Trust. This is a big one, maybe even, “The one” and the one I am still working on myself. It is tied with all the other ones above and basically comes down to this; you have to trust your past that led you to the loss or change is exactly as it was meant to be, you are exactly as you need to be right now, and that you can trust it is all working out for you for a brighter future.
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 Phoebe Leona.
Phoebe Leona is a somatic/movement teacher & transformational guide. She taught yoga for over 15 years and transitioned into teaching her own movement practice, Mvt109™. This movement practice came out of her studies & her experiences of healing after a dramatic year of loss; the death of her father and the loss of a 15-year marriage. Phoebe’s mission is to empower others, through somatic and expanded awareness practices, to fully embody their radiance and the greater possibilities of their lives.
You can follow Phoebe’s work at https://www.nomadalwaysatom.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 grew up in the suburbs of DC. My parents separated when I was 7 and I stayed living with my dad so that I could remain in my home, attend the same school, and be with my friends. My dad served two tours in Vietnam and suffered from severe PTSD, which was not diagnosed until much later in his life. He self-medicated with alcohol and hard drugs. Because of these factors, my childhood was rather traumatic; physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Luckily, I had a healthy outlet of my own to work through my feelings. I would dance in my room for hours alone, attended dance classes with friends, rehearsed, and performed in dance companies all throughout my childhood. Looking back, it was what really saved my life. I also found my way of creating ways of breathing and meditating on my own as a way to soothe myself when I felt overwhelmed or stressed.
When I was in freshman in high school, the situation got worse with my dad so I left to go live with my gramma and then my mom. My dad disappeared for about 18 years and came back into my life, sober and rehabilitated on Father’s Day in 2009 when I was 32. I believe this was the moment, I really began my own healing journey.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
How you do anything, is how you do everything. This turned a light on to the patterns I was not paying attention to and how it affected everything I was doing and not doing. This truth brought me to my knees during the year of my dramatic loss. I started to see how I was moving and relating on my yoga mat (which is where I first heard these words), which was a true reflection of my life. I began to widen my perception of how I was perceived in the world, saw my blind spots, and make new choices that were more aligned with how I wanted to live.
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.
1. Resilient. I have always been able to thrive in the midst of hardships, even as a young girl. I remember the year that I was dealing with a lot of stress around the mental wellbeing of my dad who was about to lose our home and began to hit his first rock bottom with drugs, that I was also thriving in my own life. As an eighth-grader, I was in honors with good grades, the captain of the pom squad, and the lead in the school musical, Grease. I remember feeling the heaviness at home and the ability to feel the ease and joy in my outer life with friends and at school.
2. Self-motivated. I have never really enjoyed working for others. Mostly because I always had big ideas and wanted to make them happen, right away. Motivation has never really been my issue once I knew what I wanted.
3. Resourceful. As a dancer, we are taught to be resourceful or “on your toes” in many ways, which I am grateful for. In the midst of a performance, if a costume change, lighting cue, a life with a dance partner doesn’t go as planned, the show goes on and you make the best of it. I have always been able to carry that through life.
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?
Yes! It is important to share our stories to help others make sense of their own. In 2013, I had been with my husband for 15 years and my dad had been back in my life for about 4 years. That January I got a call from the New Haven Police Department that my dad was found dead in his home. He had a heart attack in his sleep. I was devastated since I had only had him back in my life for a few years. During those few years, we moved out of New York City to the Hudson Valley to be closer to him and so I was able to spend more time with him. To have him ripped away from my life was tragic.
My husband was very helpful and supportive of this sudden loss for the first month. He helped me arrange details for the funeral and his estate. Then in March, just two months later while I was still recovering emotionally from the loss, my husband sat me down and told me he wanted a divorce. I was blind-sighted. Although we had this conversation a few years prior, I thought we were in a better place in our lives after making such big lifestyle changes for the better. In the following weeks, I found out about the secrets he was keeping about his continued drug use and a budding affair.
The rest of the year was a great deconstruction of all aspects of my life. I moved out of our dream home, put my dog down, found myself in the ER a couple of times, and ended up leaving my job.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The scariest part of that year was not being able to trust the person I had been with for 15 years, which ultimately had me questioning the trust I had for myself in the choices I had made and was making at that time.
The worst thing that I thought could happen to me? That is hard to say because so much unraveled that I did not even think was possible. I guess the worst thing that I thought could have happened to me, happened and it ended up being the best thing that could have ever happen to me, I had a nervous breakthrough. I woke up one morning and didn’t go to work. I went to visit my mom in West Virginia and told her I was leaving my job and the little life I still had to start a new business. It scared me to death to make another big change but it was the only thing that felt right.
How did you react in the short term?
After each moment of loss throughout that year, I cried. I cried a lot.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
In the midst of the dust settling and after the dust settled, I always got on my yoga mat, it was my sanctuary. I stayed committed to my physical practice, meditation, therapy, dancing, and writing in my journal to process my feelings. I began to eliminate practices, people, and habits that were toxic and not aligned with the new version of who I was becoming.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
Eight years later, the layers are healing and still shedding away. I believe that I was able to process the losses by being committed to myself and the inner work that was necessary to get to where I wanted to be. I held myself accountable when I looked at the roles I played and studied the patterns, yet I was gentle with myself through all of it. I held space to really feel everything with no judgment or expectations. I found the more I allowed myself to feel what I held back or pushed down before the loss, the easier it was to let go of all the negative aspects within the loss.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
I was able to create more space for discovering who this new version of me was being revealed. I had come to realize that many choices I had made previously were based on other people’s needs and wants, specifically my husband and my dad. Having the space to make choices solely for me, was scary but liberating. Before, I always had someone else’s opinion weighing in, which validated me or swayed me away from my own in some way. It was scary to not have the other voice and just mine, but the more I got used to it, the more I realized that I was making pretty good choices alone.
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 mom. That year, she probably drove between New York and West Virginia at least 10 times. The day I had my breakthrough, I woke up not recognizing myself in the mirror and knew I could not face another day doing the same thing. I sent her a few texts asking if I could come home. She texted back, “Come home, Phoebe.” When I arrived at her place, I crumbled and cried in her arms. I was really ashamed of all the loss I had to endure. I said, “I am sorry.” And she replied, “I have been waiting for this moment.”
Until that point, I was allowing myself to feel to a certain extent but my resilient self was not letting me break or letting others see me break, even though it was happening in my body and my outer world, whether I wanted to show it or not. So that was the day I was able to really surrender to it and make a new choice. During that visit, she encouraged me to make a really big move that I had been dreaming of, to start a new business.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
Yes! Losing my dad and my husband within three months of each other was definitely an invitation to healing not only those losses but the past childhood traumas that led me to the choices I made as an adult. I was fortunate enough to be able to take time away from “life” and really enter into the space of healing for several months in Costa Rica. That is where I also began to reclaim my dreams and envision my business with the mission to serve others through their own times of transition, not specific to losses of their own.
The way I have practiced and taught yoga was a huge turning point too. I began to see more clearly, what I had suspected before, in how our bodies really hold the stories of our lives. When I started to listen to my body in a new way; patterns shifted within it, and relationships with others shifted too.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
I learned so much! I think the biggest lesson learned was to really trust the experiences that are being given to you, even the heart-wrenching ones like a dramatic loss.
If I had not lost my dad and gone through a divorce in the way that I did, I know that I would not have been able to create the life that I have done so for myself these last eight years. Previously, I had made choices based on what other people’s needs and wants were and assumed they were aligned with my own, and because I loved them both they were to a certain extent. If things remained the same, I would have not felt the freedom to take a leap to start my own business the way I did, I would not have become the teacher that I am today if I did not have those experiences behind me, I would have played myself too small and not been able to serve the many people I have so far and will continue to do in the capacity that I am now.
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.
1. Let it Flow. The first few months when I was grieving the loss of my Dad, I knew I could not just cry when I wanted to while teaching a class or at a meeting. So I gave myself permission to let it all flow on Fridays, my day off when I was completely alone. On those days, I could cry, laugh, scream, tear apart photo albums, write, dance, watch movies, stay in my pj’s and just watch the fire in my fireplace, cry some more, be weird, whatever flowed within me was allowed and it was necessary.
This is really important to allow this to happen at the beginning of the grief phase. Find safe times, spaces, and people to just let it all come out. Grief holds all of our emotions and we can’t bottle them up or they (or you, most likely) will implode. The loss is not only the loss of your loved one, relationship, job, or circumstance, but there is also the loss of yourself that you have to recognize, honor, and allow it to transform into something it wants to become.
2. Get Grounded. As the emotions flow for a period of time that feels comfortable and safe for you, it’s necessary to feel grounded. This can be a dance between the two or perhaps it is what follows after the flow. For me, it was a little dance between the two so I could keep my job but then, there came a point the flow of grief began to consume me and I needed practices to ground me a bit more. Because there was betrayal wrapped up in my loss, I was seeing everything as a red flag, and I didn’t trust myself or the people in my life. I let my emotions and mind run a bit rampant in moments, especially when I started to date again.
Find practices that get you grounded in your body, surround yourself with people who are truly there out of love and support for you, recognize what is supportive in your life and keep it in place so you can rebuild the trust in the other areas that you might not be so trusting of as you make new changes.
3. Be Open. After the loss of my dad, I started to have mystical experiences, like he was leaving me breadcrumbs to follow. I was hesitant at first, yet remained open for the most part. I started to have interactions with people I would not have normally connected with, received opportunities that I might have never given another thought about,, took chances on new moves in my life that I probably would not have had the courage to take.
Be open to the evidence of your new life. These little moments can be subtle, and they don’t have to be life-changing necessarily. They can be simple synchronicities that are telling you that you are on the right path even when things seem grim. This step is vital in coming to accept the circumstances of your life, and even fully embrace it; the pain of the loss and all.
4. Set Boundaries. This was a vital step that took me a bit to understand. I was never really taught healthy boundaries for myself or with others before. In the midst of loss, I quickly learned how to set boundaries with men in a way that I never had done so before, which is a good thing! But looking back maybe I did it in ways that I was not so proud of. I had to find my balance between being open to new possibilities and saying no with a firmness (and not with daggers) when they were not aligned.
Setting boundaries is also vital especially when you are in new territory that does not feel like your own yet. In the midst of loss, you may not know what is right or left, up or down. It is important to know your limits and set limits with other people around you, especially if the loss is wrapped up in betrayal or a big change that you don’t know all the details about yet.
5. Trust. This is a big one, maybe even, “The one” and the one I am still working on myself. It is tied with all the other ones above and basically comes down to this; you have to trust your past that led you to the loss or change is exactly as it was meant to be, you are exactly as you need to be right now, and that you can trust it is all working out for you for a brighter future.
“Trust” is still a mantra I have to tell myself when I feel the triggers of past loss or big change creeps in. When it came down to it, I didn’t trust the process. I didn’t trust others because I didn’t trust myself. I found that didn’t trust the choices I made which led me to release the shame and guilt I carried from the past. I didn’t trust the present experience which brought me closer to really listening to my body and the present moment I was in. I didn’t trust the future, which allowed me to look back at all moments, both the beautiful and tragic that shaped me into the person I am now and I remember that it was all necessary and whatever I am enduring now, is necessary for the future moments.
So where ever it takes you or takes away from you, remember to trust that it really is working out through you and for you.
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?
It is my mission in life to get people to drop down into their bodies, reclaim them, feel confident again, and move freely within them. Once we can do that, I believe we will all be more empathetic, compassionate beings that will make this world a better place.
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. 🙂
She has been a great teacher from afar over the years. I read Eat, Pray, Love when I was still living in the city and dancing. One of my works and my now somatic/movement practice, Mvt109™ was inspired by the introduction to that book. She came with me to Costa Rica via her book, Committed when I was unraveling myself from the marriage and contemplating if love would be in my cards again. And at my first-anniversary party of nOMad, my business, I read from her book Big Magic about the jewels being buried deep within and it is our job to go dig for them. Finally, I got to see her speak with Rob Bell days after the 2016 Election which somehow calmed my nerves. She somehow has shown up in other little, yet profound ways along my journey, which I am sincerely grateful for.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can follow me to my website, which is in my bio, and find me on social media. My work has now moved all online so anyone can access my programs. I will be launching a new book and a new program, Embodied Radiance, later this summer that will integrate many of the practices that helped me through my own healing journey and that empowered me to take the big leap to a new life and embrace the fuller, more radiant me. I find so much joy in helping others do the same now. I know if I was able to make it through, you can too and I want to help you get there and see for yourself!
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!