Andrea Hylen believes in the power of a woman’s voice to usher in a new world. She is the visionary and founder of Heal My Voice, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering women to heal a story in their lives, reclaim personal power and step into greater leadership at the dinner table, in their communities and in the world. She is an author, inspirational speaker and workshop leader at retreats and conferences speaking on Women’s Empowerment, Collaboration as a Business Model and Women Healing Together. Learn more at www.healmyvoice.org
We all experience life challenges that looking back we can see were the catalyst for living a deeper, more authentic life. What has been your greatest personal challenge that you’ve overcome that served as your pivot point to transformation?
Greatest Personal Challenge: Negative Self-Talk and People Pleasing. The greatest challenge, the one that took every ounce of strength I had was making the decision to leave my first marriage. And the main reason it was so hard was my dysfunctional pattern of people-pleasing and putting everyone’s needs and desires ahead of my own. In my family, everyone was married for 50+ years. Marriage was honored and valued as a lifetime commitment. ‘Til death do us part. I felt there was an unspoken pact within the family. The words loyalty, fear and shame were attached to the big “D” word. You got married and you dealt with the dysfunction. If you were unhappy, just put yourself at the bottom of the list and deal with it. Even with a family lineage of alcoholism and verbal abuse and unhealthy relationships, divorce was never an option. So, when I told a family member that my marriage was falling apart and I felt my heart was breaking, I was told, “you made your bed now lie in it.” No discussion. No questions asked. No concern over the words “I am dying inside.” It was expected that marriage was a lifelong sentence. No reason for early parole. You made your bed, now lie in it.I met my husband at Temple University on the day before school. Both of us were transfer students and there was an optional “studying seminar” we both attended to start the semester on a strong foundation. Our lives were woven together in the first few weeks of school when we discovered that we both commuted an hour and a half to school and lived only 10 minutes from each other. Synchronistic connection. One day we found ourselves standing on the train platform together! Totally surprised. I became a member of his family instantly and we were married after four years of school, work and dating.
He was a functional alcoholic. Working a full time job with overtime, then coming home, cracking open a beer and drinking all night until he fell into bed. I was aware of the alcoholism in his family and in one conversation before we were married, he told me he would stop drinking. A sign of my people-pleasing. Do not confront anything that might be a conflict. Do not bring up uncomfortable conversations.We moved two hours from our families, bought a house, worked full time jobs and gave birth to two daughters. The birth of our second child, Elizabeth threw me into a tailspin. In the hospital, I remember looking into her eyes and feeling this powerful wake-up call. It was like she was saying, “Okay, Mom. I am here now. Get it together.” Six weeks after her birth, I returned to work and saw a flyer in the elevator, announcing a lunchtime Al-Anon meeting. No more excuses. It was time to tell people that I was living with an alcoholic and to admit how exhausted I was from trying to make our marriage work. I felt like a failure.
The people pleaser in me had converted to Catholicism, walked on eggshells, suffered in silence, tried: cleaning the house, being cheerful, cooking Sunday night dinners, doing all of the child care, grocery shopping and more. My husband was critical and controlling and my own negative, internal self-talk had an ongoing conversation of criticism layered on top of his. Finally, I started to see a therapist and explore the family history of alcoholism and the dysfunctional behavior in my household.
By the time I hit an emotional bottom, I was isolated from family and friends, forgot who I was and what I valued, lost all sense of self, sleep deprived and suffering from a mild depression.
Describe the transformational moment or wake-up call when you realized that life change was necessary? For many, it’s a spiritual awakening, an emotional downfall, or a life-altering experience that shakes us awake.
There were two pivotal moments that were wake-up calls. The first was late one night, sitting in the kitchen cross stitching ornaments for Christmas presents. Surviving on only three to four hours of sleep each night, I had a moment of paralysis. My legs and feet were frozen in place. I couldn’t move. I cried out for my husband to help me. With his assistance, I was slowly able to shuffle into the bedroom. Crying myself to sleep that night, I kept repeating inwardly to myself, tomorrow is Al-Anon. I just have to make it to the Al-Anon meeting. Pushing myself to be the perfect mother, wife, employee, including making handmade ornaments had driven me to the beginning of a nervous breakdown.The second was seeing a look in my two year old daughters eyes, the daughter who was calling me to “get it together.” I was arguing with her father when I heard a voice in my head say, “This is not the role model I came to be for my children.” I made the decision that I would leave the marriage for the sake of my daughters.
After experiencing your personal wake-up call what were the most powerful steps you took to change your life?
It took me almost a year and finally I moved out of the house. Emotionally it felt like I was crawling away. To get out, I left my daughter’s behind. No support from family or friends, my husband and I verbally agreed to joint custody. I knew I needed to take the oxygen mask for myself first. To rent a house, set up the household and then resume my role as a mother. My husband manipulated the legal system and tried to prove that I was crazy. The first few years, we were in the court systems fighting for joint custody. I learned how to use my voice to stand up for myself and my children. I took classes and learned a variety of healing modalities. Attended Insight Seminars that helped me to connect with a new community of conscious, awakening people. Organized book circles in my living room to heal emotionally with John Bradshaw’s: The Family, Julia Cameron’s: The Artist’s Way and James Redfield’s: The Celestine Prophecy. Over time the commitment I had to my own heal myself, helped to heal my daughter’s, too.
Please share a Positive Mental Shift tip that woman can implement today to support them on their journey of transformation and empowerment.
FIND SUPPORT from healthy individuals and groups.The funny thing about support is that the biggest thing most of us really need is inspiration and someone who believes in us. Someone who can mirror who we really are and remind us that each day we are getting stronger and healthier. I found support in Al-Anon and in groups of people in spiritual classes and workshops. I had amazing mentors at work and slowly but surely, I found my tribe of people. Now, 25 years later, I see Facebook groups and Pages another wonderful support of inspiration. One more thing: I know that we haven’t met in person. But, I know that if you are reading this, you are ready to wake up. And I BELIEVE in YOU!!
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