The red hat I wore during my last retreat of 2022 got a lot of compliments.
People noted how the hat “suited me” and said I wore it well.
I really wanted to explain that it was much more than a fabulous accessory, but I didn’t have the words then.
I do now, and I’ve written them down in hopes they will feel like support to someone reading them today.
About the hat…
The last time anyone wore it was 2016. Avery wore to her third-grade classroom as part of a book character project.
I wrote her name in black Sharpie on the inside tag of the hat in case it got lost.
This photo of her wearing the hat is among the hundreds, if not thousands, of photos that have been difficult for me to look at for a while.
See the joy?
This child was joy personified.
Because of the way she saw the world, this pure, radiant joy radiated from Avery. Taking a piece of gum to a friend, getting extra recess time, finding a heart-shaped rock, learning a new guitar chord – the smallest pleasures made her smile reach all the way to her eyes.
Of all my child’s characteristics, the one I most wanted to protect was this uninhibited joy.
You can imagine, then, what it felt like to see this beauty she embodied punctured like a balloon, losing air so fast and so uncontrollably that it shriveled before my very eyes.
That was 2021, a year of devastation for many kids and teenagers who carried wounds from the year before that never had a chance to heal.
I soon learned first-hand what I’d written about in my fourth book:
In today’s world, a teen’s poor decision can come at great costs with traumatic aftermaths.
Perhaps the only thing worse than the world turning against you in adolescence is turning against yourself.
Watching the downward spiral of someone you love is pretty awful too.
On one of the lowest, darkest nights, I remember staring numbly at the ceiling fan in my bedroom, pleading, “I can’t do this… it hurts too much.”
After the flood of tears released, I heard a voice inside me so sure and so strong.
“But you’ve been preparing for this. There is no one more suited to accompany this child through her pain.”
Learning to sit with my own painful truths, instead of pushing them away, has been a vital practice in my life over the past five years. This process has helped me overcome long held, damaging beliefs around my worthiness. I’ve learned to replace self-sabotaging thoughts with self-compassionate soundtracks and daily habits.
Yet, none of the soul-shifting work I’ve done on myself felt like preparation for what was ahead—but it did give me a foundation on which to begin and build.
Hour by hour, day by day, month by month, I was present through her pain. I listened to hard-to-hear details and things I didn’t understand. I asked awkward questions and was clear and direct with limits. I looked beneath behavior to see the painful root. And every chance I got, I reminded my child of her inherent worth and her ability to overcome hard things.
This past November, it was a last-minute decision to grab the red hat – collecting dust in the bottom of my closet – to my North Carolina retreat.
On the day I wore it, my daughter sent me a text saying she was worried about a friendship issue, and could I call her so we could talk it through.
About twenty minutes later, I was able to call.
To my surprise, she told me what she’d said to the insecure part of herself and how that helped her see a way of handling the situation while keeping her self-respect intact.
That moment was the first time I fully breathed in over eighteen months. Instead of self-sabotage, which had been the default response during the downward spiral, she accessed self-compassion. Being able to make this shift on her own felt monumental and gave me great hope, yet I wasn’t sure why.
Watching the fascinating documentary Jonah Hill made about his therapist, Phil Stutz, helped me put the pieces together.
In one segment, Jonah reveals Dr. Stutz's introduction of the concept of a “shadow,” or the version of yourself you most want to hide from the world. This therapy tool had helped Jonah realize he hadn't fully shaken his self-loathing from years' past.
For Jonah, his shadow was his 14-year-old self.
“Despite your attempts to rid this part of you, you can’t. It will always be there,” Dr. Stutz says to Jonah.“Talk to your shadow. Ask him how he feels about how you’ve dealt with him. See what he says.”
As Jonah visualizes his 14-year-old self, he says, “You’ve denied my existence and been ashamed of me.”
“The shadow needs your attention, not from the world, but from you,” Dr. Stutz explains. “Ask the shadow, what can I do to make up for not paying attention to you?”
“Include him in my life, celebrate him and share my life with him… not only acknowledge he exists, but that he’s a beautiful part of me.”
As I watched that exchange between Jonah and Phil, tears streamed down my face.
I finally understood.
When I embraced all of my child – even the parts she was most ashamed of – I was nurturing her shadow.
When I reframed her self-critical statements into an impartial view of her situation, I was nurturing her shadow.
When I expressed curiosity and compassion for her uncomfortable emotions and insecurities, I was nurturing her shadow.
Being my child’s companion through her suffering often felt like feeling my way through a pitch-dark corridor; I couldn’t see where I was going or what was coming next, but there was stability upon the wall on which I kept my hand:
I knew this was the path to healing because I have learned to offer compassion and acceptance for the parts of myself I am most ashamed of.
I have learned my most uncomfortable feelings have value and need attention.
I have learned I am not the mistakes I’ve made nor am I responsible for bad things that happen to the people I love.
The reason I couldn’t look at photos of my joy-filled child from her earlier years was because I blamed myself for failing to protect her light.
But continuing to blame and shame myself only leads to self-destructive behaviors and hinders healing—which is where the red hat comes in.
It wasn’t until I stood in front of the mirror of my retreat room that I knew why I’d grabbed the hat that symbolized so much of what was lost.
In my mind’s eye, I could see young Avery’s wide smile—back when she believed the world was mostly good, friends could be trusted, and skinned knees were the worst kind of pain.
She sees the world differently now, and it took me time to accept that.
But it’s time to recognize the triumph in her story that will serve her well for the rest of her life:
She didn't lose herself.
And with one hand on the wall and the red hat upon my head, I rejoice as I take another step forward.
My hand in yours.
My friends, I didn’t think I could write a book during such a devastating time, but in so many ways, this process was exactly what I needed to keep from losing myself. The garden journey I designed to walk beside my readers was created on my basement ping pong table using construction paper, sticky notes, and the most self-compassion I’ve ever known while writing a book. Through it all, I felt the hand of my 8-year-old Dreamer who has been trying to tell me for decades that what we know about ourselves as kids is something worth remembering as adults. Soul Shift is the book in which we, weary humans, get unstuck and reclaim our path to joy—and we do it together.
As I have mentioned, preorders are VITAL to the success of a book, so if you plan on buying it, I kindly ask that you purchase before the March 28 release. ‘Soul Shift' is currently 25% today only at B&N (click here and use the promo code PREORDER25). You may also order from your favorite independent bookstore, Amazon, or get a signed copy from Premiere Collectables. International friends can preorder from Amazon Canada, Amazon UK or Booktopia. Please be sure to keep your receipt for the pre-order bonus gift that will soon be ready for you!
In honor of the upcoming book release, I’ve been a guest on several podcasts where the hosts and I shared meaningful conversations around themes in the book. They are free to listen to, and I've listed the links below.
For those who need ample time to plan, I am thrilled to be leading another Soul Shift retreat in the majestic mountains of NC Oct. 27-29, and registration is now open.
Thank you always reaching back when I extend my hand. The way your support kept me going over the past two years is immeasurable.
“Helping Kids Through Crisis” – What Friends Do Podcast, episode 13
“How to Ignite Childlike Joy in the Grown Up Overwhelm” Fresh Start Family Podcast, episode 154
“Finding Your Inner Truth Among Adversity” The Natalie Tysdal Podcast, episode 89