What’s Your Trigger?

I’m writing you while brewing garlic, purple onion, cardamom, ginger, honey and lemon tea. I’ve had a cold for about five days. I’ve tried to figure out how I got sick. Was it that I eased up on green juice? Was it that I started consuming more dairy? Or was it that I missed some vitamins? Didn’t rest enough? Did too much? What did I do?

Um, how about nothing? How about I just caught a cold? And I have to wait it out for days. Rest. Tea. Liquids. Binge reading.

I love reading. I love television too. Lately, I’ve been loading up on so many books at the library. Ripper by Isabel Allende. Five, Six, Seven Nate by Tim Federle. And I finally started a book I own: Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown. I recommend all three books. Crime novel, elementary fiction and a breakthrough book on vulnerability, shame, perfectionism and the courage to connect.

I’m only on page 90, but what I’ve found is that men and women both suffer from shame about not doing enough, being enough, enough, enough.

I once worked for someone with whom I did a subtle dance where I let her push me into working with such intensity that I would have trouble sleeping and perpetually get sick. I let her pull the trigger on my “if I just work hard enough, I can do enough to stay under the radar and not suffer her wrath” button. Hers was a wrath cloaked in disappointment and shame. Let me tell you, if this was a dance on a reality show, I’d win. I know every step. I know how to please and how to anticipate better than the highest ranking general in a war room. I know how to make moves to keep the peace, to my own detriment. (Man, I love mixing metaphors!)

I also know how to blame myself for not doing enough.

Guess what, I am learning to recognize those dance moves and stop. Stop the thoughts that trigger an old script. I am not actually in that movie anymore. I’ve created a life I love. I’ve created a life I deserve. Also known as, “I am worthy of happiness.”

What happens when people, even those you love, trigger an old script? My husband is reading the Brené Brown book as well. He started it when I was binging on elementary fiction. Lately, I’ve been going through a strange emotional regression at home and have fallen back into a weird needy pleasey annoying (my word because it’s even annoying me) behavior. He’s been saying, “I want my Rebecca Villarreal back.” And I’ve been looking at him cross-eyed, confused, saying, “I’m trying! I’m trying!”

I was meditating, doing yoga, exercising, working, being a good mom, trying to be intentional in my marriage. Striving, trying and exhausting myself. (You can see how I’d like to blame myself for being sick?)

Well, here’s the good news. Yesterday, I was reading Brene’s book and watched how shame, disappointment and a scarcity mentality were triggering that pleasing button. Scarcity is about thinking you can never do or be enough–the house isn’t clean enough, your work isn’t good enough, you’re not thin enough, smart enough. When you flip that thinking on its head, you end up with, “I am imperfect and I am enough.” Cool beans because that means you are worth a life full of love. Trust me, you are worthy.

Basically, by slowing down and being sick, I could actually watch things happen in my mind. I watched old thoughts pop up about doing more for my son or my husband, or doing more around the house. I started squinting my eyes and looking sideways at those thoughts and saying, that’s not what’s happening right now. You’re just a thought. Go away. And sometimes, I even laughed at those thoughts.

I told this to my husband yesterday through some snot-filled tears. And even some laughter. I pointed to the intensity of editing my book and making some major decisions about content, timing and release. And what I could humanly do given that I have a full-time job and family and life. I pointed to some childhood scenarios that didn’t exist, yet trained me for certain life sports: pleasing, keeping the peace, anticipating villainous and crazy moves. I have no reason to use those muscles now. So I’m in training, a sort of emotional Olympic training, to use my muscles of courage, connection, vulnerability and enoughness—also know as, IMPERFECTION.

So, dear friends, my tea is ready, I bid you adieu. If you have triggers or are trained in any sports or dances that no longer suit your life, or the life you want to create, I’m sending you a special wish for a new hobby. Connect with someone you trust. Tell that person: I’m choosing to use my courage muscle now. (Be aware that a lot of the fibers that make up that muscle are comprised of fear and that’s okay.)

A toast to you and your new week! Much love in perpetual pajamas,


Meet my noisy neighbor, Fear


I’m not exactly sure when she moved in. But I do know fear’s been with me since 5th grade. That year, the boy who liked me followed me home and punched me in the jaw because I wouldn’t be his girlfriend. Fear’s been that neighbor with the music pounding through the walls in my head when I submitted my first poem for publication. She came to visit me when my son was in the hospital, but she spent the whole time talking about herself. She’s been planting her lawn chair on my property poking at my heart each of the seven times I took a risk on love, until this last try worked out. She stands at my fence with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth yammering away as I expand my novel answering the questions asked by characters eight years ago when I didn’t know them well enough to answer. Or I was just too afraid?

What’s your fear?

Is it your boss? Heights? The dark? Your dream of becoming a writer, singer, chef, CEO, marathon runner, spouse, parent? Or is it just a fear of speaking up?

Fear’s that noisy neighbor inside your head. You might be so used to her voice that you think she’s your imaginary friend.

Fear tells you, “You’re not good enough, smart enough, brave enough…” And then there’s the way she controls others: “They’re going to laugh at you, find out your secret: that you don’t know what you’re doing.” Eckhart Tolle might call that voice your ego–those thoughts that are not real. Those voices are not real. What’s happening in the moment is real.

How much power do you want to give fear?

I’m not going to tell you to laugh in the face of fear. Though sometimes, you have to admit that the conversations with your neighbor, from an objective standpoint, or if they were in a movie, might be funny in a neurotic sort of way. Please know that I’m not referring to the fear when in life-threatening situations. That’s a different kind of fear. But even in those circumstances, I think that humans have the capacity to dig deep.

What about “tragedy”?

I asked Pam Teaney Thomas, the winner of my Birthday Blog Giveaway, about fear. I met her when speaking in South Dakota last year. She’s a remarkable woman, an artist and an activist who works with youth. She has seen her share of fear in the form of two life-threatening situations. Her house, including most of her paintings, burnt down. And she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Here’s what she said:

When I think of the hard times…you find the courage to go through them by those who have walked the path before you and are standing on the other side. They understand your fears, pains and needs. They made it, therefore so can I. The support of my Faith, Family and Friends were huge in pushing through. Each hard time made the next hard time not so hard. You become tempered like steel…Sharper, stronger, and shinier. You recognize that by walking through it there can be a sliver lining if you keep your eyes open to it. Count Your Blessings and Name them One by One and you will see what The Lord hath Done. Truly at the first anniversary of our Fire that is what we did, (it was hard especially for my 17 year old son, but was the best thing we could force ourselves to do). We are now 7 years out and we don’t miss that dinner together each year to celebrate the blessings, not the loss.”

Easy Tools to Deal with Fear

My friends, we can learn from Pam and we can learn from Fear. Here’s what I do now:

  1. Ask for help: I did this when I recently experienced a wave of almost paralyzing fear about publishing my novel. (The closer it becomes to a reality, the more my neighbor wants to keep me company.) I asked some lovely people to hold me up in a bubble of bravery, and that’s what they did, in words, through Facebook posts, with photos, and in thoughts and prayers. I also asked the divine for help. I pulled out all the stops, God, angels, guides, universe, fairies, moon—it made me exercise my vulnerability muscle in a whole new way.
  2. Push the button to walk. I actually walk through my fear like a swamp, because I know there is dry steady land on the other side. Steven Pressfield author of The War of Art, wrote about fear as a good thing. It can be a helpful messenger in showing you how much you want something. So the more frightened you are of taking action, the more you know it’s what you’re called to do. It can sometimes provide you with the adrenaline rush you need to get a task done.
  3. Write. It can be a poem. Or just a scrap of paper that you later rip up or burn over the stove. It can be a journal entry. An email to a friend. Try it. In writing down your fear, you face it differently. It can help you separate from those noisy voices and more objectively decide how much longer you want to pass the time with those thoughts and feelings.

Here’s an excerpt from a poem I wrote last week while swimming in the swamp of fear. One fear had triggered another and another until I was all memories and pain. It’s called: “A New Path.”

Higher self hanging by the tips of angels

feel my fingers slipping

go back to the page

repair one line at a time

fill in the space

between your eyes

there’s a knowledge

in everyone’s heart

and it rests right here

it rests right here


You can buoy your dreams

on a raft of chants, songs

steps on that new path

you wouldn’t have it

brick by brick

heel mark



the charity of a new day

embrace it before

it’s gone again

So tune out your noisy neighbor when you need to, or shake your booty at her and use her yammering voice to propel you forward. Embrace this new day, my friend, it’s the only one you have right now.

Big hug from my heart to yours,


P.S.: For some other resources on dealing with fear* check out:

  1. Brené Brown: If you just want a 10-minute fix and a chance to laugh, here’s one of my favorite clips from her speech at the World Domination Summit. The ultimate victory over fear is to be able to choose vulnerability, to risk your heart in the face of it. If you’re not familiar with her research, consider watching Brené’s 19-minute TED talks focused on vulnerability and shame. They get at the heart of fear as well. I’ve also just started reading her latest book Daring Greatly and it’s amazing. If you’re already a fan, check out this recent interview with Jonathan Fields of The Good Life Project.
  2. Danielle LaPorte’s Making New Mind Grooves: A Discussion about the Neuropathways that are steering your life. This is a great way to train your brain out of its habits of worry or negativity. She also recently wrote about love and having a gentle heart, yet building a fence around it. You don’t have to let everyone in. That one resonated with me as I balance compassion with self-care.
  3. Hay House World Summit: This is a free online summit that started yesterday. You’ll be able to hear 30+ speakers online on a range of topics. I believe that for $7.00, you’ll have anytime access to 100+ speakers. (Registration fees go to their nonprofit.)

Finally, you can follow Pam Teaney Thomas on Twitter @PamTeaneyThomas

*Items one and two contain an occasional well-placed swear word in case you are sensitive about that. Stick with the content, it’s going to make you feel worlds better.