Podcast

Episode 97 – Ruthie Lindsey, Finding Beauty in the Pain

As we continue our special Resilience Series, we’re honored to welcome Ruthie Lindsey. Ruthie’s story is a long and winding road that is filled with pain, struggling, addiction, and loss. Yet her journey doesn’t end with tragedy but with an amazing message of purpose. Today, Jessica and Ruthie share a conversation that not only details the beats of Ruthie’s journey, but inspires all of us to find beauty in the sacred wounds.

TRANSCRIPT

Jessica: Hey, everyone! Welcome back to the Going Scared podcast, this is your host Jessica Honegger, founder of the social impact fashion brand Noonday Collection.

How many of you feel like you are in the splits right now? We binge-watched the Navarro cheerleading Netflix show, and watching those kids do the splits I thought, “You know what? I’m feeling … I’m feeling like we’re holding some tensions. Since I launched Noonday Collection, I work to live in the natural tension that life presents — finding peace, comfort, and joy in my own life while also acknowledging and linking myself to the struggles and vulnerabilities of others around the world. I can remember online shopping on my cozy couch when I received a call from an artisan partner about a serious medical need of one of her employees. And I remember being in Ethiopia FaceTiming with my cute little cherub children after having spent a day of hearing from many of our partners who had been rescued from human trafficking … we can hold space for the different stories around us and also for the different parts of their selves. And I called this the “choosing ‘and life,’” it means that we don’t have to be only one thing or care about only one thing.

And it’s when we begin to embrace paradox and live in this “and life” that freedom comes. We can be moms and businesswomen at the same time. We can wear pajama pants and statement earrings. We can grieve what we’ve lost and still be grateful for what we have. We can be scared, and we can be brave. And it’s in that same way that we can care deeply about our local community and our own borders, especially everything that’s going on right now. And we can care about vulnerable people outside of our borders. We can be burdened for our friends who have lost jobs while also being burdened for the poor around the world who are so greatly affected by government shutdowns and can’t get access for the care that they need right now. We can stay home and still connect with people we deeply love. We can sit on our couch and still make a difference around the world.

It’s crazy cuz I started Noonday in the midst of our last recession, and this time period feels so similar to 10 years ago. We had mounting credit card bills, we barely had any friends, and we had a whole lot of fear. I surrounded myself with strangers who showed up for me one night when I invited them into my home to shop for artisan-made goods. And that’s the night that my life changed … it truly set me on this journey that I’m on today — the journey of embracing an “and” mentality and learning to let go of “either or” way of thinking.

So, what does that have to do with today’s guest? Well, our guest today is Ruthie Lindsey. She is a speaker, author, podcast host, and social media figure, and she travels the world sharing her story, empowering others to find purpose in their pain and to look for beauty in the mist of their sacred wounds. Her memoir which is impeccably written is called There I Am: The Journey from Hopelessness to Healing, and it’s out now. As a woman who lives with chronic pain every day, Ruthie can be our teacher on how to embrace a life of holding the tension of both pain and beauty at the exact same time. Listen in.

 

Ruthie Lindsey: Sharing her story and Empowering Others

Jessica: Okay, I just have to ask you, Ruthie. I mean, what on earth that… Your book was like beautiful prose. I mean there were sentences in there that I just had to just go back and read over and over. And it was a work of art, and I’m thinking, “What, what on earth?” I mean, where has the writer in you been? I mean I know, of course, you’ve had a blog and you’ve written on, you know, Instagram and all of those things, but this was prose. So, I just want to know your journey to writing, to becoming a writer.

Ruthie: Thank you. Oh, my gosh, what a nightmare. What a nightmare. It’s been so hard. I still… I don’t enjoy writing, even a little bit. Like it’s so, I have to make, even… I’m starting The Artist’s Way right now because I had nothing, and even though I know that that’s gonna help me process what’s happening right now, I just fight it and I resist it. It is not enjoyable to me whatsoever, even though I know the benefits that come from it. But I fought writing a book for about three years. People were talking to me about it and I was like, "Nope, not gonna happen." Because also, up to that point, all I’d ever done were Instagrams. I’m like, that does not count. Like update, that is not writing. That takes me 15 minutes and then I’m done.

And I could talk all day long. But even with like a talk, you know, you speak for an hour and then you’re done. And I didn’t have to go in, in the depths in the way that I did in writing this book, which ultimately felt like I was almost re-traumatizing myself. My sweet little limbic brain was like… because you have to live in it for years. Like it’s not, you know, a quick little blip. It’s really hard. And I was very fortunate to have an incredible, incredible support system and literally the most epic editor you could ever, ever, ever met. I could not, I mean, I wouldn’t have done it without her.

And then Ann Patchett, who’s an author, she has mentored me and been just an incredible support system through this also. But yeah, it was torture. I don’t wanna pretend like any other way, because it was so important for me and it brought me on this healing journey that I never would have ultimately gone on because it literally cracked me open in, like, the hardest, most brutal, but also such an important way. Because I don’t think I would’ve ever gone that deep or done that much work emotionally in dealing with trauma and processing and learning how to release trauma. I mean, I didn’t understand anything around how like, you know, our limbic brain, it holds on to it, it doesn’t know time.

And so that’s why, when you have trauma, when you’re triggered by something, it feels like it’s happening right now. But the beautiful thing about that is, because it doesn’t know time, you can go back in. There’s all these different healing methods of going back in and healing it as though it’s right now, our brain doesn’t know the difference. And so, it really ended up being one of the most healing, loving, important parts of my life so far. And a lot of just unlearning, a lot of the limiting stories that I believed, I mean, even the book proposal, the book we sold to my publisher was a book called Salvaged: Building a Beautiful Life with Broken Parts.

“And so that’s why, when you have trauma, when you’re triggered by something, it feels like it’s happening right now. But the beautiful thing about that is, because it doesn’t know time, you can go back in.” Ruthie Lindsey

And I thought I was broken. Like I believed that, I thought my body hated me. I thought that, you know, I had a lot of stories and I believed a lot of things that I don’t believe are true right now. It just, it helped me do… I mean, I was ultimately calling myself trash. Like, what? You know, and I believe, I mean, the second half of the book changed completely because I changed completely. So, it was really… I’m so grateful. I’m so grateful even though it truly was one of the most brutal things that I’ve done so far.

 

Beginning a New Journey

Jessica: And this is really where I am dying to go with you today because, truly, you are a modern-day guide for the trauma that we’re living through right now. But before we get into that, I want our listeners to understand your trauma. So, when you were 17, a moment happened. It drastically altered your life. So, share a little bit about your story.

Ruthie: Yeah. Well, so basically when I was a senior in high school, I pulled out in front of an ambulance and he hit me on my car door, going about 65 and I broke a bunch of things. But basically, the most traumatic part was I broke the top two vertebrae in my neck. I also lost my spleen, which is what helps with your immune system. So, that’s another funny thing — not funny, but interesting thing for right now. But I broke C1 and C2, so I had a 5% chance to live and a 1% chance to walk, which I’m pretty positive I actually did die. I feel that very, very strongly. The guy that was in the wreck with me, he was like, "You were hanging over the steering wheel." For like three to five minutes, I didn’t make a sound, nothing. Like we… and then all of a sudden I started gurgling.

But anyway, I shouldn’t be here. I know that. And I was on life support. After, I guess about a week after I got off life support, I was stable enough for them to do my spinal cord surgery. So they took bone from my hip and then they fused it with wire and that was just the standard practice back then. And I was in the hospital almost a month. It was my dad’s birthday when it happened, November 2nd. So I had Thanksgiving and Christmas to recover. I left the hospital after about a month. Looking at me, you never know anything had happened. Like all my scars are hidden from surgery. I mean I had a big old neck brace and half a shaved head, buteventually, you would have never known. And I was so young and youthful and healthy, so I just healed really quickly and went kind of back to life as normal. I didn’t have many residual effects at the time. If I danced too much, I’d get sore. But I honestly went about it very disassociatedly.

I talked about it in third person, it felt like it had happened to someone else. And I would always say it was way harder on my family and my friends than it was on me. And I didn’t remember a whole lot. I mean I was sedated and drugged and, you know, the whole thing. And I loved telling stories, so it was fun to tell the story, but it never felt like I was talking about myself.

Jessica: Oh, I can only imagine how you probably just glorified this horrible… You probably had people laughing about it even though it’s the most horrific thing ever.

Ruthie: Of course, because I was laughing. Totally. And, you know, I was also, at the time, which I didn’t understand any of this, and I didn’t understand anything about like pre-verbal trauma. I had stuff way before this happened, but I just didn’t even know, and I didn’t know how to process it. I just shut down and, I definitely became a pretty compulsive overeater, which also that, I didn’t even realize. I would’ve just been like, yeah, college was great. And so much of this even just came out in the last year. I just — with more processing and things that I realized, coping skills — and I was just trying to stuff my feelings because I didn’t think I could handle it, you know. And I graduated, went to college, had a great time, went on to Nashville. I got a job right out of school. No one would know anything hard was happening because I also grew up in a culture, where it was just like show up, smile, be pretty, be sweet, be kind, you know, everything’s okay even if it wasn’t.

And I ended up meeting my very first boyfriend about a year after I moved here. And, God bless us, we were just doing the best we could, but we got married after 10 months because we felt guilty about having sex with each other. And we were just, bless us, we were just sweet little idiots filled with shame and had all the stories, you know, and we…

Jessica: Shame is not a good precursor for marriage.

Ruthie: No. Are you kidding me? We were babies.

Jessica: Listeners, do not get married when you are in shame. Yeah, yeah.

Ruthie: No, that is not… Oh, my gosh. And now I get to look at those precious children that were us and I have so much just empathy and love and tenderness for them because we did… I mean, we were babies. We did not know what we were doing. And, you know, we were just, we were hopeful. We started this life and, you know, he’s a musician. I’d go on tour with him. And we just were super excited, excited about starting a family and all the things.

And about a year into our marriage one day, it was just, I mean, a random, I don’t know, it was probably like a Tuesday, I was walking in front of this store and this crazy shooting pain went up my head. Like, I remember thinking either I had been struck by lightning even though it was like sunny and beautiful or I’d been shot. Like that’s the level of pain and it went up my head and then left me with this crazy, like, blackout, migraine feeling. Scared, you know, the living shite out of me, didn’t know what was happening. Started to go see all these different doctors. Every time I’d see a doctor, they’d have me do a film, a new doctor, and the film would come back and they’d be like, "Oh, there’s this black spot on it where, you know, your spinal cord injury was, but that’s just the wire interacting with the magnet, the machine. Everything around it looks totally fine."

And so, they’d start me on all these different therapies. Nothing helped. Then they started me on narcotics because, you know, I was in debilitating pain and I didn’t wanna hurt. So I took anything they recommended. And this just started a pretty dark journey of… I stopped working. I stopped being able to show up as a partner, as a friend, as a sister, as anything because I was in just such debilitating pain and very consumed with it. And that went on for, I mean, all I did was, like, lay in my bed, watch television. I mean, really, really trashy reality TV that I love, eat my feelings, and take every narcotic under the sun. And that went on for a little over four years before a doctor finally was like, "We can’t tell you what’s happening until I see what’s under that spot."

“I stopped working, I stopped being able to show up as a partner, as a friend, as a sister, as anything because I was in just such debilitating pain and very consumed with it.” Ruthie Lindsey

 

Life, Love, and Death

Jessica: Oh, my God. When I read that in your… I mean I knew some of your story just because you shared some of it when I met you a few years ago, but that, I’ve… oh, my God, that was the part that was like so much injustice, that you were overlooked all of those years. You know, like the most basic of a thing, a spot. It’s like, why wouldn’t anyone have looked at that spot? That was, oh, my gosh. You’ve had to really work through a lot of forgiveness, too.

Ruthie: Maybe I still have a lot of work to do around that, but for some reason, maybe because there was just so much other stuff, I don’t know…

Jessica: That wasn’t a big part of your story.

Ruthie: Yeah, I don’t know. Yeah, it hasn’t been, which is kind of weird.

Jessica: It’s interesting because for me it was like, “Ah!”

Ruthie: It is. Yeah, it is. It’s interesting, but…

Jessica: Okay. So, this doctor says, "We gotta go see the spot."

Ruthie: Yeah. So basically all… I mean everything had been out of pocket because we’re, you know, my ex is, he’s self-employed and so it all had been out-of-pocket because insurance wouldn’t cover anything. So up to that point, every time I had done, it had been like an MRI, it had been super expensive, and this doctor was like, "Okay, we need to do this $50 X-ray." And basically, the X-ray showed that one of the wires had broken from my previous fusion and pierced into my brainstem. And I mean,your brainstem is basically… that is your reptile brain. Like if you’re on life support, that’s what they’re keeping alive. You know, it’s like what keeps…

Jessica: It’s weird that you were even walking around.

Ruthie: It’s, actually, at the time, which I’m so grateful they didn’t give me all the details. They were like, "You know, shouldn’t be walking if we have the surgery, you know, super high risk of paralysis. But if we don’t do it, you will be paralyzed." And thank God they left out the details of, "You shouldn’t be speaking, alive, breathing," anything. I mean, I didn’t actually know any of that until I did Dr. Drew’s podcast a while ago. And he was like, "No, no, no, no, Ruthie. Not just not walking, like, you should not be alive. Brain function, anything." So, I’m so, beyond blessed and lucky to still be here.

But it was super traumatic to get that news and I was obviously still traumatized by other stuff and shut down. I’ve been living in my bed and not in a healthy mindset. And so, I just shut down even more, read Harry Potter, couldn’t deal. And my brothers kinda took over. They’re both in the medical world and, you know, every doctor had a different idea of what to do because no one had ever done it before. And a few weeks after that, my dad, who we call "Poppa," he was coming to see me and he had told my mom and my godfather that he was gonna tell me he’d sell our farm so that I could have the surgery because insurance wasn’t gonna cover it. And it was, like, dire.

And on the way — so my dad plowed our garden with a mule, cutest little bond that ever was, and he had stopped to visit our Amish friends. It was like a halfway point. And we don’t know exactly what happened because he was alone at the time, but he ended up falling down a flight of stairs and ended up passing of brain damage. So, you know, it was just this crazy, traumatic… Like, I remember I would just pinch myself until I’d literally bleed because I just kept thinking like, "You’re gonna wake up any minute. You’re gonna wake up. This cannot be real." You know, like, I just wanted my dad.

“I remember I would just pinch myself until I’d literally bleed because I just kept thinking like, ‘You’re gonna wake up any minute. You’re gonna wake up. This cannot be real.’” Ruthie Lindsey

And my dad was just this precious… I mean, listen, he was human and had made plenty of mistakes, but he was just the brightest light ever. Like whenever we’d leave him, when we were children, he’d say, "I love you so much. Remember your manners and always look out for the little guy." And that was his big thing is just like, notice the person that everyone else misses and love them and interact with them. And that is what he did. And, you know, my godfather ended up setting up this medical fund in my dad’s honor, knowing that was his last wish. And this crazy amount of money was raised because we started getting these checks and people would be like, "Your dad bought my prom dress," “Your dad sent me on my senior trip," "Your dad fixed my roof," "Your dad paid my rent," "Your dad…" I mean, I’m talking on and on and on. And we were not — we did not have much at all. Like my godfather said he would take out loans to be able to help people. He was just, I don’t know, he was just the brightest, most precious, like his eyes just glowed and he just lit up a room. It was just like larger-than-life love.

So, it wasn’t just a loss for me and my family. It was a loss for our whole community, you know, and every life that he touched. And it was just really tough. But also, at the same time, like just experiencing that was such a beautiful thing. I just remember thinking like, “What a privilege to be this man’s daughter.” You know, like his love still took care of me in the midst of just hell. So, you know, super hard, super painful, super traumatic. But I had to have the surgery, and it was, I mean, now I know life or death and I felt like…

 

Grateful in Spite of Pain

Jessica: What was the time period when, between the funeral, which you so beautifully describe, and then your surgery?

Ruthie: I, actually, it took about 11 months because I just shut down and I wouldn’t… for the first two months after he died, I literally couldn’t move. I just… and then I started going to visit all these doctors, which that was traumatic in and of itself because everyone had a different idea of what to do. And I just was, like, so terrified and I think there was just this thought in my head at the time, I didn’t know about the other, that I was like, "Well, having the surgery, well, you know, highly likely to paralyze me." And so I just put it off because I just shut down.

And finally, I mean, we… I wanted to be able to go through the holidays and in the time I ended up being pursued by doctors because they like love being the one and only to do that, they get off on that, for sure. And so, the two doctors that wanted to do it together at the Mayo Clinic, they could both do it at this time in the next spring basically. And so that’s when I did it. And, you know, they hoped it would help with my pain, but they were like, "We’re doing this, you know, ultimately to keep you alive and walking."

And I’ll spare you the details, but I would’ve told you I lived at a 10-level pain before that surgery. And then I was like, "Just kidding." I had no clue that pain could be like that. And, you know, I’d also been on such heavy narcotics for so long that I had built up a tolerance. So they were… it was really hard for them to get on top of my pain level and to help neutralize that. It was just, it was really, really tough, and I just wanted my dad. I just wanted my dad. And, you know, but at the same time I left there with another neck brace, my head half-shaved again and holding the wire like a week later and so grateful to be walking.

But then I ended up getting this, like, incredible… I don’t know if it’s like neuropathic pain where my whole right side just feels like it’s on fire all the time. And so, I didn’t have the shooting pain anymore, which was really great before. And I was really grateful to be walking, but I was in just as much pain but just a different type. So, I ultimately walked straight back to my bed, like even on more drugs at this point. And honestly more depressed because I think I put all my hope in this thing outside of me to make me better. And when that didn’t work, I was like, "Well, this is the rest of my life." And it had been worse every year. So, I’m like, "This is gonna be, you know, my hell. Like, I’m just gonna live in this bed, in this room, in these four walls."

And I mean, it just felt like the most depressing, hopeless thing ever. And I, after about two more years, basically, I go through all of it in the book, but there are different streams of events. My marriage was ending. I hit just a complete wall. I had a complete and total nervous breakdown, which now I call my breakthrough, but it was a disaster. Like I completely stopped sleeping, could not function. My husband was on tour in Australia. I was nonfunctional. I caught this crazy bacterial infection called C. Diff. Having an endometriosis surgery, I caught it in the hospital. Basically just, I broke. I broke completely and stopped being able to live, and I wanted to fall asleep and never, ever, ever wake up. And I remember thinking that would be the greatest respite you could ever imagine because this life is my actual hell. And I wanted to die. And so, my family ended up coming and getting me and moving me home, because I couldn’t take care of myself. I kept ending up in the emergency room and it was just, it was bad.

“I hit just a complete wall. I had a complete and total nervous breakdown, which now I call my breakthrough, but it was a disaster.” Ruthie Lindsey

Jessica: Can I ask during this time because you were really close with your family, I mean, your very loving family, and grew up in a small community in Louisiana. Were you pretending?

Ruthie: Yeah.

Jessica: Were you still putting up a front? Okay. Because I’m like…

Ruthie: They had an idea because, of course, I mean I wasn’t working. Like they knew that it was bad, and they’d seen me through the surgery. They didn’t know it had gotten that bad. And I also, you know, growing up in the South, my mom was a child of alcoholics and you learn how to show up and be pretty and smile and then go back home and live in destruction, right? Like, I learned that.

Jessica: And also, I bet even on your worst days, you still… your smile can cover a multitude of pains because, I mean it’s true. Your smile is like nothing else in the world. I mean you just have the most incredible smile. I know you’ve probably been told that your whole life, but I mean I bet even then, it just probably took a lot for them to even really…

Ruthie: Totally. Totally.

Jessica: …embrace the real story.

Ruthie: One hundred percent. I mean, my smile can easily be one of my big masks, you know. And I learned that at a very, very, very early age. And yeah, so I could, I mean my husband got the crumbs of me because I could, like, muster up the energy to show up and then just crash after, you know, with nothing left. And I have like, I would say that I’m an extroverted introvert, so I can… people energize me and get me so excited and so I could show up and do that. And then literally would be in the bed for just nonstop after that.

So, they had an idea, but not the extent of how bad it was. And so, you know, it was so scary, and they saw it full on and I had, at that point it was way worse because I had stopped sleeping, which makes you insane.

Jessica: Completely insane. Yeah.

Ruthie: Completely insane. I would just have panic attacks all night and I ended up… they wanted to get me help because I was not okay. And honestly, that scared me more than anything because I cared so much about what other people thought about me that literally the next day, I started weaning myself off of all of the narcotics, which now I’m like, the motivation was ridiculous, but whatever it took, who cares? Like, I’m so grateful. It was the best decision I ever made.

 

From Hopelessness to Healing

I was on the highest level of fentanyl patch, which they give dying cancer patients. I was on morphine, I was on hydrocodone, and I was, I mean, the bag of drugs was absolutely insane. And it took me, it took me about four months, and it was, again, the best choice I ever made. I mean, I had to… literally, I remember my brother being like, "Babe, you can lay in your bed and hurt all the time or you can, like, get up and be with people and try to love people and hurt, and like, what’s your better option?" And I was like, "Okay." You know, like I was just… and so I made this list. I mean I had to relearn how to live. I hadn’t lived in so many years. And I mean, I was, taking cues from my nephews. I was living at my brother’s house. I’m like, "What do people do all day?" I laid in my bed and watched TV or read, you know,  and ate my feelings, like what are people doing?

And I had to like, you know, 8:00, I’d say get out of bed, not allowed to get back in until it’s dark outside. And I would, like, scratch that. And then I’d be like, “Make your bed, scratch that. Brush your teeth, scratch that. Eat breakfast…” I mean, it was literally that basic because I had to relearn. And then a few weeks into that, I remember… I don’t know if it was like my dad, God, my angel, who knows, or my higher self. I don’t know, who cares. But something came in and was like, "Make a list of the things that you loved before you had pain." And I’ve actually been going back to that in this time because of what we’re living through right now. And I wrote out this list and I was like, "Ruthie, you love flowers." I’m like, "No, I don’t." "Yes, you do. You love sunsets." I’m like, "I don’t care about sunsets." I’m like, "Yes, you do. You love them."

“But something came in and was like, ‘Make a list of the things that you loved before you had pain.’ And I’ve actually been going back to that in this time because of what we’re living through right now.” Ruthie Lindsey

I remember writing, "You love people." And I’m literally like, "No, I don’t. People are the worst." And like maniacally laughing and I’m like, "Yes, you do, you love people." And so then I would make myself, each day, do something on that list. And at first, it felt like I was numb and dead inside and I was just going through the motions because I felt nothing. I mean, narcotics… I was a shell of a human at that point. You know, they’re for acute pain, not for ongoing chronic conditions. Because you just need more and more and more and become completely dependent, you know. And so, and that completely messes up your brain.

And so, I was just a cloud of darkness. And, you know, in that time, too, I remember it was so incredible the way, I mean it was completely divine, but I read this quote on this girl’s blog that said, ”The deeper sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” And it’s Kahlil Gibran from The Prophet. And I just started bawling, crying and I was like, "That’s gonna be my story. I’m gonna get to experience so much joy and so much beauty." But because I’d been numbing all my pain, or trying to escape it and numb it, I’d also numbed every good and beautiful thing, right? You can’t have one without the other.

“But because I’d been numbing all my pain, or trying to escape it and numb it, I’d also numbed every good and beautiful thing, right? You can’t have one without the other.” Ruthie Lindsey

So as I was getting off these drugs, all of a sudden, after going through the motion of doing these things each day, after a few weeks, all of a sudden, like the flowers… like I remember being in the backyard and smelling this flower, it’s called Magnolia fuscata, that my dad was obsessed with and just bawling, crying because it smelled like the most delicious thing. And I felt him with me, and it was like the most beautiful… it’s like I had missed it all those times before and all of a sudden it became the most beautiful, delicious, yummy, precious gift.

And all of a sudden… you know, at first, I was watching these sunsets and didn’t give a little anything about it. And then all of a sudden, they became so beautiful to me, and I’m like, "Wow," I hadn’t looked at a sunset in so many years and it was even brighter and a more of a gift. And I hadn’t honestly, you know, most of my nieces and nephews were born during that time and I hadn’t seen them. I didn’t notice them. And all of a sudden as I was, like, getting off these drugs, I’m like, "Oh, my God, look at that miracle." They are the most magical, precious, beautiful gifts on the planet to me and I had not seen them. And it was just, it was so precious. And I started, I felt like I was, like, coming back to myself, you know.

And that took a while. And then, you know, a lot of other things happened. My marriage did end, and it was incredibly painful and incredibly hard. And also, it was this weird thing because at the same time, I think there was a part of me that felt relief because we had just been kind of… I felt guilty about it and we had been so shut down for so long and he had tried to stand by me through so much when I had nothing to give to him and I would’ve never left him in a million years. But it wasn’t… we weren’t okay. And it was super hard. I was terrified and so scared, I didn’t know how I was gonna, like, survive or, you know, I hadn’t worked in so long because of my body. And thank God it happened after I’d gotten off the drugs, because at least I had some of my sanity, you know.

And I remember being like, "If you go back in your bed, you will die. You will die." Because that’s all I wanted. It calls me, it still calls me, I have to, like, make my bed. I mean I’m doing it right now because my bed is calling me right now. That is, like, one of my just survival things is to freeze and to shut down, you know. And thankfully I lived in Nashville, and I had this incredible community that believed in me and told me that I was creative even though I was like, I’ve never… all I’d ever done was decorate my own homes and I had no idea.

And I started an Instagram account and I think my new drug in some ways, which I didn’t think of it this way at the time but was almost like looking for beauty and talking about it and posting about it because it was like… everything had felt so broken and depraved and just horrible for so long that I’m like, "I’m gonna fricking look for beauty and I am gonna proclaim it into the world and that is gonna be my journey," right? And so I… that became my new thing and I started just sharing what I was doing. And, you know, my pain was really hard. But the alternative, like my brother said, was, like, lay in your bed and hurt. And that was, I knew what a nightmare that was. And so I couldn’t go back there.

And I started like putting together dinner parties and, you know, hosting and just showing the flowers I was decorating. And then people started asking me to help them with theirs and I’m like, “Ah, I don’t know.” But I also, there’s something so gorgeous and beautiful. I didn’t have that luxury of fear anymore. And it was like, “You gotta pay your bills because if you don’t, you’re gonna have to move back home.” And that was not an option. And so, I was like, "Okay, I’m gonna do this." I couldn’t worry that I had no experience and how my body would take it. And that was just precious and kind of slowly built. And then over a little bit of time, I started having people that didn’t know me following me on social media. And that’s when the whole like, "Oh, my God, you live this dream life," or, "I love your life" messages started happening because all I had been posting about was the beautiful, precious things, right? And I was like, “Dear God. I mean, the idea that I could give that off… it honestly broke my heart.”

 

Clarity, Authenticity, and Community

Jessica: Because you’re still in chronic pain every day?

Ruthie: One hundred percent. I was going through a divorce. I mean there was so much, but I hadn’t told them about that. And I just pictured myself laying in my bed looking on social media, wishing I was out playing with my children and not laying there in pain. And so, I ended up writing out my whole story. And I mean all of it, all the gory details but also, I felt hopeful, you know, I was like, "This isn’t the end, and this also isn’t my defining thing anymore." And I shared that thinking it would scare the shizz out of humans. And of course, you know, it does the opposite. Like we’re all just longing to know that we aren’t alone. That, I mean that’s why Me Too is so powerful. Because we’re longing for connection and authenticity. I wasn’t being authentic. I wasn’t giving them the context for my joy.

Was the joy real? Yes. But there was also, in the other hand, so much loss, so much pain, so much heartbreak, so much trauma. And so, I tried to find that balance of giving them both, you know, because it’s always a both-and. It’s never one or the other. Like people now, when I see like a truly grounded, joyful human, not like a toxic positive, which, that was me for a long time. But like a truly grounded, joyful human, peaceful, I think, "Wow, they have been through so much," and have done such hard work, such hard work. Like I never assume that that wasn’t really hard-earned, you know. Because life is just, earth school’s so hard.

Jessica: Earth school is hard.

Ruthie: Holy crap.

Jessica: Yeah, it is. Yeah, it is.

Ruthie: It is so freaking hard.

Jessica: It is.

Ruthie: And we meet, we are created to heal in community. We need each other. We need to give each other these both-ands, right? And so that became my kind of new thing. And I started sharing and then people asked me to speak on, like, their podcast. I’m like, "Okay." And then someone asked me to speak at a conference, and I’m like, "This could be so bad." I mean, I had never even spoken at, like, my brother’s wedding. I never had spoken publicly. I’m like, "This might bomb so bad, but I am gonna say yes." I was like in this season of learning to say yes, which now I’ve, like, learned how to say no which is a good thing.

“We are created to heal in community. We need each other.” Ruthie Lindsey

Jessica: Yeah. Right, right.

Ruthie: Both-and. Both-and, yeah.

Jessica: It’s a pendulum swinging. Yeah.

Ruthie: Yes, yes. And so I was in the straight-up “yes” mode.

Jessica: You’ve been in your bed for seven years. So I think, you know, you come out of that and you say “yes” to everything.

Ruthie: Yeah. And it was terrifying. And honestly, it was the greatest… like it was this precious moment of clarity of like, "Wow, this is why I am here." And I didn’t know. I didn’t know. Like, none of this was by chance. Like, I get to be here to share this message of hope and healing and love and it felt like such a gift and it felt like this thing whereas I can help make my pain feel purposeful. And I lived in that for a long time. And you met me in that stage, and it was super earnest and I really wanted to help as many people as I could, but I also had skipped the part where I healed myself first. And I think in a lot of ways I needed to feel needed to feel okay. You know, to help justify like all that had happened and my level of pain.

 

Healing and Processing Trauma Through Writing

And so, yeah, that became my new identity and my new drug was, like, “help as many people as you can.” And, you know, I love feeling loved and all those things and it just fed all of those places, which none, none of those in and of themselves are bad. Like it came from a very earnest, precious place. But it also, you can’t fix anyone else. Like we can only ultimately heal ourselves and then go out and be a mirror of that healing that is for everyone else. And it honestly took writing the book for me to even realize that.

I thought getting quiet and getting still and going inside of me would absolutely kill me because my pain was so great that I thought it would consume me and I’d die. Like I didn’t think I was strong enough to handle that and I didn’t want to. I wanted to avoid it at all costs. I wanted to avoid my body. That’s why I lived completely disassociated. I thought my body hated me completely and I talked about my body that way and called it an "it" and would say, "It hates me so much." And then in turn, I hated my body because I thought it was the source of all of my pain and trauma.

And by doing the work that I did and writing that book and having to go so deep in… because I hit another massive, massive wall. Like I couldn’t get up. My pain felt so much bigger than it had been because it was so much trauma, you know. And by doing really intensive healing work, like I went to this place called Onsite where you do all this experiential therapy and you give up your phone and you’re not allowed to tell anyone what you do for a living.

And that was really interesting for me because I knew I’d found my identity and my pain story when I lived in my bed, but I didn’t know that I was still finding all of my identity and my pain story because people would be like, "What do you do?" "Speaker." "What do you speak about?" "Share my story." "What’s your story?" And I could give this, like, five-minute elevator pitch and I would get so much love and affirmation and, you know, just encouragement about, "Wow, you’re so brave." And I found so much worth and comfort in that. And so here I was, and I couldn’t tell anyone what I did. And I was like, "Whoa." It was a huge awakening for me. And they talk about, they’re like, "We walk around as human doings instead of human beings." And, you know, we think our worth and our value is on what we’re doing in the world instead of just our inherent worth and goodness. And we are just inherently good and beautiful and worthy and deserving and so loved, and so loved. And I thought all of my love had to come from outside of me, you know?

“We think our worth and our value is on what we’re doing in the world instead of just our inherent worth and goodness. And we are just inherently good and beautiful and worthy and deserving and so loved, and so loved.” Ruthie Lindsey

And so, so many of the things that I started doing and learning how to process this trauma and going back into, like, little Ruthie and taking care of her and honoring her, because, again, like we said earlier, our limbic brain doesn’t know time. So we can go in through EMDR, through journal practices and, like, do massively beautiful healing things around our traumas. And the more I did that — I didn’t understand the mind-body connection — the more I realized my body had always loved me and always speaking to me and holding me. And just ultimately was calling me home to myself. It was like inviting me back in to do this really loving, healing and really hard…

I don’t wanna pretend like it’s not really hard because it is and it’s scary. And at first, it feels kind of worse before it feels better because you are going back in. But our bodies, it’s like they wanna know, they’re giving you what hurts or what hurts worse. And so it’s gonna manifest as, like, physical pain so that… because for us, the mental part feels like it’s too big and too bad and too hard. But the only way to release the physical pain is going back into that emotional trauma. And so it’s just been this crazy, beautiful, wild roller coaster of un-learning so many of my limiting stories and remembering, you know. And the more I’ve done that, the more I’m able to go out and know that this is for everyone else. It’s not mine. It’s the collective. It’s not me and you, it’s we. This is for everyone and we’re all so deserving of it.

And I think for me, it was a remembrance of what was always so right with me, not what was so wrong with me. Because all I thought about was what was so wrong with me. And I still, it’s a constant reminding of myself of remembering my little critical voice can be so mean. Oh, my God. So mean. And then, with compassion and tenderness, I’m like, "Oh, I see you. You think we’re not safe, but we are, and you’re so loved, you’re so deserving and so worthy and so good." Like, I say, I mean, listen, Jessica, there are things that I do now that are so woo-woo that I would’ve wanted to punt me to the moon three years ago. Two years ago, I’d be like, "What, you have lost your ever-living mind." Like, "Girlfriend, like, what are you doing?"

And now it feels like the most loving…  I will stare at myself in the mirror and say the most, I’ve written on my mirror these affirmations and I say these "I am" statements of these loving, like "I am whole." "I am so worthy." "I am love." "I am beautiful." "I am deserving." "I am love and light." And I say these things and I’ll look myself in the mirror. And it’s, at first, it was the most awkward thing in the whole wide world. And now I can’t not cry because it’s like we are so deserving of that and our bodies hear us. And so, when we’re seeing these, like I have spoken so ugly about my body most of my life, right? And a lot of that was learned early, early, early on. And now like I… our bodies don’t know the difference in our hands and someone else’s, which is such a beautiful practice right now while we’re, so many… Like I live alone, and I don’t have a partner and I will, like, hold myself and hug myself and thank my body and tell her we are so loved and held and we are not alone. And I will, like, tenderly touch my face and tell myself that I’m so good and so precious and, speak to myself. I say to myself the things that I’m longing for a partner to say to me.

And it’s so loving and we all can do that for ourselves and we’re so deserving of that. And it will feel awkward at first and you won’t believe it, but eventually, it’s a practice just like anything else. I know that that’s true now. And I… my precious body that has lived through so much, she loves me so, so much and I want to honor her and love her and speak tenderly and yeah, it’s just everything has shifted and I’m telling you, most of those shifts came from writing this book, truly.

Jessica: I feel like we all saw it. I mean, I feel like, you know, just even following you, just got to see you live so vulnerably. And I think that is something about writing a book is your, you know, that you’re writing something permanent and yet we’re in the messy middle and that who you even put out when your book launches is not even who you’re gonna be three years from now. And that there’s, that is what’s scary.

Ruthie: I honestly, I finished it late in the summer and the amount that I’ve learned since then…

Jessica: Yeah. You’re like, "I’m ready for my next book!”

Ruthie: I’m like, "Did I lie?" Like, that doesn’t even feel true. There are parts that honestly don’t even feel true, but they were my reality and truth.

Jessica: And that’s okay. I think that’s okay.

Ruthie: But I’ve had to work through that. Like I’ve had, because I’m like, "Wait, I know different, I know more now. I know different pieces that I hadn’t," you know, and that’s just, you’re so right. We’re in the middle and we will be in the middle…

Jessica: We’ll always be in the middle.

Ruthie: …until the day we die.

Jessica: We will always be in the middle.

Ruthie: Until we’re on the other side, you know? And that is just, it’s ongoing. I am a different person right now than I was two weeks ago before all this started.

 

Finding Beauty in the Pain

Jessica: Yeah. Well, and that’s what I was gonna ask about Ruthie because I, I finished your book, I closed the last page. I am scrolling my Instagram and there I’m seeing my friends in East Nashville posting about a tornado and I think, "Oh, my gosh. Ruthie. That’s her neighborhood. Oh, my God." And then like a week later, it’s like COVID-19 and then, of all times for your book to be launching. I mean, this is the voice that we need right now because you are a voice of resilience. And I think that you have so many lessons to teach us so that this won’t be stored as trauma.

But it honestly, it’s, it’s like, oh, my gosh, Ruthie, it’s just so hard. And yet your story is what led you to this moment to be able to be a teacher of resilience. And so, I just wanted to ask you, especially for someone — I tend to live in my head and not my heart. The journey from my head to my heart is long, and I’ve been in crisis mode just being a business owner. And in your book… I would love for your next book, honestly, to be some of the practicalities. I was pleasantly surprised that your book was so memoir. I mean, it’s true memoir, true prose, beautiful writing and, but I’m ready for your manual, you know.

So maybe you could give us, as we kind of wrap up our conversation, the next 5, 10 minutes or so, what is sort of your resiliency manual? Some of those things that, especially in this time right now — tornado, global pandemic — what are those places where you’re doing things differently because of what you’ve learned and what are you teaching others to do?

Ruthie: First off, before I go into that, I just wanna say, “Oh, sweet sister, I’m so sorry.” That’s so hard and I know you’re not alone. There’s so many people right now that are business owners and are having to make really painful, hard decisions. And I just want… you can’t see me, but I have my hand on my heart and I just want you to hear me say, I’m so sorry. And also, I am — I know your love for those around you and I know that you are doing the best that you can right now. And I’m grateful that they have someone like you to be their leader because you are such a gift to so many of us.

And so, I know that there’s so many others listening right now that are in the same thing and, like, let yourself feel the weight of that. Like that is really, really, really hard. And when you are the boss, the one that everyone’s looking to, you need to have a place to not feel okay. You know, because it’s so painful. I was just talking to one of my closest friends who owns Onsite and like he, it’s just… this is so much, it’s so much.

And then back to your original question, you know, I am human just like everyone else and this has been triggering for me and this has brought up a lot of stuff about being in isolation again. I’ve had to be really, really gentle. Kindness and tender and gentle because I think most of our go-tos is shame and just, you know, we go down these crazy stories and that just doesn’t, that doesn’t help anything. And so, I’m trying to be really gentle with myself when I see myself go back to old coping skills to, like, that’s, you know, trauma. Trauma triggers us.

And so, things that I am doing right now to take care of my body and my heart and my spirit is going back to what I was saying earlier, like touch, like when I’m in trauma mode, I wanna be held. I want someone to hold me and tell me that everything’s gonna be okay. So, I’m doing that for myself. Like I literally am holding my body, and I did a story series and it’s, like, in my highlights, if you wanna go back and look, anyone listening to this, but, like, your body hears you and it’s so peaceful and it’s so loving and I’ll, like, I’m doing…

Jessica: I saw that one. I saw that one actually, and that… we had Dr. Kristin Neff, who is a researcher on self-compassion, on the show. Gosh, at the very beginning, but even just, yeah, the act of placing your own hand on your heart is what it does for your nervous system.

Ruthie: Yes. It’s so…

Jessica: I’m doing it right now.

Ruthie: Me too. Me too.

Jessica: I bet everyone listening right now is like, "Let’s all just put our hands on our hearts right now, people."

Ruthie: Yes. Yes. Well, and oftentimes, you know, they say, when our responses to things are hysterical, they’re always historical. So this is bringing up a lot of hysteria right now. And so much of it’s triggering old historical, painful things. Like this is gonna be kind of a reckoning time for a lot of people because we don’t have a lot of our coping skills intact that usually we’re able to kind of avoid, you know, a lot of our comforts and a lot of… And so, let this time be an invitation. Like, for me, that’s why I’m starting The Artist’s Way again because I know, for me, writing is my best form of processing and I talk about it in the book, too, JournalSpeak. Nicole Sachs, you can YouTube her, but she has these incredible, this incredible practice that allows you to release trauma through writing.

And it sounds too simplistic to be true. Just, all I’ll say is just give it a try, just give it a try because I have experienced it working. I’ve experienced my pain releasing, which, again, my pain had been worse every year for 15 years and it’s better. It’s better. And I believe that it’ll continue to get better as I do this trauma work. But writing is just… And then another one for me, like on my list of things that I love to do as a child is dance. And dancing, there is something about it. It allows emotions to move in your body, like where things get stuck, you can shake your hands. Like I, also, I’m like, there’s so many free resources right now. Like you can do a free online classes with the class or there’s like a ton of different dance classes and there’s a ton of different, like, meditation classes.

I’m literally signing up for all of the above because I’m, like, “I need to take care of myself and I want to do that for myself so that I can ultimately also be of service for those around me and in my community.” And if I’m not doing it for myself, I can’t be of service. And it’s not selfish to do, like there… I know there are moms that have three kids at home now for the first, you know, and are having to do school and teaching. I know you’re having to do that. And if you’re able to carve out even just 30 minutes of time of… it’s the most loving thing because then we’re able to show up with a more full tank and give out because you’re having to give out so much right now. So, for me, that looks like writing, dancing, meditating, and staying connected to my community.

“I need to take care of myself and I want to do that for myself so that I can ultimately also be of service for those around me and in my community. And if I’m not doing it for myself, I can’t be of service.” Ruthie Lindsey

I actually hate talking on the phone on a level that’s hard to describe, hard to describe. And I’m having to do it because that’s my form of communication right now. Like I have to stay connected. And if you have people in your house, this is also really, really beautiful. If you’re not alone and you feel safe asking someone to do this with you — when you’re feeling like you’re spinning and feel, you know, you’re spinning and you’re future fear processing, you’re in fear, all the things, try to put your feet on the ground. If you can do it outside barefoot, that’s amazing. If not, put your feet on the ground. And if you could have a partner, put their hands over your feet to help ground you and look them in the eye. There’s something about making eye contact when you are in trauma mode that is so grounding and it brings you back into the present moment. And it’s vulnerable to ask someone to do that with you, but it’s also so loving. And then you can offer that to someone when you see them spinning out.

My girlfriends and I will do that for each other and even making eye contact on FaceTime. Like you can do this with others if you’re living alone because that’s what I’m doing right now. But there is something so… and I know there’s a ton of studies. I’m not a scientist. That is not how my brain works, but I know it’s true. This sounds woo-woo, but it’s actually science. And it really, it’s so, so, so loving. Another thing is rubbing your ears and your jaw. It helps stimulate the vagal nerve and it helps to ground us. When we’re in fight-flight, you know, all of those things, it helps bring us back into the room and to noticing those things around you. And because it’s just, it’s easy to future trip right now. None of us know. Everything’s, I mean, everything’s always uncertain, let’s be real. But it feels 10 times more uncertain right now. And that helps bring you back because all we have is right this minute. That’s all any of us ever, ever, ever have.

Jessica: I love how communal Ruthie is. I think that’s one of the things that helps me to connect so deeply with her. Lately I have been leaning into community, and specifically I’ve been leaning in to my Noonday community, which, if you have ever purchased from us or if you have ever cheered someone on by opening your home or joined us as an ambassador, you are a part of that community. Our community is full of entrepreneurs who are choosing not to be paralyzed by the current situation but to dig deep and find the moments and opportunities to be grateful for. And they’re choosing an “and” life. They’re staying home and they’re also staying connected and they’re allowing space to care about those within our country’s borders and those outside of them. We truly are a community is choosing “and,” and we’ve had over 100 women launch their own Noonday businesses in April alone.

So, if that is something you’re interested in, if you are looking for community, if you are a little freaked out, if you are feeling like you want to use your agency right now and you want to do good, we would love to have you. And we have this special right now that, for $79, you can launch your own Noonday business, and we will walk you through every step of the way. If you already know an ambassador, ask her about it, and if you don’t already know one, then reach out to me, DM me, and I will get back to you personally. I would love to invite you to be a part of this community that is choosing “and.” Thanks so much for tuning in to today’s show and this entire series on resilience, which is absolutely helping me and encouraging me right now.

Today’s show was produced by Eddie Kaufholz, our music is by Ellie Holcomb, and I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.