One year ago, I found myself in a bad place. All of the physical and emotional baggage I had been dragging around for years had finally caught up with me.
I was sick, exhausted and terrified. I had battled demons before, having worked through years of physical and sexual abuse. I had health scares and developed autoimmune diseases.
Through it all, I was always determined that these unfortunate experiences were not allowed to mold my future. As a child, I didn’t get to choose, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to be a victim as an adult.
With hard work, lots of support and a loving partner, I created a loving, safe space for our daughter to grow up. With determination, I worked hard to become a health coach so that others would not have to suffer through their own health deteriorating.
Now, here I was years later, with an intense auto-immune flare-up, a new health diagnosis, a body and mind that felt like they were betraying me with every step I took and it all became too much to bare. Not only did the world become a terrifying place, my body was no longer a safe space. I was scared to leave the house, scared to be alone, scared to feel this sick. I was scared to be awake and scared to go to sleep.
I couldn’t remember what it felt like to feel good. I couldn’t remember how to laugh. I watched my clients thrive, yet I began to doubt myself and my work as my own health deteriorated. I had nowhere to go and nowhere to turn. It was dark and scary for a while. I hid in the shadows so I wouldn’t be seen or heard—so I could be safe. As it turns out, when your own body becomes enveloped in the shadows your mind created, you discover there is no more “safe.” I had to make a conscious decision to either set up residence in this dark cave, or venture out into the light.
I chose the light. After all, I’ve been through tough times before, right? I’ve endured trauma and illness, and always came out stronger, so I was not about to let this one keep me down. No f**cking way!
It was not an overnight process. It was difficult, emotional and painful. I had to do the work. I still do the work, daily—hourly even. It was also amazing and one of the best things to ever happen to me. I became more mindful of the world around me and more importantly I became more mindful of the world inside of me.
Since my thoughts were too scary when I started this process, I focused my attention on things I could see and hear around me. I would wake up and say, “Thank you” the second my eyes opened. I would stop mid-step to listen to the birds chirping. I ate my meals without the TV on, focusing on the temperature, taste, and consistency of the food.
I started taking notice of how unbelievable Mother Nature was. I had always been someone who appreciated sunrises and pretty flowers, but for the first time I actually watched it all unfold. I watched how the barren trees would form tiny, little buds overnight. I watched those buds turn into beautiful flowers for a short time before shedding those petals and turning into lush, green leaves. I saw those green leaves turn bright colors, each tree and each section different, before shedding those leaves and becoming barren again. I couldn’t believe I had never noticed this process in detail before.
When I hugged my husband and daughter I breathed in our love. I felt my heart flutter and would always say, “Save” silently in my mind so I could hold onto that feeling. I started to “save” more things as the days went on. I felt like a baby taking her first steps, literally putting one foot in front of the other, often stumbling along the way. Soon I found my stride.
My husband and I took walks in nature, almost daily. When we first started, I was only able to go a few steps because I physically and mentally didn’t feel strong enough to move forward. Each day, however, we went further and further until we were hiking laps around the park and through the woods. My physical and emotional being grew more fervent with each step. Our marriage grew even stronger. We held hands, we talked and we set intentions for our future.
I began working with practitioners who had been through their own struggles and had come out on the other side. It inspired, motivated and reminded me of my passion to support others on their journeys as well. I started to regain confidence in my abilities as a health coach and why I began coaching in the first place.
I had many setbacks and mishaps along the way. After years of shouldering my physical and emotional pain, my subconscious had somehow learned to respond to any physical discomfort (whether it was a back injury, an autoimmune flare-up, or even just a monthly hormonal swing) with sheer terror. Apparently, my mind now interpreted everything as a threat. Most of the time, I didn’t know what was causing the panic. I’d sit down as soon as it came on and ask my body what it was really feeling. I was surprised to find that the answer was often, “my stomach is upset,” or “my shoulder hurts.” I never would have thought that these small discomforts that I had lived with my entire life, were now showing up in this dramatic fashion. My mind was reacting before my body was aware of the physical presence. A true trauma response.
I learned to breathe through it. To let it go when I could and to accept it (as best as I could) when I could not. I focused my thoughts on what I hoped to create in my life, rather than what I no longer wanted. I watched more comedies and fewer dramas. I spent less time with negative people. I read books that inspired and motivated me. I no longer agreed to do things out of obligation, but rather trusted my gut to what felt right. I set boundaries.
I asked for support when I needed it. I offered support to others. I spoke with friends going through difficult times and realized it didn’t matter what challenges we are facing; whether they be a physical illness, a divorce or confronting negative body images, we all hide parts of ourselves in the shadows, feeling unworthy and afraid to be seen. We have to acknowledge those are just stories we are telling ourselves and seek to discover our truths.
I am slowly learning to speak my truth with out fear of judgment. I am slowly but surely stepping out of the shadows I’ve hid in for so long, learning to become more comfortable with being seen and heard.
The greatest gift I received this past year, is realizing that everything we experience, every up, down, struggle, and accomplishment, every moment of weakness and every moment of strength, are all our teachers. We have the choice to view the challenges as failures or to open our eyes to the fact that they are only there to remind us of their presence so we can finally release them and create space for more of what we want, need and deserve. To live our best life. To step away from our fears and limiting beliefs.
Every day is another step forward. Some days we also take a step back. All of them a learning experience. I feel like I woke up to the real me this past year. The battered little girl, who took up residence in a dark cave, emerging into the light, learning to be more confident and reclaiming her life with each step. All and all, an amazing journey filled with way more love, joy and gratitude than I ever thought possible. A beautiful work in progress, for sure.
We are all here for a reason. I know that now. I believe it in my core. I’ve experienced the darkness but I am now choosing the light.
Author: Cheryl Riise
Editor: Travis May