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Alpha Chick: Sallie Felton – Her Story of Transformation

Sallie Felton

Salle Felton – As featured on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX News affiliates across the country, Sallie Felton, President of Sallie Felton LLC is a professional life coach, international radio talk show host, #1 best selling author, facilitator, international speaker, former hypnotherapist and deep imagery therapist. Her unique approach, which is equal parts honesty, playfulness and genuine compassion, is what’s earned Sallie accolades from clients, colleagues and radio show guests alike. As she says, “this is a process so let’s start where you stand, right now, right here. What do you want? How will you achieve it? And most importantly, when are you going to start? If not Now, WHEN. Learn more at www.salliefeltonlifecoach.com

 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?

I remember this well, the honeymoon was over. It was in 1974, three months after Conway and I married something different was occurring, something I had not seen in all the 4 years we had been dating. (Let me preface by saying in the early ‘70’s (or pre-historic times as our children would say) many couples were just beginning to “live together” before marriage. Conway and I talked about it, but decided it would put more strain on our parents than not).

How had I missed this? I would arrive home from work and Conway would follow on the next train out of Boston. Upon arriving home, without a hug or a kiss “hello”, he would get out of his business suit, put on more comfortable clothes and go to bed! What was going on? My mind was spinning, “What did I do to cause him to ignore me?”, “Was I this bad at being a wife?” or “Does he regret being married?” I felt alone and walking on eggshells.

Dawning the proverbial “happy face”, from which I mastered from my mother, I tried to cheer him up, tried to be upbeat and positive. This proved to be exhausting not for him, but depleted me. His quietness, lack of energy, lack of appetite, restless sleeping and solitude was becoming an everyday occurrence. He would make an issue out of the simplest of things. What was going on? This was not the same man I fell in love with 4 years ago? What did I do?

Do you know he used to call me “sunshine” and had it engraved in my wedding ring, but I felt like “dark clouds”? Who was I? I used to be so happy, so full of energy, so upbeat…now I felt alone, lonely, uneasy and walking a thin line. I would do everything and anything to keep status quo. I had a pit in my stomach day in and day out. I remember when someone would ask me, “How is married life?” I would “happily” lie responding, “It is great!” Who would want to hear my story? It surely had to be all my fault.

I did the best I could for the next four years. He would go in and out of his “moods”. Some months were better than others. I guess I got used to the pattern and accepted this was the way my marriage was going to be…I had heard other peoples’ marriages had hard times. I remember going to speak to his parents and asking if they had seen this behavior. Without skipping a beat his mother said, “Oh yes, he is just like his father and his grandfather, just like my father as well. You will get used to it. It is just the way they are. Don’t worry about it.” However, I confided much more in my primary care physician as to how Conway’s behavior was taking a toll on me. I would have sought counsel from my sisters, however, each of them were going through their own transitions…i.e. separations or divorces and I did not want to be influenced or “sucked in”. Remember misery loves company? I did not need to be drinking the same water. My married life was feeling more empty than full. So what then? What was the tipping point? It was not until the end of 1980 that I woke up.

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.

It was not until the end of 1980 that I woke up. Our first son’s birth was on October 23, 1980. I had had a miscarriage the year before so needless to say we were over the top with elation. Corey’s birth brought such joy into our household. There were of course the transitions which go along with being a first time parent: the changing diapers 12 times a day, your days are never your own, you are the last on the totem pole to be fed and sleep was a word that just appears in the dictionary.
Although Conway did his fair share of parenting, I was still feeling “on alert” as I never knew what mood he would be in at any given time. His weekends were filled with playing tennis tournaments or in the summer, he and his brother would race the sailboat. We were seldom together or as a family. One thing people don’t realize is when a person is depressed they are surgeons in disguise. They have an innate ability to mask this disease from others outside his/her immediate family. Case in point, his sister and brother thought he was “just fine”; “Seems ok to me.” It made me think I was going crazy, was I imagining this? Why could I see it so clearly and no one else saw it? Their response was, “He is always quiet, and he’s just in one of those moods.” Ah, yes, “one of those moods”. You mean the moods which would go on for days, weeks, months and years? Those moods?!
There were days when he would barely play with Corey or talk to me when he came home from work. Our conversations would be at best five words, then the sports channel turned on or he was engrossed in a book. Intimacy went out the window and I felt neglected (of which I took on personally). I wanted to be with a man who wanted to be with me, to share all the ups and downs, to be there to support, nurture and comfort me and TO ALLOW me to do the same for him! How much more could I take of this? The tipping point for me was walking by the garage door and being grazed by a wooden tennis racket cover coming straight for my head. I ducked. I realize I happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, he was not aiming for me, he was furious about something. But what if this was Corey walking by the garage? Something had to give. This was not ok, anymore.
I was scarred. I spoke to Conway and said I was going to make an appointment to see a therapist for myself. I needed to understand what I could do to “survive” this relationship or whether I wanted to stay in it. Notice the word, SURVIVE …that’s how I felt. Each day seemed like a fog, I just never knew when it would lift. One thing was for sure, I did not want to raise a child in this environment. I was scared, scared to think I would be on my own with a toddler and feeling guilty at not “making this work” with Conway. (30 plus years ago there was a stigma of people who were divorced (“something was wrong with them” and I certainly knew this was what my parents felt). Guilt if I left, guilt of not being myself if I stayed.

After experiencing your personal wake-up call what were the most powerful steps you took to change your life? 

I saw a female therapist once a week for months. She asked me point blank, “At what age did you lose your voice?” I was bewildered, what did she mean, I could speak clearly. What she meant was, at what age did you allow your power, the power of your voice to be taken away from you? I felt as if I was hit with a 2 by 4 piece of wood over the head. I remembered it well. I grew up with four other sisters, I was number 4 in the pecking order. All through my childhood I remember being characterized as the “emotional one, the drama queen, Sallie’s over reacting, she’ll settle down”. So what did I learn…to be silent because no one was listening anyway!! I could not get anyone’s attention. Therefore, I learned early on to devalue my thoughts, trust my inner negative critic that it was always right, never share my opinions (no one took me seriously) and never ever stand out. (It is no wonder I connect with animals and nature, they heard my every secret and knew my soul) My self-confidence was at an all time low, but on the flip side it was on a high when it came to my business, The Rocking Horse. Why…because I could take myself out of the home environment and be creative designing outerwear. I was away from the negativity. Sounds like an oxy moron does it?

On one occasion Conway was invited to join and the subject of being depressed, separation and or divorce was asked of him. We had talked at length about it and he was not opposed to seek help; he too was tired of feeling “off”. This made all the difference for me; if I knew he was willing to look at our relationship and make the effort to work on himself, I would support him and us. We learned of a wonderful psychiatrist who was still taking on new patients. Now let me say, this was 30 some years ago and much has changed. Back then Conway would try a med, wait 6weeks for it to show some signs of working and if not, he would have to endure weaning off of it for another 6 weeks. It was hit or miss. That was the tough part for all of us. By taking the time to work on myself and changing the dance of our relationship, Conway chose to follow in step.

How did I empower myself?
1. I learned to work on boosting my self-esteem…one word at a time.
2. I OWNed that part of me which loved to draw (took courses at the Community College),
3. I succeeded in becoming quite a competitive tennis player (obtaining a top ranking in New England: (#1) mixed, (#1) doubles and (#2) singles),
4. I expanded my business (did more Expos),
5. I set my boundaries. I learned to say “No” and said “Yes” to those things which I truly wanted to do and not what I should be doing. For the first time in my life I began to “push” back without the fear of being hurt, rejected or judged.
6. I spoke honestly with my husband as to what I needed out of our relationship: needed him to step up and be present with the children, support me and my efforts/projects; need more time with him (date nights) and spend quality time with the family on weekends.
7. I learned being perfect is only in the eyes of the beholder…good is good enough.

Please share a Positive Mental Shift tip that woman can implement today to support them on their journey of transformation and empowerment. 

If I were to relive my last 39 years of marriage (and yes, we are still very much married, J) I would impart these tips for any woman to implement today. First and foremost, never compromise your values or beliefs by giving away your voice. Being true to yourself is priceless! Here is an exercise you can do now:

1. Write down all your strengths which you believe you have: not “I am good at playing tennis, playing the piano (these are action items….” I mean, “I am a good listener, I am a compassionate person, I am a forgiving person”…etc…(we want to know WHO you are and what type of a person you are)

2. Here are some examples of character strengths/values: Appreciation of beauty , Citizenship, Curiosity, Fairness, Forgiveness, Gratitude, Hope, Humility, Humor/Playfulness, Ingenuity, Integrity, Judgment, Kindness and Generosity, Leadership, Love of Learning, Loving, Perseverance, Perspective, Prudence, Self-Control, Social Intelligence, Spirituality, Valor, Zest

3. Take the VIA (values in action) survey on the below link http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx then click on the below: VIA Survey of Character Strengths Measures 24 Character Strengths.

4. This test is about all the strengths/values you use ON A DAILY BASIS. The top 5 are the ones you use the MOST each day.When I first took this test (and I dated it) I was amazed at what showed for my top three strengths/values: Kindness and Generosity, Honesty and Fairness, Humor/Playfulness. But when I looked at all the rest, it made sense…I don’t use others the same way as I do the top 10.

Here are my top three:
– Kindness and generosity. This is what I am made of…I go above and beyond for people. So sharing my knowledge is easy for me to do. But sometimes I have away the “cow”.
– Honesty/Fairness. I did not realize that honesty was an equally high strength/value of mine which I used daily. It made me realize that truth and being authentic, SPEAKING MY VOICE, is a must for my existence. It is in my soul, in my heart.
– Humor/Playfulness. All my life I have been a prankster, I guess I got this “gene” from my father…and one I foster in our own children. There are times when my humor/playfulness gets the best of me, but it’s part of me and I cherish it.
5. Write down what you learned about yourself! Now you have taken the first step, BRAVO!!

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