on returning to herself
You may know Caroline Donofrio from her various editorial projects, her novel series for children, Best Babysitters Ever, or her co-writing credits on numerous books by notable people. We know her best from an event we co-hosted in Brooklyn circa 2018. It was summer and we were celebrating the one year anniversary of Healers at our favorite neighborhood shop, Jill Lindsey. Caroline attended with some mutual friends and it was there that we learned of our shared interest in all things healing. When we decided to relaunch this series, she was atop our list of women to profile and her interview does not disappoint.
Whether you are starting your healing journey or years into the process, Caroline has been in your shoes—as recently as this morning. Her grounded insights and connection to spirit will feel instantly comforting.
When did you know that you needed to live differently?
Honest answer? This morning! Healing is a never-ending journey of checking in with yourself. It’s asking, “Where am I right now? How am I feeling? What do I need? What small things can I do to bring myself back into alignment?” And then trying to answer those questions without judgment. Lately, like many of us in the year 2020, I haven’t been doing so hot. But the first step is looking at that as objectively as possible, and then trying to assess what I need.
The first time I became conscious of needing to make a shift was around a decade ago, in my mid-twenties. Externally, I had a job that I hated, a relationship that wasn’t working, and I felt stuck. Internally, I had insomnia, chronic joint pain, depression, anxiety. I was that girl who low-key cried on the subway on my way into work every morning, hoping no one would notice. One day, I came down with a flu-like illness that lasted for months.
I was that girl who low-key cried on the subway on my way into work every morning, hoping no one would notice.Caroline Donofrio
What is the first step you took towards making that shift?
The first step—a decade ago and also this morning—was to practice self-kindness. Whenever I find myself struggling, I try to take a step back. With a bit of distance, I can stop labeling my feelings as “good” and “bad,” and instead welcome them as clues to what I need.
With distance, I could also see that most of the choices I had made in my life, both macro and micro, were to please other people, often at the expense of my own well-being. The shift in attitude came first. From there, a whole host of lifestyle changes followed. Overscheduling is not being kind to myself, so I started saying no to things I wasn’t interested in or didn’t have the bandwidth for. Eating foods that my body rejects is not being kind to myself, so I limited those ingredients. Internalizing other people’s energy is not being kind to myself, so I worked to create emotional boundaries. Placing everyone else’s priorities above my own is not being kind to myself, so I tried to create space for the things that make me feel alive. (To be perfectly honest, I still struggle with this one. All the time. Old habits die hard and you need to pay the bills, you know?) Discovering that you can say no to something without needing to offer a detailed, apologetic explanation was a revelation to me.
With distance, I could see that most of the choices I had made in my life were to please other people, often at the expense of my own well-being.
How did your life change after you started your healing journey?
Well, it didn’t happen overnight — they call it a journey for a reason — but over time, absolutely everything changed. I was excited to greet the day. I felt at home in my body, I had the energy for new ideas and new projects, and I had the space to be more generous.
How do you use your intuition or work with Spirit?
I rely on intuition a lot. I maintain that a lot of my writing is the work of spirit or intuition speaking through me. It comes from me, it’s translated by me, but very often I feel that I don’t know “where it comes from,” and won’t remember what I’ve written after the fact. I’m also a card-carrying tarot reader (really, I bring them everywhere), a practice I’ve had since I first stumbled across a deck at my local bookstore at ten years old but have only recently started to share with others.
But the simplest, and most profound, way I access Spirit is this: There is a place between sleep and waking where I feel like I am in direct contact with my Higher Self. In these moments, everything is at peace. I feel clear on who I am and what my purpose is. When I can manage to linger in this state, I’ve sometimes seen images from the future, often things that will happen later that day. So, for obvious reasons, I try to access that space as much as possible, to actively dwell there for an extra minute before starting my day. Practically, this means putting my phone in another room while I sleep. Having it nearby, even just to check the time, immediately draws me into the outside world and prevents me from making that connection.
There is a place between sleep and waking where I feel like I am in direct contact with my Higher Self. In these moments, I feel clear on who I am and what my purpose is.
What would you say to anyone who wants to embark on a healing journey of their own but doesn’t know where to start?
Just focus on today. Observe how you’re feeling, right now, without judgment. Then ask yourself, what shift can you make to feel just a little bit better in this moment? Maybe it’s taking a walk or drinking water. Maybe it’s calling a loved one. Tiny, simple acts add up to make a big difference.
When it comes to making bigger shifts, one idea that has helped me is that real healing isn’t about changing or improving yourself — it’s about returning to yourself. It’s helping strip away all the societal programming and pressure and coping mechanisms to find a healing modality — whether it’s a philosophy, a book, a hobby, a workout class — that resonates with you. Healing doesn’t need to be a daunting undertaking to try to “fix” yourself. It’s more like a fun scavenger hunt for what makes you feel good. I have found solace in the aisles of a bookstore, in exploring the wealth of wonderful healing practitioners offering their stories and services and learning from what they have to share. That’s the thing about healing yourself — it’s so personal. It doesn’t matter what’s trendy or well-reviewed; the most important thing is that it works for you.
In addition to being a writer and editor, we know you are a voracious reader. Are there any books that changed your perspective on life and/or yourself?
Oh gosh, yes. Too many to list! But these are a few standouts:
Pretty much anything by Pema Chödrön, but particularly When Things Fall Apart. I return to it again and again in times of struggle, and this year is no exception.
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, one of my all-time favorites, about the role of myth in human society, and how stories (including the stories we tell ourselves) have such power to shape our world.
Love Hurts by Lodro Rinzler, which I recommend for anyone going through a painful breakup, at any stage. Over the years, I’ve read (and written) about that topic a lot, and this is probably the wisest little book I’ve found.
Most recently, Untamed by Glennon Doyle, which is truly life changing. I devoured it in a weekend and promptly recommended it to everyone I encountered. I currently have a quote from it taped onto the wall behind my desk, so I see it every day:
“Every time you’re given a choice between disappointing someone else and disappointing yourself, your duty is to disappoint that someone else. Your job, throughout your entire life, is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing yourself.”
Photo credit: Belathee