Beverly Donofrio
Photo: Mackenzie Stroh
She's been busted flat, thrown in jail, left to raise her kid alone—and hit by a car. At age 55, she woke up with a knife-wielding stranger in her bed. And yet Beverly Donofrio has taken the worst kind of pain and transformed it into light. How? Well, not by feeling sorry for herself.
I've spent a lifetime making mistakes, messing up, falling apart and falling on my face. Even though I've been taught by masters and smudged by shamans and prayed till many dawns, time and again I've learned the same lesson: When bad things happen, the seminal question is not "Why me?" but "What am I going to do now?"

Back when life threw its first sucker punch my way, I thought that God or the Universe had it in for me. It was 1968, the country and the world were in turmoil, and so was I—17 years old and stuck in a little Connecticut town I couldn't wait to leave. I planned to move to New York City as soon as I graduated from high school, to be a bohemian anarchist poet, or a movie star. College was not an option. My father, a hot-tempered Italian-American cop, and my mother, a feisty factory worker, never finished high school. They lived paycheck to paycheck in a public housing project, supporting four kids. "As soon as I get my diploma," I thought, "I'm gone."

Instead I got knocked up by my boyfriend, who had dropped out of high school. Not fair, I raged. Why, when all my friends were having sex, too, was I the one singled out for public humiliation?

Even if I'd wanted an abortion, it wasn't legal, and I didn't know how to get one illegally. Giving up my child for adoption would have felt like having a limb amputated. So in April of my senior year, I stood at the altar with Stephen, whom I'd gone out with only because nobody else ever asked me and whose favorite expression was "How come that?" My parents wept behind us, while next to Stephen stood his best man, the guy who'd told us, "Do it again in 24 hours; you're safe the second time."

My son was born half a year later, and by the time Jason was 13 months old, Stephen confessed he had a heroin addiction, which he'd been committing burglaries to support, and that every penny of our savings had gone straight into his arm. I divorced him, and by 19 I was a single mother without a car in a town without daycare.

Cutting Stephen loose had been a smart move, but I was still pretty stupid. One day in 1971, in exchange for a Baggie of pot, I agreed to let a friend sell a garbage bag full of the stuff from my living room. The music was too loud, the neighbors complained, and the cops showed up and arrested me. I was a bullheaded, wild girl who never wondered if there was something to learn, something I should change. Everybody I knew was using drugs. Why was I the one to take the fall?

Seeing yourself as a victim is like being punched in the face and, while you're sprawled on the ground, hauling off and whacking yourself again to make sure you stay down. Feeling sorry for yourself and looking for someone to blame takes away your power.

Next: Hitting a low point

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