Empowered Pleasure: Better Sex with CBD and Herbal Healing

(This article was originally published here on the Thistle and Spire website on April 14, 2022.)

With 4/20 just around the corner, we thought this would be the perfect time to introduce you to Ashley Jelks, the owner of our favorite CBD-focused company The High Priestess Herbal Wellness.

Ashley wants to help you make the most of your sex life—and every other part of your life—with her CBD-based products, which include a mélange of other natural herbs and elixirs.

Don’t worry, CBD (cannabidiol) isn’t mind altering, so there’s no uncomfortable gray area around consent. Rather it’s a nonintoxicating cannabinoid found in cannabis (marijuana) and is derived directly from the hemp plant.

Ashley believes so much in the healing properties of this plant that she has created an entire business around it. The High Priestess is the first (and, so far, only) Black-woman-herbalist-owned CBD apothecary of its kind, tapping into a niche market with widespread appeal.

A trained herbalist and engineer, Ashley has developed targeted lines of proprietary smoke blends, tinctures, teas and lubricating oils that address different issues, specifically:

Anxiety

Sleep issues

Menstrual tension

Sensual and sexual arousal and awakening

While all of those things are integral to a happy, healthy life, we’re the most titillated by the intimacy products containing CBD and other herbal boosts that help increase levels of openness, comfort and sexual satisfaction.

Ashley’s diverse background and training in engineering, herbalism, yoga, reiki and teaching created fertile ground for her current entrepreneurial wellness venture. Also, as someone who struggled with her own physical and mental health issues—autoimmune conditions and anxiety—she found that plants and herbal medicine helped her manage, and sometimes improve, these conditions.

She shared her story with us about a lifelong interest in natural medicine and the journey of self-healing and community creation that led her to create her own CBD business.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

When did you launch The High Priestess Herbal Wellness?

We opened last year, in March 2021, and just celebrated our first anniversary. It was definitely a pandemic project, but was one of those things I had wanted to do for a while. Before the pandemic, I didn’t have the time to carve out the time or a business plan required to start a company. That was the pandemic’s gift to me—the opportunity to sit down and do what needed to be done to make this happen.

Great name. How did you come up with it?

It came to me one night when I was consuming cannabis and reading tarot cards, and I was struggling with names for my new company. I drew the High Priestess tarot card and examined it. Its meaning is about bridging the seen and unseen, the physical and spiritual worlds.

I use cannabis as a tool to tap into my intuition, which is exactly what that card and what this plant are both about. It’s also a fun play on words—high, 4/20, all the good stuff that we associate with cannabis. Right now, we only work with CBD, but at some point, I plan to branch more into THC (the psychoactive part of the cannabis plant) products, so the name will really resonate with those.

You know this is on everyone’s mind—how can your products help improve our sex lives?

Sexual arousal a biological process, but so much is happening in our minds too. Our thoughts and mental processes can enhance or detract from the overall sexual experience. [Referencing the book The CBD Solution] Some women who struggle achieving orgasm find that consuming cannabis before sex can help with that issue.

Our bodies have an endocannabinoid system, which is designed to receive the medicine and benefits in the cannabis plant and our bodies react to it. When combined with other herbs that do particular things, the results can be powerful and targeted to specific needs, both mental and physical.

I wanted to focus on intersecting herbal medicines that have certain effects, and originally, I was going to focus exclusively on a sexual wellness line. This is specifically how I wanted to set myself apart from other CBD companies and not add to an already saturated market. I don’t see many other companies doing this, especially combining herbs for sexual pleasure with topically applied sexual wellness oils.

What was your motivation to create a company like this?

I’m trained in yoga and reiki, and was turned off by the wellness experience because I realized it was super white, thin, cis-gendered and able-bodied. I’m not like a lot of the community of people I practiced with, so I wondered why the representations of this community were so monolithic.

I intersected so many different elements of myself. There’s the engineering part of my brain that likes solving problems and working on different things. There’s the herbalist in me that loves plant medicine, the part of me that uses cannabis in my own healing journey, and the practitioner in me that doesn’t feel like the images representing wellness are accurate and inclusive. I put all of these pieces of myself together and The High Priestess was the meeting point and organic outgrowth of those various things.

Did you have a specific goal or vision in mind when mapping out your business plan?

I want to change the world with plants, and my products can do that in small ways, one step at a time. I’m a woman with anxiety who made a company to help other people who may also struggle with anxiety.

I was trying to fit into a world that didn’t have room for me, and so I just made room for myself and extended that to others. I’ve always felt like I’m a bit of an outsider and I wanted to create community and space for all people to feel welcomed and included. I love that we’re moving in that direction as a society. I often forget to talk about this because it’s interwoven into my entire life experience and at the forefront of what I’m thinking.

Wellness can be a lot of different things. Human beings are dealing with so many different issues, and we all have a lot more in common than we don’t. Where and how can we help people feel more seen and included? That piece is so important to me, and not because it’s a hot buzzword, but because it’s my life.

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What is the Cost?

One of the few Spanish expressions I remember using on my high school trip to Mexico (besides una cerveza, por favor) is ¿cuanto cuesta?

What is the cost? Or literally translated, how much it costs?

Most of us are examining the cost of things these days. Between post-pandemic inflation and a raging war between Russia and Ukraine that has globe-spanning effects, the price of nearly everything has skyrocketed.

It’s evident when I fill up my gas tank, get my hair cut, or buy groceries. Every service and good from oil changes to light bulbs to dark chocolate (probably milk chocolate too) have higher price tags. The items that cost the same seem to come in smaller portion sizes.

The end result is the same: spending more and receiving less.

There is no shortage of memes, social media complaints, editorials, and Medium articles produced over these issues. Few of us are immune from the impact and subsequent grumbling and penny (or dollar) pinching.

So I won’t spill any more virtual ink on this particular issue. These recent global events, however, have gotten me thinking about the cost of other things in our lives beyond day-to-day expenses.

  • Habits
  • Addictions
  • Procrastination
  • Thought patterns
  • Toxic relationships

These less-tangible items can cost us money, but payment more often appears in the form of less-visible currencies.

  • Time
  • Stress
  • Energy
  • Emotions
  • Brain space
  • Physical health

I recently checked in with a friend who now lives a few time zones away. She told me about a perennial conflict she has with her husband, who threatens to split when certain conflict arises between them. He goes there as a first–not a last–resort. The possibility of divorce hangs over their household like the sword of Damocles, taxing their emotional stability and nervous systems.

That issue arose again in recent days, triggered by what she thought was an innocuous exchange that escalated into potential grounds for separation. He has made similar proclamations in the past, but has never followed through. Over time–hours, usually–he cools down, regains his composure, apologizes, and laments the drastic measures casually tossed about during the heated exchange.

It seems as though he doesn’t plan to actually leave, nor actually wants to do so. The looming cloud of divorce may be a matter of theatrics or displaced frustration. That is a silver lining, but an exhausting one.

I listened to this most recent iteration of the same story, unsure of how to proceed or help my friend navigate the emotional minefield that threatens her 5-year marriage while becoming a familiar part of it. Feeling more qualified to inquire and explore rather than dispense relationship advice, I posed this question.

What is this pattern costing you?

It wasn’t a rhetorical question. I certainly didn’t know the answer. She didn’t know either. But we both pondered it, vis-à-vis this particular issue as well as others that have plagued our respective lives. My friend still considers that question as she broaches the issue with her husband.

As if on cue, this very inquiry boomeranged in my own life the next day as I discussed with my sister a pesky issue that triggers an adrenal response for me: poor boundaries among some people close to us both.

I could feel the inflammation reignite as I mulled over the same frustrations I have repeated for years, especially as I held the fortress of my personal boundaries.

My older, wiser sibling gently yet firmly pointed out that my parameters with these unreasonable people, while justified, seem to require an inordinate amount of my energy.

“While you’re often adaptable, some of your boundaries with these specific people are rigid,” she said, doling out a rare dose of tough love. “They may be an inch thick, but they’re 50 feet high. What is that costing you? I worry that it’s draining your vitality, which is a steep price.”

Vitality. Life force. Essence.

I hadn’t thought of these elements as valuables that could be spent, bartered, exchanged, lost, stolen. But they are, and I was allowing unworthy people to drain a precious resource in limited supply. What I needed to preserve and protect instead I squandered because of my determination to hold up the iron-clad wall with sheer force of will.

The solution, of course, isn’t to remove boundaries. Those are in place for a good reason. But I am reassessing them, devising ways to soften or restructure them without forgoing self-protection.

Some coping mechanisms made sense at one point–they may have saved my emotional life during crises–but are no longer serving me in the same ways. An approach that guided me through a survival phase was once a gift and now a burden.

There is an abundance of tools available to all of us, some more helpful than others. No single one is the only correct way, but here are a few I’m trying to decrease the poor-vitality spending habits I’ve developed.

  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Creative thinking
  • Deep breathing techniques

I feel confident that I’ll strike a healthier balance, find a more appropriate approach, and reclaim some of my joy and energy.

What started this embarkment of growth was the simple question: What is this costing me?

Ask yourself that and see what comes up in your own life. You may be surprised by the answers, and they may point you in a direction toward healing.

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Back in the Writer’s Seat

After a nearly 9-month hiatus from publishing anything on this platform, I’m returning with renewed dedication. I’d like to pretend I was on a Ulysses-like sabbatical, collecting fodder and adventures to share with a patient and attentive audience when I returned to my home…office.

In reality, I have a gestation period of excuses.

Some of them are legitimate. Some are a stretch. All of them have something in common: RESISTANCE. Steven Pressfield is right–that shit will stop at nothing less than total annihilation. Fighting resistance is a daily battle, whether we recognize it or not.

Here is an abbreviated list of my most recent excuses. See if you can relate to any. Some are sneaky AF and are often resistance masquerading as reasons to not do the work (in my case, write).

  • New job
  • New cat
  • Sleep
  • Covid
  • Travel
  • Ted Lasso
  • Depression
  • Home organizing
  • Family obligations

It started with a new job I took last spring. What I thought would be a fun, part-time side gig turned out to be an all-encompassing demand that encroached on every other facet of my life. My daily writing time was supplanted with early morning dramas (beyond my pay scale), late night texts (this could have been an email!), and frequent troubleshooting calls to customer service.

Even my dinners and weekend getaways were sabotaged by unscheduled work-related calls and crises beyond the purview of my job description. So, writing slipped to the bottom of the to-do list each day, often for different reasons.

That part-time, life-consuming side hustle swallowed up six months of my year before I pulled the ripcord, looked for work with a more predictable schedule, and threatened to reclaim a daily writing routine.

And I did…sort of.

During the month of November I attempted an experiment in the vein of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The goal is to write a 50-thousand-word manuscript in 30 days. I have attempted this several times, only reaching the word count goal once. I don’t think I actually want to write a novel. But I do want to write.

I made a pact with my inner scribe to write one blog post draft per day during the month of November. I promised myself I would go back and edit them all as necessary and publish them when they were each good and ready.

By November 30, I did compose a dozen drafts, all of which have yet to undergo an editing process and join its published brethren. By now the freshness and essence of immediacy have faded. The nature of conversational blogging differs from long-form novel writing in more ways than I suspected.

Time is of the essence with regular posts or daily news, which leaves little room for perfectionism. One reason I’m drawn to this medium is that it challenges my meddling analysis paralysis and encourages the adage “done is better than perfect.”

(That quote is attributed to Sheryl Sandberg, but I can’t believe she was the first ever to have uttered it.)

At some point you may see those months-old drafts polished up and making their debut, but for now I’m sticking with real time and following the advice of many artists and writers far wiser and more successful than I.

Elizabeth Gilbert covers this topic extensively in her TED talk and nonfiction book Big Magic, sharing stories about creative inspiration–from poet Ruth Stone to singer/songwriter Tom Waits to Gilbert’s own experience with fellow writer Ann Patchett.

If dreams deferred dry up, neglected muses can wander off and seek companions elsewhere.

My formerly fresh list of topics and unexplored ideas now look wilted, three months later. I failed to feed, water, and nurture them when they needed, rather than when I felt ready. And I may never feel ready. As a result, several have withered on the blogging vine. Someone else may have caught hold of them and will do the topics greater justice than I ever could, or at least did in recent months.

So, here we are. Again. Another day, another attempt, another topic, another post.

In the midst of work and writing transitions and false starts, I adopted a new cat. My husband (and our friends and neighbors) and I have bid Coco adieu and welcomed Pele into our home. You’ll see updates on her soon.

Oh yah, and I got Covid for Christmas and spent the last week of 2021 quarantining and sleeping like a champ.

The last nine months have been a wild ride! I look forward to sharing more of it with you. Instead of resistance pretending to be life keeping me from writing, I plan to use that raw material for inspiration and keep my arse in the writer’s seat.

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Without a Trace

Coco posing for our cat-lover neighbor Alison

Six weeks ago, my 10-year-old torbie, Coco, disappeared. She hasn’t returned home yet, and she may not. Ok, at this point, she likely won’t.

My husband and I live in a densely populated urban neighborhood, sandwiched in between two main streets with heavy traffic and frequent construction. Coco spends the bulk of her days (and, sometimes, nights) gallivanting around the yards and driveways of our immediate city block. She has a kitty window open just wide enough for her 8-pound feline frame to squeeze through, and uses it daily.

A born survivor, she avoids moving cars, keeps a safe distance from other furry animals, and approaches humans with a healthy dose of caution. We worried about her penchant for tree climbing and snarling at other neighborhood pets, but never about the possibility of being hit by a vehicle or snatched up by a (non-human) predator.

My husband saw her last during a midweek, sunny, March afternoon. She was on the sidewalk in front of our neighbor’s house, rolling in the dust and debris like a maniac–one of her favorite pastimes. My husband thought little of it, that familiar scene, one he assumed he’d witness a thousand times more in the days and years to come.

I can’t remember the specifics of my last Coco sighting. It was that same morning, before I ran some errands. I didn’t think to pick her up and say good-bye, shove my face into her personal kitty space, to which she inevitably holds up a paw–no claws–and pushes it to my face as if to gently say, “Mom, I know this is how you express love, but please stop.”

I simply noticed her in my general space, inside, outside, inside, outside, inside…such is the way of cats. And then I didn’t. Her absence was more salient than her presence. It continues to be even now, but that stark contrast is slowly fading.

For a couple weeks, anytime I spotted movement–a leaf blowing across the driveway, a robin bobbing across the yard, a neighborhood rodent scurrying under a parked car–from the corner of my eye, I jumped and moved toward it, assuming it was Coco, even when my logical brain knew that was unlikely.

Coco in her natural habitat

I’ve told friends and family about the disappearance, usually with a stoic, matter-of-fact tone, focusing primarily on the details of the situation, and less on my feelings around it. I’ve had several cats throughout my lifetime, most in a rural environment, and all of them have either disappeared (fisher cat or coyote, most likely) or died (car accident, euthanasia).

I know the drill. I knew the risk when I adopted a pet. I accepted the likelihood that I would outlive my pe.

I mean, it’s a cat, not a child. I mean, I’m not a 5-year-old. I mean, I’m a grown ass woman who understands the circle of life.

My father insists she was likely hit by a car. I quietly disagree.

My sister believes she will return in 10 months, the way one of her cats did last year after it found a new home. I wonder.

My bff reserves judgment, and expresses disbelief at the lack of emotion I have displayed. I rationalize.

My neighbor (let’s call her Alison) is convinced that we will track her down and bring her home. I feel touched by her infectious optimism.

Baby Coco, ca. September 2010

She loves Coco perhaps even more than my husband and I do. Alison told me that her bond with our cat is what convinced her and her boyfriend to adopt their own.

When I told her that Coco hadn’t returned home after two days, Alison sent out the bat signal. Casting a wider net than I could have imagined, she informed and perused myriad platforms and resources.

  • Nextdoor
  • Facebook
  • Craigslist
  • Animal Rescue League
  • PetFBI
  • MSPCA and local shelters
  • Local veterinarians
  • City sanitation services (they find animal carcasses in the streets–who knew?)

Armed with packing tape and a staple gun, she braved New England March weather to post flyers around our neighborhood with me. More than once. The long walks provided an opportunity for us to get better acquainted and discuss all things cats. I introduced her to the Facebook page CocaineKitties. I recommend it to all.

Last week, I texted Alison that I was beginning to accept the potential permanence of the situation. She asked if she could still post updates online. I said of course, and that I just wanted to prepare her for an eventual sense of closure.

Three hours later, I heard a knock on my front door. When I opened it, a bouquet of cut flowers graced my porch. On the card was a heartfelt message from Alison, her boyfriend, and their cat, expressing sympathy for Coco’s disappearance.

I smiled. Then I texted her a photo of the gorgeous arrangement.

She texted back a video she had taken of Coco pre-disappearance.

I cried a little. Then a bit more. Then I ugly cried for two minutes, which felt like an exhausting and cathartic two hours.

I’m working through the five stages of grief, and am on the precipice of acceptance.

Accompanying that is a melancholia that seems frivolous, even indulgent, especially right now. In this unstable world with unspeakable suffering.

It’s just a cat.

And yet, I miss her terribly.

When I look online for adoptable cats, I want every single one of them. I also want none that aren’t Coco.

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Miracle of Science Reopens for Business

After five months in a pandemic-induced hibernation, Miracle of Science Bar + Grill has reopened its doors to the public. Starting November 1, 2020, the Cambridge restaurant closed for the winter season to ensure the safety of its team and community due to the risks of Covid-19.

In recent weeks, the weather has gradually warmed up, people have ventured out more frequently, and overall activity levels have increased. In response, the Miracle of Science owners and staff have been preparing for a safe reopening.

They have deep cleaned, sanitized and painted the interior space. There are also menu and equipment updates, as well as a new website.

“After a brutal year, I’m excited to be reopening and reconnecting with our local community,” says co-owner and general manager Dennis Silva. “I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces again.”

Indoor, outdoor and takeout dining options are available. The sidewalk by the entrance is cordoned off with tables, chairs and space heaters for al fresco dining.

For the safety and comfort of the staff and customers, Celios air purifiers have been placed throughout the restaurant. The windows and doors also remain open for constant air circulation.

Periodic Table menu at MoS

The Miracle of Science team wear masks at all times and follow all Cambridge Covid-19 protocols. Customers can use the Miracle of Science QR code to download contactless menus on their mobile devices.

Miracle of Science is currently open daily, noon to 9pm.

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A Scammer Darkly

Do you receive those scam calls about consolidating student debt loan or extending your car’s warranty?

Wait, let me rephrase: HOW MANY of those scam calls do you receive daily?

Never took out student loans? Don’t own a car? Such minor details are barely a speed bump for these pros.

They will find you, and they will use that very particular set of skills they have acquired over a very long career on you.

When I was in middle school, I remember overhearing my father answer one of those calls on our landline (remember those?), pre-caller ID, so the caller’s identity was anyone’s guess. It was likely one of my friends–Nikki, Michelle, Andrew–but could have been a client calling my dad at home, or my sister phoning from her dorm room.

On this particular afternoon, it was some dude named Frank who asked if our address was 24 Spring Street (which, at the time, it was). My father, without missing a beat, replied, “Nope, this is 41 Main.”

Dad takes immense pride in his honesty and integrity, so this obvious fib struck me as odd, and amusing. He found his way of dealing with such calls, and straight-up lying was the strategy.

I have my own way, and it involves neither dishonesty nor avoidance.

Instead, I follow Sheryl Sandberg’s advice and LEAN IN.

This is a new approach, and it began recently when I received a text message from someone claiming to have found my lost cat.

When I saw that message, my face flushed and my ears buzzed. Could it be? The thought of a reunion with sweet Coco three weeks after she disappeared reignited a fading sense of hope.

That is, until I saw the follow up messages.

“I have sent you a 6 digit verify code..”

“If you are the real owner send me the code then I send you my location..”

Seriously?

Everything about the texts caused offense:

  • Attempts to prey on my emotions to gain access to…what, exactly? I didn’t check for any code, so I’m not sure whey they were trying to hack.
  • The underestimation of my intelligence
  • Assumption that I would acquiesce
  • The lack of proper grammar and punctuation

I thought of the New York Times story about Miriam Rodriguez, whose daughter Karen was kidnapped by members of the Zeta cartel in Mexico. Miriam relied on stakeouts, disguises, a handgun and vigilante justice to hunt down the kidnappers and try to find Karen.

I don’t purport to be anything like that badass heroine who ultimately gave her life to the cause; just that I thought of her in that moment and daydreamed for a moment of following in her footsteps.

Then, last week I received an unsolicited text about a potential job opportunity, in theory from Ingram Content Group, an actual company. He claims to have spotted my résumé on Ziprecruiter, where it is available. I hadn’t heard about jobs this way, but I’m also less tech-savvy than the average adolescent, and the initial message seemed professional and possibly legitimate.

The next one, however, piqued my suspicion. The clunky use of language is a jarring data point, and it gets my spidey senses going, even from legit recruiters.

Interview through WhatsApp? And no response when I ask for more details?

This is the third shady unsolicited text of this sort in a week. As if a year in a pandemic and constant state of low-level agitation wasn’t enough for everyone to endure, now we must battle schemers edging their way into our lives with bogus job offers in an impossible market and info about my lost cat who may in reality be dead.

For a hot minute my blood pressure spiked and a fusillade of F-bombs exploded from my mouth. The exasperated mantra, What is wrong with people?, skipped through my head on repeat.

Then, within the hour, I applied my daily yoga practice and Getting Unstuck meditations to the situation, reframed my thoughts around it, and landed on a solution that made me laugh out loud.

Nearly every day, I text the three mystery numbers a message of my own. Nothing offensive, angry, or threatening. Just questions about their day, their work, how the lost cat business is going. Things of that sort.

Just innocuous yet persistent messages like these.

So far, I haven’t received any responses, but I do hope I’m irritating them a little, or possibly softening them a bit. Either way, I’m on their radar and am now a cheerful dingleberry they can’t quite wipe away.

And that brings a wry smile to my pandemic-weary face.

When I shared this story with my father, his reaction surprised me. He laughed, hard, and then he said, wiping away amused tears, “I’m so incredibly proud of you, Astrid.”

I’m not entirely sure where the pride comes in, but I think it’s because of my reframing of the situation. He would likely be more vengeful, and for good reason, or avoidant, like when he lied about our home address.

My father has what he calls “the killer spirit”; I do not. My failure to inherit that instinct used to irk him, but over time I’ve seen that he admires my gentleness and willingness to turn around and playfully engage scammers rather than hate them or exact bloody revenge.

This light-hearted approach works for me.

Feel free to borrow this idea for the scammers in your own life. If you don’t have any, what kind of magical unicorn are you?

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Getting Unstuck

“As the author of your life, you can rewrite the story by changing your perceptions.” -Oprah Winfrey

Last week I started a 21-day meditation series co-hosted by Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra titled Getting Unstuck: Creating a Limitless Life. It is available for free for a limited time, and you can find it and other meditations and gems of wisdom from these two powerhouse self-help gurus here.

I like to call it my Ch-Oprah meditation, and I’m sure I am the first person to create that witty portmanteau.

This morning, I completed the Day 6 meditation, titled You Deserve More Than Second-Hand Experiences, along with its mantra and brief journaling exercise.

Oprah recounts a story about her days as a young TV anchor:

“Early in my career I would imitate Barbara Walters. One of the most enlightening days of my life was when I realized I could actually be a better ME than I could be Barbara. Once I stopped imitating her and becoming more of my true self, infinite possibility opened up for me.”

That blew my mind, and I hadn’t even started the meditation part of the video yet.

Ch-Oprah help me get unstuck

She and Deepak discuss what they call “second-hand experiences.” According to Deepak, these include the times when you:

  • Do what someone else tells you to do
  • Live up to someone else’s low expectations
  • Do things that really are not true to yourself

Oprah encourages listeners to think about their own second-hand experiences and asks, “Were you following someone else’s script instead of your own life story? Are you allowing the past old story that’s stuck on Play in your head control your experiences?”

Well, don’t. That’s basically the duo’s message.

JUST STOP. Do things differently. Rewrite the story.

I agree. Every day, we can rewrite our own story and start creating first-hand experiences.

Oprah was born to an unwed teenage mother in the segregated South in the 1950s. She grew up poor and wore potato sacks as dresses at times, which made her the object of ridicule. As a child, she was sexually abused by family members and family friends. At 14, she became pregnant and gave birth to a premature baby who died shortly thereafter.

That is quite a story to rewrite.

Now, Oprah is the wealthiest woman in entertainment, is recognizable with a single moniker (adding Winfrey feels superfluous, doesn’t it?), and has touched countless lives in ways far beyond entertainment and daytime television consumption.

Love her or hate her, one cannot discount the overwhelming odds Oprah has faced and overcome over her lifetime. She hasn’t done so without rewriting her story and creating first-hand experiences. Imagine what her life would be like had she continued trying to be a second-rate Barbara Walters.

What are some second-hand experiences in your life?

What are some ways you can change your perceptions and get unstuck?

Reach out and let me know. I’d love to hear them!

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Got Crutches?

Crutch (Merriam-Webster dictionary definition):

  1. a support typically fitting under the armpit for use by the disabled in walking
  2. a source or means of support or assistance that is relied on heavily or excessively
What’s your crutch?

My father had surgery the day after Christmas and spent the initial days of recovery in bed, then in a wheelchair, and then on crutches when he returned home. Eventually, he used a walker for about a week, until he could move around on his own.

Now, after months of physical therapy, perseverance, and sheer will power, dad shuffles around like a champ.

On occasion, he uses a cane I got him, primarily while at the grocery store or post office. I think he uses it as a conversation starter, but his loved ones take heart in knowing that he has backup, especially while the sidewalk is still covered in ice and snow.

In this case, the crutches, and other assistance, have played an essential role in my father’s recovery. If, in three years, or even eight months, he were still using them to hobble around, I would wonder about his progress and worry about his overall well being.

Perhaps a family intervention would be warranted. Luckily, he is motivated and fiercely independent, so that won’t be necessary. If we do stage an intervention, it will be for something besides over-reliance on his physical crutches.

While he has jettisoned the walker, dad relies on invisible crutches to get through this challenging phase of recovery. Like most of us, he has used them to navigate through the harshness of life.

Invisible crutches are harder to identify and differ from person to person. They can serve a purpose, but ultimately outlive their usefulness.

Invisible crutches? What might those be? A superpower, special weapon, futuristic device?

Nope.

Invisible crutches are those sneaky, less obvious patterns of behavior that start out as helpful support, but can gradually become destructive. They often have addictive qualities that result from unconscious conditioning.

These pesky assistants can manifest as go-to activities, substances, relationships. Sometimes they started out as healthy or necessary coping mechanisms that, over time, hinder long-term growth and well being.

Yes, denial and avoidance both qualify, and there are myriad others.

Here’s a start:

  • Alcohol
  • Approval
  • Drugs
  • Exercise
  • Food
  • Sex
  • Shopping
  • Social media
  • Tobacco
  • Work

Any of those sound familiar? Keep in mind, none of them are inherently bad or unhealthy. Any virtue in excess becomes a vice. A glass of wine for one person could be a helpful social lubricant while it’s the bane of another’s existence.

What are your invisible crutches?

OK, I’ll go first. I have a few, but my favorite is sugar.

Original, eh?

My husband finds my sugar addiction innocuous, even adorable. What’s one little cupcake? Or a box of macarons? They’re so sweet, saccharine, harmless. Billions of marketing dollars wouldn’t lead us down a destructive path…

Some days Bridget Jones is my spirit animal

The amount isn’t necessarily the dead giveaway. I’m not overweight. I don’t have diabetes. I don’t down pints of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting (anymore). I’m not an alcoholic–the booze for me holds only as much interest as the sugar I can extract from a cocktail.

What goes on inside my head is the key factor, and no one but me can see it.

  • The blind grasping for comfort and numbness
  • The lack of reason employed during these autopilot sequences
  • The avoidance of the issue or problem or emotion in favor of sweet escape
  • The dissociation from the present moment and potential consequences

All of those things are invisible to the naked eye. To the outside world, I’m enjoying a treat, perhaps a well-deserved one. It looks as though a grown woman is acting like an awestruck child who takes delight in a frosted brownie.

But at the root of that fleeting joy is a potentially destructive impulse, one that perpetuates self-sabotage and personal growth. The invisible can take up a lot of space.

Who knew that a peanut-butter cup wielded such power?

Sugar thoughts

Over time, I have learned to manage the sugar impulses more effectively. Experience, trial and error, and good therapists have helped me slow down, introspect, and check in on my emotional state.

Gradually, day in and day out of doing the work–baby steps, not quantum leaps–I have evolved from the insecure teenager and avoidant young woman of years past. Make no mistake, insecurity and avoidance still accompany me wherever I go, but they are no longer in the driver’s seat.

The impulse to grab the invisible crutches remains, and on occasion I succumb to it. But less frequently and for a shorter period of time. Once in a while, when reality feels overwhelming, I opt for oblivion.

Karen Kilgariff, who cohosts My Favorite Murder, one of my favorite podcasts, said this at the end of episode 51, aptly titled “A Little Bit of Oblivion”:

“Everybody copes in different ways. My therapist said to me one time, when I had quit [drinking] and I had quit sugar, I had quit this and that. She goes, ‘Well, you gotta do something because everybody needs a little bit of oblivion.'”

Although the focus of My Favorite Murder is true crime and murder stories, Karen and her cohost, Georgia Hardstark, openly discuss mental illness and their own struggles with anxiety, depression, and emotional crutches. Episodes are peppered with valuable morsels like that quote.

The next time I mindlessly grasp for the sugar, I will likely pump the brakes. With greater presence of mind, I hope to either opt for a healthier alternative (like a true-crime podcast) or shrug and remind myself that everybody needs a little oblivion, especially when real life in a pandemic is fucking bonkers.

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Accountability Buddy

Do you remember using the buddy system? It’s when two people (buddies) pair up as a single unit to help out and monitor each other’s safety, progress, or well being.

I grew up in the 1980s, so that system was an integral part of my development in a number of contexts:

It’s hard to gauge the extent to which the buddy system benefited me or my growth, but I’m sure it facilitated some meaningful human connection with classmates and cohorts. At the very least, it provided structure and an extra layer of oversight.

The practice has stayed with me decades later, and I now use it in my personal and professional life. Doing so during the last year of a pandemic has helped me remain productive while maintaining remote relationships. It looks a little different than the chain gang of pre-schoolers escorting each other across a footbridge, or a pair of socks accompanying their match into the spin cycle.

I currently have three regular accountability buddies: two former colleagues (and now friends) and my sister.

Every Monday morning, my sister and I text each other our respective goals for the week. We’re both writers and are prioritizing our craft in a way we haven’t done before.

The process is a cinch and takes all of two minutes. It usually looks something like this:

Happy Monday! Here are my goals for this week:

  1. Journal at least twice
  2. Practice yoga every morning
  3. Write and publish one blog post
  4. Meditate every night before bed
  5. Read for fun for 30 minutes at night

Sometimes I’ll mix it up and add things like bake lemon poppyseed bread for my neighbor, or send a birthday card to my uncle. My goals have mellowed evolved over the years, especially during a forced Covid lockdown.

Every Friday, we call to follow up and check the status of each other’s progress. If we reached our goals, fucking hooray! We discuss the process. If not, that’s ok, and we discuss the reasons why.

In a recent conversation, my sister said, “I’m 20 percent practical and 80 percent philosophical, so let’s get the practical stuff out of the way first.”

The best part of our exchanges are the deeper dives, the whys, the implications, motivations, self-sabotage, the sneaky unconscious reasons we get in our own way. That is where the wiggle is in the squiggle.

My new bumper sticker idea

The system I have with my former journalism colleague, who now works as a freelance writer (mostly solo, from home), is less structured. She texts me a heads up on any given morning that she will need a check in later in the day. Her messages involve simple yet specific instructions like:

“I’m working on a story about city council. My self-imposed deadline is 4pm today. By then I want to have interviewed three key people and written 500 words of the draft. Will you check in at 3:30 to see if I have talked to all three and hit that minimum word count?”

The answer is always yes.

Is her achievement consequential to my life? No. I’d love for her to succeed, but my life remains unaffected if she doesn’t reach that goal.

Is there any punishment if she fails to meet her own expectations? No external ones, at least not from me.

But the confirmation of a follow up from her accountability buddy suffices in motivating her to focus. That expectation applies enough pressure to stay on task. No social media, no distracting cleaning, no solo day drinking. Conduct those interviews and write those 500 words…usually with palpable success.

The process with my former home organizing colleague is similar, but with design and organizing projects. The same concepts apply, even if the goals differ.

Do you have any accountability buddies in your life?

Here are some areas where they come in handy:

  • Writing projects
  • Exercise programs
  • Dietary changes
  • Professional assignments
  • Any creative endeavors

They are helpful in nearly every process that involves positive change or meeting a concrete goal.

Almost anyone can be your accountability partner, but there are some characteristics that lend themselves more to success. Check this out for more tips. You don’t need perfection (nor will you find it), but if some elements are in place, you maximize your chances of progress.

Here are a few key components:

  • Reliability: No flaking out
  • Positivity: No Debbie Downers–you both need to keep each other’s spirits lifted
  • Consistency: Same Bat Time, same Bat Channel–or whatever agreement you both make
  • Cheerleading: No pompoms or clapping necessary, but genuine support and enthusiasm are
  • Commitment: You both need to be on board for accountability and goal reaching, even when it gets dull or lackluster

Intentional accountability is a powerful tool. But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself and let me know how it goes!

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