ALWAYS FELT DIFFERENT
To know a bit about Deb Dettman one needs to know that the way I presented myself to the world was always different. I grew up 30 miles outside of Chicago. I knew I was attracted to girls and not boys. My Catholic upbringing suggested that I may be destined for hell. Ironically this fear of hell was likely the only reason I didn’t die by suicide back then.
Every morning before school I would have anxiety and get a stomachache. Despite that, I loved school. I really loved the nuns! They got to live in a house together and live such a different way.
Despite the internal struggles, I found myself lucky to have found some gender-specific spaces. I was happily involved in Girl Scouts into adulthood. The time I spent with nuns as I explored a vocation as a religious sister shaped me also. I got to know them. By spending time doing service projects I learned that I liked helping people.
Even so, I struggled a lot with feeling deeply depressed and self-loathing. Fortunately, I always had a deep knowing that there was more to life than just what’s visible right in front of us. Living an authentic life and manifesting things I was meant to achieve came into focus.
Even after I knew that joining the convent wasn’t an honest option I knew that I was here to be of service somehow.
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”Rabindrath Tagore
Everything changed in 1986. I learned there was a beautiful, thriving community of women-loving-women in the city. I wasn’t the only one! In Chicago there were lesbian-owned stores and a feminist bookstore. https://www.womenandchildrenfirst.com/ There was a coffee house performance space, a choir, and of course, softball. There was music and a culture I could finally relate to.
This time in life was not all rainbows and unicorns however. Homophobia had ended some close friendships and had me no longer in touch with my blood-related family.
My first girlfriend was emotionally and physically abusive. She was in her own struggle. She was fighting a battle with alcohol, drugs, anxiety, depression and surviving a history of abuse. As a serious codependent, I tried to fix things. Being loyal came naturally. I hoped that, “When we get a bigger apartment, when she gets a better job, when she’s on the right meds, then everything will be okay.” We were very isolated and I was feeling very stuck. I learned that whatever I did or did not do, I could not change it.
Most of my family members had died while I was separated from my family.
Surviving a number of friends who had died due to addiction, cancer, AIDS and suicide took a toll on me.
REACHING OUT AND ACCEPTING RECOVERY
Life would only improve if I actually did something. I had to address the impact that addiction, trauma and homophobia had on my life and relationships.
Handling things alone came very naturally. Writing in my journal and reading lots of self-help books just wasn’t working. I had a small circle of friends who have become my chosen family. I could share a lot with them but they were protective of me. Sharing all I needed to share wasn’t possible with them. Finally, I went to therapy. I reluctantly sat in circles of people sharing their feelings. It freaked me out a lot. I didn’t really like it at first-at all. Fortunately, I finally learned how to ask for and accept help from safe people.
I made a commitment to ongoing self-care. I had to figure out how to connect spiritually in new ways. This journey is ongoing.
I learned that there is hope when I get honest with myself and others. Being willing to take the risk to find people who really understand me made all the difference.
It has been and continues to be an absolute joy to be able to provide an emotionally safe place for women to do the work required to heal and create new lives. And my journey has taken me from Chicago to Seattle and back to Chicago. Now I live most of the year in Chicago and spend summers in Seattle and on the road riding my Harley.