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Don’t Fight Reality

 

Last week our family was lucky enough to leave town, enjoy the mountains and mark the anniversary of quarantine, OUT of quarantine. A break from the monotony did everyone good. I figured we’d come home ready for a photo finish to this bizarre school year and I’d meet my book proposal deadline in a quiet house. Having completed the manuscript months ago, it was past due to get out the door.

The first sign that the universe did not subscribe to my vision came when one kid sustained a mild concussion on the slopes the morning I stayed in to write. That same day, my intended reconciliation with the LA relatives—the only family in the town where my daughter will soon attend school 3000 miles away—fell apart completely. We all arrived back to Miami safely, only to have another child flattened by bronchitis and the last one standing taken down by a fresh crisis. My next move would dictate the vibe going forward.

According to Eckhart Tolle, if we approach everything in life with acceptance, enjoyment or enthusiasm, we avoid suffering. This approach may sound too simplistic to be worth a damn. To claim that we can actually do something to avoid all suffering conjures an image of some ashram dweller who doesn’t have a clue about real life. (If you aren’t familiar with Tolle’s theory and want to listen to a quick podcast about it, try this episode of Bliss & Grit at http://www.blissandgrit.com/blog/acceptance-enjoyment-enthusiasm.)

To accept the truly unacceptable sounds too self-annihilating for a healthy state of being. So let’s talk about what it really means. Real acceptance is internal. It acknowledges how we feel when the crappy thing happens and then how we treat ourselves as a result.

So in this instance, I have the option to accept that all three kids need my attention when I have a project looming and my husband dutifully leaves for the office. I can make decisions about the next right thing to do from a calm place OR I can use my inner resources to fight against what is, i.e. complaining about how much THIS SUCKS.

Acceptance doesn’t mean “bright-siding” it like now I get to spend time with my kids and get none of my work done. YAY. I acknowledge the feeling of disappointment and give myself some grace. It’s okay Elizabeth. You will find the time. Just not right now.

Acceptance isn’t a passive act. We don’t have to accept external experiences and do nothing about them. We do what needs to be done to deal with the reality in front of us. Make ginger, honey and lemon tea for the sore throats (yes, now there are two), paying close attention and stay present. Accepting reality is not pasting a happy face over my sad one. It is an internal recognition of what is arising inside me when my plans are trashed again. It’s not arguing with what is happening but meeting it with as much curiosity as I can muster and a fresh batch of clean energy.

Hard human experiences may take a while to accept. In the scheme of things, my issue is a pebble in the road. But even when we are confronted with really hard truths, our body registers the relief when we accept them as they are. Like when you have an inkling you are being lied to and then find conclusive proof. Yes, it’s painful, but the body recognizes truth and finds peace in it. When you finally face something you’ve been avoiding, you get relief. The opposite happens when we choose to run away from it and then get nowhere—it causes stress.

Once you accept and sit with truth, creative options arise. When we move from a place of resistance, that movement brings clarity and invites ease and freedom. I will prepare for my upcoming writing workshop and figure out the best timing for the proposal when I get back.

Tolle recommends that if you can neither enjoy nor bring acceptance to what you are doing, stop. Otherwise, you are not taking responsibility for the only thing you can really control, i.e., your state of consciousness. This may sound rather luxurious, like what if you have a filing deadline with the court and you are just not feeling it. Then you have no option but to accept it and get the job done.

“If you are not taking responsibility for your state of consciousness, you are not taking responsibility for your life.” Eckhart Tolle

I find acceptance tricky but doable. The second preferred state of consciousness is a whole different thing: enjoyment. I thoroughly enjoy reading and would do it all day every day if I could. According to Tolle, we can transform tasks we don’t naturally enjoy by changing our awareness while we do them. Like the act of washing dishes—focusing on the warm, soapy water, the quiet moment, etc. You will enjoy any activity in which you are fully present, any activity that is not just a means to an end. It isn’t the action you perform that you really enjoy, but the deep sense of aliveness that flows into it. That aliveness is one with who you are. For now, I’ll just have to take his word for it.

Dealing with hardship, as unfun as it is, is more comfortable for me than enjoyment because it feels like a loss of control. It requires me to just be, not to have expectations of the moment or what I have to do next. Conditioning gets in the way of simple enjoyment of what we are doing. It has placed fixed ideas of how things should be, instead of allowing them to naturally unfold. Trying to conform to outward expectations has interfered with my general enjoyment. When we heap expectations of how were are supposed to be, that is the opposite of just being which brings enjoyment. In this society we often live as our own objects, i.e. happy people do THIS, a good life looks like THAT. My former therapist used to say “expectations are the killers of life.” When we have no expectations, beautiful things happen. “(L)et the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”*

Contrary to what we have learned, we don’t have to be engaged in some perfectly curated moment to cultivate joy. In fact, when we force and manufacture our every move, that kills it. Being in the present moment is all there is—including going through the motions of dinner prep. Whisking equal parts honey, dijon mustard and tamari and plopping in a salmon filet to marinade. I will focus on the flow of the amber honey next time and see if I enjoy it.

We know that stress kills joy. Expectation kills joy. Joy only comes from allowing ourselves to be in the moment with no judgment. For me, this is the most challenging state of consciousness. I have internalized how everything should be instead of allowing it to unfold as it is. But I do know that when I watch all three kids skiing down the mountain in front of me, I feel true joy.

Lastly, we can find ourselves in a state of enthusiasm when we are in alignment with the present moment and connected with our purpose. The visual Eckhart gives in the book is pulling back a bow, flinging an arrow and watching it glide through the air with ease. It is the moment you allow your gifts to come through you. The book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explores this concept. When there is effortless movement towards something, the energy and resources show up. When I wrote my book—that was flow. There is synchronicity. It just feels right, you feel lead.

Enthusiasm means there is a deep enjoyment in what you do plus the added element of a goal or vision that you are working toward. When you add a goal to the enjoyment of what you do, the vibrational frequency changes. At the height of creative activity fueled by enthusiasm, there is intensity and energy behind what you do. I imagine when my friend Katie is sewing, she is happily in flow.

To the outside observer, it might appear that you are under stress, but the intensity of enthusiasm has nothing to do with stress. Only when you want to arrive at your goal more than you want to be doing what you are doing, do you become stressed. As with the other two states of consciousness, the goal is to stay present to what you are doing, be in flow. Writing is that for me.

The moral of the story is that taking responsibility for our consciousness allows the best chance to discover our flow, to enjoy our lives and to be at peace with reality.

When we stay focused on the present moment, our body is at ease. From that state, we are rewarded with the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT:

Can you think of times you were in acceptance, enjoyment or enthusiasm? Do you have a tendency to fight reality or accept it? What makes you feel enthusiasm and flow?

If you don’t already, you can subscribe to my weekly stories at elizabethheise.com. Are you on social media? Let’s connect on Instagram @elizabethheise1, or Twitter @heiseelizabeth1. Thank you for reading.

*Mary Oliver captures this concept beautifully in her poem Wild Geese below:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

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Put Yourself First.

Put yourself first. To some of us this sounds like a revolutionary act.

A childhood friend of my husband’s has regular business in Miami. When he comes to town, he reaches out to get together. Before he moved away, he’d drop by unannounced to discuss his company’s legal problems although he’s never been a paying client. Over the years, Mark has done extensive pro bono work for his family members without so much as a thank you bottle of wine in return.

It’s not like I haven’t enjoyed being with the guy entirely. His irreverent sense of humor has earned him a pass until now. Recently, however, something in me has shifted. The more I feel seen in my own life, the less I want to hang out with people like him. He takes up way more space than someone who values the people around him. Every conversation is about him and his latest fill in the blank. He knows next to nothing about me despite the years, yet feels free to regularly comment on my appearance. His view of women bothers me. He complained about the mess in his college-aged son’s apartment now that he doesn’t have his mom to pick up after him. “He needs a girlfriend,” he said. Hahaha. One man’s joke is every woman’s barrier to equality. No, thank you.

He’ll be back next week and asked Mark about dinner. This time I requested they make lunch plans without me. At this point, I don’t have it in me to smile and nod—I have run clean out of that ability which was never great in the first place.

Living half a century and finally arriving at the conclusion that I can put my needs first—even articulating it that way rings selfish—runs against the grain of my conditioning. Twin neurobiologists, Drs. Amelia and Emily Nagoski, explore Human Giver Syndrome in their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. HGS is the false, contagious belief that women* have a moral obligation to be “pretty, happy, calm, generous and attentive to the needs of others.” With this programming, if a giver falls short in any way, she may be punished by those around her. If she somehow escapes external disapproval, she will even go so far as to punish herself (see guilt).

The Nagoskis explain that it is not the giving itself that is toxic, rather the built-in expectation of constant, free labor by the rest of the world.** It is everyone else’s sense of entitlement to everything a woman has—“her attention, her time, her affection, her hopes and dreams, her body, her very life.” Because of this societal norm, women often take on more and more even until hospitalization or chronic illness results.

When my kids were younger, I got really sick for a few months. Any chance I had to crawl back in bed, I took it. No antibiotic or medication could clear my leaden skull or relieve the bone-deep exhaustion. At the time, I wasn’t in the practice of saying no to any kid or community obligation, yet I still felt like it didn’t come close to sufficient effort. That hollow sense of never doing enough finally knocked me to the ground. When I finally got better, it happened again the next year. I still remember the look of disdain on the chorus teacher’s face when I told her I couldn’t take on more volunteer work for the annual show even though my kid was the star. I told her I was ill but that didn’t matter to her one bit. Mystery illnesses and extended periods of exhaustion have also afflicted several friends, possibly with similar origins.

When we live in a society that rewards women by calling us “selfless,” this is what happens. We can’t have a self? All we should care about is everyone else? Holy shit. We have learned that it is a moral good to sacrifice ourselves and our well-being “at the altar of other people’s comfort” as the Nagoskis put it.

Proof of this conditioning pops in every time I buy groceries. Unless I specifically write on my list FOOD FOR ME, I will leave the store with an over-full cart and still have nothing for lunch the next day. My family’s own conditioning shows itself daily when they throw the door open to my quiet writing space, express no appreciation for a meal I have prepared, or fail to acknowledge that I have dropped my own work to help them out of a fix.

It has harmed us to live in a world where some people give everything until they have nothing left and are punished if they fall short—or if they do something totally against the rules, like ask to have their own needs met. We are encouraged and praised when we humblebrag about the number of hours we helped a kid with a science fair project (I never did this but my Facebook feed was FULL of other moms’ work). But what if we shared about how we’d caught up on our sleep and felt amazing? Others would resent that we’re not following the rules of over-giving and not want to hear it.

In the last few years pre-pandemic, I had only dipped a toe into saying no. That audacity has been punished by certain friends, or people I thought were friends, by being cut out of their inner circle. The only thing that changed was my refusal to add their agenda item onto my already full list of obligations. If I didn’t give more than I reasonably could, I was out.

So, what do we do about it? The Nagoskis recommend we start by removing these over-giving expectations from ourselves and each other, not relying on “self-care” but instead that all of us care for one another. Not asking for more when we know our friends are already overextended. Enlisting our partners to help unlearn it in our families. Consciously choosing a world where everyone feels responsible to one another. Honestly, this sounds freaking impossible, but to me, the idea is exciting.

The only path forward is to start small, creating awareness of how we perceive women in our own homes and circles. If you are man reading this, ask yourself what you expect of the women and girls in your life that you do not expect of the men and boys. Do you consider yourself “helping” in the domestic realm or do you assume equal responsibility? If you do plenty at home but harbor resentment over it, that’s a hint that you don’t actually consider any of it “your job.” Take a good hard look at your conditioning. Your parents modeled roles you internalized. Question those roles. If you are a woman, ask what healthy limits look like for you. This may be hard considering you’ve been conditioned to believe there are no limits on the amount you should give. Examine the unpaid labor you provide in the community and how doing the work makes you feel: energized or depleted? Make a list of work you’d say no to if examined in this context. Consider saying no.

There are so many spaces that take advantage of women doing work for free, or close to it, when real policy change is needed (i.e., public school teachers, PTA moms who take over unpaid swaths of responsibility at schools, women who do the same or more than men and get paid less everywhere all the time.)

The difficulty is that the jobs we have been doing for free (or underpaid) still need to get done. If we truly want societal change it will take men and women demanding it from employers, government representatives and each other. As one example, we can vote for reprentatives who will pay teachers what they are worth. Male-dominated state legislatures have been getting away with ripping off teachers as a traditionally pink collar profession for as long as the job has existed.

Letting go of the idea that we have to be all things to all people isn’t easy. Especially since we’ve been indoctrinated to believe we must be perpetually “pretty, happy, calm, generous and attentive to the needs of others.” It’s enough already. We must actively unlearn it. It will take surrounding ourselves with people who don’t treat us as if we’ve failed if we fall short of over-giving. This will be hard because we want to take care of everyone. We must realize that we cannot—it’s impossible.

We can do this. When we put our needs first and make space for others to do the same, we will make it okay to give to ourselves for a change.

Love,

Elizabeth

*For the sake of inclusivity, let’s assume HGS affects all those who identify with feminine gender norms.

** Men or those who identify with masculine gender norms can be givers too but the danger is in society’s expectation and conditioning of women. No one expects men to give until they end up ill. They are not rejected for taking care of themselves, setting boundaries and saying no, so they are better at it.

WRITING PROMPT: How do you put yourself first in the midst of everyone else’s needs? How can you take better care of yourself?

PS. Follow me on Twitter @heiseelizabeth1 and Instagram @elizabethheise1 for daily essayettes, my IG Live series Tell Me All About It, and future events.

Copyright © *2021* *Elizabeth Heise, LLC.*, All rights reserved.

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We Do Not Earn Our Worth

“We come to this life with our worth, we don’t earn it.”

Try telling that to your kid who has, in her words, “clawed her way into the top 5%” of her class at a competitive public high school and spent every waking minute scrapping it out just to get into a good college. Her mountain of APs and extracurriculars have taken such a toll that grave illnesses like strep and mono hit at the same time, family vacations canceled, and team sports sacrificed just for more hours to study. All that before the relentless monotony of Covid times remote learning, cancellation of every fun senior year activity and months of rescheduled standardized tests. When the boy sitting next to her at the ACT pulls his mask off, requiring her to flag down the proctor so she doesn’t die trying to get her butt into school, you wonder how much more of this she can take. And she’s one of the lucky ones who didn’t have to sit outside McDonald’s to get a WiFi signal for virtual school and at-home AP exams that, for her, went forward despite power outages, barking dogs and the neighbor’s buzz saw.

For a girl who had spent every waking moment curating her academic record to be accepted “early decision,” I had every reason to pick up the golden balloons and order a cake in school colors with Congratulations Jane piped in flowery cursive. Honestly, I didn’t care where she went at this point, I just wanted her not to worry about her future anymore.

At 6:00 pm sharp on December 15th, 2020, the family gathered in front of her computer at the kitchen island, with Oma on Facetime. Standing behind her, I gripped a Party City bag with confetti poppers for each family member to shower her at the big moment. I barely breathed so as not to crinkle the bag and spoil the surprise.

After carefully reviewing your application, we regret to inform you that we cannot offer you admission to the class of 2025.

Silence. Then Jane laughed at the absurdity of it all.

“I killed myself for this?” she asked no one in particular as we stared blankly at the screen.

No one knew what to say. Her younger brothers looked more baffled than anyone. They had had a front row seat to her never ending battle of the high school hunger games. I imagined their thought bubbles predicting future doom now that their perfect sister hadn’t made the cut.

The worst part about watching my kid’s heart break in real time is that her faith in hard work paying off shattered before our eyes. There were tears that night, but her dad and I were pissed. What was wrong with those morons? How did they not drool over her application? And what now? How were we supposed to continue preaching do your best and good things will happen for you? We looked like two of the biggest bullshit artists of all time.

The next morning I went in to check on her. I was surprised to find her up early, cleaning her room.

“I’ve made a list of more schools to apply to,” she said resolutely, loading a grocery bag with clothes to donate.

“Good idea. How do you feel about last night?” I asked.

“It’s funny. When I thought about it, I realized I was more upset about being rejected than not getting to go to that school.”

“Good sign. It wasn’t the right place for you,” I said, silently cursing those jerks in that ridiculous admissions office once more. But I was proud of my girl.

In the weeks that followed, deferments and denials rolled in from schools whose requirements she had met handily. She scrolled through social media, watching from the sidelines as some friends got accepted into the programs of their choice. The ones who didn’t banded together on Facetime to trade battle wounds and make dark jokes about never going anywhere.

As the months dragged on, we learned, however belatedly, that colleges carefully engineer a specific student body. Those schools that rejected her already had a Jane. Or they had determined from her record that they were her “safety school” and the only option would be to formally request reconsideration and then commit to going there. There were lots of machinations we had no idea about as first timers. This was my only experience if you didn’t count my own application to college back in the eighties when SAT prep meant going to a raging Halloween party the night before but still being accepted into the school of my choice.

With a little distance from her initial disappointment, I realized that this was the first major blow to my daughter’s worldview. It was the first time she had worked towards something that felt like life and death importance and not received the intended result. There had been student government elections and honors that had gone sideways, but for the most part, her hard work had paid off. It struck me that my kid’s privilege had insulated her but also set her up for this. She’d been extremely fortunate and had built up the expectations to match. Meanwhile, other students with her same work ethic and smarts had their dreams dashed by racism and economic hardship that had nothing to do with their real potential. Perspective is everything, but I wasn’t about to share any of that with my kid who was breathing fire by then. No one suffering wants to hear how great they have it.

As her parents, we attempted to get her nose over the water line, repeating the mantra, you will end up where you are meant to be. Months of clinging to that empty platitude shook our faith to the core. Trying to stay positive in a year that has thrown the way these things usually go into the shredder has been looking very much like a fool’s errand.

When the external validation of acceptance into college that you have been counting on your entire life doesn’t happen, it slices right through your sense of self. I could tell my kid thought she was the worst garbage person to walk the earth. That her once impressive accomplishments actually meant nothing. How do we set our kids up for this? It was an absolute shit show.

But I did know. Let’s not kid ourselves. I was the same kind of student as Jane. Standardized tests weren’t as big a deal back then but the grades sure were. I believed my report card was the measure of my worth and even though I never spoke those words aloud, my actions told another story. When her math grades slipped in elementary school, I enrolled her in an outside math class that she absolutely hated. She learned some ridiculously accelerated math for her age but what she remembers is that I made her go to class once with the flu. I knew how much she disliked it, so I figured she was putting on an act to stay home. But she suffered through it while her head pounded and her body ached—that memory has stayed with her.

In sixth grade when the language arts teacher economized on time utilizing peer-editing over grading the mountain of essays herself, I hired a writing instructor to teach a supplemental English class at my kitchen table. Jane learned how to write a tight five paragraph essay despite her exhaustion from a full day of classes.

When she got to high school, we hired a private college counselor to advise her on course selection instead of just having her sign up for what she was interested in. She earned the first “B” of her life that year which she still refers to it as her biggest academic regret. I had suggested she switch into a math class with a different teacher. She preferred to deal with it independently so I didn’t step in. She later kicked herself over and over just for wanting to handle it on her own.

There is no mystery as to why Jane believes her academic performance dictates her worth. I have overvalued it since my own childhood and there is no doubt that the expectation has crackled in the air at our house since she was born. For me, it was a way to get the attention I missed out on at home. I believed it was the one way for me to be seen. With my own kids, I have delivered the message that high grades are expected. I don’t check portals or monitor anyone’s daily progress but they are all aware that this is the deal around here.

In the last few years, especially Jane’s junior year which was the most pneumonia, flu, pinkeye, streppiest year of her life, I have cleaned up my act. I set the intention to be done with that toxic “you must do well or else” energy. No one needs the outdated, fear-based messages that linger inside me. I have substantially banished the thoughts that good grades are the only way to be valued as my child. I know my kids will be the most comfortable in their own skin when they feel their parents accept them as they truly are instead of nudging them to be a made-over version of themselves, devoid of complicated feelings and learning experiences that look very much like big mistakes to the rest of the world.

And this is the reason why, at the age of 51, I am sitting here late on a school night writing about this so that one day, I too will believe it reflexively, without the need to convince myself with some long narrative. We don’t come to this planet to earn our worth. We bring it with us. We don’t have to do anything or be anything in particular to be valued. I will have to write that to myself one hundred times on a chalkboard like Bart Simpson.

This is not to say that I endorse a pro-slacker lifestyle, on the contrary. After watching Jane slog her way through school, our new and improved message is that everyone is expected to do their best, not THE best. We want them to take pride in their work and meet their responsibilities. The point of all of it is not to earn love and acceptance from me and the rest of the world, but to gain a sense of competence–the building block of their own self esteem.

And now that we are almost done with Jane’s virtual senior year, I received permission from her to write this story because of the satisfactory outcome. It would have been far too excruciating for any of us to memorialize this experience if it hadn’t worked out in a way that felt fair in light of how hard she had worked. We are all way too fresh from overvaluing external validation.

For years, Jane has expressed the desire to go West, all the way to California, for college. None of the California schools have early decision so she had to wait until now to find out her fate. I asked her to reconsider because of how far away it is. She claimed that my discouragement made the option all the more attractive. I totally had that coming. She’s wanted to be near a big city, to be close to the beach, to have beautiful weather and a vibrant student life. She had her eyes on Los Angeles.

On Friday night, right after she had ordered dinner at her favorite restaurant with two of her best friends, she checked her student portal once again as she had done countless times a day. There it was, acceptance at the number one public university in the country. She screamed and ran around the restaurant like she’d won the lotto. Because she had.

I am so relieved for my girl, not to mention armed to the teeth for when my boys go through it in a few years.

When we reflect on our experience and learn how to love each other better, we get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: What messages are you sending with your actions that you would never say out loud?

PS. Follow me on Instagram @elizabethheise1 for daily essayettes, my IG Live series Tell Me All About It and @heiseelizabeth1 on Twitter.

Copyright © 2021 Elizabeth Heise, Inc., All rights reserved.

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What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

I have a few habits that keep me half stuck in my old life, that pull me back to a time when I felt like a victim with no agency over my choices. As much as I have grown personally and rehabbed my mindset, I hang on to a bit of the old me out of fear. The one who procrastinates on important projects for the publication of my book (hello book proposal), the outdated version of myself who searches for stress relief at the bottom of a bag of Trader Joe’s white truffle potato chips. The former self who refuses to purge a closet full of clothes that are no longer my style, hanging onto them like a shabby chic security blanket. Jeans that haven’t fit in two (six?) years and unflattering blouses I bought when I didn’t care whether I felt amazing in them or not. Despite reprogramming my brain to live in gratitude and cleanse my energy, I still waste time scrolling mindlessly, in effort to ease the panic that rises when I come dangerously close to the life I want.

Even though I have substantially tamed the negative voice in my head and trained her to say only nice things about my body, evening snacks keep extra weight on to prevent me from feeling truly confident in my own skin, from performing at my athletic best and self-conscious enough to keep distance between me and everyone else on earth. At times, I’ve stayed home from an event if I’ve been too uncomfortable with my appearance. Feeling like I am literally too much gives my self-esteem a daily kick to the teeth.

Clearly, these self-defeating behaviors slow me down for no good reason. A speed bump to delay the progress that, intellectually, I really do want. The scared part of me prefers to tread water instead of gliding through the waves towards the beautiful island of my dreams, where creativity thrives and peak health and confidence are mine.

I asked for help with this self-sabotage at our group coaching session this week.* When my question was addressed, self pity settled heavy on my shoulders. I suddenly felt like bringing my problem there was all wrong—that it was a topic more appropriately discussed in a mother daughter conversation than a semi-public forum. Better in a private exchange where I would be reassured that I am okay, loved no matter what. The kinds of things I say to my own kids when they feel bad about themselves.

While the coach and a therapist* tag-teamed on solutions, I breathed away the discomfort of admitting weakness to these capable, kind people. They expertly ticked off a list of options for me to try. As we spoke, I slowly unclenched my jaw and relaxed into appreciation for the smart, generous women who took time to think critically about my wellbeing.

They reminded me that there is no rule that says I must feel bad about myself if I engage in this behavior. It is me who attaches the judgment. It’s such a reflexive move for me—I hadn’t separated the behavior from the judgment until now. Yes, I had fixed the mean voices once they became noticeable. But judgment is more subtle, like a cold, heavy silence. I can forgive myself for staying stuck, for not being ready. I’ll get there. But it will probably be easier and lighter if I don’t apply all that pressure and expectation.

It started to dawn on me that I now give myself what I no longer receive from my family of origin. I have loved myself on the condition that I keep up with projects and eat responsibly. My mother loved me on the condition that I not hold her accountable for her behavior. I can still love myself when I don’t perform up to scratch. I can choose unconditional love for me.

So, the question is, what am I scared of? This morning on our way to school, I told my youngest not to be afraid to shine in his sport. He joined the team belatedly after swearing off playing for good. The coaches don’t know him at his new school. They have no idea he likely has the most raw talent of anyone on the team. In years’ past, he has felt a tremendous amount of pressure to perform perfectly and then ruins his own good time. Wonder where that came from? I asked him to go out there and be himself and that would be good enough.

Don’t be afraid to shine. Forget the pressure and judgment. Give yourself some grace.

In the meantime, I will continue to study the fearless wonders, the people who cultivate good habits just by deciding one day that doing something different would be better. If it’s true that “success leaves a blueprint” then my friend Melanie Emmons Damian should trademark hers. She is the very picture of confidence and self-discipline. I don’t mean to suggest that she is superhuman and doesn’t ever struggle with life’s difficult questions, but she has great habits and, in the twenty five years I have known her, she hasn’t been afraid of taking on anything.

As a young hotshot attorney with the prestigious law firm Tew Cardenas, she decided she had what it took to start her own law firm. She broke out substantially earlier than most, especially for someone who had just started to earn big money. She convinced her trusted colleague and dear friend Peter Valori to take a chance on themselves and the rest is history.

Melanie’s firm (dvllp.com) has been wildly successful, but the work she does outside her fancy Brickell office has dramatically changed thousands of lives for the better. Even when opposing political forces threatened to shut down her efforts, she persevered. When those who believed in her mission the most lost hope, Melanie and the Emmons sisters pushed on. As a result of their tenacity, literally thousands of children and young adults have received an education and improved the quality of their lives for having received support from the programs Melanie and her family put in place. The story of how she brought The SEED School (miami.seedschool.org) to Miami is feature film quality and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it tomorrow.

You will also hear how Melanie and her sisters started Educate Tomorrow (educatetomorrow.org) after discovering a tuition exemption available through the State of Florida for children aging out of the foster care system. The sisters decided to create an organization around that provision so that those young adults would receive access to higher education and the necessary support. The organization now provides the comprehensive services every young person needs to have the best chance at success. Don’t miss our conversation on Instagram Live on Friday, March 19 at Noon EST when Melanie will be my guest on my monthly series, Tell Me All About It. Don’t miss it! (But if you do, the recording will be available on my 3/19/21 Instagram post @elizabethheise1.)

When you recognize your fear and give yourself some grace, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: What habits do you struggle to change? Have you made progress? Why or why not? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

*After I completed Caroline de Posada’s Core Challenge which I wrote about in my story of 2/19/21, I joined her ongoing support program. She is now allowing members to join the program without the challenge—lucky for you newbies. For more info check out carolinedeposada.com.

*Dr. Betsy Guerra is a lifetime member of Caro’s community and a gift to us all. You can check her out on Instagram @betterwithbetsy.

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Stories

How Can We Heal Ourselves?

 

I worked with the same therapist for nearly twenty years. Every Tuesday, I snuck away from my firm in Miami and raced up to a funky little office in Hollywood so stuffed with books even the coffee table was piled high. Classical music at full volume filled the space to muffle voices on the other side of his thin door. Celebrity gossip magazines littered the battered leather sofa where I waited my turn. After so many years, it felt like a second home.

When I left the practice of law, I made the trip twice a week to attend “group” which is meant to mimic one’s family of origin. At times the sessions were excruciating. Maladaptive patterns were called out in shockingly blunt terms.

The therapist is an extremely bright guy but his issues with women got in the way. Let’s just say, the reviews on him are split down gender lines. The day after the 2016 election, I showed up puffy-eyed and distraught. In his opinion, the results were inevitable.

“Hillary Clinton is a cunt,” he said.

I ended the relationship and haven’t seen him since.

Despite the substantial investment of time and money, I quit therapy with plenty left to process. Five years out, I think I have found a way to heal myself without need of a professional. I feel better now than I ever did. That is not to throw shade on the therapeutic process, I was just done. What am I doing differently? I have taken responsibility. Therapy allowed me to rely on someone else to be “fixed.” I shifted my mindset and commited to my own inner work.

My self-healing formula includes Meditation, Morning pages and Movement. Meditation allows thoughts to bubble up from the subconscious. In the transcendental form, those thoughts are referred to as “stress leaving the body.” Morning pages (i.e., a journal practice) give those thoughts a place to land, a written record of what I really think. After the mental work of meditation and writing, movement grounds me back in my body. I recently added a spoken intention before exercise. Yogis do this at the start of a class, but I think it’s a good idea whenever possible. I want to name something specific to let go of so every work out pulls double duty. Raise my energy, release my pain.

Sometimes it’s not possible to get all three in on a busy day before my family wakes up, but this is the plan and it happens more often than not. Meditation is the only non-negotiable item so I do it shortly after I open my eyes, every day.

According to spiritual leader Eckhardt Tolle, we all store old stuff down deep. He calls it “the painbody,” the reservoir of old wounds that were never healed back when they were first inflicted. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/living-in-presence-with-y_b_753114 Our painbody can be triggered. You can tell your inner bear has been poked when you experience an outsized emotional reaction to something that seems minor to others. Eckhardt believes we can shrink down the pain body by resisting the urge to identify with it. I am not my emotions, I am the awareness behind them. I agree, but my hope is that we can also release old pain through the 3M’s.

I think those lucky few who connected to their bodies early on avoided storing old pain in the first place. What makes me think so? I know someone who appears to have done just that: teacher and co-Founder of Anahata Eco Yoga Retreats, Shayne Cohen. As she explained to our audience on Tell Me All About it (the recording can be found on Instagram @elizabethheise1 on December 11, 2020), she had a pretty tumultuous upbringing. Nonetheless, the difficult emotions did not stagnate in her body to weigh her down later in life. As a girl, she had a serious gymnastics practice. My theory is that regular, strenuous physical movement grounded her in her body and prevented negative feelings from going into deep storage. Today, she is full of joy and spreads it to all who are lucky enough to know her. Side bar: the other two in this photo are also serious perveyors of joy through sound, movement and music. Go check out @_danieljai and @_sunandevi on Instagram. You’re welcome.

Once in a while during rigorous exercise, I feel a surge of emotion and I am moved to tears, usually on a super hard Peloton ride or after a speedwork run. At the start of my exercise, I now set the intention to release emotions. Before I move my body, I announce exactly what I will let go of during that session. I speak it into being, like Tabitha Brown says. (In that first video of hers to go viral, she actually does just that. She acknowledged that her life changed right before her eyes—and it did. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AP1mnFJG0-s. She amazes me.) I am ready to inhabit the beauty of the present moment, just like Tab.

My painbody actually surprised me when it appeared on this recent retreat. With so much yoga, chanting, singing, mud detoxification, hiking—you name it—layers of Covid year stress fell away. All of a sudden, my most deeply buried wound rose to the surface. I had never fully dealt with it and there it was.

It showed up our last full day on a bus bound for the turquoise waters of Bahia de Las Aguilas. During the ride, I enjoyed a long chat with my new friend Dara, an angel of a human who shared so much of herself and listened more intently than any new friend I have ever made. In defense of all other new friends, we had the unique benefit of all this spiritual work plus two uninterrupted hours to leap over the 200 coffee dates it otherwise would have taken us to get to this vulnerable place.

Since I have held nothing back from my weekly stories, I will share this most painful truth with you, dear reader. It still hurts so much that I cried sharing the incident with Dara. It involved my best friend from college. Nice Midwestern girl, fun and silly, we were inseparable. Over the course of our three and a half year friendship, I revealed a few shards of my painful past, but not everything. Just enough to help her understand why I put myself through school, and the reason no one called to check on me or come to visit even though I had plenty of family in California. I curated myself a bit with the belief that if she fully appreciated what damaged goods I was, she wouldn’t want to be my friend. I blamed myself for my parents’ allowing me to tough it out on my own. I held back from our friendship and handled my troubles alone.

For our last year of college, I managed to find us a beautiful beach bungalow I could afford—a minor miracle in itself. The place was itty bitty but it was truly magical. The reflection of waves into our small living room provided moving art on the white walls.

Not long after we moved in, her father told her she had to get a job. She had taken off the prior semester after a bad breakup. He put his foot down after paying the out-of-state tuition bill for incompletes and asked her to start contributing.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “You can pick up some shifts at the restaurant. Waiting tables is easy money.”

She was tickled to have some cash of her own for the first time. A mason jar in the living room closet held wads of bills she collected during a few hours of lunch service.

For winter break she had planned to stay a bit and work to buy Christmas gifts and then return home to Kansas. I was already home.

A week after school ended, I came back to an empty apartment. It was in the age before cel phones, so the only number to call was our landline in the living room. I knew she wasn’t at work. All our mutual friends had left town. I scolded myself for being afraid. It annoyed me the way I tried to mother her. I often attempted to take care of her to compensate for befriending someone as unworthy as me.

She didn’t come home that night.

The next day I went to work as usual, worried. Still no sign of her. Our manager said she had cancelled her shift that day.

When I returned home from work, there she was, her back to me, packing a bag.

“Where were you?” I asked.

“I stayed with Chris and Melinda,” she said. Our upstairs landlords. I often worked at night and she had begun socializing with them over the course of the semester.

“Why?”

“My tip money is gone. I think you took it,” she said, staring at me intently.

My mouth fell open but no sound came out. White noise flooded my ears and I thought I might pass out.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?” she asked.

I remained motionless, dumbfounded. Time stood still.

“I’m going back to Kansas today, I can’t be here anymore.”

She left shortly afterward. I stayed in town, alone. I tried to get my mind off it by taking over more shifts at the restaurant but I couldn’t focus. My brain rejected any new information—it got stuck on that moment. I felt irretrievably broken.

I bought an $800 ticket to Albuquerque to visit my dad, blowing my financial cushion for the last semester.

When I told him what had happened a wry smile crept across his lips.

“Well, did you?”

I was his A student, his “best kid” as he had so heartbreakingly put it, a compliment that only caused me to feel worse for my siblings and me. He barely acknowledged us and then had the nerve to rank his neglected children. I had fended for myself since my mother left us eight years before. He hadn’t been there for me as a kid but this was his coup de gras. My heart had pumped so hard since my friend had torched my life and he sent it into overdrive. I thought I might go into cardiac arrest right there on his sticky linoleum floor.

I stayed away from my dad and spent the days dreading the return to school. But when the time came to fly back, I convinced myself she would apologize. We would refer to it as that time our friendship almost ended and now we are closer than ever.

When I stepped out of the airport shuttle and stood in front of the blue bungalow, everything had changed. An unfamiliar coldness swirled around this once magical place. The drizzly gray sky chilled the air. Still, I remained hopeful as I unpacked into the drawers in our living room. You never know.

A knock at the clear sliding door startled me. Our landlord Chris. I pulled it open.

“Hi. I will let you out of the lease without penalty. She has found another roommate. I imagine you will want to find another place straightaway, yeah?”

I said nothing.

So many blows had rained down on me, I didn’t even feel this one. After he disappeared down the path, I tossed my duffle on the couch and wheeled my bike out of the bedroom.

Up and down the streets of Isla Vista, I pedaled hard, scanning rental signs for “single needed.” On Sabado Tarde, a ramshackle craftsman with a tangle of bikes out front advertised a good price.

I had avoided having lots of roommates. Noise and unpredictability caused me jaw-clenching anxiety. But at this point, I didn’t care where I lived, just as long as it got me out. Her rejection was so violent, so complete, I had to leave so it didn’t kill me.

One of the five roommates drove me back there in his pickup and I loaded a garbage bag of all my stuff into the flatbed. I felt like a refugee.

I went to class but I couldn’t hear anything. I showed up at work, but I was the worst waitress ever. I dumped an entire chef salad down some lady’s back, soaking her clothes. My skin looked awful.

Several weeks after the move, the phone rang. Usually, no one answered it, but I did this time.

“Liz?”

It was her. I left dead air between us.

“Want to ride down to See’s and do homework?”

One of our rituals had been a thirty mile bike ride down to our favorite coffee shop in Santa Barbara where we’d spread out our books, order enormous cups of coffee and listen to acoustic guitar instead of doing our work.

The pleasant memory lit up a corner of the black space in my brain where I had buried the memory of our friendship.

“Sure,” I said, surprising myself.

We arrived at the little store front and went through the motions of unpacking our books. The server set cups down in front of us but neither of us touched it, allowing the liquid to grow cold on the table.

“I didn’t do it.”

Her mouth shook as she peered down into her cup.

“Then why didn’t you get mad at me?” she asked, her expression incredulous. “If anyone had accused me like that…”

“I am not you.”

I never spoke to her again. She, on the other hand, spread the accusation to every one of our mutual friends. I didn’t have it in me to go around defending such a shameful charge so I said nothing. They were of the same mind she was. If you don’t fight back, you must be guilty.

Not if you are so devastated you can barely get through the day. I graduated shortly thereafter and never looked back. I keep in touch with one friend from college—only because he found me after an extensive social media search. I don’t use my maiden name anywhere.

So. That pain hasn’t gone away, it’s been buried a long time. I have made good friends. But I have never had a best friend again. On some level, I haven’t fully trusted anyone since. To be honest, I don’t think I treated her like a best friend either. If she really knew me, she’d have realized I would rather die than do something like that to anyone.

So, how do I heal from this once and for all? I will just keep trying. I meditate to bring up the feelings through the muck of my subconscious. I do my morning pages. Writing long hand gives voice to all the mental noise and takes it out of my body. It’s a chance to actually name what I am holding onto, what I am feeling and why. It’s miraculous really. The subconscious operates like a spider web, trapping and wrapping pain, never to release it unless we do the work to untangle it. This incident came up in my morning pages. As I wrote, I cried and released a little more.

The last step to heal myself is movement with intensity. I know I release pain when I push myself physically. Sobbing works best. My neighbors think I am bananas anyway so it’s fine. I set an intention for my workouts, speak it into the universe that I am letting go of the pain of betrayal. From her, from my parents, from myself. People have treated me poorly and many times I have volunteered for more. My intention is not to do it again. To treat myself with care, every chance I get.

When we figure out what we need and make a plan to execute on it, we get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: Do you have a painful memory to release? Are you ready to do it? Drop me a line, I’m interested.

 

Follow me on Instagram @elizabethheise1 & Twitter @heiseelizabeth1 & join my weekly stories at elizabethheise.com.

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Stories

Feed Your Soul

I left the country. During a pandemic.

Two other creative folks I keep up with have done it and stayed healthy so I am citing their cases in support of my decision. Neither have been vaccinated yet either. My friend Nathan Hale Williams—featured in my January 15 story—recently vacationed in Mexico and will be heading to a retreat in Egypt next month. After he tested negative for Covid and masked up for air travel, he hit the beach with his bestie and all was well. “You could get killed at the grocery store,” he said. Fair point.

Author and friend Joyce Maynard spent months of the pandemic in Guatemala and will bring other writers to her Covid-free spot on Lake Atitlan this Spring. I intend to be one of them. She has traveled back and forth to the US safely, several times. Over the course of six plus decades, she has faced her fair share of unexpected tragedy. By this point, she has realized that no matter how meticulously we arrange ourselves, we cannot escape what is meant to be. That’s not to say she thumbs her nose at safety. She just doesn’t lead her life by the what ifs. I sound like I am rationalizing taking a scary chance. Maybe even being an irresponsible parent and shitty partner. Perhaps I’m simply justifying travel because I’ve hit my quarantine limit with staying put. I crave freedom. And I know there are no guarantees I will be allowed to return as planned.

In Covid times, we are now required to take a test to return to our own country. Here in the Dominican Republic, officials in hazmat suits gave us all a nasal swab out by the pool after breakfast this morning. The results come in this afternoon. If anyone is positive, the hotel will allow an extended stay at a reduced rate. There are options for medical care. This is how it is right now. Based on this requirement alone, five people bailed. Others immediately filled their spots. This is an adventurous group to say the least.

The day before I left home, my daughter faced me with uncharacteristic intensity for the early hour.

“This cereal has no taste.”

Across the room, I slipped a fresh mask on from the box on the counter, my brain in full panic calculating the time I had to get her tested and still comply with the Covid questions at the airport. I had tested negative and self-quarantined in preparation with no thought to the college friends that had taken her boating that weekend. Florida universities have been hot spots for months.

“Quick, bring me a lemon,” she said. I pulled open the fridge, snatched one from the crisper and sliced it open, dropping it end down into her outstretched hand.

She squeezed juice on her tongue “Eww!” she said, wrinkling her nose at the tartness. “I guess the cereal is bland. It’s not me.” I left the mask on.

“Who do you know who has it right now?” I asked.

“No one,” she said and pushed her bowl away.

“Just be careful.” I breathed a sign of relief for my salvaged trip and headed to pack.

We had a few Covid scares leading up to a family trip a few weeks ago, but we made it to the mountains and back despite the town reporting a spike during our stay. It had been critical for our family to get some mental space outside the four walls of our home. When we finally spent time together outdoors, it brought back a long absent sense of normalcy. A plan we put in place actually happened. How we had missed that. Once we got away, whole days went by that I barely thought about the pandemic, even with my face covered. The ability to travel right now is a lofty level of privilege and I am surely grateful. A year into the “new normal,” it’s clear that when we have the chance at a change of scenery, we take it.

But for me, having the opportunity to go off on my own without the family is where my growth happens. Without the roles that define me, I have the freedom to focus on who I am, free of external expectations. I can process old pain and heal parts of me that have gone unattended.

The first time I traveled out of the country alone, it transformed me. I had just graduated college and had no idea what I wanted. My heart had been shattered in a million pieces by the betrayal of a best friend— I had lost my person. Sadness dulled my senses and I couldn’t get a read on what I needed. Neither parent welcomed me back into their homes to launch myself into the next phase of life. I decided not to remain flattened by it all. Instead, I chose an adventure.

So off I went to Costa Rica to figure out my life with a casual friend from college. Stepping out of the bustling airport, cars honking, a motorcycle hopping the sidewalk to avoid a crowd of people, I felt a lightness, despite the chaos. I was nobody’s daughter or sister, student or best friend. I didn’t have to impress anyone or make them like me. Relief washed over me. Maybe for the first time in my life, no one expected a thing from me. I could just be me and it would be okay.

That month long trip with my friend stretched into a full year traveling alone. The $600 in my pocket to start out meant camping for three months in a borrowed tent and working a few jobs to replenish my budget. Doing whatever it took to stay there was well worth it—that trip brought me back to life. Soaking in the lush tropics on hikes through the cloud forest soothed the place left raw by hurt and nurished my battered heart. I began to loosen my grip on the belief that I wasn’t worthy, that I had somehow brought treachery upon myself. I discovered that real friends shared a similar spirit and trusted each other implicitly.

All these years later, a trip out of the country looks a little different but the purpose isn’t so far off from my original mission nearly three decades ago. After this year of loss, I am washing away what I no longer need and nourishing my own soul. When the world shut down the many roles I had served were paused. With the chance to rethink my priorities, I let go of what did not serve me, despite the guilt of letting people down. For once, I chose me.

But my personal gains didn’t come for free. The loss of special rites of passage for my kids left a mark on our whole family. Once cherished friendships fell victim to separation—perhaps they weren’t meant to be at all. Remote learning and the arrested development that resulted from going nowhere with no one hit all kids everywhere. Mine are indeed the lucky ones however, watching them suffer is a particular kind of awful. I have carried that with me for months.

On this trip, I have allowed my heart to open and given voice to the part of me that has waited patiently, the one who feels like she is sitting on the best kept wellness secret of all time: writing. I have discovered who I am through sharing my story. I have found my power and tapped into my purpose. My mission is to share it with as many people as I can.

In case you haven’t heard me mention it (!!!), I am leading guided journaling at this beautiful, magical retreat. Not coincidentally, the theme for this week is opening the Anahata chakra, the heart center. In Sanskrit, Anahata means unhurt. When we open the heart chakra, unconditional love flows within and around us like air. On the first night, I got up and presented the benefits of a writing practice. Afterwards, even the photographer Ian was inspired to write.

My only expected role here is to show up as my authentic self. All we really want is to be seen and heard. And LOVED. It’s so simple. I would travel to the ends of the earth for that.

When we let go of what we no longer need and connect to our true self, we get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: What burdens did you take on over the last year? What are you willing to let go? What will that mean in your everyday life?

PS. We just got the tests results back. Each of us tested negative. I can actually go back to my family as scheduled. I was scared and feeling selfish. Apparently getting stuck in a foreign country with a possibly deadly virus was not meant to be. I guess the moral of the story is, go live your life. But for Pete’s sake, wear a mask. At least for now.

Copyright © *2021* *Elizabeth Heise, LLC*, All rights reserved.

 

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Stories

Careful Who You Let In Your Ears

The other day, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while at the grocery store. When I first spotted her, I sunk a little lower into my PPE, busied myself with the taco spices and prayed she wouldn’t see me.

“Hey you!” Too late.

After we asked about each other’s kids, she rattled off a list of people who had recently let her down and how hurt she was that another relationship had ended. She wrapped up with we should totally get together. Every time I see her, she scoots in close so her rain cloud can soak me too. On the surface, she doesn’t appear to have so much to gripe about: a healthy, supportive family, a successful career, plus she’s objectively gorgeous. Over the years, I have listened, offered help and made efforts to connect her with resources when she asked. This last time, I noticed she waited for me to stop talking then proceeded to complain.

Let me just say I have no objection to sharing hard things with friends to gain clarity or to have a friend bear witness to our pain. We all go through hard seasons. I am referring to the incessant kvetching that seems more like a favorite pastime.

Over the years, I have felt bad for not wanting to spend time with her, like I was a terrible person. I have made the obligatory noises about hanging out and then not made plans. This time, to my surprise, I did not. Side bar—I now experience as repugnant the very behavior I used to indulge in regularly. I was that person who had a laundry list of complaints, yet had it pretty good.

It’s not that I no longer have sympathy for people’s problems, I do. I know what it’s like to feel stuck and it bums me out when any friend of mine feels this way. But mercifully, I now realize the difference between sharing news of a difficult event and the choice to suffer over it interminably.

Why do people complain so much? Obviously, some of us have legitimate grievances, especially those hit hardest by the pandemic. My complaints did not rise to that level. My dissatisfaction stemmed from feeling out of control of my life. I wasn’t spending my time and energy the way I wanted. I had disconnected from myself and wasn’t meeting my own needs. Bottom line, I didn’t yet have the courage to put myself out there and start writing already. “Unexpressed creativity turns malignant,” Brene Brown says. That was totally me.

According to Psychology Today, there are three types of complainers.

Chronic complainers dwell on setbacks, not progress. The habit of complaining is literally wired into their brain. It’s possible to re-wire it for positivity, but the chronic complainer would have to buy into the idea. Not bloody likely.

Venters seek validation through empathy and attention, but not a solution to the problem. Venters as well as chronic complainers can dampen both the mood of the listener and, ironically, the complainer herself. ( This was my jam.)

Instrumental complainers focus on the impact of the problem with the person involved, the importance of change and then ask for cooperation to create a plan for improvement. This makes up about 25% of complaints.

I have noticed that the more I take care of myself, the less I have to complain about. That may seem like easy math, but it’s AP Calculus for me. Over the course of the pandemic, I dropped the roles that didn’t serve me and improved my boundaries. I backed away from friendships that left me feeling bad about myself. I learned to say no and to be grateful for what I have. I realize I deserve a happy, optimistic life including the people in it. That is not to say that if someone has a problem, I won’t listen or help. On the contrary. But if you just want to complain for sport, I am no longer your girl.

Other friends have told me they have had similar experiences during the pandemic. We have “realigned our priorities” as one friend put it, and moved ourselves up the list. Another friend told me she is only in regular touch with a select few as opposed to keeping up with her huge pre-quarantine circle. Many of us are taking better care of ourselves now.

Jim Rohn, a pioneer in personal development once famously said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” We are heavily influenced by our relationships. The people we allow into our lives shape our thinking, self-esteem and decisions. According to Rohn, if you aren’t intentional about the people you spend your time with, you won’t gain the continuous personal improvement you are looking for. We often underestimate the importance of the company we keep. These days, I feel pretty good about my choices but we can always do better.

And that’s one reason I signed up for this month’s 28 Day Challenge offered by Caroline de Posada*, www.carolinedeposada.com. My friend Kristin did it during the first few months of the pandemic when time had folded in on itself and motivation for anything had ground to a halt. Being a part of this community breathed new life into her regular routine and made workouts fun. She introduced me to Caro on a 5:30 a.m. run several months ago. We managed to talk despite gasping for air as we chased Kristin. I heard all about Caro’s coaching and her journey to becoming a published author.** But mostly, I enjoyed her positivity and enthusiasm which convinced me that as soon as she was available, I should sign up to have her in my ears every day.

So what have I learned during this month? First, that Caro’s program isn’t about physical fitness, it’s about how we do life. Her CORE principals are communication, organization, resilience and emotional intelligence. From the start, she encourages everyone to get clear on what we want out of the experience. When we get specific about our desired destination, we give our brains exact directions. This gives us the best chance to succeed. Of course, we spent time on healthy eating and exercise, but Caro’s not telling anyone to count calories. It’s about good habits and celebrating progress, not perfection. Her holistic approach makes sense. If we focus only on physical fitness, it would suggest the scale dictates whether we are worthy of a good life. She doesn’t subscribe to that. Instead, she encourages mindfulness and taking responsibility for our choices. We shared nutritious recipes, meditation techniques and some even got families into the act by exercising with their kids. We modeled self-care. After setbacks, we moved forward. We showed up for ourselves and learned to be a kind voice in our own ears.

And that’s why I asked Caro to be this week’s guest on Tell Me All About It on Instagram Live TODAY Friday, February 26, 2021 at noon. If you don’t already, come follow me on @elizabethheise1 and you will get the LIVE notification in your stories. I want Caroline de Posada in my ears every day. Why? Because she is full of optimism and encouragement and, despite being injured for most of this challenge, I have felt happy and hopeful anyway. Her daily affirmations and inspiring stories remind me that I am in control of my actions and my attitude. She suggests I do the hardest thing first so that I can enjoy my day more and not waste time and energy procrastinating. Did I execute the program flawlessly? Nope. But I did learn some excellent tools, like telling myself, I am a woman who makes good choices, in situations where I am usually not a woman who makes good choices (i.e., evening stress snacking). I tackled one small organizing project at a time instead of choking down the whole enchilada at once and feeling overwhelmed.

If you check out her website, you will see that she is a living legacy of personal development. Her late father was renowned motivational speaker and best-selling author, Dr. Joaquim de Posada, who Caro lovingly refers to as someone who truly practiced what he preached. From a young age, she accompanied her father to his presentations and learned how to connect with an audience using humor and storytelling.

But there is a video on her site of a speaking engagement that had me in tears. Both her parents were there—her mother in the audience and her father up on the big screen and in her heart. Caro describes how it was possible for him to have traveled 80% of the time, yet build a strong and loving relationship with Caro. He kept a few simple promises to her. He sent postcards from every country and took her with him once a year to watch him work and witness the lives he impacted. He called her every day, he told her he loved her, and he LISTENED. Despite the miles, he really knew her and she felt seen by him. Relationships thrive when we feel seen, heard and loved. Simple.

Caro’s father was an amazing man, larger than life and she loved him dearly. But the hero of Caro’s story is her mom, Gladys, a hard-working single mother who fostered the relationship she had with her father despite divorce and distance. When Caro asked her mother the reason for her parents’ split, her mom made clear that Caro’s role was to love her dad as a daughter and not concern herself with their divorce. In one fell swoop, she taught Caro boundaries, respect, and integrity.

I am so interested to know what it was like to grow up with people like this. What messages she must have heard. I want to hear it all.

I also want to know how she and her husband Orlando, despite many divorced family members, developed such a healthy marriage.

I have about a million questions for Caro and I hope you will tune in.

When we choose carefully who we let in our ears, we get the distinct feeling it’s all going to be okay, because everyone around us believes it, including ourselves.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT:  Who are the five people you spend the most time with and why? Is there anyone with whom you need to maintain better boundaries? Why?

*Caroline de Posada’s Social Media Links:

https://www.facebook.com/carolinedeposada/

https://www.instagram.com/carolinedeposada/

www.linkedin.com/in/carolinedeposada

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoJhoKoocIW6FRhZEVJFJwA?view_as=subscriber

And book:

**Looking Over The Edge: A True Story of Facing Fear, Finding Your Way, And All The Lessons In Between is available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/097284791X/ref=cm_sw_r_sms_api_glt_i_406Q5PS8HXZCXG1ASDM8.

Copyright © *2021* *Elizabeth Heise, LLC., All rights reserved.

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What Is Your Truest Story?

 

In preparation for an upcoming writing gig, I’ve been giving thought to the stories we carry about ourselves and the truer story beneath it. I find that when I have a strong reaction to something, it’s because the story playing out often sits on top of a deeper truth—one I am less willing to expose for all the world to see.

I am struggling to peel back the layers of a story that emerged the other evening as my husband and I read together in bed. As a Valentine’s gift, I had given him a book called The Five Love Languages by therapist Gary Chapman. It’s not something I would have picked up but it’s been recommended to me on a few occasions, the latest by my friend Jen Medwin who is a divorce coach.* That time I took it seriously.

An odd thing began to happen while I read aloud. The therapist presented a couple in terms that struck me as odious gender stereotypes—I couldn’t focus on anything else. The wife griped about how the husband worked too much and didn’t spend time with her. The therapist described the wife as a devoted mother who worked part time “just to get out of the house.” The husband spent most of his waking hours at a lucrative job away from her and the children. She complained, he withdrew, they were unhappy.

All I could think was just to get out of the house? Why’d the therapist portray the woman as such a vapid mom bot? Why does the man get to be the important one who is allowed to leave the house for an actual purpose? The intended lesson about appreciation and affirming each other’s value wasn’t sticking. Instead, I focused on how disgusted I was with this sexist author.

But there’s a story about me beneath this story—the real reason for my negative reaction. I felt offended on behalf of the woman who’d been characterized as having no real purpose beyond service to her family. The male author sounded dismissive of her pursuing something that belonged to her alone. Why couldn’t she have a life? I was projecting all sorts of my own issues onto these people. There’s a story underneath that one too.

An outside observer might have assumed my mother’s succession of side hustles were meant just to get out of the house. Our family was her whole life. I once asked if that’s what she had wanted. “I married a doctor—in those days that was the best you could do,” she said. Her answer suggested her feelings about it were irrelevant. She had four children back to back and spent every minute with us. My dad disappeared into work and rock climbing with friends. But the role she believed to be her highest potential left her feeling unsatisfied. Hence the search for herself in small ways, part time gigs that would allow her to be available to us kids while dad did his own thing. When I was twelve, she left the family for good.

If we had assumed her needs beyond childcare were just to get out of the house, we did so at our own peril. She did need to get out. Permanently. As a result of her hasty exit, I’ve concluded that my mom’s role as reluctant stay-at-home mom was an unsustainable model. Being the only one available to four children didn’t allow room for her to breathe, to be herself, to pursue her own interests. She suffocated under the weight of the very family had she created. Maybe that’s why she ran away. To save herself. Honestly, I don’t know, that’s just what it looked like to me. She said leaving us with my dad was a financial decision. He could afford us, she couldn’t. End of story.

As a young woman, I worried about ending up like my mom. With every move, I did the opposite. She dropped out of college, I put myself through law school. She struggled to make her own living, I earned top dollar at a fancy firm. I’d never depend on a man for anything. I figured that when I had kids, my husband would be the one to stay at home while I continued to build my career. In my head, our future kids had a parent at home. The motherless second half of my childhood lead me to consider no alternative. With my mom’s experience in mind, I reasoned that I should not be the one to give up my career, i.e., the key part of my plan.

Then I got married and became a mother. Mark was already a partner at his firm and a serious earner. He had been a latch key kid from a two parent home and had no qualms about outsourcing childcare. In no scenario would he be the one to stay at home. It was such a non-starter I didn’t even suggest it. By that point, the idea of leaving my actual kids as opposed to the hypothetical ones was unthinkable. We were lucky to live well on one salary so I didn’t have to face the fear of someone mistreating them. I would be their fierce protector and the one to make all the decisions. I ditched my career and devoted myself to raising a family.

With every parenting choice, I felt the judgmental eyes of the world on me. The mommy wars** proved we couldn’t cut ourselves or each other any slack. No matter. I would execute the mother role flawlessly or die trying. Out of the gate, I glue gunned one hundred and twenty-five trifold birth announcements, each one consuming a full hour of my time. I researched the chemical compounds in disposables, then cloth-diapered each of my three babies. The entire house underwent a detox, from fridge to pool which I outfitted with a silver copper ionization system discovered in some hippie enclave in California. I made every decision as if their lives depended on it.

Pulling me out of my reverie, Mark continue to read. The therapist concluded that the unhappy couple must lighten the tone of their marriage. They were told to complement one another twice a week and see how they felt after a few months. Two measly compliments per week? Ugh, this guy. After the exercise, the husband felt great. “She really made me feel like a man,” he said. I swear, that’s exactly what the book says. The therapist concluded that his love language was positive affirmations. The wife still wanted out. Duh.

During the next few days, I wondered how many of us there were whose real selves lay under layers of stories that aren’t even ours and if we can ever fully peel them back. As children, we take cues from our parents on who we should be. If they mirror our emotional state, we have a chance to grow up with a healthy sense of self. If not, we conform to the outside world’s idea of who we should be. We chase acceptance and conditional love. We learn to disavow that inner voice and search outside ourselves for validation. We go to law school to make a lot of money, to feel important, to be the sole support of our family if our husband leaves. We try to be the perfect mother. Or maybe that’s just me.

The next night, we snuggled up and read about the love language of gift giving. But it wasn’t what I expected. Some of us desire the gift of our partner’s presence, deep conversations that build connection and make us feel heard. I think that’s my love language. Finally, instead of focusing on the personal bias of the author, I listened to the message that had prompted my friends to recommend it in the first place.

And that’s when it dawned on me. I recalled Mark describing a conversation with an old friend of his from high school. He asked about me. Mark told him how much I enjoyed writing. “I wish my wife had found something like that after the kids were grown,” he said. My face grew hot. It sounded to me like the friend judged his wife for not having a life of her own. He thought she needed another interest just to get out of the house. After she had been the one to do it all for their three kids while he built a lucrative business—so odd that she hadn’t found a burning passion. Mark pushed back. “He just wants her to have something she loves to do, like you.”

And there it was. The story about a wife who worries her husband may not know that her work is what she does to survive even though it’s not what keeps food on the table. There is nothing just to get out of the house about it. It’s not even out of the house, for pete’s sake. It is critically important to her and it’s also the work that gets thrown over whenever kids, dog, maintenance people, etc. need her to drop what she is writing. It is deeply frustrating.

But the final layer is how she judges herself for not being the one to make the money. Her inability to be the perfect mother and provider despite her meticulous planning. That is the hardest truth of all.

Facing our truth can be painful. We need each other for that. When we share our truth, we feel seen. That is the language we all speak. Not as vapid mom bot or daddy worker bot, but as real flesh and blood, full human beings. When I pan out to include Mark, he can be seen silently shouldering the burden of a family with mounting expenses. On a new business. During a global pandemic. My assumption that he doesn’t value my work is false—a relic from the past. He has told me how much he appreciates my insights and has always shown support. When we connect from a true and unburdened place, we can both be the partner the other needs.

As for how we peel back the layers of our false selves—this is a choose your own adventure situation. For some of us, it’s therapy. For others meditation, studying spiritual leaders, personal growth immersion experiences, yoga, running. The modalities for unraveling the tangle inside us are many. For me, it’s all of these, but the MVP is writing my way out. Until I started a writing practice, I just wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere. I was neither lawyer nor vapid mom bot. I knew I wanted to write from the first time I picked up Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones in high school. But “struggling writer” couldn’t be the plan—no money in it. And it hurt too much to write back then when the pain was so fresh. The timing wasn’t right. But now is the perfect time for me to be a writer. I don’t have to live my life in opposition to my mother anymore. I can just be me.

And the interesting thing is, I now understand that belonging is not my goal.

“You are only free when you realize you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.” -Maya Angelou

On this journey, I have learned that being yourself will cost you. I’ve already racked up a few close relatives and a handful of friends who no longer speak to me. But if that’s who I had to give up to get myself in return, so be it.

When we finally have the courage to let go of all the false narratives of who we are, we know, deep down, that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: What’s underneath the surface story that everyone knows about you? And what’s under that one? Or are you one of those unicorns who fully inhabits yourself without need of any false selves? Tell me all about it!

*Jennifer Medwin is a Certified Divorce Coach, Supreme Court of Florida Family Mediator, and Certified Marital Mediator. Check her out on http://www.seekingempowerment.com.

**Books and articles pitted mothers who worked outside the home against mothers who stayed at home with their kids, leaving all of us feeling like we couldn’t get it right no matter what.

Copyright © *2021* *Elizabeth Heise, LLC*, All rights reserved.

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Take A Chance On Me

 

When an accomplished author praised my work and offered to hook me up with her literary agent, I thought, this is it. Finally, the one time I don’t have to do things the hard way. A wave of entitlement washed over me—this was payback for all the times I’d been left to tough it out on my own. The agent would offer to represent me, I’d get a pass on the most challenging part of writing a book: getting it published. This big time player would sell it to a traditional publishing house and boom, I’d be set.

In my mind’s eye, the fantasy played on a loop: New York industry type perched at the edge of her sleek leather chair, flipping my pages in her book-lined office, delighting in my prose. Her perky assistant appears at the door. She is summoned over and shown a pithy turn of phrase. They share a knowing look. Two book deal, definitely. End scene.

This dream agent sat on the manuscript for weeks that stretched into months. Clearly, I needed to follow up with her. But as long as I didn’t, I could enjoy the fantasy.

A few days ago I went for a walk with a friend who asked about the book. I told her I hadn’t heard a peep but had meant to send a note, I just hadn’t gotten around to it. I had convinced myself that the agent was still considering it. “When you get home, reach out to her. I’m going to check in to make sure you’ve done it,” she said. My friend is a professional life coach with a finely tuned bullshit detector.

Not long after I hit send, I received a kind rejection letter. The sting gave way to relief. The agent had used the word “fascinated” (I’ll take my compliments where I can get them) but felt that in such a competitive category, she was not the right person to champion my book. Over the next few days, a range of insights germinated in my mind. The bonus to disappointment is that we learn far more when we don’t get what we want than when we do. Here’s my list:

All we are entitled to is the air we breathe. My old therapist repeated this mantra so often, you’d think I’d have it down by now. Unfortunately, my sense of entitlement is still a hairpin trigger. I deserved this easy breezy book deal. The thing is, I didn’t. It doesn’t matter what we have gone through. None of us finally gets our due. Unless you are referring to karma, in which case, look out. That is actually a thing.

It feels much better to know the truth. I didn’t realize that not knowing where I stood had caused a low hum of anxiety and an uncomfortable sense of stagnation. Sure, my denial vacation had temporarily protected me, but choosing to delay the inevitable lost me valuable weeks. I could have used that time to draft the lengthy book proposal that I will need to move forward. It’s not uncommon for writers to carpet bomb the literary world with query letters. There is no avoiding it, much as I would have loved to.

 

The universe is conspiring in your favor. This old standard is sometimes hard to believe, especially when the events involve painful emotions. But that’s the yin and yang of life. That fancy agent was not The One. Her candor about being fascinated but not inspired was discouraging, obviously. I wanted the offer and the validation that came with it. But if she couldn’t be my carny barker to the publishing houses, best to be up front about it. I wasted time pining away for her while my true love agent is still out there waiting. (Or whatever publishing platform I choose in the end—there are so many.)

There is no easy way out. Literally ever. Anything that is worth doing requires work. That’s been true for every accomplishment so far and this one will be no different. Time to roll up my sleeves and get this book proposal done. (Dangit.)

There is no escaping our own vulnerability. This is the lesson of my life. It’s bloody unheard of to have another author introduce a new writer like me to her agent, so I’ve already enjoyed an exquisite level of writerly generosity. Going in through the VIP entrance also allowed me to hide that terrified part of me that thinks I can’t face more rejection. Hello perfect stranger, do you love my book enough to work your tail off to sell it? The hard truth is that if we want to fulfill our purpose on this planet, there is no way to avoid putting ourselves out there into the unknown. We can hide, but then we don’t get what we want. And what kind of life is that? We just have to shut up and do it. I will let her extraordinary gesture be my rocket fuel. Someone who knows believes in me. That’s freaking amazing.

Believe in yourself and others will join you. The confidence of other people feels fantastic, but it’s not all we need to get us to where we want to go. I know my story will be someone else’s survival guide, as the saying goes. My faith in me is on display when I share deeply personal stories in this very public forum. My stories and I have been warmly received by all you beautiful people and it has been immensely gratifying. I am flinging my whole self out into the world and the good juju has come back. In a few weeks, I will be leading Guided Journaling at a magical retreat in the Dominican Republic. I have had the guts to take a chance on me and so have you. (Check out anahataecoyogaretreats.com, they are pure magic. Events are international and local in Miami.)

So after taking stock, my first move was to tell my editor the not great news. She kindly recommended a book proposal coach everyone loves. And then, before I lost my nerve, I reached out to a former writing teacher who is also a prolific author, to ask if she thought Scrappy would be right for her people. It may sound like another grab at a get out of jail free card. Maybe it is, a little. But the energy around it feels much different. I can ask for help, I can want everything, as long as I manage expectations. She owes me nothing. I asked her because she has always been my creative champion and if she could help, she would. In truth, I would not have bothered her but for the confidence the first author showed in my work. That was a revelation–a person who knows what’s good liked my stuff. New writers have no clue what it’s like to be on the receiving end of their stories. Positive feedback is huge. The validation of knowing my stories have struck a chord allowed me to be bold about asking for help. We really do need each other, as hard as it is for us go-it-aloners to realize.

When we take a chance and open ourselves up to the opportunities and the people all around us, we get the feeling that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: What will you take a chance on today?

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Silence The Inner Critic

I’m not a mean person—unless you’ve lived inside my head. Just recently, I’ve become more aware of my negative self-talk. I can’t unhear it now. Something interesting has happened as a result.

My own inner dialogue has always been pretty brutal. As I sit here writing, my tight jeans causing a muffin top, I’m reminded of Lizzo’s* recent Instagram post. “Thank you,” she tells her ample belly, which she has recently begun talking to in the sweetest terms. She speaks directly to her reflection in the bathroom mirror, promising her voluptuous body, “I am going to listen to you. I love you for keeping me healthy and alive, you deserve all the space in the world.”

The silent conversations I’ve had with my own body are the opposite of Lizzo’s. Oof. Boy does your butt look big in those jeans. Even noticing that voice took effort—it’s been the white noise of my life. A few concerned friends have mentioned it recently when it reared its mean little head in my stories. I realize it doesn’t serve me, but I didn’t know quite how destructive it can be until now. That toxic chatter has got to go.

Theoretically, I know it’s possible to change it. Spiritual leader, Eckhart Tolle, explains that we are not our thoughts, we are the awareness behind our thoughts. That’s pretty deep but if you think about it, it explains how meditation works. We let go of the thoughts, observing them as they float away. Only our awareness remains. Thoughts exist on a surface level so we really can choose another one that suits us better. All it takes is pausing to notice the ones we default to—if we don’t like them, we can replace them.

There are logical reasons why many of us default to a critical inner dialogue. Some of it can be attributed to negative messages in childhood which we then adopted as our own. But all of humanity is hard-wired to look for what’s wrong. Evolution prioritized survival over happiness—we had to avoid that tiger in the bushes. The brain does this automatically. The only way to customize our brain’s default setting is to interrupt the pattern and supply better messages on purpose. Now that we aren’t in danger of being eaten if we walk outside, we no longer need the default to fear and negativity. Mindfulness, the practice of observing our mind’s activity, helps us examine our thoughts. By first noticing our thought patterns, we can develop a capacity to self-regulate in a more loving and productive manner.

Negative self-talk does keep us in check in some respects, i.e. that cheese is going to hurt your stomach, Elizabeth—but mostly it’s damaging. It decreases motivation and makes us feel stuck. Relentless flagellation creates a world where our goals are out of reach. We tell ourselves that we are just not up to the task. These thoughts can cause stress and depression. When we constantly focus on our failures, it limits our ability to recognize opportunities that may be right in front of us. When we put ourselves down, we begin to believe it.

This kind of thinking doesn’t just affect our relationship with ourselves. Negative self-talk manifests in our relationships with other people. Self-criticism becomes everyone-criticism. No one wants to feel hen-pecked. (Sorry honey.) Those of us with kids have modeled a critical eye. I remember my mom’s constant refrain in front of the mirror as little me looked on, does my butt look big in this? It stuck. I vowed not to do it with my own kids, but thoughts are matter. I’d be fooling myself if I didn’t think repeating mean things in my head didn’t generate negative energy that affects everyone around me. As parents, the last thing we want is to burden our children with our own limiting beliefs. That’s even greater motivation to put ours in check.

So, having learned how damaging this is, I finally got to work. As I transitioned the negative content of my thoughts, conversations with myself were pretty awkward for a while. Washing my face at night, I’d notice my prominent nose and a stray zit and say, “you’re a sweet friend and a fun person.” Yes, I did tell myself I HAD A GOOD PERSONALITY. Obviously this takes some practice. You are beautiful. See how easy that is?

Now when I look in the mirror, I listen closely for the judgment. When I procrastinate, the finger-wagging voice starts in. As soon as I feel it coming, I scramble for an alternative. The thoughts went from you actually look pretty good to editing out the word actually because I’m not trying to back hand compliment myself. Sometimes I even spoke out loud when the critical voice in my head persisted. Each time I defaulted to something negative, I chose another thought. Criticism of my appearance transformed into gratitude for my body for providing a healthy home for my soul and taking me everywhere I want to go. Negative self-talk about wasting time became a quiet thank you for a few minutes to clear my head.

In the past, when my mind was at rest, I typically used the time to reflect on feelings of regret for how I handled something or worry about my kids. Instead of allowing the usual garbage to take over, I filled the head space with I AM statements. ‘I am’ is a creation. Each time we say I AM, our brain becomes programmed** to make it true for us. I AM loved, I AM whole, I AM fulfilled. I AM. I AM. I AM. When we say who we are, our mind believes us and gets to work sorting information to make it so. That’s why it’s so important to choose our language wisely.

Research on positive self-talk shows that it is the greatest predictor of success when compared with other types of inner dialogue (instructional, motivational, positive and negative). Building ourselves up isn’t silly nonsense as pop culture might suggest, it is giving ourselves a chance to reach our full potential. https://www.verywellmind.com/negative-self-talk-and-how-it-affects-us-4161304

So how do we stop that rude voice inside? First, we take the time to notice when we are saying things that we wouldn’t say to a child or a good friend. Once we see the pattern, we will want to break it. It just feels bad to continue doing it once you become keenly aware of it. In the moment, we can change the negative thought to a positive one. We go from my thighs are enormous to thank you for being so strong.

And what happens as a result of rehabbing that mean voice? For myself, a lightness filled that space where the cold critic used to hang out. When I switched from relentless criticism to real complements, I felt myself beam from the inside out. I smiled—and not the tight smile at the end of an agree to disagree conversation. I lit up like a kid who had never heard a negative word about her cute little self from anyone. I felt magnificent. Brand new even. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

When we feed our minds good thoughts about ourselves, we are rewarded with the deep sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: Are you aware of your inner dialogue? How do you think it has affected how you feel about your life?

*Lizzo is an extremely cool, body positive singer/rapper who I definitely would not know but for the teenagers in my home. The 70’s station plays pretty exclusively but when I’m feeling festive, I’ll toss in some eighties and maybe even a little 90’s grunge.

**The Reticular Activating System in the brain is quite powerful. If you havent heard of it, google it!

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