Learning how to pull the lessons out of our stories is when we can learn to stand ON our stories.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Marsha Vanwynsberghe.
Marsha is the 6-time Bestselling Author of “When She Stopped Asking Why”. She shares her lessons as a parent who dealt with teen substance abuse that tore her family unit apart. Marsha recently published a collaborative book called Owning Your Choices, sharing inspiring stories of courage from women around the world.
Through her programs, coaching and podcast, Marsha teaches the power of Radical Responsibility and Owning Your Choices in your own life. She empowers women how to own their stories, be conscious leaders and build platform businesses that create massive impact.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
I spent 27 years as a Registered Kinesiologist and helped people with rehabilitating their physical injuries. I’ve been coaching for many years. It wasn’t until our family experienced teen substance abuse that literally tore our family apart, I decided to learn how to share my story. I was tired of feeling the shame, blame, guilt and judgement of others. Through a ton of personal work, therapy and support I started sharing my story on small stages which led to the start of my podcast, Own Your Choices Own Your Life and the release of my bestselling book, When She Stopped Asking Why, that I truly understood the power of sharing our stories. Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned it’s not about the stories, it is about the lessons we learned from our stories, the pain and emotions that connect us to each other. Now I help people to learn how to pull the lessons out of their stories and build platform businesses that impact others. The platform can include anything from podcasting, coaching, speaking and writing.
Can you share your story of when you were on the brink of failure? First, take us back to what it was like during the darkest days.
During the first few years of dealing with this, I was frantically searching for answers or solutions, while at the same time hiding my pain from others. We felt so helpless and alone in our lives. Some people didn’t know what to say to us while others would publicly condemn us for being terrible parents. I was afraid to go anywhere or see anyone, and I was also afraid to be at home. For most people their weekends and holidays were a break or downtime, and for us it was when life would blow up. I couldn’t find anywhere else to go and would sit in my car by myself for hours at a time. I completely isolated myself from the world because I had no idea what else to do. I put on a face while working with my clients and became a master hider. I knew how to wear that mask which actually grew to a shield and I carried that shield everywhere. When drugs entered our lives, they never left. No matter how hard we tried, it just escalated. It reached a point where it affected every single aspect of our lives. At one point they stopped going to school, would be missing for days on end, and it escalated to dealing regularly with the police and the schools. Our hands were constantly tied. In Canada, kids literally have all the rights and no responsibilities from 12 years old onward and parents have all the responsibilities and no rights. It was an incredibly helpless period of time in our lives. It felt as though we were the only people who had an issue with what was happening. There came a period of time where life escalated in a dangerous way, and within a matter of days we almost lost both of our boys in our own home. That is when I realized that we had no control. I was desperately trying to keep them safe, yet both things happened in our own home. This was a major turning point in our life, when I realized the only thing I could control was myself, my choices, my actions and reactions. Through tremendous amounts of counseling, therapy and work on myself, I learned to change my mindset and focus on what I could control, and let go of everything else.
What was your mindset during such a challenging time? Where did you get the drive to keep going when things were so hard?
My mindset during this time was a constant work in progress. I would use my headphones and listen to podcasts, YouTube videos, mantras and meditations to shift my thinking. Every time it would waiver, I would plug back in. That time in my life was such a blur. I didn’t know how to change my life, but I also knew I couldn’t stay where I was. That mindset, the emotions of anger, resentment and pain were slowly killing me. I knew if I didn’t change my thinking that I wouldn’t make it. A counselor told me that if the boys decided to come back to us, that I had to be a springboard for them and at that time I was a pile of quicksand. I became obsessed with building myself up again, self-care, boundaries and mindset work consumed my day. I got really clear with my boundaries and what was allowed or acceptable in our house and I stuck to it. I called the police whenever necessary without hesitation, and I took full ownership and responsibility for myself. It was the only thing I could control.
Tell us how you were able to overcome such adversity and achieve massive success? What did the next chapter look like?
I didn’t do it alone. I asked for help whenever I needed it. I embraced vulnerability and reached out to friends that could support me when I needed it. I became crystal clear on my inner circle and I called that an “invite only space”, no one got a pass. If someone took from me, or was critical, they were not allowed into this space. I had to treat this space as sacred as that was the only way to build myself back up again. It was so much work and so worth it. A counselor linked me to a Facebook group for mom’s dealing with teen substance abuse and when I joined the group I realized there were thousands of mom’s in this group struggling with the same stories. That was the moment I realized that I wasn’t alone. The only reason we feel alone is because no one likes to talk about the difficult things in life. I started to use my voice, share my feelings and emotions, and through conversations with a mentor, she asked me if I felt that I had made it through the most difficult parts of the story? I felt like I had, and then she said, “maybe I was supposed to do something with my story?” That thought changed everything and I started to believe that maybe I was in this position because I was meant to do something with it to help others. When I started to share my story at the school, with other parents, in counseling groups and on small stages, I continually had parents reach out to me to say “that was their story too, yet they hadn’t told anyone.” Learning to share my story was very healing for me and it gave me fuel when others would tell me they could relate to my story. This was not a fast period of time, it was a process that took a couple of years to build my strength and heal myself to share my story.
Based on your experience, can you share a 3 actionable pieces of advice about how to develop the mindset needed to persevere through adversity? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- The first actionable step is to decide that you don’t want to stay in your current situation anymore. Even though you don’t know what the next stage will look like and yes it is hard to create change; you still get to choose which hard you want?
- Learn to listen to what you need in order to fill your cup first. Self-care, boundaries, grace, compassion and patience is necessary to build yourself back up in order to create change in your life.
- Take massive radical responsibility and ownership for yourself. That means taking full ownership for your actions, reactions, thoughts, decisions and mindset and use that energy to create change in your own life instead of trying to change someone else. That is not your job. It is your job to become the best version of yourself and bring that version to the world.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I had so many mentors that I learned from during these first few years. I didn’t do it alone at all. From mentors such as Cathy Savage, Alexi Panos, Peta Kelly and all of my incredible friends who stuck by me and also to the ones who left to make room for others. Through my story I connected with lifelong friends who I never would have met without our vulnerability and ability to share our stories. We are all connected by our emotions and experiences and learning to share our stories helps us to see that we are not alone and we are far more alike than different. I also could never have done this without my husband, Brad who supported me on this journey to share our story and together we have worked very hard to have a strong and supportive marriage and together this helped us to continue to rebuild our relationships with our boys.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am offering group coaching programs and masterminds with modules to help people to own and share their stories. I also offer some 1–1 coaching. I am growing my podcast, Own Your Choices Own Your Life, while building a second podcast, Every Body Holds a Story, which will become another platform on its own. We launched our first collaborative book in 2020 called, Owning Your Choices and I know there’s another collaborative book coming as I love this platform that gives women a space to share their stories.
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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The movement I would love to inspire is to teach others how to stop living IN their stories, this is when we are replaying the situations over and over again and being stuck like a victim. No change will ever occur with a victim mindset. Learning how to pull the lessons out of our stories is when we can learn to stand ON our stories. This is where we have perspective and understand that our stories happened for us to help us become the people we are today. As difficult as it is I wouldn’t be the person I am today without living through this story. The more we can all learn how to shift the meaning of our stories, the more we can use our lessons to impact others and pay it forward. The people we can impact the most and who can have the most impact on us, are likely people we haven’t even met yet. They are waiting for us to go first, to show up and be seen. This is the energy and the movement that I am all about.
Any parting words of wisdom that you would like to share?
Our stories matter and the more we learn to make our journey about others outside of ourselves, it adds purpose and meaning to our pain. When we have made it through a difficult time in our lives and have learned valuable lessons, it’s our responsibility to share those lessons with others. There comes a point where the lessons aren’t for us any longer, they are for us to share with others. We have solutions that someone else is praying for and not using them feels selfish. As soon as my journey shifted from no longer being about me, and instead it became about others, that is when it all shifted. We all have the power to do this and to make a difference in the lives of others. We have no idea how far our stories will go and who they will connect us to. My story reached a girl in Africa who is a survivor of human trafficking and she was featured in our collaborative book, Owning Your Choices. Also to this day, I receive monthly kindle purchases of my book from Japan. Our stories have such an incredible reach!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.