All Things Entertaining and Cultural
Dolores Miller began writing poetry as a psychological release. She says she did not plan to write poetry, or write at all, but as she was going through therapy to cope with suppressed childhood memories affecting her adult life, writing became the outlet through which she could best express her raw, often angry, emotions, and poetry was the form that best fit her thoughts.
“Poems just came to me,” Miller says as we speak in her apartment near Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square. “I would be thinking about my situation, about all that was welling up in me and coming forth in and between therapy sessions, and a poem would form. A random thought would suggest a title, and I would sit down and write. It’s almost as if someone was controlling my thought process.”
Since dealing with her past pain, Miller says she has become more spiritual. A picture of St. Michael, the archangel, occupies a prominent place in her kitchen. Miller says St Michael helped her through her stress and protected her in a way as she endured the horrors of child abuse. She has also become attuned to Native American culture and named one collection of poems, “Beautiful Warrior,” a term she uses to refer to herself.
Most of all, Miller has become a student of world religions and is working to receive credentials so she can be a spiritual minister to people experiencing ordeals similar to, or as intense as, hers. She says it is not enough for her to have overcome the harm that was done to her, and the delayed reaction that threatened her sanity and desire to live, she must be ready to help others who need guidance and a sensitive person to listen to their expressions of distress.
“I, as a child, saved my life by repressing horrific experiences until I was ready to deal with them as an adult. Even being more mature, I was hard. It took the strength of a warrior,” Dolores says. “I saved my life by always pushing through even though there were times I thought it would be easier to die. If I can heal from everything that caused me such anguish when the memory of child abuse occurred, others can heal. From my heart, I want to give hope or others. I consider it almost a responsibility to participate in another’s healing process if I can be of help. Everyone has his or her own way of getting through a situation. First you have to find the truth and to confront it no matter how difficult it is. Then you have to deal with anger and other emotions that arise. These are real and they have to be dealt with and moved from a negative force that limits you to a positive force that puts matters in perspective and sets you on the road to healing. For me, the process took almost 23 years. I no longer need therapy sessions because I have come to grips with what I faced as a survivor. I don’t dwell on what happened. I take pride in what I’ve come through and focus on that. That is what healing is about. If I, through my understanding, my compassion, and my belief in the strength of the spirit can help another human being get through the hell I experienced, I feel a calling to do that. Writing was my catalyst. Poetry allowed me to name and express what I was thinking and feeling. Other people will heal in a different way. I am aware of that, and since I am aware of that, I put myself in a position to help and am training so I have all the tools necessary to help.”
Miller also takes an activist stand. She is a supporter, as both an advocate and a donor, to Child Advocates, a Philadelphia-based non-profit that uses its resources to secure lawyers and counselors for children who live or have lived in an abusive situation. In addition to spreading awareness about child abuse and petitioning legislatures for laws that protect children and severely punish offenders, Dolores holds fundraisers for Child Advocates and gives generously to its annual fund. Proceeds from her books, “Beautiful Warrior” and “Rising Above: The Beauty of Life,” are donated to the charity. In honor of her mother, who succumbed to a 16-year battle against breast cancer, Dolores works actively to support education and research pertaining to that disease. In support of a close friend and a dear cousin, she also contributes to help people with multiple sclerosis.
Dolores Miller was in her thirties when she began having nightmares and visions of sexual abuse. She realized these came from her childhood and that she had somehow been able to suppress the memory of her experience until then.
The images of abuse explained a lot. Dolores was adopted by her uncle and aunt at a young age although her birth parents were alive. She says her uncle and aunt are her parents, the people she calls Dad and Mom.
“They raised me. They rescued me,” Dolores says. “It took me years to realize from what they rescued me. My birth home was dysfunctional. My parents did the best thing for me by adopting me. They did it out of love. They didn’t know anything about the abuse, but they loved me and knew it wasn’t good for me to be in a home where there was constant fighting.”
Dolores says she began writing because she was going through a healing process.
“I became in touch with my creativity,” she says. “I found I had plenty to say, and the best way to express my feelings was to write them down. They took the form of poetry.”
A poem like “Quiet Desperation,” tells what Dolores learned from her ordeal. In it, she says people are afraid to face the truth and end up, “drinking it away, pilling it away, pretending it away, denying it away.” She goes on to say “reality” is “still there, like a silent storm ready to erupt.” Truth, Dolores says, is the only way to get free of the pain and fear being encountered. She ends the poem by offering “silent prayers of mercy.”
“Quiet Desperation” reveals several themes that appear throughout Dolores’s written work and that come up constantly in her conversation — the quest for truth, the concept of boundaries the limits of which need to be tested, the suffering people live with because it’s so difficult to face it, the idea of helping others, and a spiritual message that involves prayer.
“Writing became the catalyst that let me explain all I had been through and was going through, “Dolores says. “Even now, I observe something, and an image emerges. Words come. It happened recently when I saw a woman who looked comfortable enough but who had a miserable expression on her face and was obviously looking down at the people around her. I thought, ‘She’s a snow queen,’ and wrote a poem about the cold in her heart and my hope that it thaws so she can enjoy and appreciate her life and the people around her.
“Truth is where I aim. My poems were a means for me to get to the truth about my bad experience and what it took to heal from it.
“I’ve learned the truth of a situation may be negative, but all not has to be expressed negatively, that it’s better when you reach a plateau of understanding and can use the truth in a positive way.
“The objective is to get past the hate and the hurt and move on with life. I went through 20 years when I believed I would go insane or take my own life because of the pain and rage and other emotions I was feeling and hurt so much. I wrote a letter to my children, my son and daughter, telling them how hard I know it must have been for them to see when I could barely get out of bed, when I took them places but had to retreat to my car to be alone and fight my battle, when I was fighting fatigue, and was so scared about the toll my struggles might take. I cried. I screamed. I went through an array of emotions. The healing process is not easy, but it must begin. I had total support from my husband and children. Like a true warrior, I never gave up. I had a good therapist who, now that she’s finished working with me professionally, has become a friend. But I needed to deal with what happened when I was a child. I needed to admit to myself all that I’d hidden from myself for 30 years. Writing was one means towards that.
“Another was anger. Anger is a form of truth. It’s a reaction to truth. It was another thing that I had to get past to heal completely. It was also a motivator. It was anger and betrayal I had to express most, and one of the first lessons I learned was emotions are nothing you should be afraid of no matter how strong or painful they are and how they manifest themselves. Men are taught they shouldn’t cry. Women are taught they should control emotions and not show them. Both are wrong. You should deal with any emotion that comes to you. Eventually you have to find a way to take the emotion and make it positive, working in your behalf. Face the truth and move on, and you’ll be happier and stronger.
“Confronting fear is one way I healed. I am afraid of nothing now. I went through anger, hurt, and sadness. By persevering, I was able to accept what happened and move on. Letting go and moving is for the survivor’s sake. It will never change what happened to me or make it ‘OK’, but one must go forward. “
Her healing process not only started Dolores writing, but it increased her spirituality. She says faith helped her immensely in getting past memories that were sometimes paralyzing.
“I believe angels, and particularly St. Michael the Archangel, helped me deal with my experience. I even saw St. Michael once. I remember his gold wings with the silver tips. I would feel him with me a number of times. I believe it was St. Michael who made it so I could suppress my horror at being abused until I could deal with it as an adult. Out of love, and with no knowledge of the abuse I suffered, my parents adopted me. I went on to have a happy childhood with my new Daddy and Mommy, and I never had to express any sad or negative thoughts because they came much later. When they came, they were like boulders on my heart, but I was older and had more understanding, and I had people around me who supported me in my delicate mental state.
“Part of healing is getting to be happy within your own being. Dr. Carter, my psychologist, and I began and continue to sign correspondence with four A’s that have become a symbol and a bond between us. The A’s stand for Admiration, Affection, Appreciation Always. I take them to heart. They are part of my being. Working with Dr. Carter, I began being hopeful. I concentrated on hope and love and being aware of the strength that is in all of us. I began seeing what I needed to do to and set about doing it. Life took on a wonderful new meaning. Realizing that also increased my spirituality.
“The symbol of my inner strength became the Beautiful Warrior. I saw her in my mind. She has was riding on her golden horse. The image had meaning to me. It not only meant strength but courage and the fearlessness to move forward. I have always admired Native American culture, and I was warmed by the vision of the Native American woman that came to me.
“While studying spirituality, I have opened my mind to all religions and philosophies throughout time and regardless of how each refers to its God. If someone needs my help, I don’t have to know what religion he or she is. I’ll respect another person’s beliefs just as I expect him or her to respect mine. The important thing is to get to the truth by every means possible. People have to have courage to face what they fear. Courage and perseverance to stay on the path of healing are imperative. I believe I can help people find their courage and that I can support them in working towards a truthful solution.
“I developed an attitude of never giving up no matter what. After I healed, I had more compassion for others. It’s part of what is called post-traumatic growth. A person who goes through a difficult situation and survives is re-formed. I feel a calling to share what I have accomplished with others, a calling to minister to their pain and get them past all that holds them back the way Dr. Carter and others helped me.”
To learn more about ministry, Dolores is in the second year of study with the American Institute of Theology and Philosophy. She is taking a five-year course. Just as Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe are her favorite poets, Dolores says he is drawn to individual theologians and ministers she has encounters in her studies. One is Dr. Wayne Dyer, whose philosophy is to have faith in the universe and to be positive. Another is Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” written at the time the rabbi’s three-year-son was diagnosed with a degenerative disease.
“There was a time I was angry at God,” Dolores says. “I would write Him long letters expressing my disgust at unfairness, injustice, and the pain of getting through some passages in life. I wrote a poem called ‘Dance of Anger’ that railed against injustice and advocated fighting for the truth. Rabbi Kushner’s book helped me regulate my feelings. It counseled to be strong. It also said anger is OK and that it is natural to question God.
“I am in the process of revising a book I wrote in the early stages of healing, ‘Another Dimension.’ It deals with anger and how to turn from a negative force to a positive one. For instance, I was once so angry that my emotions threatened to destroy me. Now I can put that anger to positive use by supporting Child Advocates and making sure lawyers act on children’s behalf and that children get the counseling they need.
“I can also be positive by showing how I thrive as a survivor, by talking about strength and determination, about fighting and acknowledging, and about developing the courage of a warrior.
“Concentrating on how to be positive keeps things calm in personal relationships. I tend to speak my mind. By thinking before I speak, I can take a more positive approach to a situation. I don’t have to be scolding or angry. I can present a matter in a way that is considerate and leads to healing rather than bruised feelings or acrimony.”
Dolores’s involvement with Child Advocates began as suddenly as her writing did.
“Twelve years ago, as I was thinking seriously about how to direct my anger in a positive way, I drove down 19th Street in Philadelphia and saw the Child Advocates building. I had passed it many times, but on this day it caught my attention. I felt that getting involved with an organization that helped children who find themselves in situations like mine, or worse, was the move I had to make.
“I called the Child Advocates office and told my story and how I survived the memory of abuse and the feelings that I would go insane from it, or even end my life. I also asked how I could help.
“I was told how my support could help get children out of houses where they were unsafe, how it could help get lawyers to fight custody and other battles a child cannot do, how I can help make lawmakers aware of the extent of sexual and other forms of abuse — all abuse — and advocate for stricter laws and longer jail sentences for people who severely harm children physically and psychologically.
“Nonprofit organizations need people who will take a leadership role. I was ready to step in and do anything I was asked. The work of Child Advocates is so important. It’s not only dear to my heart. It concentrates on the exact things I want to accomplish to keep children from danger and to deter child abuse.
“I am involved with other groups, such as Adult Survivors of Sexual Abuse and the Mothers March Against Child Abuse. I have worked to get Erin’s Law and Dominic’s Law passed in Pennsylvania. These increase the consequences and penalties of child abuse.”
Each year, Child Advocates has several events to spread awareness of its mission and raise funds to continue it. Dolores is particularly involved in Philanthropic Cocktail Benefit Reception and Auction that is schedule for Wednesday, April 9 at the Crystal Tea Room in Philadelphia’s Wanamaker Building, on Juniper Street between Market and Chestnut.
In addition to helping the Support Center for Child Advocates in planning for their reception and auction, Dolores asks friends to buy advertising in the event program, donate a high-end good or service, and to buy a ticket and attend. More about the April 9 event can be learned by going online to www.advokid.org or calling 267-546-9200.
Other Child Advocate initiatives that ask the public for wide support are a September golf tournament and a December toy drive, in which Dolores plays a big part by asking her many friends to donate toys for children who may otherwise go without holiday presents.
Breast cancer and multiple sclerosis organizations also receive Dolores’s support.
“I would love to support several charities, but all people’s time and resources are limited, so I chose the causes dearest to my heart and decided to put a strong effort into a few important charities rather than do a little bit for many.”
While poetry remains Dolores’s main form of expression, she says she is doing more in prose lately.
“I always wrote essays, but I find myself writing more in prose than previously.”
Dolores was also writing a play about a childhood friend of hers, Anthony, who passed away from cancer at age 22. In thinking more about Anthony, Dolores says she decided his story is best told as a novel.
“My childhood after my adoption seemed normal and was relatively happy. Anthony and his sister, Mary Ann, represent the good things that happened as I was growing up. Anthony was three years younger than Mary Ann and me, but he would stay with us we played. I would go to Anthony’s and Mary Ann’s every day. I practically lived there. We played school and other games. My mother made nun’s outfits for Mary Ann and me, and we would put them on and make Anthony our pupil.
“I was sad to learn that at age 18, Anthony was diagnosed with bone cancer. He lost a leg before he succumbed to the disease when he was 22. I couldn’t go to the funeral. I was too upset. I visited Mary Ann and her parents, but we were all so devastated.
“I wanted to write about the good part of my childhood. I also felt Anthony’s spirit during my healing. He has become an angel to me, and I want to tell the story of a good person who had a sad end.
“One touching part of Anthony’s last days was his marriage. He was dating girl, a young woman, before he became ill. She stayed with him through the years that led to his death. A few days before he died, she married him. I think that is love.”
Love is one of Dolores’s healing messages. She is sincere in wanting to help others to face dilemmas parallel to hers. She believes that she was able to overcome her ordeal so she can be of use to others.
“I can get through all I faced when the memories of sexual abuse came to me. All of the therapy, all of the negativity, all of the fear, the biggest ones being insanity or suicide, I can lead others towards the same positive resolution.
“I am a happy woman now. I can get angry over the past, but I know I have something better, a present and a future. Rather than being lost in pain I suffered decades ago, I can enjoy the children, my son and daughter, Larry and Michele, who stood by me and wrote me letters of encouragement when I was in a state of mental torture. I can enjoy their children, my Ella and Lilly and Victoria and Alex, who entertain me so wonderfully and show me the joy of an untainted childhood. Most of all, I can continue the great relationship I have with my husband, Larry, who did all he could to bring me to where I am today and never wavered in his support or love.
“Nothing can scare me now. I have faced every category of fear and conquered it. As I’ve said and will keep saying, truth is the key. People who fool themselves or say everything is all right when they know it isn’t suffer needlessly. They only have to confront the truth, and they will heal. It may take time and perseverance, but they will heal. As I did.
“To help others, I will write, speak to groups, and be active with others who want to make life better in general. I was healed by truth, combined with faith and the love of my family. If I can help one person find my contentment and happiness, I am there to provide that help.”