Welcome to my Stories page!

Here you will find stories and my reflections on life, its joys and challenges, relationships, travel, the world out there, the world within, my trauma recovery and healing, creativity, etc, etc, etc. I welcome your comments!

Forgiveness and the Five Thousand Dollar Ice Cream Cone

"No thanks" he told me. "I'm ready to go home." This surprised me, as Dad rarely passed the opportunity for ice cream, especially if it was my treat. And this occasion had cause for celebration. We had just completed his post cataract surgery follow up appointment as well as six weeks of twice-daily-eye-drops (or as I preferred to call them, Pop drops).

Delivering Dad home, I pursued the treat beckoning to me from a local popular frozen custard place.

I stepped up onto the pavement, noticing at the back of my mind that the day's rain had dampened the concrete area outside the ordering window. The large wipe-your-feet-mat had absorbed the rain, and I thought to myself "wow - this is soaked!"

My step on and off the soaked mat onto the damp concrete would change my life.

0the walk slip airborn and crash landing w captions.png

It's called a slip and fall, and indeed I did slip and fall… flat on my back, grateful for the recently accumulated extra padding on my backside. Thankfully my head did not hit the ground, though the effort to keep it from doing so would wreak havoc with my neck and shoulder muscles, tendons and ligaments. Plus that thing called the spine: it bore the brunt of the fall. I lay briefly, sensing how I felt, realizing with gratitude that I was ok enough to wave off the kind people coming to help.

I gingerly walked up to the counter, acutely aware of the absence of Caution signs. I sweetly asked the young lady behind the counter "Do you give free ice cream cones to people who slip on your pavement?" Her compassionate and spot-on answer was "of course! Are you ok?" I assured her I was, commenting that perhaps this wasn't a good day for me to be wearing my flip flops with the traction long worn off.  I received a really nice cone for my troubles, snapped a friendly photo of it for social media, and headed - very carefully - back to my car.

Little did I realize how impactful (pun definitely intended) this slip and fall would be…

4 the 5k ice cream cone.png

As in massive diffuse injury along my entire spine, neck to tailbone: five bulging discs with nerve root compression left and right at multiple levels in my neck, mid and lower back, with concomitant muscle spasms. Throw in some bone spurs and spinal canal stenosis that had developed over time and the icing on cake - an unrelenting (aka 24/7) and often severe headache, barely responsive to meds and consuming of critical thinking and concentration.

Two weeks later, on a bright sunny day, I returned for another cone. Bright yellow caution signs welcomed, hello! How curious! Aware of the back story (again, pun very much intended), I found it a bit ironic.

I had a specific purpose for this visit: a sort of re-enactment - minus the slip and fall. In keeping with the Somatic Experiencing™ (SE®) trauma healing modality I'd be treated with for the last seven years, this meant lying on the pavement for several minutes, recalling the actual fall, and allowing my body and nervous system the space and time to calm. Something I hadn't thought of on injury day. So there I lay, observing how the concrete felt under my body, listening to the sounds of traffic, smelling the summer day, watching the billowy clouds make their way across the sky. Tasting the yummy ice cream cone I had purchased. My nieces accompanying me sat nearby chatting, familiar with my SE healing routine.

 Taking slow deep breaths in, letting them out mindfully.

Taking slow deep breaths in, letting them out mindfully.

I felt my body shift, legs adjusting themselves just a bit, a sensation of tingling ascending from my tailbone through my spine up to the back of my head. Big yawns emerged, a classic sign of trapped energy being released, my nervous system settling, righting itself. An all around amazing experience. While it did not relieve my symptoms, the experience cleared additional accumulated trauma, allowing me to move forward on an even playing field, so to speak.

Fast forward four months. Claim filed with company's insurance, paperwork submitted, investigation completed, claim denied. Discussion with attorney helped me understand that slip and fall cases are very prolonged and expensive with burden of proof on the injured to demonstrate that the defendant was negligent. They wouldn't even take on such a case. I kicked myself mentally for not snapping a photo of the surroundings that fatefully awful fall-full day.

Having undertaken every feasible avenue of care (doctor appointments, x-rays, prescription anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxants, cold packs, bedrest, holistic chiropractic care, bio-energetics work, MRIs, neurosurgery consult, Physical Therapy, Aquatics Therapy, bedrest, cold packs,  bedrest, cold packs, ad infinitum, I continued to suffer from debilitating pain. Laundry, dishes, paperwork piled up and the little energy I had I devoted to editing my book, keeping social media posts going, creating marketing video slideshows and painting beautiful commission art pieces until my legs, numbed, carried me back to bed.

By now I had paid about $5000.00 out-of-pocket for medical expenses. I thanked God for my personal insurance, for which I pay $700 every month. Because of it, I was spared additional tens of thousands of dollars.  

At the same time, I felt so angry! I felt so frustrated! I felt so sad!

Now calling on the resources I learned through years of trauma recovery, I allowed myself to really FEEL these emotions. To make space and time for my wounded spirit to heal... which would mean forgiveness:

  1. For the company's insurance plan not including a "no fault" clause (like most plans do) that would have paid out $5k. 
  2. For state law that placed the burden of proof that the company was negligent on me.
  3. For the employee who lied about caution signs being out. She's a lovely young woman and I believe she was just protecting her job.
  4. For the insurance company taking the employee's lie over my truth.
  5. For MYSELF, for wearing slippery flip flops on a rainy day and for not thinking to walk extra carefully on the damp pavement. 

And guess what happened? Making room and space for the anger and disappointment actually created more space for acceptance, kindness, forgiveness. The burden of resentment lifted and in its place surfaced compassion and curiosity, both rooted in love, not fear.

Five months to the date from my injury, I underwent a cervical (neck) epidural steroid injection. The procedure? You can google it if you're interested. Having had nine of these in past years, I knew what to expect: an icky quickie. The staff were kind and compassionate, especially when I explained up front that as a trauma survivor I had special needs, and how they could help by allowing me extra time to process what was happening. And not be concerned when I started yawning - really big extended yawns with cat-hiss like sounds. It was all good. 

Such self love! Such validation that I matter!

I imagined the healing medication bathing my inflamed nerve roots, helping them settle down. Now, almost 48 hours later, I'm experiencing some relief for the first time in months. Thanks to the steroid component, I'm also more energetic, which comes in handy as I prepare for a week out of town. 

I may require a second injection in four weeks, depending on the full result from this one. Then it's on to a lower back injection. Wow - it's a relief to know my plan of care and the hope it holds.

Yes, a spark of hope… perhaps it's possible after all to undertake training starting the first of the year in preparation for an Icelandic trek scheduled next July. I'd love that… either way, I've done my best. Patting myself on the back now.

What a wonderful shifting occurs moving from fear to love, making room for me. I deserve that, because I matter. 

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Proud to Be an HSP

"The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear." - Rumi

Do you consider yourself an extravert* or introvert? How about an HSP (highly sensitive person)?

After a lifetime of extraversion, I began drawing inward as I underwent extensive trauma recovery therapy. Having previously found energy in the company of others, I now sought solitude for safety and protection, renewal and replenishment. 

Had I become an introvert? I lightheartedly referred to myself as an inextrovert, unsure of and curious about just what I really was. It’s not that I needed a label. I just wanted to understand myself better.

Exploring this further found me participating in a brief study held by Jacquelyn Strickland, LPC, HSP, titled Myers Briggs – HSP Overlay. By filling out the assessment and participating in two in-depth interviews via conference call, I had my answer… as a guideline, not a rule book. Most importantly, the exercise helped me make sense of my character traits, which allowed me to more fully understand and embrace my growing authentic wholeness.

Turns out I am an ESFJ (Extraversion, Sensing, Feeling, Judgment), with HSP overlay. Translated in a nutshell, I belong to a rare breed: the highly sensitive extrovert. With my own unique blend of strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths:

  • Strong Practical Skills – check!
  • Strong Sense of Duty – check!
  • Very Loyal – check!
  • Sensitive and Warm – check!
  • Good at Connecting with Others – check!

 

Weaknesses:

  • Worried about Their Social Status – I may have in the past. Not an issue for me now.
  • Inflexible – I used to be. Nothing like over six years of trauma recovery to loosen me up!
  • Reluctant to Innovate or Improvise – I used to hate change, then I came to embrace it.
  • Vulnerable to Criticism – I used to be, and it can still niggle. In his book The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz instructs the reader to not take anything personally, that whatever anyone says is a reflection of their own reality. He goes on to note that this one agreement can be life changing. It was. And is.
  • Often Too Needy – Yep, I saw myself there, though I’d rather remove the word “Too” as I never saw myself as a nagger or stalker(!). Now, I know to ask for support when I need it.
  • Too Selfless – Definitely. This was all connected with my trauma. Praise God, with the help of therapy and the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud, I SO got over that.

 

HSP Overlay

Until this experience, I was what’s called a socialized HSP, meaning that I had adapted throughout  my childhood, adolescence and adulthood to survive and often excel in the dynamics in which I was surrounded. The thing is, I often felt different, like I somehow didn't quite fit. A round peg in a square hole. The little girl that is me didn't have an authentic voice. She had a survival voice.

Allowing myself to transform into an authentic HSP, I learned the value and importance of giving myself the space and time to refresh and renew in solitude so that I could enjoy being in the company of others. My strong startle reflex and sensitivity to my environment, especially to loud or competing sounds and harsh light made sense.

Understanding myself has helped me prepare for and frame my experiences in such a way as to fully support myself. With great love and compassion. 

For example, on choosing a restaurant, I consider the acoustics, steering away from loud places, opting for quieter venues. Finding myself in a loud crowded space, I chose to refrain from trying to talk/shout above the noise. On internet conference calls, when background noises distract me silly, I kindly ask others to mute themselves. I pace myself in my commitments, saying "no" much more readily than in the past. I pay attention to how I feel, both emotionally and physically, and I give myself extra time between tasks, errands, appointments, etc. I go slow. Slowly. Slow.

 go slow, acrylic on paper, 2012

go slow, acrylic on paper, 2012

When I find myself in overwhelm, I take action to reduce it instead of ignoring and pushing through it. That might mean clearing my schedule of commitments, and opting for what truly nourishes me. 

Most significantly, I work with a business coach who, being a successful HSP Entrepreneur, caters specifically to the HSP. Spending time with her and other HSPs via a “Mastermind” group brings a sense of belonging, of peace. The peace of self-love, of total acceptance of and support for the whole of me. I'm home in my heart. Which helps me grow in my business.

I'm so thankful for the strength and fortitude with which I’ve been blessed through my healing journey. For the courage, patience and perseverance to trust, even when things go awry. Owning my sensitivity is a beautiful way of owning my own power as well, which in turn allows me to shift my thinking from fear-based to love-based. 

And that, in turn, opens my heart and my life, creating space for more blessings, more abundance. It brings me into alignment with my soul's highest self. Something we're all meant to know and experience.

Who or what are you? Are you on a path to your truest highest self?

 

*I always thought this word was spelled extrovert. As I was writing my book From Fear to Love How Creativity Saved My Life and Will Change Yours for the Better, I googled to determine the correct version. This result takes the cake: "Folklore has it that when Carl Jung was once asked which was the correct spelling—ExtrAvert or ExtrOvert—Jung's secretary wrote back something like, 'Dr. Jung says it's ExtrAverted, because ExtrOverted is just bad Latin.'"

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Real Me

As I work on my new book, From Fear to Love How Creativity Saved My Life and Will Change Yours for the Better, I'm intrigued by a memory from the summer of 2012, when I was living and working in Doha, Qatar in the Middle East. This is a memory I revisit everyday, one that fills me with hope and love and compassion. You'll see why and how in a moment. 

My painting "Real Me" started as a large (about 36"x48") venting bit of journaling and drawing, through which I expressed all of the feelings and thoughts I was experiencing at the time. Frustration at work, in my trauma recovery therapy, at the heat and relentless desert sun poured out onto the paper. 

Real Me Words, 2012. Want to read the words? You can zoom in by clicking on the image and using your device's feature to expand the image. Full disclosure - I use the f word... once.

After the catharsis of my writing, I gave some space and time to absorb and reflect. Then I set about painting over each section, the words taking on a new form, a visual expression. The colors, the manifestation of my real truth empowered me, delighted me. I could feel myself growing more connected to my truth, my essence. It was a most powerful experience.

To this day, “Real Me” remains perhaps my most authentic piece. Whenever I look at it, I know the story behind each aspect. It hangs in my bedroom, where I see it every morning on awakening and at night as I prepare to go to sleep. I have NEVER tired of it, and I continue to receive its truth,  nourishment, and healing. It, in turn, continues to save my life.

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Keeping the U and I in Communication

What is your preferred method of communication these days? With family and friends? At work?

Chances are that you use at least several of the more than sixty social media apps available in 2017, in addition to your phone and email accounts. 

Based on an informal survey consisting of my friends and family, text messaging reigns as king of them all. The others? Well, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand… er… in this case, sixty plus words.

I actually started to make a list, easily naming fifteen social media apps off the top of my head, eight of which I regularly use. Then I decided I’d rather use this space to get out of our heads and into our hearts and souls and spirits for a bit.

Because communication, so much more than social media, involves not just tapping away mindlessly on a keypad. Obviously, it uses our brains. Also, our hearts. Souls. Spirits.

And our hearts souls spirits are so much more mysterious even than our brains, which are exponentially mystifying, surprising scientists and researchers more and more each year with capabilities, including the power to grow and reconnect and heal at levels never thought possible before.

Let’s focus for a bit on the authentic communication which occurs between two souls inhabiting human bodies that contain brains and hearts, aka people. ;)

In my work as an artist, I feature an offering called “Something For Your Soul” - a custom commissioned fine art painting, co-created by me with the client. The process includes questionnaires and conversations that foster open communication between the two of us and allow me to “feel” what they want to feel when the finished painting is on their wall. This sacred connection makes it possible for me to manifest a piece that reflects their highest awareness, bringing a daily reminder into their space of their deepest truest self. And, because of our in-depth verbal communication and connection, a part of me, my soul, resides in each painting, reminding my clients that we are all connected. Then, when others see the painting, something typically speaks to them, and the connections expand.

I don’t think there’s an app out there that can replicate THAT kind of communication.

When communicating with family, friends and colleagues, I like to say I live on the Honest Planet, because, well, I do. Through words, facial expressions, body language and actions (all forms of communication), what you see is what you get. And for the most part when it comes from me, it’s offered with love and compassion. And boundaries. Love, compassion and healthy boundaries which I’ve learned through periods of immense personal growth.

It turns out we’re all not the same. We don’t all think alike. Regardless of age, we perceive the world through the eyes of our own experience. And given that no two people have the exact same experiences, the communication between us all can get jumbled up and misunderstood. Tempers can flare. Or not. Feelings can be pushed down/ignored. Or not.

Except when you live on the Honest Planet. Which is where you speak with sincerity and listen with love and compassion. Where clear communication is practiced and modeled for others, raising the bar of awareness and integrity. Raising the quality of connection between people.

There is a wonderful book called The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel Siegel MD and Tina Payne Bryson PhD, which describes the development of the brain from infancy through high school graduation. Offering case studies along with the science behind them, Daniel and Tina teach about the development of upper and lower parts and left and right sides of the brain. And how that affects a child’s ability to process and respond at different ages and in various situations. This book is so cool it includes a quick reference guide to hang on the fridge, and a summary of various types of brain integration, when and how those manifest, and how to respond.

Another equally helpful book is How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber Elaine Mazlish. Like The Whole-Brain Child, this book includes “How Not To” and “How To” cartoons to illustrate an assortment of encounters between parent and child. In these cases, the amateurish drawings make the learning a bit more fun.

Let me tell you, these books are not just for parents. They are for children of all ages, because the more we can learn how to effectively flex our communication as needed, the more successful our communication will be. You may be talking to an adult who is stuck developmentally in adolescence, and this book gives you the tools and flexibility to manage that.

I confess, the Honest Planet doesn’t really exist. I got the idea from an old Saturday Night Live skit.

But I like it. You and I can really communicate here.

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The Power of Telling My Truth

As artist, writer, and owner of my own creative entrepreneurial small business, I've learned more than I could have imagined these last few years. Blessed with supporters and consultants who helped me create a strong foundational structure, including my website, I love having a place to share my creativity.

This, my third and final career, was born out of an immense healing journey that has spanned the last almost ten years. Coming from a background of operating room/theatre nursing and clinical informatics, I would find and come to know and love my deepest truest self through trauma recovery and healing.

I would also discover my inner prolific artist. And my vision and mission: to live abundantly by nourishing the world with what nourished me. My passion would include sharing my story of trauma healing through art.

Painting, photography, drawing, illustrating, journaling, poetry, memoir and blogging all found their places on my website. The online store opened a year later. Then, contrary to my previous professional experiences and the expectation that once I built it they would come, nothing happened.

Well, barely nothing. I did make a few small sales, and began to grow my subscriber list. I received positive feedback from friends and family and online coaching communities. Then… comments that there was too much, it was confusing, they weren't sure where to go or what it was I was trying to say, share, accomplish.

Redesign was in order.  I was optimistic and intentional about this being the right path to take.

Upscale photographic metal prints of my Chandeliers from Russia collection would be featured on a separate website, designed with a contemporary, glossy theme.

I would remove all trauma related content from my original website, because it seemed a distraction from the art I wanted to sell.

The new design and redesign proceeded. I confess I felt like I was cutting a part of my own self/soul off as I pruned my original website of its trauma content. Still, I persisted, creating clean and clear cut design and messaging.

No sales. Even with 30%, 50% discount promotions.

I had worked so hard, followed the guidance of paid and unpaid consultants, grown a following on Instagram and Facebook, boosted and promoted, been liked and followed.

But no conversion to sales.

The one thing that kept me going (in addition to my firm conviction that this is my calling and it is meant to be) was that interaction with the world through my Instagram and Facebook posts, as well as my online coaching group. And the encouraging responses I received: Keep going. You got this. So inspiring. Thank you.

Also, I had begun work on my book From Fear to Love: One Woman's Courageous Journey Through Trauma Recovery, an energizing undertaking. And eventually I figured out what was really going on, learning a very important truth:

My story, my journey, my creativity all comprise a complete whole that cannot and should not be pulled apart. They are both meant to be explored. Together or separately. Sharing my trauma healing story, my truth, my ME, makes me feel complete.

With great love, I redesigned the redesign of my original website. I also redesigned the new website a bit to better fit who I am and how I want my beautiful chandelier photos to be experienced online. And I felt better, whole again.

And now we get to the heart of this little essay:

Less than one week after adding those images and poems, journal excerpts and trauma healing stories back to my website, I received an email from a reader, and here are some excerpts:

I just want to say thank you. I stumbled across you today and it couldn't have been more timely for me… your words on working through your own trauma gave me an unexpected sense of peace… Just a few minutes going through your posts has helped me breathe again through my anxieties and re-center myself on all of my abundant blessings. I can and will move forward- I will be better than okay!

I don't know if you have many people who stop to take a moment to acknowledge the good you're putting out in the world…. So thank you. Thank you for sharing your journey, and for your honesty and bravery in doing so. Thank you for putting good out into the world. And thank you for somehow being in the right place at the right moment for me. 

Talk about timing! I felt a profound sense of gratitude learning that the sharing of my story helped someone else. It strengthened my deep commitment to and belief in my calling to nourish the world. That it will all fall in place.

THAT is the power of telling my truth.

May you be blessed with knowing and loving your deepest self. And the courage to tell your truth.

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From Fear to Love: One Woman's Inspiring Journey Through Trauma Recovery

We all have stories to share. Have you ever felt like telling yours?

I'm in the process of doing just that, in collaboration with my life coach and co-author. She also happens to be my therapist. My trauma recovery therapist. Since 2010.

When I moved to the Middle East in 2012, we continued our work together via Skype. I was blown away at how, as she put it, "energy is energy."

Wait, back up. Are you wondering what, why, how, about now?

I'm glad you asked. And I'm going to answer very simply.

What?

Trauma. Mine. Definition of trauma: not so much the "what" as the fact that it results in overwhelming emotional stimulus. And that the nervous system, our very body, holds unreleased energy from the experience. Bessel van der Kolk explains this in his book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.

Why?

Because on my return to KC from London in 2009, I didn't understand I was living with trauma. All I knew was that I was severely anxious, barely making it through each day. In a demanding job. That although I was working with a very qualified therapist, I wasn't getting better. In fact was getting worse. And because in early 2010, after having coffee with a friend (who also happened to be a therapist), I took her advice to make an appointment with a new therapist in town who specialized in anxiety disorders.

How?

Through the care of my incredibly talented and compassionate Somatic Experiencing certified therapist. Using the trauma recovery therapy modality of the same name, founded by Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, over twenty years ago. My therapy lasted for six and a half years (yes, even the year I lived in the Middle East), and I now go for monthly maintenance sessions.

I'll add that this experience has been bar none the most difficult thing I have ever done. The darkest most frightening years of my life. I wanted to die. I really wanted to die. Instead, I chose life. I clung on during the stormiest experiences ever, and I survived. I journaled and illustrated my way through. I started painting and writing.

And in doing so, I developed a passion for getting the word out about how my life was saved by Somatic Experiencing. Turns out, so did my therapist.

So we, together, are writing a book. We have a basic framework created, with key milestones, and are working on the introductions/prologues and first chapter. Sharing our combined story, alternating back and forth. Mine in first person present tense, hers in first person past tense.

Our goal is by the end of the year to have it ready to promote to agents/publishers.

The title is not set in stone, nor the cover. What is solid however is the truth that through these years, I moved (and continue to move) from a fear based life to a love based life.

This book will help people.

Clinicians.

Clients.

Maybe you. Or someone you love.

Stay tuned. In the meantime, watch this short video to learn more about trauma and Somatic Experiencing. (By the way, gswoj is short for go slow: woman on a journey.)

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I Go Slowly and I Prosper

How timely, this topic popping into my head this morning.

Most of my adult life I worked hard and I worked long hours, as in 60ish hours a week for long stretches of time. It had to do with my mistaken belief that if I could just do enough, provide enough, produce enough, be GOOD enough, that I would matter, be of value. That I would feel seen and heard.

Rubbish.

Let me rephrase that. "Rubbish," she said, with great love and compassion for herself.

My own body finally said "Enough!" in 2009, as it manifested a severe anxiety disorder on my return to Kansas City after working and living in London for four years. You might want to disagree, saying the disorder was in my mind, not my body. Ahhh, but science has shown it's all connected.

My anxiety disorder was actually my body's manifestation of held trauma accumulated over my lifetime. To make a long story short, through six and a half years of Somatic Experiencing trauma recovery therapy, my body was able to, very slowly, release that trapped trauma energy and begin to heal.

It is said that your biography becomes your biology. Intriguing thought. I have found this to be true.

About the title: Go Slow and Prosper. How did this new way of thinking come about in my life? First and foremost, it showed up in therapy. Somatic Experiencing actually re-patterns the parasympathetic nervous system, creating new neural pathways over time. The key is that this must be done very slowly, through baby steps, because the nervous system doesn't particularly like change.

During my therapy sessions, Candy (my therapist), repeatedly reminded me to go slow:

  • Slow down
  • Let's take this slower
  • We have all the time we need
  • Baby steps
  • Ok, let's stop here and see what happens
  • Just see what happens
  • This will take some time
  • It's really important to go slow
  • Don't try to rush it
  • When you go slow, big shifts can happen
  • You've worked really hard today, make sure to go slow
  • Your body needs lots of rest

She was right. Totally right. It was hard for me to go slow; I wanted the quick fix. Unfortunately, there wasn't one for me, given the nature (length, depth, breadth over time) of my trauma. Over the years I would begin to cognitively understand and physically assimilate the truth, that for me, going slow helped protect me from overwhelm and re-traumatization.

Living in Doha in 2012, this awareness out pictured in my painting "go slow". It remains a constant loving reminder to this day.

It also allowed me to finally understand these truths: That I matter. I'm important. I'm good. I can be seen. There is more than enough for me. These may seem insignificant to some; for me, they were and are life altering.

Ok, so I choose to go slow, to limit the commitments and activities in my life, to allow more time to rest and renew. To be more mindful, in the moment. To settle and calm myself. With great love.

My decision to leave the well paid world of healthcare informatics consulting and begin a creative business factored in this awareness of going slow. As well as the awareness that I did not have to work long hours to be successful. I knew and I know this in my body. In my very being.

I set and continue to honor the intention that I am successful, living abundantly through nourishing the world with what nourishes me. I envision deposits into my Abundance Art checking account. I see my savings grow. I imagine how good it will feel to have more than enough to live comfortably, continue to travel the world, and be a good steward of my blessings. The very name of my business proclaims that abundance. I believe it. I receive it.

By the way, the phrase starving artist does not belong in my vocabulary. I'm following a path, laid divinely before me, unlimited in possibility, not limited by fear or feelings of not enough. Not anymore.

I go slowly and I prosper. Feels good. Feels great.

I've worked all morning. Go slow…

Time for the weekend to start.

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A Bit of Heaven in 2011

With all the reminiscing about Costa Rica this week, it came to me that I want to share the year 2011 with you. A unique year, mostly a personal sabbatical to more fully immerse myself in my trauma recovery and explore my creative side. And travel. Oh boy, and travel. Other things happened in my life that year, such that each month developed its own character. Having begun the year painting, by year's end I had decided to paint a mandala filled with mandalas, one for each month.

It's helpful to know that, back in 2009, when my world was crashing around me, I came up with an acknowledgement and intention:

  • Not so fine in 2009.
  • Alive again in 2010.
  • A bit of heaven in 2011.

The years 2009 and 2010 are stories for another time... suffice to say there was a LOT of darkness, fear, and anxiety in my life, and by late summer of 2010 I realized I really needed to step away from work to dedicate time to healing. I was blessed to have enough savings to do so. And I had begun working weekly that year with a therapist who specialized in anxiety disorders, which, in my case, turned out to be the result of very early life and pervasive developmental trauma. Which was triggered by my return to the US in July 2009 after living and working in London for four years. Welcome home...not!

The hopeful bit here is that my therapist was certified in and practiced Somatic Experiencing methodology, which actually retrains the nervous system away from old patterns into new healthy patterns. With twenty years of experience behind her, she was exactly what I needed.

And so the year 2011 began:

 January

January

January brought a silent retreat, my first experience with process painting (I'll write about this some day), a trip with friend Linda to visit friend Jeanette who lived north of Chicago, where I had my first walk ever across a frozen lake. We spent a day in Chicago, the city of my birth, having lunch with my aunt and uncle, popping over to Navy Pier and Millennium Park, with Lake Michigan ever in view. We also spent a bit of time on the Magnificent Mile, and took the El back to near my uncle's home, where our car was parked. My friends indulged me by stopping in at the corner tavern for a beer. This was the area of my roots, where my parents grew up, met, fell in love, married, started a family.

As always, I felt the energy of the city.

 February

February

February was spent in Costa Rica, which you can read about here.

 March

March

In March, I visited my stepdaughter Annie in Phoenix. We took a side trip up to the Grand Canyon, which I'd never seen  in person. I loved learning about the geological history of the place. Imagine the impact of a trickle of water that became a river that created this grand canyon, With its now (for me) identifiable layer upon layer of sediment turned stone.

I took some time on my own, hiking down to a spot where I sat and soaked up the beauty of this immense space. I'd brought my journal and water color pencils and lingered, capturing my experience as best as I could.

I recall the silence, pure silence. The sun on my face, the stunning beauty of my surroundings.

God is good, nature is incredible.

 April

April

April. Oh, April! I could write a book about you! From the US to London to Jordan to Israel back to Jordan back to London (on the day of Will and Kate's wedding!) then back to the US, this was the trip of trips. I actually created a spreadsheet to help me pack, because:

  • I was visiting in London before and after my other travels, and it was forecasted to be cold. 
  • I was trekking in Jordan for a week - to Petra - and I had a standard trekking "kit" that had to fit in a certain camping bag and backpack/rucksack. I would leave my large suitcase in London.
  • I was touring in Israel for 9 days immediately after the trek, and the clothes for that time also had to fit in my camping bag. Thankfully the weather in Israel at that time of year is typically mild, and I would also be able to wear some of my trekking clothes. After I thoroughly laundered them.

There's so much to share about this trip that I won't even try right now. Except to say that on the very last morning in Jordan, I developed traveler's sickness. Not too bad at first, and I was able to go with my bestie Anjana that evening into London and to Buckingham Palace. There were hundreds of people around, still celebrating the wedding festivities, and the mood was so happy and light. I keep London newspapers from that day as keepsakes.

Unfortunately, by the day of my return to the US, I felt so sick that I could barely move. My heart goes out to ANYONE who has ever had to travel ill. At the stopover in Chicago I was able to buy Pepto Bismal and Dramamine, which eased my discomfort just enough for the last leg home. Some days later I began to feel better. 

Just in time to succumb to severe reverse culture shock.

 May

May

I spent most of the month of May reeling from the reverse culture shock, thankful to return to weekly trauma recovery therapy. Devoid of energy, I filled the pool in my backyard, blew up my raft, and floated the time away, easing slowly back into the reality of being back in the US.

Originally, when I started my sabbatical, I thought I would give myself six months, Somewhere in April I released that expectation. I was glad I did, because the end of May brought an unexpected and significant change. My father, married now for almost eighteen years to his second wife (my mother having died in 1991), had to separate from her due to health issues they each suffered, leaving them unable to care for each other. Just like that my in-town siblings and I became responsible for him and his many needs.

Short story - a major adjustment all around, with temporary accomodations for Dad at my sister's house.  

 June

June

Early in the year, I had talked with my younger sister Maureen about what she wanted to do for her 50th birthday. Turned out that we both had the same thing in mind: an Alaskan cruise with all six sisters. And since she lived near Seattle, WA, it was fairly uncomplicated to arrange. And so, in early June, Kathleen, MarySue, myself, Maureen, Terez and Laura all gathered at Maureen's and we celebrated her birthday in style.

On a side note, Maureen had recently recovered from her last of many reconstructive surgeries after removal of an acoustic neuroma in 2006. She lived with chronic tinnitus, dis-equilibrium, left sided deafness, left eyelid and facial paralysis (partially corrected with the reconstructive surgeries). We hoped this would be a celebration also of her healing. But while the "outside" was sorted, her emotional and mental well being suffered, neglected. We would learn more about this on the cruise.

Leaving Terez and Laura in Seattle, the rest of us boarded the ship and enjoyed each other's company and the amenities and outstanding natural beauty of the cruise. Kathleen and I experienced sea sickness, and her skin color was actually almost green before she gave in and used medicine. Curiously, Maureen did not suffer from it... we joked that her dis-equilibrium countered the rolling of the ship.

We chose various excursions, during which  Maureen and I watched a sperm whale dive out of and back into the water, an maneuver called breaching. Later, on another excursion, Kathleen and I would be delighted watching killer whales breach again and again.

The month ended with me back home, deeply concerned for my beloved sister Maureen, wondering what I could do to help her. As well as continuing in my own healing journey and helping find Dad a permanent place to live.

 July

July

July - wow, how do I explain this?

Easy part first. Thunderstorms - my very favorite weather.

Hard part second. I had been referred for adjunctive therapy with a very qualified local hypnotherapist (note the inclusion of the word therapist, so not just a hypnotist). In my first session I had the most unique experience of my life. Enough said. For now. In two subsequent sessions, we made what we agreed was great progress, even doing what is called breath work.

What I didn't understand at the time is that it was actually way too much way too soon.

 August

August

I spent the month of August mostly in shock, severe depression and anxiety, longing to be back in London where I had been so happy. And also in therapy, often twice a week. My Somatic Experiencing therapist had been on holiday while I was seeing the hypnotherapist, and when she learned that we'd done breath work, she explained that my nervous system was not ready for it.

The end result was actually a re-traumatization. Well, shit...

 September

September

September would bring a much needed respite. My friend Sheila (from our Costa Rican adventure), invited me to visit her in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We timed the trip for peak foliage. However, due to the weather conditions there, the color green still predominated. On the bright side, she had a house on Lake Winnipesaukee, and we spent several lovely days and nights there. It was warm enough to lie out in the sun and swim in the crystal clear COLD water - so refreshing for my body and soul. One evening we sat out, watching the sunset, lingering as the sky turned more beautiful by the moment, reflecting perfectly in the still water. 

We also traveled into Vermont and up into Maine so I could have my first Maine lobster (actually two firsts - Maine, and lobster). Check that off my list of things to do. 

 October

October

October found me on retreat again at Shantivanum (Sanskrit for Forest of Peace). Beautiful wooded farmland, rolling hills, regular prayer and meditation times and homemade vegetarian fare deeply nourished both my body and my soul. I painted, journaled, slept, hiked, slept, slept, slept. 

And decided I was ready to go back to work.

 November

November

I have always been blessed in my work life, essentially being recruited at every turning point into something different that would add to the foundation laid by previous job experiences. And so in November, I began contracting with a consulting firm, traveling most weeks to the client site. Figuring by this time that I would not be moving back to London in the foreseeable future, I adopted a sweet ten year old black cat named Shadow. Shy and affectionate at the same time, she was good company to have around when I was home, and she managed ok by herself when I wasn't.

That's the great thing about cats.

 December

December

December, still traveling, getting worn out, developing bronchitis. I was so determined to have a Christmas tree, that when I bought one, I also bought a new Christmas tree stand, and asked the guys to place the tree in the stand for me. I hauled it like that into my house, and filled the stand with water. That might have been the year that the only decorations on the tree were the lights. It was still beautiful, and it smelled so good. The year ended with me on a two week holiday, thankful that as a contractor I was not limited by the company's vacation policy.

It also ended with me learning that I would likely be moving to the Middle East in a few months for a one year contract.

Surprise!

And so, having pre-proclaimed "A Bit of Heaven in 2011" and definitely having experienced lots of bits of heaven, I also encountered a good number of hellish experiences. But isn't life like that sometimes? We may be doing fine and suddenly without warning be knocked sideways with unexpected news, illness, etc. By the same token, we may experience unexpected grace, blessings, growth.

When all was said and done, 2011 certainly went down as one of the most remarkable years of my life.

I learned much, I suffered much, I learned more, I healed some more.

And I got ready for 2012.

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My Scary Power, My Beautiful Power

Several years ago, in my trauma recovery therapy, I was asked to repeat the words "I own my own power," I couldn't do it. I could not say the words. I did cry however, knowing there was much beneath the surface. This led to my "homework" assignment for the week: to reflect on why was I afraid to own my own power.

The truth came to me with great clarity.

Because of things that had happened in my life as a child, I believed that I was responsible for others. Specifically, I have memories of my beloved and overwhelmed mother coming into the basement where several of my preschool aged siblings and I were playing and making a mess (LIKE NORMAL KIDS DO). My mom, frustrated and without her own resources, would yell at us to clean up the mess. Then she would shout "You kids are going to put me in the hospital some day!" Confused, I didn't understand. She didn't look sick. What did she mean?

Years later, she experienced what was at the time called a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a psychiatric unit for about a month. I was seventeen by then, and it hit me with great certainty that what she had predicted had in fact happened. I had put her in the hospital with my rebellious and disrespectful behavior.

I felt SO RESPONSIBLE for what had happened. From that, I believed that my power was a dangerous thing, a scary power. If it could cast my mother into the hospital, I'd better wield it very carefully. This is why I stayed in an unhealthy marriage for over 20 years. I felt responsible for my husband's happiness, and overexerted myself in pursuit of that. I compensated, enabled, etc, all the while losing my physical and spiritual health bit by bit. My faith life, family, friends, and work kept me afloat until I understood I was not meant to live like this.

The marriage ended in 2003. But I continued to carry the subconscious burden of responsibility for a long time. Once this was out on the table, my therapist and I worked to develop a sense of true power based on love, not subconscious lies.

Things began to change.

For example, when I was living and working in Doha, Qatar in 2012, it was not uncommon to take a taxi to work. On one occasion, I sensed the tension and negative energy of my driver as he sped up and cut off another taxi driver. Shortly after, we were stopped side by side at an intersection. My driver and the other driver shouted at each other, and my anxiety skyrocketed. I calmed myself with the affirmation "I declare peace and harmony dwell in and around me." I asked my driver to please stop.

Then I caught the eye of the other driver. He looked Nepalese, and instinctively I held his glance as I pressed my hands together in Namaste, bowing to him. Looking sheepish, he returned the greeting and kept his eyes on me. I then pressed my hand to my heart for a moment, and resumed Namaste, watching him and sending thoughts of "please stop, please be peaceful." Again he responded with a bowing of his head, his hands in Namaste, and finally a kind smile. And he stopped engaging with my angry driver.

I felt my energy shift, my anxiety drop, and a sense of love fill the space around me. And I knew, I noticed, that I had just used my own power. It was and is beautiful and passionate and alive and makes a difference in the world. 

How are you using your power? Remember that you own it. Don't give it away.

Nobody can take your power away from you without your permission.

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