Mind, BODY, and Spirit: A Quest for Wholeness

I grew up a pretty typical Midwestern girl. In the midst of my childhood years my life felt quite normal. I was raised in church, had a good group of friends, did well academically, and was active in sports. I’ve always had a good sense of who I am; confident and the ability to not be swayed or affected by major let downs in life. I was the youngest of four and the only girl, so naturally, I put on the armor required to keep up. But, as I entered adulthood and faced challenges and traumas, it became pretty evident, through therapy, that there were many things that affected me to my core; things that I never allowed myself to process. My parents divorced when I was young and both remarried within a few years. One of my parents struggled with depression and mental illness, which complicated life along the way, and left me with hurt that I never even knew existed. It wasn’t until 2017, when my entire world changed and all of those past hurts came flooding to the surface.


At 16 I met the boy that I would spend the next 10 years of my life with. He was fun and outgoing, plus 2 years older than me. He introduced me to a world that I hadn’t yet experienced. After eight years of dating we were married and shortly after, in 2011, we had our first child. But, in those 10 years, I was emotionally abused, consistently cheated on, and always second choice to alcohol and drugs. I allowed myself to fall into the position of the enabler. But, after my son was born, I decided my son’s life and well being had to be my priority. So I left. I could no longer make his recovery or choice to get better my responsibility. Three years later he lost his life to addiction. Raising a child with a parent who has passed away and figuring out how to help him navigate his grief, as it changes with age, has been one of my greatest challenges in life.


In 2013, I was the luckiest girl in the world when I married the man of my dreams. He loved me and respected me like I didn’t even know was possible. He understood my hurts and insecurities that I had gained from my past relationship because of going through one similar to mine. It was like life had finally began! But, we also struggled to find balance within our

blended family and fought hard for our love for each other and a life that we were desperate to give all 5 of our children. Life is hard and obstacles always seem to present themselves as soon as things start getting comfortable. 


In the summer of 2017, my husband checked himself into a recovery facility for an opioid addiction. He had spent the last 10 to 15 years with major back issues and opioids became his way of survival. The next 4 months, while my husband dedicated pretty much all of his time to his recovery journey, it felt like I was a single mother to my 14 year old step son, 6 and 3 year old sons and 4 year old daughter - while also trying to grow my new real estate business. And, just as soon as that season was ending, and life started feeling normal again, I was hit with the blow that has forever changed me. 


The day before Thanksgiving in 2017, I received a call that my older brother, who lived in California, had been missing for 24 hours. Within a few hours of that first phone call, I was notified that his body had been found at the base of the Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur, California. My brother and I shared a bond that I’ve never really been able to verbalize. Throughout most of my life he served as a friend, mentor, sounding board and someone who understood me better than anyone because we shared the same childhood hurts and joys. The grief I experienced was unbearable. Out of pure self preservation I went into autopilot. I lived that way for nearly 6 months, and I have very little memory of that time. I’m not sure how my kids were fed (like seriously... what was I packing in their school lunches?) or how I managed to maintain working and keeping up with the responsibilities of a home with 4 children and a husband still on his own recovery journey from addiction. 


All those past hurts and traumas that I had allowed myself to be unaffected by now sat there staring me and my grief, directly in the eye. I was a mess!

But, eventually, things started to shift. I started making conscious decisions to pull myself out of that fog. I dove head first into therapy, started nurturing my relationship with God, read books on grief and mindset and healthy habits. Allowed myself to be influenced by bible studies at my church and self help seminars for work. I was growing and, more importantly, healing. And, it felt amazing! But something was missing. A piece of the puzzle that I couldn’t quite identify. 


Then I found the piece. It was my physical health, or lack thereof. I had bought a one way ticket to emotional health, but my body was left at the train station.


Up until my third child, I was gifted with genes that allowed me to eat what I wanted, whenever I wanted without gaining a single pound. But three kids later and an enormous amount of grief, my body no longer felt or looked like it once did. So, I went full force into my fitness journey. I changed my eating habits, started guzzling water like nobody's business, exercised every single day and stopped allowing my physical health to bring down my emotional health.


As soon as I made the decision to get physically healthy, it was like this new level of happiness came along with it. All that hard work I had put into healing my heart didn’t truly feel complete until I healed my body. And even better yet, the new found physical health was actually playing a huge roll in my emotional health!


Every day I have to make a decision to be healthy. Most importantly for myself, but also for God, and my husband, and my kids, and my church and my clients. Emotionally, physically and spiritually. True health, I’ve come to realize, isn’t really possible without all 3 being a huge priority in my life. 


Rachel Gallegos is a Christ follower, Wife, Mother to 3 and Step Mother to 2. She’s a Realtor in the West Michigan area, where she has lived all her life. As a survivor of suicide loss, she is extremely passionate about mental health awareness.

 Rachel and Audrey get to hang out Wednesday nights in the Spring when they play on a co-ed softball team together.

FB Business Page: https://www.facebook.com/rachelgallegosrealtor/


Everything Has Meaning

Without realizing that the past is constantly determining their present actions, they avoid learning anything about their history. They continue to live in their repressed childhood situation, ignoring the fact that it no longer exists, continuing to fear and avoid dangers that, although once real, have not been real for a long time.”

- Alice Miller 

from The Drama of the Gifted Child

As a therapist, I am deeply committed to the idea that I will never be able to take my clients to places I have not been willing to go to myself. Therefore, every week I go to my own therapist to explore my own depths, heal from my own past wounds, and become empowered to show up in the world as the best version of myself. My therapist is wonderfully skilled at helping me make connections between my past relational wounds and present ways of relating that don’t serve me well. She helps me to make my unconscious conscious so that I can turn off my autopilot, snap out of old survival patterns, and live more authentically. The process is both painful and richly rewarding.

Through my work with my therapist and my work with my own clients over the past 10 years, I am endlessly amazed by how everything has meaning and nothing exists in a vacuum. The meaning is not usually obvious and it takes a blend of curiosity, patience and dedication to unearth it. Afterall, it has taken us our entire life to develop our current ways of being in the world and so it is silly to think that we can experience transformation quickly. Our past, present, and future are always interconnected and dancing with one another. Often the things in our lives that we are least curious about need the most attention because they are the easiest to dismiss. For example, any time you find yourself saying something like, “That’s just the way I have always been,” you would do well to pause and explore deeper.

A couple of months ago I went to my therapist’s office, walked into her building and down the stairs to her waiting room. I have a standing appointment every week at 10am and she is always exactly on time. I looked at my watch I saw that the time was 9:56am. It occured to me that I forgot to lock my car, which had my computer bag in it. I felt a bit panicky internally as I realized that I didn’t have enough time to go out to my car, lock it, and get back before she came to get me from the waiting room. Sure enough, the waiting room door opened at exactly 10am. She said hello and welcomed me as usual. Instead of simply telling her that I forgot to lock my car and that I needed to run out and do so, I said, “So, I forgot to lock my car. On a scale of 1-10 how likely is it that someone might reach in and grab my computer?” She tilted her slightly at the oddness of both my energy and my question and said, “It seems like you would be more comfortable if you just went and locked it.” I told her that was correct, apologized, and ran out to lock my car. All in all our session started only about 3 minutes later than usual. This experience could have easily been overlooked with the assumption that there was no deeper meaning and we could have just jumped into the themes we were working on the previous session. My therapist, however, noticed an opportunity and asked me what was going on for me during that interaction. To my surprise, a swell of sadness and tears came up. At first I had no idea where the emotion was coming from, but chose to stay with it. We spent the entire session following the emotion back to some really old childhood emotional wounds that may have been missed that day if my therapist didn’t believe that all of our human interactions are charged with meaning. 

Thanks to the odd and intentional nature of the therapeutic relationship and its ability to make the unseen seen, I have cultivated an ability to pay closer attention to my more fleeting thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations so that I can slow them down and look at them with more curiosity. Many times these fleeting experiences carry meaning and can lead to deep places that need some care and attention. The work is usually slow, sometimes unclear in its direction, but always curious and pregnant with meaning. It has made me a better husband, father, therapist, and human.

At Mindful Counseling GR we are passionate about pursuing the meaning that often hides in the seemingly insignificant corners of your story. We do this work because we have a love for helping people live authentically and be the best versions of themselves. We believe that the world is a better place when each of us are able to heal from past wounds, let go of old survival patterns that are now self-defeating, and fully and freely live into the fullness of who we are. It is into this process that we invite you. If any of this resonates with you or you have a degree of curiosity about how you show up in your world, we would be profoundly honored to walk with you through the process of insight, healing, and transformation. 


Bryan Nixon is a fellow traveler on this journey of life who is deeply passionate about helping people explore and understand the depths of who they are, identify unconscious patterns that are not working, and reconnect with their innate ability to flourish in the world.

Bryan is a psychotherapist and the founder of Mindful Counseling GR in Grand Rapids, MI. He is also a founding member of the Relationally-Focused Psychodynamic Therapy (RFPT) program based in Seattle, WA, which is a continuing education program for licensed therapists to deepen the work they do with their clients.

Bryan Nixon and Audrey Byker first met several years ago at the Inspired Life GR conference in Grand Rapids, MI and share a passion for helping people live into the best version of who they are.

Please check out
www.mindfulcounselinggr.com for more information.

Food + Grief = Growth

Real, whole food, organically raised: none of the words in that sentence even existed when I was growing up. The buzz words then were: convenient, easy, crowd-pleasing- which meant one thing- casserole! When I reflect on childhood meals, I remember eating together around the table; I remember laughing at my dad's bad jokes; I remember my mom eating what I had methodically separated, and I remember my brother having to wait until I was finished eating before he could escape with his friends. Basically, none of what I remember about eating was the food. 

Five years ago, my dad passed away after a battle with cancer. Just prior to that, we had made some changes to our schedule that had allowed me to be home more during the day. Feeling inspired, I began figuring out how to create at home the food that I had normally purchased.  In the kitchen, I am determined, methodical and s l o w.....it takes me for-ev-er to cut, chop, slice and dice. In short, my family would devour in less than 15 minutes what had taken me hours (and sometimes days) to prep and create. When my dad died, so did my love for all that food prep. 

Strangely enough, I grieved him through taste. Dad had an unapologetic love for donuts that I never understood. Yet, when I no longer had dad, all I wanted were donuts. Every single time we stopped for ice cream, Dad would get butter pecan. I never understood. After dad passed, I couldn't stop my cravings for all things butter pecan, including those strange 'maple nut goodie candies?! What was happening? How could I have gone from spending days preparing whole, real foods to sustaining myself on a variety pack of TimBits & Maple Nut Goodies (thank you Tim Horton's & Brach's, by the way). It was as if my mind and heart were at odds and somehow my food cravings were the mediators. After a few months, I prayerfully said out loud, "Dad, I love and miss you! And, I have to break up with the donuts. There has to be another way for me to grieve your loss." 

That time away from the hours of preparation allowed me to realize a few things: 1-it's not realistic for me spend hours making meals, 2-did anyone even realize all the time involved in making the meals and were they supposed to, and 3-I cannot live on donuts, alone.  

Fast forward to about 2 years ago. On a slow Sunday morning, Mr. Wonderful and I were watching a cooking show. There was a fantastic recipe called something like sweet potato hash. They had my attention at sweet potato, but 'hash' had me confused. My experience with food titled hash was more akin to...well...yuck. But, this recipe just roasted the sweet potatoes, added some spinach and served it with a fried egg. Wait. That was real, whole food that didn't require extraordinary preparation?! Wasn't that the best of both worlds?! 

That recipe was the turning point. Suddenly, Mr. Wonderful and I started using an hour of our Sunday together to peel, chop, and roast veggies for the week ahead. It happened! That one hour transformed how we cook, what we cook, even what we crave.  Maybe it's the fact that we prep together, or maybe it's that we have fresh, real, organic food that's ready to use for the week, simplifying all our recipes. Until this moment, I'm not sure that I even thought too much about it. But, what I know is that finally, we have found a way to create better meals, in less time that everyone loves- and wouldn't dad love to see that?! I bet he'd even have a joke about it.


Jane Robrahn is a wife-mother-madrasta-educator-yogi-nutrition enthusiast. As an adopted person, she is an advocate for both adoption & autism awareness. Audrey met Jane, first, as a high school student, then, as a teacher, and eventually became deeply connected as healthy striving, writing-loving friends.

Follow her adventures of life as a late bloomer on her blog.