Since making the decision to turn my attention to self care for the first time in my life, some very interesting things have shown up. One is that I’ve been invited to take a deep dive into a portion of my life that I left behind me over 30 years ago. Having the time and space to take this dive has been an incredible gift that I’ve been able to fully receive without distractions or postponement.

Santa Cruz in the 1980s

Being Present for the Inner Gifts | Amrita Grace

Picking begonias for the Begonia Festival 1987

Ronald Reagan is president and I’m in my early 20s, living in Santa Cruz. I’ve married a man ten years my senior, and brought all my childhood baggage into the marriage… but I’ve got that baggage locked down tight and I’m quite accomplished at living a high-functioning life. This good man, my husband, introduces me to the Grateful Dead, and a whole community and culture of beautiful, magical people. We go to concerts often, gather at each other’s homes, and have a wonderful time. It’s a great distraction from my childhood wounding… until it isn’t.

Betrayal and banishment

Being Present for the Inner Gifts | Amrita Grace

Me on the left with dear friends, 1987

Eight years into the relationship, I have an affair with a co-worker and decide to leave the marriage for this new man (who, unbeknownst to me, is an alcoholic). With that betrayal, I lose my beautiful Santa Cruz hippie community… dear friends, people I love. But I’m the “bad guy” and I’m completely ostracized, which is completely understandable. I’m carrying plenty of guilt and shame, but I pack that away with the rest of the baggage and get on with my new life, looking only ahead and never behind.

Bubbling beneath the surface

I spend the next 10 years deep in addiction and codependency with my new husband. Oh, the first few years feel ecstatic, but we both have immense wounding bubbling just below the surface. My childhood sexual abuse manifests into full-blown sexual addiction, and the new marriage is fertile ground for my addiction to come roaring to the surface. I finally hit rock bottom in my mid 30s and begin the long road of healing and recovery. I write about it in-depth in my book, “Reclaiming Aphrodite-The Journey to Sexual Wholeness.”

The Oakland miracle

I’m deeply committed to my healing path, finding alternatives to the traditional ways and weaving my own recovery program that involves therapy, belly dance, women’s circles, priestess training (initiation and ordination), and firewalking. Five years into recovery and finding my husband unwilling to commit to his own recovery, I get myself clear of that marriage and move to Oakland. I start a massage practice and offer massage in a chiropractic office. And there, in that office, a miracle happens. Someone from my Santa Cruz community appears in my midst after 17 years. I tell the full story in my book and the short version below will lay the foundation for the rest of the story.

Ghosts with Unusual Names

[begin story] I saw a new patient tonight at the chiropractor’s office where I work as a massage therapist. His name was Chet, and he was very sweet. He told me his fiancé would be meeting him after the massage and he wanted me to meet her. Chet came out of the massage room and held his hand out to her as I introduced myself. She said, “My name is Sundara” and I replied, “Wow, I used to know a little girl named Sundara. How old are you?” “28” she replied. I asked a few more questions to be sure before I exclaimed, “I used to babysit you when you were a little girl!”.

My mind was reeling. I felt blood pounding in my ears and the room grew dim as I tried to comprehend the fact that a ghost from my past had appeared in my midst. If it weren’t for her unusual name, I never would have recognized her. My next patient was waiting and I had to find a way to function. I couldn’t let the dammed- up memories break through just yet, because I might drown if they came too fast. Taking a deep breath, I got Chet scheduled for his next appointment, asked Sundara for her phone number, and made my way back into the massage room to change the sheets.

Once I had the next patient on the table, I let my body take over and allowed the flood of memories to wash over me. I was momentarily amazed that I could calmly go through the motions of massage while my mind was exploding with intensity.

Memories continued to tumble through my mind. I got a visual on a huge box of photos in a closet in my apartment, and I began to anticipate getting home and going through that box. I would find pictures to give to Sundara, and that would be a way to connect with her.

As I brought the heavy box down from a high shelf, I had a sense of what Pandora must have felt like before she opened her box. Nothing was ever going to be the same again once the top came off. As I sorted through hundreds of pictures of another life I came to an understanding. Sundara was an angel of mercy, sent to help me do exactly what I asked for: to grieve all that I have not grieved. I laughed and cried, and I marveled at the love and happiness I saw on my face in the photos. I set aside some photos for Sundara, and began a pile for Dave, the husband I left behind in Santa Cruz. We haven’t spoken in at least 15 years, but I know his address.

I kept a small pile of photos for myself. I boxed up the stack for Dave and sent them off to him. I would have loved to ceremonially burn the rest, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that in the middle of the city. So, putting them into 3 full brown grocery bags, I blessed them and took them out to the trash.

Two months later, I got a letter from Dave. He and his family were enjoying the photos. He talked about his many recent experiences of things coming full circle. He wrote, “And so you know, I have had to forgive you for what you did to our lives, quite awhile ago. It didn’t hurt you for me to be mad, it only hurt me. There is a little Gremlin that pokes his head up every now and then, but I have released, so you can too.” He signed the letter with a peace symbol, Love, Dave.

For the first time in 17 years, I have made peace with this piece of my past. I give thanks for angels of mercy and ghosts with unusual names. [end story]

Cosmic Charlie

Being Present for the Inner Gifts | Amrita GraceWell, yet another 17 years passed, and once again, my hippie community has come into my awareness. It was all because of Cosmic Charlie. “Cosmic Charlie” is the name of a Grateful Dead song. Originally released on the 1969 album Aoxomoxoa, Cosmic Charlie was played live for a few years and then dropped from the live shows. One of my Deadhead friends from Santa Cruz, Eric, started the Cosmic Charlie Campaign in the early 80’s as a tongue-in-cheek way to see if he could inspire the Dead to play the song live again.

Celebrating Candy

Being Present for the Inner Gifts | Amrita Grace

Candy on her wedding day

I recently learned about a Dead cover band called Cosmic Charlie from Atlanta, and that (of course) reminded me of Eric and those super fun times in the 80’s with my Deadhead friends. So I decided to do a little research… and that landed me on a Facebook page for Eric’s wife, Candy, who had been one of my dear friends back in those days. On that Facebook page was a video of her memorial service from 2019. I watched the entire 2 hour video, and it was GORGEOUS. Even though it was 2 years old, it was very fresh for me. These two old friends were married for 35+ years, and I got to witness all the beautiful community (at least 150 people) who gathered to celebrate Candy’s magical life.

Before digital anything

Once again, I went for my box of photos. It was a very large box, because back in those days in Santa Cruz, I worked in a 1-hour photo lab. Yeah, that was before digital anything. Needless to say, I accumulated a lot of print photos. I’ve had it on my list to get those photos organized and scanned, and I knew that massive project could not wait any longer. I would find the pictures of Eric and Candy and use them as a way to reconnect. I’ve spent hours going through photos, sorting and scanning them, and have set aside some for Dave, my first husband, and some for Eric.

To bring it all full circle, my only connection to the community was Sundara. 17 years after our reconnection in Oakland, she still remembered me and gave me Eric’s phone number. I left him a message and hope that we can catch up and remember Candy together.

The lens of compassion

Being Present for the Inner Gifts | Amrita Grace

Amrita in 2019

As I look back over 40 years of my adult life through the lens of my healing path, I don’t know how I could have done it any differently. I came to my first marriage deeply damaged and without the tools or knowledge of how to unwind that damage (or why it was so important to do so). I look back without the burden of shame, having moved through massive mountains of that emotion in the course of my healing. I look back with compassion for everyone involved… those who were hurt and left behind as well as for myself, who did the leaving. I didn’t understand the price I was paying then, but I do now, and I forgive myself.

Love never ends

What I understand now at such a deep level is that love never ends. I still love these people just as much now, perhaps even more so because my own capacity to love has expanded exponentially, even though I have not had communication with them in over 30 years. My hope is that we can share stories and catch up on each others’ lives and allow that love and appreciation to flow between us. Even if that doesn’t happen, that’s okay, because I feel it all fully now. The love as well as the grief and loss, feelings I didn’t have access to 30 years ago. And that is a blessing that I’m fully receiving and grateful that I’ve made space for in my life.

Love & blessings, Amrita