While our island life appears idyllic, we have folks who struggle to find a way out of their dilemmas. People we may think are beautiful and successful on the exterior may be the walking wounded, masking their pain.

Having come from difficult family dynamics herself, Jennifer Lovely has discovered tools that helped open a path to a greater  sense of well-being. She has since formed her own practice, which uses therapeutic coaching techniques to help heal past traumas.

“Trauma is not what happened to us, it is what happened inside us,” she explained. “I help people look at what goes on inside. I’m  a deep diver. I come from asking not ‘What is wrong with you,’ but, ‘What is happening to you?’ I found this to be life-changing.”

She works with addiction, trauma, codependency, couples, and relationships. She has clients from across the country that she counsels through Zoom meetings.

Lovely moved from Southern California to South Whidbey in 2016, partly to “escape her adult sons,” who suffered from drug addiction, among other social/emotional challenges. By all exterior appearances then, as a next door neighbor, she was a beautiful, successful woman.

Underneath the surface though, she was divorcing a man–not her sons’ father–soon after she moved to the island and trying to get her boys off drugs.

Since then, she bought and sold a yoga/pilates practice, became trained in learning to heal her own emotional wounds, and met a man who loved her and waited for her to heal before they married.

Through a lot of hard personal work, Lovely now has a relationship with her sons that allows for open and honest dialogue. Prior to knowing tools were available for help, she spent frustrating years trying to help her boys, who were arrested and went through rehab nearly 20 times.

“Because I have abandonment wounds, I never wanted my sons to be gone from me,”  Lovely said, recalling that her mother left when she was five. Her father, whom she likens to Bull Durham’s fierce and emotionally wounded warrior character in the 1979 film, The Great Santini, married a woman whose son abused Lovely for years.

When Lovely became a mother, she carried the scars of her childhood with her. “I believed I had to be there for my sons and not abandon them. That’s the piece we don’t understand. We’re doing the help for our loved ones so WE feel better, not them.”

After spending tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers and rehab to ‘fix’ her sons, Lovely woke up one day to realizing what she was doing wasn’t helping.

“I was managing their pain and my pain,” she said. “To heal is not to get rid of pain. To heal is to be able to hold pain. Now, I feel I no longer have to manage my sons’ pain. They are relieved I am not doing that. They can get on with the business of living their lives. We then meet each other in the field of relationship.”

Compassion was not a skill that came quickly to Lovely; rather at first, it took time to even know what it was.

“Being raised never to give up, to never give in, and you must win at all costs, was the subtle message in my home growing up, along with all the chaos and stress,” Lovely said. “There wasn’t much room for compassion.”

After watching her sons’ struggles, she learned to deepen her own understanding of the little girl inside who was still in pain. Through that work, she could see her sons more clearly.

“I can visit with my sons now and we become inspired by each other.,” Lovely said. “We can talk about hard things. There is nothing we cannot discuss. It is freeing.”

Meanwhile, Lovely continued to search for answers to help get her life back on track.

“After my divorce was final, I went to school. I spent two years in understanding personal development, trauma and addiction. I studied Somatics.”

Somatic experiencing, according to Wikipedia’s definition, is: “…a form of alternative therapy aimed at treating trauma and stress-related disorders, such as PTSD. The primary goal of SE is to modify the trauma-related stress response through bottom-up processing.”

Adding to her therapeutic took kit, Lovely has trained the past six months with Dr. Gabor Mate, author of bestselling books: In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, and most recently, The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture. Dr. Mate is known for his compassionate work with drug addicts on the streets of Vancouver, BC, and wrote about his experience in the first book. In The Myth of Normal, Dr. Mate unpacks common myths about what makes us sick, and how we might recover from maladies that make us ill.

Studio which houses Jennifer Lovely’s healing, integration and movement practice in Langley. Photo by Kate Poss

“The idea is that our wounds run our life,.” Lovely said.  “Until we can find compassion for ourselves, we actually can’t heal.”

In addition, we are bombarded with what is happening in the news. Our emotional reaction can be fight or flight. We feel compelled to appear strong and to please others. To handle the information overload and behaviors we’re expected to practice, our brain releases hormones that keep our bodies in a constant state of stress. Our minds perseverate on past events.

“Through this, our wounds are triggered, Lovely added. My compassionate inquiry work explores what’s happening currently and how that relates with the past. Once we can honor the past, the symptoms in the body will decrease.”

It is known that addiction is used to relieve emotional pain. In working with clients with addiction challenges, one of the first steps is to acknowledge that addiction relieves pain.

“But at some point addiction no longer works,”Lovely said. “We work on setting out to create a new belief system and a new path.”

Creating a new belief system with staying power takes tools and dedication. In addition to her recent studies with Dr. Mate, Lovely also is trained in ontology, which looks at who we are being in the world.

“Ontology is about how we relate to each other,” Lovely said. “It is everything. How we relate to each other is going to change our world.”

Compassion is relating to another’s pain and being present with it, but not becoming attached to it, Lovely explained. The emotional triggers we feel from someone else’s suffering can be considered treasures.

“They’re treasures, because they show us the part of ourselves where we’re not compassionate with ourselves,” Lovely noted. “We can look back to what caused our emotional wounds and ask ourselves how that inflicted pain formed our beliefs about ourselves.”

Judy Thorslund, founder and former president of the Whidbey Homeless Coalition, continues to work from the trenches in serving the unhoused, people with mental challenges, and locals suffering from addiction. A while ago, a local woman who also works with hard hit folks, connected Judy with Jennifer Lovely.

“Jennifer and I connected as helpers in a culture where we need helpers,” Thorslund wrote in an email. “Jennifer’s life journey and wisdom has allowed her to see the current state of things with eyes of compassion, as opposed to judgement. In her is a huge desire to be of service.“

While Judy retired formally from human services work, she still fields distress calls from folks in need.

“Jennifer is one of those folks I can call upon who understands the immediate need, and will respond accordingly,” Thorslund added.

Sitting in a sauna is part of therapy offered with Jennifer Lovely Healing + Coaching’s compassionate counseling practice. Photo by Kate Poss

Along these lines, Lovely offers weekly Thursday gatherings at 6 PM, called the Other Side of Addiction. It is for people with friends and family struggling with addiction. It is also a forum for folks to feel free to talk about their pain.

She is creating a non-profit to help pay for those who need mental health services, but cannot afford the cost. It is based on the Friends of Friends Medical Support Fund model, started by the late Lynn Willeford in 1997. Inspired by neighbors struggling to pay their medical bills, Willeford talked to her friends and started a fund-raising campaign asking for donations. The non-profit has raised $1.4 million since its creation, according to the Friends’ website. Funds are raised in part through the annual Mr. South Whidbey pageant.

Likewise, Lovely is starting a non-profit to spread compassion to the community, and seek funding to help folks get a hand up in managing their lives.

In addition, she advocates for folks to admit they need help and support, and to take action to change their lives.

For more information visit the website Jennifer Lovely Healing + Coaching.

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