I was asked to be a guest on Liana Werner-Gray’s radio show on Hay House Radio on 5/14/2015. It was one of the most empowering and freeing experiences, as I was finally allowed to publicly share my personal story for the first time. However, my wounds and scars would bear no true value, if I had ignored the lessons that they were meant to teach me – the need for self-love, self-acceptance and self-compassion. If you know me at all, you know that I have always had a fear of public speaking and the thought of putting myself out there was extremely intimidating! With a little help from my glass of wine – and my OCD radio notes, I conquered that fear. I thought that I would share my notes with all of you, so feel free to have a glass of wine as you read them too! I did! Cheers!
Here is the link if you would like to subscribe to Hay House Radio to listen: http://www.hayhouseradio.com/#!/episode/womens-healing-1430243121
Thank you Liana for having me! Well it is important that I tell my story – so that you all have some idea of where I am coming from … and what I have been through – and I do want to share what I have learned with anyone who may be going through their own challenges and struggles. So to begin, I am going to discuss something that happened to me a long time ago. It’s not the worst thing that I have been through – but it was a bad one. … I was raped when I was thirteen years old. My life was turned upside down … it’s amazing to think how such a brief moment in time can have such a profound impact on your life. I became numb and I withdrew. I started experimenting with drugs and alcohol and cutting – just so I could feel something. Then after I cut myself I was like “okay you definitely can still feel things, maybe you shouldn’t do that again!” The truth was that I wanted to tell someone but I didn’t have the courage. I wanted people to understand what i was going through – but I just couldn’t do it. I ended up burying this secret so deep within myself in hopes that if I could distance myself emotionally from this experience, that it would never resurface. It would be more than a decade before I ever told anyone what had happened. Only after I opened up and began talking about the rape, did I begin to realize that this incident had in fact caused a significant amount of collateral damage. Internalizing our pain doesn’t make it go away. It will find a way to manifest – and many times, the manifestation of this pain will affect seemingly unrelated areas of your life that make it difficult for you to recognize the root cause. For me, the pain of this experience manifested in Body Dysmorphic Disorder, in me feeling so uncomfortable in my skin that I didn’t wear shorts or a bathing suit for over ten years. It was a crash course for me in learning that internalizing your pain is not synonymous with actually “healing from your trauma.”
So let’s fast-forward in time to age 23. I developed HELLP syndrome when I was 36 weeks pregnant with my son (which is a severe and life-threatening form of preeclampsia) and one emergency c-section later … I became a mom. A sick and dying new mom. I lost my vision for 24 hours, and my ability to clot and the physical pain of my body shutting down system by system was so intense that not even Morphene could give me relief. I knew that I was dying. I was bleeding from my gums and mouth, my lab work kept coming back only to prove that my condition was steadily declining and I had to witness members of my family coming into the room to see me and just breaking down in tears. There was nothing they could do and there was nothing anyone could do – not even the doctors. There are only so many times that you can hear people say under a veil of tears that you are going to be fine, before you start questioning whether or not you are going to make it. On day 3 and 4, when things were still getting worse I finally resigned myself to the fact that I was probably going to die in that awful room and that I was not going to get a chance to raise my son. I just wanted an answer. I wanted someone to tell me the truth. And then a lucky Resident on Call walked into my room. At that point I was so frustrated and scared – that I started crying and told him that I just needed an answer. I begged him “will you please just tell me if I am going to die. I just need an honest answer. I deserve to at least be prepared.” And he looked at me and he said “If you believe you are going to die – then you are going to die. If you make the choice to live, you will make it through this.” His words may have saved my life. It was in that moment that I realized that I did have some control over my condition. I could put my energy into creating healing thoughts instead of being consumed with fear. My mom and sister and I held hands that day – and we collectively put a message out to the universe that I was going to live – dying was not an option. A couple of hours later … my next round of labs came back … and my condition had started to improve.
My emotional recovery from this trauma took longer than did my physical body as I struggled with PTSD and panic disorder in the months that followed. I had such a difficult time letting go of the painful memories of that experience, and I kept reliving them over and over again as they would play out like a video in my head. I was having panic attacks and if you have ever had one of those – you know that afterwards, you live in a constant state of anxiety worrying when the next one will strike. I had somehow managed to survive, but I did not feel as though I was living. Again, I was so ashamed of the way that I was feeling and that I couldn’t seem to get control of my life, so I hid my problems as best as I could. Then it happened. I never expected that one of the most defining moments in my life would come as I lie paralyzed with fear and crying on the cold tile floor of my kitchen – in the fetal position. In the midst of my anxiety attack – my son woke up from his nap and started crying for me. I was frozen. I couldn’t get up to help him. Then it happened, it was a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life. I could hear my mother’s words in my head saying “There are going to be tough times in life and you are going to have to pick yourself up by the bootstraps and keep moving forward.” So I did. I made a choice that day that I was not going to live out of fear and that I was not going to miss out on the present moment – and time with my son. I just had to believe that I was stronger than my emotions. And over the course of the next month … I won that battle.
As Liana mentioned … I did go on to become a single mother and I have nothing but the utmost respect for the moms out there who have been or may still be raising their child on their own. My son has life threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and eggs and that brought its own series of traumas and challenges – including the single most terrifying moment of my life. My son was 18 months old and had just received his flu shot. Within 10 seconds … his entire body became stiff as a board – and his face started turning blue. His pediatrician didn’t have an eli-pen and he told me to run – thankfully the ER was only a parking lot away from his office. There I was, running as fast as I could with my blue baby in my arms. But we made it. And thankfully my son was treated and recovered quite quickly.
The truth is that there isn’t a person among us who will come out of this life unscathed and while our personal traumas may appear different on the surface – the emotional pain that we carry within us as the result of a trauma, is universal.
I am going to share with you some of the tips and lessons that I have learned and have used in my own healing as well as some that I use to maintain balance and sanity even in dealing with the everyday stresses and challenges of life.
1. Give yourself permission to fall apart. From the time we are children, we are conditioned to believe that we shouldn’t cry – and when we did cry we were told “stop crying, you are fine… get it together…alright that’s enough.” I am here to tell you that it is okay to cry. You do not have to hold the weight of the world on your shoulders every minute, of every day and hide the fact that life is difficult and can be too much at times. You do not have to feel guilty or ashamed for crying – we refer to it as “falling apart,” when the reality is that you are actually building yourself up. If you have gotten to the point where you are actually crying yourself out .. you have already taken the first step towards healing. Whether you drive somewhere and park, cry into your pillow, or put music on in the shower and collapse in the fetal position for 20 minutes … allow yourself time to release some of your pain, your anger … your frustrations. For some people, crying can be an intimidating thing because they worry that the emotions may not stop and this may spiral them into a darker place. I recommend that you ritualize and decriminalize the act of crying and give yourself permission to release your emotions on a regular basis. And this is what I would like for you to try the next time that you find yourself in this position … you are going to make a plan and this promise to yourself – “I give myself permission to cry, but I will make changes in my life so that I never have to fall apart over this same issue again.”
2. Learn to find your voice: Women are the givers, the nurturers, the people pleasers, the diplomats, and ultimately the worriers. Even when the world is falling down around us, we somehow manage to garner the strength to make dinner for our family, get the kids off to school, go to work, and maintain some level of normalcy for the ones we love. At times it felt as though I wore a smile on my face just to prevent the words that I didn’t feel comfortable saying, from falling out of my mouth. Even when a person would repeatedly hurt me, the thought of telling them that I was not okay with their behavior and upsetting them was far more intimidating than continuing to suffer in silence. It is important to remember in those fragile moments that your silence ultimately infers your acceptance of a given behavior. Find the courage necessary to say the things that need to be said – the unspoken words that have haunted you for far too long. Effective communication has the power to change the course of your life, your relationships, and ultimately your ability to find happiness in every day.
3. Never settle for a life that is less than the one that you deserve. If you are unhappy with some aspect of your life – it could be a friendship or a job or even a relationship … you can not sit back and wait for the universe, or God or whatever it is that you believe in – to fix things for you. You have to find the strength inside of yourself – and I promise you, it is there inside every one of us – to let go of the people and the things in your life that no longer serve you. You are only as “stuck” as you allow yourself to be. There is always a way out – happiness is closer than you think – and it starts the day you make a plan to change the things in your life that you can no longer tolerate. If you keep doing what you have always done, you will keep getting what you have always gotten. You have the power to change the course of your life.
4. Remind yourself everyday, that your emotional health and happiness does not deserve to be held hostage by the insecurities, unstable moods or “bad days” of others. I had to learn my boundaries – particularly when it came to relationships. If you have ever been in a relationship or marriage or have lived with a significant other (it could even be a friend or children), then you will be able to relate to this. There is only so long that a person can walk around on egg shells trying to make another person happy – before their feet will begin to bleed. So when I would find my emotional state and happiness being compromised, I began to leave the space and allow the other person to own their bad day and negative emotional state. I would go for a walk, a drive, sing, meditate outside and practice breathing techniques, go shopping, whatever it is was that I needed to do to ground myself so that I could return full of love – and better able to help that person. I realized that I don’t have to weather everybody else’s storms with them or more importantly, for them – and neither do you.
5. So my next tip and this is an important one and it is on How to break the cycle of self-abuse and self-neglect. Learn to love yourself, talk to yourself, and take care of yourself – in the same manner that you would your best friend. For most women, we are our own worst enemy and our harshest critic. When we engage in negative self-talk about our bodies, our behaviors, or our intellect – we say things about our selves that we would never say to another person. We have to learn to break this cycle by ritualizing self-love in our lives. We have to speak to ourselves with self-love and compassion and build in breaks to preserve our emotional health. Sometimes we have to disconnect and unplug ourselves from the obligations, distractions and stresses of life – so that we can be reminded of who we really are again. We often lose ourselves in our daily duties and roles – as mothers, in our careers, in our relationships and we forget that underneath our many titles and hats – there is a beautiful woman who has needs and desires too. Take time each day to reconnect with your inner goddess. Celebrate her. Even if it is only for 20-minutes – do something for and by yourself. Every day.
6. The Scale Exercise. I will be very honest in saying that I used to be a slave to my scale. Remember, I used to have severe BDD and I used to weigh myself at the very least – every morning and every night. Don’t ask me why – I am not really sure why I was expecting any major change in the size of my body in a span of two hours! But honestly I know a lot of women who do this too. If the scale didn’t reflect a particular number or even worse, would show that I had gained a few pounds – I would actually feel bad about myself. And I would carry these feelings with me all day. I would compare myself to other woman, and I would begin to over-analyze every inch of my body and perceived imperfection (stretch marks, fat rolls, cellulite). So, to help myself break this cycle and this flawed pattern of thinking – you know what i did? I taped a notecard onto my scale that read “Your self-worth is NOT measured by the number on this scale.” I forced myself to read this before I stepped on the scale and again after I got off of it. It was to remind me that my weight and the size and shape of my body was not a reflection of my beauty as person. The more I read this message, the less inclined I felt to weigh myself – and more importantly if I did, it would help to prevent me from stepping off of the scale and tearing myself to pieces over my physical appearance.
7. Scream Therapy. This is not a new concept – but this is something that I do when the stress of a day just becomes more than I can handle. There is generally a tipping point and it could be something that happens at work, or a meeting at your child’s school – or a fight with a friend or loved one … something that puts you over the edge. So I give myself a few minutes and I generally do this in my car … and I tell myself you are going to let (whatever the issue is) go and then … I scream as loud and for as long as I can. And I may scream again. Then I usually laugh at myself for a second – but it is such a cathartic release. Try it. It only takes a few seconds and when you are done – you will feel as though someone has hit the reset button on your emotional state. Just remember these simple rules … do it with the windows rolled up, make sure that you are by yourself or at least give your passenger fair warning, and make sure there aren’t any police officers around haha.
8. Identify Areas of Your Life That Are In Need Of Healing. Part of emotional healing involves self-reflection and the identification of the specific areas that are in need of resolve. I want you to think back on the past day, week or month even – and make a list of the events or conflicts with others, that caused you to feel intense emotion (anger, jealousy, sadness – whatever it may have been). Then, I want you to ask yourself – why did that situation upset me so deeply? What was my role in this? Is there anything that I have experienced in my past, that may have caused me to feel overly sensitive in this particular situation? Notice any trends. These are the moments that we have to better analyze. What we don’t always realize is that any form of intense emotion may in fact be an overreaction to a situation that we have become overly sensitive to – because we have yet to truly heal from a past trauma.
8. There Are Going To Be Bad Days And Bad Things Are Going To Happen In Your Life – It Is Up To You To Not Allow Them To Defeat You. Acceptance of an unexpected or negative life event or situation is not easy. Initially, when something unanticipated happens in our lives, we become consumed with emotion – it could be grief, sadness, or anger. It is perfectly healthy to experience these emotions – but you must learn to embrace the fact that there is a part of you that is far stronger than any situation or emotion – this is your true self. Once you recognize that you are bigger and stronger than any obstacle, you can summon the inner strength needed to pull your self through even the worst days of your life. It is also important to remind yourself that life is a cycle of highs and lows – this is critical to preserving your emotional health. What is good will inevitably change, but similarly the difficult times will be intermittent as well. If you constantly view the world as stable and unchanging, you put yourself at a disadvantage and will most likely have a more difficult time finding happiness. Embrace the fact that emotional states and situations are transient, and try to find the silver lining in even the worst of days.
9. Learn To Forgive Yourself And Let Go Of The Past. We have to learn to come to a place of acceptance in regards to the decisions and mistakes that we have made in the past and resolve to move forward. Always move forward with self-love and compassion. When you look back at a situation and think about the pain or guilt that you feel for the way that you behaved or merely the fact that you didn’t take action – know and believe that in that moment of time, you were doing the best that you could for the person you were then. You are not the same person now. You will never be that person again. You can’t look back at the past with your present level of knowledge and wisdom and judge yourself for the things that you wish now you had done differently. Whether it was staying in an unhealthy relationship for longer than you should have or maybe a personal struggle with addiction – the new you now knows that these things did not work for you and didn’t not serve your soul. Choose to learn from your past. Choose to grow from your mistakes and life experiences. Let them motivate you to become the best version of yourself.
Final Tip: 10. Take Control Of Your Own Happiness. From this moment on, a conversation with a friend or parent detailing your latest and greatest interest, goals, opinions or experiences – does not have to cause you to have a panic attack! Now is the time to begin to acknowledge the fact that you do not have to live for the applause and approval of others. Most of us have already spent the majority of our lives trying to please those around us and yielding the advice of others, even when we knew that deep down, we weren’t satisfied with our decisions. Well guess what? You are officially an adult now. You know who you are. You know what brings you happiness and serves your soul and more importantly, you know what it means to settle. Shake things up a little bit. Step out of your comfort zone and regain control of your life – every bit of it! From hobbies, to friends, to travel, to a new career – you can begin to align the life that you have, with the life that you really want. You have a new goal. It is your own happiness. Life is too short to spend it settling in an unhappy marriage or relationship, or to spend your week days feeling as though you are an extra in the movie “Office Space.” Reflect on where you are and where you would like to be, and make a plan to get there.
So those are some of my tips and now I am going to take you back to our amazing host Liana!