Over the past 14 years I have met many women who have worked to cultivate a life of inner peace and juicy aliveness (myself included) who did not plan on dragging their ugly past around forever.
They sit with me hopeless and in a state of despair (that they never show anyone) and say things like . . .
- “It’s like I have a tattoo on my forehead – easy target. I have been abused all of my life by different people and it feels like I just attract it somehow. What’s wrong with me? I feel tainted, dirty, ruined. And I feel like everyone can see it – and they all agree that it’s true.”
- “My mother didn’t like how I expressed myself. She wanted me to toughen up, but I always felt that I was too sensitive. I didn’t know how to stop things from hurting so badly in my heart.”
- “My life is tough. I see women enjoying their nice houses and loving husbands – and I know I want that, but I just don’t know how. I question my worthiness. My life has always seemed harder than others . . . and I’m scared that will never change.”
What they suspect is that there is some unhealed thing in their past holding them back.
So many of us want to be free of our history, leave the pain and shame behind, because of how it keeps killing our ability to live an expanded and amazing life. Again and again I’ve heard words like, “if only I didn’t have such a heavy past, I would have such a beautiful life.”
And I often say to them, “Imagine if you could wave a magic wand and make all of your baggage vanish. What would be possible in your life then? What would be freed up?” And they tell me the most beautiful things
Maybe you can relate . . .
- “I’d be able to be myself in relationships so that I could tell my partner the truth about how I feel and not feel like I’m constantly walking around holding my breath, walking on eggshells and trying to make them happy.”
- “I would feel at home in my body, so that I could feel comfortable with my sexuality, and not shy away from my softer, more tender side because it makes me seem weak.”
- “I would laugh more and be free to genuinely enjoy others’ company, and they would enjoy me too – especially the crazy, loud, wild side of me!”
- “I could create a better legacy for my kids so that when they are older, they know the difference between living a joyful life and living just to survive, and hopefully they pass that standard of living on to their children.”
- “I would take bigger risks, like traveling, meeting new people, pursuing a new job, so that I could be satisfied at the end of my life, knowing I didn’t hold back or waste the life I was given.”
- “I would follow my dreams, so I could truly contribute to this world, and make it a better place for others, instead of staying stuck in my own personal misery and making others miserable around me.”
- “I have a vision of myself standing in my power, so nobody could mess with me, nobody could ever own me again, and nobody could tell me that I am any less worthy, less valued, less beautiful than I am.”
These things feel impossible to these women because they getting over their past feels impossible. And because the past is out of their reach they feel utterly stuck and hopeless.
So here is the central idea I’d like to offer you . . .
You don’t need to let go of your baggage from the past because your most painful experiences are actually the ticket to your awakening. Your life story has profound value.
You can have a powerful meaningful life even if you haven’t let go of your past. That might seem obvious, but Like you, I have searched for ways to heal my past. No matter what life has thrown at me, I have always seen myself in a better life. When I was looking for help in creating a better life I saw for myself, I encountered so many workshops, books, and programs that left me feeling more weight and shame after participating.
Like my past was evidence of my karma, my dirty burden to carry. Like I got exactly what I deserved. That I had “manifested” all the terrible things. And, most importantly, that I should “get over my story.” Programs like that might have a following, but it can be spiritually harmful to encounter new-age bullying and betrayal when you are looking for healing.
When you are at your most vulnerable, it is imperative that you find a soft, safe, loving place to surrender to your story – instead of people trying to wrench it from your hands. Someone trying to take your story away by telling you it’s “in the past” and that you should “get over it” and “live in the present” doesn’t honour the story. It steals from you the gifts the story contains – the very gifts that are designed to take you into the next, more brave and beautiful phase of your life.
You will feel the most found, warm, compassionate, powerful, alive – by embracing your past. You are a beautiful woman, not in spite of your traumas, but because of them. Welcome to the mystical irony.
I don’t believe the majority of us can find a deep sense of peace, happiness, joy and self-love when we deny our own journey; rather, we need to reflect on it in the right way. We don’t only need hindsight but kindsight.
The work isn’t about forgetting your past – it’s about completely integrating it into your present. It’s about knowing that there is actually nothing wrong or faulty about you – that you are perfect – quirks, faults, strengths, scars and all.
Every experience you have lived can serve to initiate you into a deep, meaningful, purposeful and valuable life experience.
What do I mean by this? Two analogies.
Analogy #1: The Heavy Sack
Imagine feeling lost, alone and deeply depleted with little to your name but a heavy, old sack.
You carry around the sack for years, homeless and hungry. Weary from the heaviness and the cumbersome burden, you one day set it down, open it, and find within it seeds to plant a rich garden, tools to tend to your garden, containers to prepare the fruits of your garden.
Also within that sack are tools for your essential survival – such as matches, water, a tent, and a map. Dig deeply enough, and you might even uncover a journal or some ancient information about the very best places to plant your seeds or set up your tent.
All this had been on your back, weighing you down, slowing your pace, all along.
Analogy #2: The Overgrown Field
Or perhaps you are standing in the middle of a tangled overgrown field.
You find it difficult to find value in this land and your instinct is to mow it all down, dig it up, and plant some perfect, green grass.
But when you look – really get down and spread the overgrowth apart with your hands, you begin to see medicinal and edible weeds.
The pretty blue flowers are chicory, containing inulin to combat cholesterol.
The red clover can be harvested to help symptoms of menopause.
That wide-reaching throng of dandelions? Who knew they were sources of vitamins, iron and zinc?
And for gout, arthritis or eczema, carefully select some stinging nettle.
All of these medicines and more are right under your feet, in the guise of a useless, overgrown piece of land.
How does this look in real life?
Real Life Case Study #1: Lori
Lori, a single mother of a teenage son, was finally taking some time to find her own authentic joy.
When she came to me, she shared honestly about her weedy, overgrown, overwhelming inner world. Exploring her truth about growing up in an abusive, traumatizing environment, (surveying the tangled land), I asked her to kneel down in the weeds and look for the medicine. She was moved to tears as she realised the son she had raised was respectful, loving and a strong provider – because she had the ability to raise him differently than her own parents had raised her.
The approach she had to parenting him was initiated by the negative experiences she had as a child and a decision that she would not make those same mistakes with her child. Another discovery underneath all of those weeds was Lori’s ability to encourage women who had similar experiences to hers. She also found seeds of hope and promise, as we talked about a possible path of counseling, or mentoring women who suffered as a result of a traumatic childhood.
Real Life Case Study #2: Marie
Another example is Marie, who grew up hearing that she was too sensitive, and that she should stop crying about everything and just suck it up.
She recalled an incident with her brother, when he pushed her out of the tree house, and with skinned knees and a hurt heart, she cried to her parents. Their response was typical: “If you’re not bleeding from the ears, don’t come and talk to us.” Not feeling heard or cared for was a burden Marie didn’t even feel permitted to acknowledge, let alone complain about (the heavy bag).
But when she sat down and opened it up, she realised the gift inside was that she was aware of when someone is not being heard or witnessed. As an adult, it was natural for her to have a more compassionate ear and heart to those who do not appear to have a voice. Where others point fingers and blame the victim, Marie’s experience motivated her to cultivate an understanding of the underdog. She found that her ability to point out injustice and help those with less power and privilege was one of her greatest attributes.
Need some more examples?
Consider some more gifts that grew out of the following burdens:
- The sickly child who grows up to build a special hospital wing dedicated to lift the spirits of sick children and their families.
- A little girl tragically loses her parents and later creates a holistic program focused on healing from traumatic childhood loss.
- The child who is bullied and shunned in grade school who chooses a career in motivational and inspirational speaking, specialising in bullying and violence.
- A medical doctor who completely burns out from the stresses and demands of his work takes a decade to heal himself, becomes a life coach, creates more balance and then realizes he wants to and is incredibly qualified to work with other MD’s on the verge of burning out.
- A spiritual counselor who was unable to bring needed healing into her family realizes she feels drawn to help others who have tried without any success for years to bring healing to their families to move on and let go.
We can use our experiences to offer value, light and love to the world. We can do all of this without setting down our pain and pretending it doesn’t exist. We just need to know how.
That’s the heart of my work: helping women see how their path has revealed their strength, to witness the sacredness of their story, and to find a deep sense of ownership of their unique gifts.
A Bit About My Story . . .
My name is Waymatea Ellis.
I was born in 1973 in Edmonton.
As I prepare to describe my journey, I can hear some old voices coming up in my head. “Stop whining – you didn’t have it so bad,” and “Why do you need to focus on the past – everyone has a story, just let it go and move on.” My favourite, “Stop telling people all of your business,” stops me nearly every time.
Because for me to offer a program that affords you the opportunity to embrace your traumatic past, I have to be down here on the ground, kneeling and pulling away the overgrowth, right next to you. So I turn down those inner voices, call upon my courage, and I will share.
My first experience of sexual trauma was when I was 8 years old, by a family acquaintance. From age 8 to 18 I was continuously molested and then traumatised on several occasions by a handful of people, ranging from family friends to high school classmates to strangers. I always wondered what my family would have thought of me, as I lived in what seemed like a separate world, but I never breathed a word of it to anyone. To the outside world, I played classical piano, figure skated, won speech contests and laughed in the playground.
Many people are shocked to learn that a child so young, with talent, exuberance, confidence, many friends, and being raised by loving parents, could keep such a secret.
But that’s what happened.
So when I became severely depressed as a teenager, attempting suicide at 14 and shutting down my world to just a very few close friends, my world went very deep and dark. I was diagnosed with clinical depression.
I carried that burden for many years – even while at university, throughout my career as a professional musician, a teacher, and later as a mother. As I carried it, life kept adding to the weight of the sack. Loss, grief, trauma, betrayal . . . all of life seemed to increasingly weigh down that pack I was carrying.
But the most brutal part wasn’t just what I had gone through – it was the support I got. Almost all of the books to which I went for help and guidance said to “be positive” or “just look on the bright side” and “be happy.” So I spent many years meditating, vision boarding, dreaming my way into a more positive existence. I wrote 3 albums with that message. I taught 13 years of school with that outlook.
But that pack . . . was heavy. The weight never went away. I just got used to it.
Those weeds became so overgrown that my feet became tangled. So it was only a matter of time before I became paralysed with the weight and the treacherous path tripped me up.
There came a time I felt so beaten; it was like the floodgates of loss and pain took over my life. My marriage was failing. Money was scarce. I had been betrayed so deeply I felt my heart was no longer whole. I miscarried two babies. Then my newborn became very sick and while I held her in the NICU, I witnessed another baby stop breathing and die. My feeling of control in the world was gone . . . and I became unable to move forward, or even turn my head to look for another path.
My burden finally overcame my strength.
I felt my body lie down in the weeds, and I closed my eyes and willed the weeds to grow over my body. I had nothing left to give.
Then, like a ray of light, one by one, people came into my life to lift me, witness me, hold me in healing, breathe life back into me, and reveal to me my gifts. They opened my bag, because I was too weak. They pulled out the overgrowth, put the medicine to my lips.
My initiation had been a relentless beating, and all that was left to do was receive care. And to witness the truth of my gifts.
The Gifts I Received From My Journey:
Burden: Men and Betrayal
Gift: Compassion for abused women.
Men betraying my trust was the gift of my compassion for abused women. Because of my experiences, I can authentically hold sacred space for women who have been through unthinkable events, without judgement. Also, because I intimately knew many of the men who betrayed me, I also have compassion for those we would label “abusers” because I know that they have their own life experience that has led them to their dysfunctional behaviour. I have grown to know that there are no winners in the victim/persecutor/rescuer triangle, and this helps me when I work with women to resolve their inner conflict. Our heart responds to this non-judgemental perspective, and we can often feel into the compassion for our partner, changing our approach and reaction to dysfunctional behavior.
Setting boundaries has been a big part of this gift. As a child, I wasn’t aware that I could set boundaries. Becoming aware of where my lacking boundaries are, and growing into a confident boundary setter has been a great part of my healing, and I pass this gift on to children, youth, and women who are also not aware of their permission to do so.
Burden: Tragic Car Accident
Gift: An Opening to Alternative Healing
Experiencing the injuries of my best friend when he was permanently harmed from a brain injury, and being with him as he fought for his life, opened my world to alternative healing. His year in the hospital was my boot camp for healing with energy, speaking with Spirit, finding out-of-the-box answers that medical professionals could not see.
As one example, as he gained awareness, nobody knew if he had any recollection of language or any ability to communicate after he woke from his coma. I tried reading to him, using sign language, and finally out of exasperation put a pencil in his hand and the first thing he wrote was “I love you.”
It baffled me that nobody had thought of that, and it gave me a sense of the importance of my own voice in the face of an often intimidating medical community.
Burden: Violent Teacher
Gift: An Awareness of The Responsibility of Power
Being grabbed by the scruff of the neck and slammed against a set of lockers by my grade 6 teacher was traumatizing to me, and yet when I taught school years later, I was very aware and careful with the power of my influence on the psychological well being of children entrusted to my care. I approached each one with love, and taught from the heart. I knew their experience with me would live with some of them for a lifetime, and so I took the time to connect with them, see them as beautiful beings, no matter what their behavior betrayed. This gift continues to pay forward, as I see my former students (yes on Facebook) approaching life with compassion, understanding, and a sense of responsibility for their word. Over the years, many have thanked me for the shift in their former perspective of judgment and blame.
Finding Your Own Blessings: Putting These Ideas Into Practice
So, how do you get there?
How do you uncover the gifts in your story, and live them fully? How do you stop hating yourself? How can you find peace when those who have hurt you were bad and wrong?
Your life may look like a field of weeds to you – how can you see the medicine? Your bag is probably unpackable or full of garbage – and besides you don’t have anyone to help you open it and show you how to use your tools, plant your garden, or set up your tent.
This is the secret: you can’t do it on your own.
If you could have, you would have.
You need help.
I have experienced my healing only through experiences of been fully witnessed, accepted, loved and SEEN. My inner shame and self loathing was a beast that could only be tamed when we looked inside and saw it was just . . . me. My most beautiful, vulnerable self had wrapped herself in a vicious monstrous “Shame” that, when peeled away, was as beautiful and innocent as the day she was born. And once I saw her, I loved her.
And once I loved her, my heart opened and I felt a joy in my being that was bigger and more real than any assailant. Any rapist. Any abuser. Any trauma. My joy and love was simply bigger.
If you want to feel beautiful, you will have to be brave.
I use the word Brave because it takes an enormous amount of courage to face our shadows.
The past that has hurt us, those who have betrayed us – it is safer to keep it all in a category called “bad.” It is a special act of bravery to open the conversation that may challenge our idea of ‘right and wrong’, and allow heart-felt forgiveness and self compassion. When I think of the word brave, I have an image of a woman standing firm in the face of her demons, staff in hand, feet firmly planted and eyes blazing.
I use the word Beautiful because there is unspeakable radiance in a woman who has fully witnessed her gifts, her scars, her truth.
She emanates light and strength, and every movement she makes feels compassionate, generous, almost regal. Everyone wants to sit at her fire and hear her wisdom. Everyone feels better after having visited with her. She brings out the best in every heart she touches – and the world is brighter because of her. She is the very epitome of beauty.
The Three Steps of Embracing Your Story and Turning Your Biggest Burden into Your Most Beautiful Blessing:
Before you dive into the work, there’s something important you will be asked to do – to create space in your life. The most important self care most women can do is not to do more self care but to do less in general.
Our lives are so full. We are constantly working, commuting, transporting others, attending meetings, connecting via texts, responding to emails, updating our status and engaging such that we are absent from our bodies. Add to that spending quality time with loved ones (if we’re lucky), preparing meals and keeping up with the laundry – it becomes obvious that we do not have the space to explore our hearts, let alone work on ourselves. We build a beautiful mask of “all is well here”, and we get so that we believe our own mask. We tell ourselves that we are not affected by our painful pasts. Indeed, if we were to crack open that conversation about past traumas, we probably wouldn’t be able to handle the energy and attention it would require to work through it. It might consume us.
So what is required so we can have the energy, strength and space around us to start this process? To create space, you will be asked to examine your surroundings, both physical and energetic, and start a gentle releasing of what is crowding you. Right at the beginning of this program, you will be removing clutter, donating gently used items, clearing things away. You will examine your obligations and commitments and see where you can create space in your calendar.
You will explore your emotional state when you examine something that you have been keeping around – and releasing what doesn’t feel good to you. We will explore ways to clear spiritual debris from your living space, and we will explore ways of creating space in your mind and heart.
You will be asked to make some hard decisions here that you know in your heart you’ve been needing to make for a while.
The truth is, creating space and opening up that conversation requires bravery that you may not believe you have. The risk of feeling overwhelmed by your emotions is real. And what you will have after this step will be room to collapse, to surrender to the emotions that are living in your body anyway. Without first creating the space, none of the steps that follow will work.
Step 1: The Sacred Telling of Your Story – Uncovering and Reframing Your Past
In this important step of Brave and Beautiful, you will participate in a sacred telling of your stories. The whole truth – all of your shames, disappointments, times you were mistreated – all of it. You will tell your story in a way that feels like a complete cleaning of your closet – leaving nothing behind. If you have difficulty remembering everything (some of us, myself included, have a sketchy memory when it comes to past traumas), you will just document what you do remember – even drawing on what others have told you happened. This is a critical step to the witnessing of your journey and the healing of your spirit. Having the bravery to tell 100% of your story will give you the permission to see the beauty in it later on.
You may be thinking – I’ve told my story before. That is ok. This may be the first time you experience being fully witnessed when you tell it. And this will be the last time you tell this story with your current lens or perspective. You have the strength to rise to this challenge, and you will be supported as you do so.
This step is the heart of the program – where you begin to see your story in a whole new light. Just like a field of dandelions is a poorly kept lawn to some, others will harvest the flower, leaf and root for diabetes, diarrhea, boils and more. Reframing your past means looking at your story with a lens trained for the gifts – for the medicine. You will be led through a process to begin to see the way that each experience has revealed your true offering to the world. For example, my experience of growing up “between worlds” as a bi-racial child in an all-white town in the 70’s, I experienced racism directed at me and my family. I also had dear friends who were white. Because of this experience, I have compassion for both the black and the white experience in our communities. This is a unique perspective, and I believe this gift helps me to help others who cannot see the other side of the story.
It is time for women to stop the silence of our traumas. Whether small traumas such as a stranger scaring us as a child, to large traumas such as domestic abuse, we are collectively stronger when we lift up our voices. If the only thing that comes from you doing this program is that your silence is broken, that is a major shift that will inspire those around you. I truly believe that this work is desperately needed in our world, and your courage to participate can be the light that others are seeking.
Reframing the past requires courage because it challenges us to step out of the victim role and to have compassion for our enemies. It forces us to see the world not in black and white, not in clear cut right versus wrong. Many women find this to be a very difficult and also very rewarding process. And once we own the gift in our story, our true beauty has a chance to shine.
Step 2: Loving You, Loving Your Gifts.
This is where your bravery pays off, and your beauty begins to glow brightly from within. As you reframed your story in Step 1, there was an underlying factor waiting to be uncovered. This factor is you! Your unique, beautiful self. She has her own long list of qualities, and in this step of the Brave and Beautiful program we uncover what those qualities are. Much like the soil that supports the dandelions, your natural gifts are where everything takes root.
Often it is hard to see our own gifts so to kickstart this step, we call on a little help from your friends. This step will involve asking people in your world to provide you with a list of your strengths and unique attributes. What do they love about you, what do they see as your natural gifts. You will be amazed at what people see in you – that you wouldn’t have known had you not asked. Then we continue through the process by finding examples in your life of these attributes. As you gain confidence and overcome any aversion to “bragging,” we add to this list until we have a beautiful, colourful and expansive list of the gifts you bring to the world. We then finish this step writing a letter of gratitude to ourselves for showing up in the world in this way.
When you can love you, and acknowledge and celebrate your story – then the magic happens. Suddenly you walk a bit taller, glow a bit brighter, and those around you will comment on changes in the tone of your voice, the tilt of your smile, the spring in your step. This is you – reborn – and we will welcome and celebrate you.
Step 3: Spreading Your Gift
As with any change, those around you may feel uncomfortable at first because they are used to the way things were. It is not easy for those around us to learn new steps to a dance we have known for years. When I started on my path, some people around me would pick fights, withdraw, or criticise what I was doing. Therefore, an important aspect of this step will be to usher your new, bright, alive self gently into your real, daily life where others have not changed. You will learn tools to “solidify” your new medicine, so that it will weather the storm that your life and those in it may bring.
One last, but crucial, aspect of the Brave and Beautiful program is to allow others to be as they are, while you cultivate your new medicine. So many programs miss this teaching. When we get onto a path that feels good to us, we tend to want to sway everyone we meet to our path. This can be at least annoying and at most very harmful because some critical pieces of the teaching can get lost, and the recipient can feel totally unseen and their story dismissed. As you lead by your new, radiant, loving example, we will discuss tools for holding a conversation as a witness to someone’s story, while resisting the impulse to have a solution for a better outcome.
What will be certain is that those around you will be inspired by the candour with which you tell your story, and your very presence will become a healing for those around you. Your beauty will light up the world; your life – and your story – will be an inspiration.
About The Author: Waymatea Ellis is an intuitive mentor for teens and women, an energy healer, motivational speaker, minister of prayer and musician. With over 25 years experience working with teens, paired with travels abroad, Rev. Way offers a unique approach to wellness, and living life authentically, peacefully and joyfully. At the core of her practice is a belief that we all contain inner wisdom, and that accessing that inner knowing is the answer that most of us are seeking from outside ourselves. Way is a mom of two girls, and makes her home in Leduc, Alberta.