The voice of my higher self is saying “Remember all those times you thought you might not make it through and if you did, you were going to share the wisdom you gained from the experience? You heard my whisper, in those moments of despair and dark suffering, and knew others could benefit from it. Your suffering could help others get through theirs, knowing they are not alone. Your recovery of a full life could give them hope.”
The voice of my inner critic, my long-time and nearly constant companion (the one more familiar to me) is saying “fuck that shit. You will be torn to shreds. It’s safer to keep hiding.”
They are both right. My moment to moment goal for several years now has been to listen to my higher self more than the inner critic. That practice has allowed her voice to get stronger and more clear. It’s time. It’s time to start, imperfectly. It will be messy, it may be in fits and starts, and I will stop hiding.
For my entire life, my needs came last. I was constantly stressed out. For most of my childhood I lived an off-grid, subsistence lifestyle in Alaska. I have survived many traumas that remained unprocessed for a long time. I had been a wife for 15 years, a small business owner, office manager and executive assistant for an abusive boss, and a Girl Scout Troop leader. I was a devoted mom (still am. Love you Ainsley!). I ignored my body’s needs repeatedly because I never “had time” to take care of myself. I had been getting progressively sicker over the years. I was in constant pain, exhausted, and on many medications that did their own damage over the long term. The primary diagnoses I received were Rheumatoid Arthritis, hypothyroid, adrenal burnout, gut dysbiosis, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, candida, major depressive disorder, PTSD, and anxiety disorder. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few. I believed my doctors when they assured me that I was going to be 30 pounds overweight, sick, in constant pain, anxious, depressed, and medicated for my whole life.
I have come to believe that if I had stayed on the conventional medical path, I would be fully disabled or dead. Instead, I forged my own path. I did my own research. I read books written by a plethora of doctors. I listened to hundreds of hours of audiobooks and podcasts. I listened carefully to the stories of other wellness warriors. I also learned how to stand up for myself. Over and over and over again, as nearly every family member and friend questioned me because they could not understand what I was doing, I had to firmly and lovingly tell them I was doing what was best for me. It was profoundly lonely. At the same time, I was wrapping my head around the fact that I was divorced and the life I thought I was going to be living was over.
August 4, 2016
I had just left my doctor’s office. I was sitting on the curb by my car trying to breathe, and reminding myself to feel the warm sun on my skin and the breeze as it gently caressed me. Just breathe and dial the phone. “Hi Erin, it’s Heather. I’m sorry but my doctor says I have to go on full medical leave right away. He says 6 weeks for now, but we’ll revisit it in a month and see what the timeline looks like then. The good news is if I go now I am more likely to be back in full swing of things before football watch party season.” After working out a few more details with my boss, I ended the call, hung my head between my knees and cried. I loved my job. I had worked hard to earn it and it was fun. Most of my time was spent planning events that allowed the alumni of a popular state school to reconnect with each other and the university that they loved. I had just come home from a week-long training in Boston and had so many ideas to implement. All I could muster the energy to do in that moment was to remind myself that once I got home I could go straight to bed for a few hours.
Now I no longer had to try to figure out how to get the essential aspects of my job done. I had fully surrendered it to my team. It’s only for now, right? I asked myself. I’d be back in 6 weeks for sure with a bounce in my step, a clear head and energy to last all day. Maybe 2 months, tops. Being on medical leave I’d have all the time necessary to eat super well, sleep all I needed, and get caught up on the pieces of my life that had fallen to shit over the past year. I could relax because I’d continue to get a full paycheck until early October. “This is rock bottom, so it was up from here, right?” I assured myself. As I write this and remember myself in those moments I feel so much compassion and also smug big sister-ness. “Oh honey, it’s good you don’t know what’s coming. You think this is rock bottom? Shit. We’re going to hit rock bottom over and over for the next couple of years. If you knew half of the darkness coming your way you would be tempted to give up now. But don’t worry. I got you.”
I never returned to that job. However, the way things worked out, I was able to keep my excellent health benefits for a year. I worked closely with a stellar acupuncturist and an amazing naturopath. I spent the bulk of my time following my intuition toward whatever healing modality I most needed in the moment. The menu was long because what helped me claw my way through the day changed frequently. When my benefits ended, my health was stable enough that while I still had lots of healing to do, I was able to continue on my own without regular medical care.
Dark Night of the Soul
From 2016 through 2017, it was dark. It was hard. I cried a great deal. I felt hopeless often. I could not safely drive for most of it. I was unable to comprehend anything I tried to read above an elementary reading level so I switched to audiobooks, podcasts, documentaries, and YouTube videos. I persisted. I evolved. I healed. I made changes and shifts in every aspect of my life that seemed small at the time, but they added up to significant change. Somehow I made enough money through it all to support myself, my daughter, and my parasitic boyfriend.
It’s insane the amount of trial and tribulation I packed into that year. I had so many damn layers to burn away that I went big and I went hard. In our last visit, my naturopath cautioned me to keep my stress to a minimum. No major life changes for a while so my adrenals could continue to heal. “Don’t worry, I will be careful!” I assured her. I figured it could not possibly get more stressful than the past few years had been. Now I know I had merely been in training for what was to come.
October – December of 2017 were the darkest and most stressful months of my life. I kept reminding myself that every lesson I had ever learned was in service to helping me survive it. In late September the boyfriend moved out and I went through a fairly normal and healthy grieving process. In October I filed for bankruptcy. On November 1st, my daughter hit her head. It was no big deal at first. Within two weeks it became a very big deal. She could not go back to school and was either asleep or in the midst of a full-blown panic attack nearly all the time. She started sleeping with me because she did not feel safe in her bedroom. I had to go into full research mode again, this time, to help my daughter. Eventually I found a naturopath that had also had a head injury, so she understood my daughter’s experience better than anyone we had talked to. It’s been an incredible odyssey and has affected every aspect of our lives. She is resilient and is showing progress daily.
Also in November, someone near and dear to me found herself on the brink of pulling the trigger of the gun to her head while laying in her bathtub (to minimize the mess of course). I am thankful her higher self stepped forward in that moment, put the gun down, and called 911. The next day all the key family members and friends knew what had happened and we circled the wagons around her as she recovered from the scare.
I cut my ex-boyfriend out of my life altogether in mid-November when I had the full realization of how abusive and damaging his presence was in my life. I had a great deal to process and was too ashamed to tell anyone about it except for my therapist. I was ride-share driving about 30 hours a week. I did a shit ton of screaming in my car, yelling expletives and hateful zingers at him anytime I was alone. I would cry and scream between rides, wipe my face, blow my nose and shake it off as I pulled up to my next rider, hoping they wouldn’t notice my puffy eyes. I was still hiding.
Eventually, I came to realize that he had given me a gift. Through facing the reality that I’d allowed myself to stay in an emotionally abusive relationship, I was able to admit that it had been a clear indication of how little I liked or trusted myself. The gift he gave me was a recognition that my intuition was completely spot on. All the time. If I’d listened instead of ignored it, I would have saved myself a great deal of pain. Without that experience, I don’t know how long it would have taken for me to develop the loving and trusting relationship with myself and my intuition.
Throughout that fall and winter my body physically shook nearly every waking moment. It started at a Solsara Immersion over Labor Day weekend. I’m not sure if it was a lifetime of trauma release or if it was out of control kundalini energy coursing through my body. I didn’t know that shaking was a natural way to release stuck emotions, memories, trauma, and stagnant energy. I often joked that I was going to have fabulous abs since I was doing hundreds of involuntary lower ab contractions per day. Sometimes the rest of my body would get in on the fun and I would contort and move whatever way my muscles were forcing me to. My daughter once asked if it was okay to laugh at me (she didn’t want to be mean). She couldn’t help it. I looked like a terrible mime. I told her I’d much rather we laugh together about it than pretend it wasn’t happening. I put on music and contorted and spasmed in a parody of dance while she moved gracefully alongside me.
On New Years Eve 2017 I listened to a meditation called “Fuck it and Let Shit Go” repeatedly until I had cried and journaled and shook as much hate, anger, and disappointment out as I could. I was leaving the fucking dumpster fire that was 2017 behind me. I was lightening the the emotional load.
Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.
In January 2018 things started to consistently get better. Slowly but surely, my awareness of the beauty that existed in my daily life started to become more clear.
I started working with a health coach. She was fabulous and I had wished I found her sooner. Her program was exactly what I needed about a year earlier and working with her helped me make quicker progress towards feeling confident that I was in full remission from all of the illness labels. It was also nice to have someone support me as I put myself through a particularly harsh de-worming process. As the worms died, they fought hard. They released more old wounds, traumas, and bullshit stories that had been stored deeply in my cells. It’s like the worst case of the flu you’ve ever had mixed with hard core emotional processing all at once. I was detoxing in every area of my life!
Also in January, I participated in the first iteration of Sophia’s 5-day Intimacy Challenge and subsequently, the Pleasure & Intimacy Immersion. A few months later, I signed up for the Immersion a second time. I was committed to loving myself! She taught me how to get in touch with my body from a feeling perspective. It wasn’t just about healing or fixing myself. It was about feeling and accepting what is. Prior to this, I recognized that the illness and pain present in my body was a reflection of my self-talk and choices I made. I knew how to support my body in healing through food, movement, and rest. However I was not yet in touch with how my emotions and sensations also had wisdom to share and it was challenging to recognize and name them. I literally did not know what she was talking about most of the time. What do you feel in you body? she would ask. I have no fucking clue and what does that mean? I would think. I remember in the first session she lead us through an exercise and said something like “okay, feel into your yoni. Breathe. Feel the walls of your yoni expanding…” I had no. fucking. idea. how the hell I was supposed to do that. Do a Kegel? No, that’s contracting those muscles. Expand them? I was clueless. I kept trying. After the first immersion, I would go back and listen to the session recordings and more wisdom would emerge as I experienced the practices within my life.
She quickly brought to my attention how much I hated and feared men and had actively been avoiding any contact with them for a long time. Even my ride-share riders were suspect. My entire body tensed up every time a man got in the car. Sophia challenged me to allow myself to be more open to them. Welcome them. Talk to them. Slowly and consistently I shifted my perception of men. I practiced being in my body and present to my own experience while also interacting with my riders. I started to have amazing, profound conversations regularly. A North Korean man told me he would never forget the nighttime visit to the Rose Garden en route to his hotel so he could see the view and smell the roses. He said it was the last night of his trip in America and it had been the highlight. I introduced a Middle Eastern man to the Northern Lights and he assured me he would see them someday, even though he had never heard of them until we talked about my childhood in Alaska. A woman, on her way to work for the first time since the sudden death of her husband, thanked me for the shift in perspective she experienced on the 15 minute trip from home. As she shut the door, she stood tall, put her shoulders back, and confidently declared, “I CAN do this!”.
Over time, the experiences and intimacy I was having with my riders became a spiritual practice. As I prepared to drive each day I would pray, “Angels, guides, guardians and enlightened beings, please match me with kind, generous, interesting riders and lucrative and safe rides.” Then, as I welcomed each rider into the car I would wonder what gift the universe had brought me in the shape of this new single-serving friend. What mirror would they hold up for me? What profound insight would we share that would have me shaking my head in wonder or laughing out loud at the joy of connection with another human being?
I have been leaning into my personal development since at least 2014. From 2017 up until now, I have ramped up my efforts significantly. In that time I have attended 6 weekend retreats, participated in several 2 to 6 month coaching programs, practiced transcendental meditation, listened to thousands of hours of books on buddhism, neurobiology, neural recovery and development, trauma, autobiographies, functional medicine, spirituality, and many other approaches to personal development. I have worked with a therapist specializing in Hakomi and attachment work approaches. I have had many reiki sessions and went to quite a few sound baths. I completed the Artist’s Way program with a group of women and read Playing Big. I have discovered ecstatic dance, platonic snuggling, women’s circles, and I have deepened my love affair with yoga. As a result, I have made a bunch of new genuine friends. Making friends was not easy for me in the past. Trusting was not easy.
February 2019. In many ways my life is the same as it was a year ago and it is profoundly different. I am an entrepreneur embarking on a great adventure with my business partner and dear friend, Sophia. My daughter is making consistent and significant progress daily. I feel ALL the feelings. The old Heather would say I’m failing because my life doesn’t appear “normal”. However, by my new definition of success, I am absofuckinglutely winning at life. I am fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been. I spend the majority of my time feeling grateful, joyful, and in love with my experiences. I have regular platonic snuggle dates scheduled with incredible men who treat me very well! In the Fall 2018, Sophia and I dreamed of being on a beach somewhere working. A few short months later, we booked our working vacation to Costa Rica (it was amazing, by the way). I am living the full catastrophe that is my life and I am excited to see what each day brings.
Jon Kabat-Zinn (the author of Full Catastrophe Living and the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction) defines full catastrophe living as:
“Facing the full catastrophe means finding and coming to terms with what is most human in ourselves. Catastrophe here does not mean disaster. Rather it means the poignant enormity of our life experience. It’s the nature of the human condition to encounter uncertainty, stress, pain, loss, grief, sadness and also a tremendous potential for joy, connection, love, affiliation. It’s everything. And the question is, can we love it, can we live inside of it in ways that actually enliven us and allow us to be fully human?”
This is exactly what I’m exploring now. My name is Heather Campbell and I am a Radical Pleasurist. Would you like to be one too? Download the EPIC DIY GUIDE to being a RADICAL PLEASURIST and join the movement!