Sedona, a sacred place to ground, connect and write a book.

How Writing a Book Helped Heal My Biggest Fear

I’ve arrived back home in Austin after spending the entire month of March in Sedona on a sabbatical. My intention for doing this was to write my book. A process I started over 2 years ago in March 2020. During that time, I wrote over 70,000 words of a manuscript that, in all honesty, resembled a bucket of vomit in the form of words. I struggled immensely with the process of writing this book, especially early on, frequently feeling overwhelmed and consistently confronted with deep seated limiting beliefs. The main of which was the belief that I wasn’t a good writer and would never write a book.

You may be wondering, why would I try and write a book if I thought it an impossibility? Well, at first, I told myself that I had a story to share, which is true, but upon further reflection, I’ve realized, the main reason I’ve decided to write a book, is to prove to myself that anything is possible, even those things that at one point seemed otherwise.

When I say I thought writing a book was, for me, impossible. I don’t mean I thought it’d just be a fun challenge. Or simply the next phase of my career as a writer. I mean, I thought it was literally impossible. Why? 

Well, let me explain where I was at just 4 years ago. I couldn’t even write in a journal. That’s right!  I was so debilitated by the fear of what someone might think if they read it, I couldn’t even write in a personal journal. Where did this fear come from? Well, you’ll have to read the book to get the whole story but it basically comes down to my deepest fear - the fear of being seen.

I’ve been navigating this fear my entire life and over the past few years, I’ve really come to a deeper understanding of where it originated. Partly because of my religious upbringing. Growing up in an evangelical christian church, I was always taught that I was a sinner, and this created a deep story of unworthiness and shame. But as I’ve dived deeper, I’ve come to realize that this fear is intimately tied to my relationship with my parents, specifically my Dad.

As a kid, I remember all I wanted from my father was for him to teach me about life, to show me how things were done, to model to me what it means to be a man. But, when I’d come to him for advice, or with a question, he’d never seem to satisfy my curiosity. I was told to pray, or read the Bible, and turn to Jesus for support. When I came to my father with questions about spirituality, it wasn’t received well. As christians, we just didn’t question our beliefs. Curiosity, it seemed, was how the devil made its way into our minds. At least, that’s what I was told. And when I came to my father with questions about girls or sex, well, you probably understand how that went. I was taught that these things weren’t okay, which developed shame about who I was. I've been dancing with an internal struggle ever since. Because of this, I began to fear being seen for who I was, my curiosity, desires and sexual urges, because it felt unworthy of God's love, but more importantly, it felt unworthy of my fathers love. And so, I stopped going to my father for advice. But the shame continued. Luckily, I found football.

Football provided me with the male role models I deeply desired growing up. It was also the first time I started receiving love and acceptance for being good at something. Even my father gave me more attention when our connection revolved around football. I was hooked. And I wanted more. Football filled so many voids in my life, I decided to dedicate my entire life to the pursuit of excellence at it. On a deeper level, I just wanted to prove to the world that I was worthy of love and desired to feel accepted. That drive was so powerful, in fact, it pushed me to be one of the best athletes in the world, playing on Sundays in the NFL.

But I couldn’t play forever, and walking away from the game took all of the love, acceptance and validation along with it. I didn’t know how I could prove my worth to the world, If I no longer played football. The void that football filled in my life masked the real pain I’d been feeling my entire life. And without football, I needed to go on a journey to discover where that pain actually came from. And that’s the journey I chronicle through my book, “Finding Freedom”.

When I first started writing, I couldn’t access the deeper psychological traumas I was healing from because I was still very much in process. When I received feedback from my first editor, the analogy she used was “your barely dipping your toes in the water.” What she meant by this was I wasn’t going deep enough, I wasn’t being vulnerable enough. On reflection, it was my fear of being seen that held me back. And over the last 6 months, I’ve come to realize that this foundational fear revolves around what my parents would think if I actually shared my truth. I knew I was still in the process of healing, and so, I decided to push pause on writing my book. Until last October, when I visited Sedona for my birthday, and decided it was time to write. I felt like Sedona was calling me.

Mid-February, just weeks before our trip to Sedona, I had a healing session with a woman in Austin. (Her name is Kimmy and she works at KUYA - highly recommended). She helped me access one of the roots of this fear of being seen. It was a 16 yr old part of myself that didn’t feel seen by my father. It was an energy I could feel intensely throughout my body. There was no specific memory, more of an amalgamation of felt experiences of not being enough for my Dad. She guided me into the healing process, and I grieved. It was powerfully healing and cathartic. I felt lighter, clearer and more confident afterwards. But that was only the beginning of the magic.

When I arrived in Sedona, I was ready to write. I’d been preparing for weeks leading up to this experience. And it wasn’t in the form of writing or brainstorming about the book. I knew there was an immense amount of blocked energy, which could potentially lead to doubt, overwhelm and fear of the writing process. And so, instead of allowing the doubt to creep in, I prayed, every day. I meditated and visualized myself holding the finished book in my hand. I asked for ease and flow, and surrendered the rest.

When I finally made it to Sedona, I set up an altar space for spiritual support with a few crystals, candles and trinkets. The first morning I sat down to write, I opened my computer and sat in front of it, staring at the screen. And, I was filled with doubt, worry and overwhelm. I didn’t know where to start. The book was just too much to organize. All the same feelings I felt the first time around flooded my awareness. I started to write, knowing that, eventually, it would all start flowing together.

I wrote for a few days and started to recognize a similar pattern to the previous manuscript I wrote. I felt like I was writing the same stories. I stopped. I felt confused. I was hoping the book would just come to me and my prayers for ease and flow would be answered. But instead, what I got was the same intense, overwhelming feelings of doubt. My fear of being seen, was continuing to hold me back.

The emotions swelled to the surface and I broke down, crying. I felt like I was back at square one. What was this book about? How should I share my story? What’s the message?

Then, one week into our trip, still trying to figure out the direction of my book, my Dad called me out of the blue.

My phone rang, it was 8:30pm, the screen read “Dad.'' I was thrown off guard. To put this into context, I can’t tell you the last time my Dad rang me out of the blue. We don’t really have a strong relationship. We never call each other to just catch up on life.  I knew there had to be a reason, I was just hoping he wasn’t about to tell me he was terminally ill. We made small talk for a few minutes but then the reason he called finally came to the surface. He had listened to my last podcast on Quantum Coffee - a Solocast titled “Resurrecting Jesus.” Where I intimately shared about my relationship with Christianity growing up and healing my relationship and understanding of who Jesus was and what he was actually here to teach. (The Jesus I’ve come to know and love is radically different then the one I grew up with). I could already tell that my father wasn’t in agreement with what I shared but I asked him what he thought of the podcast anyway. I felt a slight intensity in my nervous system as my heart started to race. He told me his truth - that he thought that I was still lost and searching, obviously disagreeing with my experience. I didn’t take it personally though. I used to. But this time, somehow, it felt different. I felt so clean and in my knowing. My fear has always been that by sharing my truth, I’d be refused love or acceptance. So I’d try and say the right thing, do the right thing, be the right thing. But none of these things were me, they were just the masks I used to receive love and validation. 

Our conversation continued the way it always does, in a circular pattern, trying to share our beliefs around God, the afterlife and whether Jesus was the one true Lord and Savior leading to salvation and eternity in heaven. I used to try and change my Dad's beliefs, but I’ve come to know that's just a losing battle. He gets defensive of his beliefs, usually resulting in an argument. Instead, I held space and we curiously explored his beliefs. 

Upon further reflection, and a desire to get to the base foundation of our disconnect around God, spirituality and life in general, I’ve come to this base foundational difference between our views of reality: my father believes humans (and their experience) to be separate from God, and, I believe humans (and their experience) to be an aspect of God (and therefore united with God, not separate). It’s that simple.

And so we continued our cycle of conversation until my Dad began to get frustrated and uncomfortable, turning the conversation back into small talk, asking me how Luka, my son, was doing.

And then, much to my surprise, he actually got curious about the work I’m doing in the world. He asked me about The Härt Collective, what it was, why I was doing it, and what I was actually providing individuals. He’s never asked me that before or been curious about my purpose after football. And I, because of my fear of being seen, never really knew how to share it with him. But I just started speaking from my heart.

It felt like I was channeling something. The words came out without hesitation. I felt in my power and in my purpose. I knew who I was in that moment, there was no question, all masks were removed. I spoke about fear, grief and gratitude. About the importance of community, and healing. About the importance of feeling and connecting with our emotions and how to process them fully. I was witnessing the words just as much as speaking them. It felt as if they were coming from something higher. A knowing of who I was and what I’m here to do. My Dad just listened intently. And when I was finished, well, I felt a profound sense of freedom. I’d finally spoken my truth, a knowing of who I am, to the man I’d been scared wouldn’t receive me if I did. It was powerful. His response was even more so.

He said, “Joe, I have no idea what you just said,” with a confused but receptive tone. I was actually encouraged by this response. My father is usually combative or disagreeing in his responses. But I could tell, although he didn’t intellectually understand what I’d just shared, it must’ve felt, on some level, true. I responded with “well, it’s actually hard to put into words, it’s more of a felt experience.” And we continued the conversation, exploring it a little bit deeper.

I was quite amazed by this interaction. It felt powerful on many levels. The most profound was allowing myself to be seen in my truth. Not needing to be received or validated or loved. Because I was no longer seeking that love from outside of myself. The journey I’ve taken since retiring from football has been to fill that void in my heart, to reconnect with Self, to reconnect with God. 

The following morning as I opened my computer to start writing, I was astonished when the entire framework for the book came through almost instantly. I spent the entire day writing the outline, the stories I’d tell, and the flow of the book became clear. I knew what I needed to share.

The following two and a half weeks I wrote 40,000 words. The roughest of drafts. But for the first time since I started writing this book over 2 years ago, I knew how to tell my story. There’s still a lot left in the writing process and still some time to see this book through to completion but the bulk of the book has been thrown onto the pottery wheel and now it’s time to shape it into something special.

The fear of being seen was always the reason I decided to write this book, even if I didn’t know it at the time. And it’s fascinating that this book is called “Finding Freedom,” and without it, I wouldn’t have accessed or known the freedom my soul desired. It holds so much more than my story. It’s been the key to my own healing, acceptance and self-love.

There’s still so much more writing to go. But now, for the first time, I can feel myself turning in a manuscript, and I have a knowing that this book is going to be something special. I wanted to shift my belief about being a writer, and it took 4 years, but I can finally, with honesty, say that I feel, in my heart, I’m an author. And, that I actually enjoy writing.

While in Sedona, having lunch with one of my good friends, Melanie, who is also in the process of writing her own book, she said something profound to me in conversation - writing is art! How can you mess up art? It’s your creation.. somehow that gave me permission to create and stop judging myself or my writing. I’ve got a story to tell and it’s about time I start telling it! This is only the beginning. We’re just getting started! 

What story are you telling? 

What belief do you want to shift? 

With love and gratitude, 

Joseph Hawley 

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