I have always felt like an alien, not the undocumented kind, but the kind from another planet. I was a very sensitive and demanding child and my mother was emotionally detached. I was raised by a loving nurse named Mamie Dorn for three years. If my mother was mean to me I told her, “I’m going to tell Dorney on you.” My mother laughed at that.

When I entered graduate school to become a psychiatric social worker my life experience was pretty thin. Maybe my experience was not as thin as was my understanding of it. But as I began to find my footing as a psychotherapist, my very foundation began to quake. That’s when I became an avid consumer of psychotherapy. I began to sort out attachment issues, grief issues, sexual abuse issues, and the unraveling began. My course of study and field placement only made my curiosity and intention to make sense of my Story that much more pressing.

In my late twenties, I was in a very difficult marriage, had my blessed daughter, and I was strongly persuaded by my former roommate to see her therapist. Actually, she begged me. She couldn’t stand to hear me complaining one more minute about my husband. So I interviewed the therapists involved and entered intensive group psychotherapy. I attended group at least three times a week and went to the beach in Florida for five-day marathons. I developed very strong bonds with this new family, so much so that to this day, almost thirty-five years later, I am close friends with three women that I communicate with on a daily basis.

When I began therapy I was out of balance and highly anatlystica. To say that I was out of touch with my feeling self is an understatement. The pressure was building for me to be authentic with my emotions. This was way too intense an environment for inauthenticity. A turning point happened during a marathon when the group contained me with pillows on all sides. This was called a banana box. It was constructed to allow the person to go bananas, and I did–thank God.

For many years, this community was my family. I believe this experience gave me the foundation that my professional self needed. I was no longer the nubile person who entered the Tulane University graduate program. I had explored every facet that was accessible in my unconscious mind. And watching other people do their own inner exploration, the learning was synergistic. This community ended when the facilitator moved to Lake Tahoe. Nevertheless, my internal journey had begun in a big way and would continue for the rest of my life.

In 1985, my second husband began therapy with a psychiatrist in New Orleans who gave up his psychiatric license to become a guru. Did I hear the word “unconventional” again?  Yes, his work was unusual, but in all fairness, the community we developed was comprised of doctors and lawyers and artists. None of us were slouches and John was actually quite brilliant and gifted aside from his eccentricities. This work was my initiation beyond the parameters of ego. This is where my path diverged from others and my development on a spiritual level began and accelerated. I just tried to hold on to my hat and even that was hard to do much of the time.

When I joined the group psychotherapy community in my twenties, I was an agnostic/atheist. Being totally pragmatic, God just did not make sense. I remember the day on the Gulf Coast of Florida when the light bulb flipped on. I looked at the diverse group of people  gathered there, who I totally loved and accepted, and I knew they totally loved and accepted me, no matter what. I realized that in their core everybody just wants to be loved. I knew this was something much larger than me or them. I knew that this was God.

During my work with John the guru, I had my first direct experience of God. From the beginning, there were issues that I disagreed with John about. He talked about exclusivity and having been raised Jewish, but I rejected exclusivity for inclusivity. Contrary to his teaching, for me there was not just ONE WAY. I knew this in my soul and during those first few days with him he prophesied that I would leave him because of this issue.

If I tell you that the Ilene we all knew and loved could not exist within the teachings of these communities. I was changing exponentially. It was not a straight trajectory. There were times that I prayed to die the pain was so great. And what I’ve learned repeatedly is that when the pain gets so great, the rebirth always follows.

My next unconventional teacher was an older German woman in Taos New Mexico. She facilitated a form of breath work that she developed after studying under Stanislav Grof. I had done my ego and emotional work, then my spiritual work, and now I was putting it all together, which allowed me to drill down into the depths of my unconscious to find many of the pieces I had disowned, feared, or clearly could not stomach. This is also known as the Shadow. In a previous blog I mentioned that the Shadow work was the most difficult inner work to do. The physical symptoms had started a year or two before working with this new teacher, so my pipes were primed. I was willing to discover what needed to be uncovered and loved. There was a whole community that formed around this breath work as well.

Around this time I went to a heart retreat in Galesteo, New Mexico, and there were two women, myself being one of them, named Ilene. They asked if one of us had a spiritual name and for years I had been hearing the word Aliyah so I claimed it. Aliyah is a Hebrew word that means to ascend, or to go to Jerusalem (which is on a mountain, so you must ascend). My new name stuck in my spiritual community and Aliyah was born.

At my third wedding in 2003, one of the three women friends I had made during my first therapy experience stood up and declared, “I have known Ilene for over twenty years and her life has always been about transformation.” Whether I came in to this life primed for this work or I was led to it, the work has changed me. I can no longer relate to in the person that I was. There have been very few people who could maintain an intimate connection with me through all these changes. Other than family, there has been one friend from Scranton who has maintained a connection. She moved with her family to Jerusalem and perhaps that has made the difference. I believe that is the natural order of things. There is grief for the old life, there is no denying that. However once the genie is out of the bottle, there’s no going back.