Jewel’s website, Never Broken, has been the first real access to tools I have needed my entire life. I’m not sure why I hadn’t found them sooner, but I’m glad I’ve found them now. They are life changing, and can even be life saving. This is my story of a lifetime of pain avoidance, and how Never Broken changed that.
As a child, I imagined adulthood to be this magical place without responsibilities or repercussions. It was a place, I imagined, where if you wanted something you went and got it without anyone telling you, “no.” Realistically, in adulthood, not much goes as expected, and it usually hurts in one way, shape, or form. Growth hurts, and so does the unwillingness to grow. As the lyric goes, “Nature has a funny way of breaking what does not bend.”
I distinctly remember the time I watched The Lion King with my Grandma Agnes. The takeaway quote was, “Ah yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it.” She asked me, “Do you understand the lesson from the movie?” I was puzzled. Part of me knew, but I was a bit young to grasp it. “Not really,” I said, quizzically. She told me, “The lesson is that you cannot run from your problems.”
Now, pause while I tell you, if you don’t learn a lesson the first time, it has a funny way of coming back to teach the lesson to you again and again. When it came time to deal with real problems, part of me deep down inside remembered, “You can’t run from your problems,” and I defiantly thought, “Watch me.” That’s naïveté in action, friends.
I write this as a Minnesota native, residing in Colorado. Was a thousand miles away far enough to run? Decidedly, it was not. After moving to Colorado, I discovered that I had been conned, and quite literally lured into a relationship where love was forged as a weapon for abuse. I had been used by that man to get himself to Colorado, and he was still using me like an infinite resource. There was no end to the financial drain, the energy drain, or the soul sucking. When I realized the situation I was in, I knew that I was going to end up killing myself to get away, or I had to physically leave. One day I just packed my bags & headed for the door. Unfortunately, the abuse already triggered a plethora of illnesses within me, both emotional and physical; anxiety, depression, PTSD and a chronic pain syndrome called Fibromyalgia. Still, I continued to run from my problems.
Here’s the exception: some problems, you do have to run from. If you are being abused, you can’t rely on bargaining with someone to stop abusing you. You can’t convince an abuser to change. You have to leave.
My life didn’t improve immediately. I wasn’t happy, nor did I feel I had improved upon my life at all. I was still suffering from the fallout of abuse. In retrospect, things were better, but the challenges clouded my sight from improvements. I remember reaching out to Jewel on Twitter, commenting on my new respect for her tenacity, and asking how to keep going. She responded, “It’s a mental fight you got to want to win & you WILL.” Oh, how very right she was. The full lesson wouldn’t be absorbed until the Never Broken site was launched.
I was on one income in an apartment I swear to God they shoulda’ been paying me to live inside. In all seriousness, it wasn’t that bad. Sure, there was a family of woodpeckers living in the bedroom wall, creating a special hell for the days spent in bed with a migraine. It didn’t hold heat in the winter, but it sure did in the summer! Ultimately it was still a roof over my head and a safe place that I am grateful for. In the end of my stay at that apartment, the infamous Waldo Canyon Fire got too close and I became an evacuee. I was there on the afternoon it leapt across the last foothill and I still remember the burnt orange glow of the smoke-filled apocalyptic sky as the ashes fell like winter snow on my hair while I rescued some belongings at the very last minute. The announcement of forest fires or smoke in the air still makes my hair stand on end.
Here’s another exception: Forest fires are also a problem you do, in fact, have to run from. Also, don’t do what I did. Please just leave your things.
Even though I was safe from danger, I was still running. I avoided problems and avoided dealing with the emotional wreckage by medicating my anxiety and depression with prescriptions until they progressively made me too sick to work. One medication threatened my hearing. Distraught, with a newly ruptured, freshly bleeding eardrum, and a gripping fear of permanent hearing loss, I swore off prescription antidepressants. This was the beginning of my journey to walk through the pain. This prescription had no guideline for quitting. Long story short, I chose severe withdrawal symptoms in order to save my hearing. In hindsight, all the medications I tried only hindered my healing process. Numbing pain, is not the way. You have to move through it.
Once the withdrawal stopped, emotions came flooding back. No medical professional tells you that antidepressants numb all of your emotions. Nor do they warn that coming off the antidepressants can make you feel even crazier than before! I took about a year to find my bearings with my emotions, understand what was happening, and to gain some semblance of control. Friendships were lost. There is such a strong stigma related to mental illness and no one wants to talk about it. No one really understands that you’re now dealing with emotions at full strength, and how jarring that can be after antidepressants had lifted that burden from you. Mental illness is something our society medicates into the shadows and sweeps under the rug, even though over 50% of us will go through a type of depression at least once in our lifetime. In some cases, these medications are warranted. If you need them, take them. But you also have to balance the risks and find the right medication for yourself. Please do your own research, your doctor does not have and will not take the time.
After experiencing many side-effects, my entire immune system was screaming a resounding “NO” to all antidepressant medications. I used acupuncture, visit a rheumatology clinic, and attend chiropractic visits for the pain. I even found a therapist that helped me with the PTSD. But it didn’t do any good to talk if there was no plan. No one had yet given me the tools I desperately needed.
This is where Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half The Story and the corresponding Never Broken website comes in. Jewel has been a constant in my life since 2001. Everyone who knows me, knows I am a fan to an embarrassing level. (Sorry Jewel, I’m trying to change) When I first discovered her music, it spoke to me on a deeper level than anything had before. Her unapologetic honesty took hold of me and I devoured her music and poetry until I could recite almost every song by memory. I didn’t understand until 2015 why her words resonated so very deeply with me. Reading her memoir, I saw the undeniable similarities on our life paths; the alcoholism growing up and being hit as a child (If you can ask your mom, why you needed to be hit so hard, that’s not a spanking), the mental and emotional abuse later in life, and my own (albeit different) hell of a divorce. I read Jewel’s book, and listened to the audiobook. I find invaluable information in the tone and expression when a writer reads their own words.
One day someone messaged me on FB. “Jewel is going to be on HuffPost Live & they are asking for questions. Go submit one!” Sure, why not? I submitted my question in line with the practices in the back of her memoir, which was presently my most pressing issue, “How do you handle anxiety or panic attacks?” As fate would have it, they chose my question and asked me to appear on the livestream. This was good stress, but stress on top of a panic attack nonetheless. I managed to spit my question out without stumbling over my words and looking like a complete nincompoop (I hope) on a live internet video stream. Whew!
This was before the beginning of the Never Broken website, if my memory serves me correctly. She talked about starting a website or a workbook with the tools that she developed and helped her through the toughest times in her life. This website is a wealth of knowledge. To me, Never Broken is the embodiment of hope. The meditation, mindfulness, and gratitude practices are the best healing I have come across in my search for ways to heal myself. As if being pushed towards these practices, I’ve found more books dedicated to everything in this website, and books on meditation. This is reinforcement that this is my best path to heal.
It is hard work, and it is an everyday effort. It is the most effective practice I have found towards healing and growing inwardly stronger. I still have days when I feel like I’m about to crumble or die of stress, and on those days I ask myself if I’ve done the work I have committed to. 100% of the time, I’ve gotten busy and have forgotten to invest the time for myself and do the exercises. Start over. Tomorrow is a new day. As a very close friend, Carissa, told me, “It’s called a practice for a reason.”
We are resilient beings, and we can heal ourselves. The hardest part is deciding to take the first step.
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Emerson