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Speak Your Truth.

 

We had been warned about going back to regular life after an intense writers’ retreat. The work required raw emotions that didn’t go away once you cleared Customs. Crying in the shower? Normal. Unloading a torrent of vitriol onto unsuspecting loved ones? Possible. Spending days wondering what just happened? Likely.

I had attended once before, so I knew this re-entry had been extra weird. Last time, I came back with my hardest story workshopped by our host, a prolific author and writing teacher. A whole book had grown up around that story. This time, I had wanted to unearth my next story. I had no desire to work on the manuscript that I had completed months ago. Instead of writing new stories, I returned home with a load of revisions that amounted to a scrapped manuscript and a heap of self-doubt.

My inner voice had gone quiet. Trying to get myself back on track had me in a panic.

Before the trip, I had planned a holistic health reset. The pandemic had been a year of less than healthy choices. An Ayurvedic consultation awaited when I returned home. This Hindu tradition, known in India* as The Mother of All Healing, teaches you to listen to the body’s signals. Through observation of emotions and physical symptoms, you learn how diet, seasons, weather, relationships and past trauma affect your health. Balance is the goal. This would bring me back to myself, I was sure of it.

The naturopathic doctor first asked about my emotional state. I told her what happened at the retreat.

“I started out bursting with creativity. A few days in, I didn’t speak up for myself. After that, I was unable to work on new material and stopped reading what I had brought to share. Right now I can’t even hear my intuition. It’s freaking me out.”

“Suppressed emotion can be a volcano inside us,” the doctor said. “It’s important to recognize when you are releasing emotions and when you are holding them in.”

 

I had definitely stuffed them down and now the anger and sadness had followed me home. I am a planner and this was not at all where I wanted to be post-workshop. I expressed almost none of my complicated feelings at the retreat, concerned I might tank other writers’ creativity along with my own. That would have made it all worse. But energy is matter and I’m sure they all felt it.

I had no qualms expressing myself at home, however. My patient husband watched me get stuck in the seven stages of writer grief. For several days, I looked at him in disbelief and shook my head. “How did I let this happen?” I asked him, again and again.

I blamed myself for not being able to voice my concerns about how things were going down. There were only two ways I had always communicated hard feelings. One was to be silent. When I sense I may be rejected or judged, I hold back and say nothing. Then I carry that uncomfortable truth and it eats away at my insides. The other way is to drop the truth on the person’s head like a falling piano. When I feel safe, that’s how I do it. People seem not to like that.

“I have been told that when I tell the truth it feels like I am being mean,” I said to the doctor.

“You see things clearly and you speak your mind. Those are virtues. You can share them compassionately.”

It was news to me that there was something in between hammering someone with honesty and saying nothing at all. Perhaps my truth bombs came from holding back so often that when I unleashed the truth, the built up pressure shot out like a nail gun.

The doctor advised that when I restore balance to my body and mind, I will feel more able to express myself with compassion.

“This is a wonderful time for healing, Elizabeth.”

A little over a week has passed since I have been following my plan for spiritual and mental balance. It may not be long enough for a fair assessment. So far, however, the net effect of yoga, breath work, meditation and complying with the recommended food choices is that I feel calm. I can’t say my inner voice has been fully restored, but the lesson about speaking up for myself has stuck. I have recommitted to keeping my own counsel. I am already who I am trying to be.

When we honor our own truth and express our thoughts and feelings with compassion, we get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

*The people of India are suffering. Please help unicefusa.org.

WRITING PROMPT: Do you have trouble speaking the truth with compassion? How do people respond to it?

If you don’t already, please follow these Friday stories on elizabethheise.com and check me out on Instagram @elizabethheise1 and twitter @heiseelizabeth1. Thank you for reading.

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The War Is Within

 

By mid-week, my writing workshop in Guatemala had taken a turn. Despite the enchanting casita on a tranquil lake in the shade of three volcanoes, I could no longer write. True stories demand total vulnerability. Mine had fled.

Back home, when worries overwhelmed my creative voice, I cleared my head with yoga, the bright Miami sun, a long run. Here in this magnificent place, I couldn’t even meditate without sobbing midway through.

I had pre-booked a session that day with an energy healer who worked with crystals. Until then, I had avoided such things. I believed in the power of energy, but magic rocks were my mother’s territory. I viewed them as a New Age prop for those who wished to avoid the real work of therapy. After twenty years on Dr. Waddington’s couch where I rarely discussed my mother, I found myself here, among the crystals.

 

A woman with flowing gray hair sat at a small table, writing. Lining the walls of her small studio, stones of every color lay in intricate patterns.

“You need to feel your grief and allow yourself to cry,” she said, peering into my eyes over rectangular spectacles.

Not knowing how to respond, I sat down in the wrought iron chair across from her.

She was right, this total stranger. I had mourned, a little, but hadn’t cried—who had time for that? I came down here to revise my book.

“Are you grieving the loss of someone or something?” she asked.

I told her about my mom and sisters who no longer spoke to me. And the friend who had just announced she was so mad at me, she couldn’t read anything I wrote. The little girl in charge of my creativity had run away to hide. My writing was done for now.

“People who act like your mother will keep showing up until you resolve your relationship with her. Has this friend ever behaved like that before?”

“No,” I said.

“That’s your mother.”

It sounded both absurd and exactly right.

But I didn’t want my mother to take up any more of my mental space. She hadn’t been in my life in any real way since she left our family when I was twelve. The four of us kids received the rare phone call and had no regular visitation. I had longed for her to ask what might be bothering me as a kid growing up with no mom. But now I wanted to be done.

The healer invited me to lay on the table. I closed my eyes as she placed crystals at energy points along my body.

“You have to forgive her.”

I didn’t know what it meant to forgive anyone. It sounded impossible. I would not be doing anything hard for my mother.

“This is how you find comfort and peace. Nothing is out of your reach when you are inward, whole and revitalized.”

“How do I do it?”

“You have to write to her. Get it all out on paper. Then destroy it,” she said.

I lay on the table, composing a letter in my head.

Dear Mom, even when you lived with us, you barely looked at me. It made me feel unworthy of being seen. In every relationship, I feel like a temporary employee trying to prove myself. You judged me and now I do it too, pushing away the very people I want close. I always worried you would leave. That anxiety turned me into someone who tries to control everything. That drives people away too. Worst of all, you left me. Now, when things are hard, I fight the urge to leave too.

I burned the note.

I had not felt this shaken in decades. Until now, I hadn’t allowed the feelings to pass through me. I worked through issues intellectually, but didn’t waste time “processing emotions.” That was for sensitive people. It had served me well until now. I had hardened into petrified wood. I was ready to turn back into a live tree.

“It is time to gently cast away the attachments to your past and build the foundation of a new and beautiful journey. Today the doorway opens. You may pass if you are willing to look forward rather than back. You are striving to become who you already are. You are a Spiritual Warrior and your war is within. Let your life be transformed. Magic will happen.”

I rose from the table and purchased the two crystals that would assist in my healing. One to balance my overactive crown with my underactive root chakra. The other to turn chaos to order. I placed them in a pouch and secured them under my clothes, close to my heart. As I walked up the steep stairs to my tuk tuk, I detected a lightness in my chest. Maybe I could let go of her. I didn’t have to be part of her story any more. I could write my own.

I have learned that to forgive is to remove judgment—to allow others the dignity of their own journey. This makes space for acceptance. This is love. With a deep breath, I send the message to my body that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: What do you do to let go?

If you don’t already, please subscribe to my Friday stories at elizabethheise.com and follow me on Instagram @elizabethheise1 and Twitter @heiseelizabeth1. Thanks for reading.

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Guest Post From Down Under

It’s Time to Normalise* Normal
By Helen Ferguson

I crave seeing normal faces and normal bodies of middle aged women. Up on our screens, in advertising material and in general day to day media–I want them everywhere.

I see normal on the train, at the shops and walking down the street, so I know normal exists. I really want to see normal middle aged women filling as much media space and time as normal middle aged men.

It is harder than necessary to find examples of middle aged women in media and entertainment who didn’t come out of a cookie cutter.

I’m constantly on the lookout for positive, diverse representations of normal middle aged womanhood.

I need them.

It’s not just for my own sake. I’m thinking of the generations of women following behind us.

If we can’t see it, we can’t be it.

If we can’t see it, how can we appreciate it?

I remember as a teenager in the early 80’s, the teen magazines regularly had articles about our bodies and our faces.

We were warned by the advice columns not to be too skinny, because boys didn’t like that. The articles were accompanied by photos of clearly unwell girls, focusing on the way they looked, rather than how they were suffering.

We were told to strive to keep our skin clear, because spots were unattractive.

The opinions at the time were very outward facing.

I recall how a young female body made society react if it wasn’t ‘quite right’.

Normal teen girls, the target customer of these businesses, weren’t represented on the pages. Normal girls with normal skin and normal bodies couldn’t see themselves being valued, so they set about under-valuing themselves.

Getting older and growing into my 20’s in the 1990’s, the message shifted dramatically.

Being skinny was now ok.

Skinny was more than ok, actually.

Skinny was the goal.

The thigh gap was the holy grail.

Hip bones sticking out slightly, with a flat or slightly concave stomach…that was what dreams were made of.

Have a black coffee for breakfast and go for a run, aspire to look like a model.

Don’t be normal.

Guys don’t like that.

I wondered at the time, if all men only find one type of woman attractive, why are the rest of us even in the dating game?

What if attracting a male was not my chief ambition. Can I be left out of the judgment and live by normal standards, please?

I looked around to find normal, average looking women on television, in movies, reading the news, or presenting business forums.

They were there, but in categories marked ‘friend of love interest’  ‘unmarried sister’, ‘ball-breaker’, ‘feisty/whacky’ , ‘single/childless’ ‘ambitious’.

We were being sold a dud.

We were being short-changed.

The boys and men were also being cheated.

The only ones benefiting were the people selling us the products to achieve that (airbrushed) complexion, those (photoshopped) bodies, or the impossibly tiny clothes to drape over those bodies.

Fashion and beauty models became younger and younger. Finding grown-ass women with faces free from life experience and bodies devoid of age-appropriate development was nigh on impossible, because…experience and maturity happens to women.

We’re almost like actual humans in that regard.

My early years of motherhood coincided with the rise of magazines plastering photos of celebrities on their covers, 10 weeks postpartum, wearing bikinis.

What on earth????

I didn’t buy into the hype. I was too sleep-deprived, thankfully, but I did get it wrong.

I just assumed that these women had personal chefs and trainers on hand to allow them look so astonishing post-delivery.

It didn’t dawn on me until years later that the photos were so heavily edited that they were a barefaced lie.

Normal isn’t aspirational.

Normal, by it’s very definition, is what the majority of us are.

I want to see me, I want to see you, I want to see us!

As a middle aged woman, I want to see women in my life stage, wearing clothes that fit them, that let them feel comfortable and allow them to feel beautiful. Show me the brand that has the talent and willingness to provide that, and I’ll be a loyal customer.

I’m quite happy being 54.

I’m not anti-aging, so why must practically every skin care product claim to be anti-aging? I’m pro-moisturised skin. I’m pro-non-irritated skin. I’m pro-long lasting makeup that brightens me when I want to be brighter, but doesn’t stain my clothes or make my eyes water, but I’m not anti-aging.

Think about it, if I’m not aging, what am I doing? Repeating myself? Stagnating? Dying? 

No, thanks. I choose aging over those options.

If media bosses and advertising gurus were braver, they could open their creative minds and appeal to this largely ignored resource.

The landscape has shifted in the real world, and the media mantras need to change to keep up.

The ‘middle aged white man in a suit’ is not the only way to convey gravitas and authority. We’re ever so tired of the same old same old.

The ‘hot young thing in a daring gown’ might be the obvious and traditional choice, because ‘sex sells’, but surely that depends on what you’re selling and to whom.

I am a grown up with disposable income; I have the power to make my own purchasing decisions, the ability to choose what cinema ticket to buy, what company to hire, which news channel to watch, what restaurant to book.

I recommend things to my friends, my colleagues, my clients, my book club.

I want to see what women in my age range are thinking, what careers they have, what questions they’re asking, what well cut clothes they’re wearing, where they are socialising and who they are voting for.

I want to see all of these things now, for me, but I also want younger women to see us, being ourselves, enjoying the fruits of our labour and living real lives.

I want younger women to view the next phase as something to look forward to, not dread.

We have to fight harder and shout louder for normal, for our own well-being and for the young people coming up behind us. We didn’t grow up in the age of social media, cosmetic surgery and advertising at every turn, but they are. What they are seeing every day on their screens is unrealistic and unsustainable.

We have to normalise normal.

_________________________________________________
Helen Ferguson is a British woman living in Sydney, Australia where she co-owns and runs a family business and recently launched hermiddleage.com.au. Recognizing that middle age is often when women suddenly experience a sense of invisibility, she started a project to amplify their voices by inviting middle aged women to tell their stories, share their wisdom and join a supportive community. She invites her audience to email her at contact@hermiddleage.com.au with a story to share or nominate a woman we should hear about. You can follow the blog on her website and on Instagram @hermiddleage. She is lovely and I think you’ll treasure her as I do.

*Little known fact about me, I have a Masters in linguistics and I am totally fascinated by regional variations in English orthography. Helen’s British spelling adds even more charm to this fantastic piece, don’t you think? But because Americans think we know everything, I had to change her British spelling of “judgement” to the American “judgment.” I hope you’ll forgive me, Helen. I just don’t want to encourage this spelling in America because many of us do not know better.

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WHY Are You Doing That?

Empowered. That word is so overused it’s borderline cliche. The concept has been commodified and marketed so much that we need to strip off the cheap slogans like shag carpet from parquet floors.

How we achieve real empowerment has been the subject of debate with a new friend.

“Can I ask you an honest question? Why are you doing this? The writing, I mean. What are you getting out of it?” she asked me on the phone as I headed out for a walk. Great question. I made a mental note to ask this of myself more often.

That word popped into my head again. Empowered. For me, writing leads to mental clarity and reveals purpose—that’s power. Not to mention it’s the best kept wellness secret and I want to share it with anyone who will listen. We have the answers inside us, all we have to do is get a pen and paper and free them from our subconscious mind.

But that’s not how I responded. I told her a story instead.

We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.
-John Dewey

After I wrote a book and started building my author platform, the marketing guy observed that I seemed to want to encourage other people to write their own stories instead of drawing them in to read mine. His tone suggested that as a writer, I should be doing the latter. But he had me pegged. I really did want to encourage others to tell their stories. And why wouldn’t I? It had transformed my life. I am not suggesting everyone stop what they are doing and get to work on a manuscript, but a journaling practice a few times a week is doable for anyone. And the benefits are well worth the time.

Releasing old stories from my body and putting them down on the page has liberated me from an old identity. One that held me responsible for the pain I experienced as a kid. We all naturally do that. It’s called the Just World Fallacy—people tend to believe the world is fair and we get what we deserve. But I didn’t cause the rejection, judgment or abandonment that I experienced and I’m all done shouldering the blame for it. And, interestingly, once I got those stories out of me, a couple family members decided they were done with me too. And they’ve never even seen the book. Some folks don’t want to take ownership of their stuff. I’d prefer growth over denial any day. Author Martha Beck says to be truly happy, we need to let go of family trauma and what the culture expects of us. Society wants us to make nice. I’ve opted out.

Don’t set yourself on fire just to keep other people warm.
-unknown

Writing has allowed me to let go of some major baggage but its also empowered me to share more of who I really am and inspired me to explore deeper truths in every aspect of my life. When readers respond that my story has resonated with them and they share their own truth, it closes the loop. Truth begets truth. And if they do the prompt and let me know they’ve learned something, that’s the cherry on the icing on the cake.

I want to help other people understand themselves better. When you write your story, you know who gets to say what it all means? Who gets to assign the reason why this crazy thing happened? You do. Every single thing you have been through has lead you to where you are right now. And if you are going through something, you can explore it in real time. We have all experienced hardship and pain. Reflecting on your resilience can transform you—help you to see yourself. My stories got me here and I am exactly where I need to be.

You may be wondering, how does that work exactly? When you put your words down in black and white, your body speaks them into being. The meaning you give what happened to you can build you up or tear you down, you get to decide. I chose a powerful meaning to every challenge I ever had. At the end of my book, I conclude that an unlimited supply of everything I need has always been available inside me. Ultimately, other people’s failings do not reflect on me whatsoever.

Until I began writing, I had looked for the answers outside myself, but, not surprisingly, I couldn’t find them. I didn’t know that all I needed was a door in, i.e., a simple writing prompt. When you are ready to write, all you have to do is grab a journal and let ‘er rip. And if prompts help you, I post a new one daily in my story on Instagram @elizabethheise1. All the past ones are archived in the Writing Prompt story highlight. A whole list of Writing Prompts are also in the menu on elizabethheise.com. The one you select will be the exact one you need. When you write without judgment, it will take you where you are supposed to go. Just keep the pen moving even if you write I don’t know what to say. That’s just the mental noise blocking out your real thoughts. In the coming months, I will be developing a program to get that story out of you, once and for all.

And now I am taking the next step in my creative journey. I am making room for new stories. I even cleaned out my closet and medicine chest—I heard that helps. I have a tendency to hang on to EVERYTHING for way longer than I should just to feel safe, including old narratives that no longer serve me. I have no more time for that. I am embracing growth and change.

Pay attention to what makes you feel energized, connected and stimulated, follow your intuition. Do what you love and you will do more than succeed. You will soar.
-Oprah

In that spirit, I am heading to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala for Joyce Maynard’s Write By The Lake. We had been in touch about Scrappy and she suggested I bring it to this workshop before querying. I decided instead that I want to write new stories. Scrappy is not in the mood to be tinkered with and her trajectory is TBA. Joyce is a story surgeon and I can’t wait to see her extract stories from each one of these writers, including me.

While I am out of the country, a fellow writer will guest post here on my Friday stories. Her piece is fabulous and I would love to hear what you think.

When we let go of our old stories and create space for a new version of ourselves to emerge, we get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

Writing Prompt: What makes you feel energized, connected and stimulated? How much time do you spend doing it?

Follow me on Instagram @elizabethheise1, Twitter @heiseelizabeth1 and subscribe to my Friday piece at elizabethheise.com. Thank you for reading!

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Know Your Body Know Yourself

We have been taught to ignore the language of our bodies. To dismiss the sinking feeling when a name flashes across our phone screen and pick up anyway. The uncomfortable clothes, stiff backed chairs, painful shoes. We have grown accustomed to denying our true needs. Choosing the comfort of others over our own. To be polite in the meetings, to go along with the status quo. Then maybe go home and drink, eat or smoke the complicated feelings away.

Last Friday, I enjoyed myself so much I practically levitated. For five whole hours I told my story, first to an extraordinary new friend at a marathon lunch date, then again in an interview with a trailblazer in Australia who you will hear more about in the next few weeks. As I led us through the rocky terrain of my first book, Scrappy, we laughed, cried and spoke way above casual conversation volume. I knocked a glass of wine clear across the table. It was nuts. At day’s end, I was emotionally raw but fulfilled in a way that comes only from being truly seen.

By the time the Aussie interview ended, it was 7:00 pm and we had no plan for dinner. Mark and I needed to get our evening together quick so I could get to bed for an early run the next day. We improvised a meal and selected an acclaimed indie drama over a comedy.

As we settled on the couch, I felt a bit dazed. I had leapt from a big deal day to sofa and screen at whiplash pace. The show didn’t hold my attention. I checked my phone repeatedly for I don’t know what. My mind drifted back to these two soul stirring conversations and did this day really happen oh my God. Sharing my story, being truly heard by these two amazing people had been magical. Later, I awoke to rolling credits as Mark slid his keys off the table to go pick up our youngest son.

Still feeling unsettled, I poked my head in the pantry to forage for sugar. Bingo. An unopened bag of Tate’s Gluten Free Coconut cookies. I plopped back down on the couch and flipped on the last SNL with Maya Rudolph. Funny shows only make me laugh when I watch with someone else. I ate a few cookies, not laughing. Then I ate a few more. I lost count of how many. A lot.

My body had needed to process the big feelings—I’d received plenty of signs. I could have gone on a walk with Mark, jumped on the trampoline or even just cried a few tears of joy. Yes, I felt seen which was amazing. My story has some parts that cause me fear of being judged though too.

This way of managing hard emotions has been a habit for me. I run away. As a kid, sweets were carefully rationed in my home, as was affection. After I feel exposed, my instinct is to self soothe with something forbidden because I can. When a quick scan of my body identifies a vulnerable spot, my instinct is to make it go away. Medicate with something sweet or salty. I have some unlearning to do around big feelings.

Our culture has conditioned us, as author and life coach Martha Beck says, that it’s better to be good than to be free. I chose to ignore what my body needed and go with my tidy evening schedule. Being good. To cry and run down the street—free. I’m gonna try that for my next vulnerability hangover.

So how do we get better about heeding the signals of our body? This week Elizabeth Gilbert interviewed her bestie Martha about her new book. The conversation revealed so much about their deeply connected friendship. “Have friends who want you to be your bravest, strongest and truest self,” she said of her friend Marty who she credits with preventing her from becoming “a husk of a human.” Martha coached her through a time of crisis and helped her choose her true self over cultural conditioning. When society has trained us to ignore the clear signs our body sends, we can help each other find our truth again.

WE ARE ALL JUST WALKING EACH OTHER HOME. -Ram Dass

Martha Beck suggests that creating a supportive community can help you find your true path. She gets an AMEN from me on that. From the time I began writing, I have been on a mission to find other truth seekers who can help guide my way home. My two new friends are a welcomed addition to my growing family.

And that is what led me to invite Kyra Montagu @kiraholisticliving to my Instagram Live series Tell Me All About It TODAY, April 16 at 1:30 pm. We met in the Dominican Republic where she lives in radical honesty every day. Kyra is a naturopathic doctor specializing in ayurveda, yoga, herbal medicine, nutrition and holistic healing and living practices. Born to British parents, Kyra was raised in the DR and remains deeply committed to preserving its natural beauty for future generations. She runs a holistic retreat center at her family home on the coast of La Romana where guests are offered natural therapies and workshops in a lush tropical oasis. (http://ki-ra.com) You can do as much or as little as you wish, the mission being to reconnect with your own natural rhythms. Check out Kyra’s TEDx Talk in Santo Domingo to hear more about her. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlMJnYy37OY&feature=youtu.be

Kyra was featured at the last Anahata Eco Yoga Retreat in Barahona and she will be welcomed again at the next one on May 11-15. A couple of spots are still open if you can disappear into paradise for a few days. https://anahataecoyogaretreats.com.

What are we going to talk about on Instagram today? Kyra will light the path home for us all. She is deeply connected to herself, to nature and to her purpose. She believes that abundant health begins with discovering your innate nature, accepting it and living in accordance with it. Our constitution shifts to deal with the circumstances of our lives. Once we return to who we truly are, we can live in devotion to our truest essence. Kyra believes that the body is designed to heal itself. She will talk about how to listen when the body offers information. Of all the questions I have for her, the most intriguing is this: Kyra spends one entire day a week in SILENCE with her five children and husband. How does that work exactly? That is number one on the hit parade for today.

When we find ourselves again and accept our true nature, our bodies deliver the message that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT: What messages is your body sending you? Do you listen? What has happened as a result? Do your friends and family support your true nature?

You can subscribe to my weekly stories at elizabethheise.com, follow me on Instagram @elizabethheise1 and twitter @heiseelizabeth1.

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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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Stories

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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Stories

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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Stories

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.

 

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