How to Enjoy the Holidays When Grieving the Loss of a Loved One

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This post contains an excerpt from GETTING GRIEF RIGHT: Finding Your Story of Love in the Sorrow of Loss, by Patrick O’Malley, PhD with Tim Madigan.

It was spring 1980 when my wife, Nancy, and I received some of the best news of our lives—she was pregnant with our first child.

On a Tuesday morning that September, we found ourselves sitting in her obstetrician’s office. Nancy, not due to deliver for three months, had been awakened the night before by a strange physical sensation.

She had wanted to get checked out, just to be safe. But after the examination that morning, her doctor said we needed t get to the hospital. Labor had begun. I remember how Nancy’s voice trembled.

“Can a baby this premature live?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” the doctor said. “We will try to buy time. He will be a pipsqueak of a kid.”

Thirty-six hours later, on September 3, 1980, Ryan Palmer O’Malley was born, weighing a little over two pounds. You couldn’t have imagined a more fragile looking creature. He had been far from ready to leave his mother’s womb, yet there he was.

In the first few moments of his life, I was aware of the great risk of loving my son, but I was powerless to resist. From the first glimpse of Ryan, I knew he would have a place in my heart forever.

His early life was a succession of seemingly endless days and nights. We hovered over the side of his crib in the hospital, looking down at our boy who was hooked up to all this noisy equipment. His life was measured in minutes and hours. On several terrifying occasions, Ryan stopped breathing, and his medical team would rush in to resuscitate.

All this time, Nancy and I yearned to hold him, but his frailty and the equipment made that impossible. The most we could do was touch a tiny finger, rub a tiny arm.

Instead of cooing, the sounds around my son were the mechanical beeping of intensive care machines. Instead of that wonderful new baby smell, there was the pungent scent of antiseptic soap we had to use to scrub up before seeing him. Despite not being able to hold him, despite all the machines between him and us, we loved him deeply.

Early fall turned to Thanksgiving and then to Christmas. Our son gradually grew stronger. One day in January his doctor weaned him from the respirator. We could now hold him without the tangle of tubes and wires.

On March 9, 1981, our seventh wedding anniversary, we were finally able to bring our baby home to hold him, bathe him, kiss him, dance with him, feed him, and rock him. He smiled for the first time in those days. Though he was still fragile and underweight, we allowed ourselves to start imagining Ryan’s future. No parents loved a son more.

And then he was gone.

On Saturday night, May 16, 1981, we were treating him for a cold but not particularly concerned. We had been through much worse. But early Sunday morning our precious son suddenly stopped breathing.

I started CPR. Ryan’s doctor and an ambulance were at our house within minutes. His doctor administered a shot of adrenalin to his heart as the medical technicians continued CPR. Nancy and I silently prayed as we followed the speeding ambulance to the hospital.

The next several hours are a series of snapshots forever imprinted in my mind.

His physician coming into the waiting room with tears in his eyes, saying, “I could not save him.”
Holding Ryan’s body
Returning home without him
The heartbreak of our family and friends as we broke the news of his death
The dream-like, adrenalin-fueled rituals of visitation and funeral
The faces of all those who filled the church
The sight of his tiny casket by the altar
Seeing construction workers removing their hard hats as the funeral procession drove by
Leaving the cemetery on that sunny spring day

I have taken off work on the anniversary of Ryan’s death every year since that first year. I go to the cemetery to think about him and the years now behind me. Powerful feelings rise each time I see my son’s name on the grave marker: RYAN PALMER O’MALLEY. It grounds me in the hard reality—this really happened.

In my experience as both a grief therapist and bereaved father, the holiday season can be one of the most difficult times of the year for those grieving. Many who have experienced the death of a loved one wish they could lie down for a nap on October 30 and awake again on January 2. This season can be challenging when the shadow of loss is present.

The collision between the cultural expectations of happiness and the personal reality of grief can create stress, confusion, and an increase in emotional pain for those who mourn. The gatherings of family and friends during this season may shine a brighter light on the absence of the one who has died.

If this is the first holiday season after the death of a loved one, there can often be a buildup of anxiety, anticipating how it will feel to be without the one who is gone. And, even if the loss occurred many years ago like mine, the holidays are always a reminder of what was and what might have been.

Confusion, yearning, exhaustion, sorrow, and all the other feelings that come with grief are absolutely normal during this time. Difficult but normal. Painful but normal. Grief is not a psychological abnormality or an illness to cure. Grief is about love. We grieve because we loved. Holidays may be a strong emotional connection to special times of remembering that love.

Here are eight ideas to help you enjoy the holidays while also honoring your loss.

Both And 

Enter into this season in a state of mind of “both and” rather than “either or.” Sorrow does not exclude all joy, and celebration does not eliminate all sorrow. Yet, it can be confusing to experience opposing emotions at the same time or feel your mood vacillate between light and dark.

Joy may transition into sadness in the blink of an eye. Contentment may suddenly shift into yearning. Both experiences have value because both are part of your grief story.

Be present to the moments of enjoyment, and at the same time, respect your feelings of loss.

Sights, Sounds, and Scents

Most who grieve prepare themselves emotionally for those significant moments during the holidays, such as sitting down for a holiday meal and attending parties; yet, some triggering experiences can occur when you least expect it.

A sight, sound, or smell may zip right past your defenses and cause an intense surge of sorrow. And sometimes, that surge may happen in public. To this day, certain Christmas carols I hear while shopping elicits a sudden sense of melancholy because of the strong identification they have for me with the first and only holiday season my son was alive.

We knew our loved one in a shared environment that is full of these sensory experiences that can provoke feelings of loss in an instant because of this connection created from past holiday seasons. This is perfectly normal and doesn’t mean that you’re going backward in your grief. Value these moments as important connections to the one who has died.

Social Splitting

The transition back into your work setting and your social groups after a loss can create a strain because you may have to act better than you feel in order to appear socially appropriate. This social splitting can be exhausting. Add to that the cultural expectation of being “up” for the holidays, and the exhaustion may be compounded.

This type of fatigue is normal. Monitor your energy, and be willing to moderate your social engagements, if needed. To recharge yourself from the drain of social splitting, spend ample time with those with whom you can fully be yourself and who will support you without judgement.

Approach and Avoid

Our most basic nature is to approach pleasure and avoid pain. Our more evolved nature can approach pain if we know there is an ultimate benefit in doing so. Our natural resistance to the pain of grief can create more pain.

Be intentional about scheduling time during this hectic season to approach your pain. Create rituals that represent the unique relationship you had to the one who died, such as listening to his or her favorite music or reading a favorite poem.

Light a candle or ring a bell to mark this special time of remembering and reflecting. Visit the cemetery or mausoleum if that provides a connection for you.

I’m grateful to our Japanese daughter-in-law who requests each holiday season that we participate in the Japanese custom of taking food to the gravesites where our son and other family members are buried. Her ritual has now become ours.

Seek Heathy Distractions

In a season fraught with overindulgences, be aware of the risk of numbing the feelings of loss through unhealthy escape behaviors. Also, know that it’s not possible to stay in the emotional intensity of grief without some relief, so give yourself permission to engage in healthy distractions.

The key to a healthy distraction is a behavior that allows you to pause your feelings for a moment so that you may come back, and be truly present to them later. My ritual of watching comedy holiday movies has served me well through the years.

Reach out to a trusted friend if you’re concerned about harmful escape behaviors during the holidays. Ask if you can be accountable to them for these behaviors and if they will participate with you in heathier activities that provide you with some respite from your grief.

Tell Your Story 

My professional training taught me that grief is a series of steps and stages to work through, which will lead to a conclusion called closure. My experience as a grieving dad did not at all match up with this psychological model.

Through my own grief and by working with so many who mourn, I came to understand that grief is an ongoing narrative of love, not an emotional finish line to be crossed.

Stories help us stay connected to those who have died and help us create meaning about what we have experienced. Finding a place for that story to be received is an important part of the grief journey.

Tell the story of your loved one as it relates to the holiday season to someone who listens well. Or spend some time writing specific memories related to your loved one and the holidays.

Acknowledge Someone Else’s Loss

Those who grieve want their loss and their loved one remembered, so consider making contact with someone who is grieving, as well. It doesn’t matter how long ago that loss may have been. Offer the compassion to others you desire for yourself.

Compassion literally means to suffer with and calls us to enter into the pain of another. Listen with gentle curiosity and an open heart. Consider making a donation to a cause that is relevant to the person who is grieving.

Be Forgiving 

Let self-compassion replace any self-criticism as you do your best to balance holiday enjoyment with your grief. Be forgiving of well-meaning others who may try to help you with your grief by “cheering you up.”

How you measure what’s significant and what’s trivial may have changed as you grieve. Patience may be needed when you’re in the midst of others during the holidays who experience the trivial as significant.

As you reflect on your loss, you may also benefit from reviewing your history with the loved one who has died, and offering and accepting forgiveness for the human flaws you each had that affected your relationship.

Remember always, you grieve because you loved. May you have peace and light as you embrace your story of love and loss this holiday season.

Adapted excerpt from GETTING GRIEF RIGHT: Finding Your Story of Love in the Sorrow of Loss, by Patrick O’Malley, PhD with Tim Madigan. Sounds True, July 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About Dr. Patrick O’Malley

Patrick O’Malley, Ph.D. has been providing grief counseling and education to clients and colleagues for over thirty-five years. For more information, visit

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Making the Hurt Visible: How I Healed from Abuse and Learned to Listen to Myself

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“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.” ~Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

We’ve just passed the year anniversary of an event that has greatly changed our country. The shock of the election results last year sent waves of powerful emotions rippling through our nation.

Personally, I felt the effects as intense and immediate grief. It was as though I had just lost my dearest companion.

I had days of shock, despair, feelings of intense cold with physical shaking and episodes of vomiting and nausea, followed by weeks of sleepless nights, spontaneous sweating, nightmares and feelings of imminent danger. Everything felt like a threat. Everything felt like an unbearable reminder. It was all so devastating… and so embarrassing.

I was ashamed of how deeply I registered the experience and found it difficult to talk about even with those I loved. I was confused as to why it felt so intense, why I felt choked when I tried to speak of how I was feeling, and assumed it was something wrong with me. I was the living example of the liberal snowflake.

As I began talking to others I realized that I was not alone in this experience, and I began to be curious as to why it registered so deeply with myself and some others, and yet did not in some of my friends who had similar political ideologies. They were still disappointed and disgusted with what had happened, but it did not register in such a visceral way.

Personal and systematic abuse shaped us all in invisible ways. The answers I found to why I related so physically to the event go back very far into my personal history, and if you believe in such things, my ancestral history also.

As a small child family gatherings held a sense of dread for my sister and me. While we enjoyed the food and presents usually involved, there was also the regular ritual of uncle Joe.

Uncle Joe would call us floozies and comment that our legs were too skinny, our knees looked like washerwoman knees, and no one would find us attractive.

There were also the sneak attacks of him grabbing us and holding us down and tickling us while we screamed for him to stop. It was always in the middle of the room with everyone watching, and him narrating the scene, saying how much we really loved it, how silly we sounded screaming stop because we were laughing, and everyone could see we enjoyed it.

At the beginning and end of gatherings he would demand a hug and kiss; didn’t we love our uncle?

I remember feeling helpless, humiliated, and ashamed for my tears. It was expected for us to swallow our feelings and put on a happy face. We needed to be polite.

If any adult came to our aid or defense I do not recall it, and I’m sure if anyone did they would have also been told that they were being too sensitive. He was showing his love for us, and why didn’t they appreciate it? We should feel lucky to have an uncle who loved us so much.

This kind of story is so commonplace, so ubiquitous, that many may read it and still question what was wrong with that situation. But this is how the very damaging abuse called gas lighting works.

The perpetrator takes advantage of someone weak or vulnerable. They deny the victim from having a voice in the story, then re-center the story to be about themselves, about how great and wonderful they are or, conversely, how they themselves are being abused in the situation. And they mostly are not even aware that they are doing it.

Even in writing this down I feel the tension in my body rise. I feel the tremors involuntarily start in my limbs, my breath gets shallow, and I have trouble even wrapping my head around the words to adequately explain the experience.

In Psychological Harm is Physical Harm Nora Samaran writes of how this kind of abuse shapes the brain and how someone can react to this behavior for the rest of their life. The systematic silencing of one’s voice and denial of one’s reality can cause someone to become incapable of talking about it.

Uncle Joe was not the only person in my life who behaved in this way. It was everywhere, from the doctor who told me that it didn’t hurt when he burned off my warts with dry ice, to my father who told me to quit crying or he would give me something to cry about, to the teachers who seemed to always ignore my correct answers, but hear the boy behind me who repeated what I just said as if it was his own idea. It was on television, in movies, in the music I heard on the radio.

I internalized the patterns and found myself over and over in the same frustrations, the same endless arguments, the same feelings of invisibility.

I sought out the dynamic in my relationships, sometimes in more obviously abusive partnerships, but often in the subtle and almost invisible forms of minimization. I felt like I was talking, but the people I was talking to didn’t seem to register what I was saying.

It was like being caught in a nightmare, where you are trying to speak but what comes out of your mouth is unintelligible. You know what you are trying to say, but what my partners heard was something altogether different. It was crazy making.

Because of the systemic normalization of minimizing and denying the feminine perspective, I came to deeply distrust my own mind.

I did not have to even be told my perceptions were not important; it was done in the subtle shrugging off of my suggestions, the deep sigh that made me feel my words were ridiculous, the automatic response of the males in my life to say “yes, but…,” “ I don’t think you get what’s going on,” “you are misunderstanding,” even when I was describing my own feelings or experience.

And the many years of work I did getting a handle on my own anger issues and automatic reactions made me super sensitive to the claims that I was the one being too aggressive, making too big a deal out of something, or just being mean.

I automatically took on the blame and responsibility of any argument. I was being irrational, I was not being clear enough, the words I used were hurtful; therefore, they were invalid.

Mathew Remski discusses this quite eloquently from the male perspective. He talks of the behavior of minimizing being so embedded in his make up that it takes continuous concentrated effort to even notice when it is happening. And that it also takes the help of his partner continuously pointing out when it happens.

It is a lot of work to be constantly vigilant monitoring our behavior, and it can feel almost impossible to overcome. I know because I, and most other people who have had the experience of personal or systematic marginalization do this every day with our own behavior. The constant rewriting of our own experiences to fit within a system that cannot accept our true feelings, which center the collective narrative on a cis, white male perspective.

When the campaign happened, the behaviors I had deep visceral reactions to became public. Instead of being hidden away in the most intimate relationships or invisible private conversations, they were being played out on a very public stage.

I felt myself reacting to them all as if they had happened to me personally (because they had, just not by this particular person).

When one of the most powerful positions in the world was given to a person who was so blatantly abusive and disrespectful, who openly mocked his victims, who rewrote every story so the blame was scattershot anywhere but his direction, who played out the usually hidden abuses so many of us feel intimately on a scale so huge it permeated the globe, it felt to me that the years of hard work I had done to reclaim my identity had been wiped out in a single night.

It validated the claim of every person who had told me I didn’t know what I was talking about; if I was uncomfortable it was because my expectations were not reasonable; if I felt abused, hurt, ignored it was hurtful and unfair to the person I was accusing; that pointing out my pain or the pain of others was downright impolite and my behavior. The mere fact that I had a perspective of my own, was intolerable.

I found relief through somatic therapy. Somatic therapy works directly with sensations of the body and translating them into the emotions that we may be storing there. It requires one to become present in the now, opening to the deeply buried layers that bubble up from the subconscious when we have knee-jerk reactions and strong emotions.

Translating the subconscious reactions we have into conscious and conscientious actions creates the space to make our hurt, and the hurt of others visible. To do this I had to dive into the depth of the grief to see where it stemmed from, not just place it was most recently triggered. This was a place that made every fiber of my being long to run away, numb out, cease to exist.

But the leaning into the pain instead of running away allowed me to recognize and accept my own feelings and reactions as tools of learning. I had to relearn to trust my instincts and see myself as a reliable source of information. I learned that I am valid, my feelings are important, and I have a right to be heard and to take up space.

I saw the ways I was complicit in my own harm. I had given up the right to my own perspective, internalized the doubt that my experiences are real, automatically responded to my strong emotions as unreasonable, and I had agreed that the feelings and needs of others were more important than my own.

When I saw that I had agreed to these things subconsciously, I was finally able to decide for myself that I did not want to do these things and could make the choice to stop.

It was and continues to be hard work. But now I listen when strong reactions come up, and instead of automatically silencing them I ask, what they are here to tell me? My anger, fear, guilt, depression, despair, all have a message they are desperately trying to get me to hear.

With deep listening my reactions can be transformed into conscious actions. Actions that let my voice be heard, centering my own story and needs, and allowing others to express what they need to express as well. It also gives me a very low BS tolerance threshold.

In claiming my own story I suddenly found it intolerable having it minimized in any way and could no longer be silent when it was.

This is a deeply inconvenient perspective to have. Going against the grain of society and allowing myself to be impolite while remaining as compassionate as I can muster leads to many awkward and uncomfortable conversations. It leads to conversations where I have to put my personal safety on the line in order to stand up for my personal integrity.

There is also the need for great delicacy and diplomacy. You cannot hope for others behavior to change when you make them the enemy.

We all have the capacity to hurt; we all have the capacity to heal. I am the victim of abuse in cases related to my gender, and at times, my age, but have also been the perpetrator in cases where my privilege, be it from my white skin, my middle class upbringing, my citizenship etc. have blinded me to the ways I have contributed to the minimization and abuse of others.

Learning to have compassion for myself and my own tender emotions also requires me to have compassion for those who have harmed me. In the cases of my intimate circle, these are people I love and respect, and I want to be able to still love myself and need to allow for others to love themselves. I see the great hurt many of the people who have treated me this way carry around, you do not abuse without having first been abused yourself.

Unfortunately the abuse of toxic masculinity (the culture of oppression, patriarchal values, or the many names this behavior is known by) has become so embedded in our culture that we do not even recognize it as abuse. It is the norm; it’s just the way it is.

It is invisible to the unconscious eye, until we make it visible. We are all damaged by it, but some are made to pay a dearer price, and some are allowed to gain privilege.

Those that gain privilege may have less of a motivation to change the patterns and a harder time seeing the ways they do harm and the ways it benefits them. It takes a lot of self-awareness and the ability to make yourself vulnerable. Accepting the responsibility of having harmed others and making amends is a very painful truth to accept, and so many will avoid this at all costs.

And this responsibility is passed down through the generations. If one generation cannot make amends for the harm they caused, the pain, guilt, and responsibility are handed down to the next; only the further it goes from its origins, the more subconscious it becomes, and the more difficult it is to bring the surface and recognize it.

But this is also the way it is healed, once and for all. It is not appealing work to dig deep into the ugliest depth of our suffering, to name the ways we have suffered, the ways we have caused suffering, the ways we have allowed both things to happen. But not doing it makes those parts of ourselves most in need of tender care the least visible.

So in this year when all I really wanted was for this guy, who made all my alarm bells go off, to shut the hell up, I was moved to look at all the ways I had let this weak and damaged person, and so many others like him, convince me I had to shut the hell up. I lovingly listened to my own story and convinced myself to speak up instead.

About Dr. Lisa Klieger

Lisa Klieger is a Five Element Acupuncturist (MAc) and a Doctor of Medical QiGong (DMQ China). She uses decades of clinical and personal experience to bridge ancient wisdom with modern sensibilities in order to guide sensitive souls to trust their innate wisdom and embody resilient self love. You can visit her on Facebook and at

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Train Your Mind: Overcoming Negative Thoughts Is Half the Battle

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“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” ~Theodore Roosevelt

I could not find the bottom of the pool.

The task seemed simple enough: Wearing no more than twenty pounds worth of gear, swim to the bottom of an eight-foot pool, remove your gear, and swim back up.

My feet combed for something—anything—solid beneath me, to no avail. A shock of fear struck through my veins, clouding my head. Panic. I reached a point of sheer, utter, uncontrollable panic.

Panic is an interesting beast. It is designed to trigger the flight-or-fight mechanism in the human body; it is for survival at all costs. Yet, it tends to override any form of rationality. So, with twenty pounds dragging me down into the depths, I attempted desperately to swim back up to the surface.

In swimming, there are three places you can be and only one of which is dangerous. The first is above water, where you can breathe. The second is on the bottom, where you can use momentum to push yourself up. The dangerous one is in between. In purgatory. This is where I found myself.

I had not struggled with any aspect of training while at the U.S. Military Academy. I was not the smartest of the bunch, but I was a hard worker and I was willing to sacrifice sleep; this earned me decent grades. I was not the strongest, but I was willing to put in work every day at the gym; this earned me good physical stamina.

I had always heard about how everyone experiences a crucible event at the academy, during which they were stopped dead in their tracks and given two choices: give in, or do everything you can to claw and scratch your way to success. I, however, was complacent.

Time slowed down as I fought tooth and nail to reach the surface. When people are drowning and in a state of panic, they do what is called “shelfing.” It is a fruitless attempt to push the water below them with their arms to get their head to air.

I felt a moment of cold as my hand punched above the surface one last time, clawing for air, before my lungs began burning so badly that my body went limp. I watched the world around me begin to close to black. Pictures of my family and my life flipped across my thoughts like a film reel.

Just as I began to lose consciousness, a shepherd’s hook was thrust in my direction, pulling me to the surface, where I quickly clutched the side of the pool, panting, my heart pounding in my throat. I looked up at my combat survival swimming instructor, my eyes swirling with fear.

“Go in and do it again,” he said.

From that point on, this course became the bane of my existence. I writhed with anxiety before each session. I continued not to pass the swim tests. The dark cloud of failure lingered over my head. This was a mandatory class. If I failed, it put my graduation in jeopardy.

Here I stood, in the second semester of my junior year at West Point, with an enormous, unexpected mountain in front of me. This was my crucible. This was where I would rise or fall, and it would change the course of my existence.

It is important to mention that at this point, I had failed every single “survival gate.” I started going to every extra help session I could, continuously attempting to retest. It all seemed futile because the moment I began to sink in any capacity, my mind went into overdrive and the panic would set in. Once the panic set in, I was finished.

Buddha once said, “Rule your mind or it will rule you.” I was in good physical shape. I knew how to swim. This was not a question of capability; it was a question of mindset. And I had to fix it.

Up until this time in my life, I always used a brute force approach to challenges or adversities. I did not consider the mind as a muscle requiring growth and exercise, like the body. My mind had never acted against what my body and heart wanted to do. For the first time, I experienced uncontrolled thoughts that were influencing my actions.

Every time I attempted to swim, as soon as my hips would begin to drop under, or my head plunged beneath unexpectedly, my inner voice wailed, “It’s over. You are drowning.” Like clockwork, I would let my body become vertical, and I would sink beneath the surface, splashing desperately for the center ropes or the edge.

Something had to change. The water absorbed brute force like it was nothing, and it was more than willing to swallow me into its depths, no matter how much I flailed. I had to find a different way to stop myself from panicking.

I started small. I looked in the mirror before class, and told myself, “You can do this. You are strong.” I played motivational songs before class. I made a deliberate attempt to get myself excited, while inside, my stomach was squirming with dread.

Then one morning, while I was wearing my full kit and attempting to breaststroke across a twenty-five-meter lane, I felt my hips begin to sink. The flush of fear stung my cheeks, and my breathing became staggered.

“You are drowning! You cannot do it!” the voice of panic screamed in my head. I felt my shoulders go under. Then I could no longer breathe.

My eyes squeezed shut as my arms began to wave wildly. But, at that moment, my mind training seemed to kick in. “You are alright.” The small, timid words of reason attempted to push away the panic. “You can save yourself.”

I stopped flailing. I brought my arms to my sides and allowed myself to sink all the way to the bottom of the pool.

“You are okay.” I felt the bottom of the pool with my boots, and pushed as hard as I could against it, sending myself shooting upwards. With a gasp of relief, my head burst out of the water, and I swam to the end. I met the lifeguard’s eye; he had been waiting by the edge of the pool, ready to act.

“Hey, good job!” he told me with a smile. “You saved yourself!”

This was the beginning of a change. I could learn to challenge the negative thoughts.

From then on, when I swam with my gear, I repeated the mantra, “You are okay. You are okay.” When I jumped off the 6-meter diving board and plunged into the depths of the pool, I told myself, “You will make it.” When I slid down into the wave pool, head first, in my gear, clutching my rubber rifle to my chest, I said, “You will finish.”

The swell of panic that consistently grew in me could be quelled by this quiet, steady focus that simply refused to give up. In the end, I retested every single survival gate multiple times and finally scored the minimum requirements to pass the class—on the very last day.

This experience changed my outlook on life and myself. The mind is an incredible tool that you can train to accomplish amazing feats. It can be your worst enemy, or, with practice and understanding, your best weapon.

It is vital to realize that everyone—you included—will go through a crucible in life. It will be a defining moment during which you teeter on the bridge between triumph and defeat, and you will have the choice. That choice and the choices you make every time you are faced with a hurdle will build the habits that ultimately will come to define how you will live your entire life.

You cannot fully prepare for a crucible in life, no matter how much you try. It will sneak up on you, and it will grab you by the neck and pull you under if you let it.

The key lies in your way of thinking. Every single time I got in the water, I was filled with a sensation of impending doom. My internal monologue told me of certain failure. However, you can change your inner voice. Make a deliberate effort to tell yourself a different story than the one that has been drowning you. Change the way you speak to yourself. When your mind is right, your actions can follow.

This is not a story of becoming the most successful swimmer ever. I scraped by with a single mark above failing.

This is a story of training your mind, and making the deliberate decision to fight the negative monologue that has overpowered you. Whether it be a crucible of health, school, physical activity, sports, money, the first step toward overcoming is to convince yourself it is not only possible, but you will.

The negative thoughts are next to impossible to fully stop. Instead, you must train your mind to answer them with stronger, more positive thoughts. Learn to trust yourself through positive self-talk. This is not a skill to learn in a single day, but you can train yourself before your crucible strikes.

The best step you can possibly take for yourself at this very moment is to practice the subtle art of training your mind and thoughts. Meditate on it. When you hear yourself complaining, counter your negative thought with a positive one. Smile more often, even when you do not feel like it. Feel your fears and doubts, but go for it anyways. Compliment yourself daily. Practice gratitude and mindfulness.

Ask yourself the question, “Who do you want to be?” and use the answer to thwart any thoughts that keep you from becoming that person.

You do not have to let yourself drown to find your mental strength.

About Sarah Goodman

Sarah Goodman is an Armor Officer in the United States Military. She is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and a lover of dogs, fitness, the outdoors, and things that seem impossible. She is believer in meditation through fishing. Her fishing adventures can be found on her website, Gone Fishing Korea. Pictures can also be viewed on Instagram.

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Why I Was Addicted to Attention, Lies, and Drama

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I’ve done a lot of things for attention that I’m not proud of. I’ve created drama. I’ve bragged. I’ve exaggerated. I’ve hurt people. I’ve hurt myself. I’ve lied and lied and lied.

No one wants to be labeled as an “attention seeker.” When people say, “She’s just doing it for attention,” they don’t mean it as a compliment. I knew this. And I knew that people said these things about me.

And still, I couldn’t stop.

I spend a lot of time around animals, especially cats. It’s easy to see which ones have experienced starvation. They have constant anxiety about food. They meow and meow when it’s feeding time. They scarf their portions down without breathing. If the bowl is left full, they’ll eat whatever’s there—even if it’s a week’s worth of food!

I was that cat with attention. I could never get enough.

But compulsive behaviors aren’t about what we’re consuming. Attention seeking isn’t about attention. Food addiction isn’t about food. Really, it’s about control.

When you’ve been starved of something, you develop a fear of losing it. You begin to cling to every morsel of what you’re desperately afraid to live without. Survival mode.

That’s what it was like for me: constant survival mode. I felt like, at any moment, I was going to be abandoned, left alone, forgotten. I fought to be noticed. Fought to be heard. Fought to be “loved.”

But despite my constant attention-seeking efforts, I never got what I truly wanted. I never felt loved for exactly who I was because I never showed her to anyone! I showed the world the person I thought it wanted to see, and I used other people as characters in my personal drama.

So that is the biggest irony: because I was so desperately hungry for love, I couldn’t have it. Because I so deeply craved attention, I repelled people away from me. Then, these experiences reaffirmed my biggest fear: there wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough. So I’d grasp more, cling more, lie more.

Too often, people talk about attention seeking like it’s a character flaw. I see it as an addiction.

When we’re trying to fill a love-sized hole, it doesn’t matter what we’re trying to stuff into it: drugs, money, alcohol, approval, sex. If it’s not love, it won’t truly satisfy us. We’ll keep wanting more and more.

My journey of healing my attention-seeking patterns has been long and painful. One of the most painful things has been realizing that most people weren’t reacting to me the way I thought they were.

I used to brag loudly in public, imagining people around me admiring and envying me. Now, I realize that most of them were either ignoring me or annoyed by my antics.

I used to stretch every accomplishment, imagining people respecting me. If it was two, I’d say five. If it was 100, I’d say 300. If it was one minute, I’d say an hour. Now, I realize that most people either didn’t believe me or used my lies to reinforce their own insecurities.

I used to make a tragedy out of every pain and a drama out of every inconvenience, imagining people pitying me. Now, I know that most people either felt stuck in the cloud of toxicity that surrounded me (because of their own unhealed traumas), or they avoided that cloud like the plague.

The world, I’ve discovered, isn’t quite the place I thought it was.

I was so busy talking and talking, lying and lying, that I never sat down just to listen. And that is what helped me heal: looking within myself, looking around me, and embracing reality.

Attention seeking, for me, was a kind of self-protection. On my journey of healing myself, I’ve found that self-love and self-protection aren’t the same thing. I had to remove my armor and my mask. I had to face the truth.

Beneath my defense mechanisms, I found a fragile, wounded part of me that was traumatized by childhood experiences—by emotional starvation. But this part of me wasn’t fragile because of the wounds I incurred as a kid. It was fragile because I tried to protect it.

After I got hurt, I tried to hide myself away. I tried to create an elaborate fantasy world to protect myself from rejection and abandonment. I piled layers and layers of bandages on top of my wounds, but wounds need air to heal. I tried to keep myself safe, but I ended up suffocating myself instead.

I wasn’t lying and creating drama “just for attention.” I was doing it to survive. I was grasping for scraps of approval to replace my desperate hunger for real love, for authenticity, for happiness.

On the outside, it seemed like I wanted other people’s attention. That’s what I thought I needed too. But what I really needed was to pay attention—to be able to just exist in each moment without struggling. To be able to look at myself without running away. To look at people without being afraid of them. To have peace of mind.

Maybe you know someone who’s stuck in these patterns. Maybe that someone is you. However this applies to you, I hope to communicate one important thing: attention seeking is a symptom of a bigger cause.

It’s not something to be dismissed. It’s also not something to be judged and criticized. It’s something to be accepted, understood, unraveled, and forgiven.

Healing these patterns takes time. Every step along the way, it’s been difficult for me to invite reality to replace my delusions. It’s been hard to allow myself to be raw and open instead of trying to protect myself from pain.

But this healing journey has also allowed me to enjoy real affection: from myself and from others. And that has been worth all the hard work.

About Vironika Tugaleva

Like every human being, Vironika Tugaleva is an ever-changing mystery. At the time of writing this, she was a life coach, digital nomad, and award-winning author of two books (The Love Mindset and The Art of Talking to Yourself). She spent her days writing, dancing, singing, running, doing yoga, going on adventures, and having long conversations. But that was then. Who knows what she’s doing now? Keep up at

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The post Why I Was Addicted to Attention, Lies, and Drama appeared first on Tiny Buddha.


How Creativity Heals Us and Why It’s a Gift to the World

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“Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world.” ~Brené Brown

I wrote a poem today for the woman I love(d).

Just a few weeks ago, I fully believed she was the one I’d be with forever. Love forever. My heart was open so deep and wide to her. We talked about marriage and living together in the woods, making art, and being a family.

Then things got tough. We talked, we tried, we read books, jetted our intention out into the universe. But we just couldn’t keep it together.

There was so much pain. But also so much love. There were no lies; there was no betrayal. There was lots of kindness and understanding, attempts at consciousness and empathy. It was really hard, and my heart broke. But it’ll be okay. Just a very different road than I had anticipated.

After a few weeks we’ve come together again as friends. Really good friends. As she said, “I want to be the best ex-girlfriend you’ve ever had.” And so far, she is. Truly.

She challenged us to love each other as much as we can, while not being together. It’s a big ask. A deeply spiritual question that pushes boundaries of everything we think we know about who we love, why we love, and what we expect in return.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day we met.

As you might imagine, my poet heart is full of love, hurt, conjecture, compassion, and the mystery of it all. And that brings me to my point…

Creativity is not a luxury item.

Writing her some verses about what we had, what we dreamed and what we’ve become, helped me to clarify my thoughts and feelings. It helped me see into my own truth.

For anyone who feels compelled in any way to activate and engage with their creativity, it really is so much bigger than it appears. Here’s why…

Creativity helps us to be seen.

There are something like seven billion people running around on this planet. Whether you’re driving down the freeway, walking the streets of your city, or tapping around online, it’s easy to feel lost. To feel invisible, inconsequential. It’s a big world.

When we create something, whether it’s a one-woman show, a video animation, a poem, a song, whatever—we’re taking what’s inside of us and stepping it out. Now it can be shown or heard. Now it can be experienced, transmitted. Now it can be shared.

When it’s shared, parts of us that were once invisible, hidden, obscured, become known.

Perhaps you’ll get your fifteen minutes and become popular with the masses. More likely, it’ll be with your extended gang or just a few close people. And sometimes your creation will only be for yourself. Even if no one else checks out your work, it’ll still help you to see yourself. Become better known to yourself. Understand more deeply who you are.

This is big.

Creativity helps us to be expressed.

To be expressed simply means moving from the potential to the actual. A dancer that sits in the corner is not expressed as a dancer in that moment. A chef that heats up a can of soup is not expressed as a chef. You get the idea.

As my poetry teacher in college said, a poet is not someone with a book of poems on her desk. It’s not someone with a teaching gig or a fat resume. A poet is someone who writes poems.

This may seem pretty obvious, but it goes deep. As humans, our true potential is nearly limitless. Based on the choices we make, the chances we take, and the efforts we put in, our lives move forward in whatever trajectory we choose. We will essentially be expressed in various ways as the result of our choices.

Creativity, in whatever form we desire, helps us become who are we. Dancer, poet, entrepreneur, singer, artist, dad, friend, teacher, lover, whatever. It’s your choice. Your effort. Your path. However you choose to express becomes your life.

This is big.

Creativity helps us to heal.

There are plenty of ways to heal. You can see a therapist, dig into some meditation, go on a solo voyage around the world, talk to you pals, hit up a sweat lodge, or go on a fantastic inner journey. It’s all good. Whatever’s right for you is right for you. But there’s at least one key difference in using creativity to heal.

When we create something it moves from the internal (an idea) to the external (the expression). Unlike a meditation or a visit with the therapist, our struggles and our catharsis can now be shared.

I wrote a screenplay called PANACEA’S DREAM about a shaman and scientist who develop a pill that cures any illness. It works, but nobody really knows why.

Thematically, it’s about the duality between faith and science. This is something I’ve grappled with my whole life. But now, these questions play out through my characters. I’m healed in ways by writing this narrative because I can now integrate the separate parts of my myself. I can now see and have empathy for the skeptic within as well and the spiritualist who relies on faith alone.

Anyone who reads my screenplay or sees the movie will get some kind of benefit from it. Perhaps stir up some questions. My expression can be shared. Unlike that trip to the therapist or the sweat in the lodge.

So creativity helps us to be seen, expressed, and healed. This is fantastic! But I just recently had a bit of an epiphany and tapped into a deeper truth while talking with my old love.

Being expressed, healed, and seen is actually a service to humanity. A gift to the world.

When we are expressed, we become who we truly are.

When we are healed, we become better versions of ourselves.

When we are seen, our truth and goodness shine in the world.

And when we express, heal and shine, we help other to do the same. This is big. Really big.

Tomorrow I’m going to take my own advice. I’m going to give my old love her poem. And love her with everything I’ve got in my heart (even though we’re not together). I’m going to express, heal, and be seen in ways I cannot speak.

Creativity is not a luxury item.

About Jeff Leisawitz

Jeff Leisawitz burns with a mission—to inspire writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, entrepreneurs (and everyone else) to amp up their creativity, heal their hearts, and shine in the world. Check out his online interactive creativity workshops and get FREE chapters of his book, Not F*ing Around—The No Bullsh*t Guide for Getting Your Creative Dreams Off the Ground here.

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24 Quick Ways to Make Someone Happy Today

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“Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

One of the best ways to create a happier life for yourself is to make other people happier.


You see it. You’ll feel happier as someone’s face lights up with joy.
You did a good thing. You’ll feel happier because you feel you have done a good thing. And so your self-esteem shoots up too.
You get what you give. In the long run you tend to be treated by others as you treat them. Plus, the way you treat and think about others also tends to be the way you treat and think about yourself.

So how can you make someone happier?

Here are 24 quite quick things you can start doing today. Pick one and see how it can affect someone in your life.

Give a sincere compliment. Many positive things tend to go unsaid. So give someone a sincere compliment today. It can mean especially much if it’s for something that is close to the other person’s heart. Or something he or she has been putting in a good effort with like getting into better shape for the last few months.
Let someone into your lane while you’re driving. It can unstress his or her day quite a bit.
Hold the door open for a few extra seconds. It doesn’t take much of an effort but it can put a smile on someone’s face.
Express your gratitude for what is too often taken for granted. We may sometimes take what others do a bit too much for granted. Like the food they cook, how they keep doing their job consistently each and every day or how to they are there to listen when we need it.
Share some of your tasty homemade cookies. Or bread, ice cream or jerky.
Give away a piece of your hobby. Like a bracelet or a drawing you have made for instance.
Share some of your fall harvest. For example some jam, canned vegetables or dried delicious mushrooms or fruit.
Encourage. The world can be a tough and discouraging place at times. So encourage someone who is in a negative situation at the moment. Add your own perhaps more grounded and optimistic perspective on the situation to lessen his or her worries and perhaps exaggerated fears.
Tell a good – or terrible – joke. Or a funny story about something that happened to you last week.
Share something funny you found online. Play one of your favorite clips from a stand-up show you love if you are out of jokes and good stories at the moment.
Share a Spotify-playlist with the most inspiring and uplifting songs you know. Send it to a friend that needs it right now. Or share it with family, friends or co-workers on social media.
Give a stranger a compliment. Few things can brighten a day like getting a kind and unexpected compliment from someone you pass by or you have just met. So take a few seconds and give that to someone you encounter today and tell her how nice her shoes, hat or hairstyle looks. Or ask him where he where he got that cool t-shirt or umbrella.
Help out practically with advice. If a friend needs some help then ask someone you know who has been in that situation for advice. Or do a bit of online research to find what he she might be looking for.
Pick some flowers. It only takes few minutes but the joy lasts for days.
Give a hug. It unstresses and it can disrupt negative thoughts and change someone’s mood surprisingly quickly. Use when appropriate though.
Cook their favorite food if they have had a bad day. I know from my own life that it can really cheer me up on such days.
Get their favorite takeout food. If you want a quicker option than cooking a meal when they are having a crummy day. A variation on this idea is to get just a small piece of their favorite chocolate or other treat.
Bring something nice for the coffee break at work. Maybe some sweet fruit, like clementines. Or some fancy and really tasty tea. Or maybe something from the local bakery. This can be big cheer up especially during this often dark and cold time of the year.
Smile. Even if you’re only spending 30 seconds on talking to the cashier in the supermarket checkout line.
Run an errand or do one chore for that person. It can be big stress reducer if he or she is having a hectic day.
Just listen. It’s sometimes all that’s needed to help someone out of a negative headspace.
Bring a cup of tea or coffee the way that person likes it. It only takes a minute while you are already up and getting a hot beverage for yourself.
Hide a secret note for him or her to find. A note of thankfulness. Or a note with a compliment. Or simply a note of love. Hide it in their tea container, lunch box or hat for example.
Bring the positivity. If you bring positivity and an open, happy and good energy into a conversation for example then that tends to spread and the two of you or more will have happier lunch break, evening down at the pub or coffee date in the crisp autumn sunshine.

What is your favorite way to make someone happy?