Moral Inventory Interview with Rachel K Larsen

portia louder holding her book

This interview is from a woman who posted something on social media, and I happened to see it. Portia felt like she was just a regular gal as a wife and working mother then her life took an incredibly difficult turn and she ended up in prison. Since she’s been out, I have seen a few of her posts on social media and every single one of them really makes me think!  This post was of a time Portia was inspired to take a moral inventory of her life and really look at how her words, actions, behaviors, and choices had impacted others throughout her life. This is a very difficult exercise to do. It takes a lot of courage. It takes a lot of patience. It takes a lot of energy, and I was inspired by her experience.

I had to track her down and she graciously agreed to talk to us about some of her experiences in self-examination. So welcome to the season finale of humans dealing with humans, moral inventory.  We are on the phone this morning with Portia. Hi Portia, thank you so much for taking the time with us today. 

Thank you for inviting me, I’m excited to be here!

Portia, has one of those intense journey stories, where your life has taken a lot of different twists and turns, and you’ve had to take a good look at everything, right? All your motivations, your choices, all of the outcomes, and really decide not only how your choices have impacted yourself and others, but what choices you can make for the future. 

That is true, yes. I don’t think I had to, but I chose to, and it changed everything.

That makes a huge difference. Portia, tell us a little bit about what you have been talking about with a moral inventory, and let’s talk a little bit about your story. Tell us how you even came to have a moral inventory in the first place.

I have struggled with addiction, so the moral inventory was something I was familiar with. But when I found out that I was going to be going to federal prison for a real estate charge, I was looking for a way to change my life, it was painful, the experience of being separated from my family was so painful.  I felt imprisoned. I probably felt imprisoned before I went to prison by the choices I made, partly because I wasn’t willing to take an honest look at where I was. I can look back now at my life and see that I spent years in denial and that really hurt me. That’s something I never want to do again. When I got to prison and I felt more imprisoned, I started looking for a way out. At first, I was hoping an appeal would go though. I was looking for a way to physically leave prison. In time I realized that I wasn’t going to get out, but I could free myself while I was in prison. The pain of separation and the lack of distraction when you’re in prison can be intense. It’s hard to get real with yourself.

Yeah. You just have all the time in the world.

You really do. It’s not uncommon to be in prison and feel like, “the government did me dirty. There are so many other people that got away with worse things and it’s not fair!” And maybe there is some things about your case that weren’t completely fair. But the problem with focusing on that is that the only way out is total responsibility for your choices.  But I didn’t know that in the beginning.

Can we talk about that for a second?  None of us ever really know that in the beginning because pain automatically ignites that defense mechanism. Ironically, we look for ways to get quickly out of the pain, and the quickest way to get out of the pain is to have it be someone else’s responsibility.

It’s so true. Yeah. I hadn’t thought about it that way. So true!

It’s natural to feel those things. And, when you get stuck in that, then you don’t ever make progress, but you know, when you are finally able to look past it or get past it, and stop looking at somebody else to blame, it is very empowering.  So, tell us a little bit more about what kind of addiction you were talking about? What kind of things were you blinded to that ended with you going to prison? Because I’m assuming it was something that you were just kind of skating through and thinking this isn’t that bad, until it became something that was bad.

Well, I was using prescription drugs.

Oh, that’s so common. It’s so common.

Most people who are addicted think they aren’t that bad. They aren’t street drugs! But they really are the same thing, same substances. A friend recently told me that he thought he was doing good when he was living in his car because he wasn’t sleeping in a dumpster. Denial is such a scary place.

Drugs really distorted my judgement and numbed me out. I personally found ways to justify it because it was a prescription. I’m not buying it from the streets you know, but it really disconnected me from life and the people I love. I quit dreaming about my future.  I look back now and realize that I was just surviving, and I had quit progressing. I was actually digging a sizable hole for myself.  I was numbing my pain, but I was also numbing my future and my hope.  I lost so much! I started out using, and then I got involved in some risky, real estate deals.  I wasn’t a real estate agent I was an investor.  I was using a lot of pills and then I just kept using them.

I had two children really close together, and I had a photography business that was very demanding, and I didn’t see how I could survive, you know, without taking the pills to keep going.  I remember thinking, “The way out is the real estate market!” it’s booming, and if I could just get involved it would solve my problems. Other people are doing it.” but none of that was based on a foundation of integrity. And none of it was based on living a balanced and happy life. At that point I should have done an inventory of what I valued most? What do I want my long-term life to look like? You know, what is my long-term goal? None of that was factored in, for me, it was just, “I’ve got to get out of this situation, so I’ll do real estate. Then I’ll make enough money to pay off my house and I won’t have to be gone so much.” It just didn’t work. 

Real estate in of itself is not necessarily shady, so when you’re talking about shady deals, that would end in a prison sentence, what led you down that road?

At first, I was just buying and flipping lots. And then I got involved in what’s called an equity deal, which means that I would buy a house and borrow more money than the house is worth. Then I would invest that money in a different venture that would help pay for the house. I totally remember the first time someone showed me one of those deals thinking, “I would never do that. Who would ever borrow more than a house is worth, who would go into debt like that? How can that be right if the appraisal says this, but you can only sell it for that.” There was just a discrepancy between what the real value of the house was, what the appraisal was, and what the bank was willing to lend. And everybody was complicit. I mean, banks were, and there were a variety of people that were complicit in that, and it was wrong. At a certain point, I justified it, and got involved in them. So that’s what happened.

Well, I think it’s also worth mentioning that when you have a lot of parties that are complicit, it makes it feel a lot less shady. 

Right, and that was my justification. 

Sometimes the justification comes with, if there’s a lot of other people doing this with me, then it’s not necessarily the honesty or the ethics of the thing that we’re talking about, now it’s the risk. And if they’re willing to risk and I’m willing to risk, then it kind of takes the ethics out of the question. 

Right, but when I went back and really evaluated and looked at my own integrity, because that was the only way out for me, I could not focus on what anyone else did. I had to look at just me to free myself. I totally found where my integrity lacked, and where I had made dishonest choices. And those are things I deeply regret. I mean, not just me, but friends and family were looking up to me too, and I’m very persuasive, so it was just painful to look at that. It really was, but it was what I needed to do.

But I think you bring out a really important point. In any kind of moral inventory, our brains are actually made to justify, like we have very efficient methods of doing that to make ourselves feel comfortable in order to just move forward. We naturally justify certain actions, especially when you’re talking about cooperating in a more than just you, business deal. But the most important point is, when you have to evaluate your impact, you have to only look at your choice, and you cannot factor in anyone else’s motivations, anyone else’s choices, because you don’t know all the details, but you do know all the details about yours.

Yes, and the power in your life will come by owning your part.  I didn’t know that, I mean, it’s so interesting. I was considered white collar, but I went to a higher security institution for a variety of reasons.  And that’s okay, I’m grateful I did. There were benefits. There were a lot of people that were in on a drug charge or other types of charges. A lot of poor people. It was diverse, a lot of people from different cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. But there were also a few of us that were white collar and we gravitated to the education department. We kind of hung out together, and it seemed like we had a harder time taking full responsibility for our choices. We lost so much!  One of my good friends was a doctor, and she lost her medical license on a contract violation. It was too hard and painful to take full ownership. But for me, as somebody who was in for a money crime, or a white-collar crime, I’m looking around at these other women and saying, “Here’s these brilliant women, that are so smart, and have so much to teach me, but they can’t seem to move past their mistakes. They’re not finding freedom. They’re not taking full ownership.” And I found other people who were willing to own their mistakes, who came from such difficult circumstances. We’ll talk a little bit more about that later. One of my friends that came in on a drug charge, just owned it right away. She said, “I did the crime. I knew I was coming to prison. That’s what happens when you make these kinds of choices.” Her parents were heroin addicts her whole life, and she had been taught the criminal lifestyle by them. She fully accepted that it was her own doing that brought her to prison.  I wanted that power in my life, I wanted to move past where I was; but I had all these smart friends that weren’t doing it.  I’m looking around going, I know the inventory’s the way, but I can’t do it, it’s too hard.  It wasn’t until I saw somebody else do it so fully and saw the power that came into her life because of it, that I knew it was my way out.

Yes, okay. I want to talk about that, I would like to hear her story. It just hit me while you were speaking, you know, as a human being, we dream a lot about the future; we have hopes and aspirations and wishes. “I wish this would happen, or I really hope I can do this.” As a child we are so idealistic, you know, we still believe that the possibilities are wide open to us. The more we experience the narrower that lens can become. When you were talking about your drug use, that kind of assisted in the quit dreaming process, I thought, one of the ways you can really understand your power as a human, that all possibilities are available to you, is by accepting all of the choices that you’ve made. As soon as you accept those choices and their impact, then you have the freedom to make better choices and to be completely freed from anyone else’s actions or behaviors; nothing that you want to have in your future is dependent on anyone else’s behavior.

You just said that so beautifully and so powerfully, and it’s exactly the truth! That’s what I was looking for. And once I saw it, I knew what to do. I was in a world that is separated from the outside, and we’re doing the same thing every single day. We were kind of frozen in time. I recognized that I had that time to rewrite my future, but I couldn’t see my way out of the hole. I felt stuck!  And that’s why it was so important for me. I had used drugs and I had lost myself in that, then I got locked up, and felt so hopeless, and angry. But something inside me felt like there was a way that I could free myself and it wouldn’t be prison to me anymore. And it really did happen that way. Once I was able to own one hundred percent, that I made all the decisions that got me there; every single step of the way I had chosen either how I responded to something, or what I did to somebody, or the thoughts that I had. When I was able to own all of those things, I had total power to change all of it and have a different future. That’s the beauty of it; but it hurt!  All of my life I thought, “You’ve got to convince everyone what a good person you are.” And the reality of that was that the things I had done wrong had so much power over me. As soon as I put them down on paper, I released them and let them go. They had no power over me anymore. And I had that power back in my life. I was a victim to nobody, nothing, not the government, nothing. I had total freedom to create my future. It’s just how it works. It’s crazy, and it’s amazing!

It is crazy. When you say, “I’m a victim to no one.” that statement right there, it takes a lot. It takes a lot of courage. It takes a lot of effort. Oh my gosh, so much energy!  Because it’s painful and you cannot skip the steps of the pain. You can’t just say, okay, I’m not a victim anymore. And that it’s all going to be empowering and beautiful. That is just not the process. Tell us a little bit about the person that inspired you to do that.

I’ll tell you a little bit about her, and then my journey. It was painful, and it was also beautiful. I still had a little bit of stubbornness in me when I got to prison. I thought: “why would I want to listen to the government? They were the ones that brought me to prison.”

I was offered a treatment program while I was in prison. And I’m thinking, “What government run treatment program could help me!” But they did offer me a year off my sentence, so of course I did go ahead and do the program.

it’s not an easy program, you move into a new unit and that’s scary. But I learned amazing things. It was daunting though. You’re holding each other accountable, and you’re holding yourself accountable. You’re in treatment constantly, and it’s just tough. You live with the people you’re holding accountable, so when the therapists leave after there’s been a big conflict, you have to sleep with one eye open because you don’t know who’s mad at you, and you get paranoid.

I was so devastated when I first got to prison.  I set a goal that guided me and I’m so grateful for it. I set a goal to leave prison an amazing person. In the end I found out how amazing everyone else in prison was and that was the coolest part; but becoming an amazing person was something to hold onto. I decided to get up early every day and read good books, I was studying my scriptures, I was praying, and I was doing what I could to serve others. I wrote different curriculums for classes, and I was trying to find meaning in in my experience. But it was challenging because I hadn’t found my way to freedom. I spent two years trying to improve myself and I made some progress, but I still felt quite imprisoned. I went into the treatment program and right away a woman came in that was beautiful and very broken. She had a beautiful smile, but she carried so much sadness in her eyes, like real sadness!  Every time I saw her, I wondered what her story was? I thought, “What happened to this woman that is causing her so much pain?”

Within a couple of weeks of being there, the woman tried to take her own life. She went into the shower and used a razor to cut herself. It was very traumatic for all of us! Officers came and took her to medical and psychology.  I was surprised, but after a few weeks they brought her back to the treatment program. From that day on she sat very quietly in the back of the room. Then one day she got up with about 70 of us in the room and said, “I am here because I have done terrible things to everyone I love. I hurt my children, I hurt my husband. I lied, and I wasn’t courageous enough to admit my mistakes. That’s why I’m here. She said,” I would like to read a list of the things I’ve done to hurt people.”

We all just sat there in shock! She had categories of the things she did to her children. It was in great detail. She didn’t skip over it. She wanted to own it!  I did drugs and this happened, and then I lied about it. I tried to make myself look better by doing this, and I wouldn’t admit it even when my husband knew. We were divorced because of me, not him. Some things happened to me when I was a kid, but instead of taking responsibility for my own choices, I used it as an excuse, and I hurt people. It was layers and layers of truth!

It was a 20-to-30-minute admission, and we just sat there in total silence. There was stillness and power in the room that felt profound. Up to that point, it felt like we were barely skimming the surface in treatment, and she just dove right in. Even the therapist sat there stunned. When she got done, she was silent and stood there and looked at us. No one could say a word because it was so powerful. The therapist said, “I only have one question, what would make you care so much about your recovery that you would stand here today and be so honest?” The woman said, “I don’t know if it will work, but I’ve tried everything else but being completely honest. I had to try or I’m going to die. 

I knew right when I heard her, that complete honesty was my way out. It just flipped a switch for me. Instead of seeing an inventory as a bad thing or a scary thing, I realized what she did was courageous. It was my way out. I followed her after she got done and said, “I need your help. I want to know how you did that?” She said, “Why do you care what anyone else thinks, but yourself. The truth could set you free.”  Wow, that was it!

I knew I was going to do it, but it wasn’t easy. It was a several months process for me, and it was very painful. There were times I felt so much pain, it was hard, but it changed everything.

I made a spreadsheet. I know that sounds crazy. I did it by age, I literally went back to the age of four. I could see the value of being thorough. I didn’t want to excuse myself. Everything on the list was going to be left behind, I was going home free!

why would I hold on to anything when I had a way out? I wanted to get rid of it all. I made a list of different ages and included everything. I had key events that were big, that I had a lot of emotion around certain experiences. I really wanted to change the way I saw some of those experiences, which is totally possible when you own your part. I became more objective. I was able to look at my life more as a spectator looking down on it without judgement. The coolest part was that I started remembering all the good things that I had blocked out because I wanted to avoid the pain, I had blocked out the beauty of my life too. By opening myself up, I was able to have compassion for myself. I didn’t know better when I was younger, but I was learning. I looked back at my life and said, “How could I have been so dumb? I’m offended by myself and the way I use to see the world.”

I wrote an 18-page biography of anything I could remember that was good or bad. I wrote it then I put it on my list in categories. I had dishonesty, illegal behavior, drugs, sex, anything that I didn’t feel good about. I didn’t focus much on what anyone did to me because I don’t think that was what was hurting me. What was hurting me was all the weight that I carried because of the people I had hurt. I wanted to let it go and that was the beginning. It took a few months, then I asked a group of women, if I could share it with them. I felt anxious, but I said it out loud. I also read my whole biography to one kindhearted woman who was willing to listen out in the rec yard.  I just needed to say it out loud.

It brought me to tears thinking about this while you were speaking, because the space you all created to just listen to each other, the entire room was focused on this one woman’s experience. That is very powerful!  When you make this inventory and you come to a few trusted friends and say, will you listen to this? It’s important to understand the power of creating space for someone who needs to share this profound experience.

It’s so important! After I shared mine with my friends, they said, “I want to do this too.” After that I became the secret keeper. Women would wake me up in the middle of the night because someone had forgotten something on the list.  I’d be walking around the track at the rec yard and women would ask me if they could share their list with me. One woman shared a lot of her pain with me, but in the end, there was something she held back, and it was something that she had done as a child. Her sister died of cancer, and the day before her sister died, she told her that she hated her. She carried that burden for years, and felt like the worst person, she couldn’t say it out loud.  What a horrible thing to have happened. She was a child, and she was jealous that that her sister was getting all the attention. What a hard thing to have to carry. When she told me, she felt horror at what she had done. I told her, “You know, I love you don’t you. Your sister is still with you; she knows your heart sweet friend.” I told her, “Let’s write her a letter, and tell her how you feel. Let’s make this right.” My heart changed, and I just wanted people to heal. I felt that power come into my life and wanted it for everyone. I wrote to all my kid’s, and my extended family members, and asked them to tell me how I hurt them. I wrote on my blog to my community and said, “I’m sorry for the damage I’ve done. Please write me and tell me how I hurt you.”

I work at a treatment center now and we get new girls in all the time, and I tell them, “Let’s carry each other’s burdens. Let’s help each other heal.” Once you feel it, you want it for everyone!

How many people took you up on that and wrote you back and expressed what they felt about your actions?

I had to push people to do it. Some of the letters were hard to read, but it was life changing.  My oldest daughter suffered a lot, she was basically raising her siblings while I was gone. When I first went to prison, she was 22, and she took over as mom. So that was difficult. But even harder was my 12-year-old daughter. Everything a girl goes through in her teen years; she went through it without me. It was very painful for her. I wrote her letters for two years that she didn’t open. She just let them stack up. Thank goodness she had her father. I prayed and prayed. I sat under a tree and prayed and begged God to protect my children. I prayed for forgiveness and wanted to make things right. It was not an immediate thing. I was really seeking. Owning it was very painful because I hurt a lot of people.

It’s one thing to say I own it, a lot of people equate that with just saying it out loud, but owning it means going into the depth of the difficulty and not skipping any of the steps of the emotions. The emotions are going to notify you of the places you need to keep looking. You feel that hurt and it can be overwhelming, Shame, guilt, fear, pain, all those things are so potent. You have to allow yourself to feel them as potently as they need to be felt. It’s not easy.

It’s only for the brave people that want to have an amazing life.

That’s truly what it is. It is the actual path to freedom.

I’ve been home for a year and a half now, and I show up for my kids’ day after day. We have built something much more beautiful than we ever had. It’s so much more real. Honesty is the highest value in our home, so my kids know they can tell me how they feel and what they’re doing. Sometimes it hurts, but I want the power that truth brings into our lives. You get this connection when you’re super honest and real. You can solve problems, instead of taking offense. You don’t have to take things personal anymore. We’re here to help each other. I tell my kids, thank you for letting me know what I’m doing that’s hurting you. 

I first heard the concept of a moral inventory through the 12-step program. You don’t know me at all, but I have suffered with body image problems and eating disorders my whole life. I could not admit that was addiction related. I thought, this is just an illness. I have been victimized by society. I’m victimized by my own thoughts about myself. I was willing to admit that I had a part in it, but I also wanted to share the responsibility with those who were complicit. And it was mostly society, those evil advertisements that said, “you’re supposed to look like this!”

Maybe that’s true, but it won’t give you freedom. It won’t give you the power to move past it. The first time I was in a treatment center, I was in an outpatient eating disorder clinic. I went in for my first intake assessment, and I cried on the phone Portia, just making the appointment. It was so awful to think that I had to go to this treatment center. The poor girl that was trying to make my appointment, she said so how does August sound? They told me my treatment plan and it was intensive therapy. One-on-one therapy. Group therapy. It was meetings with a one-on-one nutritionist and a lot of reading material.

I was all in, I was totally all in, because of the way I felt about myself. I knew I was going to die if I did not go. They were doing these, 12 step meetings. And I was like, this is alcoholic anonymous. This is a meeting for messed up people.  I’m not kidding, I wondered how my life became a PBS special because these people are chanting the serenity prayer. They’re handing out tokens for who didn’t throw up this week, who didn’t starve this week, and they’re giving people prizes. And I’m like, what the hell has happened to me that I’m sitting in this room with strangers, and I couldn’t get my head around it being an addiction. 

I was talking to a man once who’s a sex addict. He was talking about his moral inventory or his step four, and I realized that I have done moral inventories in my life in sections. I would say, okay, I feel really bad that I was mean to that girl on the playground in the sixth grade, that I completely bullied her for two years because I felt insecure. I thought it would make me feel better if I were an absolute jerk to her, and I made her life miserable.  I would contact people like that girl years later, but I only did it in pieces because the overwhelming feeling of facing it all at once was really hard. It was not until five years ago that I got serious about it; when I started the treatment for my eating disorder. And it wasn’t until a year and a half ago that I was really willing to say to myself, I’m addicted to dieting.

I didn’t realize that I just felt out of control. And when I feel out of control, I think, it’s my body that’s out of control. The second I decided, it’s probably time to take off a few pounds, I felt instantly better. The second I decide to do it, then I’m like, wait, nothing changed with my body. Why do I suddenly feel better? And then I just started to realize, oh, this is an addiction, which means this has been affecting me in a negative way. I had little children at home, and I was doing some squats and sit ups against the wall when my six-year-old and my three-year-old came and started doing wall sits next to me.

Both of them turned to me at the same time, and the six-year-old said, “we’re going to lose a lot of weight, huh mama.” That’s when I knew that I wasn’t just hurting myself, I was taking my girls with me. It was really hard because I woke up in increments. I didn’t have a powerful woman just come and do her inventory in front of me like you did. I had that moment where I thought that might be the freedom I wanted, but it’s been coming incrementally. When I read your story, I thought this is a concept that all people need to understand. The power lies within us to become free, but it requires more from us than we want to give a lot of times. I think it’s so beautiful that you recognized that one thing, that there was a lot that you could do to improve yourself in the situation you were in. 

I was away from my children, I couldn’t raise them on a daily basis, but I came to realize that the most important thing I could do was heal me. That became my mantra!  That’s why I had the goal to become an amazing person. There was no business that I could start, nothing material that I could accomplish. The only thing I would get to take home with me was who I became. Most people want somebody to fix their problems. They want to find a quick fix. If they’ve got a kid with a problem, they want to take them to a treatment center, but when we fix ourselves, it will have a big impact on everyone, including our kids. When you made that decision, when you sat there and realized, maybe my mom, or maybe my friends or maybe society told me it’s not my fault, but it’s stopping with me. My kids are not going to carry this burden. That must have been very empowering. That was what motivated me. I thought, I don’t want my kids to have the same problems I do. I don’t want my kids to have weak integrity. I want to be a person that I feel good about, that they can look up to. And that has nothing to do with what anyone else thinks, it has to do with who I am.

When you made that decision, when you started getting real, because I can see that clearly. You’re very honest and open with yourself, and that’s so unusual. What did it do for you? Because I just love the honesty and being willing to walk through the pain. I have had to do different moral inventories in sections incrementally throughout my life, and I realized I was always trying to defend myself from the pain. I was trying to protect myself from ever being hurt or minimized because I didn’t see my intrinsic value. I was looking for those external cues of telling me how I was doing based on whether or not somebody else thought I was doing well. And because of that, my defenses were really strong. I was super great at the defenses, but it took me away from real connection. And when I heard people like Brene Brown, talk about vulnerability, I thought, that is a disease! I will not be vulnerable. That is not something I want. I did not share myself with people. I had rage. And once I realized how that was separating me from people, and I couldn’t enjoy them. I couldn’t enjoy people’s gifts.

That is exactly what this inventory did for me, I quit looking around and thinking someone was better than me or worse than me. No one else’s opinion of me mattered. I felt really good about me inside. And then I had this space, it was like my heart and soul opened up. I really enjoyed the last part of my prison sentence. I know it sounds crazy, but I loved setting on a bench next to someone, maybe a new girl that came in, and was kind of scared. She would say, thank you for talking to me, and I thought it was the most beautiful experience! It’s one of the amazing things about letting that crap go and empowering yourself. No longer does the world define you, no longer does what other people think matter. Who I really am is all that matters! My personal integrity inside is what I care about. I used to worry a lot about what everybody else thought, but I felt terrible inside. Now I don’t care what anyone thinks, and I feel really good about me.

You hit the nail on the head, healing is the most important thing you can do, because now you have the freedom to show up and give without worrying about how the gift is going to be received. It’s a way to a bigger gift that you can give because you’re not holding anything back. You’re not afraid. You’re just going to show up and give whatever it is; whatever it isn’t doesn’t really matter. You’re just going to give what you have.

You don’t expect anything anymore.  Right! I don’t care about money. I don’t care about things. Things don’t define me. I am free and open to give anywhere I want. And I know that I’m giving authentically my best self, I don’t even question it.

What allows a person to enjoy the last part of their prison sentence? 

You can be present in any moment. And you know, in this moment, this girl that’s new to prison needs my help, because I know what she’s experiencing. I could just sit there with her, and my presence would give her comfort. It was a privilege because I had been in the same place that this girl was in, and now I was in position to help.

I remember thinking that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Like I’ll never get to have this again, it was beautiful. I was in prison and my life was beautiful. Everything changes when you free yourself and own your part. I knew there was a way out. I knew it. And I knew it wasn’t the government because truthfully, if I would’ve waited for them to apologize, I probably would have been sitting in my bunk for another 20 years. Nobody else was going to tell me, oops, we screwed up. Sorry, Portia, we need to make this right with you. It was my freedom, and nobody could do it for me. My ticket out was a hundred percent ownership. Everyone has that within them. That’s the beauty of it. It’s not easy, but it’s available to everyone. I have friends that will tell me why they are a victim, and I feel so bad for them.  I want to say, “There is a way out for you.” But they’re not ready to find freedom, and they’re not going to do it until they’re ready.

So that victimization piece, it is also a step, it’s part of it too. You have to feel what it feels like to have someone’s behavior affect you. And it’s really tough because that’s the place we have a tendency as human beings to get stuck. We want to stay there because it’s kind of comfortable. There must be a payoff to that when you get to prison. 

Yes, but the path is no growth. I couldn’t spend four and a half years in prison and have nothing to show for it. Denial is a safe place to keep your heart, but there’s no progression. Ownership is painful, but it gives you the power to move forward. One of the biggest shifts for me when I saw my husband and my children for the first time after a year. We weren’t doing well financially because of the choices I had made, so they couldn’t come out very often. They were getting by, but it was hard.  When they walked into the visiting room, my two teenage kids had grown six inches, and I could see that they were in the throes of being teenagers. They were hurting!

That broke me. That was when I realized denial was not an option for me anymore. I had made choices that hurt the people I loved, and if I were to continue to deny it, my kids were going to suffer. I needed to tell them the truth. I needed to tell them that it was me. I told myself, “You need to be brave because right now they need a brave mom, they need you to be strong to help them get through this. I told them that the government didn’t do this to us. I told them, “You’re hurting because of me.” It was my choice. My kids did not want to hear that!

It was hard for all of us! My son had a big chip on his shoulder, but we had to start. We had to tear down the lie, start with truth, and build something new. It’s not easy and it takes time, but man, it’s worth it! My son is doing great now, the kids are doing really good. We’re bearing the fruit of the effort we put in, but it didn’t happen overnight. It takes time because everyone had to feel what they needed to feel.

You have to be honest about it. I love that because everybody’s heard, you know, honesty is the best policy. And I had to really think about that in terms of what my life has been like, because when I was a teenager, I also used to lie.  I used lies to make myself look really awesome. It brought me to the two horrible pits that I would dig for myself because of the lies that I would tell. And I had to get to a place where honesty was the only policy. It’s not just the best policy, it’s the only policy that I can have where I will be able to stay healthy. Otherwise, there’s no honesty, and I will not even know the damage that’s being done to me unless I’m 100% honest.

I was having a tough time with my body, and I was super upset about the way I looked, and I just knew I needed to go for a jog. That would make feel better. I mean, jogging about obviously does make me feel really good; but it was raining. I was super dramatic. I was crying, and it was Sunday evening in the dark, and I was by myself jogging. I was praying and thinking about God, like team universe. There’s a lot of people involved on this team that care about me. Angels who are for me!

I said, “Guys, I have been talking to you about this for years, and I’m so sorry that I’m asking for more help with it, but I’m still not through it. I still need more help.” Suddenly, I had this overwhelming feeling of guilt. I thought are they sick of this? Because I’m kind of sick of it. I’m sick of asking. I’m sick of talking about it. I just said the same sentence that I’ve said over and over and over again for years. And I said, “God, are you sick of me? Sorry, I’m so irritating, I’m that irritating friend that can’t get past this thing and I keep bringing it up and you’ve given me answers and help, but I just can’t.”

Suddenly, I just felt lower than low. And I was like, you have to tell me, just be honest. If you’re sick of me, I will stop talking about this. I will handle it on my own. Just tell me. And I can hear the crunch of my feet as I keep jogging. I can hear nothing but silence. I say, “seriously, tell me, does it ever get old?”  Then I got the sweetest response that changed my life forever, because I heard the words, “Rachel, every time someone opens their heart, to me, it’s new and beautiful. If you are being completely honest, it’s new, and it’s a sweet experience every time.”  I knew that didn’t come from me because that would have never occurred to me.

I understood the role of honesty as a language. That was the language of the spirit. That was the language of the universe. It’s who I am. Was that an inspiration? I don’t know, but I know the universe speaks truth. That’s it’s only language. And as long as we are being honest, that connection is new every single time. And it just changed the way I interact with myself, vulnerability is the pathway, it’s actually the key to every relationship. It’s not a diseased that I’ve got to avoid. It’s the only way I can connect with myself, the only way I can connect with my people

When I first figured out that honesty was the only way to have power in my life, I was in prison, and I would tell someone a lie and then they walk back to the person and say, “I just lied.” What they thought about me wasn’t as important as what I thought of myself. I was in a treatment program, and I just started telling on myself. It was absolute power, and like you said earlier, it makes it so that you are a victim to no one.

What I have found is that it is not our perfections that unite us, it’s our challenges and struggles. And when I sit with someone that’s hurting, I feel such deep love for that person. There’s no judgment.  I like being in a room where the reason we’re all there is that we’re all screwed up. You know, no pretense there. It helps me to hear your truth because I know I’m not alone

Thank you so much for giving us your time Portia. And so generously sharing your truth about your story, and the ways that it connects us, because we’re all human, and we all screw up, and we all hurt each other, and we all get hurt by each other.

That was one of the most powerful conversations I have ever had! The truth of what she experienced is so empowering. And yet even while she was talking about it, my heart felt somewhat resistant to it, and I feel like as human beings, we do resist the things that are going to cause us pain. And when we can see that the pain is worth it. Then maybe we’re more willing to do it.  There are so many of us walking around imprisoned, imprisoned by our emotions, imprisoned by our experiences, by our fear of what we want for the future versus what we think we can have. And being completely honest about the way our lives and our choices, our thoughts, our actions have impacted other people, and finding ways to make restitution.

Portia wrote some letters. She spoke with people face to face. She reached out. She asked for feedback. I mean, this was a very thorough moral inventory, but when we can take the concept of a moral inventory to any degree into our lives, we take our power back from those fears, from the shame, from the circumstances that were holding us back. Our future is ours because we’ve taken complete ownership of our past. That’s all I got for this week. Huge thank you to Portia for so generously sharing the details of what she went through and for connecting us in ways that are super powerful. For bringing the humanity.

The themes of our humanity, our frailties, our pains, our suffering, our hopes, our dreams, those are the things that remind us that we really are just a bunch of humans dealing with other humans.