"Love for me is God. My experience of Peace… of Oneness… of Faith… of everything big and important. Everything…. it all boils down to the word LOVE."
Just recently I thought I'd seek out women who have just experienced major transformations in their life. I've always looked to my guests for inspiration and I was determined to find one no matter the cost or circumstance, and I did! I don't know how I decided to seek out a "stripper turned mom extraordinaire" , perhaps the inspiration comes from a book I've read about this intriguingly extraordinary life ("Eleven Minutes" by Paulo Coelho) but it seemed that the Universe had heard exactly what my intentions were and led me to one of the most amazing women I have ever come across in my life. I saw her writings on one of her sites strippingdown.com . She is Sheila Hageman, a multi-tasking wife and mother of three who blogs for The Huffington Post. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Hunter College, CUNY. She is a Yoga instructor and teaches Writing at Housatonic Community College and Kaplan University. She has work in many anthologies and magazines like Salon, The Fertile Source, Prime Mincer, and Foliate Oak Literary Journal. Sheila’s memoir, Stripping Down, is due to be released February 14, 2012, from Pink Fish Press. Right after my interview with her I just felt my soul grow, just by hearing all the wonderful things she said. She really is true to life. She is such a beautiful soul , she makes me want to say ,"This is IT! This is why I do Soulspeak! I love what I'm doing!" I'm so honored to have this woman as my guest tonight.
Who is SHEILA HAGEMAN? Where are you at in your journey?
I feel like I am coming to this amazing part of my life, I'm lucky enough to be able to do all things that I love. I'm a mother. I have a 7 year old, a 3 year old, and a 1 year old. I get to teach writing. I also teach yoga. I've been teaching since my third child was born. I'm finally in this position as I get to look back to when I was in my 20's, thinking about what I wantd in my life and what my dream day would look like and realizing that it IS my life right now…. I am living my dream life. I realized too that every dream I've ever had, anything that was important enough to me has come true.
I am this firm believer that absolutely anything is possible. It's just believing in it. I went through a lot , like most of us did when we were younger. The journey really took me to a place now where I feel like all the things that I've always wanted and worked so hard for are all coming to fruition now. I worked hard to create my platform and to do the best job on getting my books written and now my memoirs are coming out on Valentines day. I feel so proud of it . I mean… I believed it would happen and I knew it would take a while, but I really feel like it's really gonna back me up now… I can go out into the world more with my message.
I feel like I really have an important message for women and that I think that I'll be able to spread it. I'm proud of myself for not giving up because I suffered from depression my whole life. I could be very critical of myself and I would think I'm not good enough but the fact that I made it this far is pretty amazing, and I didn't just settle for less in life. I have a lot of gratitude and I also feel very proud.
Let's talk about your 'transition' from dancing to writing.
It's really kind of funny because even when I was a little girl I wanted to be a writer. That was what I did in grammar school. I was gonna be a writer. I WAS a writer. And then when I got to junior high I got distracted by being an actress and wanting to be a model and really needing the attention it's what propelled me it really made me feel so good. Even though I was still doing writing on the side I really thought No, I'm an actress. Everyone said how great I was, it felt really good… so I just kind of got off track from what my first love was. That's when I started stripping… when I was 18.
My parents got divorced when I was 13. I don't think I ever kind of recovered from that in my teen years and I was dealing with starving myself. There was so much anger and depression I didnt recognize and no one around me recognized, so I just kind of spun downward into this 'just not caring' state. And when I became a dancer it was almost like a punishing of myself… It was a way of just saying this is all im worth. Still I was getting the appreciation. I was still feeling beautiful from time to time. I spiralled down throughout that. I ruined relationships.
It was not until I got into an abusive relationship that I finally decided and said "I cannot live like this anymore" I actually had a dream one night that this boyfriend was actually killing me and it had gotten close to that at some point and I remember waking up laying next to him from that dream and saying "This is my future… if I dont get out I'm gonna die." . The next day I packed my bags and I left — then I said to myself "You know what you're gonna go to college. "
I was 25 and felt too old to do anything with my life. I had quit stripping the year before and I was like 'What can I do?' There was no place for me… I had no money left. I got a job as a secretary and I decided to go to college. In my very first writing class the teacher came in and she said 'I just want to let you guys know I went to Hunter (another college)' and she said 'I decided I was gonna have a 4.0 GPA and I did that'. And then I remembered I walked out of that classroom thinking she's no different than me, I can do the same thing. There's no reason I can't do that… And I went on and ended up becoming Valedictorian of my college class.
Wow. That is awesome.
It took me 5 and a half years because I went part time. I worked… I got a secretary job and basically that was my life. I worked during the day…I went to school at night. A part of me was saying – when I put my heart to something the dedication I have is amazing – Some people might say 'well that can be negative ' because I get so focused on doing one thing but its also how I am able to succeed in the things that I know are really important. So I did decide that this is what I am going to do and I did it which is kind of amazing… Here's this woman who was a stripper who barely graduated high school and I had the highest GPA out of like a thousand students. I mean that's CRAZY! But it was so empowering because that's when I realized I was just as smart as anybody else.
So that's when I got back into writing. I told myself I can do this, I AM a writer, and no one's gonna stop me, even though at that time nobody was reading my writing. I still kept the faith that it was what I was meant to do.
After I graduated from college (I was 31 then) , I decided to get my yoga teacher certification because I discovered yoga and I loved that. I became a Yoga teacher and I decided to get my MFA in Creative Writing. I was able to land into a memoir program - It was the same college on the first year that they had introduced it – I knew that was what I needed to do. I've always kind of jotted down notes about my experiences — that was so wonderful for me because it was 2 years of having to write and it takes devotion to do that. At the time my daughter had been born. She was 1 year old when I started the graduate degree. I was still working a little bit . I was teaching Yoga ..It was a challenge time. It wasn't easy.
At that time my mother had breast cancer and she was very ill so I was helping take care of her. My life was insane but I had found that the busier I am the more I get done because my time is so precious. I think about all the time that I wasted when I was younger and it's very sad to me but at the same time, obviously, I can't go back and change it. I can just decide now that I am gonna do everything I can to get my voice heard.
Yes! we create our reality.
Exactly! I believe that too…
What was the best and the worst thing about being a stripper?
I think what I liked best about it was the freedom, and the ability to really just have fun. It's a job where I can just get onstage. When I was having a good day and I felt beautiful I was on that stage, and I had the attention but it would just get to this point where there was this sense of freedom of me dancing. It was this sense of 'nothing else matters' just 'being there" and actually BEING IN THE MOMENT. I would really have good dancing days when I could just not judge myself when the customers were being rude and I was just in the moment and having fun, and then I would actually enjoy myself.
Unfortunately that was not the experience I had everyday or every time I got onstage. Obviously I had issues….There were days I would ask myself : Is this good for women? I would leave and feel guilty and I would see the men who would come in and talk about their wives and their girlfriends and complain about them and I was just supposed to stand there and smile and agree with them.
So it's this real double edged sword where I was like.. "I'm actually participating in this". It was really so much of a mixed message. I was so conflicted. Sure I could just enjoy myself and be free but I also had to accept and see that what I was doing wasn't the highest thing I could be doing. So the worst part really was how I felt about myself and how I felt about what I was putting into the world. Who am I being as a person by doing this? , I'm not helping people… It's funny because sometimes I would say well "I am helping people". There would be men who would come in and they didn't come in there just to look at a naked woman they really came in for connection. They would just want to sit and talk with me. I had a lot of customers who couldn't watch me when I danced anymore and they would go sit where they couldn't see me until I got offstage because they felt like it was disrespectful and they would have to wait until i got offstage and come sit with them to talk to them.
Not all strip club customers were horrible men. It took me a long time to fully realize that. But there were men just as there were women like me and other dancers that were not bad people. We were just people experiencing what we were at the moment.
I try not to judge …that's one of my biggest issues that I dealt with throughout that experience and even afterwards. Its how to forgive myself for what I think was wrong about it and how not to judge other women for doing it especially now , looking back on it.
I always kind of saw dancing as a spiritual thing… Whatever type of dance… Do you feel the same?
Absolutely and totally! There would be moments where I would be dancing and there would be no customers … there would be no bar… It would just be other-worldly you know….and time would stop. It was totally like a trance and that is when I would make the most money — when customers would just be like 'Oh my god you're amazing and you're beautiful' and I'd be like What?
They don't get it that it's because I'm actually being in the present moment and being free and being myself and they thought I was being sexy or what, but it was almost like the exact opposite … I was BEING JUST ME… and that's when I would be the most sexy I guess. Which is kind of funny.
Dancing will do that. It will free you.
Yes! I was freed of all of it… all the conventions and how I'm supposed o be and what I'm supposed to look like and how I'm supposed to act I'm freed of all that –I didn't have to be some kind of great smart woman…. All I had to do was just be beautiful and sometimes, you know, being beautiful is just being yourself.
I wish I could have held on to that and experience that every moment . I dont see any problem with it. For women who can really get to that state in doing this… Yeah I think there's nothing wrong with it.
The sad thing is I think the majority of women dancing feel bad about it and have all this conflict about it, and thats where I think the trouble begins because theres a lot of addiction problems that I saw , women who couldnt get nstage until they were drunk and things like that . There really is a very sad underworld there which is I think also what people think about when they think about strippers. And it is there…It definitely is.
Talk about other passions that you have.
Yoga! When I think about it some of the Yoga poses are a lot like the exotic dancing poses. There's definitely something about me that really likes to express through my body and it feels like going through the body is a way to experience bliss and is a way to find that freedom. So I find now that I dont try to run away from that and that theres nothing wrong with that and its not like I need to separate myself from the body the body is part of my experience today so Id like to try to use my body and have that experience of that feeling of peace and being in the moment.
I also like to play the guitar, my husband used to be a musician so today I had my first guitar lesson! I'm really proud about myself because I dont usually like to try new things so I'm like "Oh my God I'm doing so bad" but I'm OK with that I'm just beginning and I'm not doing it to be the best I just have always wanted to do it. And thats kind of where I am in my life I want to really go back and do the things that I've always wanted to do but I was too afraid to do and playing guitar is one of them.
Do you believe in Soulmates?
Thats an interesting question. It's funny because Nick is my third husband which people are always kind of shocked by. I believe we can have more than one soulmate –I believe in experiencing amazing and absolute incredible love with a person and when I look back on my first marriage (my high school sweetheart) ..I still have a deep love for him…even though the relationship didn't work . I can still look back and say it was a wonderful relationship and I still love him but it didn't work out.
My second husband …it was a mistake I probably shouldn't have married him but I believed in love so deeply that I wanted to believe that loving him would make everything okay. But neither one of us was mature enough in our ability to know ourselves, to be able to make the relationship work and now with Nick it is a different feeling because I know with Nick that we will always be together… it is a different feeling. A sense of it feels like this more mature relationship like he and I are willing to work on the relationship more and I had no worries about the deep connection…. I know that we are meant to be together but it doesn't mean that I couldn't have met someone else.
I don't believe that there's one person out there for everybody I believe there's probably a million probably out there that we could each meet and have an amazing relationship with. Its just finding a person and making that commitment which I had never made before. And with Nick it was a real deep commitment..I recognized it as that and that I hadn't understood what commitment was before, with the other two marriages. So now it's become something else and that I have to cherish it much more and realize its value much more. whereas before I just expected love to just take care of everything. Now I know that love is something that I need to work on to fan the fires of a deeper love to make it strong. I can't just leave it up to fate. I have to work on it and with that and knowing that he feels the same way I know that we'll make it through anything.
(Sheila and Tommy)
How did being a mother change your life?
Oh my goodness…being a mother has changed EVERYTHING especially since I didn't become a mother until I was 33 . That's when I had my daughter so I had already settled into a life of it being all about me and my husband too. He's five years older than me. We were both just so unaware of what it was going to mean to be a parent because neither any of us had this young cousin or anything like that. I had literally NEVER held a baby before until I had my baby and he hadn't either and its crazy… I had never changed a diaper or any thing so to have a baby and all of a sudden be responsible for her and for it to not be all about me— was definitely a great shock.
On top of that , my husbands mom died the day my daughter was born and then my mother died a year and a half so he and I were both dealing with this enormous grief at the same time and losing both of our mothers at the same time and then having this responsibility of having to be a mother when I have just lost my mother …It was a very scary thing because I didn't know what to do, I had major post partum depression after my daughter. I was dealing with that too. I really didn't have any help with it.My husband was working like 12 hour days just to pay the bills and I was at home with the baby all the time and I didn't really have any friends . It was definitely overwhelming — and I would say I'm STILL overwhelmed . We had the third child and a lot of people told us "Oh it's okay!… after you have two the third child is no different." and the first week after we were like "Oh my gosh the people who say that they're so lying!" (laughs) … Of course it changes everything because now you have THREE children! There's only two parents, and three kids.
The sad thing is that I can't give as much attention as I want o each child …You can just sense they want me ALL THE TIME you know. And I want to give them everything they want and need and at the same time it's finding the balance of saying I've got to be good to myself too. And that is the challenge.Finding out how to balance motherhood and career. I think every mother goes through that. It's probably gonna be the greatest challenge of my life.But I wouldn't take that away — I'm a whole different person …you can never go back once you're a parent you're being responsible for these other little lives and trying to right the wrongs that my own parents did and trying to do everything as well as I can is a challenge everyday.
If you were face to face with yourself as a little girl. What would you tell you?
I would say Sheila …have faith in yourself …Be confident …Try everything you want to try and do not let other people hold you back.
Do you have any other dreams and aspirations that you would like to fulfill?
My greatest aspiration is to be a speaker where I go and talk to women , inspire women…My greatest dream is to hold conferences where I combine writing , our life stories , practicing yoga , bringing all of these loves of mine into one package that I can share with other women. That's the goal– to inspire other women.
What is LOVE?
Love for me is God. My experience of peace… of oneness… of faith… of everything big and important. Everything…. it all boils down to the word LOVE.
Your ONE MESSAGE to all.
Live as if what you do and what you think and who you are matters and have faith that it does even if you can't see it.
(Sheila and her daughter Gen)
For more on Sheila please visit her sites:
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