…The word, “and”. Grief and loss become overwhelming. There’s a word that has helped me bring healing and hope back to my life, and the word is “and”. It is possible to feel pain AND joy, grief AND hope, loss AND love. Allow those to coexist in you. It’s really hard, but also really liberating when your world starts expanding and you give weight to all the emotions that you feel. The word “and” brought hope back into my life, and it can for you, too.
The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.
Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.
How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?
In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley LeMieux.
Ashley LeMieux is the founder and CEO of The Shine Project and bestselling author of her debut memoir “Born to Shine.” Her most recent project is the release of her highly anticipated second book, I AM HERE (May 2021), where she guides readers out of fear and into freedom. Ashley has been through the searing pain of contested adoption, the death of a child, and the struggle of infertility that many women experience. Ashley lives in Phoenix with her husband and two dogs. You can connect with her and a community of supportive women on Instagram at @AshleyKLeMieux, and online at theshineproject.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was a shy, awkward little girl with an accidental bowl cut. I was a tomboy, and after beating the boys in basketball at recess, I’d go home at the end of the school day and write all my feelings and words I didn’t say at school into a journal and throw it under my bed. I spent a lot of time reading and writing, which grew my love for writing. If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up at 8 years old, I would have told you, “A writer who helps people heal their hearts.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Healing heals wounds. This quote helped me so much to be able to let go of harmful things we hear about grief and healing and enter into a new relationship with healing that wasn’t shameful and required me to show up for my life.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
My ability to fail and keep going. When I submitted my first book proposal with my literary agent, we were certain a book deal with a top publisher would be coming. On the final day that all bids were due, I received my final rejection from every single publisher. I was devastated and threw myself a pity party that I wasn’t good enough and needed to find a new path for myself. After a couple of months, I knew that it did not matter what anyone else had to say about my book. I needed to write it and reach the women I knew were waiting for the words inside of it. Born to Shine is now a best-selling book, and I just released my second book, I Am Here, with my dream publisher, with my third book releasing next year. It wouldn’t have happened if I had stopped at hearing my first “no.”
My genuine desire for others to find healing and success, too. I learned compassion from my mother, who has walked through the trenches with more people than I could even count. We all just want and need someone to hold space for us in our lives, and I feel like it is my honor to be able to do that for women who don’t know how to keep walking forward. My success means nothing if everyone else is suffering, and I want success and joy for all of us.
My privilege. There are some things that people, like myself, are just born with or born into, that I did nothing to earn, that gave me many opportunities. Being white, growing up in a stable, loving home where both parents were entrepreneurs, having resources and stability in my life to work through trauma, those are all incredible privileges that I have to acknowledge that have contributed to my success. Have I worked incredibly hard? Absolutely. Have I worked harder than many others that aren’t recognized for their successes? No. And I think it’s important to say that my accomplishments have come from both hard work and privilege.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?
At the end of 2019, I got pregnant after years of healing and deciding if we were ready for more children after losing the children we raised for over half their lives through an unexpected contested adoption. It was a huge step for us, and we were so excited to actively be parents again. At 16 weeks pregnant, in March of 2020, completely out of the blue, I went septic within hours. I was rushed to the hospital by ambulance, and when we got there, they told us that hospitals stopped allowing outside visitors with patients due to the new onset of COVID-19 that was beginning to shut everything down in the US.
I went through days of the most severe pain I’ve ever been in in my life and kept telling myself it was all worth it to keep our baby safe. At one point, my body went completely numb, and I was screaming in pain. I opened my eyes to a rapid response team who was putting oxygen on me, checking my vitals, and I kept asking them if I was going to die. As I got stable, I then told them I needed them to check the baby. Deep inside, I knew that both of us could not have survived what was happening.
Seeing no heartbeat on the ultrasound screen, alone with a young man who was the ultrasound tech, was one of the worst moments of my life. I cried in my hospital bed, all alone, that night. They still wouldn’t allow my husband in with me. The next morning, I delivered our baby boy, Jayce, still completely alone as I screamed, “This isn’t how this is supposed to happen.”
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The scariest part was delivering my baby on my own while having no idea what was happening and being so, so sick. The worst thing I thought could happen was losing our baby due to my sepsis, and it did.
How did you react in the short term?
Grief, in the beginning, feels fuzzy and confusing, and it’s hard to catch your breath. We planned his funeral while I still had home nurses administering antibiotics in my PICC line. I was afraid that I would get sick again, I was angry, confused, and we were alone. Without being able to hug my family or have friends come over due to the pandemic, everything felt intensely lonely.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
After losing a child, dust doesn’t settle. You learn how to live with it differently. EMDR therapy was essential for me to heal from PTSD and traumatic grief, and without professional help, I literally don’t know what I would have done. I also felt very betrayed by my body and had to learn how to love myself again. I stuck sticky notes of affirmations all around my home to have help throughout the day reframing all the negative thoughts that I had about myself. Because everything was shut down during the pandemic, I had to get extremely present in my home and with myself. I explored new things like watercoloring my feelings, planting flowers, learning how to cook and make it fun for me… all these things helped me fight to remain present in my life instead of trying to escape it through other toxic coping mechanisms that would have been easy to numb out to.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
I believe that healing isn’t one big moment. It’s consistently moving forward. Healing is a lifelong journey that allows us to embrace everything that we’ve been through, and instead of having it bury us, it can bring us a new lens through which we view life. Many people want healing to take them back to a feeling that they had before the pain. But healing isn’t about going back to a time before pain. It’s about learning how to move forward with it.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
For me, healing requires a daily effort that I can’t look farther down the road than just that day. Otherwise, it starts feeling way too hard and way too heavy. Instead of letting go of my experiences, I embrace them. I embrace the things they’ve taught me. Our experiences are deeply rooted in us, they create who we are becoming, and instead of being afraid and ashamed of my times of grief and pain, I’ve learned that those times are what have helped me become who I am today. Once I stopped trying to run from my pain and invited it to teach me what I should know, it created a new relationship with my experiences that created an emotional shift to feel better.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
My husband, Mike, and I have been through a lot together. He holds space for me when I need it, and I hold space for him when he needs it — the ebb and flow of our grieving together and individually have added so much strength to my life. At one point, I looked at him and said, “I truly don’t know what I need in order to be okay. I know you want your wife back, but I don’t know what I need anymore.” He replied, “You don’t need to know right now. I’m here with you, and we’ll figure it out together.”
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
Something that has been really beautiful, difficult, and powerful is that as I’ve shared my story of loss and pain, I’ve been able to walk with many women through theirs. The community of women who have lost a child, suffered through a miscarriage, and feel completely alone is a community that nobody ever wants to find themselves a part of. But once you’re in it, you’re hugged in. And it’s my honor to do the hugging now. I started doing this by sharing my own feelings that I was writing in my journal. So many women found comfort in the words that they never felt like they could voice, and I just kept sharing.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
I learned that I can do impossible things. All of us have a power inside us that can get us through the hardest of circumstances. When I was alone in the hospital, not knowing if I was going to die and if my baby would make it, and was literally alone during so many painful moments, I was the only one that I could rely on and had to dig deep to stay present and connected to God and myself. We so often look for answers to our lives by buying so many products, programs, or things we think will be a magic solution to finally become the person we want to be, but that person is already inside of you. You’re stronger than you think. And so am I.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.
- A place where you feel safe- Life feels fragile and tricky and untrustworthy after trauma. It’s totally normal not to feel safe anymore. Creating a space in a corner of your room, or in your backyard, where you trust that you can go and just be yourself and express yourself freely, is critical. I created a little wall in my office with letters from people I love that build me up, some of my favorite quotes, and a piece of art that speaks peace to me. I journal there, and it helps bring down the feeling of always being in fight or flight mode.
- A support system- Therapy has been very important to me, but I also know that it’s not always accessible. There are so many support groups and non-profits out there to support you. Finding a group of people who have been through what you’ve been through so that you know you’re not alone, can find a community to uplift you, and where you learn new coping tools is very healing. I am a part of “Heaven’s Hummingbirds,” a support group for parents who have lost their babies. It has helped me find a community that understands.
- Boundaries- There will be people in your life who do not understand what you are going through. That’s okay. They have different experiences than you. But it is very hard when relationships change or when people don’t show up for you the way you need or wish that they would. Sometimes people that you love will say hurtful things. Not because they want to hurt you, but because they don’t want you to hurt anymore, and they don’t know how to fix it. Setting boundaries that protect your healing, your peace, and your relationships are critical.
- Permission to rebuild your life- Part of the grieving process is feeling guilty. Feeling guilty to move forward, feel joy, or feel worthy of ever feeling anything good again. Life feels impossible when the reality of it is drastically different than the dreams you had planned. You’re allowed to rebuild your life. You might never feel ready to, but you are worthy and deserving of it. I believe in this so deeply that I wrote a book about it called I Am Here- The Journey from Fear to Freedom.
- The word, “and”. Grief and loss become overwhelming. There’s a word that has helped me bring healing and hope back to my life, and the word is “and”. It is possible to feel pain AND joy, grief AND hope, loss AND love. Allow those to coexist in you. It’s really hard, but also really liberating when your world starts expanding and you give weight to all the emotions that you feel. The word “and” brought hope back into my life, and it can for you, too.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
A movement in which everyone has access to exceptional therapy, heal from their trauma and receives the tools they need to move from the survival mode that trauma throws us into. A place of peace, safety, and healing is something that everyone deserves a chance to have.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
Abby Wambach and Nicole Walters. Both are incredible leaders who I respect and admire so much.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Come join our Instagram community at @ashleyklemieux, listen to my podcast at The I Am Podcast, and online at theshineproject.com.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!