I remember sitting on the couch at my therapists office in my 20s, feeling zipped up emotionally so that I could tell my story without falling apart. As I spoke, I would feel my throat closing in, which I’d try to defy at each session until my therapist would kindly ask:
“Stephanie… what’s that sitting on your chest?”
To which I would promptly reply with a cascade of tears, followed by an important release of tension in my heart & my throat. My heart was heavy with grief, but lightened as a let go, allowing me to find closure.
When you’re going through a transition, it’s a time when, like it or not, you’re going to revisit the parts of your experience that remain unresolved. Even when your comfortable enough to try and tell your story, the tales live not only in your mind, but in your physical, emotional, spiritual self. Your story impacts how you see yourself, which means it’s crucial to work through it in order to find yourself again.
Transitions typically involve a desire to protect those tender, unresolved parts where your vulnerability lies. Your nervous system wants to fend off the harsh judgements, the uncertainty, the pain that comes with working through something emotional. And yet, if you completely resist the unpacking of that story, you run the risk of staying stuck and missing out on the transformation that awaits you.
In these moments, your heart is one of the most important allies you have. As my echocardiogram revealed, your heart has this valve that as it opens and closes, it looks like it’s blowing you kisses. 24 x 7. That’s an unstoppable love that’s waiting for you, when you’re ready to receive it.
If you’ve walled off your heart for protection, like I did when I was younger, it’s important to find ways to lean in and gently release those walls and that tension. Noticing, like my therapist did, when your heart feels heavy offers the chance for release. In yoga, anything that expands your chest wall opens up your heart chakra.
Art therapy provides a way for you to let go of your story, as it gives you the chance to externalize it onto paper. Not only is this relieving, but it gives you the ability to take a step back and see what you’ve been holding on to. It gives you the opportunity to tell your story and to make meaning from your experiences. And when this happens, you move through the transition into personal transformation, reclaiming yourself one step at a time.
Cancer is one of those life experiences that brings complex experiences and feelings to the table. There are many, many moments of transition that come with cancer diagnosis and treatment. To process those transitions is to reap the reward of transformation. You need a way to tell the story of how it’s impacted your body, mind, spirit, and self. This is at the heart of the work I do through Creative Transformations.
Often, like 2020 continues to remind us, transitions are not just individual, they are collective. When we let down our guard, when we live from the heart, we discover that we’re not alone on this path. When we find community, we raise our capacity to lean into the transitions and find the transformations we all need to live from the heart.
With this in mind, I’ve been collaborating with an incredible group of women to design a virtual, experiential, retreat series for breast cancer that we’ll be kicking off in 2021. So stay tuned, I’ll have more details to share soon.
But before I go, I’d like to invite you to do a simple, heart opening exercise with me. Let’s spread a little love for ourselves and others.
- Gently place your hand on top of your chest, nearby your heart. Soften or close your eyes.
- Slowly, breath into your hand, noticing how your lungs lovingly lift your chest, working together with your heart to cleanse your system.
- Notice warmth building in the palm of your hand, imagining that it’s directly linked to your heart through a pathway of energy.
- Take a moment to observe the color of that energetic connection, and the way the energy moves between the two.
- If you’d like, slowly move your hand away from the chest while continuing to feel the energetic connection with your heart.
- When you feel like you’ve lost the connection, place your hand back on your chest until you feel the energy again.
- When you’re ready to stop this energetic practice, decide how you’d like to disperse the energy- whether it is to apply it to yourself or to let it go off into the world.
Thinking of you all,
-Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing emotionally from cancer. Through Creative Transformations, she works with people in person and online to offer the self assessment tool, cancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program,virtual workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.