AwareNow: Issue 46: 'The Simple Edition'

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AwareNow Magazine is a monthly publication produced by AwareNow Media™, a storytelling platform dedicated to creating and sustaining positive social change with content that inspires and informs, while raising awareness for causes one story at a time.







































Deep and simple are far, far more important than shallow, complicated and fancy. Fred Rogers

simple: (adj.) easily understood or done Welcome to ‘The Simple Edition’ of AwareNow Magazine, where we embrace the philosophy that less is more. In a world often cluttered with complexities, we’ve chosen simplicity as our guide. Our motto, "We will no longer ask for permission to change the world," echoes the power of simplicity in driving meaningful change. In these pages, discover stories, insights, and inspiration that illuminate the beauty of a simpler life and the profound impact it can have. Join us on this journey, where we celebrate the essence of what truly matters, unapologetically choosing the path of purpose and clarity.

ALLIÉ McGUIRE Co-Director of AwareNow Media, CEO & Co-Founder of Awareness Ties Allié started her career in performance poetry, then switched gears to wine where she made a name for herself as an online wine personality and content producer. She then focused on content production under her own label The Allié Way™ before marrying the love of her life, Jack, and switching gears yet again to a pursue a higher calling to raise awareness and funds for causes with Awareness Ties and AwareNow Media.

JACK McGUIRE Co-Director of AwareNow Media, President & Co-Founder of Awareness Ties Jack got his start in the Navy before his acting and modeling career. Jack then got into hospitality, focusing on excellence in service and efficiency in operations and management. After establishing himself with years of experience in the F&B industry, he sought to establish something different… something that would allow him to serve others in a greater way. With his wife, Allié, Awareness Ties and AwareNow Media were born.


The views and opinions expressed in AwareNow are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of AwareNow Media. Any content provided by our columnists or interviewees is of their opinion and not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, political group, organization, company, or individual. In fact, its intent is not to vilify anyone or anything. Its intent is to make you think.


I am a voice for the voiceless. JESSICA FREW




I’m Jessica Frew. I have Cerebral Palsy and communicate with a Tobii eye gaze computer due to my CP. I’m a model and actress. I’m a full time student, majoring in criminal justice and criminology. I am a voice for the voiceless. I’ve faced all odds during my childhood because people treated me differently and thought I wouldn't know anything because I was nonverbal. People were unkind and said unkind things right in front of me, unaware that I could understand everything they were saying. For 17 years, they made me feel worthless. I didn't even have the confidence to communicate with the aid of my computer in public or even privately with my family. For 17 years, I only used my computer for school work. Until one night, I was lying down in my bed just thinking about why God didn't just take me at birth when I flatlined. I wondered why he decided to give me a second chance at life. Then I realized the reason why God decided to give me a second chance at life. It was for a very special purpose – to make a difference in the world for people with disabilities. It was to change people's views on disabled, nonverbal people and treat them with respect, not make them feel worthless by people as I did for 17 years. With AwareNow, I am producing ‘The Jesse Show’. In this exclusive interview series, I will have conversations with professionals in the entertainment and fashion industries, along with everyday normal individuals with amazing power stories that need to be told. Through these interviews, I’ll serve my purpose and raise awareness. I’ll open opportunities for all who haven’t been given the chance they deserve to be seen or heard. I’ll change how our society views and treats individuals with disabilities or differences. I am and will be a voice for the voiceless. ∎

AwareNow Podcast

FOR THE VOICELESS Written and Narrated by Jessica Frew


Follow Jessica on Instagram: @jess_eilz_frew Learn more about Jessica and her story:


I’m gonna rise to the moment. BRYAN SCOTT




BEYOND THE END ZONE WITH BRYAN SCOTT Bryan Scott is the highest drafted Division 3 Quarterback in professional football history. In this exclusive interview, Bryan shares pivotal moments from his journey, revealing the challenges faced during high school and college that shaped his resilience in pursuing his football passion. Join us as we delve into Bryan's story, exploring the influence of his grandfather, Major General James H. Patterson, his leadership experiences, the dynamics of balancing life between Los Angeles and Toronto, and his vision for inspiring and mentoring others to achieve the impossible. ALLIÉ: Bryan, your journey to becoming the highest drafted Division 3 Quarterback in the history of professional football is truly remarkable. Can you take us through some key moments or challenges that stand out in your mind, particularly during high school and college, where you had to overcome adversity to pursue your passion for football? BRYAN: Absolutely. I mean, even you just saying those words about ‘the highest drafted’ and everything, it's crazy. It's very humbling. To take you through my journey and how it all started in high school, it was just being that guy that was a little bit smaller, maybe not ‘the chosen one’, as you would call it who was supposed to be the quarterback or





For me, I think it was the adversity as a freshman being 5’2” and having to earn everything. BRYAN SCOTT


“I’m 17-years-old, and now I have to lead 22-year-old men.” BRYAN: (continued) supposed to accomplish the things that you just mentioned. For me, I think it was the adversity as a freshman being 5’2” and having to earn everything. I think it's just something that I've been able to look back on now with where I'm at. I'm extremely thankful for that time because it's built me into who I am now. Going into my senior year of high school, I was always the short little kid that just had a dream and a vision. All I wanted was to be the starting quarterback for my high school. And I was able to work really hard to accomplish that. I had to overcome a lot of adversity when I was younger, but it didn't stop there. We loose our first three games my senior season. So, I'm bummed, and I'm like, “Oh, maybe this isn't what I wanted.” But after that game, I kind of flipped a switch, and we won 13 games straight to win our first state championship in 50 years. Being able to accomplish that was definitely something that I still hold dear to my heart. So yeah, I loved having to go through all those things. It's shaped me into the man that I am today. ALLIÉ: There are some who work hard and win in the end. You, Bryan, have worked hard and found wins at every level. What has been instrumental in being able to be a champion at every level you have played at? BRYAN: Something that I'm able to look back on and be grateful for, even though it was hard, was just going into my freshman year of college being 17-years-old, right? I was just young… I was coming off this crazy year where all I wanted was to be a starting high school quarterback. We end up winning. All of a sudden I snap my fingers, and I'm playing college football. How did all this happen, right? And then when I go to college, I'm starting as a freshman because a guy gets injured. I'm 17-years-old, and now I have to lead 22-year-old men. I had to flip that switch and say, “All right, Brian, you don't have time to learn. You're getting thrown right into the fire.” But I think having to go through what I did in high school made me ready for that situation… as ready as I could be. Every single year, I learned things I could get better at from a leadership standpoint, how to win, and how to become a better quarterback. But I think God, throughout my life, has given me opportunities to lead and to do it the right way. I think how I've been able to be successful and win at every level, Allié, is just creating that family atmosphere. It was creating that culture with the guys. It was saying, “I'm just one of you guys.” I might be the quarterback, but I come from such a humble beginning just wanting to be that. I'm not gonna sit here and say that I was born to do this. No. It's just something that I feel in my heart. I just want to be a good teammate. I want to be a good leader. I want to give my guys as much as I can of myself so that we are successful. So, building that family, building that culture… We used to call it the foxhole mentality, where it's like, “Hey, we're in this together. It might be 12 of us against a hundred, and we're gonna get this done because I believe in you and you believe in me.” Creating that true belief in one another, I think, is why I've been able to be successful. ALLIÉ: The path you took to professional sports was different. It was not the traditional way forward. In finding your way, you used ‘invisible superpowers’ to find pride in your alternative path. Please tell us about these superpowers that can’t be seen only known. BRYAN: Well, yeah. Thank you for calling them that. I'm wearing the D3 hat today. I found pride later in life about where I went to school (Division 3). And I think for me it's just the mental strength and going through the challenges. It was having the trust and belief, obviously in God's plan, but the trust and belief in my ‘why’ too. When you initially reached out to me wanting to talk and tell my story, the biggest thing that I wanted to share is not my entire story of


I want to be the general off the field, just as he was. BRYAN SCOTT


BRYAN: (continued) football and my career. I wanna make an impact on other people's lives. And if people can see me and say, “Oh, well Byian can do it? Byian's a Division 3 football player. How is he playing professionally? If Bryan was a short little kid in high school, then I'm able to accomplish that too.” I'm not here to just tell this great football story about being a good quarterback. I feel like my story is bigger than that. My story is that I was able to find my ‘why’. I was able to find my purpose and my passion. I don't wake up or at any point in my day saying, “I'm not living my dream.” This is what I wanted for my life. I had this vision and this true belief that this is what I wanted. So, I just feel extremely blessed and extremely grateful that I found my ‘why’. Talking to younger kids or adults in the everyday workforce who are challenged, I ask what do you want to do for the rest of your life? And why do you want to do it? In college, why are you studying until one in the morning in the library? Well, I wanna have a great job, or I wanna be a doctor. Well then, at least you know you want to be a doctor. It's not, “Why am I in here? Or why am I doing this?” It's “I wanna be a doctor, or I want to be a lawyer, or I wanna get straight A's in high school because I wanna go to Harvard.” Some will say that you can't go to Harvard. You're not smart enough, or you don't speak well enough. But if you find your ‘why’ and you are willing to do whatever it takes and have that true belief in yourself that you can get it done. I'm a true example of that. ALLIÉ: I love how you talk about the ‘why’, and that it’s not asking why… it’s knowing why. BRYAN: Oh yeah. I was talking to these little kids the other day. I was like, “All right guys, how many of you wanna go to the NFL?” They all raise their hand, right? And it's like, “Okay, you wanna go to the NFL. Why do you wanna go to the NFL?” Nobody gave me an answer. So I said, “Okay, if you were to run 150 laps and you're about to throw up and you're like, ‘God, I don't want to do this anymore.’ Well, that’s a thing that creeps into your head. Okay, now you gotta do two more reps. Then there’s that thing that switches in your head… ‘I'm gonna do two more reps because I wanna buy my mom the house… I wanna do two more reps because I want these guys to believe in me and see me as a leader… I wanna do two more reps because this person told me they didn't believe in me.’ That is your ‘why’.” When you're about to quit and you need to find that extra switch, I think the sooner you can find that in your life, the better off you'll be. ALLIÉ: Your grandfather, Major General James H. Patterson, is a notable figure in the Aviation Hall of Fame. How has his influence shaped your mindset and approach to life, both on and off the field? BRYAN: That's my hero. Just plain and simple, he and my dad are my heroes. But the parallels between myself and my grandfather is that the quarterback and the general are one in the same, but one’s a lot more brave and badass. I'm nowhere near his level of heroism. For a general, when everything's going wrong, when people are fighting and when everyone's nervous and panicking, you're in these crazy situations. And who do the people next to you look at? On the battlefield, they were looking at my grandfather. What are you gonna do? Are you panicked? Are you worried? How are you gonna act in this moment? He was always very calm and he rose to the moment. Something my mom always used to say to me, whether it's in sports or life, she said, “Bryan, you need to rise up. Rise up, and be there. Be in the moment. Take over the moment.” That's something that I'm extremely thankful for, from him and my mom as well, just finding that peace and that calm in the most hectic moments. I've been able to do that with football where there's 30,000 people cheering against me to lose the game. But I'm there, and I'm just calm. I'm gonna rise to the moment for the people next to me. I always found that in my career I was able to do that, because I know my ‘why’. I wanted to get it done, and I wanted to get it done for the four people in the stands cheering for me to score the touchdown (which is my family) or for the 11 guys in the huddle with me who are looking at me. How am I gonna react? “Hey guys, I'm with you. I'm here for you. We're gonna go get this done. No matter how many people think we're not, we're gonna go get this done because I believe, and you guys believe in me.” So the parallel between my


I was able to find my why. BRYAN SCOTT


“Being a quarterback isn’t just what you do on the field.” BRYAN: (continued) grandfather and me, I would say, is just our ability to rise up in the moment and be there for the people that need us the most. Another thing with this is both on and off the field. When off the battlefield, my grandfather, James H. Patterson was always ‘General Patterson’. He didn't just stop being a general when he wasn't at work. He was just the general every day of life. And I feel that way about myself. I'm a quarterback, you know. Being a quarterback isn't just what you do on the field, it's off the field. It’s the burden that you have as well. That's something that I take pride in and want for my life. I want to be the general off the field, just as he was. ALLIÉ: You are recognized for your leadership skills and ability to connect with people to create success. Can you talk about your leadership style and an instance where your leadership played a crucial role in your team's success? BRYAN: It’s just being able to connect with everybody. I'm just myself, and I would encourage anybody out there to just be yourself. I think people will always gravitate to the person that is genuinely and truly confident in themselves, no matter what it is. You could put me anywhere on any field or any classroom, or any church. It doesn't matter. I'm just gonna be myself. I would encourage everyone out there to just go out there and be yourself. Be who you are, or be the person you want to be, but always stay true to your character, your morals, and the things that you see fit for your life. After my freshman year of college, I was selected to play for my country, Team USA. We just talked about my grandfather too, which obviously made this an extreme honor for me. They picked the best athletes under 19 in the nation, and I happened to be one of them. So we go all the way to Kuwait, which is in the Middle East, and it's 120 degrees. We're playing at midnight in a different country during Ramadan. It was just insane with things happening all around us. A way that I was able to find success was to just not worry about the other stuff. Like we just talked about, just being there for your teammates… being there for our troops. I think one of the really cool things that we did as a team is we went to the army base in Kuwait where we were able to actually meet and talk to some of the troops that were fighting the battle so that we could play this great game. So going into the gold medal game, it was us versus Canada. And it was kind of like, okay, we're kind of supposed to win. We're the USA playing American football, right? I don't play the first half. We're losing 14 to 7, and the guys are panicking thinking that we just spent six weeks of our lives for nothing. We're gonna come home with a silver medal. That's not really okay. And so coach opted to put me in the game, and I just say, “Hey guys, we got this. We're gonna be alright. We're gonna do this.” And I was able to score five straight touchdowns coming out of the third quarter. The craziest thing about all that is I felt like it was gonna happen… The night before, I felt like this situation was just gonna happen, and it ended up happening. So it was kind of, in a way, God getting me ready for that moment. And still, me being 27 now, just looking back, that's probably one of the greatest achievements I've ever had. It was winning a gold medal in front of our army troops, and in a foreign country. To win the gold medal for all those guys on my team, it was an unbelievable feeling for me. We still all stay in touch. It was nearly 10 years ago. So that just tells you the importance of it, you know? It was definitely one of the most special moments of my life for many reasons. 15

AwareNow Podcast

FINDING YOUR WHY Exclusive Interview with Bryan Scott


“Do whatever it takes to go get it.” ALLIÉ: Your goal, Bryan, is to help the everyday person achieve the impossible, not just in sports but in various aspects of life. How do you envision using your story to inspire and mentor others? BRYAN: Ultimately, that's why I want to be sitting down and talking with you today. My story is well documented, but I really just wanted to share my experiences, the things that I went through, and the different journey that I took to get where I'm at now. And for the younger people out there in all aspects of life, it's okay to take the different path. If someone tells you ‘no’, if someone says that this isn't the way your life is supposed to go, if they say you can't or shouldn’t do this… Yes, you can. And knowing your purpose and knowing your ‘why’, as we talked about earlier… find that. Find why you're doing what you're doing, and if it's true to your heart and that's what you want to do, then go get it. Do whatever it takes to go get it. I wake up and I look forward to beating myself yesterday, to being the best version of myself every day because I know my ‘why’. You know? And I think it's okay to change that sometimes too. I think if you were to ask me six years ago, “Bryan, why are you doing what you're doing?” I want to prove everybody wrong. I wanna prove wrong the people that said I wouldn't be a pro football player and that I wouldn't go to the NFL. But now, for me, it's proving the five to six people that told me I could… When I don't wanna do anymore, I think about them. I think about those people that wanted me to be successful and that thought I would be here. Finding that ‘why’, truly believing in it, and having that true belief in yourself, your work ethic, your dream, and your vision for your life, I feel like you'll be a much happier person. And it’s just being able to be truly yourself and to be able to connect with other people from all aspects of life. So everybody, I just want you to go chase your dream, chase your vision, find that ‘why’, and attack it every day. ∎

Follow Bryan on Instagram: @bryanscott18



Photo Credit: Isabella Blake-Thomas 18



Oscar Wilde said, “Simple pleasures are the last refuge of the complex.” How many hours a day do you spend scrolling mindlessly on social media? How long does it take for you to choose what to wear in the morning or when going out for an evening? How much time is spent on deciding what to cook? How much time do you spend worrying about what someone says or thinks of you? Don’t get me wrong, learning or keeping up with current affairs is essential, what you put in your body is paramount to maintaining a healthy body. How you look can contribute to a healthy wellness and mindset. But all of these elements can be even more effective when they come from a place of simplicity and are chosen intentionally.

simple: (n.) plain, basic uncomplicated in form, nature or design intentional: (adj.) “done by design, on purpose or deliberate These two ideas work perfectly in conjunction with each other. The element that makes them not quite so easy to put into your every day is: life, societal norms and expectations and the current world.





I sold everything, my home, my car, and changed my career. ELIZABETH BLAKE-THOMAS CREATIVITY COACH & DIRECTOR

Photo Credit: Isabella Blake-Thomas 20

“I realised I had been in survival mode for most of my life.” What would you say when someone asks you about your life, would you say “It’s full on”, or “I don’t get a moment to myself”, or would you say “It’s quite easy”. What’s important for us to understand is that there is no right or wrong answer to this question. It all comes down to intentionality. What I would like to share with you is how being conscious and making conscious decisions can have a huge impact on ourselves. By reducing “things” or “baggage” or “stuff” from our life by allowing ourselves to make simpler decisions, we can lead a more simple and intentional existence. Let’s begin with one question. Here is something to ask yourself every morning when you wake up:

“How do you want to feel at the END of your day?” It could be to feel motivated, or rested, or enchanted, or maybe you want to inspire others. It’s a very simple yet intentional question, it can inform all your decisions for the day. So why is this question important? Looking back at my life and mapping it out, it had all the layers of the onion that had made me who I am and this had culminated in my divorce. Nothing like all the life changing moments coming to a head to make me begin to take an introspective look at everything I had experienced and gone through growing up from childhood to that moment, questioning choices and decisions I had made and those forced upon me. I realised I had been in survival mode for most of my life. As I began to unravel this onion, we were all hit by a global pandemic. Where we were all forced into stopping. There was no choice but to sit, listen and look at ourselves. I realized it was more than survival mode, I was at breaking point. I was totally, mentally and physically exhausted. Something had to drastically change for me or I was going to end up no longer here. It was a total mind shift, a change in everything I was or believed I was. I slowed myself down, rested and began the healing process from past traumas. I created a whole group of mental exercises for myself to get everything out of my head and onto paper. Out of my system and into the universe. This led me to one main idea, how much time did I actually have left on this earth and how was I going to spend it? I looked at everything I had been taught about how I “should” live my life, my assumed path of living, the road I was heading down and suddenly, I decided to take a sharp left. Since January this year, I have made even bigger life changes. I sold everything, my home, my car, and changed my career. I knew that these things were making my life more complicated than it needed to be. I assessed what I wanted to put my energy into. I wanted to live with more intention. Getting rid of or selling everything might not be practical for most people and also not something most people want to do. We are always being taught the optical illusion of success, through commercials, or TV and film mediums, meaning the more you have, the more successful you must be. Also I understand this might be hard for parents with children. However there are many ways with which to begin living more simply, more intentionally. You can still reduce what you have, what you buy, and what you spend. I’m not saying you have to be an extreme minimalist, but the less you have, the less you have to clean, look after, and fix from an energetic point of view. Your energy can be intentionally placed into other areas of your life. 21

Simple and intentional living allows you to have so much more flexibility and freedom. ELIZABETH BLAKE-THOMAS CREATIVITY COACH & DIRECTOR

Photo Credit: Isabella Blake-Thomas 22

My daughter and I now share cars. Does that mean we have to be very organized? Totally, however, it also means we don’t try to squash as much into our day as we might have done before. We also get to spend quality time together as we drive to and from her college. So from removing complications and making something more simple, you can find joy in other areas. Simple and intentional living allows you to have so much more flexibility and freedom. You can change your mind about what you’re going to do or where you’re going to go at the drop of a hat. This allows you to be totally present, to live in the now. Putting your mind and energy into the things that count. So here are some ideas that I created to help me consider each day as a gift. They make me aware of where I place my energy.

Mindful Monday taking time to breathe and be peaceful This gives you time to think.

Teatime Tuesday a reminder to stop and slow down and take a beat This ensures you have time to stop and rest.

Wisdomness Wednesday midweek moments to remind how we spend our time This means you have time to push yourself to learn something new and share that knowledge.

Thoughtful Thursday take time to think about other people This is a reflection day and how you want to look back over your time and who you're with.

Feelings Friday acknowledge all emotions and look back over the week of how you felt This is a reminder to accept your feelings, think and acknowledge them as well as share them or hear others share theirs.

Sharing Saturday sharing everything from tangible things to intangible things This is about your time. Who do you share your time with? How can you give back?

Self-Care Sunday take time for yourself A crucial day to check in with yourself and others. How did the week go? Would you change anything? 23


Photo Credit: Isabella Blake-Thomas 24

“You put your energy into the things that truly matter.” Now of course, you don’t have to stick to just those methods, but each of these ideas can be reminders to hold yourself accountable to live that simple, intentional life. So even in the busyness of a week you can have an intentional purpose each day. The Japanese philosophies and ideologies are some of the best to consider simplicity. The way they choose to live eliminates all that which is unimportant and superfluous to leave space for what is essential.

Kanso This epitomizes simplicity. This aesthetic and spiritual virtue aims to achieve optimal results using as little as possible. They believe Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Haiku This is my favorite style of poetry made up of three sentences. It’s feelings and visuals from that moment. What could be more simple?

Fukinsei This encourages balance within chaos.

Shizen This determines that in nature everything is more beautiful. When it bears the marks of the passing of time. Consider our scars or wrinkles. My favorite is this…

Wabi Sabi Natural and unpretentious in every aspect of everything, this is a way of living. An old woman with deep wrinkles and still with an adolescent smile is the pinnacle of wabi sabi beauty.

Kintsugi This is all about not throwing away what’s broken but fixing it with gold. Making something more beautiful than it actually was when it was whole. This is about fixing things that need repairing and holding onto them to give them a second life. So, I covered simplicity and making intentional choices when it comes to being in nature, our home, our mental state. Now, how about when it involves other people? It’s easy to make the choice to live this way when no one is giving an opinion or telling us how to do something. When it comes to the simplicity of arguments and peoples issues, ‘letting it go’ is a form of keeping it simple. That’s not saying you don’t have boundaries, in fact you have stronger boundaries. You don’t even let these things affect you. You put your energy into the things that truly matter. 25

I actually feel like I’ve slowed down my world. ELIZABETH BLAKE-THOMAS CREATIVITY COACH & DIRECTOR

Photo Credit: Isabella Blake-Thomas 26

“Take all your senses to another level, stop being on autopilot, and slow down. For simplifying, is to slow things down.” I had a text message from someone the other day, a long rant. He didn’t agree with something I had written and told me in no uncertain terms what I should do. I just wrote “Ok!” Literally two letters, and my thoughts and his attitude were gone. It left my energy. I was no longer affected by it. Is it really possible then to get so much more out of life by living simply and intentionally? I believe so. I am the proof. I have more hours in my day to spend on things I want and choose to. My costs have lessened hugely and I can intentionally choose what to put my money into, such as experiences and events, and even myself. My extra energy means I have more time to read, learn, and spend with family and friends, and even be by myself. My brain has room to breathe, meaning I can be more creative and live out my purpose. My body feels less strained and I get more sleep. A better quality of physical movements as opposed to sitting in the car all day or sitting in meetings. I am more creative and can give more back to others. I eat simple, healthier, plant based meals. I no longer go shopping, so I don't need to buy anything (except groceries or if I run out of shampoo etc). I’ve saved time, energy, and space. I actually feel like I’ve slowed down my world. Not “the” world but “my” world. I only do what is aligned with my intentional living.

“Relax and be kind, you don’t need to prove anything.” - Jack Kerouac This is what it all comes down to. How do you want to live your life? Are you brave enough to make those changes? Are you brave enough to live differently in a world that doesn’t actually accept simplicity. Where simplicity isn’t rewarded. Where others might not aid you in this new way of being. I had no choice, it got to the place where if I didn’t live, I was going to die. Why do we feel we need to be praised for having fitted in so many meetings in a day. Saying “I’m so busy I haven’t had time to sit down” is not something to be proud of. “I might be in debt but look at the new car, the bigger house I just bought”, these come with strings attached. These metaphorical strings come with everything. It is different. It is unusual. Am I considered weird for not owning a house anymore? Or for moving back in with my daughter? Or for not owning my own car and sharing one instead? I am richer than I’ve ever been in my life. What makes my heart sing, my soul shine, my smile glow? Spending time with my daughter, my dog, being out in the sunlight and being able to lock up my daughters one bedroom apartment and head out in our tiny Fiat and have a picnic. To stop and actually smell the roses and hug the trees. Metaphorically and truthfully. Go on. Go and look…really look outside. Take all your senses to another level, stop being on autopilot, and slow down. For simplifying, is to slow things down. 27

Having a simpler more intentional life allows you to focus on what really matters. ELIZABETH BLAKE-THOMAS CREATIVITY COACH & DIRECTOR

Photo Credit: Isabella Blake-Thomas 28

AwareNow Podcast

INTENTIONAL Written and Narrated by Elizabeth Blake-Thomas


At the beginning of this article I asked “how do you want to feel at the end of your day”. But another way of looking at things is that at the end of my day, I ask myself, “If I died today, would I be happy?” Having a simpler more intentional life allows you to focus on what really matters, and gives you the time and space to reflect on your goals and achieve clarity about what makes you happy in life.

“The good thing about uncertainty is that everything is possible. Once you accept that you control nothing and that the world changes and evolves following a mysterious script, you stop worrying. And you enjoy the adventure.” - Nobuo Suzuki Of course I can only speak from my experiences, but I have lived it and am living it - intentional living. Don’t wait until it’s too late to make these changes. Don’t wait until a life changing moment comes upon you. We are all here for such a short time, so start intentional living today. ∎

Follow Elizabeth on Instagram (@elizabeth_b_t). Visit to learn more about her work.

ELIZABETH BLAKE-THOMAS Creativity Coach, Director & Official Ambassador for Human Trafficking Awareness Having published three books, traveled the world, been a professor at Pepperdine University, created a podcast, founded a non-profit, and directed and produced 24 films, Blake-Thomas settled in the world of Creativity Coaching. She began her practice over 20 years ago but up until 2016, she only took on select clients. Known for her directing in both theater and film, Blake-Thomas uses her creativity in her current work. Blake-Thomas runs her practice by teaching practical tools to help live your life with intention. Her tools are condensed down into easy-to-do tasks. Her latest book “Living with Intention” is out now, as is her podcast of the same name. “Living with Intention” incorporates all her tools and exercises into one place.


You are walking in your own truth… BURT KEMPNER




“Traveler, there are no paths. Paths are made by walking.” - Antonio Machado This is what I’ve learned over the course of a long life: the finest teachers and mentors can only take you so far. There comes a point at which the next step is yours and yours alone. To take another person’s journey as your own would be as unnatural as wearing someone else’s skin. So you lift one foot and the questions descend. “Can I do this alone? What if I don’t like it? What if I do?” Your heart is pounding. You lift your other foot and place it in front of you. There is no turning back now. You need no one’s permission. You have no idea where the path will lead you, what sights and sounds you will experience, what triumphs and tragedies await you. You grow more confident with each new step. Let whatever is going to unfold happen. You are walking in your own truth to find your own happiness and, succeed or fail, that sets you apart from the incurious herd. ∎

AwareNow Podcast

THERE IS NO PATH Written and Narrated by Burt Kempner


BURT KEMPNER Writer & Producer BURT KEMPNER is a writer-producer who has worked professionally in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Florida. His work has won numerous major awards, and has been seen by groups ranging in size from a national television audience in the United States to a half-dozen Maori chieftains in New Zealand. Spurred by his love for inspiring young people, he started writing children's books in 2015. Learn more about Burt and his books at his website:


I’ve gone gray, and I can still slay. DR. NINA CASH




LOVING YOUR GRAYS & LIVING YOUR DREAMS In this exclusive interview, we explore Dr. Nina Cash’s extraordinary transition from a distinguished career in education to the unpredictable world of modeling at the age of 57. From a memorable New Year's Eve declaration in Australia to embracing her natural gray hair and navigating societal expectations of beauty, Nina shares profound insights. With a background in human services, negotiation, and conflict resolution, she discusses leveraging these skills in her new role as a model and aims to make a lasting impact on an industry often fixated on youthfulness. In this conversation, Nina shares valuable advice for women of all ages. ALLIÉ: Reflecting on your diverse career in education and workforce development, how did your professional background prepare you for the unexpected journey into modeling at the age of 57, particularly in an industry that often emphasizes youthfulness? NINA: Thank you so much for asking this question. So, you know, my background is in education and workforce development, about 35 plus years. But my focus was actually returning adult students, or folks that were changing careers. So the average age of my students, or the folks that I worked with, were about 40, 45 and up. So I'm sort of





I’m walking the walk. DR. NINA CASH


“…I’m not retiring from life.” NINA: (continued) practicing what I preached all those years. In fact, when I look back, a little sidebar, I was like 20, 25, 26 when I was working with 50-year-old career changers. And I'm starting my new career and I'm trying to help them navigate mid-career, but that's a whole other story anyways. So having about 35 years of working with folks who wanted to either get their master's degree or their doctorate or even just go back to complete their bachelor's degree, I found myself—I don't want to say handholding, but I felt that I was really helping them navigate this uncertainty, right? Because there was that old saying: “Too young to retire, too old to rehire.” And so we had to get these folks out of this mindset that they're too old to do something else. And so when I had this wonderful opportunity to do an early retirement, I retired at 56. I thought to myself, yes, I'm retiring from the university and that whole education world, but I'm not retiring from life. I still want to do something and contribute. And little did I know that my encore career would be this wonderful journey of modeling and then being a bikini model, which again, this is something that I would've never imagined, but I am embracing this. I am walking the walk. ALLIÉ: Let’s go back to December 31, 2022, when you were in Australia with your husband, Aaron. In your words, Nina, you said, “Hey, not bad for a 56-year-old broad who just retired... I’m going to apply for Sports Illustrated.” Will you describe the photo you referred to with this statement and more about the moment you decided to revisit your dream of modeling? NINA: So, I have to set this up, and then you'll understand the photo. I grew up in a Filipino Catholic military family, and I'm the youngest. My parents were awesome. They supported us in everything, but I was more modest and reserved. If I were to wear a bathing suit, it definitely would not be a two-piece. It would be a one-piece and probably covered head to toe. But that's a whole other story… in my muumuu. My husband's Australian, and we hadn't been back to Australia in probably three years because of the pandemic. So we decided to go there for a good month and a half around the holidays to visit my mother-in-law and our family. Well, I forgot to bring my one-piece bathing suit. Because it's their summertime, in the heat of the summertime, every suit in my size was nowhere to be found. The only one left at the local mall (at Kmart) was a two-piece… a leopard-print bikini. I was dying! It was kind of like this joke because my husband knows that I'm so reserved. Well, my husband and I would go to the beach early in the morning, as soon as the sun would come up when no one's really on the beach. I thought, I'll get the suit. It's only my husband and maybe a couple of early walkers, right? So New Year's day, in the early morning we’re on the beach. It's beautiful. We're walking. My husband takes some candid shots, nothing major. The waves are splashing at me. I am looking ridiculous. And so that evening when we all settled down after dinner, we're scrolling through his phone, and the photos of me in my bikini come up. and I'm like, “This lady is retired. She's got gray hair, but hey, she's not dead.” We started joking around, and then I recalled Kathy Jacobs, beautiful Kathy Jacobs. She won the swimsuit search, I think three years ago at the age of 57. I remember seeing that on the news. So, I said to my husband, kind of jokingly, “You know what, I'm gonna apply for Sports Illustrated.” I went ahead and looked it up online, went through the motions, and was shocked to learn that they had extended the deadline to January 1st in America. Well, Australia's a day ahead. When I was looking at the deadline, I literally had about an hour to cobble together a video. I put these non-professional photos of me in this bikini (not very pretty poses). And for some reason, MJ and the swimsuit family said, “Hey, you know what? She's got something here. We're gonna invite her to be in our top 24, and then we're gonna give her an interview.” That's how it started." ALLIÉ: Oh my goodness! That’s wild with the extension of the deadline. NINA: Yeah, with that nailbiter because my mother-in-law's internet was slow as molasses, as I tried to upload the video. But I'm a firm believer… God and the universe have lots of plans for you, and there's no mistakes. I call them ‘god-winks’. God's always winking at you because he's got a little plan for you. I'm a firm believer that that was a godwink for me. 35

Embrace it all… DR. NINA CASH


“I’m hoping that I can somehow spark something in these life lenses that causes a prism of beautiful colors, a kaleidoscope to get rid of this gray cookie cutter view of what society has talked about for decades of what beauty is.” ALLIÉ: Yes, that definitely was a winkable moment. Let’s talk more about your past. Having started going gray at 26, you've embraced your natural beauty. How has your personal journey with self-image and beauty evolved over the years, and what advice do you have for others struggling with societal expectations of appearance? NINA: That has always been… not something that I've struggled with, but certainly I’ve been aware of. I started going gray at 26 when I was pregnant with my daughter. And, of course, back then, this was 1992, you don't have gray hair being a 26-year-old. So, I continued to dye my hair like many people do. And there's really nothing wrong with dying your hair. I mean, embrace who you are. That's what I always say. Do you. Don't change yourself because you want to be another person. But it was around the pandemic in 2020 when I started to work from home because we all had to work from home. And about 10 years prior to that, I wanted to start going gray. But then I thought, “No, I don't want to do that, because I'm in this education world.” It's just, I don't wanna say politics, but there's all these things that go along with being a woman in higher education and turning gray… That's a whole other story. So, instead of dyeing my hair dark brown, I started to highlight my hair so that I didn't have to go through dyeing it all the time. This way, my gray roots were kind of blending with my highlights, so to speak. Then I just got tired of it, Allie. When 2020 hit, I was at home and I'm like, “What am I doing? What kind of chemicals am I putting in my hair? What is happening?” And I just said, “I'm done.” I just started to let it go, and I have been so happy. Some people have said, “Girl, you don't look like you're old. You should dye your hair.” And then other people are like, “Girl, more power to you.” So, I'm doing me. I'm embracing it. I've gone gray, and I can still slay. This is what I'm all about now. So, for those who are struggling with society and society's expectations… People have a life lens, right? And people have a life lens based on their life experience. So it's going to be shaped by how they view the world. Maybe my perception or what I'm viewing is one way, and your view, Allié, is another way. So I'm telling people that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You get to decide what beauty is for yourself. You have your lens to look through. Right. And for me, through Sports Illustrated and the lovely generosity of having this platform now, I'm hoping that I can somehow spark something in these life lenses that causes a prism of beautiful colors, a kaleidoscope to get rid of this gray cookie cutter view of what society has talked about for decades of what beauty is. 37

ALLIÉ: Your journey includes a background in human services, negotiation, conflict resolution, and peace-building. How do you plan to leverage these skills and experiences in your new role as a model, and what impact do you hope to have on the industry through your presence in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue? What would you like to see change in the industry? NINA: I think the industry is changing, right? It’s changing for the better. I think people on set are kinder. I think people on set are more patient. I modeled briefly right out of high school. It was a little bit different then with the atmosphere and how people treated each other. I find that now people are kinder. I'm hoping that I can continue that trend… You know, I've been accused of being too kind. I've been accused of being too happy and too kind in my previous jobs and told that my positivity is annoying. Yes, that has been said to me, but I would rather be that than the opposite. Right now, a lot of people are looking at intent - someone's intent rather than their words. And I'm hoping to expand on that in this industry. Let me clarify a little bit more. I think people who are on the receiving end of certain words from the giver, again based on their life experience, are going to take it a certain way. But we also have to look at the person who is saying those words and their intent. If their intent is coming from a place of kindness and goodness, then what's wrong with that? Let me give you just a concrete example. A year and a half ago around the holidays, I wished somebody ‘Merry Christmas’. I grew up Catholic. I said, “Merry Christmas.”. And this person said, “It's Hanukkah.” And they were kind of saying like, why are you just saying ‘Merry Christmas’? Well, for me, with my Jewish friends, I celebrate Hanukkah too. If it's coming from a good place, if you wanna wish me ‘Happy Hanukkah’, ‘Happy Kwanzaa’, “Happy Boxing Day’, or ‘Happy Whatever’, I'm gonna take it because it's from a good place, right? So, let's look at the intent. Again, I'm seeing that on the set now. I really am, and it's encouraging. ALLIÉ: In your statement about achieving dreams at any age, you mentioned the importance of timing and life experiences. Can you elaborate on a specific life lesson or experience that you believe has been crucial in shaping who you are today? NINA: I have been very fortunate to have wonderful parents who have just been wonderful role models… and with the things that they've gone through as minorities in America. They were born in 1922 and 23. My dad was an immigrant from the Philippines. I mean, certainly they went through a lot… I would like to share two things with you, if you don't mind, Allié. My dad served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. And prior to World War II, he was a guerrilla in the jungles of the Philippines. Sadly, they had a conflict between the Japanese and the Filipinos. My dad was about 16-years-old, and one day he was called to his commander's hut in the jungle, where he met his commander. There was a Japanese soldier who was now a prisoner of war. He was just around the same age as my father. And the order from the commander to my father was to kill this Japanese prisoner of war. So, the commander left, and now my dad is left with a Japanese soldier who is the same age as my dad. They're kids... And I remember my dad telling me this story, how he thought about their lives ahead of them and what he aspired to do. And, this person, this Japanese soldier, didn't pose any threat to him at all. So, my dad let that soldier go. My dad shot up in the air and let the soldier run into the jungles. Fast forward to two weeks later, my dad and a couple of his friends (Philippine soldiers) were captured by the Japanese. They were gonna be lined up to be executed, right? Because that's sadly what they did. And so who comes out to execute them? (This is why I talk about god-winks, and this is why I get chills when I talk about this.) It was the person that my dad let go. This guy saw my dad. He let my dad go, and then my dad ran in the jungles where he soon heard two gunshots. His fellow Philippine soldiers didn't make it… That story really had an impact on me about kindness, god-winks, coincidences and different things that had me really think. As I got older, it's had even more of an impact because I now know the gravity of war. When I was younger, I didn't really understand all of it. But as I got older, it made a really big impact. The other story is about my mom… At a young age, she always talked about just being kind and accepting people for who they are and not by the color of their skin, not by their outer appearance, by where they live, by what house they 38

AwareNow Podcast

SILVER LININGS Exclusive Interview with Dr. Nina Cash


“Embrace the uncertainty, the fear, the challenges, the growth, the good, the bad, and the ugly.” NINA: (continued) have, or by the car they drive, but who they are as human beings. And one of the lovely poems that she would read to me was made famous by Audrey Hepburn, but it was written by Sam Levinson. It's the one that starts out with, “for attractive lips, speak words of kindness… for lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.” I have that right here on my wall, and I had it in my office at work. I've always had that because it really has impacted me. I don't care how beautiful you are on the outside, if you're ugly on the inside, it's never, never gonna emote. It just won't, right? And you know what, isn't it great to give people a piece of your heart and then a piece of your mind at times? ALLIÉ: Looking back, you mentioned that you wouldn't change anything about your life. If you could share just one piece of advice with women of all ages based on your own life journey, what would it be? NINA: Embrace it all… Embrace the uncertainty, the fear, the challenges, the growth, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Because there's a reason for everything. And I know everybody says it's kind of cliche, but there is a reason for everything. It's setting you up for your destiny, for who you are supposed to be and contribute and do in this world. Embrace those bad things. Those are life lessons. You have to learn the lessons. You know, my mom always said, “You either get it when you're younger, or you get it when you're older, but you get it.” This means you get the good things, and you get the bad things. And isn't it wonderful if you get the bad things that you learn from those bad things? Because then you can appreciate when things are wonderful because then you have a reference point. If everything is always really good… you'll never truly appreciate when things are really, really good. ∎

Follow Nina on Instagram: @_ninacash_


Catch me when I fall… ALLIÉ MCGUIRE



DON’T BE SO SERIOUS In serious times when humanity’s course correction is required for us to survive and thrive, it’s hard to know what to do in order to be part of the solution as opposed to the problem. This we know for sure, we need catch one another when we fall and together fly ever upward and onward. Don’t be so serious.

Don’t be so serious.

But serious you can’t help but be In times of such uncertainty When the survival of our humanity Is threatened by unjust casualties.

Too many gone before their time, While there’s no reason, I’ll rhyme, In hopes that hope will chime From our will to redefine…

Don’t be so serious.


You say people die every day But not like this, not this way On both sides there’s a cost they pay As the innocent in the ground they lay.

It’s the human cause, That binds us all with reason to pause, Reflecting on our innate laws To love each other despite our flaws.

Don’t be so serious. Catch me when I fall… You can’t unhear a call once heard Despite the norm preferred. Be of your heart, be of your word. When called to fly, you are a bird.





Photo Credit: Ronnie Smith 42


WHAT YOU SEE “Black and white me… Pretty much, what you see is what you get. I don’t think I could live any other way.”

TAL ANDERSON Actress, Model, & Film Editor AwareNow Official Ambassador for Disability @thetalanderson 43


Photo Credit: Ronnie Smith 45

Pretty much, what you see is what you get. TAL ANDERSON


Photo Credit: Ronnie Smith 47

As humans, we all have a level of creativity. MAREA OLAFSON

OWNER OF FREBA POTTERY Photo Credit: Belle Co 48



I am amazed how so many people will declare, “I am not an artist… I am not creative… My son is the creative one in the family…” or many other versions of this statement. As humans, we all have a level of creativity. Somehow in society there is a version of creativity, art making, and creating art that sits up on a pedestal that we don't think we could ever reach and because of that we don't even try. If you spend any time with a 5 year old, they will show you numerous times in a day how they are an artist, a builder or a creative. They will not hold back and they are proud of their creations. Somewhere as we age we tuck our creativity away and judge ourselves on this pedestal of creativity. I truly believe that your inner creativity can be unlocked at Elemental Claycation. In 2023, I had a five year old apprentice in my studio learning pottery and embracing all the various pottery techniques. She would share with her parents all the new things she made. Recently, in the December claycation I had four people who wanted to connect with each other and unlock their inner creativity. One woman actually has a pottery wheel sitting in her house that she hasn't used but dreams of having a space to create in. One woman actually said "I am not creative, but if I can make a couple things I will be so happy" One person has been collecting my pottery for years and just wanted to be in my studio. These four friends left my studio just like my little five year old apprentice; proud of what they created, excited about finding their inner creative and planning on who can they convince to come the next time they come. As a wheel throwing functional potter, I like to make things that I can use and that others will find useful. My favourite items to make are mugs and bowls. Mugs have become a favourite because I love a good mug myself and bowls because I just love throwing that shape. In my studio, I don't personally use hand building techniques, but teach them as understanding all the various ways to manipulate the clay opens many doors to what can be created. What is incredible is when I place a ball of raw clay in anyone's hands there becomes a connection with the 5-year-old self that thought they were artists, creatives, and builders. The judgement disappears and the creativity begins. As 2024, is knocking on the door, spend some time thinking of how you can embrace your inner creative. I'm sure my family would like me to tuck away some of my creative ideas, but they have also learnt that I truly am not happy unless I am working through creating something new and wonderful. I will say I have lots of "crazy ideas" just sitting on the shelf for 2024 to be unlocked. Honestly, I think back to a year ago, I am blown away that I have created an immersive pottery retreat in my heritage house and studio. ∎

Follow Marea on Instagram: @frebapottery Learn more Freba Pottery and ‘Claymations’:


I must show up consistently in all the communities I belong in by inviting others to join me in these conversations… DONNELL W. WIGGINS




“Great things come out of difficult conversations.” – Donnell W. Wiggins Education for Donnell began in church, attending Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Cleveland. Within his church community, he saw doctors, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and educators who showed him what could be possible. His mom ensured that he stayed involved at church, attending Sunday school every week that his godmother led. The joy of learning for Donnell developed as he became a good steward for others. When Donnell attended school, he knew he wouldn’t be a straight-A student. He shared, “Knowing that I worked harder than my peers, I was always confused about why I wasn’t earning the grades my peers were earning. I didn’t know at the time that I was dyslexic.” He discovered that his gifts lie outside the classroom as a natural leader. Involved with his church’s youth programming, he learned to be a community activist, gathering and organizing people to become a collective. At school, he had three educators who recognized Donnell’s potential. First, Artis Gaines, a permanent substitute teacher Donnell connected with. She challenged him and believed in him, particularly in his eighth-grade year. She reminded him that he had something special to offer to the world. Then, there was Mrs. Audra Woods, who had a standard of excellence for Donnell that he didn’t initially see for himself. She helped Donnell connect the dots as a thriving leader, teaching him to apply those skills to other areas of his life. She also was his champion when he was diagnosed with dyslexia, ensuring that he had access to resources that supported his formal education. His school counselor, Carol Soljanyk, also believed in Donnell, spending time designing a path toward college with him. “Their belief in me made a significant difference,” Donnell recalls, “and they were enough to get me through school and beyond.” This was Donnell’s transformation that sparked his passion for education. Looking back, Donnell knows that his education changed his life. His mother graduated high school and worked as a phlebotomist for over 30 years. His father didn’t complete high school but was able to work in maintenance until he retired. Donnell was the youngest of his siblings and the only one to attend college directly from high school. He shares, “When my mom dropped me off at Wilberforce University, the nation’s oldest historical Black Private college in Ohio, my mom found the Director of Alumni Relations, Mrs. Carol Bernadino. She asked Mrs. Bernadino to look after me, and I remember her responding, ‘I got him.’ She was like my campus auntie, pouring so much love into me during my first year.” Throughout Donnell’s college life, he was surrounded by people who looked like him and shared similar backgrounds. They held leadership positions and intentionally checked in on Donnell’s progress. He worked in advancement, became freshman-class president, was a resident assistant, served on the Student Government Association, and represented the university as the first Mr. Wilberforce campus ambassador. Through these positions, Donnell found his sense of belonging and felt responsible for creating belonging within his communities. “Representation matters,” Donnell shares, “and creating not just access to higher education for underrepresented students – and all students – but also a sense of belonging is something I know can change lives significantly.” 51

How we treat people impacts our ability to do good work. DONNELL W. WIGGINS


“I have intentional conversations with my entire team, helping them understand that who I am, my moral compass, shapes how I lead.” As the second African American dean in the history of the University of Dayton, he faced challenges in creating a culture of belonging for students and his staff. Donnell raises one of the most important issues amongst university leadership today, “How we treat people impacts our ability to do good work. We can't talk about belonging for students if the people we work with don't also feel a sense of belonging.” Through his own experiences, Donnell understands that assumptions people make of one another can often lead to professional trauma. With this understanding, he manages those assumptions when he walks into the room. Doing so allows him to be his authentic self; because of this, he can clear the way for those he mentors, serves, and leads to do likewise. Sacrifices being made personally to adjust one’s sense of self at work can create moral injuries that can lead to long-term professional trauma. He shares, “I have intentional conversations with my entire team, helping them understand that who I am, my moral compass, shapes how I lead.” Donnell knows that if there is a lack of psychological safety in the workplace, his people will not be able to utilize the talent they bring. To create psychological safety is for every person to know that when they arrive at work, they're respected, they feel welcome, they feel supported, and they belong to a community. The University of Dayton has committed to become an anti-racist institution. Coupled with the mission, engaging in difficult conversations about race is necessary; however, as Donnell explains, “Those conversations must be in an environment where people can feel courageous to engage and learn.” In concert with members of his leadership team, he designed monthly conversations with team members to discuss topics that led to an anti-racist practice at the university and throughout the US higher education systems. Topics can range from understanding terms like “predominantly white institutions (PWI)” to exploring the impacts of quality education under systematic redlining practices. Thoughtfully and carefully designed, Donnell knows that intentionally talking through these tough topics is the only way to grow personally and throughout the broader campus community. For Donnell, these conversations don’t just happen at work. “I must show up consistently in all the communities I belong in by inviting others to join me in these conversations at church and in my neighborhood.” For example, during social unrest after the murder of George Floyd, his white neighbors asked how they could offer support. Donnell’s response was, “Let’s talk about it.” As a result, his neighborhood has weekly informal “Bourbon and Conversations” on the porch of Donnell’s home. 53

AwareNow Podcast

DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS Written and Narrated by Sonja Montiel


Donnell is on a mission to help his staff become clear on their alignment between their personal mission and professional mission, giving support when needed so they can live authentically daily. He knows school counselors, admission professionals, and educators matter when impacting young people. Their work – good and bad – changes lives. For Donnell, he is paying more attention to the adults who carry great responsibility for our future. ∎

Learn more about Donnell and the University of Dayton here:

SONJA MONTIEL Co-Founder of PEQ Performance Consulting SONJA MONTIEL (MA Education) is a cofounder of PEQ Performance Consulting LLC and cohost of “The DH Effect” podcast. She and her partner, Hilary Bilbrey, guide individuals, families, and teams to consistently reach successful outcomes through positive and emotional intelligence strategies. During Sonja’s 23 years working with thousands of teens and young adults worldwide, she began to witness many societies creating an unhealthy hyper-achieving culture that misguides our young people in their pursuit of living a life of fulfillment. Sonja is changing that narrative highlighting educators around the world who dare to think differently about education. (


Photo Credit: Ariya 56


UNLOCKING “Our voice and our stories are the key for unlocking many others stories still locked.”

ARIYA Artist & Advocate AwareNow Official Ambassador for LGBTQ+ @ariya.razmjou 57

Most people overestimate the percentage that foreign aid makes up in the U.S. budget. In reality, it is literally 1% of the budget. DR. TODD BROWN




In the 1994 film Forrest Gump, his mother, Mrs. Gump, said, “Stupid is as stupid does,” and well, she wasn’t wrong. Now, I’m not calling some Americans stupid, but we are in the grips of yet another reason education is vital to the common good. Look no further than the Ukrainian/Russian war as well as the Israeli/Palestinian war. Regardless of which side Americans take on either or both conflicts, one of the resounding public opinions pertains to the U.S. providing foreign aid.

Once again, we see the public asking the wrong question due to their lack of understanding or even the tiniest scrap of knowledge regarding U.S. foreign policy. Now, I am no expert, so I know when to keep my mouth shut, but for some reason, others feel their uneducated opinions need to be voiced for some reason. Take, for example, a recent interviewee in the Washington Post: “People really do look at the funding we’re sending to Israel and Ukraine and say, ‘I can’t afford to go to Kroger.” While this is a single quote from a single person, the thought is something that resonates with a lot of people around the U.S.

What is being said is a perfect example of people not understanding foreign aid and voicing that ignorance repeatedly. So, I’m here to provide a little perspective that will hopefully make people stop and actually think. Most people overestimate the percentage that foreign aid makes up in the U.S. budget. In reality, it is literally 1% of the budget. 1%. Ukraine has received somewhere around $75 billion in aid in the last 18 months, while Israel gets about $3 billion annually from the U.S., with President Biden wanting to add another $14 billion. I know, holy cow, that’s a crazy amount of money when people cannot afford gas and groceries, right? Perspective, you can enter the room now. Last year, people in the U.S. spent the following:

$181 billion on cookies, candy, and pretzels $115 billion on beer ~$7 billion on potato chips ~$30 billion on legalized marijuana products $41 billion gambling on sports Hey, brothers, sisters, and non-binary peeps, I get that gambling while taking gummies and eating cookies is super important. But, before you yell at me about this having nothing to do with war, remember we are taxpayers, and those taxes go to the U.S. government, so on a national level, it can do things that no other level of government can do. Foreign aid is not some guy running around in a goofy disguise, making shady deals with a single President in a coat closet so they can send milk jugs full of quarters to some distant land. It's at least partially things like food, weapons, and other supplies that are being made right here in the old U.S of A, helping the economy. 59

“We must remember that to get the answers we need, we must ask the right questions.” What’s interesting here is that if most Americans were correct when they say that the U.S. foreign aid is about 10% of the budget (as reflected in a recent poll), it would be a honkin’ increase. So, the question shouldn’t be whether we as a country send aid; it should be things like what the aid is going to, where it’s going, and then hold our elected officials accountable for saying things such as this aid is hurting the U.S. citizens because they could be using the money to buy bread. If so, then let’s see the receipts. When the aid is cut or not sent, let’s see where those funds are going. Let's find out where that cash is going. We must remember that to get the answers we need, we must ask the right questions. And to do that, we need to arm ourselves with knowledge. ∎

DR. TODD BROWN Awareness Ties Columnist Dr. Todd Brown is a winner of multiple education awards, including the U.S. Congressional Teacher of the Year Award, U.S. Henry Ford Innovator Award, Education Foundation Innovator of the Year, and Air Force Association STEM Teacher of the Year. Dr. Brown is the creator and founder of the Inspire Project and cocreator of Operation Outbreak, which was named the Reimagine Education Award for Best Hybrid Program in the world. He is also an Education Ambassador for the United Nations and an Educational Ambassador of the Center for Disease Control (CDC).


Maybe this is my time. ERIN MACAULEY




WRESTLING WITH MENTAL HEALTH I am 42 years of age and am seeing all my school friends get married and have babies. Meanwhile I am living life hanging by a thread because of my mental illnesses. Nothing has destroyed me as much as they have. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t always been like this. I’ve had some really good jobs. Working as a Registered Nurse for one of the most prominent dermatologists in Western Australia, as a scrub scout nurse. I set up and ran a mental health charity where I was the Chief Operations Officer. I was also a founding team member for a global mental health challenge, raising funds for global mental health charities. But all this came to a grinding halt a few years ago when things spiraled out of control. I had to move out of my house where I lived alone and back in with my parents, who live down south, so I am two and a half hours away from my friends in the city. I had to stop working because schizophrenia wouldn’t allow me to work. I was hospitalised to try and get my medications sorted. Everything just stopped for me. I’ve watched my younger brother really succeed in life and while I’m happy for him, I feel like a total failure for not being in the same place as he is in life. Maybe I’m too hard on myself. I cannot help how my brain works. I cannot help that I can no longer nurse because of schizophrenia and debilitating anxiety, and that I cannot work in a professional capacity anymore. But on the flip side, I am the writing partner for Kevin Hines, the world’s leading mental health and suicide prevention advocate. I am also the Director of Advocacy for #SameHere Global, a mental health charity run by one of my best friends in New York. So am I being too hard on myself here? All I want is my independence back and to have control over my mental illnesses. I wonder daily why this happened to me. But then I have to shake myself out of that thought as I’m doing the best I can. I’m lucky that my best friend in the world lives half an hour away and she gets it. I consider her and her boyfriend to be family to me. So maybe this is how my life is meant to be. Making friends that double as family, and raising awareness for mental health. I fight so hard each day to block out the noise and live some semblance of a life. But when things are bad I cannot get out of bed. My best friend and I have made a decision that we are both going to get physically healthy this year so maybe this is my time. I may not be where I want to be, but I sure as hell will fight to get there. ∎

Follow Erin on Instagram: @egmx


There is a beauty in ambiguity and in leaving enough space for it to breathe. NED STRANGER




THE BEAUTY OF AMBIGUITY IN WRITING SONG LYRICS I was thinking the other day about the very last words my grandfather said to me before he passed away. It was several years ago in a hospital just outside Newcastle city centre, where he was recovering from a wounded hip that would later get infected. The visit probably only lasted about twenty minutes as he wasn’t in a good way; quite feverish, his spirits low. As I was just getting up to leave the ward he grabbed my arm and with a sudden look of urgency on his face held my gaze and said:

“Ned. Don’t waste your life.” He died several weeks later and so that was the last time I saw him. But I thought about those final words a lot. What did he mean? As a solicitor by profession, he had always taken a keen interest in my career choices, encouraging me to study law at Cambridge and stay on to complete a Masters programme. But by the time he gave me this final piece of advice I had moved away from a career in the city and was paying the bills by singing in a wedding band whilst recording and releasing my own songs. His words were most likely a warning: don’t waste time on frivolous artistic projects (and rapping Gangster’s Paradise at weddings) when you could be building a career that lasts. But if that was his intention it was quite ironic because he was the reason I took up songwriting in the first place. When I was thirteen he found a battered old classical guitar in his attic and, wrongly assuming it was my dad’s, gave it to him to pass on to me. I’ve been in a prolonged love affair with songwriting ever since. And my grandfather was himself a keen painter, producing a prolific stream of work alongside his legal career. So I instead interpreted his advice as:

“Don’t waste your life doing something you don’t enjoy. Follow your passion.” To be honest I could only have taken the advice that way. Since those teenage years fiddling on that old guitar, I’ve been obsessed with the power of song lyrics; how they can capture moments, opinions, stories, treasured truths… For over five years I rushed off hundreds of truly terrible songs, learning the boundaries of bad taste, cliché and superficiality. My lyrics lacked subtlety and clarity and originality. That is, until one of the most significant conversations of my life. I was in Reykjavik with my girlfriend at the time. I was between law degrees and she was studying a Masters in English Literature. Neither of us had a lot of money and we hadn’t realised just how expensive Iceland was until we got there, so we spent a lot of time walking back and forth across that haunting, curved coastline, gazing out into the Arctic abyss and talking about words and creative process. It was during one of these walks that she gave me several invaluable pieces of advice about my song lyrics and how to step them up several levels. You could say it was a sort of mentoring session on what makes good writing, set against a backdrop of the Icelandic coastline. Firstly, she said, I was trying to cram too many ideas in at once. Every single clever phrase I stumbled upon, each beautiful image that came into my head, I was determined to fit into the song. She taught me the value of taking things out to leave a clearer message or story or emotion. Of not letting a misplaced phrase pull against the meaning of the song. It’s something all fiction writers will find familiar - “kill your darlings”. However much you love an idea, if it doesn’t fit, remove it. Secondly, I was throwing too many poetic tricks at each line. Internal rhyme, alliteration, wordplay… I was trying to sound clever and, as a result, sounding try-hard and amateurish. 65

A songwriter will write a song with one intention, but each listener will take their own message from it. NED STRANGER


AwareNow Podcast

LESS IS MORE Written and Narrated by Ned Stranger


Thirdly, I had a tendency to write long, regular lines where the syllable counts were the same. When combined with my unwillingness to leave some lines unrhymed, this gave my lyrics a sort of “children’s lullaby” feel. Predictable and bland. Duh-duh-duh duh-duh-duh ta da; duh-duh-duh duh-duh-duh ta da. You may have noticed a pattern here… What she was telling me in effect were several different variations on “less is more”. Simplify things. Let the rawness of your emotions shine through, rather than throwing verbal mud at your listener’s aural walls. I went away and took her advice to heart - within three years, by the time of my grandfather’s death, my songs with my indie-folk band, August and After, were appearing on official Spotify playlists and getting regular BBC radio airtime. More than that, my love and understanding of writing lyrics reached a new level. I was able to talk to my audiences and hear what they though my songs were about, to hear what raw emotions the combination of lyrics and music drew out of them. It was becoming a two-way interaction. At a concert this year, ‘Blind as the Rain’, a song I originally intended to be about collective guilt around climate change, was described by one audience member as a perfect expression of her feelings around a recent break-up. In much the same way as my grandfather’s final words of advice - him wanting to say one thing, me interpreting something totally different - a songwriter will write a song with one intention, but each listener will take their own message from it. And, usually, the simpler the message sent out, the more profound that listener’s interpretation will be. There is a beauty in ambiguity and in leaving enough space for it to breathe. ∎

NED STRANGER Singer & Songwriter NED STRANGER is a singer, songwriter and recovering law student.He turned his back on a promising career in the city to focus on his true passions - music and writing - forming indie-folk act August and After with a close friend from university. Several years later, they'd built a loyal London fanbase and toured various European countries, securing millions of online streams across the world and features in The Independent, BBC Radio and numerous official Spotify playlists. Ned launched his solo project this year with a series of new singles, exploring the boundaries between indie-folk and electro-pop.


I also deserve that love. JESSALYNN BIEDERSTADT




KEVIN HINES INTERVIEW WITH JESSALYN BIEDERSTADT AWARENESS WARNING: This piece discusses childhood sexual abuse & child pornography.

KEVIN: Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from and what do you do? JESSALYN: I am from a small town in Canada, Prince George and we recently moved to the beautiful Oknangan. It is wine country here in BC and we are so so happy here. Like you said, I have two kids and I am married. We live a really beautiful life today. I am the host of my podcast which is my heart and soul and we have worked really hard to be where we are. KEVIN: Obviously it seems like you are doing incredibly well today, and you have wonderful people in your life, your husband and your children, but it hasn’t always looked like that for you. Take us back to your upbringing. JESSALYN: You know it’s interesting I never realised how much trauma I really had in my life. I really thought it was this one event, this one abuse event. But it truly was my entire childhood. I was born to a mother who had a drug addiction and was addicted to alcohol. She was quite young when she had me. I never knew who my dad was. So, I was raised by a single, young mum and my grandparents, and she was really neglectful. From what I’ve been told, there was a lot of me crying in my crib, not being changed, just not being nurtured as I should have been as a baby. That kind of went on until forever really, and as I got older the drug abuse became worse. My mum got married and had another child who was my brother. We spent most of our young years in a violent home where there was no stability and a tonne of partying and neglect. I would see things like cocaine at eight-years-old. I knew what those things were from a very very young age. So a tonne of trauma, neglect, and people I loved in and out of my life so then comes into play ‘abandonment’. I had to do very grown up things from a very young age like looking after my brother who was six years younger. My main goal was keeping us safe. As time went on, drugs were their priority for those who cared for me. I guess you could say my grandfather was involved in the party scene as well. They had introduced us to some very horrible people who went on to sexually abuse us, my brother and I, and create and distribute child pornography. This went on for a couple of years. KEVIN: I would love it if you could share a bit about what has made you so passionate about healing from trauma and mental health? JESSALYN: You know when I think about it I have always wanted to give back it was really embedded in my soul, like when I think about my brother and trying to help him, then afterwards after our abusers were caught, we had to go through this whole trial process and we were not the only children that it happened to. There were quite a few. And like I said, there were so many adult things that were being asked of me — even going to trial at 9-years-old I was asked to stand up on a stand to help put these people in jail, and we did that. We helped put them in jail, the guy is actually a dangerous offender so it’s very difficult for him to get out of jail and after that I thought I could have some peace, but I ended up in foster care and the pain kind of continued on. One thing that I can say that I always did was that I numbed it. Whether that be partying with my friends or excessive partying and I also had a suicide attempt when I was 16-years-old and I always would say to myself if I just don’t think about it then it won’t affect me. I did that for so long that I remember from 16 on thinking that if this huge thing happened to me why does it not bother me? I remember thinking I haven’t been affected by this, this giant trauma, but I had buried it so deep that I couldn’t even feel it anymore but the effects of it were still showing up everywhere in my life. I was letting myself be taken advantage of by men, I was putting myself in dangerous situations, I was not looking after myself. I got in a drinking and driving car accident where I should have lost my life. I was continuously putting myself in dangerous situations. And the thing about it is that if you don’t deal with it you really think you’re numbed to it. “Ok, I don’t have to think about this.” Then 71

I have literally taken back my power. JESSALYNN BIEDERSTADT


“I silenced my pain so intensely.” JESSALYN: (continued) all of a sudden on a Tuesday night when you think that your life is okay, it hits you like a tonne of bricks and it forces you to look at it. I spent so many years feeling less than, I spent so many years feeling broken, that I was ugly and unworthy. I felt I was damaged in so many ways that nobody could love me. I don’t want other people to suffer the way I did. I think if I would have had someone sharing their stories and relating to me on that level I probably could have done a lot better a lot earlier. KEVIN: Would you say that you spent years silencing your pain? You say you went numb. Was this to silence your pain? JESSALYN: Oh yeah, 100%. I silenced my pain so intensely. And the other thing is after talking to so many survivors on my podcast we all have the same thing in common, where it doesn’t matter where the trauma is, we numbed it so much, we silenced it so much, that the second we let our guard down by hanging out with friends or drinking, I would be the girl who would get so drunk and it would come out and it would just spew out of me. All of those things I silenced would just spew out of me and I would tell anybody who would listen this happened to me, this happened to me, this happened to me, and I would wake up the next morning with such anxiety and think now people think this of me. It was a perpetual cloud of darkness that I continued to create because I was hiding it.

KEVIN: How do you make sure the abuse you endured doesn’t define who you are today, and has it ever defined who you are or were in your past actions? JESSALYN: Such a good question. Did it define who I was in my past actions? I let it define my past actions that were completely in my control. How I don’t let it affect me today is I have literally taken back my power. That really comes from feeling what needs to be felt, acknowledging the things I went through and here is the thing, forgiving myself for the things I did when I didn’t have the information, when I didn’t allow myself to heal, when I buried the strength within me by thinking I wasn’t strong enough to feel what I needed to feel and feeling that there was no way out. That’s a big one for me because for so long I thought there was no way out of this pain, Kevin, I know you can relate, but I felt like it was swallowing me whole and I had to pretend that it wasn’t happening. And today, therapy is a big one for me, and I know a lot of people shy away from therapy and I did too because I had a bad experience as a child. I love therapy today, it keeps me on track and it helps me feel like it’s not swallowing me whole. Feeling what needs to be felt, acknowledging the things that happened to you and also forgiving yourself, you have to be able to forgive yourself for what you did when you were broken and didn’t know any better. KEVIN: Do you still go through mental, or as I call it, brain pain? JESSALYN: Oh, absolutely. You actually said something to me that sticks in my head constantly from our first conversation. You said I’m not recovered, I am in recovery. That has imprinted into my soul Kevin because we are constantly going to evolve, we are always going to evolve. I’m going to still do things where I wake up tomorrow and think that was not the best version of myself. Now I know what I need to do to fix it. And there are some days when I get into that dark hole, where I spiral a bit emotionally, where mentally I’m not the strongest, where I am probably not being the best Mum, wife or friend and you know there are just those days where I am feeling sorry for myself. But the difference now is that I have the tools to not stay there as long. So I go back to those places, I am just going to, but I have the tools now to not stay as long. And I think that is key. KEVIN: How did your childhood abuse affect your marriage today? JESSALYN: Hugely. I think a lot of sexual abuse survivors can really relate to this. It deeply impacted my marriage In so many ways. First of all trust, you know at first it was overthrusting because I really wanted to feel loved because I had never felt it as a child. I had this skewed sense of what an intimate relationship meant because of my first experiences with intimacy obviously. It took a long time to trust him, it took a long time for me to let my walls down. And when I say a long time I am talking years and I don’t think that even he and I really started to dig into it until I started my own journey 73

“It’s understanding that I have to help myself before I can rely on anybody else.” JESSALYN: (continued) and realising that I’ve always kept him a little bit on the outside, which a) is not fair, leaves him confused, and because of my own burying of my pain and ignoring it things would trigger me out in the world and suddenly I would go from this completely happy person to angry, reactive, not saying kind things and he is left confused. My partner is left confused and not knowing what to do and probably a bit jaded and pissed off to be honest and we couldn’t communicate about it because I didn’t even know what was happening. It was really interesting because he didn’t know how to help me and I didn’t know how to help me. And he also would forget that these things had happened to me because I would never talk about it. So because I was so good at pretending everything was fine, I would be triggered then be mad at him for not understanding what was triggering me and how to look at it. He would say “But Jessalyn, you’re fine 98% of the time, so I forget that this happened to you.” A lot of that I was me blaming him, but a lot of that was on me and that’s been something that I have really worked on in the last couple of years as I’ve been going through this process. It’s understanding that I have to help myself before I can rely on anybody else. Because how are they supposed to know what I need when I don’t really know myself? KEVIN: Can you tell us about what really pushed you to begin your healing journey? JESSALYN: Yeah it’s interesting from all the other survivors that I've talked to on my podcast it’s rare that somebody would say oh this really horrible thing that’s happened to me maybe I should work on that. There is usually something that has tripped you up and mine had nothing to do with my trauma at all. I had an experience with a friend that really triggered me and that is what sent me to therapy, that I was so deeply hurt and troubled by what happened that it hurt me. I couldn’t get out of bed, I was crying every single day and in the meantime I was also about to launch a brand new business so the timing of it was absolutely horrible. And so I remember thinking “I cannot feel this way anymore, what is going on, I can’t get out of bed, I can’t be a good mum”. Luckily my best friend is a psychologist who had been telling me for years, my anxiety Kevin was so crippling that I couldn’t function day to day, I was shaking. When I think back to the anxiety I was living with, it was so intense this experience with a friend took my anxiety to a level that I didn’t even know was possible and my best friend at the time said you’ve gotta look at going on medication you’ve gotta get a hold of this. She recommended a therapist and I started to go to therapy talking about this incident with my friend and lo and behold it really wasn’t the incident with the friend that was sending me over the edge, it was the triggers that reminded me of my trauma. So, being asked not to say something, being silenced, being told I can never tell anybody and these things were really triggering me and through therapy, not saying that medication is for everyone, I was firmly against it for many years because of my own suicide attempt, but I got on anxiety medication which really helped me get to a clear spot in my head, to be able to rationalise things because when you’re in this really intense situation with high anxiety in those moments, you can’t rationalise anything, you can’t make sense of anything. So that really helped me balance my emotions, balance my thoughts and determine what was reality and what was not reality. That and then I really started to lean into meditations. I always thought meditation was something I could never accomplish because I couldn’t silence my thoughts, I couldn’t sit still or do any of those things associated with meditation but I started with an active meditation I use the Super Human app and they are guided, you can go out walking with it and I’ve been using it for two years and it has helped me so much. I never could get on a plane. My anxiety was so intense I couldn’t fly, and if I did fly I was the girl screaming in the back. Now I can fly absolutely no problem with no Ativan, just taking control of my emotions, remembering to slow down and self care is a big one. What I want to really drive home for all the listeners, is when you have been living in survival mode, for a year, two years, thirty years as I was, it is really hard to come out of that. You don’t know how to not be in flight or fight. But when you start to unravel that and you start to come down you think okay I can actually live not in flight or fight, you are so exhausted. You are so tired, your nervous system is finally resting, Your body is like ok I have been in this for thirty years, a year, whatever it is and it is so friggin exhausting. And one mistake I made was that I was so hard on myself I was like I’m lazy, I’m not a good mum, why can I not get out of bed , what is happening to me, but it's just a natural part of the process and as a type A, very hyper person it took so much work for me to be actually kind to myself and be like ‘no’. I just put my mind, my body, my nervous system through hell for the last thirty years of my life and it’s okay for me to have two naps today. It is okay for me to just wind down and just sit and to not do anything. That was a huge mistake I made and I just want everyone to be much kinder to themselves and know 74

JESSALYN: (continued) that there is not anything wrong with you , that this is a natural part of the process and you owe it to yourself, to slow down, to rest for as long as you need to rest. KEVIN: You mentioned using the Super Human app and I am well aware of that app. Can you talk a little bit about how that helps your healing journey specifically? JESSALYN: You know, in the app there are thousands of meditations on there. So whether you want to do a walking meditation or a writing meditation or while you’re cooking, you know the way they bring you out of your head and into your body, it's not something I can naturally do it on my own but now that I have done it so many times on the app I can, so it’s very much like ‘feel your heart beating’. It just really brings you back to centre with help. For those of us who are hyperactive, who have a raging nervous system, who have uncontrollable thoughts, we can’t comfortably do that on our own. And this app, I’ve said so many times, has changed my life. It has helped me slow down, helped me be in the moment, helped me regulate my breath, helped me regulate my thoughts. Even if it is just for five minutes, we need that break. The more you do it the more comfortable you will feel, the more natural it will feel, and you are going to be able to carry out that pause in your raised nervous system and thoughts, you’re going to be able to carry out that peace for longer than five minutes, for longer than ten minutes and all of a sudden it will be a week and then you’re going to feel it again and then you just do it again and it’s just been a really important part of my practice. KEVIN: Was there anyone in your life that played a major role in your healing journey in the years following your trauma and if so can you talk about those people? JESSALYN: Absolutely. You know I say often that one of the hardest parts about jumping into a healing journey and putting yourself first and really figuring out who you are and what you need is a great season of loss that you go through and some of these relationships that you carry through this season of life are not going to carry through as you start to heal these traumas. For some people the broken version of you just fits better. I lost some people in my life, we didn’t fit in each other’s lives anymore. There is no bad blood, there is nothing like that. It's just this season of loss that you go through. And you’re also saying goodbye to a version of yourself that you have held onto for so long that no longer serves you and it’s hard. The key people in my healing journey are number one my husband, I couldn’t do this without him and I just want to take a second for any partners out there who may be listening to help navigate someone they love going through a healing journey of trauma and processing trauma is that it is not easy and you are often forgotten about. It is a season of putting someone else’s needs first and putting your own needs aside for that person that you love and it is the most selfless thing that you can do. My husband has watched me at my lowest, he has held me in the dark when I couldn’t get out of bed all day, he has looked after our daughter and been the dance dad and sewn on the buttons because mum couldn’t get out of bed and through all that he also put aside his own needs for the better part of a year to really help me and help me to get where I needed to be. It’s not an easy thing. I think a lot of times people think it’s not a good time for me to start this journey, it’s not a good time for me to heal, we’re launching a business, we’re moving, the kids need this. The truth is there is no good time. When you feel the call, take it. You owe it to yourself, you owe it to the people you love to just take the call and run with it because you will get there so much quicker than if you deny it. My husband was critical in that. And I know not everyone has a partner they are able to do that with but finding somebody. And I have my best friend like I said she is a psychologist and she was critical in that for me and also my therapist. She is the most amazing human I literally do not know how I would live without her at this point. Once you find that person you mesh with and that person that sees you and that makes you feel safe with it is like magic. And those are the three people that have really had my back so deeply through all this and that I know without a doubt I couldn’t do this with. KEVIN: You have two beautiful children now. Looking back on your childhood, how do you feel like it affects the way you raise your children now? JESSALYN: I love this question. It affects it so deeply, Kevin. We have two daughters so one of my daughters is my step daughter and I was so protective of her very early on. I was around from when she was one and when she got to that age of going to friends houses, as the step parent I didn’t have much say and her parents didn’t go through what I did, so I was very nervous and was like, “Please don’t let her sleep over at this person’s house. Please don’t let her do that’. But when it came to our daughter I had a very hard time after having her immediately, I had a rocky birth and a rocky pregnancy, I had a hard time connecting. I didn’t want to admit that and it was very shameful and I know a lot of Mum’s feel that way, but looking back now I was never connected to a mother figure so I didn’t naturally learn how to be 75

I want to really hear what happens to other humans and how they survived it. JESSALYNN BIEDERSTADT


“A lot of times as trauma survivors and sexual abuse survivors, we don’t know how to set boundaries.” JESSALYN: (continued) connected to another human being and also as a parent, so that was very difficult for me to admit, accept, it was so shameful. It didn’t take long but it was something that was really bothering me and really eating me up. I had postpartum depression and anxiety really bad, and here is the key. I lied about it to every doctor I went to. Because I was ashamed, because I thought they would take my baby away, I was embarrassed and I think so many of us go through that. Particularly for trauma survivors, it is always there, and we hide that shame. We are not honest with anybody about how we are feeling, and it deeply impacted me as a new mum. Today my daughter is ten, and she is so beautiful, well rounded, and outgoing. There are things that I look at now, like sleepovers, I didn’t allow her to have sleepovers at anybody else’s house for many, many years. We are starting to get into that now. I am very nervous. I gave my daughter a phone at nine-years-old because as she was in dance competitions and going to friends houses, I needed that contact. What happened to me in the sexual abuse, I remember running around looking for a phone to call somebody, and there was no phone to be found and that is my fear for her. And when people are judging me like you gave your nine-year-old daughter a phone, this is a safety concern. I am really trying hard to let go a little bit. Her famous line is, “Mum, you’ve gotta let me live a little.” And it’s difficult, but I know that for her to be a well functioning adult, a well functioning member of society, I can’t protect her from everything and these are my issues not her issues. It’s a struggle. I know so many of us as parents go through this whether you have been through trauma or not. It is hard, Kevin. It is something I am working on in therapy constantly but I know that for her own wellbeing and for her to have healthy relationships, I have to be able to let her live a little, as she says. KEVIN: What kind of tools and support have helped you rebuild a life full of joy and stay in recovery from trauma and you still have issues through things you went through, how do you handle all that? JESSALYN: Well, two major things. Therapy is one. I see my therapist weekly, sometimes bi-weekly depending on how I am doing. Another big one is boundaries. A lot of times as trauma survivors and sexual abuse survivors, we don’t know how to set boundaries. We don’t think we deserve to be able to set boundaries. We don’t know how to stand up to people. We don’t know how to put ourselves first, and boundaries have been a really big tool for me. And protecting my energy, protecting who I Iet in my life, who I share my time with, and the kind of content that I am absorbing is a big one. It’s very easy for us to get back in the cycle of I’m not good enough, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not smart enough, and I’m not doing as well as this person. I am really trying to change that narrative in my head. So finding positive content on social media is really key for me to stay on track and even with what I watch, Kevin. I can’t watch things like Yellowstone. It is too dark. I watch Friends every single night before bed because it makes me happy. I don’t watch scary movies or anything like that. Controlling the content in my life is critical for me. Reading is something I was never capable of doing before just because of how my thoughts would race. I was always firing, always in fight or flight, but now I am able to settle my nervous system. I love reading so I have been doing a tonne of that. I don’t like fiction. I like books like yours. I like to hear people’s stories, and that is another thing that has helped me in all this - my podcast. Hearing other people’s stories is so humbling and so imperative in my own healing to hear how other survivors have survived it and come out the other side, how they are continuing to do it, how they are continuing to heal. It's been incredible. KEVIN: When you think back on your life and those issues pop up now, how do you handle them? JESSALYN: Ever since I was 13, I knew that my life was not normal, and that it was interesting. I knew that it was interesting. So I thought I would write a book to share my story. Something we haven’t touched on was how nobody ever talked to me about what happened and how damaging that was for me. Most of my life, I wondered if it had really happened because nobody acknowledged it. Writing a book felt so powerful to me, to be able to share my story. Because I couldn’t sit and read the book myself, I thought I would speak my story. I was going to tell it, and from there I


JESSALYN: (continued) thought I would share my story on this podcast platform, and I wanted to hear other people’s stories - humbling stories of survival. I wanted to have these people share their experiences with the next generation of people who are going to end up suffering because we all will. In this human experience we are living in, at some point we are all going to have to recover from something that happens in our lives.I just wanted there to be a platform where real people could share their real stories, not the cute version. I want to really hear what happens to other humans and how they survived it. KEVIN: How has hearing the incredible stories of others helped you in your journey? JESSALYN: Well first of all I don’t feel so alone. I don’t feel like I am the only one. I know a lot of people say that and it feels strange to people who haven’t gone through it but you feel so isolated when you have gone through something like this, you feel so different from people in society, you feel like you can’t function, you feel weird and you feel unworthy and it has helped me so much. There are no ‘trauma olympics’. Pain is pain, and it's universal. We all feel it, and it took a long time for me to realise something big did happen to me. And I think when I did start hearing other people’s stories, what value did I have? My story isn’t that big of a deal. Then having followers on Instagram reach out to me and say, “Oh my God! Thank you so much. I’ve been living with this my whole life. I feel so alone. I have never told anybody. How do I tell somebody? How do I tell my partner? What do I do next?” It was like this world opened up for me, and I was like this is a big deal and other people are suffering the way I am suffering. I need to show my trauma some love and myself some love because that is what I would be telling these people who reached out to me. I am no different. I am in that category, and I also deserve that love. KEVIN: What are your goals beyond the podcast in supporting other survivors? JESSALYN: A year ago, I sat down at this retreat with Jillian Harris. She actually launched something called The Jillian Academy where she is helping people in business and doing all these things, and as I was sitting there I was about to launch an online clothing boutique because I thought that was what my soul wanted. They were getting you to think big about what you really want. So as I am doing that and thinking about my really big goals, there were three things on there that had absolutely nothing to do with the clothing business I was about to launch. One was a podcast, one was writing a book, and one was traveling the world speaking to other survivors. And as I look back on that, I wrote that before I even thought of launching the podcast. It was just spewing out of me. Now that I have been meeting people like you and I have been connecting with so many people in the trauma world, experts and other survivors, that is what I want to do. I want to be someone on the ground. I want to be holding somebody’s hand, I want to be looking into their eyes telling them and helping them know that I feel your pain, you are worthy. So when I launched this podcast I wondered how I could do every interview in person because I feel that when people are sharing these deeply personal experiences, I want to be there in the human connection helping them and showing them that I truly care. Obviously that isn’t possible. So some of my big goals are to be there on the ground helping people any way that I can. Do I know what that looks like? No, but I feel so compelled and so called to be in contact with other humans who have been through something so painful because that human connection is so vital. It is so vital in helping others. KEVIN: Finally, how do people view or listen to your content today? JESSALYN: You can find me on Instagram at Invisible Scars Podcast (@invisiblescarspodcast). You can catch our podcast everywhere you stream your podcasts. We are everywhere. I would love for anyone listening to share it with anyone that needs it. I also want to mention that my best friend Suzy, who is a psychologist, comes on the podcast once a month and we break down topics. This month we covered how to survive the holidays with all these triggers and one thing we have done is setup an email address to book an appointment with her to get help with anything that you need. If you’re feeling triggered by the podcast or just are really struggling you can reach out ( and a clinical psychologist will get back to you to get something set up. ∎

Featuring: Jessalyn Biederstadt (@invisiblescarspodcast) Interviewed by: Kevin Hines (@kevinhinesstory) Edited by: Erin Macauley (@egmx)


Hope is your painter of unseen dreams… ROHINI MORADI

AKASHIC RECORDS SPECIALIST Photo Credit: Julia Corbett 80


A NEW HOPE In your quiet dawn’s gentle embrace, Where your dreams whisper, soft and true, You find a seed, in a hidden space, Nurtured by hope’s tender hue. It’s in the dance of leaves you see, Swaying under your slice of sky, In the way your heart finds glee, Even when the world seems awry. Hope is your lullaby in the night, Singing of promises, new and bright, A beacon in your darkest fight, Guiding you with its gentle light. It’s in your laughter, free and wild, In your strength, though you may feel mild, In every step towards dreams compiled, In every path by hope beguiled. Hope is your painter of unseen dreams, Your architect of bridges over troubled streams, It’s the courage in your heart, it seems, To face life’s edges, where light gleams. Let hope be your song, strong and clear, A melody of possibilities you hold dear, For with hope, you face each challenge, never in fear, In this vast, celestial sphere, you are here. Follow Rohini on Instagram: @magicinclined


Uncomfortably or joyfully, we share the range of human emotions related to our personal trauma or miracle. In the end or the new beginning, we learn we are all fellow travelers.

Creativity. Connectivity. Community. W W W. A R T I S T S F O R T R A U M A . O R G

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