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  • Writer's pictureJohannah Hetherington

Act Two

This is not my victim story. This is my explanation for why I do this work.

In 1989, I started my freshman year at Smith College, one of the most iconic women’s colleges in the US. It was a hot day in late August when I first stepped foot onto the explosively floral campus full of young females filling every Victorian-house dorm room, every chair in every chalk-dusted classroom, every patch of shade beneath the sunlit trees, and I held a blasphemous secret inside me.


I hated women.


It was the betrayal of a woman that led me to Smith. My stepmother forbade my father to pay for his children’s colleges. None of the colleges I’d been accepted to—except Smith—would give me financial aid after he refused to disclose his resources (and, as a surgeon, he had them), so thus I made the journey to Northampton, Massachusetts from my home in Texas. My mother was a social worker and couldn’t afford the tuition alone. I own that I was incredibly blessed to have access to this education, so this is not my pity party that I didn’t get to go to the exclusive college of my choice. I was unjustly lucky to get to go to college at all, and certainly to a New England liberal arts college. But this is a story about why, once upon a time, I wanted nothing to do with a crowded mass of females.


I grew up with women who screamed, all day. Both my mother and stepmother had Borderline Personality Disorder and held unfathomable amounts of rage and jealousy. Women did not love or hold me as a child. They did not read me books at night, comfort me when I cried, or smile when they saw me. I was a burden to the women who gave me toothbrushes to clean the baseboards in their closets, hit me with tree branches and their hands, isolated themselves behind closed bedroom doors for days at a time, shoved my face into piles of dog shit, and told me I was what kept them poor. I remember the day my still-divorced mother said that I frightened off available men who wouldn’t want a woman “with these damn kids” and that she would kill me if she could get away with it. Women hated me. Women were not safe.


Suffice it to say, I didn’t think I was a safe person, either. I became a mother holding the belief that I was destined to poison my children the same way I’d been broken by my maternal figures, and none of the psychiatrists I saw for anti-depressant medication knew that this was why my soul felt dead and my heart was broken. I loved my children so much I ached. I was aware and despondent that I couldn’t truly give or receive love. So, yes, I did hurt my children with what I emotionally did not give them in their early years. They felt my distance, and, in turn, I was a mother that did not offer the unconditionally safe harbor that they so deserved. I was trying to protect them from the me my mothers had told me I was.


Until two women came into my life and saw a different future for me. One was a life coach, the other a medicine guide. Both of these women came to me at a time when I had decided I no longer wanted to live a life without intimacy or the ability to have healthy attachments. I was exhausted from building miles of brick fortress mazes around me. I wanted my children to have a loving, happy, soulful mother. I wanted to see if I could finally bond with my husband and stop pushing him away. I wanted to know how to have friends and not fear angering and being abandoned by them. I wanted to know what joy felt like. I’d never felt it before.


I’d had years of psychotherapy, so I understood it all. But I couldn’t get the fear—of being close to others, taking risks, or having the audacity to no longer hold my mothers’ and father’s misery—to leave my body.


Consciousness-expanding medicine was the catalyst that opened my mind to completely different perceptions of self and others. It was hard, deep, long-term, soul-excavating work, but the bricks crumbled around my heart, and I found a strong, tender, powerful woman inside me, someone who was capable of giving and receiving incredible amounts of love. I felt true happiness and hope for the first time in my life. I gained access to the deepest desires and truths inside me, and it was exhilarating--the self-esteem, self-trust, understanding, and unapologetic desires that emerged. I began to yearn for and move towards a life I felt born to. The life that had been delayed for almost 48 years.


Coaching helped me to take advantage of the portals that had opened in my mind and navigate the world with my new senses. I left the toxic work culture I’d been working in for years. I gently and calmly initiated an amicable divorce from the wrong partner for me. I stopped yelling at my kids and became a much softer mother who stayed close to them, finally holding my hands out with a love I was no longer afraid to feel for them. I was drawn for the first time in my life to healthy women who became my soulmate friends. I fell deeply in love with a man and survived the crushing loss of him with dignity and expedited personal growth. Since then, I've invited self-aware, heartfelt good men into my life who have loved, honored, and helped me to heal the father attachment wound inside me, and I now show up to my relationships as a vibrant, appreciative, steady woman and not a needy, wounded child seeking parental validation. I found my way to understanding and forgiving the women who had hurt me. I discovered I actually love women, and men, and no longer feel threatened by either.


I could not have done any of this without the guide work and support of the women who saw what I was capable of and held me steady through the earthquakes of my determined transformation.


Women nearly destroyed me as a child. And then women held my hands, lifted me to the sky, and helped me to fly to the freedom I now get to have in this last half of my life.


Two years ago, when my ex-husband and I were ready to leave California together and needed to choose a new home without wildfires, something ineffable drew me back to Northampton, Massachusetts. Sean was up for the adventure. I didn’t know exactly why I was choosing to return to New England and certainly not the Pioneer Valley, the place I’d fled after 4 very depressed years at a women’s college where I hadn’t been able to bond with other females.


I believe now I came back for my Act Two to a place of intense feminine energy. I had something to heal and re-do here. I came back to that college student who had been me, alienated from other humans and staring at the ceiling for hours at a time, not knowing who I was or what I wanted. I came back to find her as she exists in any woman whose experiences in this life have convinced them they are unworthy, incapable, broken, sick, trapped, deadened inside.


I came back to find her and hold my hands out to her. To beckon her into a very different life. To help her discover who she truly is, not what she’s been told she is obligated to be for others.


I do this work because I am called to love and support women, as I was loved and supported by women who saved my life.


There are no words to describe my gratitude for this sacred, profound journey and where it has led me, to my soul purpose. I embrace the lost and unsupported women who first hurt me, because they showed me I am unbreakable and fierce. I embrace the wise, loving women who nurtured and supported me, because they showed me I could live with a soft, trusting heart and create an entirely new story of who I am.


Thus, here I am. Fully dedicated to the woman who needs me to see, believe, support, and help her guide herself into the life she wants to live. I'm here.

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