Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams

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Author, editor, writing coach and spiritual counselor Noelle Sterne has published over 300 pieces in print and online venues, including Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Women on Writing, Funds for Writers, Children’s Book Insider, Transformation Magazine, and Unity MagazineIn her book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams, she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, re-label their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your personal and professional journey as a writer, along with who or what encouraged you along the way.

In the likely apocryphal story my mother loved to repeat, I stood up in the crib at 4 months old crying not “Momma, Momma” but “Book-a! Book-a!” I don’t remember this. But like so many other writers, I started early. I still have, from my productions at about age 10, crumbling black three-ringed notebooks, 7×10”, filled with lined pages of painstaking handwritten poems and stories. These notebooks proliferated, graduated to file folders, and now to magically stored computer files with gigantic gigabyte capacity.

From my earliest consciousness, the desire to write has been an inner drive, a necessity, a deliciousness, ever unfinished business. I write to share the wisdom that comes through me. To let others to see and feel through me. To capture the essence of what I marvel at, what moves, fascinates, and intrigues me. To touch others with universal feelings and truths. In my professional journey, like almost everyone else, I’ve got a wall-lining collection of rejections. I continue to explore new avenues for stories and short pieces on writing craft, writing motivation, and spirituality—ezines, blogs, the few remaining print magazines.

My mother certainly encouraged and, for better or worse, thought everything I produced was gold. In high school, the closest individual to a mentor was a high school teacher. I didn’t know her personally but attended a lecture she gave. Her words so moved me that I somehow marshaled the nerve to write to her and enclosed some of my poems. Her response (I still have the original letter) was fantastic! This experience is recounted in “The Writing Mentor I Never Met” (ReadLearnWrite, September 27, 2012. http://readlearnwrite.com/guest-post-the-writing-mentor-i-never-met/)

As an adult, when I share my dreams and struggles with my few good women friends, they are extremely supportive. My husband, though, is my most constant supporter. He critiques my pieces honestly, provides a wider perspective (rejection remedy), gives me the alone time and freedom I need, and makes great salads.

Q: What was the “aha!” moment that inspired you to start writing Trust Your Life?

The moment was rather a succession of moments. First was in my coaching and editing practice assisting adults who return to universities for dreamed-of graduate degrees. No matter how impressive their accomplishments and titles, they often lamented about lost time, feared they would never finish, and voiced destructive perspectives that impeded their progress. Editing their dissertations, I also found myself reassuring them that they indeed deserved to reach their dream, at whatever age. In the process, I developed many steps for helping them, and the experiences formed a major impetus for the book.

The second “moment” was my quest of my own dream. Like clients, I was battling the same doubts and fears about deserving to reach my dream—writing my own work. Writing about achieving one’s dream was what I needed to learn too.

Q: The title is wonderful – how did you come up with it?

I wanted words that capsulate what so many of us feel about our lives. In an early essay that was the germ of the book, I persisted in not forgiving myself for past decisions –such as earning my own doctorate—and felt they were getting in the way of my dream. The title reflects the connection between trusting one’s choices, wherever they have led, and not judging them as misguided, wrong, or blatantly stupid.

The second part of the title tells readers that it’s acceptable—no, necessary—to honor our inner guidance and secret dreams. And I am pleased that both titles are imperatives or, if you will, affirmations.

Q: Who would you say is the target reader that will benefit the most from the universal themes and messages your book addresses?

The first answer is from a generous endorser: “This book is for readers of all ages—I am giving a copy to my sharp 87-year-old relative to show her that ‘getting old’ doesn’t mean coming to the end of one’s ‘useful’ life.”

The second answer: Trust Your Life addresses those who want something that’s gnawing but they can’t yet identify, those who yearn for an often lifelong, sometimes outrageous pursuit they’ve never let themselves pursue. The book is also for those who want to increase what they’ve already discovered and may have embarked on. Readers include but are not limited to Baby Boomers, seniors, empty nesters, and retirees.

Third answer (sorry to be so verbose): This book is for all of us who suspect we’re not living up to our potential but may not know what to do for solutions. Today more people are admitting that the great American credo of consumerism doesn’tsatisfy. The book shows readers how to turn from the chase after accumulation, despondency, lethargy, and fears to identify and activate the dreams they’ve denied.

Q: In the preface you talk about the importance of trusting one’s inner wisdom. How do we know, though, whether it’s the voice of wisdom and our inner self guiding us to make smart decisions versus the voice of our head or our ego?

The touchstones for me, and others, are first physical. For example, “I felt a lightness in my chest, a sense of completion, of everything dropping into place . . .” (p. 75).

Later I relate the definitive answer of a member of A Course in Miracles study group: “It gives you peace” (p. 93). Then I expand: “The voice . . . is certain, calm and strong. It commands without censure and doesn’t waste words. Past all my nonsense, it centers right in” (p. 94).

Q: Are there such things as irreversible wrong turns in life?

No! Every turn is for learning. I go so far, with many others, and say there are no mistakes. In the larger picture, whatever the consequences (and they may have been rather severe by earthly standards), we have made no mistakes but rather have had experiences. When we look back on our experiences and reflect on the march of happenings from one person, event, or situation to another, we begin to see the line of synchronicity, connection, and purpose. In my own case, the academic editing practice helped me in my own writing to write better, longer, sharper, and with more discipline.

As writers, we may recognize the synchronicity: Haven’t you experienced something you thought had nothing to do with writing, or chose to do something you felt was a waste of time? And then . . . a day, week, month, or year(s) later you use this experience in your current work?

So, a major premise of this book is this: There are no mistakes. Even if you can’t immediately see the sense, your life experiences prepared you perfectly for where you are now. Nothing was wasted.

Q: Do you believe in destiny or choice?

I believe in choice. More radically—we choose, on a conscious or unconscious level, everything that “happens” to us. I refer readers to a piece of mine on this topic in Inspire Me Today:“We Are the Creators of Our Lives” (http://inspiremetoday.com/brilliance/we-are-the-creators-of-our-lives/).

Q: Have you ever taken a leap of faith? 

Every time I sit down to write I take a leap of faith. I leap knowing I will be given the right ideas and words. I love American poet Richard Wilbur’s command: “Step off assuredly into the blank of your mind. / Something will come to you” (“Walking to Sleep,” lines 3-4).

Another very large leap: In deciding to move to Florida (for many pleasant reasons) from New York City, my husband and I worried, I mean, wondered about missing the city’s energy. A wise spiritual teacher advised us: “You take your consciousness with you.” As we took the leap, we have discovered many like-minded people and relationships, personal and professional.

Q: What’s your definition of spirituality?

Spirituality is recognizing we are spiritual beings on a material journey. Listening and surrendering to our inner guidance. Not solely following externally imposed precepts or faithfully attending church. But we can be religious and spiritual at the same time. Many spiritual/religious movements recognize our inner guidance and meditation. Spirituality expresses in many forms, especially with a good heart.

Q: If you could add an extra commandment to the existing ten, what would it be and why?

Thou shalt listen inside to your Inner Guide, which always steers you right.

Q: It’s often said that “thoughts become things” and that our expectations regarding a particular outcome – be it positive or negative – can actually cause those events to manifest. What’s your response to someone who says, “You’re telling me it’s my fault? That I’m the one who created this? Oh no!”

It’s true. You did. But the good news is that you can uncreate and recreate. The ancient Greeks, who didn’t practice religion in our sense, believed the same. In the book (pp. 4-5), I quote Deepak Chopra: “You and I are essentially infinite choice-makers. . . . we have access to an infinity of choices.”

Q: What about people who live in constant denial of their dreams, be it a mindset of unworthiness or a skeptical view that the dream is impossible? Is that repeated state of denial doing more to jeopardize their physical and mental health than they realize?

Denial of our dreams can indeed result in physical and mental health manifestations. In Chapter 3, I talk about this and refer to spiritual teacher Louise Hay’s valuable chart of body-mind relationships. Many others today, thankfully, have added to our understanding, such as Drs. Larry Dossey and Bernie Siegel. Whatever we deny in ourselves, resent, say yes to when we know we should say no (and vice versa), is reflected in our bodies and our outlooks.

Denial breeds anger, resentment, frustration, and self-hatred, and we become depressed and joyless. How can we then pursue our dreams?

Q: So how do we retrain ourselves to generate more positivity in our lives?

First, with affirmations. A wonderful way is in Emmet Fox’s The Golden Key: whenever a negative thought strikes, think of God instead. Period.

Second, with meditation. Daily meditation is a discipline in itself. Our “drunken monkey mind” relentlessly tries to take over, but the discipline is in sitting there and repeating a chosen meditation phrase or following our breath. Eventually the sabotaging mind quiets down and slinks away.

Third, people we associate with. Surround yourself with positive people, not the emotional leeches and “crazymakers” (Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way, p. 44). Notice how you feel after meeting or spending time with someone. Rejuvenated? Refreshed? Or depleted? Headachy? There’s your answer.

Q: The theme of forgiveness figures prominently in Trust Your Life. Why is the practice of forgiving not only those who have hurt us but also forgiving ourselves such a critical component of dream fulfillment?

Forgiveness is crucial for our outlook, attitude, perspective, perceptions, and projections (that should cover it). Not forgiving, we’re angry and tight, holding onto old hurts like a favorite childhood doll. We’re using our energy to fuel our resentments and proud rightness. These emotional and psychological activities leave us little for thinking creatively and proactively to pursue what we really want to do. As we forgive even one person, simultaneous miracles occur: We find it easier to forgive our sister, our parents, our boss and coworkers, and even ourselves. 

Q: Why is anger such heavy baggage for most people to unload?

When we’re angry, we think we’re right. Underneath, we also feel hurt and rejected. Anger is also a way to control others and get their attention. For such reasons we hold on—to hurts, slights, insults, betrayals, wrongs, angers, resentments, annoyances—through months, years, decades, and, before we blink, a lifetime.

You know the stories—maybe you have one—of brothers estranged for 25 years over an argument they can’t even remember, or mother and daughter who exchange only frosty greeting cards at Christmas. The anger is heavy baggage because we usually find it hard to put aside our pride and say, “I was wrong” or “Please forgive me.” As we are able to, we’ll feel a great lightness and rush of love.

Q: Do you think the world in general is becoming more spiritual or less so?

Much more spiritual. This book’s popularity, and that of many other spiritual books, attests this. Also, in the field of writing, more publishers and agents are now calling for books in the genres of “New Age,” “Spiritual,” “Metaphysical.” They wouldn’t touch these a few years ago. Spiritually-based blogs and magazines continue to appear. And great teachers like Deepak Chopra and Wayne Dyer are almost household words, and with television specials.

Too, more people are seeking spiritual resources of all kinds. Articles in mainstream magazines and the Internet feature meditation and intuition-following. Yoga has become widely accepted. Recently, three spiritually-oriented movies became box-office hits— about Jesus, belief in God, and the afterlife. That’s a major shift from the usual action-adventure-thriller-CIA-aliens-monster movies.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

Next: to continue to spread the messages of Trust Your Life. I want to help people realize they are in control of their lives and have the power to build their lives as they wish.

Next again: I am working on Trust Your Life’ssequel: Competition Therapy: Conquer Your Envy Of Others Who Are Where You Think You Should Be. Spiritually based, this book attacks the notion that if you’ve got it, I can’t get it.

Next again: I continue in the academic coaching and editing practice, which gives great satisfaction in helping clients grow and achieve their dreams.

From this practice, I am working on a book helping doctoral students their dissertations, the last and possibly most agonizing hurdle. This book addresses students’ largely overlooked but equally important nonacademic difficulties and is possibly the first to do so in depth. The title: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles.

Next finally: Other works perpetually in progress and stages of publication, including articles on spiritual and writing craft topics, personal essays, and several novels in various stages of sprouting.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

Readers are invited to visit my website, www.trustyourlifenow.com, which has an excerpt from the book and other works. Trust Your Life in paperback and ebook is available on Amazon and other sites.

My webinar presentation can be accessed on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95EeqllONIQ&feature=youtu.be

A radio interview about the book on Carla McClellan’s show Vibrant Living show can be downloaded: http://www.unity.fm/episode/VibrantLiving_062414

A chapter titled “Send Love Ahead” appears in the forthcoming book (August 2014) Transform Your Life! Information is available at http://transformation-publishing.com/book/transform-your-life/

Essays appear on the Writer’s Digest blogs. And my contributions to Author Magazine are available at the “Authors’ Blog”: http://www.authormagazine.org/

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A great thank you to you, Christina. You are doing wonderful work in so many areas. And for all readers (including myself), I add this: Start or keep meditating. Listen to yourself. Trust yourself. Dare to be what you know you are meant to be. It is never too late. You deserve a wonderful, satisfying, fulfilling, contributing life.

 

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Living a Life of Gratitude

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A Conversation with Sara Wiseman

Drawing from her own experiences, and the wisdom of her teaching experiences with many others, Ms. Sara Wiseman crafted an eloquent description of a life cycle from a spiritual perspective with her book Living a Life of Gratitude: Your Journey to Grace, Joy and Healing.

I had the pleasure of conversing with her on the subject of her awakening, her teachings, and the subtle ways we are part of a beautiful, spiritual community that is rarely seen but often felt. She has an innate care and elegance of expression that reflects her work.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: Your training, podcasts, and series of mini e-books (Soul Immersion Mini Series) seem geared to help people achieve their own spiritual awakening. What was the moment of your awakening?

A: In 2000, I had a near death experience, and that was when my life began to shift; in that experience, I saw, knew and understood God/Universe/Divine/All at a level I can’t explain; it was transcendent. That understanding changed me—it made it impossible to go back to how I had been living before. From that opening, I started to have a series of other experiences: and in 2008, it was sort of like the floodgates opened, and I received The 33 Lessons, spiritual teachings which became part of my first book. I find the opening continues—every moment is an amazing experience!

Q: Wow! How did you come to discover your intuitive abilities?

A: I believe that if you walk along the spiritual path long enough, you can’t help but become intuitive; and if you walk along the intuitive path long enough, you can’t help but become spiritual! When we understand Oneness—that we are One and all is One, and that there is literally no separation—then intuition is a given.

Q: That’s a fascinating concept; but sometimes it can be draining to connect to others on that level, where there is no separation. What was your process for handling that?

A: I have a lot of compassion and feeling for others—I want everyone to be happy! So I do get sensitive when things aren’t going well for them. That said, it’s not my job or place to fix someone—I’m there as conduit for the Divine. So I work on being fully present when I am with someone, and then when that is complete, letting it go. I don’t have any formal process for releasing energy, as some do. I do limit how many sessions I do per week; that really helps.

Q: Good advice, thank you! What led you to offer the DailyOM distance learning courses?

A: I am so impressed with DailyOM’s vision of offering high-quality, distance learning courses at a sliding rate! It’s very important to me, that everyone has access. Especially people in other countries, where the exchange rates are different and it can be hard to afford things like courses. That’s one reason I do so many free podcasts for my radio show—so that anyone can have access to the information, regardless of income.

Q: That’s cool to be so conscientious of the international (and, in some places, national) economic marketplace. Among your services, you offer intuitive readings and clarity coaching intensives. What is your greatest challenge when it comes to connecting with people in this way?

A: The people who show up to me are such amazing human beings—they are my teachers, as much as anything I can offer to them! My challenge is to set myself aside and be fully present—and then let the guides show me what to notice, say or illuminate. I find it very enjoyable to work with people at that level of consciousness; it’s a very high vibration that we share when we are in session, and it’s wonderful.

Q: Sounds amazing! You have authored six books, including Living a Life of Gratitude: Your Journey to Grace, Joy and Healing. You move through Birth, Emergence, Connection, Love, Convergence, Expansion, Nature, Awareness, Awakening, Presence, Transition and then you return to Birth. What does this circle represent?

A: There’s a commonality to the life experiences we share as humans—we’re on the journey of soul growth, which is about awakening and opening to an unlimited degree. Each of us has access to this kind of progressive awakening as we move through the container of this lifetime. For example: Connection. At some point in your life, you’re going to experience a profound, real, heart-opening connection to another person. This is a passage of soul growth.

Q: Yes, and another example you include is “Nature”. In your blog post, “October is for Respite, Retreat, Hermitage, Healing” (http://www.sarawiseman.com/3/post/2013/10/october-is-for-respite-retreat-hermitage-healing.html) you share some things we may expect to discover in this month. How does nature affect us?

A: Nature has consciousness, just like we do; it’s just at a different frequency or vibration. When we listen or notice nature—watch leaves moving, or really feel the wind blowing, or have an emotional response to the crash of waves—we shift into that frequency. This is a layer or level where it’s very common to have instantaneous opening, bliss, awareness, messages, visions and more. And, you don’t need to be on a nature trek; you can just spend some very simple time meditating on a flower, or walking in the park.

Q: I could reconnect to those sensations just with the reminder. You deal with so many things that might be hard to express, but you capture them beautifully. What is your writing routine?

A: When I’m writing a book or course, I really focus—I’ll write daily for hours. But when I’m between projects, I do other things—I like to just be in life. I do use a journal continually, to work out ideas that arrive to me from dreams, meditation, nature, all kinds of sources. I write at home, in the mornings, in a tiny little office filled with Buddha statutes and books.

Q: Cool! How have you cultivated balance?

A: I don’t think I have cultivated balance! It is such a life dream, to be able to do this work; I’m so passionate about this field of spiritual intuition! I work very hard, and I have the ability to focus very clearly—but when I need a break I take one. I like very simple things, like walking in nature, or eating, or watching a comedy; just easy things.

Q: That’s neat that you’ve got something fluid that matches life. Is there anything else you would like to say?  

A: I find the challenge of life is very interesting. On the one hand we’re Divine beings; on the other, we’re so very human. The day I have the most extreme bliss experiences might also be the day I snap at a family member—it’s all happening at once. We’re both completely perfect, and totally flawed, and that’s what it means to be a soul in a human container—we’re all of everything.

 

For more information, please visit her website at http://www.sarawiseman.com/.  Reviews of her work can be found at Amazon on http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0738737534).

 

 

A Conversation with Hollye Dexter

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I was introduced to Hollye Dexter through her work on Dancing at the Shame Prom (my review: http://blogcritics.org/book-review-dancing-at-the-shame1/). I gathered the courage to start sharing my writings, and pursuing my own kind of healing, from that collection, and as a fellow editor I could appreciate how much Hollye and her co-editor, Amy Ferris, put into bringing us Dancing at the Shame Prom.

When I met with her (via email), I was not surprised to discover that she has a huge heart, and a passion for empowering others and standing up for those who can’t always stand up for themselves. Some people have a way of expressing experiences so that others feel they are not alone, and they can get a new perspective, a chance to catch their breath, on something that previously felt suffocating and inescapable. It is an honor to converse with her, and to introduce her to others who may not yet know about her and her work.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: In your upcoming memoir, Like Wind to Wildfire, you share with us your journey through the darkness of self-doubt, anger, grief and loss at acute levels, to discovering the gift within your tragedy. What would you consider was/is most surprising aspect of your journey?

A: The fire was only the beginning of loss for us. For several years following, in an unbelievable series of disasters, our lives continued to be stripped from us layer by layer. I think what surprised me most was that I could find moments of true happiness while my life was falling apart. That I could play with my kids, laugh, sing, take long walks and even have a wonderful Christmas when we were financially destitute and alone.

Q: That’s a lovely example of the true strength of the human spirit. You mentioned in an interview with Huffington Post Live (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/30/value-of-suffering_n_4018582.html?mental-health) that you felt you had been trapped in your own grief—how were you able to gain the distance you needed to see the cycle and break free of it?

A: For a long time I couldn’t get over the injustice of what had happened to us. The constant thoughts in my head were: I was a good person, I didn’t deserve this, why is God punishing me? This is unfair. It turned around when I accepted the fact that, yes, it was unfair, and yes, it did happen. So now what? I broke free of it by getting to that place of acceptance, then physically forcing myself to do positive things, even when I didn’t want to, even when I didn’t believe it would help. I went to the library and checked out yoga videos and books on healing the spirit. I wrote a lot, which helps me to process. I literally pushed through it.

Q: Wow, and we’re glad that you did so you could share your story with us now. I loved how you talked about the art of discovering how to be happy when you had nothing. How has this philosophy shaped the way your life?

A: Being in such a broken down place while having two young kids forced me to be resourceful. The utilities are cut off? Let’s camp in the yard and roast marshmallows. No food in the refrigerator? I made pancakes and said, “Hey kids, it’s  ‘crazy-mixed-up-backwards-day.’” My kids loved that. I did those things because I had to – for them. But now I know that it’s possible, and it is the way I live. Even when we are in the thick of hellish problems, we will get outside and take a hike, go to the beach, sit outside and look at the stars. We watch comedies a lot when we’re stressed. Worry and fear are our worst enemies, and do nothing to alleviate a problem. It’s our choice to be happy, regardless of our circumstances. And now that we’ve already survived fire, bankruptcy and homelessness, we don’t sweat the smaller stuff. We know we’ll get through it.

Q: That’s a particularly fitting perspective to adopt during these tumultuous times. What is your process for writing memoir, particularly when you have to face things that are sometimes hard to re-experience or reveal?

A: My first memoir, Only Good Things, is the memoir of my childhood. It took me over eight years to write. It’s pretty explosive in terms of family skeletons and I will most likely never publish it, but publishing was never my objective with that one. Claiming my life, and embracing all of my truth, was the point. It was just something I needed to do. I was in a weekly writing group for several years while writing that book. Every week I’d read a chapter, and receive feedback from my peers It was invaluable. I learned so much from the other writers in the group as well. I am a big fan of writing groups.

With both memoirs, I sort of likened the writing process to vomiting.  You just get it all out, and it’s ugly, and it doesn’t feel great, but after, you feel lighter and freer. While writing Wind to Wildfire, my son was only in school for a few hours a day, so I sat my butt in the chair and wrote like my life depended on it. I did not answer the phone or the door. I didn’t wash a dish. If the cat puked I left it there until my writing time was up. I cried a lot. I had many, many revelations about myself and my patterns. And then my hours were up and I pulled myself back together as best I could and put on my mommy hat. It was intense, I’ll say that much. And I loved every minute of it.

As far as the revealing, author Debbie Ford said that keeping secrets is like trying to hold ten beach balls under water all your life. It’s exhausting. Letting it go was a hell of a lot easier than keeping those beach balls submerged, and freed up so much positive energy.

Q: That’s so true. On your blog, you share your passions for various activist programs, and the amazing things you have done to fight for the rights of others to be treated as they should (http://hollyedexter.blogspot.com/p/my-activism.html). What was the first moment that you knew, without a doubt, that you had to take a stand?

A: Oh lord. Well, I organized a strike against my sixth grade teacher for being unfair. Then I got kicked out of Girl Scouts for bucking the rules. So I guess I’ve got the personality for it —  I never could abide a bully.

But then again, life has tapped me for activism. I didn’t seek it out. Regarding my work in gun reform; my brother was shot at seven years old, my best friend was shot eight years ago, my husband’s best friend, a police officer, was shot and killed this year. And then there was Newtown. How could I not take a stand on gun violence? Animal rights- I was sued and had to stand up in court to protect my dog. LGBT Equality- I have two gay brothers.

Q: That’s awesome, because even with so many having reasons why they should take a stand, few are in the position where they feel they can. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. What are some of the things you are doing to raise awareness of this issue?

A: Years ago I worked with Nicole Brown Simpson’s sisters on a domestic violence campaign. My own mother was a victim, and I witnessed it, so the issue is important to me. Now in my position with Moms Demand Action, we are focusing our efforts in October in raising awareness of the extreme danger guns present in domestic violence situations. Nine women are shot and killed every week by their partners. We are working on legislators locally and federally. I recently met with Congressman Buck McKeon (a man who bought his wife a gun for Mother’s Day) asking for his vote on background checks. Background checks aren’t the end-all solution, but they will save a lot of lives.

Q: Thank you. You are also speaking at the Women’s Leadership Legacy Conference in November, as the co-editor of your powerful anthology Dancing at the Shame Prom. Why is it important to speak at that conference, about the subject of shame?

A: I think that women carry so much shame, and it makes us turn inward on ourselves, and outward against each other. Much of it is self-imposed, but so much is imposed by society; body image shame, aging shame, mommy-shame. It’s rampant, and we need to eradicate it. The first step in destroying any kind of toxin is to expose it to light. That’s why I air all my dirty laundry in my writing and in workshops. I hope to set an example, encouraging other women to embrace their imperfection, and accept themselves exactly as they are. The first step is getting rid of the shame—it’s much easier to let it out than to hold it down.

Q: Amen to that! On your website, you offer consulting and editing to fellow writers, and workshops on “Righting Your Life by Writing Your Life” and “Rediscovering Your Muse”. What do you wish to give your clients/attendees?

A: Freedom. Confidence. Joy. Self-acceptance.

Q: Thank you for sharing the songs you wrote on your website/blog, for your previous memoir Only Good Things. You have four albums out, and as the President of the Music Heals Foundation, how have you seen music heal, not only in your own life but in those you have helped to find their own expression in melody?     

A: For almost a decade I taught music and art to teens in foster care and on probation. I ran a ten-week course. They came in angry, shut down and hurting, but within weeks of working on painting, songwriting, recording, I watched them blossom and become lighter. They smiled more. They built trust and friendships. They became more hopeful. It was the most rewarding work I have ever done.

Q: I hope you continue to have more of those kinds of workshops in the future. It’s lovely that you can sing with your husband and kids. Along with your family (and creativity), what are some of the things that have strengthened you and made everything else worth it? 

A: Faith. Hope. Nature. Beauty. Music. And my God I never would have survived without books— they are my lifeline.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?

A: I would like to thank you, Joanna, for your kindness and continued support for both this book and Dancing at the Shame Prom. And I wish you the very best and brightest future with your writing.

 

Learn more about Hollye’s work at http://hollyedexter.blogspot.com/, on Twitter @hollyedexter, and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DancingAtTheShameProm.

The Invisible Storm

Juanima

I am honored to share my interview with Juanima Hiatt, a bighearted, beautiful, empowering woman who courageously shares her experiences with PTSD and her journey to rebuilding her life from the inside out in The Invisible Storm. She writes an uplifting blog and offers a complimentary coaching session to help others create their unique path to healing, balance, joy and freedom. (She welcomes all emails, anytime: Juanima@healingmindscoaching.com.)

Juanima’s coaching practice, Healing Minds Coaching, LLC, utilizes intelligent questions to empower people to discover their own solutions. As Juanima says, “I have a special place in my heart to help people who suffer from anxiety and PTSD get back on the road as the driver of their life, not the passenger… PTSD robs the sufferer of the life they lived before the trauma. There is no going back, but it is very possible to create a life that is even better than what they had before.”

She leads the first PTSD support group in Hillsboro, Oregon, which is growing fast. Juanima has also teamed up with Susan Ulbright (a gifted LCSW specializing in trauma and PTSD) to develop a 10-week workshop on PTSD and recovery, and another weekend workshop for trauma survivors to rediscover the meaning in their lives. The workshops will be announced sometime in the late summer/early autumn.

The second edition of The Invisible Storm will be released in June, with a list of trigger warnings and new information about recovering from PTSD.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Your book, The Invisible Storm, acts as both champion and confidante for those who have experienced PTSD or sexual abuse. When and how did you choose to share your story?

I knew, even while I was in the pit of despair with PTSD, that I would someday write my story. That day didn’t come until May 2010, however, when I was healed enough to look back at my journey objectively, and from a healthy perspective. My desire in sharing my story is twofold.  PTSD is a horrific experience that people don’t understand unless they’ve experienced it themselves. The only way I could help people really understand PTSD was to bring them deep into my world as I suffered through it. From the emails I get from readers, I know it worked.  There are also many myths and misunderstandings about this disorder, and I wanted to give some truths. I also wanted to bring hope and encouragement to other PTSD sufferers. I wanted to show that if one is willing to do the work, he/she CAN recover.

I like how you made it clear recovery can come in many forms. How did you manage to weave everything together to create such a quilt of your life?

I eventually realized that while my daughter’s birth triggered the onset of PTSD, the true source was the sexual abuse I endured as a child. As difficult as it was to write about the trauma, I knew I had to. However, I also wanted to tell the truth about how difficult it was for me to face the trauma, as I imagine it is for anyone with PTSD. As far as the “sources” I used to write it, I couldn’t have written about my therapy sessions without the notes my friend, Traci, took, because I dissociated so badly in every session. The journal entries helped me relive the depth of pain I experienced, though I admit, at times, I didn’t need any help. Parts of the writing were excruciating. I also asked every family member to read the manuscript before I published it. Some of my family members are not painted in the best light at times, and because I love and care deeply for them, I wanted their blessing to write the hard stuff. I know it could have backfired, but everyone was incredibly gracious in letting the story stand. My therapist explained that their part in the story is critical, because every family will relate in some way to certain “unhelpful” behaviors and misunderstandings. I also asked them to read it so they would finally understand what PTSD was like for me. I got great feedback and validation, and I feel very blessed to have such an amazing, supportive family.

That support structure makes a tremendous difference. How did you research the list of resources at the end of your book?

I found every resource listed to be beneficial to me throughout my healing and recovery. When I was first diagnosed with PTSD, I researched endlessly online to find out everything I could about the disorder, and what I was up against. It helped me—and my family—as I progressively shared what I learned.

Thank you for sharing them with us. The passages you chose at the outset and the end of your book are lovely, and could apply to anyone regardless of their creed. While you depict your relationship with God beautifully, please share with us your connection.

Wow… that’s a great question. I’m thinking about writing another book solely about my journey with God, because it’s been a roller coaster. The interesting part is that God is like the track. He never changes. He stays the same, always. He is strong and secure and holds us up. I was like the car, however, always moving, wildly changing directions, with lots of screaming involved.

There were times in my life, especially during the worst years of abuse, and the worst parts of PTSD, when I felt completely abandoned by God. I cried out to Him but I couldn’t hear Him answer. I felt so incredibly alone. I can even say that when I was sixteen, I hated Him, I was so full of anger at His lack of caring. Or…that’s what it seemed. What I know now is that God is the same whether we believe it or not. He is always with us, whether we feel Him or not. What we think of God manifests from our beliefs about Him. Believing He is there even when we don’t feel Him or hear from Him is called faith. Now, I understand Him. I know He never left me—not once. I know He grieved when others were harming me. I also know that I have lost so much in my life, and have had so much stolen from me, but I am witnessing today the fulfillment of His promise to restore what was lost. It’s really incredible. I love Him with all my heart, and I know He really does have a good plan for each of our lives.

Wow, thank you. What advice would you give to fellow memoirists?

There is so much power in telling your story, whatever it is. Maybe your goal is publication, or maybe it’s just to get your story on paper for your children and/or family. But what’s important is to not put it off. Don’t delay. Your story becomes a timeless legacy for your loved ones, and if you publish it, it just might become a powerful memento or treasure to a stranger you may never meet. One of the most moving statements I’ve received from a reader was, “Thank you for writing this book. I feel understood for the first time in my life.” I mean…wow. That is a priceless gift I will carry with me forever—to know my story impacted someone like that.

Congratulations for making everything work so you could deliver your story into their hands. What was it like to self-publish The Invisible Storm?

I couldn’t have done it without the incredible people in my life. My sister-in-law, Rebecca Reinke-Merrion of Reinke Creative, designed my book cover. She happens to be an amazing graphic designer, and this was her first book project. I also got lucky and found a colleague looking to trade her editing talents for a book review of her recently published book, and she helped me improve the manuscript immensely. My family—especially my dad and stepmom—read the manuscript multiple times to help me perfect the details (and it’s not an easy read, so my gratitude runs ocean deep for the time they dedicated to it, while putting their emotions aside). I actually enjoyed the process of self-publishing. I decided to go that route because I didn’t want to wait two years to see my book on a shelf. I have too many other projects I want to get busy on!

Yes! What has been your marketing plan?

I use social networking a lot, including Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. I have found the Goodreads giveaways bring great exposure to my book! I try to blog uplifting and encouraging posts on a regular basis at my author website and I guest blog whenever possible to discuss PTSD and my memoir. I’m very grateful for every opportunity! I also rely greatly on word-of-mouth. I  do book signings, speaking engagements, and interviews, which are also great marketing tools.

What do you hope to achieve with your book and your message, in empowering those who are affected by childhood sexual abuse (not just the children, but all those that these abuses impact)?

First, that healing is possible, but second, that healing is a choice. The terrible risk of living one’s adult life in denial of the past is a later onset of PTSD. We can’t foresee traumatic events occurring in our lives. My triggering event was the traumatic birth of my second daughter in 2003, and then I had no choice but to face my past abuse. I honestly thought I was over it, but I was so wrong. Abuse affects our lives in countless ways, damaging the core of who we are and how we see ourselves, as well as our perceptions of the world around us. Our behaviors stem from our beliefs, and when our beliefs about ourselves and others are tainted, relationships suffer. My goal is to encourage healing not only within the individual who suffered child abuse, but the relationships with their loved ones as well. Everyone in the survivor’s life is impacted by it.

Yes, the “darkness” spills out in sneaky ways; I’m grateful you capture all sides of the issue. From my experiences with PTSD, let me thank you on behalf of our spiritual kin—perhaps all PTSD is its own kind of “soul murder”, and you shine a light on how to recover ourselves to a semblance of a whole. What do you recommend as people seek that balance between who they were before, and who they became after, the PTSD?

“Soul murder” is pretty accurate. I remember saying during the worst years of PTSD, “I just want to be who I was before. I hate who I am now. I feel like a monster! I want my old life back!” What’s amazing to me is how I now read that over and over—verbatim—from other PTSD sufferers.

First, coming to terms with PTSD—for me—was a process much like grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I went through every stage. I eventually had to accept PTSD, but I also had to accept I would never “get back” the life I had before, or the person I was before. But we are never completely destroyed in this journey.

In the early days of PTSD, I felt like I’d fully lost who I was before, but my little brother made me see that wasn’t true.  PTSD shatters the heart, mind, and even the soul, and yet the core of our being remains—it just becomes overshadowed by the pain and torment of the disorder. But as you recover, and do the work of healing, the shattered pieces start coming back together; only this time, they’re stronger. YOU are stronger. But you have to do the work, and you have to choose every day to do something that moves you towards the person you want to be.

This is what I mean when I say I help people write their new life story. It can seem, while you’re suffering, that life will never get better. It took me a while to grab hold of those reigns and take control again. In these recent years, I started building my life back up again. I kept my vision alive of who I want to be, and stayed determined to never let fear or this disorder keep me from having a fulfilled life. I’m not saying I’m completely free, but my life is so much better, and I’m so much more powerful than I ever was before. My family can attest that all the hard work has paid off. I’m a changed woman, and I’m whole, and I want to remind people that whether we have PTSD or not, we are the author of our own life story. And if you do have PTSD, don’t write yourself that ticket to eternal submission. There is hope for us ALL to recover and have a fulfilled life.

Awesome! On a different note, how is your novel going?

It was put on hold, unfortunately, while I went to school to become a life coach. Now that I’m certified, and my practice is open, I’m working on bringing my passion of writing back. I just can’t stay away from this keyboard for too long! I have a political thriller in development, but I’m also developing a YA novel series. I’m excited about this project, because I have a huge heart for teenagers. Each novel deals with a tough issue such as eating disorders, divorce, domestic violence, abuse, running away, self-harm, etc. I’m close to this because every issue is based on my own life experience. I understand, and more than anything, I want teens to know they’re not alone in their struggles, and there is hope.

Those will be great books, I’m sure. Is there anything else you would like to say?

Thank you so much for this opportunity to share my heart, my experiences with PTSD, and my message of hope. Somebody once said, “You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.” My life with PTSD didn’t start to improve until I embraced the journey ahead (no matter how long it took), dug my feet in, and gave healing 100%. We are all stronger than we think. PTSD instills a lie that it’s bigger than we are, and our only choice is to succumb to its power. But like I said, that’s a lie. There are answers out there that will take each of us forward. There are tools and resources that will help us in our healing. There are people who care and want to see you recover. I’m one of them. I’m always open and willing to share my experiences with others, whether it’s about healing from childhood sexual abuse, or my journey with PTSD.  You’re not alone in your fight. Don’t ever lose hope for a better, stronger you, and an abundant life. And never, ever give up.