Even as a teen growing up in a small town in Maine, Darcy Hotchkiss visualized herself a world traveler. But she would take many detours before she realized those dreams. Along the way, she kept a journal to document her amazing journey from high school dropout and a single mom, to a soldier in the U.S. Army and a government contractor in Kuwait and Iraq. Working for NATO in The Netherlands, she sustained a serious injury which brought on a year of physical pain and emotional turmoil. When she finally found a way to heal through alternative medicine, she was inspired to become a healer herself. “I began feeling a nudge a couple of years ago to write down my experiences, trying to make sense of things with the idea that maybe there were women that have experienced similar struggles with life, love, parental roles, understanding their path, and healing,” says Darcy. “I’ve come to a deeper level of appreciation for who I am and the different way of managing my life; it doesn’t work for everyone but it works for me.” She hopes that her book, Life in My Hands – Healing Myself, Healing Others (WAT-AGE Publishing), will resonate with readers no matter where they are in their own odysseys.
Where Darcy now finds herself is all the more remarkable considering where she started out. She learned that she was pregnant shortly after attending her junior prom and was forced to drop out of school. “In my eighth month of pregnancy, I stood behind a cash register at the local grocery store, working as many hours as possible, trying to save money while I still had the ability to work,” Darcy writes. Studying to complete her high school degree, she was terrified with the thought that she was going to be responsible for the life of another human being. She and the baby’s father were soon married, a marriage that lasted for three years. “My husband and I had completely different goals about what our lives would be, certainly a challenge to our relationship,” she writes. “I wanted a career, and to travel and see the world, while he wanted to stay on the farm, raise children, and be the softball coach and team dad.”
After the divorce, Darcy was working multiple jobs, taking college courses, and raising her daughter. “There were nights when I barely got four to five hours of sleep after I got Jordan ready for bed, finished homework, and had to be at my first job again by 6:30 a.m.,” she says. “I never had enough money to cover everything. It seemed like I just couldn’t get ahead unless I did something drastic.”
Darcy and Jordan
She knew that she wanted more for herself and for her daughter. But how would she accomplish that? With few options available, she made the difficult decision to enlist. That meant leaving her daughter in the care of her ex-husband. “I felt massively judged in the beginning for my approach to mothering,” Darcy says. “But my priority was the best interests of my daughter. At that time, her father was a better parent hands down, and I think it’s important to admit that as a woman, especially today. Gender roles and perceptions are being overridden all the time and there are many examples of the roles woman are playing now in the media, movies, and even in the military.”
Darcy soon discovered that life as a solider was, in many ways, easier than trying to keep things together as a single mom. “Everything was provided – food, clothes, lodging and direction,” she says. “I got more sleep than I did as a single mother. It was crazy! I was able to focus on my professional endeavors without wondering if I could scrape some spare change together for a hamburger at McDonalds.”
Make no mistake, though. Basic training was tough. In the book Darcy describes the grueling drills, including one that involved being confined in a chamber filled with tear gas. (Think of that scene in An Officer and a Gentleman.) While other recruits were panicking, Darcy, who had visualized the exercise many times in her mind, was calm and methodical, getting through the exercise with time to spare. That was the first time she realized the power of visualization, something that she would use many times in the future.
While in the Army, Darcy met and married another soldier. Since he had a higher rank and would often be deployed, Darcy made the decision to leave the Army. She had been working on college credits and had enough training in communications that she could land a job paying her three times what she was making in the Army. Still, because of frequent separations, the marriage didn’t last. Dealing with the trauma of facing a second divorce, Darcy began to have vivid dreams. “Dreams of traveling, working and living in the Middle East were starting to come through,” she writes. Those dreams would soon become reality when she accepted a position supporting the Army Information Technology operations as an information systems security officer on Camp Doha, Kuwait.
Darcy arrived in Kuwait a year after President George W. Bush’s “shock and awe” campaign which brought down Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein. While Kuwait was relatively safe, there were still challenges. Unlike some ex-pats, Darcy was open to learning about the people there and the culture. “I think I wanted to believe there was good in the world and the way for me to come to that was to immerse myself in another culture, befriend locals, and see what it was all about,” she says. “I met so many different types of people in the Middle East, some real characters. They made my time there great. There is so much diversity in this world. I would be hesitant to make gross generalizations on any group of people after my experiences.”
As an independent woman, Darcy often had to confront how women were treated in the Middle East. She became friends with one man named Mohammad who worked at the airport. Even though they spent some pleasant times together, she kept in mind a warning from his sister: “My brother is always angry and you should be careful with him.” When he became overbearing and controlling, Darcy made excuses for not being able to meet him. Fortunately, she was able to end the relationship on a friendly note and when Jordan visited Kuwait, Mohammed ushered her safely through the airport. Darcy made friends with another man, Waleed, but had to cut it off when he began to talk about marriage.
Darcy was certainly living her dream to travel. After celebrating the New Year in Lebanon, she took another job in Iraq, a country that was much more dangerous than Kuwait. “My assignment was working within the U.S. Embassy annex supporting the communications backbone for Multi-National Forces Iraq (MNF-I) in the area known as the International Zone,” she writes. She describes a trip in a Black Hawk helicopter to Camp Victory in Baghdad. “Initially, I thought the pilot was giving us a guided tour of Baghdad, but really he was just trying to avoid random gunfire from some of the rooftops and keep us from getting shot down through a rough patch of the city,” she writes. Peering down, rather than seeing gunfire, she witnessed “only a beautiful afternoon with young Iraqi children playing soccer in a small patch of a lush grassy field.” At the base, Darcy had the opportunity to tour Saddam Hussein’s Al-Faw Palace. Staring at crystal chandeliers and marble work, Darcy says “I couldn’t prevent my mouth from falling open with awe.” Driving around, a solider also pointed out the small building where the former Iraqi dictator was being held.
For Darcy, there was a bonus for her stay in Iraq. In Lebanon, she had met and fell in love with Majed, who would also be working in Iraq. The two would spend one glorious holiday together in Jordan before the romance came to a tragic end, sending Darcy into a tailspin.
She retreated back to the U.S., giving herself time to grieve. She returned to Kuwait for a short time, but soon found herself accepting a position with NATO in The Hague. Her initial excitement about the assignment didn’t last. She found the city cold, damp, and isolating. Playing netball (a Dutch version of basketball without the dribbling), she sprained her ankle. Shortly after that, she developed several health problems. “I had worked so hard to get to this point in my career,” she writes. “For what? Was this all that could be expected? Loneliness, sickness, and depression? It was a difficult pill for me to swallow.”
One evening she forced herself to socialize, accepting an invitation to a birthday party. She sustained a serious fall down a flight of stairs, injuring her lower back, pelvis, and shoulder. “If you have ever been in chronic pain, you understand that it goes beyond dealing with the physical pain,” she writes. “There’s a psychological effect as well.”
After trying in vain to get treated in The Hague, a friend took her to Paris. While the doctors there were able to diagnose her injuries, a cortisone shot in her spine just made matters worse. One of the doctors suggested she try alternative forms of medicine to relieve her pain. Thus began her search for help which finally led her to Zoran Hochstatter in London, the founder of a healing modality called PureBioenergy Therapy. Darcy not only scheduled a healing session with Hochstatter, but also signed up for his training class. Zoran sported a white beard and long, white, shoulder-length hair. “He looked like a healer, but was wearing normal clothes – a T-shirt and blue jeans.” When he approached her, Darcy rattled off her long list of ailments. After saying, “Is that it?” he turned on some classic rock and went to work. Darcy recalls swaying and rocking as he waved his hands around her. “The movement was involuntary, out of my control,” she writes. When it was over, Darcy felt peaceful and calm. After a second day of therapy, she woke up realizing that for the first time she had slept a full eight hours; there was no pain in her back or her hip. Attending Zoran’s training session, she was energized with the possibility of helping others heal.
“Upon returning to Holland, it was hard to conceal my excitement about how good I was feeling,” she writes. “For the first time in almost a year I was walking upright, without a limp.” Others noticed and Darcy began to use what she had learned from Zoran. “Initially, my intent was to help others heal, but I eventually understood that each person I helped was also helping me,” she writes. “By allowing me to co-create wellness and health within others, the process took me outside of myself. It got me out of my own head by focusing on being of service to someone in need.”
Returning to the U.S., Darcy settled in Washington, D.C. and took a job at the Pentagon. Her healing work continues. She’s particularly proud about helping those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “These days I don’t get many skeptics in my healing space, but in the past I learned quickly that some people just don’t resonate with what I’m doing,” Darcy says. “I’m okay with that. I’m actually a skeptic and come from a computer engineering background, so I understand that what I’m doing goes against traditional and convention thinking. But, I never feel compelled to explain or convince anyone of what I’m doing. We are all responsible for our own health and we all can choose how to get there. Belief is a big part of a person’s healing process.”
Darcy and Jordan continue to enjoy a close relationship. “I think it was confusing and hard for my daughter in the beginning, but as she got older she understood more about why I made the choices I did and it makes sense to her,” she says. “She’s 21 years old now and always says she got the best of worlds, a stable home and an opportunity to see the world and have great experiences that otherwise would not have been possible.”
Writing Life in My Hands gave Darcy the opportunity to reflect on her journey. “I made mistakes along the way, but I learned from those mistakes and became more savvy, focused, and confident in the process,” she says. “Living with regrets about things you didn’t do or chances you didn’t take, especially out of fear of failure, are some of the most painful to live with. I have no regrets in my life. I’ve lived fully and still have many more exciting times ahead.”
Life in My Hands – Healing Myself, Healing Others
Photos courtesy of Darcy Hotchkiss