A Different Kind of Memoir

New Mexico author Jean Stouffer has written a moving memoir of healing from the effects of growing up with an alcoholic mother.

But Sometimes I Cry is not just another recounting of a child caring for an absent parent and the self-esteem and abandonment issues that ensue. This memoir uses personal history, myth, and poetry to convey her journey from a traditional wife and mother who could not express herself to a woman who speaks her truth and accepts how she feels.

She tells her story in short chapters organized into five sections as she works with a therapist to unblock her emotions and uncover her true self.

Most sections are told in the third person, from the point of view of many charming fictional creatures—mouse, cloud, stone, owl, baby bird, beaver—who stand in for the author. Only the sections about her beloved dog, Molly, are conveyed in the first person. They are among the most moving accounts in the book.

She also gives the reader short progress reports in the third person, which tie together the fictional and poetic chapters.

When I asked about that choice, Jean said that writing in the first person was too painful. Her fictional characters conveyed her meaning and gave her the distance she needed to write about her experiences and process.

Jean did not publish this book for thirty years. Jean said she wrote it for herself, to process what she was feeling, and, at the time, never considered publication. Years later, a friend read the manuscript and encouraged her to put her story into the world. Sometimes I Cry came out in 2021.

“Writing the book changed me,” Jean said recently during a phone conversation. “It improved my relationship with my husband and helped me realize I had value beyond my traditional roles. After that, I became a hypnotherapist and got a lot of satisfaction using my skills to help people through difficult times. Going through the healing process and writing about it helped me understand that it is okay to have emotions, to be an independent person with my own feelings and goals.”

I asked Jean what she hoped readers would get from her book.

“Hope,” she answered. “Maybe my story can encourage others. Facing the darkness isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. I ended up a much happier person. A stronger person who could offer my gifts without losing myself.”

You can purchase Sometimes I Cry in paperback and e-book formats at Amazon.

You can reach Jean at www.JeanStouffer.com

 

Making Space for Happiness

By now, we thought our lives would have settled into whatever the “new normal” turned out to be. That doesn’t ring quite true. Not with a new virus strain, economic and political challenges, and warm weather that is both pleasant and a harbinger of an uncertain future.

With it all—frenetic holidays, rising prices, cataclysmic weather events sweeping the world, widening fissures in our society—we can still make space for love, creativity, and yes, even happiness.

The trick is not to forget we have more control over our lives than we take credit for. How we think is the key. I can’t control most of what happens in the outer world, but I can change my thoughts. I can root out my negative beliefs that bring up feelings of helplessness and anger. I don’t have to be a victim in someone else’s story.

I write my own story.

Of course, I always did. Just as you are writing your story, embellishing it as you go along, choosing characters to interact with, how fast the plot moves, the setting, and how it feels to be you.

Because of my early experiences, I created a lot of negative stories. Unpleasant experiences seemed to come at me from nowhere. Without the knowledge that I was repeating ingrained patterns formed from fear, distrust, and self-judgment, I was a victim of my mind’s programming.

Fortunately, I knew something was wrong, which made me feel bad but also propelled me into my healing journey. Eventually, I learned that to heal my wounds meant to let go—of self-judgment, old patterns, fear, distrust, anxiety, and depression. The more of the past I released, the happier I felt.

It is possible to be happy and creative, even during what looks like chaos. It’s possible to make a private space where your creative self can enfold you in the unconditional love that is yours for the asking.

All you have to do is change your thoughts.

Try it.

Try saying:

  • I love myself.
  • I am beautiful just as I am.
  • I am creative.
  • I am safe in the arms of love.

Say the words quietly, inside your head. No one’s listening except your Spirit.

Vein of Gold

Vein of Gold, metaphorically the hidden treasure of our lives, is the title of a Julia Cameron book on journaling our way to creativity and spirituality. Her books are for people seeking to uncover their art, who may be stuck, or lack confidence in their ability to bring forth their ideas.

Since I perceive little difference between creative and spiritual endeavors, her work appeals to me. Also, the book is subtitled “A Journey to the Creative Heart,” which has been my journey.

When her first book, The Artist’s Way, came out, I assembled a group of women to do the work, a recovery process for blocked creatives. Every person in the group (I was the only would-be writer) made significant changes in her life. The process worked.

When the chance arose to work on The Vein of Gold: A Journey to Your Creative Heart, I spontaneously said, sure, why not. Let’s get a group together. Afterward, I wondered at my motivation. After slaying the dragons that had stopped me from writing fiction, I wrote and published short stories, essays, and three novels. So I asked myself, what do I expect to get out of Vein of Gold other than interesting interaction with like-minded people (not a small thing!)

Part of my practice is to follow my impulses, so I started working with the book. Whipped through the first few chapters. Yes, regular writing. Yes, walking is meditation. Yes, play invites the creative spirit. Then I got to the part about writing about my earlier life. There, lightning struck.

For several years, I’ve been toying with how to write a book about healing. Much of my life has been devoted to healing–physical, emotional, and psychological. After a recent difficult period, I broke through another veil. I understood what I wanted to say and how to do in, in broad strokes.

Broad strokes are the easy one. The work is in the details, and I found myself sitting in fear and trepidation about reviewing earlier parts of my life. Considering past experiences is not always pleasant. Remembering can be painful. Putting them into perspective is daunting.

Illumination comes from unlikely sources. This morning on the radio I caught a discussion about how memory, rather than being fixed and immutable, is a creative process. According to neuroscientists, when we remember, we re-create the experience. The more often we remember, for example, our disappointing sixth birthday party, the farther the memory gets from the original experience, and the more different it is. Emotion, judgment, and later experiences all influence it. The influence can be positive or negative.

This explains why one of my therapists helped me re-envision difficult early experiences mentally, through imaginative journeying. It explains why energy healers can go back in time and heal physical and psychological patterns active in a family for generations.

MEMORIES CAN BE CHANGED!

Of course! I knew that! But it’s fascinating when science discovers the mechanism by which mystics, healers, shamans, and psychics (and some psychologists) assist us in changing our lives.

Now I know why I’m working on Vein of Gold. As I review the phases of my life, I can change the experiences I choose so my present can be more creative and fulfilling.

Today, the book seems a lot less daunting.

If anyone is interested in joining the Vein of Gold group that is still forming, please contact me.

If you’d like to listen to the radio lab broadcast, here’s the link

https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/91569-memory-and-forgetting.

 

Finding Your North Star


Have you ever felt stuck? At a stalemate? Not sure where to go next or what to do?

Trauma, illness, unexpected life transitions of all types can leave us at loose ends, not sure how to pick up the pieces. Maybe even wondering if we want to. Transition, especially the involuntary type, calls into question who we are, how we relate, what roles we want to resume or release.

After life changing events, we often need to change priorities, evaluate time and resources, develop or re-gain the crucial balance that promotes clear thinking and productive effort. On some level, we know that. The problem is, how to do it?

The uncomfortable emotional states of transition don’t help. Some people get depressed. Others feel anxiety about the future. Old habits thought long conquered may re-assert themselves. Unfinished creative work may look stale and not worth completing. New ideas fail to materialize.

Sometimes what is nearest our hearts is the most difficult to acknowledge. After all, what if it isn’t possible? What if we can’t find meaningful work, a loving relationship? What if we try and fail to write the novel or poem or song?

As a transition coach, I’ve met people who spent years denying what they most wanted to do, be, or have in the interest of security, loyalty, or the need to stay compliant with family or community values. Without exception, when they made the leap of faith and started singing their own song, miracles happened. Not everyone was “successful” in the financial sense, but all experienced an upsurge in energy, in personal well-being, and self-confidence. Taking the leap is hard, but so worthwhile.

I’m no exception, and am quite capable of staying stuck while terribly busy doing things that are not quite right. I rationalize, explain how I need income, security, something to do that’s not too hard because I’m sick, upset, or lacking in confidence. All the while, the voice in my heart reminds me to look inward, to walk the inner path where wisdom lies, often buried beneath heaps of excuses.

When I’m stuck on a project or need to get myself out of a difficult place, I remember the North Star, the brightest star in the sky that always points to the same place. The Center. The place within us that is most authentic.

The North Star is the meaning and direction of my life. Although I’ve always known I’m a writer, how to express it has evolved. No matter if I worked in corporate communications, free-lance editing, fiction or nonfiction, the needle always pointed true. The North Star gives life a focus.

When I’m stuck for an answer, I pick up my pen and start writing. Write long enough, regularly enough, and you’ll find what everyone who uses this practice discovers. The creative self within. The Muse waiting patiently to offer her gentle guidance. The wisdom of the heart. The well, the watcher, spirit, the inner guide.

Journaling for insight and self-discovery is a tool for everyone, not just writers. It stops the mental circling that is never productive. Putting thoughts into words helps us understand them and come up with new solutions. It helps us work out how we feel about things. Pursued regularly, it leads us unerringly toward our own center, whatever form that takes.

Try journaling for a week or two, at the same time every day, for about twenty minutes, and you’ll begin to see the benefits. Keep going and you won’t be able to shut out the light of your personal North Star.

 

Hope is for Winners

How we feel about ourselves influences our immune system. Candace Pert (Molecules of Emotion) and many researchers since have uncovered physiological mechanisms in our bodies that influence how we feel and how effectively we can fight off and recover from illness.

Hopelessness, anger, frustration, regret, resentment, and any emotion that brings the spirit down depress the glucose available to our cells and contribute to the exhaustion, mental fog, lack of interest in life, and inability to make decisions that characterize depression.

When depressed people change how they speak about their situations, to themselves and the world, they take proactive steps to change, not just the feeing state, but how their bodies respond biologically.

Change your thoughts, change your life is a mantra for healers of all stripes.

We know this.  The critical question is, do we do it?

Do we seek within ourselves for the messages that got stuck in our brains and repeated the same negative programming over and over until we believed it? 

It’s hard to do, yes, until you do it enough to acquire a knack for how it works. Then, it becomes a game. Ferreting out negative, unhelpful ideas and changing them is a critical step on the way to health and wholeness.

Not until you know what negative messages you’re sending yourself can you begin to change them. 

Changing negative messages requires that you say things to yourself you may not believe are true.

Like:

  • I enjoy perfect health.
  • I have everything I need to be happy.
  • I am loved and love in return.
  • Every day, I am healing my ______________

These seemingly contradictory statements, spoken aloud or mentally, can change how the body functions.  Healers have always known this. Now physiological researchers are finding the mechanisms that explain why.

At first, it may feel silly to say things to yourself that are not “true,” but in fact the body does not know the difference between “true” and “false.” It responds to all messages, so why not give it something that will perk it up? This can be easier to understand if you think of messages like,

I am a person worthy of respect.

For someone told in childhood that they were not worthy, the shift can be lifechanging. And isn’t everyone worthy of respect?

Recently, I was reminded of how vehement some folks are about giving others what they call “false hope.”  They think it’s worse to try and fail than not to try at all.

Now, I’m not talking about telling people without a high school education they can obtain an executive position by taking an online course on management. Or, making inaccurate claims for expensive and bogus “cures” for diseases. Or products that promise easy weight loss with no change in diet or exercise. These are schemes offered by manipulative and reprehensible people who will do anything for money. Of course, we should beware their ilk.

I mean those who discourage family and friends from using complementary healing methods in addition to traditional medical ones.  Adding acupuncture, massage, herbs, therapy, energy healing and other modalities can help change a patient’s attitude and feelings of self-worth which allows their bodies to marshal the natural healing mechanisms we all have within us.

A less tense, less frightened patient will have a stronger immune response we well as more energy to make lifestyle changes to support her health.

  • Attitude counts.
  • Faith counts.
  • Hope counts.

For myself, I am working on pulling down some of the walls of my comfort zone. I want to have hope that I can change my life. Lose a little more weight. Publish more stories. Write that nonfiction book that terrifies me. Not that hope is enough. I also need time, energy, a plan, resources, support, and confidence, even if I have to prop it up with a two by four.

But first, I have to believe it’s possible. Not every minute. Not even every day. But enough to keep me plugging away.