Fleeing Fresno High – A Story of Healing and Redemption

A special note to the women who read this, especially the women I went to school with: As a teenager and young woman, I didn’t know how to be with other girls. I only knew how to be with boys/men. I never felt good enough, pretty enough, or like I belonged, even when I was part of the majorette team, and I was competitive and aggressive in a very masculine way. I’ve made it one of my life missions to heal the feminine wound, and to reunite the sisterhood that we all, as women, share. 

I’ve just reclaimed a huge piece of my past… a piece I haven’t been interested in revisiting for over 25 years. A few weeks after being added to a secret Facebook group called “Fresno High Friends,” I decided to reveal my identity as the former Kim Gammel in the group by posting my senior portrait and a group pic of the majorette team that I was on in 1978.

I took a very deep breath before doing so. Would this be a waste of time and energy, a big ol’ black hole? What inner demons might emerge to taunt me about that horrible time in my life when I had few friends and zero self-esteem? I took that breath and went for it, and I’m so glad I did!

I fled Fresno High a couple of times, once in my junior year (for part of the school year) and then in January of 1980, having passed the GED. I said no goodbyes either time. I just bolted.

Let’s rewind the cassette tape back a decade. My mom had divorced and remarried a violent and abusive man. There was physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that went on for 5 years, and that marriage broke up when I was 10. I had been threatened not to tell, and I didn’t… even after he was long gone. I turned it inward and hated myself.

The sexual abuse impacted me in a very particular way. I had no sexual boundaries and after my first post-abuse sexual encounter in my sophomore year, on some level I realized that I now had the power and no one would ever have power over me again. That power grew into a monster over time.

I drew troubled relationships to me, no surprise there. The boy I dated for much of my sophomore year had a nervous breakdown while we were together. I kept all of this secret, as I had been taught to do. Everything was closely guarded and on the sly. I had to shield myself from the shame.

MajorettesIn the summer between 10th and 11th grade, some friends of the family came for a visit, and invited me to come live with them in Sacramento. I imagine that I was complaining about how awful I had it at home, and they took pity on me. The excuse of the moment was that I could not get along with my sister (1 year younger). To illustrate this: I had done a nasty piece of work at the end of the previous school year, during majorette tryouts. My sister was coming in as a sophomore and trying out for the team. I told the coach that I could not be on the same team with her. She didn’t make the team. However, by deciding to move to Sacramento, I gave up my spot and she was placed on the team. I forgave myself a long time ago for that.

During the conversation with my mom and the next stepdad, I told them why I wanted to move away. I felt like a “black sheep.” I didn’t fit in. And somehow during that discussion, the truth finally came pouring out about the sexual abuse. My mom was petrified. Seriously, she could not move or act. I received no help or support, though there was talk of bringing criminal charges. Thankfully, that was abandoned. I was 16.

I moved out of my house and fled Fresno, running hard and fast from my demons. I had peace for a little while, at a new school where no one knew me. I had a boyfriend in Roseville who was very sweet and kind and had a stable family, and that was a very supportive environment. But eventually, I got tired of being a perpetual guest in someone else’s house.

I moved back home and went back to Fresno High partway through my junior year. Someone told me that there was a rumor that I had been pregnant and that was why I left (I was shocked then, but of course it’s no surprise in retrospect). I’ll put that to rest right now. That was not the case. I just ran away when the opportunity presented itself.

Now I had a driver’s license and a car, an old yellow Chevy station wagon my dad gave me. I went down the “stoner” road, smoking cigarettes and drinking Boone’s Farm jug wine when it could be had. I spent evenings dirty dancing at Electra disco and cruising Belmont. And the sexual monster grew.

When the chance to take the GED showed up in my senior year, I grabbed it. I was down to 4 classes and had straight A’s in all of them, but I was bored. My family and home had completely broken up and scattered, and it was time to get out of Dodge once and for all. I can still remember walking out of Fresno High for the last time in January of 1980.

I took a job at China Peak Ski Area, living in the dorms, and the sex-drugs-rock n roll lifestyle kicked in full force. I had also reconnected with my troubled boyfriend from 10th grade. He asked me to marry him and I said yes. Then, I went off for my second season at China Peak and immediately took up with a guy there. I realized that I had a problem… but in that moment, I pushed it away and decided to deal with it later. I broke off the engagement.

I did go to the Fresno High class of ’80 ten year reunion with my then-husband. All my demons came up in my face and I didn’t have the tools to deal with them then. It was a rough night, my husband didn’t really want to be there, and we were all 28ish years old… still posturing and preening and competing. It makes me appreciate the wisdom and self-love that’s come with getting older.

Fast forward the cassette tape to 1998. Two broken marriages filled with addiction and co-dependency, and I hit rock bottom. I self-diagnosed as a sex addict and started seeking help. It was hard to find in the small town I lived in in the Sierras, so I carved out my own healing methods. It took several years for me to get “clean,” but I was committed to healing, and there was no turning back. It was a gradual process and I took many non-traditional paths. Foremost was my personal spiritual path, also very non-traditional.

Eventually I realized that after years of therapy, my sexuality still was not completely healed. I found my way to a school that taught sexual healing, and became an avid student of these arts. It made a huge difference for me and finally addressed the abuse and addiction on a visceral, physical level instead of just talk, talk, talk. I became a practitioner, helping women overcome sexual abuse.

The name change came with the reclaiming of my feminine nature through the sexual healing work. I changed it legally before moving to Maui in 2006. It was a reflection of becoming a whole new being, changed and healed. I changed it all, first, middle, and last, to Amrita Divine Grace.

In 2009, I published a book to help guide people that had experienced childhood sexual abuse to healing and wholeness. It’s called “Reclaiming Aphrodite-The Journey to Sexual Wholeness.” It won an a award. I gave away over 1000 downloads. It’s on Amazon in book form and Kindle.

It was through the sacred sexuality work that I met my Beloved, Apollo. I was living on Maui and we met in Sedona at a sacred sexuality conference. We had a long-distance but very connected relationship for 2 years, then he moved to Maui and we got married in 2011.

In 2013, I was diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer. I knew exactly why I had drawn the cancer into my experience, and healed that aspect very quickly. I was cancer-free in less than 3 months, and I had a very easy, uplifting experience with cancer. (I know, that sounds weird, but it’s true.) I had a double mastectomy and a beautiful reconstruction that used my belly fat to create new breasts… no implants. I said no to chemo and radiation.

In December of 2015 we moved from Maui to Western North Carolina (Smoky Mountains) and bought a house (something we could not do on Maui). We are still settling in, and I’m investigating what’s next for me in the realm of helping others have better experiences with healing and recovery from cancer and from sexual abuse. Maybe there’s even a connection. I know that all the sexual healing work I did made a huge impact on my cancer recovery.

Here we are, back to the beginning of the story. Several people have reached out to me in the Facebook group, and I’m remembering that yes, I did actually have some friends. It was not a waste of time or energy. On the contrary, it’s been a huge healing for me to reconnect with this piece of my past. And my heart is open to receiving the love that I could not receive back then… in high school. The outpouring of love and compassion as I’ve shared my story has rocked my world and touched me deeply.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me. I welcome your comments below.

Love & blessings, Amrita Grace, formerly Kim Gammel, Class of 1980 Fresno High

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46 Responses to Fleeing Fresno High – A Story of Healing and Redemption

  1. Tracy Newberry says:

    Wow… See no one ever knows someone’s story. I’m so glad you are free and moving forward. Thank you for your vulnerability. Beauty is about who you are on the inside and you are truly beautiful!!!! Blessings to you!!! Tracy Splan Newberry

    • Amrita says:

      Thank you, Tracy! I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. I have a strong feeling that there are some who will relate to my story and I hope they will receive grace from that. xoxo

  2. Enedina says:

    What an amazing story! I admire your courage and strength to come forward and for your self-healing. I also had a very rough high school experience and can relate to much of what you’ve shared. I never really healed completely, but I have found refuge and protection with all the blessings I currently have. Thank you for sharing your story. I wish you all the best that life has to offer!

    • Amrita says:

      And I wish you the same, Dina! Healing is a lifelong process. I love that you have refuge and protection, and I trust that your healing will continue to unfold. Blessings to you!

  3. Melissa Goliti says:

    While we were not in the same class, once a “Warrior” always a “Warrior”. It took great strength to post/share this!! And, I have always been a firm believer that there are “No white Picket Fence” lives… despite what we see on the “outside”.

    You are clearly much stronger than you ever realized. And I hope, I pray, by telling us, your fellow “Warriors” you find additional peace in your heart.

    I had the amazing opportunity yesterday to see, and have lunch with, one of my former FHS teachers.. and after 38 years, was able to tell him many things he did not then know was going on …..

    We move forward, and again, I hope you find peace in sharing this!! You are no longer that “girl”. Her life experiences have molded you into a much stronger person. THe pain of it may not be completely erased, but you are clearly STRONGER… and I am grateful you had the strength to share this with us.

    Melissa Goliti
    Class of 78

    • Amrita says:

      I have indeed found much peace through this sharing and how lovingly it’s been received. Thanks for chiming in and reminding me… once a Warrior, always a Warrior! Thank you so much Melissa!

  4. Lisa Petrosillo Dennis says:

    That was a very traumatic time in your life to tell about. We all have those demons inside of us and people never really know it. Happy things have turned around for you in your life. I too struggled with stage 1 breast cancer in 2010 and happy to report ive been cancer free for 6 years. Happy to be a survivor!!! Best wishes to you and your family.

    • Amrita says:

      It’s so true, Lisa… we all have the demons and we are conditioned to not let on. It’s great to let on, however, when the time is right! Congrats on your recovery from b/c… we are not just survivors, we are thrivers! xo

  5. Kevin Kleinsteuber says:

    Being part of that experience in HS. I had no idea the pain you were in. It bumped my heart. I’m so happy for you and reading your journey was very insightful.

  6. Richard Flores says:

    Thank you for sharing and having the strength to reconnect. I’m glad you’ve found your voice and wish you nothing but good health and happiness in your future. Hopefully you’ll be able to make a reunion in the future.

    • Amrita says:

      I would LOVE to come to a reunion in the future! I’m sure I’ll hear about them now that I’m reconnected, and I would be happy to make the trip and share some hugs, food, fun, and more stories! Thank you Richard. xo

  7. Cathy Hames says:

    Thank you for sharing you difficult but triumphant journey. As teenagers we ALL had secrets we couldn’t share or lies we told to cover our realities. Thank you, thank you, thank you for opening that door for everyone with your bravery. Warmest hugs and love to a fellow Warrior. Cathy Fisher Sager Hames. Class of 1979

    • Amrita says:

      Yes, we all have secrets and lies we tell to survive, and my hope is that we find or create an environment in which we can be more open and vulnerable with each other and get that stuff out in the open. Thank you so much, Cathy! xo

  8. Lori Audelo Kirby says:

    I’m sitting here with tears runing down my face with many emotions going through me. I too am a survivor of step parent sexual abuse from my sibling’s dad & lived with the shame of never feeling like I truly fit in. After telling my mother what he did, she still stayed with him but it eventually ended in divorce after I left home. Over the years I’ve pretty much become an advocate for young people. For some reason they always end up on my patio & spill their guts to me & so many have the same story. Living with secrets is such a heavy burden to carry. Stunts your growth inside. I’m so sorry for the pain you have endured and thankful for your courage to share your story. I can honestly say that reading your story this morning I feel a little less alone in this world today.

    • Amrita says:

      Bless you Sweet Sister! I’m so glad you feel less alone… that was a big part of why I wanted to share this. I know I was not the only one going through teenage angst. Much love to you and thanks for sharing your heart.

  9. Robin Envernizzi Hampton says:

    How courageous of you to come forward and share your journey. Transparency is a freeing feeling and gives you back your control. My Mother experienced a similar childhood and she has not been able to work thru her grief. Harbors it like a shield. I am so happy you are in a good place. I know it wasn’t easy. I hope our paths cross in the future.

    • Amrita says:

      Thanks for your comments, Robin. I will hold your mom in my prayers and heart. I find that transparency can take everyone to a deeper place, if they want to go there. Both the teller of the story and those who receive it. They become healing stories for everyone. That’s my intention when I write. I hope our paths cross, too! Blessings to you.

  10. Lisa Mendoza says:

    What an Amazing woman you are for sharing your life with us, I’m glad you found peace with yourself. I wish you nothing but good health and happiness for the future.
    Lisa Mendoza
    Class of 1980

  11. Janice (Garrett) Freeman says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your incredible journey of healing and wholeness. You have expressed your experiences and story to help others and it is TRULY a BLESSING!!! It’s so true as the word of God states we’re not supposed to judge one another. We have ALL at some point in our lives been through some type of dysfunction, pain and disheartening events…yet the truth be told God knew and approved for us to go through, because He carries us through each and EVERY storm, trial or situation only that He be GLORIFIED!!! I pray you continue to encourage and share your story to help US ALL to live a life of healing and wholeness…be blessed my sister.

    • Amrita says:

      Thank you, Janice, for your beautiful comments. My current understanding is that when we judge others, we are judging parts of ourselves we have disowned. When we forgive others, we are forgiving ourselves, because we are all connected. I have been telling healing stories for many years now, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon. 🙂 Love and blessings to you, Sister.

  12. Susan Keylon-(Kline-Adams)-Alms says:

    Yes I was a flag girl that same year. Thank you for sharing your story it is hard to come out and tell people the pain we keep inside. A lot of us did not have the tools to deal with all the things that happen to us when we were young. Some of us have all the battle scars to remember how far we have come. As another breast cancer survivor I am glad you are here to tell your story and the choices you made! Lots of love! ❤️❤️

    • Amrita says:

      It took me a long time to heal, but as I did, my deeply personal stories came pouring out. As I teenager, it was tortured poetry that I never showed anyone (I still have all that). 😉 Now, as a writer, I understand how vulnerability and transparent personal storytelling have the power to transmit healing energy to so many as well as connect people more deeply and at a heart level. That means a great deal to me. Bless you, Susan!

  13. Alan Pules says:

    In school I always thought you had it all. I’m glad that things are working out for you now. I look forward to seeing you at our 40 yr reunion. Take care lovely lady….☺

  14. Sherrie Holland Robertson says:

    While we were not close friends, I do remember you. Thank you for sharing your story and continuing to help women in need. I look forward to seeing you at the next reunion. ?

    • Amrita says:

      Yes, I will see you then… whenever that might be. You were the first person to “find” me a few years back, though I wasn’t ready to reveal myself yet. Blessings to you, Sherrie.

  15. Kay Griffith (aka Crable) says:

    I don’t believe we knew each other in school…I was class of ’79.
    It takes years for us all to come into ourselves. Our past experiences, good or bad, are what mold us into the people we are today.
    Yes many of us had our own demons to live with.
    Yours were more common than many know.
    Thank you for your forthright writing & sharing your life with us.
    Brave, amazingly strong & beautiful inside & out…prayers that you’re a successful influence over others who may read your book or story that might be going through what you did. That they see it’s not them or their fault.

    • Amrita says:

      That’s such a key thing you mention, Kay… that it’s not their fault. Not only the abuse, but the ways in which it drives them to act unconsciously. Self-forgiveness is such a powerful healing no matter what one’s situation. Thanks for your wise comments.

  16. Marc says:

    That’s the very story of a true “warrior”. Glad that you were able to tell it in such concise and eloquent terms. High school and the thereafter is fraught with demons and we all struggled to a greater or lesser extent. Your story, while very troubling, encourages others to tell theirs and to “move on” and escape from the past shackles and allow the healing energy to flow.

    Best wishes for your continued growth.

    Marc Feldesman FHS Class of 1965

    • Amrita says:

      I’m touched by your comments, Marc. The human experience is such an opportunity to grow and expand into new realms, spurred by our challenges. Allowing the healing energy to flow, that’s what it’s all about. Blessings to you!

  17. shareen love says:

    Aloha Amrita, Very moving story, had no idea when you were on Maui that you were goinv thru all that you shared. I just thougjt you were a happy sexual teacher and healer, A Tantrika and dakini. Thank you for sharing your pain and conquest. How is you new home? Maui misses you! Spent the 4th on the Mana Kai beach with lots of your friends. Wishing you well and if you want to come back to Maui I have an extra room that I save for special friends.
    Goddess bless you both,
    Shareen

    • Amrita says:

      Aloha Shareen, and thanks for your comments. As a sexual healer on Maui, i was quite conflicted and experienced some shame around my profession. I addressed this by working mostly with women. I was never comfortable being considered a “dakini” and only worked with men who were sincerely seeking deep healing work. We love our new home and thanks for the well wishes and sweet invitation. xo

  18. Tanja Kala says:

    I appreciate you sharing your story. It took me back to my own teen trauma in Texas. I have been on the healing path for over 20 years myself, and I remember when you wrote your book. I was one of the people who got the free download. Thank you for this reminder, I think I am ready to read it now. A hui hou!

    • Amrita says:

      Bless your sweet heart, I honor your path of healing and please let me know if there are any ways I can support you. My book is designed as a transmission of healing… enjoy it, Dear One! A hui hou!

  19. Denise says:

    Amrita,

    You are an inspiration. Thank you for your willingness to be honest, transparent and very vulnerable. There are so many young girls and women who will be helped by your story.

    • Amrita says:

      Ahhh, Denise. If it helps just one girl feel better about herself, it’s beyond worthwhile. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  20. Shealeen says:

    Amrita,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I guess in life I have not been really involved about hearing our family’s history until recently and it is amazing what everyone has gone through and what experiences they have had. I’m very happy that you have shared and hopefully soon I will be able to purchase your book and get to see the world though your eyes. I agree with you that with age comes an understanding and I feel that I am finally breaking through to that understanding and taking the time to really slow down and take everything all in. Much love and hugs! XOXO

    • Amrita says:

      Dearest Cousin! Thank you so much for reading and taking this in. Everyone in life has an amazing story to tell… but not everyone tells their story. It seems to be what I was born to do. I’m very honored that you are interested. I know that I’ve not been very connected to you through your growing-up years, but that’s for reasons that have nothing to do with you. What matters is that we are connected now and have some common ground. I appreciate you and love you very much! XOXO

  21. Anyaa says:

    What a beautiful sharing, Amrita! I received this post from my Priestess sister Melody and she asked me if I knew you yet? Ha! Now I know you even better, dear sister. Thank you so much for opening your heart to share this story. It was wonderful to see your sweet young face and to witness now where you are in your life. We are blessed to have you in our community.

    • Amrita says:

      I love that this came to you in a roundabout way, Anyaa. Thank you for your words of welcoming, love, and caring. I feel very blessed as well to be part of such a lovely community… I feel right at home. xoxo

  22. Betty says:

    Wow Amrita. What a persevering journey. I wondered about your name. You were/are beautiful. I’m looking at living feminity more now. Class of ’66. Reunion in Aug but not going. I am reliving feelings from then. Not happy having lived according to someone else’s impression of me! My feelings, part of reality, just feeling sad now readying for trip west that will confront likely with more reality than can integrate.
    You faced life and went with it! Shows there’s no “normal” i was looking for ?! You are beautiful in all Gods glory, richness, agony and ecstasy and persevering thru ups and downs!

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