J: You're listening to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast, episode number 7.
M: So I've been stuck in a pattern of toxic relationships my whole life beginning when… when I was a child.
Intro: Welcome to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast, stories of vibrant women living happy lives. And now, your host, Jen Riday.
J: In our last episode, I spoke with Laura Ball and she shared her story of leaving college at age 18 to go home and care for her 13 year old sister when their parents died. Today, I'm speaking with Melanie Banayat, she is an author, an artist, and a health coach. Melanie shares her story of healing from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and finding a vibrant and happy life today.
I'm so happy to introduce my guest today, Melanie Banayat. Melanie is a certified holistic health coach, an author, and a professional artist. She lives in the beautiful cool pines of Prescott, Arizona. Melanie is the author of an award-winning book titled ‘Stretch Your Brave, Hack Your Story’. Melanie, how are you doing today?
M: I'm really excited to be on your show. This is… this is right in line with things I like to talk about so…
M: …. very good.
J: It's going to be fun. So I've given our listeners just a bit of a taste about you, so take a minute and fill in anything that was missing from that bio.
M: Yeah, so I… I have a lot of stories to tell which is why I wrote that book last year. So I don't know exactly what I could fill in, except that, yeah, probably the… the one story I like to tell has to do with something that's ended up sending me to jail.
J: Oh, let's go right there, I would assume that's related to your low point in life and we like to talk about that. But first, let's back up a tiny bit, we'd love to start our show with a favorite quote or a personal motto, if you want to share that.
M: Sure. Well, several years ago after I was going through my divorce, I across this wonderful little metal bookmark and it says, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage,” and that was like the perfect thing I needed to hear at that time, especially when I was going through such a hard time. And so that stays with me, it's on my desktop all the time and it's just that constant reminder that… that I need to stretch myself a little bit more.
J: You mentioned jail and now, I'm thinking, here you are, you're a successful author and a coach, so clearly that motto has done a lot for you. So let's go ahead and dive into that story of your low point and how you've gotten where you are today from there.
M: Now, see, this was back in 2004, I ended up getting in a domestic fight with my husband; we had been fighting quite a bit. And I had made dinner for the family and I was calling the family in when dinner was ready and I had made this beautiful spread of Mexican food and this gorgeous bowl of guacamole, and in come my kids, they prepare their plates and they head over to the table and my husband comes in and we're still just kind of bickering at each other under… under our breath and… and he was making certain comments to me and it was just this… it was like the button that pushed me over the edge. And there I was standing in front of this bowl of guacamole and I put my hands in the guacamole (Laughs) (I didn't pick up the bowl itself), and I just splattered it all over him.
M: Yeah, it… this is one of the stories that always gets a laugh and it's… it's really kind of funny because it was guacamole, you know?
J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
M: And… and we ended… and the… the big mistake there was that I did this in front of my kids. And we didn't do that, we… we didn't fight in front of our kids, that was just… but… but that night I had lost it, I had just… he ended up calling the police and I… I ended up getting arrested and I have a record of assault over this.
M: And this kicked off this series of events over that following year that, all of a sudden, a ton of things started happening and… and I had very little control over anything. So I found myself what, was it like 8 months later, I was sitting in a therapy session with an art therapist, and… and by this time, I had been in and out of divorce court, in and out of criminal court, and I'm sitting in this session and telling her what had been going on over the last week or so. And we're just sitting there having this conversation, and all of a sudden, I kind of went into like a trance where I… you know, I was just staring off into space and she couldn't get me to snap out of it; she couldn't get me to, you know, just respond to her. I could hear her, but she kind of sounded like she was far away.
M: And… and it lasted for about a minute she said, and then all of a sudden, I just… I snapped out of it and she looked at me and said, “Where were you just now, Melanie?” because I… and I’m like, “I have no idea, that's never happened to me before.”
M: And so she's like, “Well, let's… let's go back to the conversation we were having and see if something triggers… triggered that for you.” And we're talking and nothing's coming to me, like I… I have no idea, I don't know what's going on. And then all of a sudden, I heard it, I heard this sound that was coming from outside her office window, and there was a construction site next to her office and it was the sound that was coming from a dump truck. Now, my husband and I owned a dump truck for our business. It had these metal flaps that they were these extensions that would make the sidewalls taller if you needed more space, and when they weren't in use, they would hit up against the… the other metal part of the truck. And it was that sound that sent me into this trance and what we realized was that it was a post-traumatic stress response.
M: It was a trigger for me. And that was one of those moments where I realized, “Oh my gosh, you know, this is way more serious than I thought!” I know a lot of women who, when they experienced trauma in their life with an emotional abuse and verbal abuse and that sort of stuff, they don't really see it as… as an actual trauma in your life, they… it's a lot of times, you end up taking the blame for a lot of stuff, internalizing things. And I think that's where I was up until that moment when I realized it was way more than… than my fault.
M: You know, so that… that was really my…my lowest point was, you know, realizing that, “What have I gotten myself into?”
J: So you threw the guacamole…
J: … and you were arrested, were you taken to jail that night?
M: I was given the option to either get picked up right (Laughs) by the police and taken in the next day or I could drive myself there because I wasn't… you know, they didn't see me as a threat or anything.
M: Like, I wasn't going to run. So I went in and they took my mug shot and fingerprints. And I was supposed to spend a day in jail, but they… they just kind of looked at me like, “Yeah, we can't do it.” (Laughs)
J: Yeah, oh, good.
M: They actually let me go, that… so I didn't actually go behind bars, but, yeah…
J: Oh, good. Well, so would you be willing to paint a picture of what life was like before the guacamole incident; the things that led up to it?
M: Sure. So it wasn't just that relationship. I mean, that was a 15-year relationship that… that came to an end with… with guacamole, but it was not just that relationship, it was a series of relationships. I've been stuck in a pattern of toxic relationships my whole life beginning when… when I was a child. And, you know, back when I was a kid, I experienced quite a bit of abuse, physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, all of that, and I didn't… you know, when… when you're a kid, you just… you go through it, you survive; you figure out a way to survive it. But then I was stuck in that pattern and ended up getting into a lot of other relationships, it was like a magnet; I was like a magnet for this behavior.
M: And I finally realized at 40 years old that I had lived this long life of toxic relationships, not just this one. So, you know, the… this 15 year relationship was… it's like you know what the truth is, you know what a situation is or something that's going on in a room, and yet you're being convinced that that… that the elephant isn't in the room, when you can clearly see the elephant is in the room, you know?
J: Uh-huh, okay.
M: And so there was a lot of that went on, which ends up… you know, you end up feeling like, “Am I crazy?”
M: You know, “Am I… am I going nuts here?” And so there were no bruises, no broken bones, and… and yet, there was all this trauma that was… you know, this emotional trauma that was going on in my life.
J: So just moving forward, what happens next in the really low point?
M: Well, you know, I… I had… I was working with an art therapist at the time, which was not something I really wanted to do because I was an artist and I found that, during that time, I was unable to paint; I'm a painter. And I had a lot of my artist friends tell me, “Meanie, you should paint your emotions, you know, just let it come out and…” you know, I was like, “Yeah, you're right, I should do that.” And so I… I remember setting up my studio in my apartment and… and I got out the paints and I literally could not do it. And that I ended… I packed everything away, put everything into storage and… and pad locked it.
M: And… and I thought, “I… I will never be able to paint again; I can do this.” And I ended up sitting on my sofa for 2 weeks. I hardly ate, I… you know, I was just kind of in this frozen position, you know, that fight, flight or freeze; I was definitely frozen and… and not functioning well. And so… and so I remember, about that time, I'm… I told my therapist, “When this is all over, I need to take a trip. I need to… I need to get myself in a safe place because I am not in a safe place here. Everywhere I turn in this city, my… my, you know, ex-husband is… is there and giving me all sorts of grief, making things difficult for me,” and… and so I… I said, “That… that's what I want to do. I want… I need to find this safe place for me; I want to take a trip.” It's one of those… it sounds like this really horrible like ridiculous tragic story, and… and it was in many ways, but then and there, you know, it… it wasn't the end of me.
J: Mm-hmm. How… how many years ago was the divorce?
M: The divorce was final in 2005.
J: Oh, so how many years ago was the guacamole incident?
M: That was in 2004.
J: ‘4, okay.
J: So you've had 12 years to slowly begin to heal.
M: Well, I tell you, it took literally about 8 years after that divorce for me to finally be able to say, “I feel like myself again and I feel strong.” It's not an easy thing to… to move through, and… and I'm speaking directly to, you know, these women out there who are experiencing something similar; it's a step by step thing, it's a step by step process.
J: What were some of the components of your healing process? How did you find yourself again and… and feel like yourself again?
M: I had to learn how to trust people again. For me, when… when I mentioned before I needed to find a safe place and I told my therapist, “I… when I… when this is all over, I need to go and… and take a trip someplace and… and create some space where I can breathe and think and… and gather myself up again,” and, for me, that looked like a trip to Mexico for 6 months. And not everybody, you know, gets to do something like that, I realized that, but… but, for me, that was something I ended up doing. I found this little village way down in Mexico called Ajijic in… in Jalisco, Mexico. And I set up an art studio and I painted and I started dancing again and taking… you know, doing a lot of self-care things, exercising, going out and meeting people and trying to understand when I'm meeting someone, that gives me a funky feeling in my gut that that's not a good person for me to have… to be involved with. So I started kind of learning how to trust people and who to trust, just these little tiny steps, I needed to understand my internal signals.
J: That's nice. It's kind of understanding who to trust, I like how you said that part; following that internal signal.
M: Yeah. So then I really started… you know, my safety plan was to… to learn how to stand confident and not be that flashing red light for narcissists (Laughs)…
M: … in the world that says, “Here I am, come take advantage of me.” I learned how to stand tall, how to look confident. And even though I was faking it for a long time, it was very helpful for me and eventually, I wasn't faking it anymore and I did become more confident in myself and I developed really, really awesome relationships with very positive supportive people that was developing that social connection again, not… not isolating anymore. That was a hard thing for me to do. That… the overcoming the social isolation was… and I see that a lot of people these days all into that and isolate themselves from the world; not a healthy thing to do. (Laughs)
J: Mm-hmm, right, we need that connection.
J: So fast-forward, give us the big picture that led to your new marriage and your book.
M: So I ended up moving to a new State and here in Arizona, and which was where I was raised and where my family and friends were, so coming back here was part of that safety plan of mine.
M: And so when I moved here to Prescott, Arizona I… about 6 months after moving here, I'd met my husband, Greg. And that… that relationship was the… the courting period was funny because I just really… he was so different from any other relationship, he did not, you know, fit into that same mold of… of past relationships. And we fell for each other really fast and I said, “Okay, yeah, that scares the crap out of me, I'm not going to go there,” and so… so I was pushing him away. And he proposed marriage to me about a year later and I turned him down, and I explained why, you know, I was like, “Yeah, I'm just not ready for that,” and I'm like, “But I don't want our relationship to end, I'm just not ready for marriage.” He ended up proposing 2 more times I turned him down all 3 times.
J: Oh boy, he was persistent.
M: Oh my god, and very understanding as well. And then after, I don't know, about 4 months or so after his last proposal, after really thinking about if… if, you know, this would be a healthy relationship to get into, I… I called him up and I said, “Does that last proposal have an expiration date? Because… because I want to change my answer.” (Laughs)
J: Aww, that's sweet. (Laughs)
M: So, yeah, we ended up getting married.
J: So you're finally in a relationship that was healthy.
J: What… when did your book become something you wanted to write?
M: Yeah, so I… I became a health coach, you know, my health had taken a turn after my divorce and when I ended up getting rheumatoid arthritis and… which forced me into changing careers from a professional artist and… and I chose to go into health coaching, mainly to really learn how to reverse my own symptoms of my RA, and… and I did, and, you know, I got use of my hands and my feet and my arms, my, you know, joints are functioning perfectly fine now. But that process sent me into health coaching and I started working 1-on-1 with clients. And, of course, because of my story, I did attract a lot of people who have their similar stories to mine… you know, very unique, but kind of that same trauma in their lives and…
M: … and really helped them find their way and realizing how those traumas can… can really impact your health in many ways. So I wanted to put this into a form of a book that could help other people. It's… it's really all interconnected, you know, you don't… you don't have this trauma over here that's… and these relationships that are separate from your spirituality or separate from these relationships, it's all interconnected and all impacting each other. And so that's what… why the title is, you know, to stretch your brave and hack into your story and… and ‘:Break Through Chronic Disease with Storytelling’, not with medications, you know, but dig into that story, let's find out what's really at the root cause of this.
M: And that's how I ended up writing the story or the book which ended up winning an award last year as well. So…
J: Congrats, that's great.
M: Yeah. I mean, to me, this has just become a very important piece of what I want to do in my career now as a health coach, yeah.
J: So I'm curious, you said our traumas, our spiritual and emotional health affect our physical health…
J: How does that… how did that look for you when you were healing your Rheumatoid arthritis? I assume there's also a component of healthy eating and exercise that goes with that.
M: So what I discovered in the process is, I developed a high sensitivity to nightshade vegetables. For those who are not familiar with nightshades, those are things like tomatoes and peppers (all kinds of peppers; sweet peppers, hot peppers), potatoes (not sweet potatoes, but just regular potatoes), and eggplants.
M: After I discovered that, I did nothing about it for another 3 years. I said, “That's not going to happen because I can't do it. I can't live that way.” And finally, my… my RA got so bad and I… and I couldn't paint anymore, I said, “Okay, that's it, I'm going to give this a shot.” And it took a lot of preparation, but I… I did, I removed all those… those foods for my diet and… and literally, it took only about 6 weeks and I… and I recovered the use of my hands. I could close my hands all the way again, all the swelling and my joints went down; I mean, it was not there at all anymore.
M: It just… it brought me to tears, it's like, “Honey, you can't … look, look, look! Look at my hands!” it was very exciting.
J: Mm, I love that. So in your book, ‘Stretch Your Brave Hack Your Story’, what kind of stories would we find included there?
M: You're going to find stories of people who have experienced similar stories to mine, also just like kind of denial about how certain foods are impacting their health because a lot of people just really don't believe that certain foods like gluten for… for instance or wheat allergies and that kind of stuff, there's stories about that. There's stories about how anger and… and how anger end… ends up manifesting into problems with blood pressure and heart disease.
J: Makes sense.
J: So fast-forward to today, what does a vibrant happy life look like for you now?
M: You know, I have a really wonderful social life. I'm very different than… a lot of people… I'm very happy, I have a very active life. My husband and I are very active, we dance, we hike, we're very social, go out and do a lot, very involved with the entrepreneurial women in my community.
J: That's great. Well, so, Melanie, we've reached my favorite part of the show where we talk briefly about a few your favorite things. Are you ready?
M: I am; I hope so anyway. (Laughs)
J: A favorite daily habit that contributes to your success.
M: Saying no when I mean to say no and saying yes when I mean to say yes.
J: That is important advice that we all can continue to work on, isn’t that true? Okay, your favorite easy meal that you love to eat regularly.
M: Okay, this is (Laughs)… this may not be what you guys want to hear, but it's leftovers.
J: Ah, why not? That's brilliant.
J: Favorite current household item.
M: It's my Ergotron Fit.
M: An Ergotron Fit is this contraption that fits on top of my desk…
M: … that my computer sits on and it allows me to stand up and work with my computer or sit down. And because I work at my computer so much, I… I like to stand up so I'm not sitting all the time.
M: Because, as they say, “Sitting is the new smoking,” and so this is my favorite new gadget which I got at Christmastime for myself. (Laughs)
J: Ooh, I might have to look into that.
J: Ergotron Fit. Okay, we will link to that in our show notes, people can go to jenriday.com/7 and see that Ergotron Fit.
J: Okay, so your favorite book that you'd recommend to the Vibrant Happy Women community and why.
M: ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert; fabulous book, it's for creative types like myself.
M: And there are a lot of creative women out there in the world. If you… if you have not read this, it is such a wonderful different point of view about how to be a creative person out in the world.
M: So she… if you want to do it as a professional whether you're making a living at it or not, she just has such a brilliant way of putting a new spin on old thought processes that creative people have. Limitations…
M: … and she just kind of just steps right over those and says, “Yeah, we don't need that anymore, here's a new way; here's a new way of looking at it,” it’s fan… it's brilliant, fantastic.
J: ‘Big Magic’ okay, we'll check that out. What's the best advice you've ever received?
M: To go on the trip.
J: That began all your healing and…
J: Looking back at your life so far, share your happiest moment.
M: Honestly, it was when I stood up in court and I chose to speak up and use my voice for the first time to protect myself and my son and I won.
M: And to turn around and look at the relief that my son felt in that moment, that was like one of the best happiest moments of my life that I stood up for myself; I no longer was taking the abuse.
J: Ooh, that's… that gave me chills; that's great. Our final but most important question, if you had to create a formula of actions that help you maximize your happiness, what would that include?
M: To always take time to assess and evaluate your personal truths, what's really going on in your life right now, because if you're… if you're off course, you need to really assess and evaluate where you are and get yourself back on that course. And to make sure that you're really addressing your emotions, whether they need to be released somehow, what… in whatever way works for you, and really learning how to then regulate your emotions and always have some sort of safety plan in your… in your, you know, daily life of have… which includes having healthy boundaries around yourself and having really healthy relationships; not isolating yourself.
M: Those 3 things are key to keeping my life moving forward and feeling well.
J: Thank you so much for sharing those. I'm so glad you've been on the show, I know what you've shared is really going to influence a lot of our listeners. And let's leave now with a final parting challenge from you to our listeners and then we'll say goodbye.
M: To stretch your brave and speak the thing that is limiting inside of you right now. Whatever that is, let it come out and let that come out with someone who you trust; someone who is safe.
J: Hmm, stretch your brave and speak it out with someone you trust.
J: Beautiful. Melanie, thank you so much for being on the show and I wish you all the best.
M: Thank you, Jen, I really appreciate it.
J: Take care.
M: Thank you.
J: Melanie wanted to leave you with a free guide that she has created, it's called ‘Sweet undoing’ and it's a 12 step guide to help you unravel the real source of your cravings. To get that go to jenriday.com/7 and we've left you a link for that in the resources area; again, jenriday.com/7. Join me next time as I speak with Sue Lachman, an international speaker and spiritual teacher from Israel. Sue is also a mom of 5 children, 2 of whom have Down syndrome. I'll see you then, talk to you soon. Bye-bye.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast at www.jenriday.com.