introduction + Sample Chapter
We are often made to believe that holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. But when it comes to our past, it takes much more strength to actually let it go. We find ourselves clinging on to those hurtful experiences and continuously making judgments and forming expectations about them.
I was sitting on a park bench one day after a visit to my mother went awry. The few tense moments I was there included yelling, arguing and catching my mom by the arm just in time to stop her from drunkenly stumbling down her concrete front steps. I remember looking right into her eyes that day before I left. They illuminated like fireballs and bright green, brown and hazel specks seemed to burn fiercely through her irises. I never saw her eyes look like that before. I bolted out of the chaos as fast as I could, drove to a nearby park, put my head in my hands and let the tears dump down my cheeks. Through the tears, there was a voice that came through so strongly to me. You are going to help people through this one day the voice said. It confused me, as I felt so helpless in that moment. But as time went on and I got older, that distinct voice I heard that day spoke my truth. My passion. I began to notice that my story wasn’t uncommon. Hundreds of people struggled through difficult experiences, just like I had, and I wanted to show up for them and guide them through the healing process that I worked so hard on. As I began creating healing workshops and working with women, I quickly realized that our stories didn’t have to be an exact match for me to empathize with their pain. Whether the stories involved addiction, physical abuse, domestic abuse, neglect, abandonment, chronic illness or just one isolated traumatic experience...our foundations remained the same. Those experiences often made us feel damaged, unloveable, crazy, emotional and that we just weren’t good enough in one way or another.
My approach is likely not the typical approach of a counselor or a coach. I’m not much of a hugger or an everything will be okay’er. I’m not like Mary Poppins, a magical and loving woman who descends from the clouds to help children and sing beautiful songs with a bird perched upon her finger. I’m a little rougher around the edges, if you will. I’m more like the Grinch, with a prominent hardened look and a very direct personality...but my heart grows three sizes in one day, and I just can’t help but make sure all the Whos in Whoville get their Christmas presents.
My approach is to tell you not what you may want to hear, but what you need to hear...in the most fostering, non-judgmental and supportive way possible. I have realized through my workshops that people don’t always need hugs and fake promises. They just need to release the emotions, and most importantly, they just need to be heard.
My hardened look may be a fossil of my rough past, but my growing heart has the sole purpose to help people who are stuck like I was for many years. Through my work, I have noticed a recurring theme. People really have a difficult time talking about and effectively processing their feelings. Somewhere along the way in this life, we have been programmed to think that crying isn’t okay and that telling people how we feel would cause controversy instead of conversation. So here I will be, creating a safe space for you to get to the root cause of your emotional blocks. I will be asking the tough questions. I will be allowing you to speak from within your soul, and I will never judge you for what might surface. I will be listening to every word that you deeply need to express. This process is enlightening, awakening and beautiful. It’s what I live for.
Most people have avoided the pain of their past for decades. We have avoided it in our minds, but it is actually very present in how we think about ourselves and how we live our lives. It can control us even when we don’t know that it is. And I am here to help you face your pain head-on, and take power back from it.
The first phase: you have to feel the emotions. You won’t truly be able to evolve into the kick-ass, happy person you deserve to be if you keep avoiding the emotions associated with your past. Take it from me, I was a master at avoiding all emotions to the point where I became numb. It doesn’t work.
The second phase: you have to heal from the experiences on a deep level. From within. If there was a magic wand for this, I’d touch it upon your shoulder right now with some sparkly glitter and declare you healed. Unfortunately, there is no magic wand. But there are real, concrete ways to dig deep and finally release those emotions from your body and your brain.
The final phase: you let it all go. Often without realizing it, we grip tightly to those past experiences and allow them to dictate how we think, what we do and who we become. This is the part where we intentionally release the negative thought patterns, the self-limiting beliefs and the trapped emotions so we can finally move on and enjoy a shifted, new perspective on our lives and ourselves.
Envision yourself standing at the beginning of a vast bridge that appears as high as the sky and as long as the ocean. You are holding suitcases filled with those negative experiences. Those bags are so dense and heavy, almost as if they have been filled with concrete bricks. You have countless bags hanging on each arm, placing immense pressure on every fiber of your body. At the end of the bridge, a cargo of rolling carts is waiting. Those carts are the final destination for your baggage. Sweat is dripping off your brow as you are figuring out how you are going to make it from point A to point B, your final destination.
Here’s where you pick up the map and realize that there is no shortcut to the end. You can’t fly over the bridge. You can’t swim through the treacherous waters beneath. You only have one option. You must walk, step by step, across it.
Those heavy, trapped emotions you have been carrying have gotten really comfortable weighing down your subconscious mind. You’ve likely tried the shortcuts to a happier and healthier life, but they all lead you to dead-ends.
I have tried all the short-cuts, too, while trying to recover from a traumatic childhood. I was a small child dealing with big problems at home. When I was younger, I would wonder innocent and naive questions like, “Why is Mommy acting weird?” As I got older and the naivety wore off, I started to realize that that “weirdness” was addiction and mental illness.
I carried the emotional burden of keeping my home life a secret from the world. My family members were master secret keepers. It was important to my parents that no one knew about the dysfunction we were dealing with behind those walls of our home. On the outside, we were a happy, beautiful family of four in a middle-class home living an uncomplicated life. However, behind the curtains, my family played out scenes that are still burned into my head: like my mother’s eyes rolling into the back of her head while sitting in the kitchen chair. Her mouth stuffed with food she had binged on after starving herself for days. The corded telephone still hanging over her shoulder and the incessant, loud dial tone of someone who hung up blaring through the speaker.
I wasn’t given any tools to deal with these experiences as a child, so the painful emotions they caused remained trapped inside me. These emotional blocks manifested into physical and mental health issues for me, even at a young age. Physically, I dealt with mystery symptoms like daily chest pains and swollen fingers and hands. Every medical test came up inconclusive. Mentally, I would be a prisoner to depression and anxiety for many, many years.
One Christmas morning, I received a pink pleather Barbie diary with a brass locket in addition to the other 150 presents I was flooded with each year. My parents often used material items to fill the void of our family’s emotional gaps. There was nothing I wanted that I didn’t get. When I opened that diary for the first time, the blank pages mesmerized me. There was so much bright, white space, and those pages were just anxiously waiting for my thoughts to be spilled out all over them. Finally, I found an outlet that wouldn’t judge me: blank paper. I started writing and writing, every single day. I would write stories that my parents would find and ask me which song they were from. They weren’t from any song. They were from my life.
Most days, I scribbled with deep fury when I was mad at my mom. I asked that blank paper the tough questions. I would ask it, “why can’t an 11-year-old get a driver’s license?” when I was scared to death to drive with my drunk mom one more time. I asked that paper even tougher questions, like “why does my mom love smoking and drinking more than she loves me?” I vented to that blank paper, “I hate my mom!” on the nights where she would drunkenly embarrass me in front of my friends. It was such a sweet release for me. I quickly realized the emotional power this practice had, and I continued to fill up page after page with the outpouring of my thoughts and emotions that were otherwise dormant within the confines of my brain.
With all of the technology today, people don’t physically put a pencil to paper much, anymore, and yet this simple now dying practice is at the core of the methods that can create a breakthrough to the healing process. Punching those keys on your keyboard is great for work projects and texting those thoughts out on your phone is great for quick notes. But there is a unique connection between the mind and body that happens when your hands are navigating a pencil over a piece of paper. Let’s call it a connection to the self.
When we begin to establish that connection to the self, we begin a physical rewiring process in our brains. The core of our struggles then surface, and we tend to have that aha moment where we say to ourselves, “so that is why I have been thinking this self-limiting belief that I will never be good enough!” or “that is why I never feel heard!” Once we can separate and identify the roots of those self-limiting beliefs, we can then understand that they do not hold the power over our present. We hold the power over our present, and we have the ability to use that power to change the direction of our lives. Can I get a hell yes!?
Before You Begin
Think of past trauma like a slithery, sneaky snake. We often think that the past is in the past and that is where it remains. However, many elements of our past sneak and slither into the present, whether we consciously realize it or not. Often times, we really don’t know why we do the things we do or why we think a certain way until we isolate those things and thoughts and demand answers as to their origin.
Trauma can affect our ability to form meaningful relationships and friendships. It can affect our self-confidence and ability to accomplish goals. It can affect the entire lens through which we see ourselves. This book is designed to help you identify the areas in your life where you may struggle and then strengthen them. Each chapter is structured so you can:
Learn and use effective coping, mindfulness and self-care strategies.
Rediscover the tools within you to navigate your thoughts, feelings and actions.
Understand that you are not damaged, broken, crazy or out of control in any way.
Each chapter is designed to get you on the right path to moving forward with restorative and mindful journal prompts and activities. Here are some reminders for these chapters:
Don’t get overwhelmed by feeling like you need to “heal everything” at once. Take your journey step by step, and try to work on one small area at a time.
Remember that you are an incredible person and capable of outstanding things.
Just like you need to stay consistent and dedicated to be physically fit, the same holds true for your emotional fitness. Employ the practices and prompts during these chapters consistently, and they will eventually become second nature to you.
Don’t let anyone or anything get in the way of your healing. This is the time to really put yourself first. You may sense resistance from those close to you as you are doing this work. They may sense that you are changing. Sometimes they welcome that change, but sometimes they may be apprehensive because your lens on yourself, your focus and your world are all changing.
The goal is not to reach 100% healing; this is not a realistic goal. The goal is to find true focus, purpose and perfection within the imperfect lives we live in.
Best Practices For Journal Prompts & Guided Activities
Use a blank journal just for this book or visit my website to find a digital download of a companion journal that I have specifically designed to go along with this book. Don’t mix this work with any other work you’ve done or any other journal entries you have already written.
Dedicate some time during your readings to put the practices into place as you read. If you are unable to do the practices as you are reading, bookmark the activities and put a calendar reminder for yourself to complete at a certain time/date.
Do the work! Just reading over the questions and glancing at the activities won’t reveal the true potential you have to heal. Even if you are wondering how they can help you or you think you have done this type of work before, I still recommend you go through each step fully. There are always new things that can surface at any time.
Chapter 1: Feel It: The Sticky Memories
Hey, there’s nothing wrong with you.
I still shiver at the smell of rain and old seat upholstery. It always seemed to be raining when my mom drove us around drunk. I still can’t stomach the smell of Listerine because it is all I smelled after waiting on the other side of the bathroom door for my mom to “wash up.” What she was really doing was vomiting up her dinner. I still won’t ever lock my bedroom door because I can clearly recall banging on my mother’s locked door in a panic one day after she had gone unresponsive for hours upon hours. When my sister and I finally broke through the lock with a bobby pin, we found her on the floor, foaming at the mouth with her teeth stained blue from prescription pills. Those are sticky memories.
My mom’s disappearing acts to the bathroom and choice to drive us around drunk had nothing to do with me. A child’s brain doesn’t understand that. My brain didn’t understand that. I felt like I had done something wrong. Maybe if I had done something different or said something different, my mom wouldn’t have felt the need to expel her dinner into the toilet or guzzle down Busch Light after Busch Light. Eventually, those types of experiences of my mother’s deep-rooted insecurities radiated through me and began creating insecurity in me, too.
Despite the grim imagery, my mom was actually a great parent before addiction completely took over. She was funny, kind, caring and the best tickler and pancake maker ever. She was spontaneous and sometimes made us do things we thought were absolutely crazy, like carrying our Christmas tree home one year instead of tying it to our car roof, like, you know, how normal people do it.
We lived on a street called Pleasant Valley Drive, and let me tell you, it was anything but pleasant. The road that led to my house was a very long, steep, insanely vertical and mountainous drive. This hill was so long and steep that the school buses were prohibited from traveling up it to pick up the kids from the bus stops. The bus drivers had to take a slightly less steep yet still ridiculously windy detour route just to reach our neighborhood. So, on that particularly bitter cold night, my mom somehow persuaded us to travel down the hill, pick out our Christmas tree and then carry it up, hand-in-hand, singing jolly Christmas carols as if we came straight out of the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation movie. The walk down wasn’t too bad. We sipped hot chocolate my mom had made for us and chatted about this and that.
When we arrived at the makeshift Christmas tree stand at the bottom of Pleasant Valley Drive, we walked through the rows of trees, smelling fresh pine needles and enjoying the hunt for the “perfect one.” I had only one request: the tree had to be taller than me! Being only a child at the time, finding a taller tree than me wasn’t too much of a problem. There it stood. Not too fat, not too skinny and the perfect Christmas tree height for me. We paid the attendant, and he asked us which car was ours so he could help us secure the tree for travel. “We’re carrying it up the hill,” my mom explained to him. He took a glance up the steep Pleasant Valley of Death and gave us a weird look. “You’re joking, right?” he asked. We all looked at each other and simultaneously pointed at my mom. “It was all her idea!” Another man must have overheard the calamity, came over and offered to tie the tree to his car and take it to our house. We thanked him but told him we actually did this on purpose.
Leaving them in bewilderment, we started our vertical trek. Let me tell you, christmas trees are not easy to get a handle on. It was like hugging a porcupine. The pine needles stung our faces as we tried to tighten our grip of the tree trunk while we began to march upward. Our hands morphed into frozen icicles just a few minutes into the climb. We hemmed, we hawed and complained the entire way up. My mom just kept singing Jingle Bells on repeat trying to lighten the mood. Once we finally arrived to our house (which is also on a hill mind you), we hurdled the tree up the 38 front steps and into our living room. We dumped the tree and all looked at each other. Our foreheads loosened and we all began to chuckle. “What the hell did we just do?” was a question that was going through all of our minds. And whatever the hell we just did turned into a funny memory that we would be talking about for years and years to come. My mom was good at that. Making memories we would never forget. Those are also sticky memories. The good ones.
The purpose of embarking on a healing journey is not to erase those memories. Even the unpleasant ones. The purpose of this healing journey is to take away the power that the negative sticky memories possess on your present life. I used to look back at those negative memories with a “poor me” mentality. I now look back at those memories and feel even more empowered by having gone through those obstacles.
To find freedom from your past, take the steps to release the sticky memories that no longer serve who you are today. Know that they can be keeping you hostage emotionally and can hold you back from growing. You may feel like you have moved past painful experiences because you only think about them once in awhile. Not thinking about those memories anymore, or avoiding your triggers, is not an effective way to heal. Your subconscious knows those triggers still exist and leaves you in fight or flight mode at all times. There are better options to help you get through those memories that we will talk about later on in this book.
Unless you have effectively crossed over the bridge and cleared those emotional blocks from your mind and body, they won’t be going anywhere. They will still hold the controls to navigating your conditioning and self-image, blocking your energy fields and preventing you from being truly happy. Those experiences actually created physical pathways in your brain, which I will go into depth about in the next chapter.
Whether you have one or one million bad memories from your childhood, you are the creator of your blueprint. It’s time to redesign, rebuild and rediscover the beauty of your plan.
Revelations That Helped Me Heal
Playing “Poor Me” Kept Me Stuck
I was unintentionally enabled by my family members growing up, and I really started to feel comfortable in that “poor me” mentality. I was showered with material items instead of a shoulder to cry on. I was left alone when my emotions became inconvenient to everyone else. My home life was never a topic of conversation. It was the forbidden topic at all gatherings. I always just felt pitied instead of empowered. This kept me stuck from transitioning from a victim to the warrior that I see myself as today. There is no blame put on anyone for this. The blame game doesn’t help me move forward. I am responsible for my own destiny.
We Remember The Memories That Make Us Emotional
We have thousands and thousands of memories from our past. Most of them were pretty benign, and we don’t have much response when we reflect upon them today. If we really think about what in our past we have struggled with, a lot of it boils down to select memories. Our entire life probably wasn’t always so terrible, and if we can look back on our life with that perspective and remember the good sticky memories, too, it can open the door to healing. In all my emotional turmoil, I also developed many good characteristics to living that same life, and even some of those good attributes can be contributed to my mother.
Nothing Was My Fault, So I Needed To Stop Acting Like It Was
It was easy to say that nothing that happened was my fault, but it was harder to live a life that reflected that truth. I was blaming myself in ways that surfaced as being unhappy with how I looked, being a low achiever, thinking I was different, having low confidence, not thinking I was worthy of good friends and other damaging beliefs. Words are cheap. I could have told myself 15,000 times that it wasn’t my fault, but until I started changing my actions and beliefs about myself, those words meant nothing. Truly not feeling ashamed anymore meant that I would’ve carried myself differently, walked around proud and knowing in my heart that I could’ve achieved anything I truly desired. I now feel that and recognize it as being proud of who I am.
Feel It Journal Prompts: Sticky Memories
Write down 5 Negative Sticky Memories from your past and how those experiences made you feel at that time.
How did these experiences impact your perception of yourself?
Write down 5 Positive Sticky Memories from your past and how they made you feel at that time.
How did these experiences impact your perception of yourself?
Do you still feel guilt today for what happened? If so, explain why. How would you feel if you released that guilt and started living free of fault tomorrow?