“Instead of saying, ‘I’m damaged, I’m broken, I have trust issues’ say ‘I’m healing, I’m rediscovering myself, I’m starting over.’“ – Horacio Jones
This is the most challenging blog post I’ve ever written. I stand for authenticity and it’s authenticity you’re going to get. I sat down to celebrate in gratitude my opportunity to co-host the Cat & Kaehler show with the amazing Kathy Kaehler. I wanted to talk about how thrilled I am to have a voice… my voice! However, I realized that to not tell the whole story of why I am thrilled to have a voice would be inauthentic. And that I cannot do… no matter how painful it is to open my hearts to the depth of my being. I hope that my story may help you to not feel so alone.
I lost my voice when I was very young. It took me another 54 years to do enough deep, challenging, inner work to excavate myself and acknowledge my voice. Today, I’m opening my heart more so than I’ve ever done before. I wear my heart on my sleeve, not because I believe it’s vital to be real and not hold back, but because it’s who I am. I can’t help it. Being real means being terrifyingly vulnerable and that’s where I find myself today. This past week was a tipping point in my life, a crossroads of sorts that took my life in a new direction. The Cat & Kaehler Show: Fiercely Empowering Women of All Ages Through the Lens of Midlife is the result of a great deal of the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life and that is turning within and looking straight on at the shadow I was carrying on the inside.
It was a hot summer day in July of 1991. I had my newborn daughter in a snuggie, holding her tight while wrestling with a head strong Siberian Husky who needed a walk. Heading outside, it wasn’t long before I felt something wet running down my legs. Looking down, all I saw was a sea of crimson. In shock, I turned around and ran home. Walking up the stairs, blood gushing everywhere, I placed my daughter in her crib, grabbed a towel and placed it between my legs. Picking up the phone, I dialed my mother. My father answered and told me Mom wasn’t home. I told him I was hemorrhaging badly and needed help. Silence. A moment later the phone went dead. My father had hung up on me. My daughter was crying and hungry. Picking her up, I grabbed a fresh towel and laid down on the floor, I opened my shirt to nurse her. I was in shock and unable to process what just happened. I called my husband who was golfing and he would not answer. I was all alone. God, I was so tired of being alone. Miraculously, I heard the front door open. My brother seeing the blood, called upstairs, “Gert, Gert,” a family nickname. Stepping over pools of blood, he grabbed me and the baby and rushed me to the hospital. Thoughts were running through my mind, “What have I done? What have I done?” That was my patterning. It was all my fault.
I grew up in a rageful, alcoholic environment. I haven’t yet had the courage to share some of my darkest moments. I’ve openly shared my pain and some of my struggles in the hopes of touching some of you. One thing I’ve learned, is that when we open up…I mean that terrifying, going deep, opening up….we give permission to others to not feel so alone. We give them the permission they need to share their hearts, their voices and their struggles.
I grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago. My father was an orphan. Abandoned as a young child, he was raised by priests at Mercy Boys Home in Chicago. Back then, when the bell tolled on your 18th birthday, you were set free to find your way in the world. For my father, it was the beginning of a brutal journey. He began to drink and to find comfort in alcohol. He had a brilliant mind and he was one of the hardest working men I’ve ever known. But driven by the ghosts of the past, he was also filled with a deep rage. He was known by my friends as “The Goddamn Dad.” I remember never feeling safe, terrified when that garage door went up and the rage poured out of him. The man who was beloved by his employees entered the door and let loose all of his inner pain. I would hear that door and run and hide. As a young girl, I would spend hours curled up on the upstairs balcony unable to sleep or move, haunted by the memories of what happened to me years before. I learned later that it was called sleep paralysis, a state between wakefulness and sleep where I was trapped inside my body with everything going in slow motion. Trapped with the memories. I was awake yet I was paralyzed. It would last for hours and hours.
I was also hiding a deep, dark secret of my own. My father’s secret. It was an inner pain that consumed me on an unconscious level. I was filled with self hatred. Early in my life, desperate to feel love, I developed perfectionist standards that could never be met at any age. Speaking up became dangerous. My voice left me and I would be 54 years old when I found it again. I needed courage to speak up and speak out for both myself and every other woman out there.
Sexual abuse continues to be a subject that is “taboo” in our culture. Yet, it’s a reality, and a dark one at that. It has a way of permeating one’s being in the most insidious way and fills you with self loathing. I’ve never spoken publicly about what happened to me as a child, as I carried a sense of shame that it was my fault. Sexual abuse is a devastating violation of self. One’s boundaries evaporate in an instant, both physical and energetic. It would take a life’s journey to reconstruct some semblance of boundaries and to resurrect my non existent self esteem. Like so many women, I spent a lifetime apologizing, defending, and quite honestly, pretending with a big smile on my face while I was dying on the inside. How many of us are pretending? How many of us are selling our souls little by little each day by keeping the pain hidden deep within, hiding from ourselves, let alone others. I know what it’s like to live in shame.
This wasn’t the end of the dark times. There were many more. When you’ve been abused, there’s a way of our unconscious taking over and seeking more abuse. I would become withdrawn, painfully shy, unable to speak up and living in almost constant fear and worry. My wedding day was one of the saddest days of my life. I remember turning to my Father, desperate for his love and approval. I asked him, “How do I look, Dad.” He said, “I liked your hair better the other way.” That was it. When it was his turn to give his speech to me, he stood up, took the microphone and then he sat down. Nothing. No words. No love. No approval. My marriage continued that experience. I allowed myself to be subservient and not demand to be a partner. The patterns of abuse in my life continued to repeat themselves until one day I woke up. I made a decision to turn my life around. I headed west and started over. On a deeply spiritual path, I dove into my Masters in Spiritual Psychology and began an intensive inner search to find out what happened and to make sure it never happened again. I came to many realizations about myself and others and I began to understand that what happened to me wasn’t my fault. Most victims of sexual abuse blame themselves. I was done blaming myself. I was done with the vicious cycle of self hatred. I was done carrying the past. I was done period. I was on to a new life and a new beginning – or, so I thought.
After an almost decade search for answers, I found myself diagnosed with a life threatening illness: late stage Lyme Disease. The disease had found it’s way into my brain, and within a month of treatment, I would lay bedridden with seizures for an entire year. A blessing in disguise, Lyme would almost take my life by peeling my weight down to 100 pounds, resulting in my organs shutting down. On 11/11/14, I went through a Near Death Experience like no other. That story remains to be told. Alone with my pain, unable to walk, I had no choice but to turn within. To turn within and to look dead on at the darkness, the shadows and that wounded inner child. I began to heal. Soon after, I would begin this journey and find my voice through the birth of my blog, CatherineGraceO. I was tentative, frightened and unsure, yet my inner resolve was never stronger. Using the force of my will, I would push myself day in and day out as I could feel a new being breaking through. I found my voice and I found my message and I haven’t stopped since.
The launch of Cat & Kaehler is the culmination of a lifetime of overcoming adversity and learning the true meaning of personal empowerment. Combining forces with Kathy Kaehler was a miraculous gift from the Universe. An empowered woman who has overcome her own massive adversity, Kathy is a woman who humbles me each and every day. Her grace, her beauty and her kind nature are only a few facets of her inner beauty. Cat & Kaehler is a voice for women of all ages. Cat & Kaehler is your voice! It’s your show. If you’ve ever had a story in your heart that you’ve been bursting to tell, reach out and let us hear you. It’s time for a sea change and we intend to usher in that change. In the words of the Dalai Lama, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Kath and I are being that change. We are here to show you that midlife is a new beginning. There’s a beauty and authenticity that comes from a wealth of life experience. The gold is in the alchemy. The pearl can’t shine without irritation. The butterfly cannot emerge without a struggle. If you try and help the butterfly, it dies. I spent most of my life desperately waiting to be saved. I realized the true gift was learning to save myself. There is no one to save you but you, and that’s the beauty. That’s the empowerment. It’s designed perfectly – just for you. And, this show is designed for you. Tune into Cat & Kaehler on LA TalkRadio in your browser or phone app or download the podcasts, as we laugh together and we cry together. Let us be your voice and let your voice be heard. As I have finally uncovered my voice, let’s come together and find yours. Cheers Beauties! It’s a beautiful, messy life. Embrace it. Embrace you!
And thank you for hearing my voice.
Very impressive and makes me take a step back and realize how important it is for all of us to have a voice. Just discovered your blog today and joined the fierce 50 Facebook group today as well. I’m so happy to have found this group and to have found someone like you who has let herself shine through past the pain so as a reader I can appreciate what you have to offer. Thank You
Catherine Grace O'Connell
Welcome to the community!
You are so brave to share this Catherine, I admire you greatly for doing so! I can relate in some ways, my dad was an alcoholic and never around much. I did not endure this kind of pain though, so glad you rose above it and are onto better things!
Keep going girl! Cant wait to meet you soon!
Catherine Grace O'Connell
Thank you so much love and grateful we did get to meet!
This is so touching Catherine. It is so wonderful that you can write so well because this is important for others to read. There is so much pain on this earth. I pray you have joy from here on out. You are helping others and that is a gift. I wish you well with all my heart. Peace!
Catherine Grace O'Connell
Thank you! So appreciated.