Sherry Danner is an amazing woman, who has lived life. She has certainly entered the arena of courage by sharing both her accomplishments and her challenges. Sherry has just launched Nurturing the Light Inside, a beautiful combination of self-help/memoir (known as a hybrid in the literary world) that I am certain will help many women who have or are dealing with addiction, codependency, the harmful effects or trauma, and/or difficult or toxic relationships. By telling her story, Sherry makes it easier for others to shine a light onto theirs, to come out of hiding and lose their shame.
Please join Sherry and me as we talk about her life experiences and her journey of healing and self-love and acceptance.
(The interview took place before Sherry’s book launched. It is currently available!!!!)
Sherry: My book’s almost here. It’s been a long time coming!
Diane: How does it feel?
Sherry: Surreal, but exciting. In the midst of everything going on in the world, I think I have it in very good perspective.
Diane: Tell us where you’re living these days.
Sherry: I’m in Kansas. I grew up in Wichita and then lived in the Kansas City area for about 25 years. Two years ago, I moved back near Wichita where my parents still live in the house I grew up. I wanted to be close, but not right there.
Diane: I get it! I loved your book, Sherry!
Sherry: Thank you!
“As a Therapist, You Don’t Tell Your Own Story … But Part of My Life Story Was About Hiding”
Diane: It’s wonderful—and so personal. Can you tell us about the process, what made you think of writing it, how you came to write it, the whole nine yards?
Sherry: Sure. As you know, I was a therapist for 10 years. As a therapist, you don’t tell your own story very often. You’re there to help others with their stories, which I’ve loved. But part of my life story was about hiding, and I realized that for my own evolution I needed to examine how I was still hiding. So, I stepped away from therapy and changed to coaching, which is a slightly different modality.
That coincided with my love of writing and being a lifetime journal writer. I had this idea that I could just write but then when I tried, I discovered that it was extraordinarily difficult—for me anyway.
Diane: The idea of writing is lovely, right?
Sherry: It is! If you don’t actually do it, then you can think it’s easy. But then you do it, and through the process of writing, especially if you’re writing about your own experiences, two things happen. One, you learn more about yourself, and two, you have an incredible new challenge ahead of you….
Diane: So, you realized you were hiding, you wanted to figure it out, and you thought that doing that through writing might be a wonderful way. How did this coincide with your moving, with your going to the MFA program?
“I Noticed I Was Doing the Thing I Always Do, Which Is Help Everybody Else Do the Thing I Want To Do”
Sherry: It all came at once. I felt the need to step away from the identity I had created in that space. I was a therapist in a community I loved but felt tied to an old identity. So, I moved, gave up my therapy practice, changed to online coaching, and enrolled in the MFA program in Antioch all at the same time.
Sherry: It was a huge leap. It all came together. I realized that I had been encouraging my clients to write and it was helping them so much. Then I noticed that I was doing the thing that I always do, which is help everybody else do the thing I want to do.
Diane: Isn’t that so much easier to live through them?
Sherry: I needed to honor myself, too. That was a real turning point for me. It opened up everything.
Diane: It’s very courageous to come out of hiding, my dear.
Sherry: That is correct.
Diane: I can totally relate. You had several addictions going on, right?
Sherry: That’s right.
Diane: The codependency, you talk a lot about. I want to unpack it because it’s such a word.
Sherry: Sure. But first, I’d like to clarify that the alcohol addiction I write about in the book is from the time before I was a therapist. The hiding was my decision not to share that I was recovering from alcoholism. That was a good choice for me at the time because I really wasn’t sure how to share the particular method that worked for me in dealing with my addiction. It was too confusing, so I just didn’t share it.
“It Felt Like a Beautiful Responsibility and An Allegiance to Not Being Silenced”
Diane: Yeah, that’s a whole other thing. But I have a question, do you think that an addiction is a way to hide as well?
Sherry: Of course. Absolutely. It is by nature hiding, by definition.
Diane: How did you come out of hiding?
Sherry: Other female writers were coming out with their stories about shame, and that inspired me. I wanted to be a part of that revolution. I realized that if anything was ever going to change, we hiders would need to come forward and share.
It felt like a beautiful responsibility and an allegiance to not being silenced. I’m a fan of Glennon Doyle. When I read Love Warrior, I was really changed by it because she was so raw in her way of coming out of hiding. I related to her. Her writing about her shame made me feel so much less alone. Then I thought, if we can do that for each other by sharing our stories, I think we need to do it.
Diane: So, coming out of hiding is not only healing you but also healing others.
Sherry: Exactly, which is how it works. When we are willing to do our own healing, that automatically impacts whomever we reach, in whatever way we reach them.
Diane: Before you came out of hiding, you were helping other people heal through your therapy practice. But this, I would imagine feels powerful in a different way.
Diane: Can you talk a little bit about the approach you took to deal with your alcohol addiction? I think it’s fascinating.
“There’s a Difference Between the Brain, Which Is a Physical Entity, and the Mind”
Sherry: I do, too. It’s so different from what we hear typically.
Diane: What’s it called?
Sherry: Rational Recovery.
Diane: How does it work for you? What are some of the issues with talking about a different approach? Because AA is like the word of God, right?
Sherry: It is. AA and 12-step programs are considered the gold standard. I tried AA for many years but never found the freedom from my addiction in the way I was seeking. I don’t believe that’s the fault of the program. For whatever reason, it wasn’t the right fit for me. I had discovered Rational Recovery when I was in my 20s and read the book. I did find temporary freedom back then, and even though I lost it, I never forgot the feeling. That freedom was what I was seeking for the next decade. It eluded me until I returned to Rational Recovery, which ultimately did work for me.
Diane: Could you just tell us a little bit about what that is?
“The Mind Is Where Our Spirit Lives, Our Humanness”
Sherry: Sure. Rational Recovery is based on understanding how the brain works in relationship to the mind.
There’s a difference between the brain, which is a physical entity, and the mind, which is where the spiritual part of us resides. Because we have a mind, we can think about our own brain. This is what makes us different from animals. A dog has a brain but no capacity to consider its own brain.
The mind is where our spirit lives—our humanness. Rational Recovery is about understanding how addiction lives in the brain. It’s about becoming aware of the interaction between the evolved mind and the drives of the primitive part of the brain. I’m not used to talking about it, but this is how I describe it, apparently. This may not be how it’s described in the Rational Recovery book, but this is how I think about it now.
Diane: It makes a lot of sense.
Sherry: It’s not too different from cognitive behavioral therapy or rational emotive behavioral therapy, where you become more aware of thoughts and feelings and how to observe and interact with them. It’s similar to mindfulness. But for me, Rational Recovery has a much more complex component. Addiction is so dark, and it takes you away from your humanity, especially addiction to mind-altering substances. My addiction to food, which, of course, also has brain-altering aspects, doesn’t impact my judgment like alcohol does.
My alcohol addiction was very dark, and now I’m committed to living in the light, which my mind helps me do now. So, do you see how this has nothing to do with 12 steps?
“My Mind Can Observe the Thought and say, ‘Oh, I Notice That the Addicted Part of My Brain Wants a Drink. I, Sherry, Do Not.”
Sherry: The two don’t work together well. In fact, in many ways they oppose each other in fundamental theory.
Diane: Can you paint a scene? You want that drink, then what happens?
Sherry: I become aware that the part of my brain that has an addiction to alcohol wants a drink.
Diane: How do you tell your mind that and get your mind to separate?
Sherry: My mind is not that part of the brain. My mind can observe the thought and say, “Oh, I notice that the addicted part of my brain wants a drink. I, Sherry, do not.” My mind has the capacity to see through to the end of that story in an instant—to understand the consequences.
Diane: Got it. It seems like once you made that distinction, it really clicked for you.
Sherry: It clicked in theory, and then as any practice requires, you have to make it a part of your life. You have to experience it over and over again.
Diane: You have to practice, right? That’s why they call it a practice.
Sherry: Yeah, it becomes a practice like yoga, or AA. It’s the exact same principle. You don’t just get it and you’re done. You practice it intentionally until it becomes a part of who you are.
Diane: Is it still a challenge for you when it comes to alcohol?
Sherry: No, it’s not a challenge anymore. I’ve developed a high awareness about any thought that has anything to do with alcohol. I need this awareness for my own survival. My awareness raises instantly, then I go into my mode of recognition. Once I recognize what’s going on in my own head, it’s not hard to pass on the idea of a drink because the consequences are easy to distinguish as being not worth the high.
“With Food, There’s the Body Shame”
Diane: Once you go into the recognition, it’s easier for you.
Sherry: It’s solved immediately actually, once you recognize it. That’s all it takes. But again, that’s the practice over time.
Diane: How is that different from food?
Sherry: Well, food is different because I need food to survive. So any thought about food isn’t something that I necessarily can just say, “Oh, no. I’m done with that.” It’s more complex. It requires more mind/brain interaction because I have to make decisions about food constantly. With alcohol, the decision is already made. It’s done.
Decisions about food continue forever, and that’s harder for me.
Diane: It’s a tough one for a lot of us.
Sherry: Yes, it sure is. It’s ongoing.
Diane: And like with all addictions, shame is a huge part.
Sherry: Oh, yes.
Diane: Then with the food, there’s the body shame.
Sherry: That’s right.
Diane: It sucks, right?
Sherry: I think that is well said. It sucks.
It’s tragic, it’s tragic for women.
Men have other tragedies regarding shame and pressure, and I’m not discounting those in any way, but for women this focus on the body and on how the body looks and what it can do for people or how it serves, that complicates our ability to understand our worth.
Sherry: It sucks with all capitals.
Diane: Could you imagine if every minute that every woman has spent beating herself up because of what she ate and how she looks, if all that energy was devoted to something different, how the world would be …
Sherry: Exactly. Which is why I love that we’re talking about it more, we’re writing about it more. There’s so much activity now in the culture that’s saying, “Enough!”
“My Goal Is for Women to Read My Stories and Think About Their Own”
Diane: Would you describe your book as a memoir? As self-help? Where would we find it in the bookstore?
Sherry: It’s actually a memoir with self-help components. The first section is stories, essays. It’s not a typical memoir and not a chronological storytelling. I wanted to capture specific elements of my story and put those forward, and I wanted to model that you don’t have to write a whole book to tell a story, so I did it in essays. Then after each essay, there are questions because my goal is for women to read my stories and think about their own stories.
Diane: I love the questions, by the way.
Sherry: I am so glad! The goal is to get people thinking and writing and sharing and releasing their own shame.
Diane: By the time this interview posts, the book will have been out for a few months.
Are you terrified?
Sherry: Not anymore. That’s the perspective that I was mentioning. This is so not a big deal in the scope of things, and I’ve also spent a lot of time doing work to prepare. I feel very ready.
Diane: That’s wonderful. Because I know for me, when I write, I’m compelled to write about my shit, because it helps me. Then I also feel that sharing it makes people feel less alone. I have, since I was a little girl, looked to literature for company and validation and healing. But if I put something really personal out there, and it gets accepted, I have anxiety attacks after.
Sherry: But I think that’s part of it. Here’s the thing, I have read what you’ve written and it does create an incredible feeling in me of being less alone. So, I thank you for being willing to tolerate that anxiety for me to get to feel less alone.
Diane: Thank you.
“Do the Best You Can, Work as Hard as You Can, and Then Put It Out There and Let It Be”
Diane: Your book definitely does that.
Sherry: I’m so glad.
Diane: The reason I love the questions is that they prompt us to see, make the connections more tangible, more conscious. When you see somebody else who’s come to the other side, it’s very hopeful.
Sherry: Well, you’ve just validated everything for me, in terms of what I hoped to do. If people come away and say the questions were their favorite part, I would be thrilled. Because that is the point.
Diane: But your stories give the questions their meaning, if that makes any sense.
Sherry: I understand, and that’s why I wrote them. I know this isn’t great literature. I learned how to write so I could tell a story well enough that someone could feel something about themselves. The questions are really the heart of the book, I think.
Diane: But it is well written, don’t sell yourself short.
Sherry: Thank you. I appreciate that. That was a good catch! That was part of my coming out in this process, too—being at peace with a B. Not going for the A+ and thinking that if it can’t be perfect, then I shouldn’t do it at all. That’s my point with this book, too. Just do the best you can, work as hard as you can, and then put it out there and let it be.
“To Be Validated That You Did the Best You Could in the Moment and That Was Plenty Is So Healing”
Diane: That’s the other thing—perfectionism and the shame that brings.
So, your stories. The first is about a sexual assault. I find it fascinating how, when we have a story that there is objectively nothing to be ashamed of, we carry the shame for other people.
We have to stop that, ladies.
Sherry: We do. We sure do. So how do you think we stop it?
Diane: I can only speak for me. I think bringing it out into the light, taking the risk to share it, once you do that, you realize, “I’m still alive.” Because shame can feel like a life or death thing.
Sherry: Bringing it into the light, whatever that is for you. But ideally, you need another human being to be witness, to say it out loud and be received with empathy. That’s where the healing happens.
Diane: Yes. First you can say it out loud and not die, it can feel that powerful, and then to be received and heard and valued.
Sherry: That’s right. Validated for whatever you did or didn’t do or feel or say. The shame usually is about what we think we should have done differently, and to be validated that you did the best you could in the moment and that was plenty is so healing.
Diane: Let’s unpack the codependency word.
Sherry: I wrestled with putting that word in the title because I know that some people struggle with the term, or outright dislike it.
But I decided, I’m just going to put it out there and claim it, define it in a way that I find helpful and not shaming. For me, codependency is about undervaluing the self in relationships to the degree that you sacrifice your own wellbeing.
“Many of Us Reach a Certain Point and Realize That All the Things We Felt Promised Never Came”
There’s also a component of giving to get. We codependents tend to give as way of getting a sense of our own worth. Most of us hit a certain age and realize that strategy isn’t working at all.
We become emotionally depleted and notice that we never got back what we were giving out. We thought all that giving would come back to us eventually but realize it wasn’t reciprocated and a lot of resentment has built up.
Women are conditioned to do this. That’s why I wrote the book. I feel like the messages we get as women are to be compliant and pleasing and accommodating and giving and selfless, and that if you do that, you’ll be taken care of and loved and get security and get all the things that we feel promised. But many of us reach a certain point and realize that all the things we felt promised never came, or they were fleeting. It feels so empty. That’s when we can begin to look inward and rediscover what was lost along the way when we neglected ourselves. Then something beautiful emerges.
Diane: Part of codependency has a feeling of addiction to me.
Because it’s a way not to look at your own stuff.
A way to hide.
Sherry: I’ve noticed that some people who struggle with codependency push the idea away in the same way that people who struggle with addiction push that word away. But if you start looking at what codependency really is, it’s about a struggle to live authentically. It’s all about shame.
Addiction and codependency go together because both are about hiding. Addicts use substances and behaviors to hide, codependents use other people to hide. I did both for a long time.
Diane: When I was reading your book, I kept saying, “I have to tell her my favorite saying that I want to get tattooed along the inside of my arm. “You can change yourself, others you can only love.” Isn’t that amazing?
“I Wanted to Learn How to Write a Book That Others Might Actually Want to Read”
Sherry: That’s amazing. It’s beautiful and true and is very much a theme in my book—the theme of developing self-love, turning inward and trying to develop a sense of self so that you can be present with other people and share all that love.
Diane: You can’t change anybody else. That’s a hard lesson.
Sherry: It’s so hard.
Diane: But it’s so liberating once you get it.
Sherry: That’s where freedom lies, that’s so true.
Diane: So, how long did it take you to write the book? Did you self-publish?
Sherry: I’m self-publishing. That was my goal when I entered the Antioch program. I wanted to learn how to write a book that others might actually want to read.
Diane: You went into the MFA knowing that you wanted to do this?
Sherry: Yes, 100%.
Diane: That must have felt good, right? Because some of us, we were just directionless.
Sherry: What I found interesting was that I entered an MFA program, which is really about the art of writing literature, and I was trying to write a hybrid that was also self-help. Self-help as a genre isn’t exactly revered in the artistic community.
Diane: I think we use memoir for self-help.
Sherry: I think so too, but when I was trying to figure out how to categorize my book, weaving in instruction based on my clinical training was a challenge.
Diane: You did a great job with it.
“Coaching Is About Meeting You Where You Are Right Now and Helping You Work Through a Present Situation”
Sherry: Oh, thank you. It took two years to write the book, but I wrote the second half, which is more self-help, in about six months. I thought I was going to weave it in, but the early feedback I got was that the stories left some questions that I needed to answer. So the second half of the book is answering some of those questions.
Diane: It works really well.
Diane: What are you doing for marketing?
Sherry: I haven’t done much yet. I’m giving myself time, not pressuring myself too much. With a self-published book, you can do whatever you want.
With traditional publishing, you need to have a big launch and hit it hard in the beginning. But I wrote my book as an outreach of my coaching business. I wanted people who might want to work with me individually to have a sense of who I am and what I do, so that there would be a fit.
Diane: Tell us about your coaching.
Sherry: Coaching is about meeting you where you are right now and helping you work through a present situation. I love to do that—to help people move forward in their relationships with themselves and with others. I tend to be very good at helping people figure out what to say and how to say it. That’s one of my favorite things. I think that’s where empowerment lies, when there’s something that we feel like we want or need to say to someone important and we find the courage to do it.
Diane: So, if somebody says, “I need to tell my boss …” you’ll help them with that?
“The Boundaries I Help People with Are the Ones That Are Very High Risk”
Sherry: Yeah. I totally could. More often though it’s “My husband isn’t hearing me.”
Or “My adult son wants to move back home.”
The boundaries I help people with are the ones that are very high risk, because they’re with people they care about a lot so that creates a lot of fear. It sparks our fear of abandonment, our fear of rejection, and so we stay silent. My work is helping people become more authentic in their relationships, and that requires the courage to be honest.
Diane: So, are you a relationship coach?
Sherry: I don’t call myself a relationship coach because people tend to think it means that I work with couples. I did that for many years, but now I work with individuals on relationship issues and setting healthy boundaries.
Diane: Wonderful. You do it, with the pandemic?
Sherry: That’s right. I jumped on the Zoom idea before it became part of our national conversation. I believe that certain coaches are meant for certain people, and that’s not a proximity issue. I wanted my coaching practice to be available nationally because the coaches that have helped me the most have not been local. I chose them because they had the specific expertise and approach that worked for me. I’ve benefited from coaches all over the country. I love the idea of finding a coach because that person is the right fit, not because we happened to live in the same city.
Diane: That’s wonderful, that’s great. What’s your practice like?
“I Love the One-on-One. That’s Where Profound Transformation Occurs”
Sherry: Right now, I do one-on-one coaching only, but I’m interested in exploring other ways of teaching online. I’m not sure what that looks like yet. I wanted to write the book and see how people respond. If they respond to certain aspects of the book, then my coaching focus may move more in that direction.
Diane: That’s wonderful. Isn’t it great not to know?
Sherry: I love it.
Diane: I do, too. I think that’s a freedom of growing older, that we can tolerate not knowing.
Sherry: Letting it become.
Diane: Just embracing not knowing and knowing that you never know. Right?
Sherry: That’s right. I knew I was supposed to write the book. That was clear to me, and I’m in a moment now where I’m waiting to see where the book leads me.
Diane: You don’t have a specific what’s next kind of thing? Or do you?
Sherry: Well, I have a general idea. I want to continue coaching. I love it, love the one-on-one. That’s where profound transformation occurs—when you trust someone to come into your inner world. That’s so powerful. I love doing that. But I’d love to explore how I might help others in terms of writing, too. Wide open.
Diane: Wonderful. I think as we grow older, the adventures available to us are just so rich.
Sherry: That’s so right. I love your blog because it reminds me of that every time. That’s not the cultural message, so we need those places that remind us, “Oh, my gosh. This is the best time of my life.”
Diane: It is. It may not be the cultural message, but I feel like we know better.
Sherry: That’s true.
“Bring Light to Shame by Sharing It with Someone in a Safe Way”
Diane: We know better. I think more and more women are embracing that, which is such a wonderful thing. Your book, and your examples of big shifts, is so inspiring. Here you are, nurturing the light inside.
Sherry: Thank you so much.
Diane: Do you have any final words for women?
Sherry: Yeah. I would just go back to what you said about shame and not carrying it. Whether it’s something that somebody did to you, or something that you did. Either way, bring light to that shame by sharing it with someone in a safe way. I hope we all continue to do that. It’s very freeing. The energy that goes into hiding is such a tragic waste.
Diane: It sure is.
Sherry: Not just hiding … staying small. That’s where the real tragedy is, I think. Many of us women aren’t hiding so much as we’re staying small. Being a part of changing that in our culture is my real passion. Let’s stop that!
Diane: Absolutely! Nothing worthy in staying small—or hiding! Don’t be afraid to take up space, ladies!!
This has been such a wonderful pleasure for me! Thank you!
Sherry: For me, too. I love talking about this kind of thing with smart women who are out in the world being bold in their own way. In the arena, as Brene Brown would say.
Diane: Yes. The arena. Good old Brene Brown.
Sherry: That’s right. We’ve got to work her into the conversation. Being in the arena and having connections with others who understand the natural anxiety that comes with being brave is so key. But it’s great in the arena! I want to invite everybody to come in.
Diane: It is. There’s enough room for everybody.
Sherry: That’s right. There’s enough room for everybody.
To learn more about Sherry, please visit her website and subscribe to her newsletter: www.nurturedlight.com
And if you want to contact Sherry, here’s her email: [email protected]
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please post a comment or send me an email.
See you October 5th