A Bikini, A Backpack and A Bible
If I could give anything to the world, it would be faith. Faith can be spiritual, and it can also be belief in yourself that you are created whole and can achieve what your heart desires. At 18 years of age, I took a fearless leap of faith and packed a bikini, a Bible and a $20 bill into my khaki backpack and hitchhiked to Florida from Missouri. It was spring break. I was so depressed, and ashamed of being diagnosed two years earlier with a mood disorder. All I could think of were the warm, blinding white sands and blue waters of Panama City, Florida. I knew I had to get to the ocean to relieve my complete despair of living. I had faith in my innocent heart of hearts that God would protect me and bring me out of my despair. After all, spring would soon be here. I thought that I was at the lowest point of my life then. I had spent my 12th-grade year of high school at a small Midwest college in my hometown because I was too depressed to function, and I was hiding away from the extreme social pressure of a very competitive high school at a local college. I had been lost in drugs, alcohol and boys who cared nothing for me. In the early 1970’s, hitchhiking was an art form, and I felt like a misunderstood artist. I made it to Pensacola Beach, with four rides in two days. At midnight, I sat on the dark beach crying to myself, feeling the cold rain on my cheeks and the wet gray sand on my legs. My last ride had driven me from Birmingham to Pensacola, and my driver made it clear that he had gone out of his way to bring me to the beach. Not Panama City, but Pensacola Beach anyway. My brain had been working overtime, and it hid the memory of this event from my awareness for a long time. I held the shame and feeling of loss inside and rarely talked or allowed myself to feel anything. I only began to heal much later in life when I was able to feel my feelings and face my fear when I learned about Fearless Living™.
The absolute lowest point in my life came when I returned to college after my hitchhiking escapade, and there was no one there to talk to or truly help me. I was completely alone. I still had my Bible safely tucked into my backpack. One year earlier I had met someone in Peru while traveling with my parents. Ela sent me a letter with Bible verses and happy drawings all over the envelope. Her instructions were clear: Read Only One Verse a Day. I knew I could do that! So, at the lowest point in my life, I picked one verse in her cheery open handwriting, right on the lower front corner: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1: 2-4.
I knew that the fearless leap of faith that I had taken, jumping into the unknown that spring day leaving Missouri with my bikini, backpack and Bible looked like insanity from the outside. From the inside, inside me, my own innocence brought me face to face with the real me – the joyful me – to that place where the real me lives. I found that place inside me where I am complete in body, heart and soul, lacking in nothing.
Reading those words in my Bible that day, an indescribable joy welled up in my soul and I felt wholeness of body, heart and soul. I knew no matter what happened from that day forward, I would count it all for joy. What an incredible gift my leap of faith had given me.
Yet I still carried the severe stigma and shame of being diagnosed with a mental illness into my adult years. I continued to hide who I was in body, heart and soul from every person I met.
I actually did graduate from high school that year, and with amazing grace graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts degree in cellular biology from the University of Kansas. I was still lost emotionally, but not spiritually. I had my faith in God. I had faith in my body, heart and soul. My faith led me to a Masters of Science in Public Health program in Denver, Colorado. I have always loved all science, numbers, collecting, summarizing, analyzing and reporting data, so I was studying what I was meant to do. By 1989, I had the M.S.P.H. letters trailing my name.
Innocence and Forgiveness
I had begun self-treating my moods long before my official diagnosis. At 12, I was running around with my older sister’s group of friends, always trying to fit in. Since they were four years older, there was lots of alcohol, drugs, parties and music. I tried everything that was put in front of me, and since this was a group of kids who looked out for each other, I was saved from a lot of misery because my older sister protected me. I did become addicted to alcohol, pot and cocaine, and began sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night and doing whatever I could to find some kind of respite from my internal turmoil and separation from the people around me. I desperately wanted love and family, and did not know how to get it or be a part of that kind of life. In 1986 I gave up drinking and drugs when I was 30 years old, and I kept searching for wholeness in life.
When I became a Certified Fearless Living Coach, I learned how to recognize innocence and choose forgiveness for myself. I realized that I had lost my sanity, self-worth and sobriety to fear of mental illness, and to the shame and stigma of who I thought I was and who I thought I “should” be. A disease I had no control over receiving as part of my genetic disposition had ultimately allowed me to come to a place of innocence and forgiveness for myself. Through the Fearless Living Training Program, I did the work to find more joy, innocence and forgiveness and became a victor in my life. I let go of being a victim in my life.
Burnout One - Compassion Two
From 1990 to 2017, I worked as an epidemiologist in HIV/Sexually Transmitted Infections/Viral Hepatitis in a non-profit government agency. By God’s grace I was working in an area to prevent infection in people who, like me, may not have a voice in how they were stigmatized by their illnesses. I loved working for 27 years in the same division to design studies collecting, analyzing and reporting data to prevent disease. I knew that my work team made a difference, that we did the best job anywhere, and we helped people directly to help themselves with data and interpretation of data. Sometimes on the job, however, personnel issues created the potential for burnout, as can happen in almost all workplaces.
Anyone who is dedicated to their work, who is committed to being the best at what they do, especially if they work taking care of other people, can suffer from the effects of burnout on the job. Burnout occurs when passionate, committed people become deeply disillusioned with a job or career from which they have previously derived much of their identity and meaning. Burnout can manifest itself in your body, as physical symptoms of fatigue, pain or even disease. Burnout can lead to loss of relationships and connection with others, as your heart becomes heavy and unable to respond to others with love and compassion. Burnout can even affect your soul through loss of enthusiasm for life, questioning the meaning of why you are here and whether what you are doing makes a difference. In short, burnout can really knock you down!
The first time I became truly burnt out as a supervisor, I knew I had done all the right things according to the best advice available when a difficult personnel issue came up. I used all the correct work templates, documentation, meeting protocols, notifications, letters, and everything else I could find on the job. This issue turned into a personnel case and went all the way to litigation. It was dismissed. Yet I was the one, as the middle manager, who felt she had lost the battle. I took months to recover! My husband was wonderfully supportive every step of the way, yet at work I felt as though I was on the battlefield by myself every day.
The second time I faced the potential for burnout, I was in a nearly identical situation, down to the specific work complaints, templates, documentation, meetings, notifications, letters, and on and on. Yet this time, I was studying to become a Certified Fearless Living Coach. I studied Fearless Living for two years with Rhonda Britten, founder of the Fearless Living Institute. Acting on the principles of Fearless Living saved my life the second time I faced the effects of burnout on the job.
Part of my Fearless Living skill set was learning self-compassion: to be willing to love and accept myself without judgement exactly as I am. Every day I walked into work, I accepted any complaints about my leadership with compassion for myself and for my staff. I documented meetings and personnel actions with compassion for myself and for my coworkers. I created notifications, letters, and filled out Human Resource templates with compassion for myself and for my supervisors, coworkers and staff. This time around, however, I did not become burnt out! We did not go to litigation either, yet the path was more stressful the second time around. Part of my deeper level of learning was for me to recognize that I had post-traumatic stress symptoms due to my own life events. Because of experiencing my own innocence and forgiveness of myself, I was ready to know more about who I was, and I had the tools to love and accept myself exactly as I was, without self-shame and self-judgement. I lived with compassion for myself and my coworkers every day.
The differences between my life during “Burnout One” and “Compassion Two” resulted in incredible and life-saving awarenesses. I learned how to see my innocence, by not allowing this difficult situation to cause me to take on blame and stigma for the problems at work. I learned how to forgive myself when I made mistakes in really challenging work situations where I derived so much of my own identity. I learned how to leap with less fear from one place where I felt had failed myself in the past to a new compassionate and faithful place in my body, heart and soul. I became more fearless in faith in my body, heart and soul.
One way I learned how to see my own innocence and how to stop blaming myself was through offering self-compassion with intention. I intentionally gave compassion to myself and to the people around me during one of the most challenging times of my life. This compassion resonated within me until it overflowed to others.
As a Certified Fearless Living Coach, I have learned to create specific intentions that I can say to myself on a moment-to-moment basis that guide me away from my previous expectations of how things are supposed to turn out. For example, I can see the innocence in my 13-year-old self who chose to run away from herself and the world using drugs and alcohol, and anything else that could numb her pain. I see the innocence in her and I love that little girl who had no other healthy choices to make at the time. I can say “Today I am willing to practice compassion for myself and others.” Compassion for “others” includes anyone who may have inadvertently hurt that lost little girl, for reasons that may be understood only when we are willing to choose to take a fearless leap of faith. And in the end, those reasons may truly be understood only in the heart of God.
Today, I am a person living with mental illness and a person recovering from addiction. By the grace of God, I have been free from drugs and alcohol since 1986. And because I choose to be fearless in faith in my body, heart and soul, I am thriving, and not just surviving every day. I get to choose what thriving looks like, and I get to move forward every day with the power of intention.
Be Fearless in Faith in Your Body, Heart and Soul
I have told you a little about myself because I hope through my experience to offer you a way to begin to see your own innocence, to have self-compassion to forgive yourself and never blame yourself for life events that did not go the way you wanted.
My vision is a world where you are willing to practice your faith as you choose. Your faith may be spiritual, and it may also be faith in yourself to make changes, or to become the person you want to be, or to achieve the success you want to achieve. My mission is to support you to be fearless in faith in your body, heart and soul. Be willing to learn that your body, heart and soul are completely connected to who you are. Be willing to learn that you are already whole.
One of my intentions is “Today I am willing to practice loving myself exactly as I am.” As a Certified Fearless Living Coach, I can support you to create an intention for living that allows you to choose faith in your body, heart and soul, if you want this. A Fearless Living intention is a proactive statement that excites you, empowers you, challenges you, and inspires you to take action. What world are you choosing to create for yourself and for all of us?
You can create your own positive, proactive, creative, faithful, hopeful, loving, purposeful Fearless Living intention right now. Just complete the following:
Today I am willing to practice_______________________________________.
You may decide to be willing to practice forgiving yourself or others, seeing your own innocence, loving and accepting yourself and others, making healthy choices, being more kind to yourself, or speaking your own unique truth. Whatever you choose, make it your own.
Use your intention faithfully every day for at least 30 days. Some people use intentions for months or even years. Let your intention be easy to memorize, and place it on your bathroom mirror, in your kitchen, or in your car. Remind yourself to say it several times a day.
Remember this! I believe in you and I have faith in you and your intention.
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid [fear], but gives us power [soul], love [heart] and self-discipline [body].”
2 Timothy 1:7 (text added by author)