“How Do You Be Real? She asked. Her eyes were wide.
And she said it again with emphasis.
“How do you do THAT? Be REAL?” She was serious.
We were surrounded by women at a HubDot storytelling/networking event in the Athleta store. Hundreds of women had come to hear other women tell a personal story relating to “The Art of You” of creation, personal growth, commitment, transformation, inner power and or inspiration and to connect with each other on a deeper level other than, “Hi my name is Shelly. What do you do?”
I’d just told my story about creating a life around love and truth and was feeling that giddy, high, energetic feeling I get after being on a stage with a microphone in my hand. Her question took me by surprise. I was honored that she’d sought me out. What shook me though, was that, while I’d ended my story with a statement about a personal decision to live my life as a real woman, I didn’t have an answer for her question in that moment that felt REAL. I can’t even remember now what I’d said to her.
The truth is I didn’t feel totally real in that moment. I felt a little like an actor might feel and it felt like an act because what was going on inside wasn’t being reflected on the outside. In that moment, I was two women. The one who bravely chose to follow her heart and do what ever it took to bring her best self forward and the one who was still suffering a dark anonymous curse in her life. That morning I’d been faced with the pain my two daughters were suffering under the conditions of active addiction in our house and that evening I was standing on a stage telling all these amazing, engaging, women how my spiritual journey was transforming me into a real heart felt woman.
That morning I’d woken up on the Eastern Shore in a cozy little nest of a retreat house on a property owned by creative, healing people. We’d spent the weekend in nature, exploring, playing, laughing, resting, creating, eating, and telling stories with my spiritual guide Jen and her children. We’d gone swimming in the bay, had a fire with smores, hung out in the hammock and swayed in the breeze together.
I’d gotten up early like I always do, done my morning rituals; candles, prayers, coffee making and gratitude journaling, then gone out on the deck off the bedroom overlooking the Chesapeake Bay and told my one minute story about transformation to the birds and the trees. I practiced until I heard Jen come in the house with breakfast.
She and I sat at the table and talked about nothing and everything until the girls woke up. Over breakfast we’d did a little “oatmeal meditation” and talked about summer plans. The question we were meditating on was, “How do you want to feel this summer?” That simple question and what transpired after felt like a peak into their hearts and seeing bruises and tears forming. It was an uncomfortable and emotional moment but a moment that changed everything. My daughter’s honest reveal of their feelings was a rally call to my own heart, the heart of a girl who grew up in a addicted environment. Their call was barely a squeak, but the gates opened up and they told the truth without holding back. They were very real. I was very moved.
I’ve wanted to discuss that woman’s question with her ever since. I haven’t stopped considering it. Yesterday as I was walking the dog, my answer rose up very clearly, the way my answers do when I am outside or intentionally disconnected.
For the first time in my life, I do not have active addiction in my house. I am not on high alert. I am not clenched waiting for the next “episode,” or the next bomb to drop. There are no eggshells to tiptoe around. I am not operating in a state of confusion. My emotional environment is peaceful. The internal chaos quiet.
I am not numb.
I’ve worked hard on my heart and soul. Internally and externally I’ve been creating an environment of comfort and calm but where feelings are allowed. All of them.
Happy, Sad, Joy, Anger, Frustration, Cheerfulness, Giddiness, Enthusiasm, Sorrow, every single one. And no feeling is too big for anyone to witness, bear, comfort or celebrate. No one has to hold it in. It’s all welcome.
Six years ago, I realized just how numb I’d become and how I’d been a part of the great numb out. My life, while full of many things I am deeply grateful for like my children, my family, my friendships and relationships with people in and around the community, also felt like trapped, confused, sometimes it felt like an act, it felt like half hearted. There was a deep sad. A dark, uncomfortable, persistent sense of alone. Under great emotional pressure, I took a giant leap for my heart and began to do what I had to do to find my real emotions, my real feelings, my true heart desires that were frozen by the effects of generations of addiction and substance abuse. I consciously chose to stir up the numb and pained parts of my heart and soul and began to examine my relationships and the depth of my connections and experiences.
I chose to really FEEL.
No matter what. Pain or Pleasure. Joy or Sorrow. High or low. I chose to feel my way through with an open, soft, loving heart. It’s taken a lot of practice and emotional work. It’s been worth every single tear, sob, heartbreak, and growing pain because with every single feeling of discomfort there has been an equally magical opposite feeling on the other side.
I chose to limit anything that numbed my body, my senses, my mind or my heart, and then I chose to abstain from anything that altered my senses. I wanted to feel with my heart, with my body and with my soul. I wanted others to feel the true essence of me, especially my children. Because the only way I can tell if something or someone is really, real is if I am awake, alive and can FEEL it.
As I walked my dog, yesterday morning, I realized I was feeling IT in my body, in my heart and in my soul. Real.
To the woman at the Hub Dot event at the Athleta store at Reston Town Center who asked me, “ How do you do that? How do you be real?”
To be real you have to choose to FEEL, no matter what.
Be REAL you with love,
My heart has big questions, huge desire, abundant love, deep sorrow and infinite passion. What am I supposed to do with all of that? How did I get here? What am I being called to do with so much emotion and spirit?
There is only one mind brilliant enough to answer those sorts of questions.
The Soul of the World.
When you stop, disconnect, get very quiet and still and immerse yourself in the wide expanse of nature, you can ask your questions and God/The Universe/Spirit will answer.
I have just returned from a tipi in the vast open landscape of Santa Fe, New Mexico, aptly named “The Land of Enchantment,” near the tiny artists colony of Madrid. One more colorful stop on Shelly’s Soul Journey, The Magical Mystery Tour, I began in January of this year.
I am 10 months in and the transformation has been moving at a rapid pace. It is here that I have brought some of my biggest questions. By getting real with nature, all of your senses are activated so that you can you see, feel, hear, smell and taste the answers of your deepest inquiries, open and tend your wounded places, listen to your most meaningful calls and fan the fires of your heart’s desires. It’s where you are invited to connect with the soul of the world.
To get there it takes experienced guides. It’s not a journey best taken alone and it’s not for the faint of heart, although a faint heart with a little bit of courage will strengthen along the way.
This past winter I was blessed with a divine woman guide, talented at exploring the archeology of a heart, agile in soul searching, with a steady hand to hold as she welcomed me opened armed on the path of devotion. She created a safe container to pour my heart into so that we could begin the dissection of the mixed up concoction of my soul. One by one we’ve been pulling apart the glittery and tarnished strands of my heart like a messy tangled knot of necklaces, looking for my gold, examining each tiny treasure for breakage, repairing the ones that are worth keeping and discarding the ones that are beyond repair, no longer held meaning, or weren’t representative of my true desires.
In Santa Fe, I sat at the feet of a Sage Woman with 40 years of experience poking wounds and stirring up the ashes of desire to move you forward on your proper path. I both hated her and loved her for so easily seeing and triggering my pain points, my weakness, my dark and my tears and giving me the clear directions to connecting with my purpose with a no nonsense, no prissy, sissy shit demeanor. She charted a course for my guide and I to follow when we arrived in our tipi home on the land in Madrid.
For three days, I followed my shadow into the desert for a real, honest, open heart to heart with spirit/the universe/God/oneness, however you want to define it/him/her. It was there, I had to face my darkest parts, my own tumble into the rabbit hole of substance use in my 20’s, desperately needing someone to be brave enough to intervene in the pattern of destruction that had me bouncing through three different colleges, never earning my degree and moving to California to pursue my “dreams” only to abandon them to indulge in the “party lifestyle.” Wondering how I was going to stop this train I held my own personal intervention called marriage, but the partying didn’t quite stop after reciting those vows, God/Spirit/The Universe heard my call for help and sent me my son. I’ve often called him, “The boy who saved my life.” Because the moment I knew of him, I stopped doing anything that would risk his life.
My love and respect for his life and the lives of his sisters became the compass that guides me.
I had to face my part in the destruction of a marriage with my own numbing behavior. I had to face my part in the creation of an environment that supported substance abuse. What I had allowed, how I had participated, how I modeled coping skills in difficult circumstances. How I shut down, how I withheld, how I disconnected. I had to face that I had given up my heart and my voice to addiction over and over again therefore it kept coming back in the form of different people I loved. I accepted the fact that my behavior had a connection to the ongoing pattern of addiction in my family and in my life. I grew up there. It was what I knew.
Now it had become my soul charge to break the cycle and the patterns that perpetuated it. I accepted the challenge.
For the past eight months I’ve been on a path of devotion to my heart, to truth, to love that is most honorable and for the greatest good of all. The kind of love that changes the world.
To create that kind of change it had to start with me.
At the foot of the sage woman, I heard the instructions to follow my shadow into the dark. There I would find my purpose and the spark to light the fire of passion and desire.
It was in the desert, that I listened to the soul of the world speak to me and what I heard was this. Your greatest power is found in relationships, in connection and in full expression of your emotional heart.
I was called to honor the strong male presence in my life and the divine feminine connection. This is where the love of God is. Not alone, but in relationship with others.
I realized that it is in the arms of the men I have loved and who have loved me that I have gotten my deepest spiritual messages. My friendships, interactions, conversations and connections with men, young and old, and most especially the relationship with my son, have shaped my soul. Men have been and continue to be some of my most powerful teachers in the ways of love and the needs of my heart. I can see how each of them has been carefully placed in the evolution of my journey to foster my growth as a woman.
When I create a safe place for their fullest expression in my presence, they open up and show me the way to deepen, open, and fully express myself with their stories, their questions, their truths, their passion and their love. They’ve taught me strength, endurance, passion, capacity, humility and courage. They’ve fueled my fire.
It is in the circles of women, of sisterhood as a friend, sister, daughter, cousin, co worker and mother, that I have gotten my greatest emotional support. Their wise council has been what’s held me together during life’s greatest disappointments and challenges and it is they who I can always count to celebrate my joys and successes. It is in these relationships, that I have learned what it means to be a woman, how to best serve each other and the community, how to create a beautiful, rich, powerful, joyful life. In these circles, the depth of my emotion and my fullest expression was always allowed. The women who have loved and cared for me throughout my life have been dependable guides as well as triggers for some of my most painful but powerful growth spurts. The women teach me how to be gentle, warm and soft but also fierce in the face of injustice.
I was called to honor the gifts of sisterhood as well as the importance of companionship and the opposite sex.
It is a dishonor to act like we don’t need each other when we do.
At night, while seated on a large rock with all the stars in the universe the only illumination, I realized the path of devotion I had been on for the past eight months had merged with the path of desire.
I asked for guidance, for instructions, for an opening to my life’s purpose in return I was asked to surrender to and embrace the unknown. I would be shown but I had to light the fire. I was asked to remember to have patience with and honor the individual paths of others.
So, I made a vow to serve the greater good in the capacity I was called for. To do what I can, when I can, for everyone I can and allow for honest expression, real connection by creating an environment that perpetuates love beginning with myself and honoring the contributions to the evolution of my soul from the men and the women in my life.
I’d let go of a lot this year. My body and life circumstances forced me into all kinds of sobriety. For what I was facing I needed to be totally clear and in order to feel what I wanted to feel I could not be the slightest bit numb. I came to the desert with a clean heart, a clean body and a clean mind. I’d found sober living to be extremely powerful. I made a promise to honor a vow of sobriety NO MATTER WHAT, for myself, my children, my relationships and the generations to follow. Addiction’s cycle was going to end with me.
The only thing left to let go of now was the girl. The girl who hid her gifts underneath her because she was afraid she was too much for anyone to handle by fully being herself.
I stood up on the rock, said a mighty prayer, opened my arms to welcome the universe, drank the sacred rainwater given to me to by our hosts and left the girl in the west to become the woman I am meant to be.
With all the love in my heart,
Family Recovery Advocate
I serve women seeking healing and transformation.
I serve people who have been impacted by addiction recover their lives.