Around the age of eight or nine, I clearly remember learning two lessons in Sunday school that would direct the course of my life. Firstly, Jesus taught that we are all brothers and sisters; and secondly, because of that we should love each other. Though I credit and thank my Catholic catechism classes for these nuggets of wisdom, it was clear to me, even at this young age, that these lessons were preached but not necessarily practiced.
I knew that I was meant to one day travel the world, meet my brothers and sisters, and spread the message of love. As my beloved mentor, John Demartini, says, life is a lot like a slingshot. I found the truth of this, and now that a mission of this magnitude will create a lot of tension. The further you are pulled back in life, the greater your ability to propel. Unfortunately, in life, as with a slingshot, sometimes you’re pulled way back and you drop out instead of soaring. Who knew that in order to successfully fulfill this mission, I would go through the experience of losing my hair to a condition called Alopecia Areata? Alopecia Areata is stress-triggered, and I was “blessed” with some very stressful situations from verbal, emotional, physical, and even sexual abuse, coupled with a traumatic move in the fourth grade that took me away from my ocean side home to the country.
At the age of eleven, I lost all of my long brown, wavy hair. It began with a small, nickel-sized patch on the back-right corner of my scalp. Though I now had this odd, very smooth patch, it was easy enough to conceal, and I just hoped that it would go away. It didn’t, though… in fact, over the next six months my hair fell out to the point that I became an eleven-year-old girl with a really bad comb-over! The situation was anything but funny. I didn’t know what to do. I was scared, embarrassed, confused. Friends and family didn’t know what to say, or how to help. And for the most part, neither did the doctors. Once I finally received the diagnosis of Alopecia Areata, the advice from a Boston Children’s Hospital doctor was, “There is really nothing we can do. Get her a wig, and no one needs to know.” These words still ring in my mother’s ears. She knew this was terrible advice and that things like this should be talked about. She tried to force us into family therapy, but faced incredible resistance from me and from my father, who at that time was a raging alcoholic.
Finally, she settled for the doctor’s advice. I got a wig, skipped a couple of days of school, and went back pretending nothing ever happened. I thought I was acting the same, and didn’t realize at the time that I was becoming introverted, miserable, and distrustful of life. I believed this to be the worst thing that could ever happen. I felt there was something wrong with me and that no one would want to be my friend. I believed I would never have a boyfriend or be able to do all the things I dreamed of doing. I loved to sing and perform, but I stopped. I quit gymnastics, swimming, and going on roller coasters – situations that might cause my wig to move on my head or fall off. I became someone who watched life rather than participate in it. I withdrew deeper and deeper into an undiagnosed depression. I completely shut down.
Now, I want you to know that I wasn’t having a pity party. Early on, I realized that there were worse things that could have happened to me. I wasn’t sick, hadn’t lost a limb or the use of one of my senses. There were much worse fates than going bald, and I knew it. In my teens my sense of compassion and understanding for others expanded. I could, to some degree, put myself in the shoes of others experiencing challenges in their own lives. My ability to love expanded. People often say that you cannot love others until you learn to love yourself. Well, I guess there are exceptions to most every rule. I championed so many other causes and people before I could even begin to think about loving myself. In high school I became an activist against racism… I did not understand how people could discriminate against others just because of the color of their skin! This continued in college, where I earned a minor in African-American studies, and became an advocate for women’s rights. My degree in sociology allowed me to explore the patterns of society and human behavior, which I found fascinating.
Did I mention I was introverted, withdrawn, and ashamed of my own existence? I was now in college, and I had never seen myself bald. Yes – in ten years of wearing a wig, from age eleven until age twenty-one, I never looked at myself in a mirror without the wig on! I dated a guy for almost two years in high school, and we never spoke about it. Talk about denial! It wasn’t until my fourth year of college that I looked at myself wigless in the mirror. I dated a guy who asked if he could see me without my wig on, and I agreed. I cried for what seemed like hours in his arms, and only then did I move over and look at myself in a mirror. I’ll never forget that moment. I remember saying to myself, “Crap… it’s not so bad… now what am I supposed to do?” I’m not sure what kind of scary monster I was expecting to see… Still, I put my wig back on and went back to hiding out. I became a little more comfortable talking about my baldness during my college years with my friends, but I still hesitated to raise my hand in class, not wanting to draw attention to myself. I often dodged questions like “How do you keep your hair so straight?” by answering “Just a lot of hair spray.”
It was a miserable time of lying and denial. From a young age, I drank heavily, trying to avoid the stares and the feelings of inadequacy I felt. After graduating from college, I moved to South Beach, a trendy part of Miami, and bartended in a world where many others were trying to escape from reality as well. My heavy drinking continued, and I added drugs, like ecstasy and acid, to the mix. I had no self-esteem, and through these drugs, believed I could experience a sense of belonging. Since everything serves some purpose – and yes, the drugs were certainly detrimental to my health and safety with the potential to get me into a lot of trouble. I also experienced a sense of love and acceptance for myself and others that I didn’t know existed.
After a while, by the grace of God, I realized that I could get to this place without the use of these unhealthy and artificial “helpers”. I could create this love and one-ness through other means. This brought a new chapter to my spiritual path. Actually, my path veered one night when I found myself praying for my sister. She was a very young mother now pregnant with her second child and having problems with her husband. As I prayed, something clearly answered me and said, “Your sister is fine. Pray for your nephew.” I acknowledged that this was strange, but as I did, the whole idea for a children’s book about love flooded my mind. It became one of those ideas that I just knew I had to make happen.
I bartended for six years and had no idea how to transition into being an author. Several months after “The Prayer”, I was on the cusp of turning thirty. Just weeks before my birthday, I told my friends, “Throw me a party. I have an announcement to make!” We chose a nightclub called ‘Life in New York City’, and in July of 1998, I had what has now become known as my “Coming Out Party as The Bald Chick.”
Wow, … I had no idea that the prayer and the idea for ‘I Love You More’ were the catalyst for this unexpected unveiling of my head. Now, looking back, I can see how consumed my life had become with the fact that I wore a wig … were people wondering? … when and how should I tell someone? … was it going to fall off if someone put their arm around me unexpectedly? … yikes!
Though it took much adjustment for my new life as The Bald Chick, I also experienced an incredible sense of freedom. A weight had literally been lifted off my shoulders! I came upon Wayne Dyer speaking on TV, which led me to the teachings of Emerson, Troward, Thoreau, Science of Mind, Unity, Landmark, and ultimately to Dr. John Demartini. I reconnected with my childhood desire to travel the world, meet my brothers and sisters, and spread the message of love. I realized that I could do this through writing and publishing my first book, ‘I Love You More’. It’s amazing to look back on my life now and know that everything that happened, all the abuse, trauma, and neglect, both from others and self-imposed, was a catalyst for me to learn to love others more fully. For me the biggest lesson was learning to love myself and allowing others to love me.
I now know that our biggest challenges become our biggest blessings when we are willing to embrace the gifts, they present to us. I would never trade having my hair for this life experience. Not only did it teach me lessons of love, understanding, and compassion for humanity, but it now allows me the opportunity to go into schools and share with young people one of the simplest, yet powerful lessons… Just Be Yourself. It’s one of those very simple though not necessarily easy lessons, one that I think we often spend our whole life learning to embrace. Also… I’ll let you in on a little secret: As an author, being bald makes me both memorable and marketable. Talk about coming completely full circle!
But seriously, when I share with people the true power and freedom that comes from learning to love oneself, these are not just empty words. I am a living expression of this truth. I have a program now that I bring into schools titled “Self-Esteem Through Love: Empowering Our Children to Shine.” I am able to share with young people and adults’ universal truths that I have reawakened to and implemented along this journey of self-discovery. Coming from a powerful, bald woman standing in front of them, they hear the lessons at a deeper level than they might if coming from a teacher, parent, or guidance counselor.
One of my favorite verses from John Keats’s poem, “Ode on a Grecian Urn” says, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’” When I read these words shortly after choosing to shed my wigs and become The Bald Chick, they resonated throughout my soul. What I didn’t know was that, by embracing my truth, bald head and all, my beauty would shine through. The world agrees because I cannot count the times I am told, over and over again, often by total strangers, how beautiful I am. I know this is the outcome of learning to not only be myself, but to love myself as well. My light and beauty now beam from within. It also doesn’t hurt to have named my company I Shine, Inc. I tell people that when I answer my phone all day, “Hello, I Shine, this is Laura. How can help you?” I can’t help but glow!
I now get to fulfill my mission of generating the conversation of love around the world and am committed to doing so with my company, I Shine, Inc., through books, music, speaking, TV, film, and the web. Thank you, God, for allowing me the opportunity to play such a big game this time around! I am a living example that when people realize that they are loved… anything is possible! Thank God I am bald… I can’t imagine my life without this experience and the blessed opportunity to spread, live, and embody the messages of love, beauty, truth, gratitude, and courage!
Laura Duksta is president of I Shine, Inc. and best-selling author of ‘I Love You More’, (BookSense winter pick for 2007 to 2008) endorsed by Wayne Dyer, John Demartini, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Alan Cohen. She has been featured in numerous media publications including USA Today, NBC 6, The Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and Boca Magazine. A sought-after speaker, she’s presented her programs to thousands of students, parents, educators, authors, charitable organizations, and entrepreneurs nationwide, including to Gilda’s Club, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, New School network marketing (Xango), as well as dozens of schools and community groups. She has committed her life to making the world a brighter place by empowering people to shine! You can contact Laura at Laura@LauraDuksta.com or visit www.MySpace.com/ILoveYouMoreBookTour. Her book ‘I Love You More’ is available from Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, at Amazon, and at all other major and independent bookstores and gift galleries across the country.