A Messy, Beautiful Healing - Shannon Dalton
Hi! Katie, here! We want to thank Shannon for not only being brave enough to share her story in such an honest & intimate way, but for also allowing us to share it through our blog. We are honored, to put it very simply. Her story is deeply inspiring - it's a true testament to the human spirit. She has given her voice to these issues because she knows that she isn't only telling her story - she's telling the stories of countless other women, just in her own way. Before we posted this, she & I talked about it being way past the point of tip-toeing around these issues. She's just a perfect addition to the Goddessté tribe, & we're proud to count her among our numbers.
We thank her for her vulnerability, her strength, her honesty, & her willingness to stand & fight against these societal monsters. We love her, like whoa! With that, I'll turn it over to her...
My healing journey started 3 years ago when I decided that I would not let one night define the rest of my life. In 2015, while I was deep into the first week of my ideal college dream, I was raped by a boy. If I let myself drop into the space of that memory I can still feel the fear and the shame that my body carried for so long. I tried to cover that pain and forget that night with alcohol and school work and a busy social schedule. When that stopped working, I decided to stop letting myself feel anything at all, and all that was left of my poor, broken heart went numb.
You can live with a numb heart. It’s not very pleasant, you’re like a zombie walking through a crowd, just human enough not to be noticed. I cut off all of my deep friendships and relationships so that I could better hide this scar that had been placed so deep. I saw my friends just enough that they wouldn’t notice my absence and made grades just good enough that my parents wouldn’t become concerned. My body floated through the next two years while my mind, my personality, and my opinions slept because that’s all I could manage at the time. It’s what I had to do to survive. We should be kind and forgiving to ourselves for the people we become when we’re trying to survive.
After a terrifying car accident and an electric encounter with a special soul, I awoke from my floating trance and my heart slowly began to thaw. I was falling in love, and I was feeling more than I’d ever felt. But with my thawing heart came all of the pain and the tidal wave of emotions I’d been hiding, suppressing. It’d been so long since I met these feelings face to face that I’d almost forgotten the power they held over me. The debilitating fear and gut-wrenching shame and the unwavering guilt all grabbed hands and surrounded me as I dropped deep into the darkness their shadows cast. The therapist later labeled this darkness as ‘major depressive disorder’, and the psychiatrist sealed that diagnosis with a little white pill I was to take every morning.
I stumbled through the first few months of the dark. I was traveling through a space I’d never been before in a body that no longer felt like mine. I felt so alone. I remember thinking that it might be easier to drop back into the numbness and to seal my heart back up, but I knew I could never return to that place. My beloved had shown me his whole, beautiful, scarred heart, and I so proudly allowed him to gaze into my soul. It was magic, and it shattered the walls I’d previously built around my heart. This deep connection is what I’d always craved. So with the resolution that my heart would remain open and the realization that this darkness wasn’t going to simply go away, I committed to my healing, to taking my power back, to learning how to love myself again.
Healing is messy. And every healing journey takes its own twists and turns. There is no right way to heal, no plan to follow. My journey included therapy - lots of therapy - to help untangle the mess that the abuser left behind in my mind. My journey brought me tools for healing like journaling and meditation and yoga and being vulnerable and honest that continue to guide me today. I learned, and continue to learn, a little bit about myself and my place in the world each day. With the help of my friends and family and therapists, I began to confront the fears and the misplaced blame and the anger. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was fighting a much bigger battle than the one that waged inside my own body and that I needed more help. And this battle wasn’t just about me. There were so many other women who had the same storyline running through their lives. We needed an army to help us fight this deeply integrated issue. So I started building my army - family, friends, therapists, teachers, allies, survivors. There’s so much relief in knowing that you don’t have to walk this path or fight this fight alone.
A huge part of my healing process was the creation of Virago. Virago is Latin for ‘female warrior’, and it also serves as the name of the non-profit organization I founded in 2017. I had to make something meaningful result from that haunting night, something that would help others who might relate to my unfortunate story. I didn’t exactly know what Virago would evolve into, but I started where I could. Once I stepped into that role of ‘warrior’, I realized that I was more than qualified to join the force I’d been rallying. I made a website, plastered my story on the webpage, and opened my heart to every woman who had an experience similar to mine. I took my voice back, and I finally told my truth. I put words onto the page that I needed and wished for when I was in the darkest parts of my journey. I was determined to use my experiences to help others heal. That originally manifested itself as Virago and is now the thread that holds together my passions and goals.
As I relearned how to interact with the world and how to love and trust, I had to recreate who I wanted to be. I dove so quickly into the healing process that I essentially tore myself, and everything that defined who I was, down to the raw, scared, tender child that was hiding inside. Then I got the remarkable opportunity to build myself back up. Just the way I wanted to be. Slowly and meticulously, carefully considering if each piece of my past aligned with the future I wanted to build for myself. This process was frustrating and hard. It’s really difficult to build something from nothing, and I learned that it’s okay to have rough draft versions of yourself as you work toward that final composition.
So I had a lot of rough drafts. I traveled to Bali and tried my hand at international backpacker. I dropped out of school and worked as a barista and gymnastics coach. I went back to school with an uber-technical mindset. I hopped around Atlanta trying on these different outfits, hoping that one of them would finally feel like me. I hadn’t found it yet, but I kept the little pieces of each draft that felt like home. My soul yearns to travel and collect new experiences, but I also crave a home and desire to share my adventures with those I love. I like guiding others as they move their bodies, but I’m not passionate about gymnastics anymore. I crave more mental stimulation than espresso and muffins, but there are some really special, beautiful people in the service industry who are doing important work with big hearts. I like school and want to finish my degree, but Georgia Tech did not feel like home - I need some balance between science and creative expression.
I had some really great information to utilize as I began building myself up, but that little white pill I mentioned earlier stopped doing it’s job. I felt the darkness closing in once again. Healing doesn’t take a straight line from bad to good. It rises and dives and curves and twists. It’s unpredictable and every direction it moves is normal and okay. I decided to take the summer break to stay with my parents in Louisiana where my intention was to rest, heal, and listen to where I was meant to move next. I allowed my momma and pops and sisters and pups to love on me as I consistently met with my therapist, psychiatrist, and yoga mat and we all put our minds together to figure out how to pull me out of this valley and place me onto the upward path.
I found the path. I was able to get my scholarship back at Alabama, I found an antidepressant that jived with my body chemistry, and I deepened my relationships with my fam and my soul. I had a really solid support system, my body was physiologically balanced, and I had something to take my next step towards. Because of all of the healing work I’d done up to this point, I felt confident that I could return to Alabama and invent a new experience there. Previously, the campus and all of my memories associated with it lived in a dark, bitter corner of my heart, entangled in anger and fear and hate. It was the place where I’d been betrayed and the abuser had been pardoned. It was where my college dream turned into a nightmare I couldn’t wake from. When I visited in the past year, people, places, and sounds triggered painful memories and emotions. But the abuser left, I was so much stronger, and I had a goal fueled by fiery passions. I needed my bachelor’s degree to achieve my dreams, and I could no longer allow the abuser to control the space that was supposed to be mine.
I think my decision to go back to Alabama worried my family a bit. I understand why - but my support system was so strong I had no doubts it could reach across state lines, my determination to reclaim Tuscaloosa and rewrite my story there was unwavering, and my heart had grown so strong and full. I was ready for this.
When I got to Tuscaloosa, I dug my toes deep into the soil, and I prepared to bloom. I created a home for me and my little fam, I found a yoga teaching job where I could connect with and help the community I now call mine, I explored the city with fresh eyes, seeing more beauty than I ever knew that town could hold. I was excited to integrate back into the world of learning, and I carried my heart out in front of me, allowing her to guide and be seen.
My brain stretched and grew, my creativity spun into form on the potter’s wheel, my heart found others to trust and call friend. I was living big and vulnerably, and the good and the bad that came along with that were poignant and intense. I gathered a therapist and a psychiatrist and my lovely yoga mat once again, this time resolving to keep this little trio close as I continued this journey of life. I created new memories and new friends and navigated how to integrate old memories and old friends into this new story I was writing.
As I explored the old feelings that re-emerged and the new feelings that came to play, I remembered Virago. I still had the passion to help others through this healing journey, but I needed to adapt that vision to fit my current goals. I decided to make Virago a platform upon which I can share my heart - all of it - with whoever is willing to take a look. A space where I can share my artwork and my writing and my story with hopes that it might help someone as they walk along their own path. It further evolved into a space where conversation about scary topics like abuse and rape and mental illness started to flow more freely.
Strangers and old friends began to reach out to me for help and support along their journey. I’m not a therapist and I don’t have all of the answers, but I hoped that by sharing my story - how I too had felt what they were feeling AND how I made it to the other side of that feeling - they might gain hope to keep fighting and a reason to continue on.
I grew so much in my first semester back. I learned so much about myself and who I am and who I want to be. I allowed myself to craft the life I’d been searching for for so long. All of the work I’d put in - the rough drafts, the therapy, the tearful introspection, the resilience to wake up and try again - prepared me for this. I had all the tools I needed to create this reality, and I built a foundation so strong that it can handle any stress, any weight.
My dark may not look the same as yours, but they’re cut from the same tapestry and stitched into our lives with the same thread. We all need a little help sometimes until that darkness fades and the light shines again.
May you find your light, build your army, and always continue on.
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