Category Archives: Books

Healing After an Unthinkable Tragedy

Nobody is immune from pain, suffering, illness, misery, and hardship—life is a constant rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. While most misfortune can be overcome eventually, there are certain types of loss that are so devastating, so unthinkable, it’s almost impossible to deal with, let alone recover from. This guest post from Theresa James is very difficult to read, let alone imagine happening firsthand (I literally sobbed!). She has lived through the absolute worst tragedy that could strike any mother and made it to the other side. Anyone who is feeling exceptionally low will find hope in her difficult journey.

It’s often said that everyone has a story to tell. My story is different than most, but perhaps others will be able to relate, having dealt with their own hardships. The full account can be found in my book, Healing Tears, but the following will provide an overview:

My nightmare began in the summer of 1998. Just days after my divorce was final, my ex-husband broke into my house and murdered my three children before killing himself. I believe he left me alive to live a “hell on earth,” and truly, that’s what it was—an absolute hell.

During the divorce process, which was exceptionally was ugly, I had journaled daily to cope. After my children’s deaths, I continued to write and express my emotions on paper—my anger, hatred, devastation and grief. I missed them so much it was nearly unbearable!

After almost a year of making notes, I decided to put them into book format, which took another year. Reliving everything that happened forced me to work through those emotions, and I promised myself that I would not give in, nor would I give up. I knew my children would not want me to succumb to the negative thoughts and feelings; they would want me to have love, joy and happiness again. Though I was dealing with tremendous pain and grief, I was fortunate to have unconditional love and support from my family and friends. I also worked with an incredible therapist who helped me keep my sanity.

The healing process is just that: a process. There is no quick fix. In 1999, I made the decision to get remarried, to a wonderful man whom I had known for many years prior. During the next 16 years, I tried to live a “normal” life with Todd and his two children. I changed careers and we moved to another state. I made new friends and only shared my private pain with a select few. 

In 2008, Todd and I moved to the Chicagoland area due to a job change for him. I again sought the assistance of a therapist and continued the sessions  I started years earlier. In the summer of 2016, I decided it was time to release my story to the public. (Publishing my book was always my goal, but I felt that back when it first occurred, I was not ready, mentally and emotionally, to release it.)

Sadly, our society now deals with horrible crimes more frequently and other mothers have experienced the same type of loss. My wish is that anyone who reads my story will find the inspiration to overcome their own struggles, whatever those may be. I want to encourage others to share their own stories, as well. The more we share with others, the more we will develop compassion and understanding. Each one of us is trying to do the best that we can while working through life’s struggles, seeking love. None of us should have to do it alone.

About the Author:

Theresa James is a writer and a proud veteran of the US Air Force. She has triumphed over tragedy by using her experience as a crime victim to create books of hope and healing, inspired and cheered on from above by the memory of her beloved children Sean, Jarod, and Brandi. She and her husband live in Indiana. Connect with Theresa through her website.

Books I Love – The Four Agreements

Do self-limiting beliefs rob us of joy and create needless suffering? According to author Don Miguel Ruiz, the answer is definitely “Yes!” In his book, The Four Agreements, he shares a unique approach to self help based on Toltec wisdom.

The Toltec were an ancient people that lived in Mexico over 3,000 years ago. They developed a philosophy that offers an interesting way to balance our deeply held but little acknowledged beliefs, expectations, agreements, and assumptions. By learning theses tips, we can live a happier, more authentic life:

1. Be Impeccable With Your Word

“Speak with integrity and say what you mean. Avoid using words against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”

I must admit that I am guilty of saying mean and hurtful things, both to myself and other people. Usually it’s because I get caught up in the heat of the moment, but I recognize that words have power and I need to carefully chose mine.

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally

“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”

Of all the agreements, this one speaks to me the most, on such a deep level. For most of my life, I literally could not understand why others wouldn’t see my point of view. Only now, at 35-years-old, do I recognize that everybody has their own idea, their own way, their own path. By focusing on myself only and not trying to change them and refusing to let anyone change me, life is so much simpler. This is precisely why arguing is such a waste of time. Nobody is listening, they just want to express their own ideology. Better to agree to disagree and move on. I truly wish I had learned this lesson decades ago!

3. Don’t Make Assumptions

“Find the courage to ask questions and express what you really want. Communicate as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.”

I’ve never had a problem expressing my opinion. The problem was that I often had a self righteous attitude and was convinced that others should feel exactly the same. Guess what: my way is only good for me! I’ll offer an opinion if asked, but I don’t push them on others anymore. Big lesson learned.

4. Always Do Your Best

“Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, try to do what’s best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”

My biggest mistake in this area was confusing “best” with “perfection.” I am not perfect, nobody on earth is perfect. By accepting life’s limitations that things can—and often do—go wrong, there is no impossible expectation to live up to. Making reasonable allowances, for myself and others, is a much better strategy.

We can’t change others, we can’t change the world, we can’t change the weather, we can’t change anything at all—except our own attitudes and behavior. By adopting that mindset, no matter what happens in life, good or bad, we don’t have to feel like victims and we can learn to cope in a healthy way.

The Truth about Mental Illness

So often we look at someone else’s life with envy. On the outside, it seems like they have it all. Looks can be very deceiving! Author Allison Kugel is pulling back the curtain on a hidden misery that millions of folks are afraid to discuss—mental illness. Written with incredible honesty and bravery, her gut-wrenching story will resonate with so many who are suffering, in silence, and alone, feeling completely lost and nearly paralyzed.

 

Imagine maintaining a thriving career as a celebrity profiler, conducting in-depth interviews with hundreds of the world’s biggest newsmakers, while navigating an anxiety disorder so severe that you’ve grown accustomed to scheduling interviews in between ER visits and taking tranquilizers for a few momentary breathers.

Do I have your attention? Good, because I want to talk about a topic that is grossly misunderstood and not covered nearly enough in the media, one that affects 40 million Americans! I want to talk about mental illness.

I spent a decade as a successful syndicated entertainment, pop culture and political journalist who landed more than 200 in-depth celebrity interviews. But guess what else? I had also spent the better part of my life, on and off since the age of eight, battling with some pretty severe anxiety, panic and OCD.

In my book, Journaling Fame: A Memoir of a Life Unhinged and on the Record, I go into great detail about the embarrassment and isolation I experienced throughout much of my adolescence, young adulthood and even into my thirties. “No one can know I am having a panic attack,” I would think to myself. “How mortifying!” I would do my best to carry on in social situations while suffering greatly, pretending everything was fine.

By sharing my personal journey, I hope to de-mystify and de-stigmatize anxiety disorders, panic attacks, OCD and the fallout of depression that oftentimes wreaks havoc on the anxiety sufferer. Anxiety disorders, in my humble opinion, have become a major health crisis in the U.S. Don’t believe me? Read the statistics on how many Americans take benzodiazepines and SSRI drugs.

According to ScientificAmerican.com, “Adults in the U.S. consumed four times more antidepressants in the late 2000s than they did in the early 1990s. As the third most frequently taken medication in the U.S., researchers estimate that 8 to 10 percent of the population is taking an antidepressant.” A 2010 Forbes article states, “Doctors write nearly 50 million prescriptions for Xanax or alprazolam (the generic equivalent) every year – that’s more than one Xanax prescription every second.”

Although slightly more common in women, anyone can develop an anxiety disorder in adolescence, early adulthood, in mid-life, or even in the autumn of life. It doesn’t discriminate by age or by socio-economic status; in fact many famous people have made public admissions about their own struggle: Lena Dunham, Kendall Jenner, Amanda Seyfried, Emma Stone, Chris Evans, John Mayer, Sarah Silverman, Johnny Depp, and Jennifer Lawrence.

My book shares the extreme dichotomy that had been my life for so many years: insightful journalist by day, petrified anxiety sufferer by night. On the surface my career was exciting and glamorous: meetings with the Kardashians, 50 Cent, Dave Chappelle, Ron Paul, Mike Tyson, Michelle Rodriguez, Shaquille, O’Neal, Stan Lee, Elle Macpherson, Kristin Chenoweth… the list goes on. I had Oscar and Grammy winners, senators and congressmen calling me at home. (It was heady stuff for a middle class Jewish girl from Long Island!)

Everything seemed “perfect” but the truth couldn’t have been more different. I lived with this strange, scary and somewhat mysterious monkey on my back for as long as I can remember. It all came to a frightening head in 2012 when I was hospitalized multiple times for severe anxiety and panic attacks that rendered me non-functional.

Through trial and error with various medications, different methods of therapy and counseling (cognitive/behavioral, analytical, new age), self-help techniques and my own spiritual studies, I healed and set about writing my book to share my story with the world.

After years of embarrassment and shame, I have never held my head higher than I do these days. At the age of 42, and after asking for most of my life, “God, why me?” I will never ask that question again, because I now know the answer.

By using my life and my book as a platform, I have been doing press and speaking to people all over the world who are living with anxiety, agoraphobia, depression, OCD, and panic attacks.

I want my book to offer people the comfort, insight and education I’ve gained about this confusing topic. I want my message to turn on the lights and turn off the stigma. I want them to know there is hope, there is help, and most of all, they are not alone.

Allison Kugel’s new book “Journaling Fame: A Memoir of a Life Unhinged and on the Record” is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other retailers worldwide.

Prolific Author Alice Langholt Shares Her Writing Journey

Many folks dream of writing, but are daunted to even begin—finding a topic, carving out time, and balancing work and family responsibilities, can be incredibly challenging.

How then, does one actually make it happen? Alice Langholt shares her personal story in this thought-provoking guest post.

She has written a novel, 13 books of inspirational poetry and self-help resources, composed 22 original Jewish youth theater musicals, and invented Apples to Apples: Jewish Edition games. (Talk about ambitious!)

Like most writers, her journey hasn’t been easy. Still, she never gave up, showing that perseverance is key. We can all learn a lot from this talented lady.

 

I wrote my first foray into fiction, First Family, back in 2009, initially as a series of blogs which was a creative outlet for myself. At the time, I was a full time Jewish educator at Cleveland, Ohio’s Park Synagogue and I also taught at Akiva High School, teaching text study to kids and teens, and looking for ways to make it more relatable – something that kids might care about studying – and relevant to their lives. I was probably also looking to do the same for myself.

In the summers of 1999 and 2000, I had studied a technique called Bibliodrama, and wrote my Master’s Thesis (I was in the Executive Educator Program at Siegal College), on using drama to teach biblical text. I drew on this technique to write my book. You see, the story is told from the first person narrative viewpoints of each character as the well-known story progresses. We hear from Adam, Eve, God, the Snake, Cain, and Abel.

The biblical text contains basic events: Adam wakes up to life in the garden, names animals, feels lonely. Eve is created for him, and then she meets the snake. They eat the fruit, breaking the rule told to Adam by God, and they’re banished, needing to make a life for themselves outside the garden. They have two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain farms. Abel tends sheep. They make an offering to God. Adam’s is accepted. Cain’s isn’t. Cain is upset. God admonishes him. Cain kills Abel in the field. Cain is banished. That’s the basic story, and there isn’t much more detail than that in the biblical rendition.

I took these elements and filled in the gaps, almost as if they were journal entries written by the characters themselves. By deciding the motivations, emotional responses, and ways the characters related to each other, the story took on a human and very real feel. I also noticed that as I wrote this way, my own struggles with faith came boldly into the light through the characters of Eve and Cain especially, contrasted by the character of Adam. I’ve always had a personal struggle with faith. Writing this book allowed me to express it, and make it ok for the reader to connect with their own issues, even as they are reading about biblical characters.

I didn’t publish it back then, for a variety of reasons, and put it on the back burner. Fast forward two summers, when my 13-year-old daughter, Sari, a lovely writer in her own right, expressed interest in reading it. I sent her a digital version to read. She critiqued it saying that it had “too much tell and not enough show.” She offered to help me do some revisions; I accepted. We spent four days totally immersed in creating and describing sensory experiences. We lay in the grass and talked about how it felt. We rewrote large passages, reread, and revised. It was awesome!

The process of writing this book required me to step into the emotions of Adam and Eve. The first-time experiences of discovering each other, of relationships with God, of becoming parents, learning to care for their boys, the personalities of the two of them as they grew, discovering the lifeless body of Abel, and then deciding what to do…all of it had to be felt personally, and had to be described in ways the reader would feel. It was like acting, but on paper. Raw, real, and most of all, believable.

Cain and Abel had to be real people, with real personalities, a relationship with each other, their parents, and thoughts about God. They had to have their own sense of the world. They had to grow and mature, but be believable as children and teenagers. I had to answer the questions that the text doesn’t address – the “whys” behind the events, and the years that are not described in the bible.

This was my task, and I embraced it. Sari added her requirements: the book needed to talk about stars, and needed to address menstruation – things that were important to her.

Finally, it was ready. I self-published via CreateSpace.com. I did some announcing, giveaways, and reached out to blogger reviewers. Within a short time period, it received has 33 reviews, 31 of which were 5-stars.

Of course, not all feedback was glowing.

It’s interesting that different religions, though sharing the same biblical text, have deep ties to their own interpretation of the stories.

In Judaism, exploration of biblical text in different ways is encouraged. Different interpretations are called “midrash”, and modern midrash is called “midrash aggadah.” It’s considered a valid way to gain understandings and connections to the text. (We’re taught to question from an early age, and it’s part of our traditions, like during the Pesach Seder.)

Others, I’ve learned recently, aren’t so much into creative interpretations. They want their members to adhere to their traditional interpretation of the text as Truth. I received some feedback from distressed readers, who felt that God’s voice was too casual, and who thought that I was grossly misinterpreting the story since they had learned it a certain way at their church. This was also interesting to me, illustrating vividly how different religions respond to the same exact story.

In fact, two readers said they had put the book down several times, unsure if they could finish reading it because they were so upset over my “misinterpretations.” I had also dropped a copy for evaluation at the local Family Christian bookstore, figuring they might like it. They stopped responding to my calls about it soon afterward. 

While receiving criticism is never fun, it shouldn’t stop anyone from writing. Each writer must stay true to his/her own vision. We can’t please everyone, but we must do what is right for us.

About the Author:

Alice Langholt holds a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies, a Master’s Degree in Metaphysical Science, and a BFA in Music and Theater Arts and Drama. In addition to her extensive writing career, she is also a Reiki Master Teacher and the creator of the A Moment for Me – Care for Busy People products.

Find book reviews, sample chapters, and more information about Alice on her website.