Living Luminously: Interview with Lora DeVore
Lora DeVore’s story is one of not only seeking the light but shining it on others. Subjected to abuse and sex trafficking as a child, DeVore survived only to be illegally institutionalized as a young adult, which she escaped with the help of one determined nurse who worked tirelessly for her release. Now an educator and mental health professional, DeVore works at Prairie Care in Minneapolis, and with the Center for Mind-Body Medicine out of Washington D.C. to help other survivors heal from the trauma that holds them captive. Her autobiography, Darkness Was My Candle: An Odyssey of Survival and Grace, details her incredible journey of moving beyond pain into a place of healing. In sharing her story, DeVore hopes to inspire others to believe in the power of compassion, love, and the resilience of the human spirit.
Your new book, “Darkness Was My Candle,” details the trauma that you endured as a child and young adult. What was the process of writing this memoir-like for you?
It was kind of a serendipitous journey; I actually did not set out to write the book that was being published. At the time I started, I was doing research for a mentor of mine, Deena Metzger. We were going to be taking a trip for a book that she was writing, which was related to some experiments that had been done during the Cold War. As I was doing research for her, I came across the name of Elgin State Hospital, where I had been committed when I was 18 years old. I was horrified to find out that they had been conducting research on patients. It became clear that I needed to write about that experience and others, which was a difficult concept to wrestle with. This has been an ongoing process that has grown and stretched me in unimaginable, wonderful, and at times, challenging ways.
What did your journey of healing look like?
I was in therapy for many years, back when practitioners were just beginning to talk about and understand trauma; we didn’t truly know the best ways to work through it. Therapy was grueling, and it was deep. As trauma resides in the body, I eventually addressed that with different kinds of bodywork, acupuncture, and energy work. I also realized that I need to work through all the false beliefs that formed from trauma, some of which were still residing in me. This realization came to me while I was working with inner-city youth, helping them decipher which beliefs kept them imprisoned versus which were freeing. Our beliefs literally form a reality that becomes our life; when we're traumatized, we end up forming negative beliefs about ourselves. I realized I needed to do the exact exercise I'd created for them with myself, which took me deep into how I still wrestled with self-esteem and how many years I had let this double life. I was a well-respected professional, storyteller, and teacher, yet I still hid my past. I had to really spend some time with that and look at the fact that, we really are not what happened to us; it takes work and persistence, but we can change our destiny.
Where does the title of your book come from?
For years I have had the sense that I've grown the most in times of darkness; I didn't always understand that, and I would rail against it. Someone eventually told me that as humans, we go through periods of expansion and contraction. During contraction, we feel like there's nothing going on, except for this heaviness and darkness. In reality, it is fertile darkness, just like in the spring before plants come up; there's something growing, we just can't see it until it finally blooms. That was a part of where the title came from. I also drew inspiration from the Rumi quote, “...what hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.”
What do you want readers to take away from your book? Even though there's some dark history in the book, I want readers to be inspired; to feel like no matter what the circumstances, healing fully as possible. Additionally, we're going through a period in history in which everything that's been hidden is being revealed, both on a collective and a personal level, I disclosed some things in the book surrounding the dark history of psychiatry, including the pharmaceutical research that was done on me and millions of others, and how it led to being illegally committed to a state hospital when I didn't belong there. The woman who saved my life, Dr. Sydney Krampitz, did so and risked her career because it was the right thing to do. My book is full of stories of people, who I call “angels wearing the face of compassion and human skin,” who repeatedly showed up throughout my life. It doesn't cost us anything to be kind and compassionate to others, and it's desperately needed during these times. A small act of kindness can change the course of an individual’s day or in some cases their life.
What drew you to pursue a career in mental health, considering the trauma that you endured?
Years ago, I was working in education with children who were both deaf and blind. My supervisor noticed that the kids that I worked best with were those with the most difficulties; she encouraged me to go to graduate school, and I somehow found myself in the psychology program. At that point, I thought what had happened to me was some kind of a fluke that seldom happens, or that I was at fault, somehow. In part, I entered the clinical psychology program because I wanted to better understand whether psychiatry and psychology were dark fields, or if there were other ways of working with people. I believed that there was something innately decent and good about that world. I knew that I could help people, and do so in a humane, caring, compassionate way.
What does transformational change within our mental health systems look like to you?
I think it means a lot more prevention. The youth that I worked with were all children of color, had all been homeless and in and out of the system; had they walked into a mental health center, every one of them probably would have received a diagnosis and been put on medication. Within a year of working with that program, most of those kids were thriving. They now go out into schools and teach other kids to stress reduction strategies and how to deal with harmful belief systems; everything centered around prevention.
The term “psychology” once meant “study of the soul.” The term comes from the ancient Greek word “psyche” meaning the mind, soul, or spirit and logos. There was a time when spirituality and mental health were combined; that has fallen away as mental health becomes more and more medicalized. I don't believe that anyone can fully heal from trauma and move into a thriving life unless they are in touch with the inner their inner life of the spirit or soul, Evolution arises through consciousness. Some people may have profound spiritual experiences in the woods; other people when they hear music, or an inspiring talk by a minister. Trauma creates an existential crisis, which is both spiritual and psychological in nature; it can’t be fully healed without both components.
What, if any, changes have you witnessed within the mental healthcare system from the time when you were a young adult until now?
I think that we understand trauma better now, on the whole. There are some mental health systems that are excellent; I work with one in Minneapolis that does an extraordinary job with not just adults, but children and adolescents as well. I also think that there continue to be horrendous places like Elgin State Hospital and the Illinois State Psychiatric Institute, where I was first sent. Eventually, Sydney Krampitz and I went back to Elgin; there are changes that have been made, but in many ways, it's very similar. Too often, practitioners slap a label on someone and they in turn become identified with that label. However, there are now some other amazing ways of healing that have been developing.
So what does living a luminous life mean to you?
There is a stage of healing that we now know as post-traumatic growth. In this stage, we begin to look at the gifts that we've been given through the trauma. For some, like myself, trauma has served as a portal that transformation could occur. For me, I'm in a stage in which there's so much magic in my life. I am committed to a daily practice of living a luminous life; living a life that's loving, kind, and compassionate to others and to myself. It took me a lot of years to get to a point of unconditional self-love, which I work at regularly. The more we do that, it creates this energy of light within and around us; with this, we can truly live through our Essential Self.
For more information on DeVore’s story and work, please visit https://www.loradevore.com.