We used to spend Friday nights together telling each other stories. Each story was like a little dose of soul medicine, a peek into each others hearts, a heart opening, a deeper moment of connection. One of my favorite stories that he told one of those sweet Friday nights across the dining room table where he held my hands as I listened to his voice and watched his eyes sparkle, in the little house in the woods where he lived was what I now call, "How'd you get here." It was a story that prompted a telling of what brought you to this moment. Right now.
He and I hadn't see each other in two years. He'd asked me where I'd been and reached for my hands across the table, his eyes sparkling just the way I remembered.
"A lot of places." I said.
A lovely villa at the edge of a rice paddy in Bali, an artsy wooded, waterfront compound on the Eastern Shore, a sweet little cottage surrounded by massive trees on a tiny island off the coast of Seattle, a real tipi in the desert of Sante Fe, New Mexico, a four hundred year old house full of artifacts and love stories on Amelia Island and countless hours cozied up on the couch of Hope House.
All retreats. For an entire year. A year of being well taken care of. All with the purpose of healing. Healing something I didn't understand needed healing until the first layer was peeled back at the house with the banner in in the kitchen that said, "hope house," on a nondescript tree lined street in Silver Spring, Maryland with a deeply spiritual woman willing to create the space I needed to unburden my soul and find my way, my quest, create my path forward in love and deep abiding happiness.
Beginning in 2011, we'd began experiencing a series of unfortunate events that included deaths of two young men I loved like my own children and were my son's best friends, a divorce from a dysfunctional marriage, a wicked battle with addiction to prescription drugs with one of my children following the trauma of the above deaths, my daughters best friend being diagnosed & treated for brain cancer (gratefully she's well and in remission now), my mother dying from the effects of alcoholism and addiction, my father dying 3 months later after a motorcycle accident, a failed catering business, and the broken heart of confusing love story.
Through it all I tried to keep my head high, my heart bright and continued to rise each day with happiness and love, to find something beautiful in every day, to exude peace. I just kept believing that things would get better and better.
After my parents died I felt unmoored. The disruption to our lives was so intense and addiction was kicking my ass. I needed grounding. I needed peace. I needed to stay strong for my daughters. I felt very alone. Things were hard but I felt like I was being called to something. That I had a purpose for all this feeling.
I've always been a Pollyana, look on the bright side, positive vibe type person. "You have an extraordinary belief system." someone said to me once. It's true. I do. I am a dreamer. A hoper. A believer. I have faith that we will make it through hardship, that we can recover, that we have a choice in how we go through life and we can get better. I am always looking for the fun, the happy, the goodness, the silly side. I believe in our potential to be the best version of ourselves. I believe our thoughts and our belief systems are powerful in creating the kind of life we desire.
I took a year and invested in myself, my heart, my soul and ultimately my healing. Mind, Body, Spirit. For an entire year I was my own experiment, my own devotion. As each retreat unfolded I began to understand that I was experiencing all of this to share it someday with others. That I was being prepared, led, shown, given these stories and experiences so that I would know how to create the space for others to feel the effects of retreats and to be an example of the effect of retreats not only on the individuals but the ripple effect on children, on families, on relationships, on communities and on our world. The most powerful ripple effect has been the recovery of my child from addiction.
I spent a year with spiritual coaches, mentors, shamans, Balinese Healers, Mayan healers, acupuncturists, meditation guides, massage therapists, yogi's and bodyworkers.
"Healing is everything." He said after he'd asked me how I was feeling and I said "I feel whole. Like there isn't an empty space, or a hole, or a feeling of being alone anymore."
"What are you doing now?" he asked and I smiled with excitement, my own eyes sparkling. "Retreats" I said.
"Sharing what I've learned. Opening hearts. Facilitating healing. Teaching people about love. Having a LoveFest."
You can join us here for our first LoveFest Day Retreat on Saturday, February 11th. It's going to be a heart opening, soul touching, mojo rising experience with storytelling, yoga, music, & delicious food. A mind, body, spirit retreat.
You're invited to RETREAT with me and my talented team of healers, lovers, caregivers, fun-makers, adventure guides, HERE
I can't wait to hear you story.
Love and Magic,
After I’d dried my tears, and blown my nose 1000 times. We settled on her bed like sisters do, one at each end, facing each other. I must have been oozing expectation. I had to have been. I was looking for the secrets to unlocking my heart, to drawing in the kind of work, love, relationships, people that I desired to know, to learn from, to do big things with. I wanted to know what “my thing” was. I came here to find out. I sat there thinking Dear God please let her see me. The me that I can’t see. The one that is calling out from somewhere deep inside.
I begin to really notice her. Her soft face without lines, her hair pulled back. She was soft and wore soft clothes. She oozes warmth. Black leggings, a sweater she’d wrapped around herself like a blanket. She gathered her knees in and leaned back into the frame at the end of the bed. I leaned forward towards her, extra expectant, waiting for instructions.
“Tell me more,” she says gently.
I begin to open up a little and tell her about recent bits of my life, some of my divorce story that story. My grief. This bag of grief that I am hauling around that is so damn heavy. On the inside I am desperate for relief. I don’t say this. She just listened and listened as I made some kind of word salad of what’s been going on for the last decade or so, trying not to think about the fact that I didn’t know her at all. Hoping she is not judging me. Hoping that I don’t sound silly or scattered or ridiculous. I try to say what I think she needs to hear to find the sore spots on my heart.
I tell her about me. My life is pretty good, I have my children, a nice home, good friends. I’ve created my own work. I volunteer. I enjoy a lot about my life, but I felt like I was building this façade. Everything looked good on the outside but on the inside I was suffering situations that caused great discomfort and I wasn’t feeling how I craved feeling. I told her how I used to joke with my close friend about wearing an “f” for fake necklace because it all looked so good, so right on the outside but inside it was different. Unsure, shaky, bound up. Numb.
I told her I’d been searching for more of what felt real. I wanted to know that others could feel me too. I wanted to feel gentle. I’d been tough, strong, hard even. I wanted to be soft and I wanted to feel everything.
In the midst of voicing my desire to be real and to feel it all, she blurted out, “What about sex?”
“I love it.” I say immediately and with enthusiasm. “Why?” If I could do that one eyebrow thing, I would have. Instead I am just smiling and I can feel my eyes sparkling. I am a sensual girl, I embrace the intimacy, the thrill, the feelings and emotions. The connection. I am wondering what bearing it has right now.
“Well, you are telling me all these hard, sad things, and it seems like this should be about grief, but it feels like something else. Something else there. Something deep. Alive. And sometimes desire is that thing that we hide or hold back because the most alive parts of us aren’t allowed. And those things, like the body, like desire, are…I don’t know, sometimes, they are just the place where the answers come.”
“I’ve always loved it. Enjoyed it, like a guy, I guess. That’s not always so acceptable for a woman. I’ve always felt like people should stop acting like its something shameful when it’s something really delicious and beautiful and real.”
It’s only been an hour and she’s pulled two of my threads, my strong desire for pleasure, intimacy and love but not feeling like my feelings around it are widely acceptable and a deep grief in my heart.
“Are you ready for a story?” She asked. Softening even more.
She handed me a little gold gossamer pouch that is sitting by a candle burning on the little table next to the bed. Inside there were tiny parchment scrolls with handwritten titles of stories on the them.
“When I was in Africa, I sat with women while they told their stories. It is how tribal women connect and share their wisdom. We will use the stories to guide us.” She said. “Our stories will be our medicine. Each time we feel its time to take something in, you can reach for a story.”
I didn’t know it then but she would end up telling me hundreds of stories over the course of a year. She’d grown up in a very religious family environment, so sometimes they were stories from the bible, sometimes they were stories of goddesses, sometimes personal stories with friends and sometimes those stories were intimate. Dosed out as needed. Sometimes a magical spoonful sometimes an IV infusion. Her vast library of stories never ceased to impress, delight and soothe me.
“Choose one.” She said.
I reached in and pulled out the delicate little swirl of paper, unfurling it I read out loud,
“If I could just share everything that happened to me. Everything would be okay.”
Her smile widens, her eyes are misty. “Oh” and puts her hands on her heart. “Yes. That one.” She closed her eyes, took a long deep breath and began to tell me a story about sharing your heart, your grief, your soul story with someone, as long as it took to tell it without interruption, without judgment, without it being fixed, questioned or rushed. Just being heard, completely and the love that grows from that moment.
I sat back and settled into the pillows, letting go a little, relaxing slightly, releasing some of the tension in my shoulders and her sweet little angel of a dog, Pip settled into my lap. I watched intently and listened mesmerized as she told a story that crossed the globe. Enchanted by her voice, her deep faith, her unwavering trust, her massive courage, her wide open, passionate heart.
You can listen to the story that cracked a heart wide open here.
When the she was finished, she asked me in her melodious, whispery voice, “
“Are you ready for Big Love?”
“There’s the kind of love you can get from a partner or a lover, but there’s an even bigger Love. You know what I mean? Love so big your heart can barely bear it. I think that’s the one we are all craving. And the one we have to have.”
Tears burn the backs of my eyes. Yes. Yes. Yes. I can feel my heart radiating its own Yes.
I know deep in my bones that this is no ordinary love she is speaking of. No calm, quiet, comfortable kind of love. This is a FORCE. That is exactly the kind of love my body, my heart, my soul is burning for.
I want THAT.
Don’t we all want BIG love for crying out loud?
Who really even knows what it is? What it really feels like?
Would we even recognize it if it was right in front of us kissing our faces?
These are the thoughts running through my brain.
“I will show you how to open to that kind of love then.” She says.
“The kind of love that everything that is possible flows from.”
“Thank God.” I think. “I am exactly where I am supposed to be.”
And then I think, I am not the only one who should be here. I do a running list of people I know who could benefit from an experience like this and I begin to invite them in my head until she sees me mentally writing invitations to this sanctuary and brings me back to the now by reminding me why I am here, and who this particular moment is for.
Wishing you all BIG LOVE and hearts cracked open to receive it.
Big Squeezy hug!
Add your comments below and to get love taps from Shelly now and then, receive information on Path of Devotion Retreats and Events add your email at the right.
Photo Credit : Jen Lemen
Heart photo: internet unknown
“I am my father’s daughter. I have my grandma’s eyes. I am the product of such sacrifice. I am the accumulation of the dreams of generations and their stories live in me like holy water. I am my father’s daughter.” – Jewel
It was my dad’s birthday. January 13th, this year. My father died a year and a half ago, ten days after a motorcycle accident. The accident exactly 3 months after my mother died of lung cancer, a side effect of a life long addiction.
I’d created a little nest with my journals and my Mac, all ready to write the story, in a bed in a brightly decorated room at the top of a 400 year old home just off the Intercostal waterway in Florida. I’d made little nests like this in different parts of the country and in Bali this year, documenting my experiences while peeling back the layers of my soul.
Each room in this house has a personality and story all it own. A certain way of being that invites you to wander about and touch each little detail on every single surface and open every drawer to see what mysteries are inside. “An accumulation of generations.” (I documented my stay here on Instagram)
There is a wall on the second floor hall that is covered in pictures of a mother and her son. The images speak of deep love, sweetness, hope, truth, the tenderness of youth, the bond between mother and child. It feels appropriate, this collage of motherhood. I’ve come here to write a story about a year that profoundly changed my life, which in turn gave me the courage and the strength to do something to deeply change the lives of my son’s and my daughters.
I’m writing in honor of my dad and the accumulation of dreams of generations that were stymied, lost, crushed due to addiction to drugs and or alcohol. I am writing in honor of my mother who didn’t have the support she needed to battle addiction and live life in recovery because we didn’t understand. The problem is, I can’t get started. I am feeling stymied, blocked at the gate and very emotional. I came here to write a book but I just can’t.
A year ago, that’s exactly how I felt. Stymied, lost, crushed. I also felt achingly alone. I rose everyday with the intention of creating light, bringing joy, caring for my family, feeling solid good, but there was a darkness at work in my life.
Almost exactly a year ago, I found myself in another nest, in a room, in a warm cozy home just on the edge of downtown Silver Spring with a woman I had only spoken to once over the phone. There were candles, and photos of women with well-worn hands from faraway places she had been. There were beads, altars, bits of nature scattered about, a banner strung in the window read “Hope House.”
I’d come because she had said, “Every single person has a different piece of magic.”
I’d come because she had said, “The people that will come are ready to pull their own triggers. Their whole lives have unfolded to this moment and they know that this is the next step.”
I’d come because she said she could help me find the switch that turned on my heart.
I’d signed up for a retreat with fellow authors published by the same independent publishing company to help get through barriers to our best most heart driven work.
I’d come because on the conference call about the retreat, I’d resonated so deeply with the things she’d said.
I’d come because she said she could help me truly connect with my heart, the deepest part of me and help me find that which would align me for a deeper purpose.
I’d come because when we finally spoke just with each other on the phone, she said, we would spend the time being extraordinarily present with each other, eating, walking and listening to stories. She would pray to remove anything that will block our joy.
I’d come because she said she would sister me. I’d come because I wanted to get somewhere that I could not reach on my own. I needed help.
I’d come because I felt so deeply alone. A starving empty space so much a part of me that I felt people might actually be able to see “ALONE” tattooed on my face in all caps. And because I knew I was meant for something bigger than myself but I couldn’t get past the vast dark place screaming “you’re alone.”
In the end, the retreat that was for the authors fell apart and it was just she and I and three days to do a kind of open heart surgery to dissect my wounds, repair the damage and relight my fire.
I’d come because she had said. “It is a miracle that we have been matched up.”
As I drove to her house I listened to the audio she sent to accompany me on my ride there. She said,
“I want to you to take a minute to take a deep breath, put your hand on your heart, breathe in and breathe out. Let your breath be your comfort, your possibility. So many things have happened to make this day possible. So many adventures, so many journeys, so many losses. So many impossible painful, joyful, loving things. All of things had to go before in order for our paths to cross. And for that I am deeply grateful. As you drive I want you to look around, notice the sky. Look at your hands on the steering wheel, notice your skin, notice if your belly feels soft or if it feels tight and just be with whatever is.
You could be tempted today to think there is something outside of yourself that is needed. That there is something external to you that is hidden, that there is a secret, a plan or an answer that you do not possess and you could be tempted with the notion that someone could give it to you or you could see it at a distance and take it, but all of my guidance, my whole being is saying to me today that all of those secrets and all of that treasure is locked right now inside your own heart. Our task today is to enter into a womb like space of gentleness, of love, of nurture, of kindness, so that, that life in you, that beating heart in you can be developed and nurtured and held very tenderly, much like we held our babies in our wombs until its time for that heart to break open and share all of what has been locked inside with the world.
Shelly, you are loved and you are love. It is my honor to be in a space of love with you. It is humbling because I am just a woman like you are, but it is also thrilling because I know that I’ve come a long distance through many things in order to be here today with you. For that I am deeply, deeply grateful.”
When I arrived at her little city house with the wide front porch and the wild backyard, she came outside to greet me with a whole hearted hug and a generous, sing song, “Hi.” We hugged and hugged some more, like long lost soul sisters. She had deep brown eyes that sparkled when she smiled, smooth warm skin with beautiful cheekbones and a wide full mouth, dressed head to toe in black with a pair of cowboy boots on her feet, she looked like some kind of magical, mystical dream sister.
I immediately felt both ease and enthusiasm. I also remember feeling kind of lucky to be here. I’d brought with me a giant suitcase of hope. Hope that by committing to this weekend of soul searching and spirit healing that I would come out of it feeling something opposite of what I was feeling at the time, that I could quiet the demons in my mind and the pain in my heart and could get on with my life as a spiritual, peaceful, generous mother, woman, sister, friend, lover, human. I was SO ready.
“Let’s walk first,” she said, so we gathered up our coats and went for a long chilly walk. We stayed arm in arm, hip to hip like old friends. She regaled me with her backstory, the one that led us to this moment. I listened with both awe and admiration for the path she had taken to get here. It was tricky, far, wild and brave. I only knew what I’d gathered from the first initial phone call. I didn’t Facebook stalk her or Google her or ask anyone about her before meeting with her. I wanted to come in completely pure.
We circled back to her house on the little hill, when she said, go ahead and come in through the side door, down into the basement, I hesitated for millisecond thinking, “No one knows where I am.” The desire to connect with someone on this level was stronger than any fear I might have of permanently disappearing and I was desperate to stop the pain I was feeling, the grief, and the pull on my bright energy. I felt like this was some kind of Divine Intervention and I chose to trust her and surrender myself to whatever happened next.
I descended the stairs into the basement layered with old, rarely used, forgotten things. I carried my bag into a room that was glowing with warmth. It felt like a cozy cave. Candles flickered; there were cozy blankets, soft places to relax and a feeling of deep comfort. “We will spend our time together here,” she said.
I took off my shoes, sat down in my typical cross legged, yoga, Budda pose and gazed at the room, at her, took a deep breath and thought, “Ready. “
“I’m like a surgeon,” she said. “We will pull apart the threads check them for damage. We will discard what is no longer needed and alchemize the rest into gold.”
She settled in across from me and said, “Tell me everything,”
I didn’t know where to start so I said,
“My parents died.” And the floodgates opened.
She wrapped her arms around me and said.
“It’s ok to cry. “
“And there is a guy and a situation that truly broke my heart.”
“Hmmmmm.” She just murmured like she understood that kind of pain. No words. Just a gentle “hmmmm”
And again she said, “I’ts ok to cry”
And so I did.
And when I’d cried through a roll of toilet paper, I sat up and looked her straight in the eye and said, “I don’t want this to be about a boy.”
As much as I desired partnership and relationship, there was no way I was going to devote these three days to crying over a guy when I knew there was a much bigger picture that I was being called to. Partnership could wait. I wanted to get to the bottom of my own heart.
This was about me. For me. Period.
This is the rich, magical, emotional, transformational, story of Recovering Truth.
You’re invited to follow along. I’ll be posting the story as it unfolded right here, maybe someday it will become a book, but for now, I am sharing it this way.
Family Recovery Advocate
I serve women seeking healing and transformation.
I serve people who have been impacted by addiction recover their lives.