Rapunzel, Rapunzel – from “The Barrier Series” on Art and Healing

Rapunzel, Rapunzel © 2012 Bo Mackison

Above all be the heroine in your life, not the victim. ~ Nora Ephron

(This is the fifth post in a series of my story, an intimate exploration of art and healing.)

I was in my mid-thirties, a wife and mother of three children under the age of nine, when I had a spirit breakdown.

Most people including medical professionals diagnosed this as a mental breakdown. But truly, though it was my mind that could no longer carry my burden, I most keenly felt a disconnect from my spirit, from my center, from my being.

For years, I had successfully woven together a life, one that looked similar to the other women in my neighborhood. Married, mother of three, I worked part-time in the physical therapy department at a local nursing home. I led Girl Scout troops, worked in the concession stands at Little league games, organized a co-op playgroup for my two-year old and her friends. I was active in church and school functions.

One day in an early October, I received a jury duty summons in the mail.

Two weeks later, I was in a courtroom, one of thirteen jurors chosen to hear an assault case. The case was a first degree sexual assault case; the victim was a woman my age, married with three children, active in her church and hometown.

The woman testified repeatedly how she was could not recall clear details of her assault, how instead she’d had an out-of-body experience. She said she had floated above her body as two assailants raped her. She had observed the attack in a detached haze. In her dissociative state, she felt no pain, no fear. Even after she returned to her body, after the assailants had run away, she questioned what had truly happened. It was several hours before she went to a hospital and received counseling by a law enforcement/rape crisis team plus the necessary medical examinations.

The testimony about the victim’s dissociation caused a stir amongst the jury members.

Jurors were skeptical. Many of the jury members, especially the men, did not believe her story. They accused her of telling lies to cover her own part in a possible illicit affair. However the women on the jury found her testimony very believable. One woman juror, a recently retired nurse, stated dissociation was a well documented medical phenomenon.

I took part in the jury deliberations, but as I listened, I felt an overwhelming sense of deep unease – a perceived threat from unidentified fear, unexplainable.

After several days of deliberations, the jury found the men guilty. I left the courtroom shaken.

Only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth, and that is not speaking it. ~ Naomi Wolf

During the next six weeks I replayed the woman’s story repeatedly in my head.

Visions of her rape and the testimony about her dissociative experience haunted me. I began to feel less connected to my life. Time became distorted. I struggled to keep up with my typical activities and my children’s schedules. I also began having flashbacks and nightmares.

I wanted to run away, escape. I felt unworthy to be a part of my family.

I imagined myself in a place where no one would know me or have any expectations of me. I imagined hiding in a tall tower, alone with my shame. I wished for a life like the fairy tale character, Rapunzel, alone in her tower – with no contact with people until I could get a grip on my out of control emotions. Then I could be rescued and my life would return to normal.

I desperately wanted to hide in a fairy tale, one with a champion and a happily ever after ending.

During this time, I had glimpses of my truths, yet denial was strong. I wanted to return to the life I knew, yet I had a vague understanding I would never be the woman I’d been only a few months before.

Unsure and frightened, I lived in limbo.

– compiled from journal entries and letters, 1990-91


I am re-posting an 11-part series I first ran in January, 2013 on PTSD, art and healing.  It is my hope that my journey will also inspire others.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.

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