Finding my path

a story of a girl

I was 15 when I was diagnosed with Juvenile Disk Syndrome. I was in a lot of pain; I couldn’t walk around for long periods of time. My periods were intense. And then one morning, when I was 18, I woke up and my forehead, which had been “normal” skin, had broken out into thousands and thousands of tiny pimples. Both of these experiences were huge contributing factors which led to my interest in the well-being fields of sociology, yoga, meditation, whole foods and energy work.

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Juvenile Disk Syndrome is “a disc degeneration in adolescence.” In my case, I was 15 and actively participating in one of my favorite summer activities: inner-tubing behind a boat. A series of tiny waves rippled in the distance, and as my tube skimmed over the top it caught just so and sent my body flipping and flying in the air.

I blacked out.

When I woke up at the surface of the water I was afraid to move. The pain in my low back (L5-S1 Lumbosacral Joint) was so intense, there was so much pressure. I floated on top of the water without moving and listened to the boat motor growing closer. I couldn’t feel my legs.

I thought I was paralyzed.

Months of physical therapy and years of chiropractic care helped. My physical therapist at the River Falls Hospital was surprised that I had the low back pain. Typically a weak midsection is an indication of low back pain but I had very strong abdominals from years of being an athlete. She gave me abdominal exercises anyway.

I had a chiropractic adjustment in Hastings, Minnesota every week or every other week, depending on my level of discomfort. He was an amazing chiropractor (I realized this even more so years later when he helped my neck) but the adjustments were like reapplying a bandage to a wound.

Everything I did helped my body for a little, and then the pain came back.

My Senior year of high school I was itching to leave home. When I turned 18, I found out that I could call myself in sick. So I did that about 1 day each week until the end of the school year.

When I woke up that morning and had millions of pimples scattered around my forehead, it was embarrassing. Unless you wear a hat all the time, there really was no way to hide them. Except for the year I was a mindless vegetarian, I was a very health food conscious person. After a few weeks of this constellation on my forehead, I couldn’t pretend it was going to go away as quickly as it appeared. I began doing more cleanses, fasts, juicing, visiting naturopaths, and more.

One Saturday morning of my first semester of college at Inver Hills Community College, I woke up to go to work at the Target Photo Booth and… called in sick. The acne had officially caused me to start hiding from my life. So my mom and I took drastic measures and I went on Acutane.

Acutane is a drug for severe acne and is linked to bowel disease, liver damage, birth defects and other side effects. Within months I was enjoying clear skin! But also super dry, chapped lips. I stopped the drug within a few months because I was happy with my clear skin and also I didn’t like being on birth control.

Long story short, my acne came back with a vengeance within the year. Because I refused to go on birth control, and told the doctor so (apparently condoms and abstinence doesn’t count as 2 forms of birth control), I could not get the prescription to take Acutane again. Thankfully I was able to heal my skin through continued diet of healthy foods, cleanses and a skin protocol that included a cold compress, 10 % benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.

Through this period a few bad things happened all at once: a friend committed suicide. I was laid off my job as Target photo girl. I got a large speeding ticket while attempting to race back for an exam. I missed the exam, so I dropped out of school. (In retrospect, it wasn’t a good fit for me anyway… I was going for CAD drawing at Century Community College in Minnesota. It is kind of cute that I thought I could do something that left brained!) Oh, and I was marginally raped a few months before that.

I didn’t have the fortitude, the buoyancy to deal with all those events and the resulting emotions and I slipped into the Great Depression.

I ate my emotions away one juicy grape at a time. I stayed up late and overslept. I wallowed in my misery. I dressed in black. I was a ship without a sail, without guidance. I stopping running. I stopped practicing yoga. I didn’t meditate. I cut myself. I tried to get drunk, but I didn’t know the right people and I was only 20 (thank goodness for small things). I was depressed, anxious and had the highest low-self esteem possible.

When I came out of the depression, I had gained more than 20 pounds in 2 months. At a get-together, my Dad’s aunt pinched my cheeks and asked me why I let myself get chubby. I was angry at myself and ashamed. I had been a fricken athlete a year earlier and today I was overweight and I felt terrible about my body. Life was at an all-time low.

So once again I began self care. I consciously ate for my blood sugar (fat – protein – carbohydrate) and I started running again. I hired a personal trainer, I got a job at Subway. I quit my job at Subway (hungry people are mean) and I let go of my trainer (he was too focused on surface looks, and not on inner wellness). I lost the excess weight and was back to being “myself.”

By this time, I had hopped around from Little Canada, Minnesota to West Saint Paul, Minnesota to Chicago, Illinois to Saint Paul to Inver Grove Heights to Green Bay, Wisconsin and finally settled in River Falls, Wisconsin.

You should know something else about me… I have always been boy crazy. In 1st grade, I had a crush on both of my neighbor boys, Ben and Danny. It only got more intense as I got older. I am not sure why, but didn’t feel close to other girls my age. After we were all grown up and married, my good friend Jennifer told me I had always been “different” from the other girls. The truth stung, even as an adult. The difference is that today I’m OK being different. As long as I’m being wholehearted and authentically me.

My mom one time expressed her concern with me being so boy crazy and got the response, well, at least she’s not girl crazy. I had my first kiss at 12, my first boyfriend. And then I jumped around. If a boy was really nice and kind to me, I dumped him. If a boy was aloof and untouchable, I wanted to be with him.

I ended up marrying one such aloof boy when I was 23. I had graduated with my Bachelor’s of Science from the University of Wisconsin in River Falls. While I was going to school in River Falls, I lived in a 1 bedroom apartment and worked at the Whole Earth Grocery, just half a block down Main Street. The views from my apartment over the roof were amazing.

river falls apartment

The advice I would give to high schoolers is to follow your heart and your passion. That’s what I did in college and I graduated with a double major in Sociology and Art. What does one do with that kind of degree? I considered going to Law School and fighting for the underdogs. I considered becoming a famous artist. I considered getting my Master’s Degree in Women’s Studies.

Instead I moved out of my apartment, quit my job at the coop, got married and moved to Southern Illinois for my new husband to get his Bachelor’s Degree. There were many, many, many, many warning signs. But it is hard to have an unbiased opinion when the signs happen in one’s own life. This was back when I believed one person in a relationship could give 100% and the relationship would work.

After 1 year and 8 months working at an unfulfilling job (The Bank Job), I took a 2-week vacation in Europe. The funds came from the sale of my family business that I had been part owner of. It was during my 2 day stay in Berlin when I had an epiphany:

I can be happy no matter what my external circumstances are. It was gorgeous and sunny and warm and perfect in Bruges, Belgium. It was easy to be happy there. And now here I am in Berlin, it’s rainy and wet and I’m wearing every item of clothing I brought and I’m still cold but I refuse to let my mood go down. This may be the last time I am ever in Berlin, and I am going to be happy. Happiness comes from inside me.

Happiness comes from within.

I got the privilege of testing this theory of mine when my husband graduated with his Bachelor’s Degree and we moved into his parents’ house. I wanted to start a family and be able to give my kids a stay-at-home parent so I wanted him to find The Main Job.

Happiness couldn’t be found living at his parents’ house and I didn’t see too much evidence of an intense job search happening. So I moved into my parents’ house, 5 hours away. It took about 6 months before he got a job offer.

I followed him to Menominee, Michigan. I volunteered at the local health food store and I went to physical therapy (I had broken my first bone just 2 months earlier) and looked for something to do. Typically when I found a new location, I would begin taking yoga classes at the local yoga studio. In Menominee, the yoga studio had closed shop just 11 months before I showed up. So I tried the YMCA. And stopped. Why? The same reasons I don’t drink Folgers coffee. I’m a bit of a yoga snob.

When my mom visited and I was having a pity party about the lack of yoga, she asked my why I didn’t just become a yoga teacher. She also helped me financially to go through a certification process to be a Certified Wellness Coach.

Here’s the cool thing about my parents: my mom is a nurse-turned-holistic-nutritionist and my dad is an entrepreneur. It was only a few months ago that I realized I am a mix of both of them — if my mom and dad went into business together, it would be me. Well, um, I get they did go into “business” together and they did create me.

I spent 9 months in 2010 studying with MaryKay Marquart ERYT500 to get my RYT200 through Yoga Alliance. That year I started teaching at the office of my physical therapist, at a coffee shop and martial arts studio in Marinette and at MaryKay’s studio, Every Body’s Yoga.

In 2011, the coffee shop and I came to an agreement (they stopped offering their space as a teaching space) and so I opened my own 450 square foot yoga studio. I had lots of help painting and laying the laminate wood floors with my friend and some of her people, as well as one of my husband’s coworkers, Greg. We could comfortably fit 6 people although near the end of our time there, the numbers were double. Eventually I moved the studio into a much larger space (1800 square feet) and turned it into a yoga studio and wellness center. I had 2 massage therapists and about 7 yoga and fitness teachers.

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My yoga students expressed appreciation for my classes and how they felt when they left. Inspired, calm, relaxed. And more moveable, flexible, less pain. I wanted to learn how to run a business and make money and keep the energy moving upwards so I joined a business coaching course for yoga teachers and learned much about business and marketing. I began to love the business side of things more and more. I was – and am – a heart-centered soulpreneur, a woman who fell into owning a business out of the desire to fill a place and make the world a better place.

From my business coach, Rebecca Snowball, I met Dr. Eve Agee and began her year-long Transform Coaching Academy to become a transformational life coach myself. Right away, I was supporting my yoga students in more ways than an hour long yoga class was able to offer.

My marriage was rough and so I started going to therapy to find out what was wrong with me. Around the same time, my husband and I bought a foreclosed house. We worked on the house enough to get it semi-liveable, moved in and then the work slowed to a halt. I thought he was stressed out and overwhelmed with the amount of work that still needed to be done on the house, so I took on more and more and more of the house.

After a year my therapist told me that nothing was wrong with me and that I should just focus on doing fun things with my husband and not ask him to work on the house. So I hired handy men to work on the house with me – built a new garage, sided the garage, painted the garage, replaced the underlayment on the 2nd side, put down new flooring, and so on – many times the men working with me were sketchy, flaky or both.

Meanwhile, I started studying with Scott Anderson ERYT500 in Madison / Blue Mounds, Wisconsin in a 2-year 500-hour Teacher Training Program. This program expanded my mind about yoga and biomechanics and energy and the chakra system. For the first time ever, I found myself teaching people the art of yoga for their body rather than teaching yoga poses to people. There is a big difference.

My husband and I continued to have a strained relationship. I was talking to him, to my parents, to my sisters, to his sisters, to a mutual friend. I knew I couldn’t keep a marriage going by myself. The D word was mentioned once. Twice. Three times. We went to a weekend of therapy. I’ve written a lot about how it felt to me. He made me feel like I was crazy, like something was wrong with me.

Through this time I did a lot of self care and self love and worked energetically to keep my heart open even when I was fearful of it getting trampled on. I felt like I was walking on egg shells. It’s almost as if there was a set of actions and emotions that were acceptable for me to express, and everything else was off limits. But I didn’t get the Rule book, so it was a guessing game. As I continued my personal growth, I was less and less ok with being trampled on. Instead of being a doormat, I started standing up for myself.

In my faith, divorce is not an option. Divorced people are sinners. It was very hard for me to ask for a divorce that day. My marriage got so constricted that the pain of staying where I – abandoned, abused – was no longer a viable option. I had always been the one to kiss and make up, but the last cent in my “love bank” was spent the Sunday he raised his voice at me in the confines of my car.

Where there is no love, there is no God.

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I have read over my journals from the years we were dating (10 years ago!) and they are full of questions and hurt and feelings of abandonment. I moved from Minnesota to Wisconsin to be closer to him in the world, why don’t we hang out? I thought it would be like the summer we met…

Our divorce finalized in 2015 and today I have the privilege of retrospective analysis. In the past, I would have avoided the word “regret.” I used to think, what is the point in regretting anything I have done in life? That’d be like admitting that I have made a mistake; and I feel like everything happens for a reason.

Today, I think differently about regret. Living life with no regrets is like saying we have nothing to learn from. Regret is an important teacher, a function of empathy. Empathy, according to Brené Brown, is the “antidote to shame.” Empathy brings people together in true connection where shame drives us apart in isolation. Empathy can open the door to vulnerability and allow us to find courage to full acknowledge our mistakes as mistakes — as things we now know we would change.

I regret getting married at 23.

It was a mistake. It was my mistake and I have learned much from my mistake already. I still believe everything happens for a reason, and I feel and see it – my marriage and divorce – as the way things happened for some good to come of it. How beautiful if all our mistakes can be for the greater good, for softer hearts, greater patiences, more wholehearted beings.

In 2011 I opened my first yoga studio with the help of many people, including Greg. Last month, Greg helped me close the chapter of my yoga studio + wellness center and we link hands together looking into the future. When I “met” him after my marriage ended it was magic. For the first time  I understood infatuation and love songs. I literally feel the bonds of love. I didn’t know there were feelings of love and like and awe and beauty this deep. How could I have known? I never felt them for myself…

She loved him
With a messy heart,
He hugged her with fragile bones
She touched him
With scarred hands
He kissed her
With bruised lips
They whispered
All their flaws
And inhaled
The storm
Together

I am a powerful women. I was afraid to own it before. I leave spaces for all that I am becoming.

The feelings are all there, the healing from my harmful marriage, the blossoming into the woman I am allowing myself to be.

I am the woman who wants to hold space for you, for your feelings, for your heart-centered SOULful life. I am a woman who will guide you through the rocky parts, through the failures until you look back and realize it was a learning lesson.

Oh, Beautiful Mistakes. They drop us to our knees and cause us to cry out.

I see you as a warrior. You are a warrior.

And so it is.

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