"There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." -Leonard Cohen
My words organically emerged in the world at my toddler son’s bedside in an ICU burn unit.
I was 36 weeks pregnant with a baby who had a life-threatening birth defect needing surgery, and a four-year-old at home who had been standing beside her brother when a pot of boiling water came crashing down.
A mom of almost three, contractions were pulling hard at my body and resolve. Each wave of pain brought me deeper into fear, where my rumination threatened the onset of labor - a physical shift that would have made a bad situation even worse.
Standing at the precipice of all I was not strong enough to endure, I pleaded with God about the well-being of my children. Then I picked up my phone and started writing to fight the despair I felt.
Those words became an email I sent to friends asking for support in a situation I couldn't handle alone. Then I crawled into the hospital bed to snuggle my boy in his morphine induced sleep, for I was helpless to do anything else but show up with love.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of growth.
My vulnerable cry for help was met with an outpouring of support so vast, I eventually created a blog simply to keep well-wishers in the loop. Through a month-long ordeal, I wrote about the daily struggle of managing a toddler’s pain, and my concern about the baby in my womb being monitored for induction at any moment. Those entries laced with truth about the fear, sadness, and frustration I felt alongside the abundant blessings and joy I actively sought in hardship carried me to the miracle we all prayed for: I remained pregnant through the two surgeries that saved my boy’s life, and the baby was born not needing immediate surgery.
My intention was to carry on in the aftermath of a hard experience with nothing short of the gratitude I felt for our best-case scenario outcome. But I was postpartum with an infant facing surgeries, and a toddler burn survivor needing constant care. My oldest was lost somewhere in that shuffle, desperate for more attention than I could give her. An accident in the heart of our home had shaken me to the core, making the ordinary task of cooking a challenge. When I wasn’t trying to shield and protect my family from the minefield of danger that haunted me, I was warding off comments about the “disgusting” nature of burn scars, while dodging judgments as a mom who had failed at the very basic task of keeping her kid safe.
Desperate to right the wrong, to hide the pain, to be “safe” and go back to “normal” again, I stopped writing and set out to fix it.
But that quest was swiftly defeated by a doctor’s insistence that, “Scars are ugly.” He told me I was lucky my boy was alive, and there was nothing more I could do for him. Instead, I needed to accept his scars along with the negative societal view of flaws.
So ensued my downward spiral of despair within our perfectionistic society. Hopeless, I wallowed in the darkness of shame until the day my boy asked me to take his “ouchies” away.
Scars are beautiful.
That little voice with a big request was striking, because through the surgeries and general discomfort that comes with burn injuries, there was rarely a complaint. He accepted treats for the suffocating compression garment he wore 23 hours of the day and quietly watched his favorite shows as I massaged his tender skin. While every fiber of my maternal being wanted to wave a magic wand and make it better, I couldn't numb the pain with another vanilla ice cream cone, so I said, “I'm sorry I can’t take your ouchies away. But your scars mean you were brave once, and brave is beautiful.”
Those words slipped out of my mouth before I could censor the boldness of my claim, and his immediate relief illuminated the new path I was suddenly on. With the promise that his scars were beautiful came the realization that I needed to believe the same of own scars, the ones I could continue hiding within the depths of my soul.
For the boy I couldn’t “fix” who had to face the world with scars we so deeply believe are ugly, I made it my mission to write my story brave and every scar I carry beautiful.
Courage is gathered.
My healing journey began when I picked up a pen and let my words flow as ugly as I felt. Then I wrote it all again, in search of moments I was "strong enough" in a plot I was powerless to define. Each new draft was a just little brighter than the last, and eventually, I began sharing:
About leaving my performing career to study wellbeing, my (failed) experiment in applying the science of positive psychology to the real-world, and how I rose from shattered expectations.
The complicated nature of wellbeing in our modern world, the need for a holistic approach to resilience, and how I healed in the aftermath of adversity.
Navigating daily emotional extremes from snuggles to tantrums, along with postpartum anxiety, pregnancy loss, and how I grew through my experience as a mom.
The whirlwind experience of expat life in Asia with little kids, the time we lived among the majestic Tetons in Wyoming, and how I flourished on a journey into the unknown.
The miracles I witnessed through 8 pregnancies and 5 birth experiences, and how I created a life worth living.
I blogged, shared on social media, published articles, and leaned into the discomfort of writing so openly with the hope that my words could help just one. Ultimately, I felt my healing come full circle with every connection I made by owning my story per the work of Brené Brown. Indeed, loving myself through that process is the bravest thing I've ever done.
Word-by-word, or “Bird by bird,” as Anne Lamott’s literary wisdom assured me through countless bad first drafts and many years, I wrote my way from struggle to hope - where scars are beautiful, in the space of wholeness I work to maintain.
To be Well-nourished, Hopeful, Open, Loving, and Engaged are pathways that helped me to rise, to heal, to grow, to flourish, and to create a life worth living. I introduce this framework of hope in my Whole Notes on sacred creativity - where my stories reveal a journey of faith that led to my stewardship of 99 Messages from God, a book you can find here.
Alicia Assad, MAPP, is a mom of five writing about hope and the process of sacred creativity behind her forthcoming memoir, WHOLE: The Artistry of Faith.
Alicia's work is the synergy of a devoted spiritual practice, her experience as a professional dancer, and studies of happiness at University of Pennsylvania, where she was one of the first 100 students to earn a Master of Applied Positive Psychology.
As Miss New Jersey, Alicia was the youngest contestant in the Miss America 2002 Pageant and recipient of the Overall Elegance & Lifestyle award. A former Radio City Rockette & Wilhelmina Fitness Model, she earned a BS in Arts Administration and Dance Minor at Wagner College. She is certified in Pilates, Health Coaching, Reiki & and Colour Therapy. A two-time runner of the NYC Marathon, she is a practitioner of yoga, meditation, and various energy healing traditions.
After moving from New York, to Hong Kong, to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and back to New York again, Alicia feels blessed to live at La Suvera Farm, where she cultivates land to nurture others alongside her husband, children, rescue dogs, and farm animals.
“If you are seeking someone to guide you in your quest for purpose, balance, ritual or simply exploring the many roles you play as a woman - Alicia is your dream weaver and coach.”
-Kristin Gregory Meek, Founder & CEO WYLD Leadership
“In my mind’s eye, Alicia, is one of the leading voices around motherhood, a Goddess.”
-Elaine O'Brien, PhD
“Alicia's posts are like sacred script. I hang on every word. And they ring as true now as I mother my older children as they do for those in the newborn stage.
Astounding, profound, inspiring.”
-Tracey Clark, Author, Photographer, Teacher
“Alicia is the Prose Laureate of Motherhood.”
-Eleanor Chin, MAPP, CEO Clarity Partners Coaching & Consulting