Feed your brain good stuff. When I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree, I remember being so busy one semester I told my mom and sister I would have to forego our weekly standing ritual of watching “The Bachelor” with them every Monday. It was a huge heartbreak at the time but I quickly realized I didn’t miss it at all. As my mind shifted away from that show and TV in general, I opened up more time for studying and, eventually, reading. Now I am an avid reader and, when I’m driving, listener of books. My brain feels so happy when I fill it up with thoughts, ideas, and words from so many amazing people. I can’t even listen to music when I drive anymore because my mind craves the satisfaction and stimulation of books.
As a part of my series about “Connecting With Yourself To Live With Better Relationships” I had the pleasure to interview Stacy Bernal, a writer, speaker, personal development coach and instructor for the Utah Division of Real Estate at See Stacy Speak LLC. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Weber State University with a BA in Public Relations and Advertising, and was named the 2013 Outstanding Graduate for her major. She proudly serves on the WSU Alumni Association Board of Directors, the Utah State Women’s Council of Realtors, and her local chamber’s Women in Business Executive Board. Stacy has been published on Chicago Now, Scary Mommy, Autism Parenting Magazine, and HER Magazine. She’s pretty sure there’s a future book (or two) in her as well. Stacy feels passionate about working with organizations that want to cultivate the inner badassery of their team members so that they feel empowered to share their voices and ideas, and create lasting change in themselves, their companies, and their communities.
Thank you so much for joining us! Let’s Get Intimate! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.
I had been in the real estate industry for almost thirteen years in one role or another. Most recently I was a sales rep for a home warranty company, so I did presentations all the time in front of Realtors. Once, I had the opportunity to do a presentation unrelated to my job so I based it on my personal story and called it “Failure to Finisher,” talking about how running my first marathon changed the trajectory of my life. From that one event, I started getting more and more invitations to speak. I looked into professional speaking and made the jump. I’m currently writing my first book as well. And coaching was the next logical piece to add to my business as it really aligns with my WHY.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?
Yes! I am so excited to get my book out into the world. I believe the sheer act of sharing our stories connects us when we may otherwise feel isolated and alone. The more that people can be open about their experiences, particularly those dirty, shame-filled ones, the more we can accept that maybe we aren’t so horrible and alone after all. And I try to do it all with a little wit and wisdom. I’m writing about everything from finding (and losing) a tribe, to surviving childhood sexual abuse, to having breast implants removed, to raising an autistic son. There are so many lessons from each of these stories that can apply to others and their paths to self-understanding, even if they didn’t go through the exact same things I did. It’s about the connectedness we feel from hearing stories about resilience and the power of the human spirit.
Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self acceptance?
My tipping point was definitely the moment I crossed the finish line of my first marathon. I didn’t realize it that day just how impactful that event was; hell, I didn’t know that only about one percent of the population will ever run a marathon. There was absolutely NOTHING about me that made me part of any one percent of a demographic. I was, for lack of a better term, a pretty miserable failure up to that point. I was a three-time divorced, three-time college dropout, single mom to an autistic son, failing-as-a-Realtor-bartender. When I joined the ranks of marathoners, something in my brain clicked. The idea I had always held about myself — that I was a quitter, a loser, a failure — was no longer true. I realized I could FINISH something I started, I could do hard things. And I did it on my own. No one could take that away from me, nor could anyone have done it for me. This new perspective caused me to reflect back on why I had been the way I was, and it forced me to face some parts of my past I had long buried away. I realized the trauma and shame I had carried for over twenty years had kept me from fully loving myself because I felt so “less than.” The irony is that once I shamelessly owned the parts of my past that I had hidden away for so long, the more empowered and badass I felt. And then I realized that this newfound power trickled over into the lives of the people around me, and they were able to start seeing their own badassery. That was a huge breakthrough moment for me.
According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?
I bet those people don’t use social media, ha! We live in a photoshopped, airbrushed, filtered, Instagram perfect society. We are literally bombarded with images of what is considered beautiful and attractive. It’s an impossible, unrealistic standard to aspire to. I know I was caught up in it myself when I got breast implants eleven years ago. The consequence of that decision was that ultimately, I believe, my implants started making me sick. While it’s a pretty controversial topic right now and most of the medical industry will deny it, there are thousands of women around the world who are having their implants removed due to Breast Implant Illness. I am six months post-explant and don’t regret my decision at all. I had to come to the conclusion on my own though, to accept and love myself and my saggy breasts, as is. I have heard stories from sick women who want to remove their implants but their partners are adamantly against it. I think that’s a sad commentary on society. People ask me about “having my boobs removed” and I kindly inform them: I still have my boobs — the toxic bags of chemicals that were unnaturally jammed under my pectoral muscles for over ten years? Those are what I had removed. It was an interesting experience, having implants and then reverting back to small boobs that are gravitationally-challenged, but mentally and emotionally I am in a different place than I was when I got them. I have definitely grown in my self-love, confidence and self-acceptance. Big boobs do not a badass make.
As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?
You can’t truly love another person until you love yourself. And I know that from both sides of the equation. I was in a toxic relationship with someone for over a year who professed his love for me while cheating on me as often as he could. I was devastated at the time when I found out; but looking back on it a few years later, I truly felt sorry for him. He didn’t love himself so of course there was no way for him to love me. Loving yourself takes bravery and forgiveness and grace. You need to accept all the parts of yourself — the good, the bad, the ugly, the embarrassing, the badass — and be at peace with all of it. And that can be scary because that means you also have to accept that not everyone will love you, and that’s okay. Living authentically is both empowering and vulnerable, but self-love is the best love. Life is too short to not appreciate the awesomeness that is wonderful, amazing you.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
People stay in mediocre relationships for a lot of reasons: they feel safe or comfortable or complacent. They lose parts of their identity within the other person, sacrificing dreams or goals they may have had once upon a time. My advice is find someone you can grow with. Go have adventures, continually learn about each other, be open to trying new things. I have a friend who says she’s had multiple marriages but to the same person (and no, they didn’t divorce and remarry). She explains that they’ve both changed so much over the years, the dynamics of their marriage felt like different relationships. I think that’s pretty cool. I was a hot mess when I met my hubby, pretty much at my lowest. He has seen me get through some rough patches and he was my rock during those times. Other times, I have been his rock, like when his mom passed shortly after we got married, and again when his best friend died unexpectedly at thirty-six from a massive heart attack. We ebb and flow and continually grow. When we first met, he smoked Newports. Now he’s a two-time marathoner — and no, I didn’t make him do it! Growth, baby. Live your best life and do it with someone who shares the same vision.
When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?
Absolutely. When I was at my lowest point in life, feeling completely hopeless and empty, I realized I was so unhappy with the person I had become. I truly did not like myself. And I think I had had a victim mentality for a long time, believing that bad things happened to me and even further, that I deserved all the bad things that happened to me because I was a crummy human being. I knew I needed to make drastic changes, especially for the sake of my kids. And I knew it wouldn’t be an overnight change, but I believed I could do it. I needed to be able to stand on my own two feet without relying on a man to take care of me, which translated to getting myself through college. Some of the tough questions I had to ask myself were:
What is my WHY? What is the one thing that will drive me to the finish line no matter what obstacles stand in my way? Who is it that I want to be? What are the steps I need to take to get from point A to point B? Why does any of it matter? (There was definitely a voice in my head telling me it didn’t matter.) What mark do you want to leave on the world?
So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?
Ahh solitude is such a gift! I’ll admit, I feared being alone for a long time. I think that’s natural since we are social beings who crave belonging. And maybe it’s the overwhelmed mom in me, but I adore my alone time. I’ve heard people say they could never eat at a restaurant or go to a movie alone. These solo activities are splurges for me, times to decompress. I am a runner and a triathlete, and while I often train with friends, there are many moments of aloneness in these activities. Especially when I’m swimming — the sound of the water and my breathing — I relish those moments of calm. Being with ourselves allows us time to connect body, mind and spirit. It’s a time of gratitude, thanking yourself for being yourself. And besides, who needs a movie date when you’re sitting and staring at a screen in what should be a quiet theater?
How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?
Accepting our very flawed selves creates a greater sense of empathy, creating deeper and richer connections with others. I had a baby when I was seventeen that I gave up for adoption. I didn’t talk about it for over twenty years, feeling ashamed and embarrassed about it. In one of my first speaking gigs, I shared this story and it was terrifying. What would people think of me? Here’s the thing: I didn’t care. I had come to terms with it and no longer felt ashamed; in fact I felt pretty badass to be able to claim the title “Birth Mother.” I took ownership of that part of my journey and see it as something beautiful now. After that presentation, a few people approached me to share their own experiences, one woman who had adopted two children and an older gentleman who told me he and his wife had gotten pregnant when they were fifteen and they had just celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. I was pleasantly surprised by these heartfelt connections. I have had several women open up to me about their own teenage pregnancies, only they opted to make a different decision. When they told me that they had had an abortion, I could sense that they were hesitant, worried about being judged. The exact opposite happened: I have no place to judge women for the choice they make just because I made a different choice. I have no idea the magnitude of the weight of their decisions — I chose what I knew I could live with. So did they. I have led a life filled with plenty of bad decisions (pretty sure I could never run for any sort of political office — way too many skeletons in the closet). I know that good people are capable of doing bad things, and vice versa. Understanding and accepting this about yourself makes it so much easier to connect with others on a deeper level and accept them, flaws and all.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
a) Individually, we should strive to continually improve and connect with others in positive and meaningful ways. In my experience, volunteering and acts of service was a big part of better understanding and accepting myself. I started by volunteering at a local race, then with my local Junior League chapter, and then at a center for abused kids. There is nothing that will help you build your character more than giving of your time and talents with no expectation of anything in return.
b) As a society, people should educate themselves on cultural perspectives other than their own to help them better understand and accept themselves. I feel like people tend to congregate with like-minded people and it creates an echo chamber, with little room for growth. If they opened their minds to the possibility of seeing life from different perspectives, I think they’d have a better idea of who they are. From there they can work on personal development and understanding and accepting themselves.
What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?
1. Early morning routine- This is typically the only time during the day I can get some “me time” before the rest of the family gets up and chaos ensues. I use this time to set my daily intentions, enjoy the hell out of my coffee in silence and, if I get up early enough, time to write or run.
2. Go for a run (or walk or hike or ride or swim)- My love affair with running began about the same time my son was diagnosed with autism. I joke that my distance running can be directly correlated to my stress levels, since I started running marathons in 2009 (the same year he started kindergarten) and ran an ultra-marathon in 2017, the year he started junior high. Running is therapy for me on so many levels. Runner’s High is real, my friends.
3. Feed your brain good stuff- When I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree, I remember being so busy one semester I told my mom and sister I would have to forego our weekly standing ritual of watching “The Bachelor” with them every Monday. It was a huge heartbreak at the time but I quickly realized I didn’t miss it at all. As my mind shifted away from that show and TV in general, I opened up more time for studying and, eventually, reading. Now I am an avid reader and, when I’m driving, listener of books. My brain feels so happy when I fill it up with thoughts, ideas, and words from so many amazing people. I can’t even listen to music when I drive anymore because my mind craves the satisfaction and stimulation of books.
4. Always have a finish line- I have learned that goal-setting, much like running a marathon, is not a “one-and-done” deal. Once you achieve something, particularly those “I never thought I would achieve this” goals, that just takes you to the next level of “Okay, now what?” Always have something on the horizon that inspires you to do more, to be better. It’s all about forward motion movement.
5. Take a break- Know when to say when. I have taken breaks from everything from social media to drinking alcohol to running to relationships to work to you name it. Depending on the circumstances, sometimes you may need to step back from something and spend time doing some soul searching. I read in “The Compound Effect” by Darren Hardy that if you’re concerned about a habit, take a thirty-day break from it, to prove you have control over it. In 2018, I took two 30-day alcohol fasts and one 30-day Facebook fast. Each of these breaks provided me with clarity, connection to self, and opportunities to work on other areas of my life that needed attention. I highly recommend this practice to everyone.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. This book has helped me so much in my journey as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. When I read it, I felt like it answered questions I had had for years that I didn’t even realize I had. It taught me a lot about my brain and why I felt and did some of the things I’ve done. It has been a transformative part of my healing and has allowed me to forgive myself and others for past hurts.
Anything by Brené Brown. Literally every book I have read by her has impacted me on a spiritual and emotional level. I would recommend her to anyone who wants to work on living authentically and living courageously. She’s spent years researching shame and trauma, and I have applied many of her principles in my life to help me personally and professionally.
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? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…
I am currently organizing an autism awareness event in my community that is three-pronged:
-Raise awareness of the autism and special needs community
-Inspire companies to implement employment strategies for autistic and special needs people
-Inform autism and special needs families of the resources available to them
Raising a son with autism has been a harrowing, heartwarming, eye-opening experience. I see a young man who will forever struggle to fit in in this world. Naturally, as his mother, I want to help create a world that is capable of seeing him and his amazing mind as an asset and not a liability. Living in Utah where rates of autism are higher than the national average, the change I hope to inspire will impact kids and families way beyond those in my own home. I want to see a culture of kindness and acceptance for the differently-abled, the weirdos and the underdogs. I want other moms, dads, siblings, and extended family members to feel assured that their special needs relative is safe and loved, even when they’re not around.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by?
Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?
There’s an oldish movie, “Drowning Mona,” where a couple characters have this dialogue:
Chief Wyatt Rash: [talking to Mona] When life gives you potatoes, make potato salad.
Mona Dearly: Life gave me a handful of shit. What do I make with that Chief?
Phil Dearly: Shit salad?
I don’t know why, but that line, “Life gave me a handful of shit. What do I make with that..?” has always stuck with me. I guess because a) it’s funny and b) sometimes I’ve felt like that is definitely what life handed me. But I know that from the shit, beautiful things can grow. Manure, after all, is a great fertilizer.
When I speak and work with coaching clients, one of the first things we get into is the muck and mess that we have lived through, and how we are using those past experiences in our present lives. Are they holding us back from our full potential? Are we (consciously or subconsciously) placing limiting self-beliefs on ourselves based on things that happened to us twenty years ago? Basically, what have we done to create our ‘shit salad’?
Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!
About the Author:
Sasza Lohrey is the Founder & CEO of BBXX, a digital platform for intimacy and wellbeing. She is also the host of the BBXX podcast, “Let’s Get Intimate!” which hosts provocative and entertaining conversations with experts in order to challenge the way our culture conditions us to talk about sex, intimacy, and healthy relationships. BBXX was created in order to help people better understand themselves, so that they then can form deeper and more fulfilling relationships with others. Sasza is a former D1 athlete with a background in psychology and digital media. She is a member of the Women of Sex Tech collective, the co-mentorship community Dreamers and Doers, and a regular columnist for several online publications. Originally from the Bay Area, Sasza founded BBXX during a Stanford entrepreneurship program in Santiago, Chile. Learn more on our website and listen to more interviews with experts on our top-rated podcast!