Wednesday, June 25, 2014

She's Finding Her Fit: How Energy and Light Bring Wholeness

                                                                                       Photo by Jennifer Price

"As I've aged, I've figured out my boundaries; what works for me."

Sometimes we find our fit in a lightning-bolt type of moment: the skies open up, a light shines down clearly illuminating our path toward a more fulfilling life that allows us to walk in our perfect fit, and we bolt off in a new direction – fulfilling the calling that we were uniquely created for… but it rarely happens that way. More often, finding our fit comes through years of climbing out of the accumulation of stuff that has held us back, caused us to doubt our own abilities, diminished our willingness to trust, or even brought self-loathing and self-induced pain. Gradually, our walk gets smoother, the path becomes wider, our stride more confident, and over time we realize that we are walking the walk that we were designed to walk all along. That “aahhh,” the sense of ease (not that it’s necessarily - or always - EASY) that comes when life is no longer a desperate and unhappy struggle is the realization that we have found our fit. For Dawn C., as for many of us, this is a long – and even continuous – process requiring layers of unpeeling to reach the true essence that lies at the core of her being so that she can function in the fullness of what she was placed on this earth to do.

The din of a Nashville eatery is gaining momentum as noon approaches, but it can’t compete with the energy that exudes from the woman across the table from me. Dawn C., 41, glows with positivity and confidence. This is something that first struck me when we met a few years ago after taking one of her yoga classes at Hot Yoga Plus in Nashville. High energy, magnetic, and enthusiastic are some of the words that describe her. Dawn is a yoga instructor and personal trainer, but her primary vocation involves energy work. Relying largely on intuition and instinct, she practices Life AlignmentTechnique and Reiki. At first (and even tenth) glance, Dawn encapsulates what it looks like to have your sh_t together – the fruit of a lifetime of balance and peaceful living. In reality, it has taken her years – even decades – to actually find her fit.

Dawn grew up in northern Ohio, born into a quiet, conservative family. It was assumed that she would eventually join the family construction business, even after a detour through the entertainment industry. Early in her life, it didn’t occur to her that she would deviate from this plan, but rather than focusing on building and construction, she was drawn to music. By the age of 10, Dawn was singing and touring with a band and came to Nashville to record for the first time when she was 15. Music became her passion. Balancing entertaining with high school life, Dawn juggled cheerleading and playing on the school softball team while simultaneously honing her craft, but she was not following the family construction plan.

After high school, she was hired for long-term gig in Branson, MO. “I LOVED it,” Dawn reminisces. “I loved the fact that I was on my own, working and making great money, 600 miles away from my parents and doing what I loved to do.” The combination of independence and job-satisfaction was tempered with a growing sense of guilt as she realized that she would not be returning home to work in the construction business. Instead, she felt her heart leading her to deepen her commitment to music.

Sensitive to the tremendous conflict between knowing that she would never return home and the expectations of her parents (which included Dawn marrying her high school boyfriend who had also been tapped to join the family business), she began suffering from an eating disorder – although she did not identify it as such. She thought it was “natural to take laxatives and diet pills, and to starve yourself,” she recalls. It wasn’t until a co-worker talked to Dawn about her own struggle with an eating disorder that she began to think otherwise – but it took a while. “I thought it was odd that she spoke to me about her experience with an eating disorder because I didn’t have an eating disorder,” she recounts about their initial conversation. “I was in control. I thanked her for her input and went on. About a month later, I hit rock bottom and I called her and I said, ‘you’re right. I have a problem. I need your help.’”

Her friend helped her locate a therapist, which Dawn describes as helpful. “It helped me to detach and pull away and break up with a dysfunctional guy whom I had no intention of ever spending the rest of my life with. My parents, however, didn’t see it from my eyes, and it was quite a melee that ensued when I announced to them that, instead of moving back home, I was going to move to Nashville to go to college,” she recalls. Dawn was twenty-one years old. Pressured by her parents, however, she ended up moving home and getting back together with the boyfriend. Their relationship became abusive and controlling.

Eventually, she did make her way to Nashville, single but not without struggle. Finally enrolled at Belmont University where she studied music business, something still felt “off” with her life. The conflicts that arise as women attempt to break free from the expectations – whether real or perceived – of their parents or others in authority can often cause us to react in less than healthy ways toward ourselves. In Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything, author Geneen Roth writes, “Instead of being punished for daring to disagree with our mothers or fathers, we adults punish ourselves for daring to believe that our lives could be different.” For Dawn, this punishment was her familiar desire to strictly control her own appetite.

“The spiral was pretty awful,” she recounts. Her lowest low came one Saturday morning when she woke up starving after not eating the day before. Her solution was to head to the nearest grocery store and purchase half a dozen huge bagels from their in-house bakery. Once home, she consumed every one of them and instantly felt guilty. Immediately, she downed a sleeve of laxatives and three extra-strength diet/pep pills, promising herself that she wouldn’t eat again for the rest of the day.

Several hours later, Dawn woke up partially on her bed, partly on the floor, completely unaware of how she’d gotten there. “At that point, I knew that there was a problem,” she states. “I thought, this is not normal, I need to get a handle on this.”

For Dawn, getting a handle on it involved finding a therapist who then connected her to a medical doctor to address the physical problems from years of laxative and diet pill use. While her parents were financially supportive in her recovery, they have not been very involved in other areas of her life since then. “There are still a lot of hurt feelings about me not being there with them.” Her husband Pat, she says, “is very good at reminding me that it’s the box that they are in. It’s very hard to expect someone to open up their box and be willing to step outside of the box that they are in.” Dawn credits her husband with providing a safe place where she could continue her journey toward health and wholeness.

She and Pat met at a Nashville YMCA in 1996 where they were both working out. Two years later they married. By that time, she had transitioned out of music business studies and into exercise science, and had become a personal trainer. “I decided to go into exercise science because of what my body had gone through. I wanted to know more about what I had done to myself; how my body was repairing and what this experience had done,” Dawn says.  While she was developing an understanding of the physical ramifications of her eating disorder, she had not fully explored the origins and emotional causes of it. After her honeymoon, “…everything came roaring back. The things that I did not finish and complete in my therapies – now they’re back,” she recalls realizing, once the excitement of the wedding was over. “Not the diet pills, binging, purging. . . I felt too good physically and I wanted to keep feeling good. I didn’t want to go back to that – the brain fog. . . but the root of the issues were never attended to, which created issues in our marriage right away.” She knew there were other routes toward healing that she should pursue since traditional therapy had not been able to address it all.

Dawn has been married sixteen years and is currently in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR) - that she believes is very conducive to helping her unlock a lot of her “past stuff.” She describes it as “talk therapy on speed.” Another therapy that she was drawn to several years ago – quite unintentionally – was Body Alignment Technique. She had no idea what it involved, but made an appointment for a private session based on the recommendation of a friend. “I went in with almost zero expectations, but it was the most life-changing day of my life,” she recounts. In her experience as a personal trainer and in other exercise and stretching work she had done with her own clients, Dawn would often get a strong sense of intuition about the person she was working with but didn’t know what to do with it. She could sense their emotions, and describes that insight, at the time, as being odd. During her first Body Alignment session, she realized that this combination of therapy and bodywork encapsulated something that she had been looking for – as well as something familiar to her. The therapist was also intuitive and used that as a means of guiding the course of the therapy session.

In this setting, Dawn had what she describes as a vision from a bird’s eye view of a trailer that she recognized from her childhood. She then saw a man who was a friend of her older brothers and a member of her church. She felt her body get tense and “I could see my abuse. My sexual abuse was right there. It was like my body said, here you go. It was the root of so many of my issues – the eating disorder, the control, the OCD, you name it…” This experience had been completely repressed. From the safety of this vantage point, she recalls feeling safe enough to see it without the trauma of reliving it. She was simply an observer.

Dawn credits her open-mindedness at the onset of this therapy ten years ago with allowing her to be ready to address on-going issues and struggles. She refers to the process as an unwinding one, acknowledging that it “was part of a process of a handful of therapists that were helpful, but not always super-helpful.” During one of her therapy sessions, she observed the moment, at 9 months of age, when she electrocuted herself resulting in a serious burn on her mouth that required five plastic surgeries – the last one when she was 19.

Today, Dawn teaches yoga and does some personal training (past clients have included big-name musicians and other celebrities), but currently her primary vocation is energy work called Life Alignment Technique – much like the type that she experienced in her breakthrough Body Alignment Technique sessions. She also does some Reiki. It’s all instinctively and intuitively driven. “I feel more fulfilled now as a 41-year-old than I ever did in my thirties. In my thirties, I was making a lot of money as a personal trainer and I had a lot of clients and a back log of people waiting for sessions and it was good, and I wouldn’t change anything about it,” she states, then admits, “but I think the thing that I would probably do differently would have been to honor myself a lot sooner than I did, in getting better. But it’s all Divine right timing.” Time offers perspective, often changing how we view the good and bad experiences in our lives. “At the risk of sounding like I was happy to have had an eating disorder, I wouldn’t change it because it’s really been helpful in the energy work that I do. The clearing out of that sh_t is me being more attentive in my life and with other people as well.” She is careful to not take on the burdens or issues of her clients and has developed a way to purposefully remind herself of that. Mentally, she sets her own “stuff” at the door outside her home studio, and then goes through her clients “stuff” during their sessions. “We go through their sack, taking out stuff and examining it. We pack some of it back up, but I don’t keep any of their stuff myself,” she says. When doing intuitive work, she doesn’t feel as if she operates like a medium-for-hire, pulling up information on demand or on a whim. “The only stuff that comes up intuitively is the stuff that they are ready to deal with,” she says of her client-sessions.

During our conversation, I could not escape the fact that Dawn – her very name implies a lightness and is sometimes translated as “awakening” – is the embodiment of energy. Engaging, articulate, and alert, she matter-of-factly and unapologetically recounts her journey and how it has lead her to this fascinating, yet unconventional line of work. Since her two daughters, ages 7 and 11, attend Catholic school in a smaller conservative community outside of Nashville, she is most comfortable allowing the other parents at school to view her as a yoga instructor, being sensitive to the fact that not every community is open to alternative therapies like the ones that she practices. Most of her clients come through word of mouth, and she often relies on her intuition as her own guide concerning the people that she will accept as clients. She no longer feels guilty to say no to the expectations of others, nor is she driven to control her appetite or her exercise regime. Instead, she is sensitive to what her body needs and what her gut is telling her. “As I’ve aged, I’ve figured out my boundaries, what works for me” – a simple statement that took years to fully construct. It appears that for Dawn, those boundaries are working quite well.

To contact Dawn directly, email her here.

Author Elly Haddad is a certified holistic health and wellness coach and founder of Elemental Fit, based in Nashville, TN. She helps individuals and groups understand the important influence that diet & lifestyle have on health, happiness, & overall wellbeing. Elly is also a writer and public speaker, conducting workshops and seminars throughout the US. She can be contacted directly via email here

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