#Women Who Lead - Sarah Kaler

I vividly remember the day in my 20’s that I looked down at myself—my body—and spoke to it (as if it were separate from me) and said “You are not going to f*ing stop me.”

I had been diagnosed with epilepsy and was in and out of the hospital having grand mal seizures. I had blown out my left knee practicing yoga a couple years earlier, dislocated my right shoulder on another occasion, and yet on another occasion, in later years, developed carpal tunnel in my wrists resulting in surgery on both.

In the span of ten years I spent more time in hospitals being analyzed, tested and assessed than most people do in their adult life. My health had become a part-time job and some years, my full-time job. My body had become a story about injury, illness, disease, diagnosis, being different, not belonging, not being enough, not being capable and definitely not being strong.

For years I operated from the ‘neck up’. You might be wondering what I mean by this:

I had made a decision that day in my 20’s during a moment of crisis, and physical and emotional stress, that I was smart enough, strong enough, and determined enough to be successful and that despite my ‘limitations’ I would conquer my goals and create magic. And I did do this - with my intellect, despite my body.

I adopted some very concrete and fundamental ways of functioning without my body: forgetting to eat and drink water, not pausing to go to the bathroom during my work day, persevering through levels of chronic physical pain that should have been a sign to stop, working myself until  I ‘joked’ I couldn’t even see straight...and then working some more. And then sleeping right through  my weekend, asking my husband "Why am I so tired?" Duh. Only to wake up Monday morning to do it all over again.

I was out of touch.

Clearly, this 'neck up' strategy didn’t work for long.  It invited and created—literally attracted it to me—more of the very things I didn’t want: more stress, more fear, more injury, more exhaustion and more not being enough. 

As the years progressed I had a dear dear friend ask me once “Are you ready and willing to give up the story of the knee?” The knee injury represented it all; it was the first injury in the decade-long journey of challenges and represented the loss of life, extreme fear, complete despair and daily chronic pain that was to follow.

I remember where I stood in that moment: we were on the phone, I was walking and I stopped dead in my tracks. Several questions rushed through my head. Was I willing to give up the story of what it all meant? Why it was happening? Had I begun to let go of what my journey had looked like and sounded like?

The question threw me because in my mind I believed I had begun processing the injury to some degree by talking about it with my inner circle and becoming more real and vulnerable about my experience. I started to really consider just how tight the tenacious grip of my story really was. I had convinced myself of what others thought about me and my health, what it all meant about me, how my life might unfold, what I was capable of, and the “what if” game in my head about the future.

I had convinced myself that they feared me, they saw me as sick and they didn’t believe I was capable. I realized in a lot of ways—despite all the talk—I still held to my story; I still wasn’t really in touch.

I started to research, read, and reflect on all the ways I could rewrite the familiar narrative that was playing out and start to create a new narrative – one that served me and one that was the future I wanted to live into.

I also realized that despite what anyone around me thought, I was the only person in the world who would control my reality. There was no waiting for the hero to stand up, to stay “stop working” or “you’re doing too much”.

There was no rescue ship coming; I was my own ship, the captain and the crew.

It was time for life to start changing.

I asked myself what I could stop, start or continue that would support me in letting go of this way of being, not just talking about it. I realized I had to create actual changes in my life to the way I lived day to day. 

I studied and experimented with nutrition. I recorded how many glasses of water I drank every day. I started sleeping more and more regularly. I declared my commitments out loud daily. I stopped doing things that elevated my stress levels. I took risks with new forms of physical movements that gave me energy instead of depleted me.  I started speaking my truth more often.  I learned to start saying “no” from a place of personal power. I got clear on what I wanted to contribute to the world for myself, my family and humanity.

This is what it took to start seeing changes happen in my life. I needed connection to something bigger than myself to pull me forward; to see my vision and impact clearly. Then, I started practicing small and sometimes tiny steps of letting go by playing with different ways life could look and feel, which created incremental shifts in how I lived, worked and felt. And, I always checked in to see my results…one day at a time.

There have been moments of complete joy and triumph and moments of utter breakdown—those dirt in the face feeling moments—that have brought me to my knees. I have waffled. I have returned back to fear, worry and doubt countless times when my self-care practice creates more pain, perceived struggle or more challenges. I have wondered if I am bat shit crazy. I have wondered if I am alone. 

And then once again the growth comes and I see the results of my discipline: I have new experiences, I am present in a way I have never been before, I am reminded  that I am surrounded by an incredible community.  And, I am inspired and grateful to move forward aware, yet growing.

This journey has been one of the most challenging journeys I have been on as a leader, a mother, a wife, a daughter a sister, a friend; in all the facets that make up who I am.

Staying the course one day at a time, learning to love, listen to and own my body is the most important commitment and lesson along this path.

It’s not easy, but it’s my life and it matters.

Letting go for me has been about ownership; owning my choices around health, reinventing my lifestyle, fueling my body with food that works best for me, learning about functional strength with a higher purpose versus intense workouts that deplete me, sleeping as much as I WANT and need to, and ultimately defining and redefining what health means for me over and over and over again.  It’s an evolution.

I took my health into my own hands. I took my life into my own hands. My hands to me are a like a life force. They are a reflection of my mother’s creativity, love and guidance and my father’s vision, passion and care. My hands are the connection to my body that supports my vision coming to life. My hands hold Gareth’s hands—my partner, my husband, my best friend—daily as we walk through our lives and create our desired future. My hands have the power to touch, love, hold and carry my beautiful son Jackson – the joy and light of my life.

I have learned to love my body. I am grateful for it’s health everyday. I am grateful for the journey that continues. I am grateful for my life. I am grateful for what my body has given me and teaches me. Wholeness is the foundation for everything.

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