No one is better equipped to talk about my 8 week online program, Sanctuary, than the women who have actually completed the program. Click the video below to hear why they joined and what they got out of it.
This is an enormous weight you are carrying. The expectation alone is crushing, not to mention the energy it takes to get through the days. This is honorable work and your generous efforts are nourishing those that are closest to you. This is true even if no one notices or says thank you. Especially in those moments where you feel all alone while the rest of the world lives their lives on their own terms.
This is a season of life where it is hard to find time for yourself. Your mind is filled with caregiving to do's; it feels like you couldn't possibly put your needs above theirs because their needs are so great. There are never enough hours in the day.
Remember to breathe. If you have time for nothing else, take 10 seconds to close your eyes and breathe deeply. Light a candle as you get ready for bed as a reminder to do this, to help ease the anxiety a bit.
Remember to rest. When your energy is drained, you have less to give. You cannot serve from an empty cup. Rest is one of the most basic needs to address as we start to figure out how to take good care of ourselves.
Remember the things that bring you joy. Bring them into your days. These can be tiny things - they don't need to cost much (or anything). Play music you love while you are running from one task to another. Use the fancy tea cup and saucer each day. Go outside and notice your surroundings.
Perhaps above all, have compassion for yourself. You are still a beautiful soul underneath the weight of all that you are carrying. You are still yourself. Find a harbor in your mind that you can rest in each day. Allow yourself to set aside your burden and rest for a moment in your harbor.
Remember - your story is your strength,
Written by Alison R.
As I pass by the open door, I can hear the muffled, tense voices again – anger, betrayal, sadness…fear, even. I take a deep breath, knowing I should move on, keep walking, ignore the drama unfolding. Try as I might, I’m drawn to the door and to her. I hug the doorway frame and strain to hear the details, knowing full well I won’t understand it all but curious if it could have something to do with me. I wonder when they will ever realize that their muffled tones can still be heard. We hear them every time. Greater still the silence and chasm between the two most important people in my life speaks volumes more than the constant arguing.
“Is she there again” I ask myself, “the little girl?" In her pigtails with the cute pink eyeglass barrettes holding her brunette hair back and the freckles accentuating her innocent blue eyes, she looks brave but she's trembling inside. She always goes there when it starts and quietly yet carefully chooses her spot, close enough to the door to slip away quickly but far enough down the steps so the voices easily convey up the L shaped stairwell.
As I crack the door ever so silently I see her once again.
“Oh, Alison,” I whisper, “not again with this. Come back up.”
“No,” she defiantly shoots back, “I don’t want to leave her.”
And she remained. She remained every time, despite my attempts to get through to her. She stayed there until the day he left and left them a new normal. A normal permanently scarred.
I look back on that time and talk to myself, a part of me forever stuck at seven years old, in that moment. Time and peace and introspection have illuminated what I could not process when I was that little girl.
It was their story; not mine. I have my own story to write.
Every moment has a lesson; the lessons are the gifts; learn.
Pain is not the destination; acknowledge it and pass through.
Look for the joy in the tiniest moment.
Protect my heart; be open but protect from harm.
Recently I walked into the dining room of the assisted living facility where my mom lives. As I made my way to her corner table a woman stopped me. She stood up and blocked my path in fact. I knew she was also a resident, I'd waved hello to her on occasion, but we had not had a prior conversation. She was wearing a turquoise cardigan, sporting the same short, blond cut as 75% of the female residents, and she was sitting at the cool kids table. "Your mother keeps going outside by herself," she states, clearly agitated, with a razor sharpness to her voice. "You need to get her to stop doing that."
Woah. It was as if this woman had been waiting for me, almost like she knew I would be there that day, so she rehearsed all morning what she would say. She was a cheetah ready to pounce on her prey, an unsuspecting daughter stopping in for a chat.
I knew immediately that this was the woman I had been told was chasing my mom outside all week and telling her that she didn't belong out there. There's a beautiful outdoor space behind the building; one of the main reasons we chose this particular place. One of the only things that continues to bring my mom joy is being outside and looking at the flowers and birds.
If only I had been practicing my comeback, I'm sure I would've had a good one ready to fire away, but instead I smiled and said that while I'm sure she was simply looking out for my mom's safety would she please stop telling my mother what she can and can't do. Then I walked past her and over to sit with my mom.
So here it is, proof that even in the old people's home, bullies and naysayers continue to exist. They don't magically transform into kind elderly people. I think it's kind of freeing in a way. If there will always be people who don't believe in your dream, people who think you can't do it, people to hold you back in some way, why not do it anyway?
Imagine yourself there, inside of this dining room I told you about. Would you rather be the person who never opens the door to go outside because it's not easy for you and what if someone has an opinion about it? Or are you the person who chooses to go outside to see the blooming hydrangea and lilies in June simply because it makes you happy, even if people are whispering about you doing it?
Often we hold ourselves back from pursuing something we want to do because of other people. Maybe a family member won't approve or a high school friend will see it on Facebook. We could hide from these people (and we would have to do it for the rest of our lives, apparently) or we could simply do it anyway.
What would you do with your life if there was no old-lady-bully to stop you?
(The title of the article is such a mouthful - that’s why you need to watch the video so I can break it down to you). New research on how the stories we tell affect our well-being!
I’m sharing two pieces of writing by outstanding female writers and why mental health is so important to me personally and in my business. If you want to explore your own mental health journey but don’t know where to start I’d love to be your guide.
Resources mentioned in this video:
What a treat to have the pleasure of meeting author Dani Shapiro several weeks ago when she was in town to promote her new memoir, Inheritance. I’ve loved all of Dani’s books because she dives headfirst into the pain and shows us how crafting a narrative helps to get to the other side.
Inheritance is fantastic for me because there’s a lot about genetics and ethics in the book, along with some big philosophical questions like Who am I? In this video I explain the genetics behind how it was determined that Dani’s half sister was not actually her half sister. Plus I get into the Who am I question and how it might prompt some exploration in you.
If you are considering at home DNA testing for health, ancestry or any other reason it would behoove you to meet with a genetic counselor first. Find someone here. If you have specific questions about your test results, check out my friend Brianne’s site, Watershed DNA. She’s the absolute expert and my go-to for all of this.
Underwent testing and now have a story like Dani’s to tell? Reach out to me - I’d love to help you find meaning in the experience as you weave your new identify into your life.
I’ll be back next week with my second video on Inheritance .
Me with Dani Shapiro in Reston, VA. (queue heart eye emoji!)
(This is an excerpt from a recent newsletter to my community - if you’d love me in your inbox every week go here to sign up.)
…self care is not an option, guys. When I saw a tarot reader for the first time this past summer she asked what I was doing for self care. I chuckled to myself, puffed up my chest and said, "I'm doing self care right here and I've been at this retreat center for 4 days!" She narrowed her eyes and asked how many other retreats I would be attending this year. The answer was none. She emphasized that 4 out of 365 was not enough and that I needed to get really serious about deep self care. I've taken those words to heart and I think about self care every day of my life now.
Marathon time - our family raised over $12,000 for the Foundation and Curt finished the race in just over four hours. It was a day filled with all sorts of emotions - thrilled to be part of the event, moved by the runners persevering in freezing wind and rain, gratitude for the doctors that saved my son's life (like Dr. T pictured here), and devastated that congenital heart disease continues to take so many children away from us.
In late spring after a routine echocardiogram for my seven-year-old son, Griffin, we were told he needed more intensive testing. We headed north to Boston again in August for Griffin to undergo a cardiac catheterization and MRI. We knew there was a chance surgery would be indicated and sure enough, it was time. This picture shows Carly and Griffin at the rooftop garden on top of Boston Children's after we got the news.
This week we will travel to Boston for our 4th trip in 2018 for Griffin's open heart surgery. My heart is aching and I'm scared, but when I reflect on traveling to Boston for Griffin's birth I realize what a long way we've come. Back then, we had no idea what Griffin's life would look like and now I've had the great honor of being his mother for almost eight years. This disease truly affects everyone in the family and traveling far away for care takes a big village. I know how fortunate we are that we can make this happen.
I'm taking a little break from writing to focus on my family so you won't get my newsletter for the next couple of weeks. In the spirit of my new program, Sanctuary, I'm challenging myself to find a moment of sanctuary each day while Griffin's in the hospital and I'll be posting them on Instagram with the hashtag #orchidstorysanctuary.
This time of year can feel overwhelming for many of us; I invite you to come join me on Instagram and share your own version of sanctuary with me. I'd love to see how you create safe, warm, and inviting spaces for yourself amidst this busy season.
Finally, this year has held so much goodness and growth for Orchid Story. I want to say thank you to each of you for reading these words, sending me sweet notes, taking my workshops and classes and giving me all the good vibes. My hope is that by sharing my own stories of finding strength in my struggle you feel encouraged to do the same.
Once upon a time, there lived a woman with an enormous spirit who served as a primary school counselor, healer and teacher. She loved children completely and the children loved her too, so much so, they nicknamed her, ‘Golden Head,’ after her long golden tresses and warm smile. Each and every day, Golden Head gave herself to the neediest of children and, in return, the children were drawn to her, delighting in her love. But her co-workers were bitter and jealous, and tried all they could to cut Golden Head down to size.
“You’re not following the rules,” a teacher scolded, with a finger in Golden Head’s face.
“You’re not using the lesson plans,” jeered another, even more furious.
“You’re not teaching to the test,” scoffed a third, certain the children would fail.
The more her colleagues protested, the more the children were drawn to Golden Head-- to play with her, to listen to her stories, or simply to be in her presence. Until one day, Golden Head felt something break inside. Although she treasured the children, she could no longer give herself to a community that didn’t appreciate her work. So, frustrated, Golden Head spoke her truth, telling her co-worker, Ninny, exactly how she felt.
“I do not understand,” Golden Head cried. “Why do you begrudge me what I do best? Let me serve the children, for they are comforted on my lap. This is what I am called to do, care for the young. And you, Ninny, continue to serve the adults, for this is what you are called to do.”
Ninny did not take it well. “You are wrong-minded, Golden Head. You indulge the children so. As teachers, we need to be in charge, set the rules!”
“Yes, I agree,” Golden Head said. “You set the rules and I will tend their hearts, together we make the perfect team!”
“You are not fit to be a teacher. Leave my room at once!” Ninny slammed the door in Golden Head’s face.
Heartbroken, Golden Head packed her belongings and set out, hoping to find a new community of like-minded teachers and caregivers. But as she was leaving, her colleagues waved excitedly, “Goodbye and good riddance,” they sneered.
Forlorn, Golden Head ventured home where she shared the sad news of her day. “I’m sorry, my dear husband, I couldn’t take it any longer,” she cried.
“My love, I am with you,” Chief Redwood said, embracing her.
Then her sweet daughter, Big Hearted, spoke up, “I am with you, my sweet mother!”
And finally her son, Insightful One, chimed in. “It’s your turn mother, to do as your heart delights.”
Weary, Golden Head went to bed, hoping she might feel better in the morning. And there, in the space between wakefulness and sleep, Golden Head heard a familiar sound. It was the sound of the Grandmothers’ drumming, a drumbeat she had heard so many years earlier in her Shamanic Healing Circle. The rapid drumming carried her deeper and deeper into a dream-like state. Moments later, a Native American woman appeared before her, her face shrouded.
“Come, take the baby,” the woman insisted, thrusting an infant toward her. “Take her, she’s yours!”
Golden Head accepted the babe, holding her close. She was a newborn, searching for her mother’s breast. “What’s her name?”
“Emerald, of course,” the woman said.
Instantly, the babe grew sleeves of soft, green grass, verdant as spring time. Sprigs of leaves burst forth from a plume of wispy, brown hair. A crown of roses sprouted about her tiny head. The babe’s features reflected every race and nationality.
“Come, follow me,” the woman insisted, spinning round. Two long, black braids trailed down her back.
Golden Head raced after the woman through the darkness, clutching the babe, the rapid drumbeat calling her deeper into the vision. Suddenly, they were in a luminous meadow, clusters of elder woman chattering happily. It was a homecoming of sorts. Golden Head searched the crowd hoping to find a familiar face.
“Come, hurry up, you old crone!”
“Crone?” Golden Head protested. “I’m not old!”
“Yes, yes you are. You’re one of us,” the woman said, facing Golden Head. “You’re a wise one and Mother needs your wisdom now more than ever.”
“Do I have a tribe?” Golden Head asked.
“Yes, of course--you know your clan. You’re one of the Sisters of the Shamanic Healing Circle, the circle of thirteen young mothers you initiated so many years ago.”
Golden Head burst into tears of joy and sadness for she hadn’t thought of her spirit sisters in ages. Now the woman leaned in, allowing her features to come into full view. She was beautiful and ageless, seemingly Maiden, Mother and Crown at once.
“Are you my Spirit Mother?” Golden Head had a Spirit Mother in the spirit realm that had been reluctant to reveal her face, until now.
“My sweet daughter,” she said, gently touching Golden Head’s cheeks. “Mother needs you to do your work, you and all of your sisters. If you don’t step up, well the earth is in danger. She’s hurt and ailing, and she needs all of her daughters to give voice to their wisdom, visions, and life work. The men have gotten it all wrong—because, my love, they thought they could do it all alone. So, they need us, they need you, all of you, to step up.
“It is the time of ‘The Great Turning,’ when women step forward to join men, to bring balance to all things and all relations. And honestly, the man at the helm, he’s nothing but a big baby, throwing tantrums, for he’s frightened of the change that’s upon him.”
Abruptly, all went dark, and Golden Head woke lying next to her husband, Chief Redwood, who was sleeping peacefully. Yet, she could still feel the grandmother’s drumming, reverberating throughout her bones.
The drumming continued, rapidly beating all day and well into the night, once again calling Golden Head into her dream time. Indeed, when Golden Head lay her head to rest, Spirit Mother was already there; revealing her beautiful face. As Golden Head reached out to touch her face, it disappeared, like sand through her fingers. Spirit Mother took Golden Head by the hands and sat down on damp earth.
“Please, Mother, tell me, what is my life’s work?”
‘My silly girl, why do you think you are married to the Chief?” She chuckled. “My dear, you are a medicine woman, a shaman, a priestess; you have your own flock to tend.” Spirit mother draped a white shawl around Golden Head’s shoulders, and braided two white feathers into her hair. “One feather comes from your White Owl and one from White Dove, signifying your gifts of insight and love.”
Golden Head remained silent, attentive.
“Yes, the young ones love you, because you’ve loved them so absolutely. And now, you’re being called to help all young women find their voice and their spiritual path on this amazing Earth walk we call life. You’re also an important guide for your own lovely children, Big Hearted and Insightful One, for they too need your guidance.”
Suddenly, Golden Head saw the face of a new friend, Sheila, a local Native American elder woman whom she had met at an antique shop nearby.
“Go, go back to Sheila,” Spirit Mother said. “Join her for The Sleeping Bear Ceremony. Remember, you are Mama Bear; you’ve become one with your spirit animal.”
Golden Head now saw all of her spirit animals dancing around her, many from her ancestral home in the north woods of Minnesota--Bear, Wolf, Horse, Deer, Moose, Owl, Red Cardinal, Turtle and Whale. Then, a second circle formed around the animals, filled with her spirit guides, her most beloved Spirit Father and many ancestors, all celebrating Golden Head’s initiation as Crone and Priestess.
Spirit Mother kissed Golden Head on the cheek and vanished, as quickly as she had arrived. Once again, Golden Head woke to her husband, Chief Redwood, sleeping soundly next to her. She wrapped her arms around him. He’s my sleeping bear, she thought, nuzzling his neck.
Golden Head fell asleep, grateful for the vision and pleased that Spirit Mother had finally revealed herself. Yes, Spirit Mother had initiated her into this new stage of life—maiden, mother, and now, Crone. Although, Golden Head preferred Wise Woman, she was comfortable knowing that her task would be shown to her in good time, in God’s timing, in Mother’s timing.
A few weeks later, Golden Head took a scenic drive with Chief Redwood to view the fall foliage. On their journey, she visited her friend Sheila at her antique store. Sheila plopped down on a soft cushion and invited Golden Head to sit down next to her. Golden Head shared the story of her vision; Sheila listened attentively, her smiling eyes shone against her bright, white hair. Afterwards, Sheila invited Golden Head to an upcoming Animal Spirit Dance. When Golden Head departed, she felt contented knowing that the two would soon meet again. As they drove home, Golden Head envisioned herself dancing with Sheila as Mama Bear and Great White Elk.
However you visualize your Heroine's Journey, (I've found it to be a helpful way to put things in perspective) the Dark Night of the Soul, aka the Messy Middle, is part of it. It's a human experience shared by all of us. In my role as a caregiver for my mom with dementia, I am smack dab in this place. It's kinda a tough spot. In case any of you are also here with me, I thought I'd share some things I've been thinking about.
Awhile ago I listened to an interview with Britta Bushnell, PhD on the Atomic Moms podcast. She talked about confronting the unknown by drawing upon the mythical story of Inanna, the Sumerian mother goddess of Heaven and Earth. It's essentially another version of the Hero's Journey, with a goddess as our guide. The messy middle is a big part of this story. Being in this place is critical to transformation. Eventually we will emerge as a beautiful butterfly. For right now though,
🦋 The length of time is unpredictable.
🦋 We are patient.
🦋 We surrender to the process.
Asking for help
For many of us, it's sooo hard to ask for help. Why? For me I think it's the fear of hearing "no" in response. Guess what? People do say "no". The kind-hearted, "Let me know how I can help!" people. Our brains like to turn this into a big deal: why should anyone help you? you're never going to get this worked out, you might as well give up. everyone is too busy to care about your problems. Sound familiar? The flipside is that if you get the courage to keep asking, there are people who say "Yes!" with the most generous, beautiful, compassion. Just last week I had a friend say no and a friend say yes. The yes was a big one - our neighbors used their airline miles to purchase flights for our family (!!). Still, my brain keeps returning to the no. We have to remind ourselves of the good around us, redirect our minds to focus on the positive.
This little nugget popped into my head last week and I've been trying to keep it in the front of my mind:
Let me hold your story for awhile so you can rest.
Doesn't that feel like fresh air? We can think of "me" as G-d or the Universe or the Divine or a friend, but I don't think it has to be a person. We all need the opportunity to set aside our burdens for a moment to catch our breath and look around.
The Orchid Story Community, in their own words.
Last Friday I took myself on a date to a little village called Lucketts, about an hour away from home. I went alone. I was feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by all aspects of my life: work, home, personal. I was approaching the end of registration for the class I am currently teaching and I had gotten myself into a frantic state of constantly refreshing my email and lashing out at my family because I was so wound up about people registering. I also had an important phone call to make that I had been putting off for days because I just didn't have the energy to deal and engage.
I went to a bunch of antique and garden shops out there in Lucketts. I strolled, admired, and moseyed my way around. In each store I went in I saw some version of this "gather" handlettering. It reminded me of fall holidays and being together with people you love. I came home and created my own version of it for you.
When I got in the car to head home I felt secure enough to make the tough phone call and, lo and behold, a student signed up for class while I was on my self-care date.
So here's what I pose to you this week. Two things:
Is there a word that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside? Use it as a mantra, make a handlettering, print it out from pinterest. Something so small can help us shift out of a rut.
Where can you take yourself on a self-care date? Oh no Rachel, you may be saying, you don't understand; I work long hours or I'm a stay at home mom/dad, there's just no way. There is a way. Can you miss one softball game this fall while your partner single parents for a morning? Can you ask the 8th grade neighbor to come over while you take a walk or get to the coffee shop? You are worth it. Your mind and soul need you to give them a little break.
I'm getting ready for my Hero's Journey workshop this Saturday in Vienna, VA (we still have a few spots left! come join me!) and in doing so I've been thinking about both the literal and figurative journeys I've been on this summer. I had a deep realization in recent weeks what a privilege it is to be able to travel. Take a second to be filled with gratitude for the the places you saw, the foods you ate, the conversations you had.
I'm sure it's the same with you. Lots happens over the summer - we travel to new places, we spend more time with people we love, we read lots of books (I read a ton of books this summer - maybe I'll do a roundup for you soon). Then, we get to the end of August and school is starting for the kids, we are rushing around trying to get everything ready and before we know it we're celebrating Rosh Hashanah and attending weekend soccer games. The summer feels like it was years instead of weeks ago. You don't need kids to understand and live this phenomenon. We are wired to be thinking ahead and planning for what's next, constantly.
Taking a moment for reflection fills your soul. It reminds us where we've been and what we learned. Or why that trip was so important for you to plan and take in the first place. One fun and simple way to access this journey of yours is to open up your photos on your phone. Pick one you love and give yourself 15 minutes to write a reflection on the photo.
Like the idea but know you won't actually carve out the time to do it? Check out my new calendar of events to see how I can support you in telling your story.
Starting in April I would walk out to my rhododendron and stare. This winter has been weird, I would think. The spring has been awfully cold. Are they going to bloom? The calendar turned to May, the month that the blooms typically arrive, but the buds were giving no sign of opening up.
Finally, in the week leading up to Mother's Day, when I was doing my series on co-authors in motherhood, the purple started peeking out. The full bloom image above was taken on Mother's Day itself.
This flowering bush seemed to be sending me a message. I was impatient with it, checking and re-checking every day, doubting its ability to bloom, wondering if it would reach its potential, and prematurely lamenting that the blooms only stick around for a short time.
Sound familiar? I couldn't ignore the similarities with motherhood. We want to be a perfectly formed mother immediately, as soon as we're bringing baby home from the hospital. We get impatient with ourselves as we make mistakes in mothering. After a hard day with yelling and dirty dishes and toothpaste all over the sink we wonder whether we will ever flower into the mother we thought we would be.
You have to give yourself time. You have to be patient and work with the process instead of trying to speed it along. (Right?) Not just in motherhood, but in whatever your struggle might be. You need water and sunlight and food. The beautiful bloom is there inside of you. It will emerge when its ready. Then the process will start all over again.
Happy Mother's Day!
For my final celebration of co-authors in mothering I am honoring the best mom on earth - my own. And the rest of my kick ass nuclear family that has steadfastly supported me these past nine years. It takes a village and I know how lucky I've been that my family is mine.
I write about how my relationship with my mom has changed due to her diagnosis. Before our family was hit with her condition she was the rock in my life. I think I called her almost every day during the first four years of my daughter's life. Those were not pleasant calls. I was either crying hysterically or screaming in frustration. She was my container for all the ugliness inside of me that I didn't know how to process at the time. I think back now on how hard and draining that must have been. She never wavered in her faith that I could figure out how to be the mom I needed to be for Carly. We have always been close and she has taught me so much throughout my entire life, but I think those early years of mothering may have been when I needed her the most. She never failed to show up and love me unconditionally.
The rest of my family roll call:)
Curt - the shore I rest upon after battling the raging seas. The voice of reason and sensitivity. The man who believes in me and always sees what is good in this world.
Danielle - my advisor on all things mental health. My confidante and best friend. Everything I could ask for in a sister. You get me.
Julie - the person who understands my daughter best. Everyone needs their "person" who will always accept you for who you are - thank you for being Carly's person.
Lydia - the caregiver above all caregivers. She lives by love and love alone.
Joe - a breath of fresh air. Always up for a game with the kids especially when the moms really need a break. Our kids are happier because of you.
Marc - the man I thank God for every day that you came into our lives. My little joke that is not really a joke at all.
Dad and Cliff - the patriarchs of our family whose love still guides us even though you aren't here to be the grandfathers we know you so badly wanted to be. We love you and miss your big personalities.
I'm squirreled away hard at work getting my class content into a new format for my online class coming this spring! I'm making great progress and would love your insight.
Which of these versions do you like best for the title slide? Let me know in the comments. Find out more about class here. Hope to see you there in a couple of weeks.