Here’s a conversation that I’ve had fairly frequently –
You: “Are you a therapist?”
Me: “No, I’m a coach.”
You: “So what’s the difference?”
Me: “A coach is someone who helps you to navigate the change process and to clarify what it is you want, identify goals, what needs to change and how to go about it.”
You: “Don’t therapists do that too?”
Me: “Yes, however, therapists generally focus on mental health symptoms that a client is experiencing and often gives a diagnosis. In the therapeutic setting, much time is spent on childhood experiences and the present. Then the therapist will work with the client to provide treatment for the problem, trying to reduce symptoms and assisting in the pursuit of recovery, a return to a former way of being or making your present life manageable and better. Therapists work with psychiatrists or other medical professionals who can provide medications that may help in the client’s recovery. Therapists are highly trained, licensed and are often invaluable.”
You: “I’m still confused.”
Me: “There are many similarities between coaching and therapy. Coaches also dig into the client’s past in order to identify how certain mindsets and behaviors were established with the goal of changing to healthy and growth mindsets. Existential crises, feelings of purposelessness or stagnation are often the motivators to seek out a coach combined with frustration, confusion and blindspots about solutions and how to start. Getting help from an experienced coach is often a way to quickly find solutions. A coach can see your personal landscape clearly and can assist in instilling an exciting desire for personal growth and transformation. The client – coach relationship focuses on strengths and potential and is usually short-term. Progress toward beneficial and positive change can be seen and measured quickly with clients who are motivated and who have identified a clear vision about their values and living a values-based life.
A coach is like an experienced guide – someone who knows the terrain and can walk with you, helping you collect the necessary tools, pointing out the hazards and shining a light on the beautiful moments as you find new ways of living and being. Is working with a coach what you need right now? Let’s chat.
What should an awakening look like? Is it neat and tidy and everything you expect or is it messy? I’m betting on messy and not at all what you would imagine. In the end, it is how it should be – an awakening.
I was looking online for pithy and appropriate quotes about awakenings and found an article by Tamara Lechner which is exactly what I wanted to write. I’ve decided to write my blog anyway, including my point of view along with her wonderful insights. She writes, “According to Deepak Chopra, awakening happens when you are no longer living in a dream world where you filter everything through your ego and focusing on the future and the past. Instead, you have an almost simultaneous awareness of your individual self and the connection between that and everything else.“
And, yes, this is the end result of a lot of time and possibly many years of angst, dissatisfaction and pain. In my experience, Awakenings are complicated, confusing and messy. They represent moments of letting go. Only then is there the ability to deeply understand your truth.
My first awakening was about the toxic relationship I had with alcohol. I knew I was drinking too much but I believed that drinking was my only source of relief from the stressors and anxieties of my life. At that time, quitting just wasn’t an option – but then, one day it was. That day arrived after years of daily alcohol consumption with no relief to the stressors, anxieties and depression that I had been experiencing. I finally had reached the end of what I could endure and was ready to stop. I didn’t know what that meant for my future and in that moment, I didn’t care. I experienced a deep sense of relief and a burst of self-worth. I understood that alcohol was keeping me stuck rather than helping me.
My next awakening came in the form of a realization – I needed to divorce. I hadn’t wanted this nor had I imagined that divorce would be one of the results of my sobriety but one awakening tends to lead to another. My sobriety, fueling my newly found sense of self-worth, led me to an awareness of many of the underlying flaws in my nature and my thinking – the flaws of porous boundaries, shame, perfectionism and codependency. I found immense joy in the possibility of changing a familial cycle by diving into the work of uncovering, discovering and transforming and was stunned when I realized that my husband did not share in this joy. My awakening to this painful reality left me with the clear understanding that in order to live a fulfilling life, I needed to begin that journey alone. I had learned that the only person I could change was myself.
Many other awakenings have followed and all of them have led to amazing and transformative growth along with the opportunity to be of service to others. As I read Tamara Lechner’s post, I completely related to her list of the 10 signs of spiritual enlightenment and awakening. I found myself experiencing all of these things – some more easily than others – as I shifted my mindset from one of despair to one of love and hope. Here they are:
Observing your patterns.
Feeling a sense of connection.
Letting go of attachment.
Finding inner peace.
Increasing your intuition.
Increasing your compassion.
Removing your fear of death.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms of awakening, pay attention. The best is yet to come.
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” ~ Cynthia Occelli
If I could write a letter to my younger self, I’d say “Listen. When awareness is able to break through the noise and the chaos, listen. Awareness comes from your soul and it’s asking you to face your fears and set yourself free.”
I spent far too many years ignoring moments of awareness – moments where I fully understood my worth and how my fears were keeping me trapped or moments where I heard myself quietly saying, “There is something wrong with me.” Those moments were short and fleeting because fear is powerful and I lacked any understanding of my spiritual nature.
I carried on with a life that reflected others’ expectations. It was easier that way. I didn’t rock many boats, did what I was supposed to do, tried my best to be perfect, avoided confrontation and arguments and slowly began drinking more and more to quiet moments of awareness that revealed either wisdom, self-hatred, shame or anxiety. I didn’t want to hear the messages because I might have to do something about them – I might have to ask for help. Instead, I chose another glass of chardonnay – problem solved.
But no, the problems weren’t solved, just postponed. It seems that alcohol was working for me and against me. I could delay the problems and the feelings but it seemed that the more I postponed, delayed, avoided and squashed the feelings, the more frequently the moments of discomfort and awareness occurred. And then I became curious.
I wrote about curiosity recently but as I’m thinking about it now, I’m realizing that those moments of awareness were direct conduits to my soul. I was trying to save myself. Alcohol and my fears were slowly killing me and I wanted to live – fully. In order to do that, I had to say goodbye to alcohol. The only way healing, growth and spiritual connection could occur for me was by being sober first. Then, I could do the work. Then, I could live fully.
So, back to the letter to my younger self: “Life is more fun, sober. Life is more real and authentic, sober. Spirituality thrives in sobriety. Families thrive in sobriety. Problems and disagreements can be solved in healthy ways when you’re sober. Self-respect is nurtured in sobriety. Pain can be weathered in sobriety. Mental health struggles are managed more easily and successfully, sober. Love grows stronger in sobriety. If you’re having those moments of awareness, listen. Face your fears and take the action needed to move into a life of freedom.”
Ultimately spiritual awareness unfolds when you’re flexible, when you’re spontaneous, when you’re detached, when you’re easy on yourself and easy on others.
“Stop punishing yourself for being someone with a heart. You cannot protect yourself from suffering. To live is to grieve. You are not protecting yourself by shutting yourself off from the world. You are limiting yourself.” ― Leigh Bardugo, King of Scars
Right now it seems as if the universe is conspiring against me. An evil dictator unleashing his maniacal ego on an innocent country; a young woman I recently met and worked with at a treatment center, dying from a drug overdose; an old wound that I thought had healed being reopened by the disappointing realization that some of my family members are still afflicted with the unhealthy attitudes of hate, dishonesty, resentment, and dysfunctional codependency. All happening at the same time.
My heart has been broken many times over in my life and it has healed an equal number of times but for a while during this convergence of distressing energy, I felt all the old wounds and scar tissue becoming inflamed again. As I sat with the pain, it occurred to me that this is because I care and because I love and because I’m living fully.
May my heart never harden.
Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.
“You couldn’t relive your life, skipping the awful parts, without losing what made it worthwhile. You had to accept it as a whole–like the world, or the person you loved.”
~ Stewart O’Nan
Have you ever said, ‘This is unacceptable!’ or ‘I can’t live this way!’? How did you feel when you said this? I’m fairly certain that you didn’t feel calm, tranquil or serene. You probably felt angry, upset, defeated, depressed or in despair.
What was unacceptable? Was it something you could change? If so, did you make the changes that you could or did you choose to stay with the feelings of powerlessness? Did you identify as a victim or complacently choose the status quo because it’s familiar?
I found myself in just such a place many years ago. The life I was living was unacceptable to me but fear kept me stuck in the status quo. I chose to view myself as the powerless victim for a very long time because it was easier to blame others rather than accept responsibility for myself. It was easier to live in denial rather than taking an honest assessment of myself and doing some much needed inner work.
One day, however, I was given the opportunity to take action. I’d had those opportunities before but had always rebuffed them. This day was different somehow, so I said “Yes.” My journey into change, transformation and acceptance began that day. I looked at those parts of me that contributed to my “unacceptable” situation and slowly began to change the one thing I could – myself.
As I dove into the work of uncovering, discovering and changing, I learned more and more about myself. I learned how I had adapted and survived during my childhood, acquiring mindsets and behaviors that used to protect me but no longer served me well. I also learned that I simply cannot change other people and that I can’t save them from themselves. Trying to do so is like trying to embrace a thorny cactus. The result is pain and heart-break. I must accept the cactus for what it is, appreciating it and enjoying its’ beauty carefully. I don’t waste time trying to “de-thorn” a cactus and I don’t try to force it to live in an unsuitable environment. I let it be what it is – a cactus.
I also had to learn to accept myself. In her book, Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach, Ph.D., says “Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is.” This doesn’t mean accepting the unacceptable if there is something we can do to affect a change for the better but when change is beyond our capacity, acceptance is the key and it’s also an inside job. It’s an inside job because I have to be willing to accept what I can’t change knowing that this will often mean feeling disappointment, discomfort and even pain. Sitting with it, knowing it will pass, letting go. And, sometimes that means letting go of people, places, things and behaviors that are not good for me no matter how much I relied on them or loved them at one time, and, yes, that’s radical.
When I was going through this metamorphosis, I had no idea that this type of radical acceptance would be the key to my freedom. Liberation feels good. What do you need to accept?
I like this photo. I don’t own horses nor do I ride them well but I’ve discovered that I really enjoy doing fun graphics like this using Canva and this image seems to say it all – “I’m here, I’m physically safe but I’m afraid to let you know me. I’ve always chosen to look perfect from afar, never revealing my vulnerabilities or risking failure – never letting you get too close. Maybe it’s time for me to step out into the sun and learn how to just be me. Will you help me by opening the barn door?”
This is what shame and codependency did to me. I looked really good from afar and tried my best to be perfect at everything I did. I tried to be the perfect daughter and sister – never getting in trouble, keeping family secrets, doing my sister’s piano composition assignments or covering up for her so she wouldn’t get in trouble – just the ordinary things that shame-based codependents do.
It wasn’t until I was facing a personal and family crisis in the form of alcoholism that I began to learn about my shame and codependency. Someone cracked open that metaphorical barn door for me by convincing me to go into treatment. That’s all it took for me to begin to discover how I had been stuck and what I needed to learn. I learned that I didn’t value myself enough to establish boundaries, let alone expect them to be respected. I began to realize that one of the results of these mindsets was the amassment of resentments – resentments toward others and especially toward myself for not saying “no” when I needed to, by enduring emotionally abusive treatment and gaslighting from family members and being quiet about it. I found myself questioning my sanity and convincing myself that something was wrong with me.
While in treatment and beyond, I began the process of letting go of my fears, learning how to cope with life in healthy ways and learning how to love myself. I began to learn how to sit with the discomfort of self-respect that I had never believed I deserved and that I had the right to insist on it. I began to learn the meaning of authenticity, the beauty of vulnerability and the power of imperfection. Metaphorically speaking, I fully pushed that door wide open and walked out into the sunlight, maybe looking back a few times but once I discovered the freedom offered by sobriety I kept going.
One discovery led to another, often in the form of very hard and emotional work, but it has all been worth it to uncover the person I was meant to be!
“Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. ” ― John O’Donohue,
Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
I’ve been doing a lot of labyrinth walking lately while working with women in early recovery. Each time I introduce the labyrinth as a mindful meditation tool, I remember my first experience with labyrinth walking – entering the labyrinth in a state of despair, with the intention to be open-minded, and leaving the labyrinth in a state of hope.
Hope was all I needed to find the willingness to move forward and to begin tackling all the hard work that was ahead of me. I’m amazed how much my perspective shifted that day. I found this very mysterious at the time but today I know that while simply being in the right place at the right time, I experienced the power of the labyrinth – an ancient symbol for the Divine Mother, the God within, the Goddess, and the Holy in all of creation. The winding and meandering path allowed me to relax and to let go. I felt a comforting energy engulf me, allowing me to tap into parts of myself that had always been closed off – or so it seemed.
Most people assume that labyrinths are mazes and the words are often interchanged but they are actually quite different. Labyrinths are unicursal, having only one well-defined path leading to the center and back out again. Mazes, on the other hand, have a choice of paths, dead ends, cul de sacs, and some with multiple entrances and exits. All of these choices create riddles, challenging our thinking minds and our logic. Some people love this kind of challenge and others, like me, find mazes very scary.
In describing these differences, the Reverend Dr. Lauren Artress, labyrinth scholar and author of Walking a Sacred Path, Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool, says, ” The unicursal path of the labyrinth is what differentiates it and sets it apart as a spiritual tool. The labyrinth does not engage our thinking minds. It invites our intuitive, pattern-seeking, symbolic mind to come forth. It presents us with only one, but profound choice. To enter a labyrinth is to choose to walk a spiritual path.”
A spiritual path was what had been lacking in my life before my first walk in 2007 and since then I’ve continued on this path, understanding that I am a spiritual being living a human existence.
As I invite the women I work with to enter the labyrinth, I recite a verse that I wrote which reflects my experience:
If you feel that a maze could be a metaphor for your life, imagine it as a labyrinth instead, with one path, no dead ends, only questioning curves. ALLOW the labyrinth to lead you deeper into your own truths. LISTEN in the twists and turns. LISTEN with openness and curiosity. LISTEN to the wisdom that is already within in you.
As 2021 draws to a close, give yourself the gift of a labyrinth walk. See what happens and where it leads. If you’d like to talk with me about your experience, I would love to hear from you. Peace be with you on your journey.
“What you do with your attention is in the end what you do with your life.” ― John Green
How many times do you have to notice something before you become aware of it? And then, how long does it take for your awareness to become curiosity? I suppose it depends on whether denial is involved – and if this is the case, it can take a long time.
That’s what happened to me. I lived in denial for years and then it shifted to awareness contained by the barriers of fear – the fear of being found out – the fear of being anything less than perfect. Containing the awareness of my need to change and the awareness that I needed help to change was painful and self-destructive. This awareness fueled my alcoholism, anxiety and depression to the point where I was facing a choice to live or die as a miserable, unfulfilled person.
That’s when my curiosity kicked in. I began asking myself questions like this: “What would my life be like if I changed?”; “What would my children and other family members think of me?” “How would I manage?” “Would it be possible to feel happiness again?”; “What would my life be like without alcohol?”
Ultimately, some inner source of strength said, “Enough of this! You’re wasting time with all your fear-based questions – we’re doing this.” I’m still not sure where that voice came from but I suspect it was my healthy self that had been cowering in the deep recesses of my soul – overpowered by my louder, unhealthier self – and in that moment of grace, that healthy self said yes to life and the unknown.
My curious questions became infused with small glimmers of hope. I knew that as I stepped into the unknown, I was already changing unhealthy familial patterns and more would follow – much more.
Curiosity is a strong desire to learn and learning is the process of acquiring new understanding, knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, attitudes and preferences. My awareness, which became curiosity, led to learning opportunities that amazed and elated me. Ultimately, this led to the growth of my healthy self as my unhealthy self simultaneously began to shrink. I could actually feel this shift in my body and in my spirit. It felt good. I felt strong and solid. I could feel. For this, I am grateful.
Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.
In every life there will be beauty and joy. In every life there will be pain and sadness. And, in most fairy tales the last lines are “…and they lived happily every after.”
Living happily ever after implies that happiness is the natural state for all human beings and this belief is Myth #1 in Russ Harris’ book, The Happiness Trap. Have you ever been able to be happy all the time? Have you ever known anyone who has escaped sadness, pain, anger and frustration, experiencing only happiness, joy and peace in their lifetime?
Myth # 2, according to Harris, is that if you’re not happy, you’re defective. Western society promotes the belief that unhappiness and emotional suffering is abnormal, however, the Buddhist view is that suffering is normal and part of the whole human experience. The experience of happiness and freedom occur when we’re able to allow space for all our emotions, whether we like them or not, and to be committed to experiencing our lives fully.
Myth #3 supports our Western thinking as well by proposing that to create a better life, we must get rid of negative feelings – we must have only positive feelings and thoughts. As an optimistic person, in general, I tend to have a bias in this direction, however, I have to admit to frequently experiencing negative feelings and thinking. I’ve been thoroughly disappointed, fearful, consumed with anxiety and stress and no matter how much work I’ve done to “get rid” of these feelings, I’ve learned that I can’t.
Harris discusses this reality at length and he says this: “Who wants to have unpleasant feelings? But here’s the catch: the things we generally value most in life bring with them a whole range of feelings, both pleasant and unpleasant.” Things like intimate relationships, meaningful projects and just change, in general, all provide us with experiences of excitement, joy, frustration, disappointment, anxiety and fear. Harris says, “So if you believe Myth #3, you’re in big trouble because it’s pretty well impossible to create a better life if you’re not prepared to have some uncomfortable feelings.”
Myth #4 is that you should be able to control what you think and feel. This is easier said than done, especially if negative thinking and fear or shame-based mindsets have been ingrained in you since childhood. When I work with people in recovery, I tell them that their thoughts are just thoughts – words they’ve used to either describe or protect themselves and that these thoughts have no actual power. I tell them to expect to find themselves defaulting to this type of thinking in times of stress and to be compassionate with themselves as they learn how to react differently. In time, their ability to control their reactions will increase and their understanding that feelings and thoughts won’t “kill them” or cause them to relapse will grow.
If you don’t know of Viktor Frankl (1905 – 1997), Psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, I highly recommend that you read his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Here is a man who endured unimaginable suffering in his life, and yet, was able to find happiness by finding meaning in each moment. Frankl said, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
I find all of this truly meaningful, inspirational and aspirational. I have seen my ability to hold all of my emotions and thoughts grow by leaps and bounds because today I understand that I am all of it. If I’m feeling any emotion that is negative or upsetting in any way, I liken my experience to being willing to invite my darker self to tea – inviting that part of me to sit and visit – asking questions and learning what it’s all about – listening – being compassionate – giving her the time she needs and then letting her go. I’ve also found that as I have become more aligned with my values, finding meaning in my life and happiness, in general, has become softly ever present – not with constant highs but with an overall appreciation for life and all that it is. It’s a lovely acceptance of my human condition.
Give this some thought and ask yourself, “What is my why? What do I value? What are my feelings telling me? How can I learn from the pain I’m experiencing right now? What does happiness mean for me?
“So it’s not about whether we feel depressed or happy; it’s about our willingness and ability to participate fully in any and all of our feelings. The experience of freedom arises not from acquiring our preferred lifestyle and our preferred state of mind but from a willingness to stay with ourselves – to be completely committed to experiencing our lives – regardless of circumstance.”
“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 and let’s talk.