazing bodies of our work and we can get in the driver’s seat. We know more about what is under the hood of our cars and pay better attention to the indicator lights on our cars that tell us to get an oil change or get more air in our tires than we pay attention to these bodies, and we do it to our deficit.
We are going until that last closing of our eyes and we have to keep it right. This is our vehicle.
We are energy frequency compressed into a physical vehicle for some time. It is all energy. Quantum physics makes that clear nowadays. The other thing that is important is to work deeply with the idea that what happened to us is what happened to us. It is not who we are. Many people become identified with what happened to them and become over-identified with the diagnosis and they stay stuck.
The other part that bothers me is many people who are victimized sometimes become like the person who victimized them. They take that persona or values on instead of seeking to heal what happened and move into their authentic selves.
That is what happened to my mother. Even when she watched other men she gave me to, she watched them rape me. I remember the first time him raping me in front of her and staring at her face at first, crying and begging her to stop him but looking at her face and seeing that she wasn’t there. She was dissociated and disconnected from her body. She was vacant. Often trauma survivors reenact their trauma in some way and it is unconscious. That is what my mother was doing.
One other quick thing is how we speak to ourselves makes a huge difference. Not only unearthing beliefs that no longer serve us that imprison us are important, unearthing them but changing them. When my book was about to come out, I was freaking out a little bit. I was thinking, “I’m going to feel exposed because I hold nothing back.”
I was looking at the word one day. Dr. Sue Morter, who is one of my teachers, talks about flipping the model. Flipping the model has to do with taking what has been unconscious and when it becomes conscious and changing the language around it. What I did was I looked at the word exposed and I said, “I need a new word.” The word that came to me was revealed.
The sentence I created for myself is, “I choose to reveal myself as a loving presence in every moment and every situation.” Feel the difference in the word exposed versus reveal. One is empowering, and one is disempowering. By talking to myself in that empowering language, I can step into an interview and be myself.
You are revealing your truth.
Pornography was part of my history, I was terrified of video and cameras. All of that has fallen away from how I have talked to myself.
I often tell people when I get that message to be loving and kind to everyone when they pull me out of my car. That meant me, too. That changed a lot of the way I moved through life because I realized I couldn’t draw from myself to be loving and kind to others unless I was nurturing the well of who I was and being loving and kind to myself also. Tell us about your retreats, trainings, workshops, and consultations. Do you have an offer for those who are reading?
I’m still doing some book tour stuff, but I am doing a workshop. I’m doing a workshop here in San Jose, California. It is an all-day workshop. That is going to take people deeply into exploring the underside of trauma as well as looking at love, what love has to do with it, and how we remove the barriers to self-love. I will be doing more workshops as time goes on. That will be posted on my website. I came back from Houston. I’m going to be going back to Houston doing some workshops down there and in some other parts of the country. If people go to my website, which is LoraDeVore.com, and sign up on the website as retreats come out, I can let them know.
They have to travel to one of your retreats.
Not necessarily. I will do some live and Zoom retreats.
What is your offer?
Anyone who has read this blog is welcome to a discount for a retreat of their choice.
Let’s use the code word IRENE, everyone, so Lora will know where you came from. I loved when I was learning about you. You described what you call joy markers. You have a tip for finding joy in life. Tell us about that.
Many years ago, the spiritual teacher I had at a time was a Native American elder named Dhyani Ywahoo who is a 27th-generation lineage holder in the Tsalagi-Cherokee Nation. I was living on her land for a month and doing something called Women in Transformation. We had to write this very thorough bio as an application.
One day, Dhyani looked at me and said, “You have been through much trauma, but I want to hear about your joy markers. They are like pop beads that come apart. I want you to start to gather them.” She asked me to do a timeline. They are looking at those moments of joy from the time you were young. It might have got been getting your first bicycle, loving your kindergarten teacher, having a best friend you never wanted to part with, or meeting your kind neighbor or the third-grade teacher who was a substitute. He helped me learn to read at the end of third grade after everyone had given up on me, or a woman who was the cosmetic clerk at the local drug store who took me to the library and taught me how to get a library card.
All of those were joy markers. Some of the people whom I call angels wearing skin in the face of compassion were all the joy markers I discovered because Dhyani suggested that I do that. I always suggest that we do a timeline. We can write down here this was happening this trauma. Up here, these were these small markers because that is what kept us alive. What happens is trauma takes over the brain. We forget about the rest of that history, and we don’t incorporate it. It is important to incorporate it because it has so much gold. It helps us to remember the joy and kindness of others. It helps us to remember, “This is how I survived.”
It is justifying the reason why it is important for people to heal. If they don’t heal their trauma or whatever has happened to them, they are never going to experience those joy markers.
Everyone came here for a purpose and has something to give, particularly in these times. We have to shed that which no longer serves us and let go of it. Sometimes we do that on a daily basis. Sometimes it goes weeks or months where it is not there. It is an ongoing journey. We have to be kind to ourselves no matter what is coming up and love that aspect of us that might be freaking out at any given time. It doesn’t do any good to beat ourselves up.
There are enough people who are going to do it for us. We have to heal from what they did. We have to be kind to ourselves. How do you know for sure that everyone comes here with a purpose? I believe that, but how do you know that?
My soul knows it. That is the best answer I could give.
In your remarkable memoir, Darkness Was My Candle: An Odyssey of Survival and Grace, you share how your experience has illuminated and validated both the power of love and the strength of the indomitable human spirit that lives within each one of us. Thank you for the incredible role model you are for those who have experienced deep trauma and illuminated that there is a way through the dark. I thank you from my heart for this incredibly inspiring, unforgettable interview.
Here is a loving reminder, everyone, to make sure to follow us and like us on social at @IreneSWeinberg, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. If you are watching here on YouTube, be sure to click subscribe below so you will never miss an episode. As I like to say, to be continued, many blessings, and bye for now.
- Lora De’Vore’s Website
- Lora De’Vore’s book: Darkness Was My Candle: An Odyssey of Survival and Grace