Home > Library > Guest Speaker Chats > Donna Mae Depola Chat

Author Donna Mae Depola - Chat Transcript

The Pandora's Aquarium chat room welcomed Donna Mae Depola on May 25, 2013.

From ages five to seventeen Donna Mae DePola was raped and molested on a daily basis by her father. When he passed away, she discovered twelve film canisters documenting the rapes. The trauma prompted her to write a book about the experience called Twelve Tins. From a very early age she had turned to alcohol and drugs to deal with the pain. Before she knew it, she had a four thousand dollar a week addiction. After more than two decades of using drugs she found the strength to turn her life around. Today Ms. DePola is a substance abuse counsellor, author, and CEO/Founder of both the Resource Counselling Center and the Resource Training Center, the largest school for training substance abuse counsellors in NY. She has been clean for over 25 years and continues to inspire hope in thousands.

If you would like to join us for future guest speaker chats with experts and activists, register on the Pandora's Aquarium online support community!


Question: What advice would you give others who identify with your story on healing?

Donna Mae: The healing process is lifelong. It is something you have to work on sometimes with yourself and sometimes with professional help.  It is exactly like a bruise - the harder you fall the darker the bruise and the longer it takes to heal. There is no time limit. Working on self takes time, especially with something so life shattering. 

The advice I would give is don’t blame yourself for something you had no control of.  They choose you, you did not choose for this to happen. The guilt and shame will kill you for sure if you let it.  You can’t heal unless you indentify what you are trying to heal from.  Once you do that half the battle is done.

Question: What coping methods did you personally find useful in overcoming trauma?


Donna Mae: Well first and foremost, I had the help of a therapist that I trusted very much. While I worked on coping with the trauma, I had to fill my life with things I enjoyed.  I myself  tried to keep very busy doing things that I like.  Ex. Jogging listening  to music etc.  I had and still have raising thoughts. I try and turn that thinking around with positive things.

I never looked at myself as a victim but more as a survivor.  I also talked about it in therapy and really never shared with anyone else.  I had trust issues and didn’t want to be judged.  Sometimes people think they can give their opinion on this issue when actually there is nothing to say.  I didn’t trust many people with my secrets I was taught that many times. We are as sick as our secrets. Overcoming trauma is a lifelong process.  I think I work on it every now and again.

Question: Thank you for speaking out to help others whose abuses have been photographed or filmed. Did finding the tins actually help you move forward in healing in any way?

Donna Mae: Yes very much so it validated my story. Finally everyone had to believe me because there it was.   I used drugs for 25 years so I didn’t know how to feel it worked. 

I found the tins 2 years after being clean.  I am grateful for that.  Recovery and the tins helped me to move forward in a positive way for self.  As sick as it is it made me feel somewhat vindicated. I wish I never held the films up to the light to see myself.  It made it even more real when it was real already.

Question:  Did you keep the tins containing the footage of your abuse?


Donna Mae: In July 1987 I gave them to my therapist who is a really good friend of mine now. We burned them together ceremoniously. I asked her to document when she saw because as usual I thought no one would believe they even existed.  She is my proof and my rock.  I did ask her in the beginning what she saw and she said “It is horrible and I can’t even talk about it”. But I could have never kept them because I would have had to look at them and that would be the end of me, I think.

Question: Do you believe it's possible to forgive a parent who apologizes after long term abuse?

Donna Mae: I guess it is but for me forgiveness wasn’t a word I wanted to use in respect to my father. I am not bitter or angry I just don’t understand how you forgive someone who has violated you from age 4 to 17.  That changed my life forever and I really only started to deal with it in my 30’s and 40’s.  So forgiveness no but I don’t dwell on it I don’t think about him in that way or really think about him at all. 

When I see old friends they say I am very much like him and that bothers me somewhat.  We have the same qualities.  Sense of humour, very organized etc. I do wish he was a good father and we had a good relationship like other families but that was not meant to be.  So I really probably do forgive him.  But that is hard to say I am very disappointment and embarrassed that he was my father.

Question: What would you say to a survivor who has a difficult time interacting with a parent that didn't protect them from the abusive parent?

Donna Mae: I had to actually wait for my father to die to really like my mother.  I realized after he was dead and I got to know her that she was a victim also.  Her I forgave she was a weak person and controlled by him. It is amazing what the other parents don’t see.  My mother had to know but as I never admitted she couldn’t either.  On the day he died she asked me did your father molest you?  I said to her don’t ever ask me a question where you already have the answer that was in 1987.  Luckily my mother lived for another 15 years so I got to know her real well.  Knowing that she made up for all the pain I went though just being she to me.  I loved her and she loved me.  I took care of her for 10 years and she cried a lot of what happened without saying a word.

Question:  Would you allow your children around a known abuser - like at a family get together? 


Donna Mae: I had step children and was very protective over them and my one niece.  I had no control of any of that.  My sister who wasn’t abused I feel watched them like a hawk.  My step children where never left alone with him.  I think I would have killed him and deep down he knew that.  I was a person who took nothing from anybody and he knew that.  I think if I had my own children I would have never left them with him and probably would have not even socialized with the family.

Question:  When you were using did you realize how out of control you were or did it just not matter? 


Donna Mae: Out of control I was not.  Or at least I thought that.  I worked every day and owned my own businesses.  I worked like a dog.  I owned grocery stores and restaurants from 1974 to 1987.  I used cocaine around 4 thousand a week.  I had all the money I wanted and the drug worked well.  Most people didn’t even know I was on drugs at all.  I was just crazy and they thought that was who I was.  Understand in the 70 and 80’s it appeared to me that everyone did drugs.  I was a boss and I ran around and worked so hard and then did it again the next day.  I think because I was in control (or so I thought) that I stayed addicted longer.

Question: What was the most motivating thing that helped you decide to battle drug addiction and kept you fighting it?

Donna Mae: In the beginning I wasn’t motivated at all.  I relapsed or should I say stayed active for a couple of years until I realized I couldn’t do it by myself.  Then someone said to me “you would make a great counsellor” I saw myself helping others and that motivated me to continue to help others.  One person in particular stays in my mind was my therapist who was the only person who let me believe I was worth something.  I never even read a book until I was 35 now at 64 I wrote a book.

In all my darkest moments I always wanted to help people.  I would put my life even in jeopardy so people would like me.  Now I know I have it in me to make a difference.  I will continue to fight until my last breath.  I have said to so many addicts.  Where there is breath there is recovery.  Keep trying.  Don’t give up. When I speak around the United States and once in England I see people’s faces and when I am finished I can see some are really touched and some can’t even speak. I still keep in touch with several women and parents.  Even men have emailed me or have come to speak to me after a conference crying.  I hope I can continue to help people who have even had worse things than me happen to them.  That is my motivation.

Question:  What made you decide to open schools to train certified counsellors?


Donna Mae: I tried to get into a school for counsellors and they wouldn’t let me in because of a couple of things. One I was only in recovery for a short time and the second I couldn’t pass the entrance test.  I asked a friend or so called friend if I would make a good counsellor he said “no that I wasn’t smart enough”.  That motivated me.  I wanted people who were not college material and needed an extra hand to help them in recovery and with their studies. So I opened the school with my therapist she was the brain I was the marketer.  I sold drugs for many years so I now can sell a product which helps people. Anything I have ever done I have put my whole self in it.  When I did drugs I did all I could every day.  When I believe in someone I put my energy towards helping them.  It is my calling for sure.  What is the length you go for someone?  Any length.

Question: Do you think that therapeutic work can succeed if it does not return to the facts?

Donna Mae: You can use therapy as supportive care to help with the day to day, but to truly heal, you eventually have to face the facts of that trauma.  But again, it should really be with a true professional that you trust. Facing those facts can often feel like reliving them. So you need support from a good therapist that can help patch you up at the end of each and every session.

Question: With people trying to recover from horrible situations such as being trafficked as children or adults and who are trying to get on their feet, but still have relapses and very little support, what would you say to these people to help them? Help them keep persevering? Help them believe in themselves? Help them find a resource for help?


Donna Mae: It's always a work in progress. You have to constantly remind them that the fact that they even survived the abuse is a testimony to the strength they have deep down inside. Getting them connected with supportive services is the best thing you can do. Support groups where they can be connected with a sponsor or coach to reach out to at the toughest times, and professionals to help the healing process along.

Question: How did you stay positive?  I was ok until my late 30s but then my world caved in - how do you move forward, in an optimistic way?

Donna Mae: You have to accept that it's not your fault and that you are a victim of someone else's bad behavior. You have to drill that in over and over again. Again it's what helps the victim become the survivor.  Sometimes the world has to cave in. Sometimes it can't be helped. It's almost like an addict hitting rock bottom. I wish I could say there was a totally pain free way to get through it. But there is not. Which is why it's so important to have support in place

Question: By your mother being the enabler of your abuse, how did you feel about loving her? Did you feel angry that you still loved her?

Donna Mae: I had no feelings for my mother prior to my father dying. I guess I was bitter that she didn't try and protect me. Once my father died, and I allowed myself to connect with her, I realized that she had been a victim as well, physically and mentally for all of those years. My father was a great intimidator. I do not feel angry that I still love her. If anything I feel badly that it took for my father to die to be able to finally get close to her, 37 years into my life.  In the end, I was the one who took care of her until she died.

Sasha: Ok ladies we are going to end chat here I know that there are a few more questions but we'll hopefully have Donna back again and she will be able to answer them.

Donna Mae: I hope we get to speak more one day...

Sasha: Donna we wanted to thank you so much for coming to speak to us. Many of our chatters don't talk to people outside the board about their lives so it's always great.

Sasha: We will also post the transcript of this chat on the board so that chatters who couldn't make it will be able to read it at a later stage.

Donna Mae: Thanks so much. It really does humble me to be invited into your lives. I'd love to come back...

Sasha: Donna that's wonderful to hear hon we are glad you'll be able to come back again!

Donna Mae: Goodnight everyone!


If you would like to suggest a topic or speaker for future guest speaker chats, please contact us!