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"I grew up with this odd feeling of thinking I was superior to everyone because I knew what they were doing was evil, " she remembers. "But at the same time feeling ostracized because of the nature of my upbringing. So I tried to compensate by being the smartest kid in the class. Which only made it worse."
DeFoort was a loner who worshiped her father. In addition to leading seminars in the Worldwide Church, he owned and operated his own hydraulics distributing company — and gave a portion of his salary to the church. DeFoort remembers him as a Tony Robbins-like figure, and as she grew older, she began seeing herself in that same role: up there on the stage, the pulpit, motivating, preaching. Aware of his daughter's spiritual hunger, her father gave her books to help her along the path. But when DeFoort was eighteen, her father experienced a spiritual awakening of his own.
"There was a movement that went through smaller churches like ours in the early '90s called the 'Grace Awakening,'" she explains. "On a philosophical sense, it was when these churches figured out that it was more the spirit of what you do, not the letter of the law, and so you need to get off your high horse of being law-keepers."
While the awakening helped create modern-day Christian fundamentalism, it pushed her father in the opposite direction. DeFoort compares it to waking up from a coma, with the family cutting all ties with the cult-like Worldwide Church. Originally, DeFoort had planned to attend a church college, but at her father's urging she instead went to Hastings College in Nebraska, spending summers interning with fashion photographers in Minneapolis and ultimately earning degrees in world religion, English and journalism.
Her college years weren't easy. Living away from your family at eighteen is hard enough — but DeFoort had also lost her entire belief system. At times, she was suicidal.
"When you're so young, your confidence doesn't come internally, it comes externally," she says. "I had to learn quickly to develop internal confidence. Think about it. As a kid, you had your entire life laid out for you, then one day you find out it was all BS. You're left with this individual quest, that soul quest that everyone goes on, where you ask what are the rules of life, when you find out that all humans are fallible, that no one has the answers, that most adults are just as screwed up as you are, the dark night of the soul. You are completely and utterly alone until you get to the reverse of that — which is that you are not alone. That was a ten-year process for me."
It was a process that involved a lot of experimentation. "I picked up a book called Conversations With God, and I remember poring over it, looking for anything that would allow me to have sex," she says with a laugh. "I was looking for anything that would get me out of that goody-two-shoes vein, so I started shopping around for all the really crazy stuff. The first thing I did was go to a spiritualist church, where they were having mediums, having dead people come in and have conversations, and I just ate it up. My dad passed away right at that same time, so I was having all these crazy conversations with my dead father, really getting into metaphysics and anything new-age spirituality. I was dabbling in everything to fill the void, I suppose. It was almost like I put on the black sheep's clothing and ran with it, you know?"
The black sheep soon ran to Denver, where she worked as a freelance photographer and took odd jobs wherever she could find them: doing landscaping, working at a home for juvenile delinquents. She continued trying different churches, but they were all too steeped in one way of thinking, too restrictive, never unifying enough. She was seeking an inclusive, non-judgmental community, a place where other black sheep could gather and let their freak flags fly.
She found it in a club.
In 2000, she went on a first date with Paresh Rana. As the night wore on, he made his move. "He put a pill in my hand and said, 'Do you trust me?'" she recalls. "I looked at him, bewildered, but I ended up doing it."
The two then headed downtown to Amsterdam, a club that was home to an exploding electronic, house and diva scene. "I met so many people who were so extraordinarily rock-your-world loving — and they were like that when they were sober, too," she says. "It was just a place with no boundaries or judgment. That night continued till 7 a.m. the next morning, and we wound up sneaking into somebody's neighbor's hot tub. It was just heaven on earth for one night. Then, of course, that opened me up to experiences where you don't have boundaries and judgment and a sense of what's right and wrong, but only what's loving and what's not."
It was a secret, underground world that existed only on the weekends in Denver, an anything-goes world of dancing and drugs, music and transcendent experiences. One night DeFoort would find herself making out with a merry-go-round of women and men; on another, she would be with a group at the back of the club, all rolling their faces off on ecstasy, guiding an astral meditation where everyone suddenly imagined they were in Australia.