My body shuts down the moment Jim dies.
Someone hands me a glass of water, and I don’t think I can swallow it. My mouth is dry, tongue swollen, throat closed. My whole body filled with grief and fear – no room for anything else.
Later that night, I am alone in our crowded living room. Though I am surrounded by family and friends, I feel alone, disoriented in a parallel world where time has stopped.
The phone doesn’t stop ringing as the news spreads. The ringing of phone, ringing of doorbell, constant ringing announcing death has arrived in my home.
A family member sits next to me, and even though she is steeped in her own grief, she is worried I am not eating or drinking anything. I share with her my inability to swallow. She lovingly mashes a banana in a bowl, and like a concerned mother, she tries feeding it to me – spoonfuls of nourishment and hope my body wasn’t ready to accept. I am Shut. Down.
For her, I open and try, but the taste of banana makes me want to vomit. My stomach revolts, my throat clenches tightly, and I spit it into the palm of my hand.
Days pass, and I eat what little I can manage – spoonfuls of soggy cereal, soft vanilla ice cream, chicken broth, marshmallows, and other things I can let dissolve into my mouth until there is almost nothing left to swallow.
At work, co-workers are kind. We order lunch in, and someone always orders me turkey on whole wheat. I unwrap and stare, then take a small piece of meat from between the bread and roll it around in my fingers. I put it in my mouth and show them all I am trying. It feels like cardboard on my tongue.
Everyone wants to nourish me out of love, caring and kindness. And yet, I need time to be alone with my grief, with my struggle to make sense of what has happened. I need room to not have to be anything or do anything other than what I am feeling in each moment.
One night, knowing I need to eat something, but with an appetite for nothing, I make cinnamon toast. For some reason, cinnamon toast is just about right. I toast the bread dark, coat it with lots of butter melting into the hot bread, and add mounds of cinnamon sugar. It isn’t too much food for a stomach already stuffed with grief.
I eat this simple meal of cinnamon toast every night for the next month. Like a ritual, I sit and look at the two slices of buttered toast for a few moments because I’m never hungry. The smell of cinnamon and butter and sugar encourages my desire to pick up a piece and take a small bite.
I can smell the cinnamon and this is why it appeals to me. I am disconnected from everything and my senses are dulled, but the smell of cinnamon begins to lure me back because it smells like comfort. I begin to eat again.
It is still hard to swallow.
OUR GRIEVING BODY
Do you know about the innate fight, flight, or freeze response? It’s a physiological reaction inherited from our ancestors thousands of years ago. When we experience a shock or traumatic event, our instinctual survival responses take over. This is why, in the midst of a crisis, we are unable to eat, or swallow, or we throw up. When our brains perceive danger it “tells” the body to rid itself of anything not needed to survive, preparing us to fight or run or freeze.
It’s why I couldn’t swallow and had no appetite.
For many of us, the acute grief and intense fear we experience keeps our bodies in continuous survival mode. This feeling may last a long time. There is no “timetable.” Every person’s experience is unique to them. It’s completely normal. We are wired to have this response.
Although loved ones may worry about you, be kind to yourself. You may lose weight or you may gain weight because all you want is ice cream. It’s okay. There is no right or wrong way.
What brings you comfort? Even if it’s hard to do in this moment, try to think of one or two things. It may not be food. Maybe it’s a warm bath or a favorite soft blanket wrapped around you. Maybe it’s his or her favorite tee-shirt that you like to wear. I slept in one of Jim’s tee-shirts every night for a very long time.
What’s your “cinnamon toast?”
This is an excerpt from the upcoming book, You Are Not Alone by Debbie Augenthaler
My father was a Vietnam veteran
who suffered from PTSD. A part of me always grieves for him, for how he suffered and how his illness affected our family. And a part of me will always grieve for the little girl whose father came back from war a stranger, and for the relationship we never got to have.
His illness took him away from me, from his family, from the man he was before.
When I was nineteen, I went camping with him and my brother in the Ozark mountains in Arkansas. I’d only seen him a few times since I was a young girl.
We went rafting in rapids filled with snakes, brown water moccasins slithering around the sides of the river, me so scared my hands hurt from gripping tightly to the sides of the raft so I wouldn’t fall in.
We went horseback riding. And again, I was afraid, but determined. I climbed up on a beautiful brown mare, massive and strong. My father said, “Don’t let her know you’re afraid. She’ll feel it.”
So high, so far from the ground. She felt my fear.
“Debbie, what are you waiting for? Give her a little kick to get started.”
I wanted a connection with my dad I had never had. I wanted to please him. So I gave her a kick, despite my fear. Despite not knowing how to control a creature so much bigger than I.
She took off running, wildly, veering off the path, and into the forest. I could distantly hear my father shouting out how to pull in the reins to control this force of energy that only wanted freedom – and for a moment that hung in the air I felt like the horse. Flying through the forest, sweet taste of freedom.
It was exhilarating – until it was not.
Here’s what stays forever in my memory, that wild ride on the horse: frantically trying to hold onto the reins, useless in my hands, soon just clinging to her mane. Crouched and pressed against her, crying while my heart pounded in tandem with hers. Was I crying from fear? From wanting something from my dad I couldn’t have? From wanting the freedom I’d never had to just be me? Missing the trees and branches by inches, the wind whipping wildly through my hair.
My father and brother finally managing to gallop up next to me, securing the reins and bringing the mare under control.
My father was gentle that day, and he was nervous, like me, both of us not knowing how to connect. I always thought one day we’d learn how. But one day never came. He died of a heart attack a few years later when I was in my early twenties. He was only forty-four. I was devastated; all the un-saids I’d hoped to resolve died with him.
I’ve grown through grief. It’s taught me many things, given me gifts I never would have imagined. Compassion, understanding, and forgiveness helping me to see how it was his illness, not him, that ruptured our relationship, resolving the un-saids for me. I still feel sorrow because it is sad – what happened to his life and the pain his illness caused. But bottom line – I’ve learned I will always have a connection with my dad that is deep and loving.
Many of us have un-saids with loved ones who have died. I hope, as you heal and grow through your own grief, you too will grow in compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. Not just for them, but for yourself too.
I never went horseback riding again. But if my dad were here, I’d do it again.
Because he still has my back, like he did that day. I like to think he was proud of me for facing my fears. I like to think he’s proud of me now, for finding the freedom to just be me.
I feel his love for me all the time. And he knows I love him too. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.
We were driving through the Hualapai Mountains in Arizona,
moving slowly through the winding roads as we soared in elevation, soaking in the calm and serenity of nature. Soothing for hurting hearts in need of healing. Sacred mountain, earth, tall pines, blue skies, fresh sweet air. And several happy elk on the side of road.
There they were, leisurely nibbling fresh spring growth on small green bushes. As we pulled to the side to get a closer look, a young elk paused to look at me with curiosity. We gave each other a good once over, our eyes meeting for a moment. He kindly posed while I took pictures. Then he went back to his lunch, finding the sweetness of crunch more interesting.
How beautiful the connection we can feel with animals. Of course, with our pets – but with an animal “in the wild” who shows no fear and no hostility. Just a mild curiosity, hmmm, another soul in a day’s meandering.
The antlers of bull elk fall off every year and, within days, new ones begin to grow. The cast-off antlers, with their minerals and proteins, are a gift of nourishment to squirrels and mice and other small creatures. And one day, these small animals go back to the earth, and become the grass and bushes the elk eat. Symbiotic cycle of life.
When an elk loses its antlers he seems “less-than” for a while. Until new little buds form. Little buds growing into strong antlers. The in-between time is simply a transition – a transformation – to even bigger antlers. A loss leading to growth. Every year older a bull elk is, the bigger and stronger his antlers become. Have you ever seen a mature elk’s antlers? Massive, strong, fierce looking. Sometimes looking too big for his body to carry. But that never happens, does it? No elk ever falls over because his antlers are too big.
Which leads me back to hurting hearts in need of healing. A loss – the death of someone we love, a divorce, an illness, a job we love, any kind of life-altering loss – we feel like we’ve lost a part of ourselves. We feel like we’ve lost our balance, the thing that kept us standing, or our guiding light. We feel “less-than” before.
Endings always bring new beginnings. We need to heal, in our own way, in our own time. And then one day, we notice a little bud in our hurt heart.
What is that, we ask? Is it hope? A moment of joy?
We discover we are healing. The bud in our heart grows larger, and we find we have room to hold both hurt and hope as it expands even more.
Every loss brings an opportunity for our hearts to grow. Loss leading to growth and expanding out. Then we, in turn, can help others – with the wisdom and compassion and understanding that come from transformational experiences. Symbiotic cycle of life.
No one has ever fallen over from a having an ever-growing heart.
Please join our Grief to Gratitude community on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/DebbieAugenthaler/
A man I’ve known for many years died recently after a long illness. Although I was not close to him, two women, family members I love dearly, were. The three of them have been a family for over 35 years. Although they were not related by blood, they were related by choice – by love.
Some of us are lucky to have close-knit families who are there for us no matter what. And some of us are not. Sharing a heart connection can be deeper than the connections we feel with some of our own biological family.
Many of us find ourselves choosing our “family” – meeting people along the way we feel instant connections with, people we fall in love with, friendships that deepen over the years, through the good and the bad, supporting and loving one another, adding layers and layers of shared experience creating bonds so strong they go beyond blood.
Maybe we partner or marry, and create our own families, blended, extended, etc. But in the eyes of the law, if you are not related by blood or married or legally adopted, you are not considered “next-of-kin.” Even if the family you’ve created has a relationship that runs deep between a man and a woman and her child from a previous marriage.
He became her step-father, teaching her and cheering her on as she grew up and found her passions. Her talents bloomed, fostered by his and her mother’s love. He parented her with a devotion never experienced with her biological father. And he and her mother may have been married at one time and may have divorced but remained close through all these years. When he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, her mother said, without hesitation, I will care for you and be there for you until the end. And she was. She and her daughter were his chosen family.
So who’s to say what the definition of family is? Here’s what I think: we have a family we’re born into – but we also have a family we create. By choice. Our “family” can be a blend of blood and choice. Along with relatives I love dearly, I am so very grateful for the cherished people who have become my family as I’ve lived, loved, laughed, and lost. We may not be related by blood, but we are “related” by a strong and loving heart connection. Love is what connects us. Love is what makes a family.
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Previously I shared the first part of an excerpt from The First Night, a chapter in my upcoming book, You Are Not Alone. It’s about the first night without my husband, Jim, after his sudden death early that morning. I write about my shock and grief and fear – but I also share a very meaningful sign that showed me the power of connected love. The video went out on my Facebook page, Grief to Gratitude. If you missed it, you can watch it here.
Today, I’m inviting you to watch the second part of the chapter where I talk about the beautiful and comforting signs so many of us receive after someone we love dies. I hope you enjoy, and please share.
You Are Not Alone is my emotional story of grief, healing, and spiritual transformation combined with my professional experience as a trauma therapist specializing in grief and loss. Every chapter includes my personal story with follow-up companion pieces, connecting with you heart to heart. Each companion piece offers hope and helps normalize the myriad feelings and experiences of grief. I also offer simple healing steps to aid in your own healing. Learn more about it here.
A big thank you to Laura Lentz, Writing at Red Lights, and PF Bentley who produced and shot this video.
I’m grateful to say I recently had the opportunity to have one of my chapters filmed as part of a series with other writers, produced by Writing at Red Lights and filmed by PF Bentley. This is an excerpt from from my upcoming book, You Are Not Alone, part memoir, part self help. It’s my story of grief, healing and transformation, combined with my professional experience as a trauma therapist to offer hope.
This video went out on my Facebook page, Grief to Gratitude, this week. It’s been great to share this story with you.
Be sure to look out for next week’s video for the next part of this chapter. I look forward to sharing more with you.
Our bodies and minds are brilliant at helping us to survive childhood trauma. This is the story of how a little girl protected her heart until she met someone who helped her learn how to trust again.
Ah, if I could tell you all of it. If only I could. But I can tell you this. He never got old.
With a gentle stroke of her cheek, he whispered, shhhh, putting his finger up to his mouth. Mischievous glint in his eyes, taking her hand into his. I’m taking you on an adventure he said. With complete faith, with complete trust, and heart filled with love, she let him lead. She didn’t ask where they were going.
He took her to places she’d never dreamed possible. Places of miracles and magic – and truly, aren’t they the same? Taking her to magical places inside, discovering parts of herself that had remained hidden for so very long.
The different parts of her like little girls hiding in secret places until it was safe to come out.
The youngest, maybe six? How can we know for sure? Hiding in the dark, cowering in the corner all these years. She’d tried to leave, once. The first time a whiff of a feeling called hope crept in under the door. She could smell it, taste it, hear it, almost touch it. Almost. But when she went to open the door to finally creep out, the handle broke off in her hands. She knew then it wasn’t yet time to enter the land of hope.
But ah, when this magical man took her hand, hope was so big it flooded all the places and spaces hidden inside. The cowering little girl trembled as hope pushed open the door and beckoned. It was finally safe to come out, after all these many years.
And hope was waiting as she walked out. Waiting to hold her. Waiting to catch her if she fell. Waiting to teach her how to play. How to spin around. How to jump up and down with excitement. Glorious freedom of being.
Sparkling world of magic and miracles. You just have to know them for what they are.
Let’s call him the Angel of Hope in this story. For this is the gift he gave her. Hope.
And hope gave her the beauty of seeing herself for who she was, reflected in his eyes. Feeling safe to free the cowering little girl who’d been protecting her heart all these many years. Feeling the freedom to know who she truly was. For it was her true Self who’d protected her heart and soul all along.
And when he had to go, he knew he’d given her all she would need.
He knew hope would stay with her, even when she didn’t think it would ever be possible.
He knew she would see all the magic and miracles in life. And know them for what they are.
And before he left, he gave her one more gift. A kiss. An I love you.
He never got old, and he never will.
I’m excited to share the fourth video in The Toolbox Series: Counted Breathing for anxiety, stress, and overwhelm. The technique I walk you through below is very simple, and it will help you to feel calmer, more grounded, and present in the moment.
Anxiety activates the part of our nervous system responsible for the fight or flight response. When this gets activated, your heart rate and breathing speeds up and stress hormones like cortisol are released. The Counted Breathing technique in this video activates the parasympathetic nervous system. When this part of your nervous system in is in “control”, your heart rate drops, your blood pressure lowers, and breathing slows, allowing your body to be in a state of calm.
All you have to do is exhale for a few counts longer than the inhale. Try it here:
All of the techniques (or “tools”) in the Toolbox Series are designed to help alleviate anxiety and calm you, but are not a replacement for therapy. If you are experiencing high anxiety or panic attacks often I highly recommend finding a therapist who can help you.
Please enjoy, use, and share with others. If you have any comments I’d love to hear from you.
Sending you love and peace.
When I was about 9 years old, I told my parents I believed in reincarnation.
I don’t know why or how, only that I knew it was true. The look in the eyes of my young mother and father, coming from Southern Baptist backgrounds, quickly let me know it wasn’t safe for me to say this, and we never talked about it again.
In my late twenties, I sometimes went to Catholic mass with Jim. It gave me an hour or so to reflect, to think, to be quiet within myself and commune with God in my own way. I’ve always enjoyed the ritual of ceremony and created my own ritual within a ritual. Jim knew of my evolving spirituality – not rooted in “being” a Baptist or Catholic, or in any other organized religion. However, most of our family and our friends didn’t. I didn’t want to have to explain or defend myself to the anticipated look in their eyes.
We are all expressions of the Divine.
We are all connected through the divine love and light in each of our hearts. But many of us forget who we truly are, who we came here to be. We come into this world pure, as our true self, and develop false selves along the way. Shaped by our parents, our environment, and our culture.
The true self feels one way but the false self acts another way.
Is it to protect your heart? Or for safety? for love? Is it from fear? for approval?
My false self felt a need to “be” someone for everyone else. Afraid of judgment, of derision, of being seen as not worthy, of needing approval, of needing to fit in. Of feeling like just being myself was not good enough. For much of my life, feeling one way (true self) but acting another way (false self), fearing the look in someone’s eyes.
The desire to be “seen” and accepted for who I am was great but the fear of being truly seen even greater. I’ve lived a large part of my life with the false self in charge. It’s exhausting, and it’s not a joyful existence. Why do you think so many people experience anxiety? It’s only in the past few years I’m letting go, loosening my grip on the need to please, unlearning the false self ways of being in the world, and handing the reigns of pleasing to my true self.
My spiritual beliefs have evolved over the years as I’ve lived, loved, laughed, and lost – learning lessons from life experiences and from a great many people and teachers along the way. All my life experiences have brought me to who and where I am today. Still learning and honoring where my true self wants to go, and joyful and grateful for where I am being led.
As a psychotherapist and as someone who’s benefited tremendously from the healing power of therapy, I know being truly seen and heard is a fundamental aspect of transformative healing.
The concept of true self/false self has been written about extensively from myriad perspectives. Many prominent psychologists have written about it. D. W. Winnicott is known for introducing it in psychoanalysis.
Don Miguel Ruiz writes about it in The Voice of Knowledge, a book based on ancient Toltec wisdom. He says,
“We are born in trust, but we grow up believing in lies…one of the biggest lies in the story of humanity is the lie of our imperfection.”
I am a healer – a psychotherapist specializing in trauma, grief, and loss. My clinical training is steeped in Western traditions of healing. I am also a seeker. I study Eastern philosophy and energy healing, exploring shamanic practices and ceremonies, exposing myself to spiritual practices from cultures around the world. Now I find myself building a bridge between these two traditions.
Last fall I went to my first cacao ceremony facilitated by Holistic Chef and Shamanic Healer, Sarah Eve Cardell. Raw cacao has been used as ceremonial medicine since ancient times by Aztec and Mayan cultures. Cacao ceremonies provide the opportunity to connect to yourself and open your heart, release negative energy, old patterns and traumas, and aids in transformational shifts.
I help my clients to process traumas and have the privilege of witnessing their transformation, and the more I learn about ancient spiritual traditions, the more I’m amazed at how many Western modern day therapies and philosophical thought can be traced back to ancient cultures. I’m always surprised at the many different ways there are of “saying the same thing.”
As Sarah Eve Cardell says, “In ceremony, we transcend the limits of the mind.” I’d love to share with you my experience from the cacao ceremony.
Pele came to show me. Pele, goddess of fire and power and wind, of sacred land. She came to show me. Secrets are buried in the earth. Secrets. Some are hot and will burn you. Some are soft and will soothe you.
Standing in the shadow of a tree at the bottom of the mountain I sensed her before I saw her. Her presence filled up the air around me as she quietly approached from behind. Molecules dancing with her power. I wait. She circled around and stood in front of me. Her beautiful, dark skin painted with patterns of little white tiny circles around her fine features, circles and swirls of red weaving between the white dots. Her eyes dark and bright at the same time, orbs of luminescence holding vast canyons inside. She looked at me, through me, in me, saw all of me.
Holding out her hand, no words uttered, none needed. I clasped her hand and we started to walk up the mountain. She was tall and graceful and moved with ease. Walking barefoot over stones, pebbles, sticks, mud, and grass. Walking in faith. She was leading, to show me.
Long walk up to the very top of the mountain peak. As we reached the edge, just about to peer over to the other side, a rumbling sound echoed in my ears as a fissure began to develop. She held my hand tightly as the fissure cracked and split the top of the mountain, creating a gaping wound of darkness. I looked up at her beautiful face of dots and swirls and orbs and knew I was meant to see. I looked back down. Red, viscous, burning hot liquid lava spewed out of the darkness. Hurled with great force, extreme heat, explosion of infinite power.
I looked at her again. As the mountain changed so had she. No longer tall and beautiful and graceful. Very short now, thick torso, her dark painted skin rough and worn. Grinning glee, mouth opened to teeth white against dark lips, shining pearls. Deep creases crinkled along the painted patterns of white circles and red swirls.
She didn’t have to say. I knew.
This earth is me and it is you and it is they. It is all. I will be here for you. I am showing you. You must walk the mountain. You must go through the fire.
When she was satisfied I knew the secrets she took my hand again. We glided down the side of the mountain. Glided smoothly down, skimming over tree tops. My hand in hers, with complete faith.
Down to clear water river. Current rushing through the white and blue froth. She turned and held out her arms. I fell into her embrace as her body morphed into a soft filmy cloud holding me close. Cradled in her caress, we fell backward into the water as she became the vessel to hold me through rough waters and calm. Taking me to where I’m going.
I took a deep breath. We let the current lead us.
I let the current lead me, trusting the Divine cradles me, holding me at all times. Holding you at all times.
Life is the mountain we climb. Sometimes the path is difficult, with fallen logs, large rocks, thick, ankle-deep mud, and deep, dark, crevices to overcome. Sometimes the path is smooth and clear, filled with green grass, soft wind, fragrant flowers, and expansive skies as we climb, climb, climb.
There are forests to walk through along the climb and sometimes we get lost. We take a turn and lose our way. We lose our footing and fall hard. Or we are pushed into an abyss and surrounded by darkness so black we fear we may never find our way out. The path may lead to fire flames consuming all we know, taking us down until we feel like ashes barely fluttering after an inferno.
We wait. Until we can look up at the sky, see the light, and with faith, with courage, with soul strength, rise. Cradled by the Divine. Transformed, like the phoenix, pure and powerful, regenerated, ready to continue on up the path ahead. We climb again. And we find the rivers. We are led, and we flow, and we know. Ah yes, this is the path for me. This is my purpose. Trusting, always trusting. Knowing, always knowing. Gratitude, always gratitude.
She doesn’t have to say. You know.
Written by Debbie Augenthaler
To explore Sarah Eve Cardell’s offerings, including her cacao ceremonies, visit her website www.sarahevecardell.com
I look down at the dying old man, laying in the hospital bed, sterile white sheets, sterile stainless steel machines just beyond.
I see his face clearly. Craggy, distinct features. Big nose, large, thick, dark eyebrows, blue eyes with long lashes. Thick skin with creases lining his face. No fragility about him.
He is not someone I know.
The doctor is holding his hand with tremendous compassion. Looking him right in the eye, just as every dying person deserves. Joining him in his last moment, connecting, saying you are not alone.
Holding his hand tightly, the doctor leans forward and asks, “What is the happiest moment you have had here on this earth?”
I listen to the old man’s vibrant voice. “When I saw my daughters being born. I created life, and I saw them come into this world. That was my happiest moment.”
He looked up at the doctor with awe, an expression of pure love and happiness emanating from inside, and said, “My second happiest moment is now – as I’m about to leave this earth and transition.”
As he was dying, saying these words, his face transformed. It became brighter, radiant. Filled with light. He looked up with beautiful clear blue eyes and said,
“I did it! I did it! I just died, and it’s beautiful!”
His smile filled the room.
The old man was full of joy, beaming. The doctor kept holding his hand while looking into his eyes.
It seemed odd. I thought, he just died, how can he still be speaking?
But enough of his spirit stayed to tell us how beautiful it was. He wanted us to see he was filled with joy, to know the place he had stepped into was filled with joy. I’ve never seen such an expression of pure radiance. Glowing with child-like amazement and happiness.
This was a dream. This wasn’t a dream.
I look around my bedroom, at the shades of blue and cream and calm. I miss him already.
He is not someone I know. He is everyone I know.
We are born with the divine in us. The moment of birth, of entry into this world, is an expression of the divine. The moment of death, of transition to the next, is an expression of the divine. And every single moment in between is an expression of the divine.
WE are expressions of the divine.
The old man’s joy over creating life, a metaphor for all we create, as humans, in this world. Creativity comes from the divine.
Two days after I had this dream, my friend DearJames sent me an email:
This came to me in my meditation, and I wanted to forward it to you for consideration and contemplation in your book:
“Death awaits no one. It is an inevitable illusion. When it is your time to transition from one realm to another, do so with love, excitement, joy, and anticipation in your heart. For all of life is eternal and ongoing. So it is said, so shall it be.”
After someone we love dies, we often receive meaningful signs.
Countless people have experienced this, and they find solace. Many people talk about being visited by their loved one to let them know they are okay. My grandmother always talked about my grandfather visiting her the night after he died. She told us how she woke up and he was standing at the foot of her bed to let her know he was okay. No one ever questioned this.
There are innumerable stories about visitations, either ones like my grandmother described or powerful visitation dreams. Many people who lost loved ones on 9/11 have talked or written extensively about this.
Many of my clients talk about these kinds of experiences and want to know if it’s normal. Of course it is, I tell them.
I encourage them, and you, to continue looking for signs as the months and years pass. If you’re open to receiving a sign you’ll often have one. Spirit lives on. The connected bond of love doesn’t end.
There are many ways we can continue to experience our connection. Through dreams, songs, scents, finding something special in odd places. In nature. Whenever I see a white butterfly I know it’s my Aunt reminding me of our always connection. Be open to signs and see what comes. You will know.
What are the signs you’ve received? Please share, I’d love to know.
Excerpt from You Are Not Alone by Debbie Augenthaler
The skill that saved me? It started with the love of books.
The anticipation each week of going to the library, knowing I’d be allowed to check out four new books. The excited thrill running through my body as I walked up and down the aisles, looking at all the choices. Needing only the plain vanilla colored card with my name on it as payment.
How can I narrow it down to only four? What if someone checks out another book that I may want for next week? What world do I want to explore this week? What dream do I want to dream? Who else do I want to be this week? I remember Louisa May Alcott and Little Women, read over and over as I found comfort in the story of a loving, close knit family.
Even knowing it was fiction still brought me comfort. I would lose myself in the story. Sometimes I’d imagine being Meg, the oldest, sometimes the fragile, gentle Beth. Never Jo, although I admired her in so many ways. But it seemed inconceivable that a girl like me, living the life I was living, could be as big and bold and outside of the box as Jo.
I also loved Charlotte’s Web. Little Wilbur’s guardian angel, the spider, Charlotte. Looking out for him with such love and protectiveness. Me wishing I had a guardian angel who’d look out for me too. Wondering if my angel was maybe hiding in a corner where I couldn’t see her, but was still spinning her magic webs. For me. Magic webs of life-saving words.
Then it was on to biographies. Revelation! Biographies showed me other lives, other ways of living, other ways of being in the world. Other than the constricting craziness of the box I lived in. Keeping me stuck like glue to the world of scary, the world of chaos, the world of no control. I read about people who had overcome all kinds of obstacles, terrible things happening, who grew up to be amazing people who did wonderful things. They were inventors, peace-makers, change-makers, philosophers whose thoughts changed the world, healers, lovers, artists, teachers, ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Writers.
And they all started off just as I, an infant coming into the world to find their place in it.
I read everywhere and anywhere. Constantly. I read until my mother made me turn out the lights. When she closed my bedroom door, I’d reach under the side of my bed next to the wall and find the flashlight.
When she said, “Debbie, put down those books and go outside and play with the other kids. It’s not healthy to read like you do,” I’d sneak books out under my clothes, slip out and find a spot under a tree. Far enough away where she couldn’t see me, but close enough that if she called out for me, I’d hear and come home.
It’s how I survived. Reading constantly. Learning there was a
nother world out there, many other worlds out there, helped me to escape the one I was living in. Those long hours that felt like minutes of being lost in books and words and other worlds and other lives was more than healthy for me. It saved me.
I’m excited to share the third in the Toolbox Series, videos offering easy and effective techniques to use when you’re feeling anxious or stressed.
This is called the Chest Rub. It’s a great calming and grounding technique and can be done anywhere, anytime you’re feeling anxious or stressed.
In the video I say, “Even though a part of me is feeling anxious, I know I’ll feel better”. Some people say, “Even though a part of me is feeling anxious, I completely accept myself” or “I completely love and accept myself.”
Try out different statements and see which one works best for you.
All of the techniques (or “tools”) in this video series are designed to help alleviate anxiety and calm you in the moment, but are not a replacement for therapy. If you are experiencing high anxiety or panic attacks often, I highly recommend finding a therapist who can help you.
If you have any comments, I’d love to hear from you. Please enjoy and share. I look forward to sharing more with you.
When I was 10 years old I opened the front door to my home and, in an instant, my whole world fell apart. In Laura Lentz’s online writing group, her prompts drawn from mythology stirred my imagination and led me to write the story of what happened in a mythological way.
It Has Been Said There Isn’t A Bottom
The ten year old girl with the long, long hair lived a seemingly perfectly ordinary little life. Her hair was so long she could sit on it. Her mom would wrap pink foam curlers around her long brown hair every night so she woke in the morning with perfect spirals of curls cascading down her back. She was her mother’s little doll, dressed in the frilliest, pinkest dresses her mom could find. Pretty little girl, pretty little curls, pretty little dresses, safely ensconced in her pretty little house with her parents, her brother, and her little dog Susie. To the outsider, she had a perfect little life. However, outsiders never see the inside of perfect lives, do they? For the truth was, the little girl with the perfect life was living in a dream. And no one could see that The Snake Of The Hundred Heads had put one of its heads in every corner of every crevice of the little girl’s life.
She walked home from school one day, long curls bouncing down her back, with a quite unexpected bad grade from math class. The little girl felt scared and sad because she knew her father would be very angry with her. This bad grade was one of the Snake’s heads. The need to be perfect in every way for her parents was another.
The heads had long strong fangs, carrying a poison so malevolent that when the Snake decided to bite, lightning strikes would flash, setting fire to anything it bit. Causing everything in its path to burn and crumble to dust. Then the Snake would exhale forcefully, creating a strong rumbling wind to blow and scatter the ashes far, far away.
Unbeknownst to the little girl living in a dream, the King of Serpents was hiding inside the drawer of the teacher who marked her math test with a bright red C. This serpent was the King of The Snake of The Hundred Heads. When the little girl finally reached the end of the long walk home The King, with his foul putrid breath, commanded his servant Snake with a fierce “BITE!” The little girl reluctantly opened the front door to her house, saw her mother crying, and learned her father had vanished.
With a slithering slimy silkened hiss, the Snake whispered to the little girl, “And so it begins.”
The fire from the lightning flashes burned and crumbled everything into ashes around the little girl, and the strong wind blew away all the safety, all the ordinary, all the pretty, all of anything the little girl had ever known. Leaving only a deep dark abyss, so deep the bottom couldn’t be seen.
It has been said there isn’t a bottom.
And the little girl was so terrified, so frightened she thought “here I cannot stand or lie still because if I do I will fall into the pit and never see the light again.”
As she stood near the doorway frozen in fear, a beautiful goddess emerged from the center of the pit, where some roots still clung to the sides. The glowing goddess surrounded the little girl with a brilliant white light, taking her to a safe place, guiding her little body and spirit forward and upwards. To the clouds. To the dreamy ethereal place of Dissociation, which gently held the little girl’s mind in a safe place the Snakes couldn’t reach.
And so the little girl barely remembers the year and a half that followed. And that is good. And so her spirit and mind remained intact, held by the great goddess until it was safe to return. And that is good.
The beautiful, glowing goddess lives in a radiant ancient white tree with deep, tenacious roots and strong branches. And the little girl knows the goddess is always there, firmly rooted and ready to save her yet again. And that is good.
Loss takes many shapes and forms. Death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a pet, illness, and on and on. It can be any loss you’re grieving or have grieved in the past. This story is about the loss of innocence, of childhood, and of abandonment. The enormity of what happened was overwhelming, causing me to go into shock. It was more than my brain could “process.”
We all have inherent “defense mechanisms”, they “kick” in to protect us when our psyches are overwhelmed. Dissociation is a brilliant way our brain instinctively helps us to survive events which feel overwhelming and unbearable. It allows us to “disconnect and detach” from a traumatic event until we are capable of “integrating” what happened.
Many of my clients and many people I know, including myself, cannot remember parts of their childhood or other times in their life. Or have vague, hazy recollections of the weeks and months following a traumatic loss of any kind. It’s okay. It’s a normal response. I like to think of dissociation as a gift from the universe, protecting us and helping us to survive until it feels safe to “come back in to our bodies.”
I’m excited to share the second in the Toolbox Series: videos offering easy and effective techniques to use when you’re feeling anxious or stressed. This is called the Butterfly Hug.
This method was created by EMDR therapists who worked with children in the aftermath a natural disaster in Mexico City in 1998. It’s a great calming and grounding technique and can be done anywhere, anytime you’re feeling anxious or stressed.
The Butterfly Hug is very effective for many people, but not everyone. If you feel it’s not right for you then please stop and take some deep breaths. You can always view my first video which offers another technique that may resonate with you. We’re all unique and what works for one person may not work for another.
These are tools designed to help alleviate anxiety and calm you in the moment, but are not a replacement for therapy. If you are experiencing anxiety or panic attacks on a regular basis I highly recommend finding a therapist who can help you.
Please enjoy, share and comment with your experience. I look forward to hearing from you.
Toolbox Series 1: A Simple Calming Technique to Use When You’re Feeling Anxious, Stressed, or Overwhelmed.
I am honored and excited to welcome you to the Toolbox Series. This is the first in a series of videos for anxiety, stress, and overwhelm.
Who hasn’t felt this way? The techniques I’ll be showing you are easy, simple, and effective. They have helped my clients and they can help you too.
This first video is the Alternate Hand Clasp. I recommend doing it for a round of 10 or 15 times at first to build a “body memory.” In the video, I use a count of 5 for the breathing, but use what count feels right for you. This simple, easy-to-follow video will equip you with a tool you can use discreetly, anywhere: the office, at home, on the subway. It will help to reduce anxiety and connect you with your breath in just a couple of minutes.
Please share and comment with your experience. I look forward to sharing more with you.