I’m Flowing

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
― Alan Wilson Watts

One day, after living in sobriety for several years – working daily on discovering, uncovering and healing – I noticed that everything felt easier. I wasn’t struggling with depression, anxiety and the cognitive dissonance of inauthenticity. I felt whole, happy and at peace. I wasn’t ruminating about the past nor worrying about the future – I was living in the present and loving it – loving who I had become.

I know now that this was the result of moving into authenticity – a place where my inward self matched my outward presentation. I was easily living my values.

Living in flow and authenticity is a process – one that is repeated every time we decide to make important changes in our lives. Humility, patience, presence and help are important requirements for this journey and I am grateful to recognize this today. I am also very grateful to be able to share my experience, my knowledge and my hope with others today. This has become my purpose.

If you are ready to commit to changing your life, contact me – let’s talk.

Choosing to Act

Choosing to act and to change doesn’t come out of thin air. Choosing to act usually comes after spending a protracted amount of time in a place of pain.

We humans have an amazing propensity for avoidance. We want things to stay the way they are and we’ll put up with difficult and self-destructive life circumstances just because they are what we know. Contemplating a change, even if it would be best for us, puts us into scary, unknown territory. Taking the first steps into action usually occurs only when the fear of change becomes less than the desire to keep things the way they are.

For several weeks, I’ve been blogging in “journal form” replicating the process I went through as I was contemplating change and taking action. These changes have led me to a wonderful life in sobriety but it took me a painfully long and protracted amount of time to finally take that action. Every major change I’ve made in my life has generally followed this cycle: an awareness of uncomfortable feelings; awakening to the realization that I need to pay attention; discovering that change is possible even though I’m afraid; finding the courage to just think about it and to sit with the discomfort; and then to take the first of many action steps toward that change.

I would never have been able to do any of this without help – without a support system of people that provided me with wake up calls, pep talks, hard-to-hear words, ears and hearts willing to listen and big pats on my back for many accomplishments along the way. People who understood, didn’t judge and allowed me to find my way on my own terms. People I met along the way and never saw again but whose words inspired me, shook me to my core and impacted me for the better. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

If you’re ready to take some action and need a little help, just ask!

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“Do not wait until regrets are your only option, make the changes and act before it’s too late.”
― RJ Intindola – (Gandolfo) – 2000

It Takes Courage to Change

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”


― Nora Ephron

It’s my life – not my mother’s – right? I thought I had done well in my efforts to not be like my mother and yet, when it mattered the most, I was paralyzed by the fears that all we fully programmed co-dependents and shame-based people face. Yes, I was fully programmed – not intentionally – but programmed nevertheless by an equally wounded shame-based person.

I was well on my way to a lifetime of self-imprisonment when the experiences of awareness and awakening filtered through the cracks of my facade – just enough to allow my inner heroine to find her courage – and just enough to invite that courage back day after day.

Today, I work with women in early recovery and I see myself in them. I talk about how our lives are influenced from the moment we’re born. I talk about the traumatic programming of our youths, intentional and unintentional, that set down firm beliefs and responses in our neural pathways. I tell them my story and how I was able to change these neural pathways and the firm belief that I was deeply flawed. I talk about breaking imbedded patterns and creating new ones that allow for balance, authenticity and compassion.

This is not a quick process and it takes time to know that it takes time. Sometimes courage looks like patience and sometimes it looks like self-compassion and sometimes it looks and feels like a deer in the headlights but in the end, it always looks and feels beautiful and bold.

I tell the women I work with that they are courageous by making the choice to see themselves and to begin healing. It takes courage to change and I’m awed when in its’ presence .

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The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.

~ M. Scott Peck

I Discovered More than I Expected

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.

~ Daniel J. Boorstin

I used to be a pretty smart person. I was well-read, had lots of common sense and plenty of ideas about how things should be and how you should be. I could take care of myself and didn’t need anyone else to help me or to advise me, especially when it came to things like self-improvement and life in general. I had everything under control!

I felt so humiliated and ashamed as I walked through the doors of a treatment center. I had allowed myself to fall apart. I had failed. I couldn’t make everything right and fix everyone else by myself. I had committed the terrible sin of falling from the ranks of “perfect” by becoming a severely depressed alcoholic.

While I was there, unpacking myself, something amazing happened – I discovered humility. It was such a relief to realize what it means to be human. I felt a sense of emerging freedom as I watched my arrogance and pride melt away. I was no better than anyone else and felt understood and supported by all of the other beautiful women I met during that incredible time.

I’m still a pretty smart person and I still have lots of common sense and plenty of ideas about how I’d like things to be but today I truly believe I know less. I don’t know what’s right for you or how you should operate your life and sometimes I don’t even know what’s best for me – I actually ask for other people’s help and input. I’ve become very teachable and I love learning. This allows me to always operate from a growth mindset and growth is the essence of a good life.

If you have found yourself at discovery’s doorstep, let’s talk about working together. Individual coaching might be exactly what you need to change your life.

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Just knowing you don’t have the answers is a recipe for humility, openness, acceptance, forgiveness, and an eagerness to learn – and those are all good things.

~ Dick Van Dyke

Sit With Your Feelings and Awaken

“Emotional pain cannot kill you, but running from it can. Allow. Embrace. Let yourself feel. Let yourself heal.”
― Vironika Tugaleva

No one likes pain and we humans, especially we Western humans, are very prone to avoiding pain at any cost. We smoke, we drink, we use drugs, legal and illegal, we shop, we gamble, we try fixing everyone else – you name it – all in an effort, either unconsciously or consciously, to avoid the pain we’re experiencing, often to the point of addiction and beyond.

I’ve been reading a wonderful book, Already Free by Bruce Tift, LMFT. In his practice, he uses both Western and Buddhist psychotherapeutic approaches. I have definitely benefitted from the Western psychotherapeutic approach and I went into it with the goal of having a life free of the emotional disturbances that were created from the trauma in my childhood. However, I’ve come to realize that this is an unrealistic expectation and I’m truly resonating with the Buddhist perspective as explained by Tift. In this perspective, emotional pain is part of the human experience and instead of looking at it as a problem to be solved, it is considered a normal experience that is part of our whole being. Acceptance of the experience and a willingness to stay with it rather than avoiding it is the key to freedom. Noticing what is most fundamentally true about the experience and placing no judgments or interpretations on the experience allows us to drop our investment in the “stories” we tell ourselves and others in order to maintain and perpetuate them.

Sitting with our stories and our uncomfortable feelings, even though painful, allows us to move into an awakening. This is really an acceptance of reality, the part we play in that reality, an understanding of what we can change, what we can’t change, what we are responsible for and what we’re not.

As a result of reading Already Free, I’ve awakened to the realization that my emotional wounds will never be completely healed and will always be with me – surfacing from time to time – because they are an important part of me. They have helped me become the person I am today. Instead of spending more and more time trying to solve and eliminate these wounds from my being, I’m going to embrace them when they surface and treat myself compassionately. I’ll sit with them, knowing that they have been springboards to growth and healing. Just saying this is freeing.

Awakenings begin with awareness and are surrounded by awareness. They happen in stillness and when we are willing to fully experience every part of our lives.

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“If you can sit with your pain, listen to your pain and respect your pain — in time you will move through your pain.”
― Bryant McGill

Awareness leads to what?

Have you ever written anything like this in a journal? Or have you just thought it, day after day? I have to admit to thinking this and pushing uncomfortable feelings away not just day after day but year after year. Why would I ever want to sit with uncomfortable feelings that aren’t clear?

I can answer this question today, with the benefit of hindsight, but when I first became aware of ongoing and increasingly uncomfortable feelings that were equally unclear, my response was to drink them away. This worked for a long time until it just didn’t work any more. No matter how much I drank, I couldn’t blot out the internal dissonance – the dis-ease that was telling me that I needed to do something – to change something.

Awareness is the first step in the change process and, at the time, I had no idea how much I was about to change. I suppose that was a good thing because my ignorance kept me from retreating in terror and allowed me to investigate further.

So, here’s the answer to my lead-in question: “Awareness leads to what?” It leads to the beginning of a cycle of beautiful momentum, if you allow it. If you investigate that which you’ve become aware of, if you sit with the feelings of dis-ease and invite in a sense of curiosity, you’ll most likely learn that your feelings haven’t killed you and that you have the power to heal yourself.

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The moment you become aware of the ego in you, it is strictly speaking no longer the ego, but just an old, conditioned mind-pattern. Ego implies unawareness. Awareness and ego cannot coexist.”

~ Eckhart Tolle

Let the Music Flow

Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.

~ Plato

The music we love just flows. No matter the genre, when it’s practiced, honed and played we feel transported, energized, inspired, or soothed. We can feel all of this and more because all of the players and their instruments are in sync. The elements necessary for beautiful transmission are orchestrated and balanced. Each person in the group or the orchestra understands how they fit in and how they work together to make the whole.

Do you remember the first time you every placed an instrument? Do you remember the grimaces on the faces of everyone around you as they tried their hardest to make you believe it was simply awesome? If you stuck with the instrument of your youth or moved on to others, do you remember how much practice it took to become proficient, let alone when playing by yourself but especially when playing with others?

It’s this way in life, too. When we are balanced, everything flows harmoniously. The thing is, we have to learn how to be balanced and sometimes we have to unlearn almost everything that was taught to us during our youngest years. What a task! In order to find our authentic selves we had to find the courage to move through the stages of change that I’ve identified in the graphic below.

We had to move from just being aware of our need to change and awaken to our desire to find out who we really are and our purpose in life. Then, to courageously face our fears, move into action and practice over and over again takes dedication, fortitude and the realization that all of this work makes us better people. And, moreover, that this work never ends and makes life worth living.

Being in flow and living in harmony with ourselves and the world feels good. It feels good to let go of the constant struggles and to radically accept who we are while striving to change when necessary and to improve in general. The metaphor of musical notes lifting off the score and surrounding us all seems appropriate right now. So, let’s keep practicing and make music together!

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“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

Choose To Be Still

I can’t fix everything. I can’t make it right all the time. I can’t change the past but I can learn. I can sit with the pain and see that it doesn’t destroy me. I can sit with knowing that I can’t change you and emerge, loving myself.

Choosing to leave things alone – not trying to force solutions or to make people understand you and to agree with you is very hard for codependents. Why? Because codependents are habitual caretakers and need to make everyone else happy in order to feel good about themselves. Codependents find their self-worth through the eyes and opinions of others and will work tirelessly to solve your problems, to enable you, to lie for you or to cover-up for you so they will feel loved, appreciated and valued.

Codependency is an unhealthy and self-destructive mind-set and is considered a disease because it is progressive and habitual. As Melody Beattie says in her book, Codependent No More, “These behaviors can prevent us from finding peace and happiness with the most important person in our lives – ourselves. These behaviors belong to the only person each of us can change – ourselves. These are our problems.”

I read Melody’s book when I was in treatment and as you can see from all the post-it notes, I saw myself in nearly every page. Initially, I felt doomed. Doomed because I couldn’t imagine changing this mindset. It seemed overwhelming and impossible at the time.

What I’ve learned since then is that the mind-set of codependency, from a disease model, can be stopped and moved into remission. I use the word remission because codependency is quite akin to many types of cancer – treatable but always there lurking in the background waiting for new opportunities to become active again.

The good news is that I’ve rewired my brain by practicing the new behaviors of choosing to be still and doing nothing when faced with people and issues that are out of my control. I know the feelings of discomfort that arise when codependency tries to muscle its way in, urging me to feel inappropriate guilt, shame or responsibility, and I can pause, breathe and let it go. The letting go allows for the healthy feelings of self-love and self-assurance to flow in and it feels good.

Are you codependent? Does this resonate with you? If your answer is, “Maybe” or “Yes”, I encourage you to read this book and then, if you’d like to take it further, contact me. We can talk and I can tell you more about my transformational journey and how I might be able to help you start yours.

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Stop. Breathe. Allow yourself the luxury of doing nothing for a moment, for an hour, or even a day. It is in emptiness that inspiration will appear.

~ Carole Katchen

Courageousness

I remember being told I was courageous but I didn’t feel courageous at all. I felt afraid, humiliated, ashamed and dissociated. It wasn’t until much later that I could believe this of myself.

When I walked across the parking lot in a nicely wooded area, I felt as if I was walking across a suspension bridge over a deep ravine into a dense jungle. My fear was palpable. I felt as if it wasn’t happening to me. How was it possible that I was walking into a treatment center for alcoholism?

Someone told me that I walked in, registered, watched in shame as my suitcases were searched, did an alcohol breath test and additional intake procedures because I was courageous. Really?

Really! Facing myself, my perfectionism, my all encompassing sense of shame, my co-dependent nature and need to control others took courage. It took even more courage to learn how to cope with life on life’s terms, to accept myself, to forgive myself and to move into a life of authenticity and value.

At three years sober, I felt solid in my physical sobriety and was overjoyed with my newly found spiritual connection but I was still feeling emotionally unsettled. I had to summon up more courage when I chose to do additional self-investigation and more work rather than choosing complacency – settling for being physically sober rather than fully thriving in sobriety.

My work led to the realization that I wasn’t living in alignment with some very important core values and that I was creating my own internal turmoil as a result. I was continuing to remain stuck in my personal status quo because moving out of it and growing meant that I would be entering into unknown territory and I was comfortable in the known even if it was mediocre. I had to choose again – stay at my unsatisfying plateau or grow. I chose growth, finally understanding that I was exhibiting courage in the face of fear.

If this resonates with you, I invite you to challenge yourself with a short Values-Based Living Self-Assessment that I’ve developed. Look at yourself honestly and with self-compassion and be open to where it may lead.

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“Courage is about doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared. Have the courage to act instead of react.” 

~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

A Shift in Perspective

A shift in perspective seemingly occurs suddenly. A clear demarcation arises. In a moment you see things and yourself differently. I know this occurs because it happened to me, and yet, how sudden is it?

Perspective is the way one looks at things or a particular way of thinking about something, especially one that is influenced by your beliefs or experiences. It’s the lens you see the world through and determines how you view yourself, others, and everything else around you.

For the majority of my life, my perspective was clouded by the lenses of fear, anxiety, depression and shame, at least until one day in August, 2007. On that day, I went to a workshop about labyrinths – their history and use as a mindfulness meditation tool and spiritual healing. It was arranged by the spiritual advisor at an inpatient facility where I was receiving treatment for depression and alcoholism. As a result of those three hours, engaged in an activity that I hadn’t planned, my perspective changed from one of despair to one of hope.

It seemed dramatic and sudden – as if I was propelled into a different dimension – but in retrospect, I know that this moment had been coming for a long time. The good news was that my willingness coincided with my change in perspective. I could have chosen to stay in my own prison of depression, fear and anxiety but instead I chose to be open minded – the result of finally being sick and tired of being sick and tired. From that moment on, I was able to see my worth as a valuable human being. Just this small ray of hope and a change in my perspective allowed me to find the courage to face my fears and grow.

I’m reminded of this day because I recently celebrated 14 years of sobriety and today I facilitated a walk at the beautiful outdoor labyrinth at UCSB for several women who are in treatment. I’m so grateful to be able to take what I’ve learned and experienced and share it with others. I have no idea how this walk will impact these women or if their perspectives will change but I do know it’s a comforting experience – one which allows for self-compassion and forgiveness.

My hope is that these women will experience something that allows them to see more clearly. May it be so.

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It’s not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause and reset, or a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities.

~ Kristin Armstrong

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