WRM012: Theresa Byrne on Turning Trauma into Transformation

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Theresa Byrne was at the top of her game as the most decorated female martial arts practitioner in her style. She had a 4th-degree black belt and her own dojo teaching others the art of self-defense.  She was focused, determined and unstoppable – a force to be reckoned with.

And then … the accident happened. 

A car hit her from the rear, forced off the road and into a wall.  In the wreck she suffered a traumatic brain injury and had a near-death experience.

The life Theresa knew before vanished. In its place, a new journey started … one in which she had to learn about what she’d lost, and start the path to whomever she would become.

In this wide-ranging interview she talks about the pains and frustrations of loss.

She also shares the details of the near-death experience, and how it has become her North Star for moving forward.  From the top of her field, to trauma, to TEDx and beyond … it is a story of how one person has turned trauma into transformation.

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Full Transcript:

This is Greene with What Really Matters Interviews and today I’m really excited about interviewing Theresa Byrne. I’ve known Theresa for several years.  And basically she’s a badass.

When I first met her – well, I haven’t met her in person, but we’ve been Facebook friends for, I don’t know, five or six or seven years. And she has a fourth-degree black belt in her – I’m not sure which style of martial arts she studies – but she got the first fourth-degree black belt as a woman in that field. And she’s done a TEDx talk, and she’s done self-defense videos. So she she’s really amazing. 

But what happened several years ago is she was in a car accident, and she had a traumatic brain injury, and it’s put her life on a different trajectory.  And that’s what we’re going to explore today. So without further ado, welcome to the podcast Theresa, and thanks for joining us.

Do you go by Terry?

No. My relatives will call me Terry and I’ll always say “it’s Teresa”. So apparently you and I are now related. So there’s that.

Okay. So tell us real briefly who you were before this happened. Just give us a snapshot of what your life was like before the accident. 

I owned martial arts and fitness studio – Large.  It was about 6000 square feet and had 15 employees. And, as a solopreneur, for a woman, there are very few women that start or own martial arts schools without a father, without a legacy, without a husband.  And so I was among a pretty small group of women that were doing that.  

I also earned my fourth-degree black belt. The system that I study in is a blended style here in Colorado, and it includes Taekwondo, Krav, maja, akido, Brazilian Jiujitsu, Muay Thai kickboxing, and three weapon arts. So sticks, nunchucks and bows death is what we taught.  And then I trained in several other arts. I was proficient – but not a black belt – in other arts as well. 

The thing I liked the most about martial arts is that it’s not something I ever expected to do. Nor is it something I ever thought I would become a master in. I really admired Mister Miyagi from The Karate Kid with that gentle strength, that he didn’t have to walk around fighting people. He had humor and lightheartedness. And that’s really the kind of instructor I was/

I developed a system called “leading through love”,  and it was one of the first martial art systems where we built people up based on encouragement instead of tearing them down to make them better soldiers or to make them better at obeying. My system was kind of upside-down. 

Maybe talk about that real briefly.

When I started the studio, a lot of the students that came in were parents who were dropping off their children or getting their children training for things like autism, ADHD. We had kids with down syndrome, any kind of neurological differences … we had children coming. And then their parents would start training. 

But there was no way an old school “Oh, you must obey I need 20 push-ups now!”… that was not going to fly! These children would have run screaming. 

So when I was teaching them, I started seeing all these variances and how in traditional martial arts, we really did. There weren’t words for it at that point. And the secret – this was in like late, late 1990s – and The Secret wasn’t out yet. We weren’t talking “law of attraction” or positivity. 

And I started studying emotional development and how children learn and how adults learn, and created this system where people could figure out something they were good at – we can all find something we’re good at – and then we can build on that success without having to tear anything down.

And it was like a social experiment. Some of the other instructors … I think in the systems in different systems … you know, I got a lot of flack for being “Oh, she’s too nice” or “she’s too kind.” There’s “she’s never gonna … “ 

You know what I’m saying? Like that was just so not traditional that I got an eye – and even my ex husband. He was my husband at the time – was very hard on me.  He said, “you needed to duh-duh-duh!”   And I’m like “No.  That’s not gonna work with these children. They need to create an internal set of discipline. Yelling at them is not going to help. It’s going to create a very short response. 

So I studied a lot about the brain and I studied how we learn, how we think, how we grow. And that – go figure1 – ended up helping me years later when I had my car accident.

Okay, so you have this martial arts studio going before the accident. And things are flying along and then you have this accident. Tell us about this …

I was driving home running some errands in a suburb of Denver. And out of nowhere some guy ran into the driver side wheel – not my wheel in the front, but the one behind me – and it turned it. Something with an axle. I’m not like a car mechanic, so I have no idea what happened. But my brakes stopped working and my steering stopped working. 

So I hit my head as the guy ran into me and smashed my car. I ran into a – not a median, but almost a short … I don’t know what you call it – and then into a brick wall. So I had the equivalent of three impacts, which was like getting hit with six different linebackers. 

So anytime you have an injury to your head, you’ve got one side that you hit and then the brain sloshes to the other side and creates damage on both sides. So you’ll have swelling, damage, inflammation on all of the sides. So I had the equivalent of like getting six concussions at one time. I did not have any broken bones and I was not bleeding.  So I scrambled out of the car.

I don’t even remember hitting the wall.  I got pulled out of my body and had a lovely near-death experience during the accident.  So I don’t even remember hitting the brick wall, which is kind of nice. I appreciate that. Thanks, guys.

So didn’t people call an ambulance?

There were about six cars that pulled over because they it looked like they’re going to have to use “jaws for life” to pull me out of this vehicle. Nobody went after the guy that hit me. But I had all this lovely support of these people wanting to help. The police department showed up. They did a very quick test. I explained that my adrenaline was on overload. And since I wasn’t bleeding or broken, I said “No” to the hospital. In retrospect, I think I probably should or would have gone. I ended up going to urgent care and a hospital later that night just to get checked out. And they told me I had a headache But they didn’t … they weren’t very clear as to what to look for that I remember.

Did you have any internal hemorrhaging in your brain? 

 

Well, it ended up doing that. But I didn’t know that what it was doing. So when you get a brain injury, if you get a CAT scan or an MRI, really all it will show you is the lobes of your brain. It’s very difficult to show inflammation or the axions – which are the ways that our neurotransmitters talk to each other – they pull apart. You can’t see that on an X ray. 

So I did end up getting a CT scan maybe … I can’t remember what I got. But it didn’t show internal hemorrhaging or bleeding, which it would if I was stroking out. So I thought I was okay, took some rest and went back to work. So I started teaching again, and I couldn’t remember words and my balance was really off. And I started getting headaches – like a pressure in my head that I never experienced before.  Wasn’t hungry, didn’t want to eat, couldn’t figure out how to use a microwave, lot of buttons. So a lot of things started feeling really confusing.

Did your personality change in there too?  Like your sense of – I know in martial arts, you can be aggressive, that ability to draw, I don’t know, channel into that inner strength.  It could be anger that you focus, push out, or something. Did you notice that things changed in you? Or did people reflect back to you? It’s like, “Hey, you don’t seem like the same Theresa we knew and here’s why.”

Yes, I did start getting feedback that I seemed almost like I was stoned, because I would be really out of it. And confused and repeat myself. I would fade out. And then one of my eyes started going sideways … like one eye was drifting to the other side. 

Later I had anger, and I’d have to catch myself. I’m an anger management educator, so I know the signs. But man! My frustration level was zero to 60 where I’m usually like a zero to five. You know I don’t get triggered that much. But after the accident – whoa man! –  it was hard my temper! And I anytime I snapped at anybody or, you know, was short or blunt, I went back and apologized because I know better. But whew! … it was hard to control it.

Wow. You also mentioned that you had a near-death experience in that moment? Is that the near-death experience we were talking about earlier right during the break. So do you want to dive into that?

 

Well, so many of the big lessons that I learned really were as a result of that near-death experience. So as I was heading – because my car swerved into the wrong lane of traffic – and my first wish or prayer was “God please don’t let me hurt anybody else.” 

And then my next wish- like spoken in my mind, thought, or wish – was “Is this it? Have I done everything I came here to do?”

 Now keep in mind, I’m headed directly toward a brick wall. There was no amount of martial arts training, there was no amount of IQ, there was no amount of anything that was going to stop me from hitting that brick wall. And so in that moment I was incredibly powerless. And I also surrendered. So my question was, “Am I done?” 

And in that second – I don’t know how long it lasted – but sometimes people will be gifted with a life review. Have you ever heard that? They go through like a review of their life or a quick snapshot?

I have heard that, yes. Like their life flashes before their eyes.

Yeah!  But instead of my whole life, I was gifted this picture of me almost like on a kind of a human treadmill hamster wheel. And I was like, “gotta make a difference. Gotta make a difference. Gotta make a difference!  Gotta help people!  Gotta help people!” And they showed me how I was so focused on trying to help others that I knew … never once stopped to see all of the people that I had actually made a difference for already. It was always “Gotta do more!  Gotta do more!  Gotta do more!” And they showed me how ironic it was. 

And I was like all these people throughout the years that I have made an impact on and helped and supported… and they showed me these people with these big gold open hearts and these big beautiful loving smiles on their face. And then they showed me the contrast of how hard I am – “Gotta help! Gotta help!” And they’re like, “Yeah, but look at all you’ve done, you’ve never stopped to appreciate it. And to be honest, that’s not how I grew up. 

It wasn’t that you ever sat back on your laurels and said, “Yes, I am master of all I survey” and felt that level of I don’t know what you would call it and you might have a word for it. accomplishment or …

Yeah.  A sense of deep joy that you’ve contributed. You’ve made a contribution and you have made an impact on the world.

I did not feel that. It’s not a feeling that I was familiar with until that very moment. So I was given the gift of peace in that moment. And this kind of this peace like – if the answer was “Yes, I was done” or “No, I wasn’t done” – I would I was cool with whatever the answer was. And that was unusual for me. I’m very much of a go-getter and achiever and for me to go “All right, we’ll see what happens” – when it came to my own life – that was interesting. 

So then I got pulled out of my body, and I went to this big vast space.

I’d like to say “up”, but I don’t really know.  It could have been sideways. It was … 

… somewhere other than here .. 

That’s exactly what I call it!  I call it the “in between place” because I don’t know where it was. And I didn’t have a feeling of traveling from one place – there was not a cognition of one place to the next place. It was like “here to here”. It was instant. Even on Star Trek, you know when they transport people,  it takes a second to transport … there was no transportation time. 

So I’m in this big open space. And – you’re gonna laugh – I remember thinking “this is an ineffective use of space” because there was nothing there. And it was this kind of grayish color. Not a lovely gray.  Again, I think I was being judgmental of the space, and I own that.  There was a bunch of mist. It wasn’t like these big fluffy heaven clouds,  and there were no angels. there was a mist. And this voice, kind of a disembodied voice, said – because my question was, “Am I done? Have I done everything I came here to do?”   And this loving … this voice … said “Noooo.”  

And it gave me this feeling of complete and utter appreciation. Something I’ve never felt on this side before like, “no sweetie.” And then it said or it gave the ideas – so it was almost like floating thought forms … it would almost be like if I handed you “Here Doug.  Here’s a big bubble of how I think, a bunch of words, some energy”.  And then you just kind of take it in and you go, Oh okay, I get it.” 

It was like that. It was like sharing this bubble of feelings, thoughts, information. And so this bubble said, “there’s more work for you to do” right on top of “there’s more work to be done.” And I was a floating essence, which I also thought was really interesting. 

So all of the things that I had, up until now, thought that mattered … no one on the other side gave a rat’s ass about how many degrees I had, how much I weighed, how smart I was, how much I accomplished, how much money I made, how many millions of books I sold … none of it mattered. I was this essence, like this golden light blob of essence, and as was the other being that was there with me. 

And I was like, “Wow, this is so freeing. I don’t have to do all of the things I thought I had to do to”, you know, to be a human being. And the energy of this other being was so loving.  And it’s not just accepting, but appreciative like, “wow, you humans are adorable.” 

So I asked, “Are you angels guides? You know, I wanted to know the names because that’s how I thought on this side.  “What do we call you?” And they were like “It doesn’t matter, whatever you want.” And I was like, “wow, okay, what about God? Is it God, Jesus, Buddha, The One divine source, the quantum energy, like “what is God?”  

And they were like, “what do you want to call it? It doesn’t … that’s a human … So those are very interesting pieces. When I came back I was like – and I think I remember saying “You know, we’re fighting wars on the other side over the name of God and y’all are like, ‘yeah, whatever. Call it Bob if you want to.  It  doesn’t matter.”

So this all happened during that crash?

Between me getting hit and hitting the wall. Wow.

So however long that took … I don’t really know in real time. And I also came back with realizing, “man, time is a ruse. We think of time.” And on the other side, they’re like, “Oh, so cute.  Time is circular  … it’s not linear. Y’all are fun with your little clocks and your things have to happen at certain times.” Anyway, that’s my story. That’s my near death.

So this revelation … you come out of this impact. And so it sounds like there’s two parts going on. There’s there’s actual physical trauma. And there’s also this experience that you had, that you bring with you. So talk about the next, I don’t know, week or month or whatever sort of feels like an important time period in here before you sort of settled in to “Okay, this is where I’m at now.”

Ha ha! Well, you know, yeah, I thought it was kind of a crock that I’m told that there’s more to do and I’ve got more to do. And then I’m given a frickin brain injury?!  And not only that – so there was a little bit of stubborn, pissed-off’edness in me … 

So not only that, but I was then diagnosed with neuroendocrine disorder, panic disorder, adrenal abnormality, my fight-or-flight system was on full time. Insomnia … I didn’t sleep for like five months. PTSD, anxiety and depression. And I’m sure there’s some other ones in there, but I can’t remember what they are. 

Every doctor’s appointment – when I finally went to go see the doctor – I was having shooting pains in my head like someone was shoving a hot poker. And my head was undulating.  Like I could feel the swelling in my brain; it was so weird. And the doctor said – I went to the emergency room – and they said, “You have post-concussive syndrome.  And I was like, “I have a concussion?” 

And by this point I’m crying at the drop of a hat. I’m emotional. I feel broken. I’m feel like I’m a nutjob. I was having dementia.  Almost like, you know that there is a computer in front of you, but you can’t see it. Like your brain can physically not see it. Or you think it’s the wrong year. It was like crazy town

How much time has passed since the accident?

That was probably the first couple of months. I didn’t really go in to get full-on neurological treatment for two months.  I was just trying to self medicate and … I don’t I mean, I self-medicate with like rest, and quiet time, and trying to take care of myself. Because … I’m so funny … I kept thinking, “what are they going to do cast my brain? They can’t cast anything. I don’t need a doctor. “ 

So I’m doing acupuncture, I’m doing chiropractic or I’m trying all these other healing modalities.  And they weren’t working. So I finally went to go see my concussion doctor. And she said that I was not only not helping my brain, I was probably hurting it by continuing to move forward.  Becuase what do you do if you’re injured, right? You push through the pain, or you warrior through it, or “I’m not going to let this stop me.” 

But when it comes to brains, you have to let it stop you. And that’s one piece of advice that I give to anyone who’s dealing with a concussion … is the more that you can rest now, the faster your brain will heal.  And so the doctors put me in what’s called “timeout” or “low stimulus.” It started as a week and ended up as close to two years.  I stopped counting because it was so depressing. Every time I went in, they were like “Nope, two more months! Nope, one more month! Nope, three more months!”  And no TV, no phone, no lights, no interaction, I had to pull out of life basically.

So what was that like?

I think the first breakdown I had was questioning if I had any value left, because … which was a great question.

I guess that I had stemmed my value from the fact that I could help others.  And if I couldn’t help anybody – if I wasn’t coaching, teaching, making a difference doing things – what value did I have? And I got this lovely voice in my head saying “you’re valuable just because you are. You have value because you are.”

And up until that point, I was probably over-giving overworking over-pushing, because that was one of the ways that my system felt valuable. And all of a sudden I couldn’t coach people. I mean I was teaching martial arts. But I was also life coaching friends, or anyone who needed it or etc, etc. I’m also an intuitive, so I would have a lot of people reaching out for “Hey, what’s your hit on this?” Or “can you help me with that?” So all of that had to stop.

All the ways I was getting value – like I thought I was valuable on the planet – couldn’t do it. So I had to really learn how to just be.

Wow. So 18 months, two years, somewhere in that time span, you’re in this sort of isolated place. And there’s a voice going on inside your head … maybe the “I have no value”, but then the voice says you do have value. And that in itself is enough. You don’t need to be doing anything right now. Is that pretty accurate?

Yeah, that is part of it. So I’ve always been intuitive.  Some people hear a voice in their head and some people don’t. Did you know that?

I assume that most people have a voice, and I certainly have one that yaks all the time. It’s like the roommate that won’t go away.

I know!  When I found out there were people who don’t have a voice like that. I was like, “what do you do all day? Who do you talk to?” 

So I have that voice, and I also have my intuitive voice. So my intuitive voice will show up every now and then and go “Hey, picture.”  Or, you know, “look at this.” It’s very it’s very loving. It’s wonderful. I love it. 

I had another voice that jumped in my head telling me to off myself at this time. And that’s not something – first of all, that’s not verbiage I would ever use. Who says “off yourself”! And this voice … it was different. It was like soft and you know, “you’re broken. You’re never going to be the same.”  And “you’re going to be a burden on everyone else” …  and I’m trying to think what else it said … “You should off yourself.” 

And I was like, “Screw you! Not doing it. Who the hell are you … getting in my head?!” 

So for a few months, I fought it.  I would be like flipping it off yelling at it. And then, being the self-defense instructor, I am I realized a lot of energy to fight it. So you know what, I’m just going to allow that voice to “blah, blah, blah.” And it would show up anytime I felt damaged, broken, “not good enough”, like I wasn’t going to heal. That voice would show up, and I can’t tell you how long, because time is not linear in these instances. So for a long time, it would be like “yeah, blah, blah, blah. I’m a wreck, blah, blah, blah. I’m a failure blah blah blah, I’m broken.” 

And I would just, you know, like “blah” it. And then while I was supposed to having quiet time, I was teaching myself how to write online books ebooks … because there was still so much inside of me that wanted to come out. And I was told I’d never teach martial arts again. So for 20 plus years that had been my career, my business.  And the idea of being unknown and not knowing what to do with myself – and knowing I still had so much to give – I started training on how to write ebooks. And I started teaching myself how to do online programs when I was probably not supposed to, but I did anyway. 

And the first time I had a really bad failure, I did an online course called “the inner warrior” –  “unleashing the inner warrior.” And I screwed up the text so bad that it was blinking in and out. So I had 150 people on this webinar. And the tech was blinking in and out so people couldn’t stay on. But I didn’t know it because I was in record mode. So for 45 minutes I poured my heart and my soul out in this webinar. And at the end, I looked at my phone and people were texting me going “we can’t hear you”, “the audio is off”, “you’re freezing.

And I was like “son of a .. !” So that voice showed up hard and it said, “See, you’re a failure. You’re not going to figure this out. There’s no way.” And then I’d like to bring up instances in my life when I had failings or made mistakes. And I looked at the voice at that time, and I said, “Do you really believe that? Do you believe that about yourself? Has anyone ever given you love? Has anyone ever told you that you were valuable? I would hate to be in your position. I feel sorry for you. Do you know light? Do you know love? Do you know God? 

And this voice was like, “Uhhh, hello. What?” Are you to me?” 

And I said, “Yes. I wish you light. I wish you peace. I feel sad for you.” And this voice was like, “Uhhh.   Uhhh … “ and then it kind of ran away. And I thought that was fairly interesting. 

So a couple weeks later, I asked to bring the boys back.  Why wouldn’t you?  So I was in a meditation and I was like, “okay, I’d like to talk to that voice that wants me to off myself.” So I brought this voice in, and I had this sacred space set up. And in my mind, it was like I had Archangel Michael, because he’s kind of a badass, and warrior angels around me, I was in this great, safe healing place. And I brought this voice out. 

And I was like, “so what are you?” The voice was like, “I don’t know.” And I was like, “What are you trying to do?” And it said that it was a tortured soul or tortured energy – I don’t even know if it used the word soul – and it was looking for other similar energy similar.  And it was trying to get other tortured souls together. And I was like, “do you come from someone or somewhere?” 

And it was like, “No, no.” It had no idea. I had no self concept. And from what it said it only knew dark. It had not known light. It had not known anything else. And it wasn’t sent from anywhere, bad or evil. It was just this energy and it was attracted to that, and was trying to pull people. I guess you would say it was trying to get them to suicide … 

… for the purpose of … the reason it wanted to do it … 

It didn’t know. So it said it was a tortured soul. And I did some research.  33% of people who end up with a brain injury will attempt or complete suicide. And I wonder how many of them have that voice in their head. And then they think that that’s their brain telling them that. And I feel pretty blessed that I knew it wasn’t. 

But there’s a questionnaire in every doctor’s appointment where you have to say, “Are you hearing voices?” And I would always say “yes.” And then they would have to sit me down. And it would say, “is the voice telling you to kill yourself, hurt yourself or someone else?” And I realized, well, how many homicides are also a result of this negative energy, tortured soul voice? 

And I don’t have the answers to that. I just made a commitment to share that that’s what the voice is doing in my head to anyone who asks. So that’s my story.

Okay, so how did you move through that?

 

The voice never showed up again after I gave it love and light and asked it questions.

Really?!

Really!  Now that is not to say I didn’t have the inner bully, as I talked about in the TED talk. But the inner bully was a much different version. 

So let me see about this. Um, so that voice … it was trying to change my thinking, if that makes any sense. It was like it wanted consideration. It wanted me to think about it.  Like what would it be like file if I offed myself? What would be like if the pain was gone? But the inner bully, I started noticing that I had fear reactions to things that I didn’t used to have fear reactions to. And I’m an adrenal technology specialist, so I train people in how to understand adrenaline, not just in a safety, but in life – somatically. So I started noticing freeze response and fear response.

Can you give an example of that in action?

 

Sure. Procrastination, avoidance, distraction. Let’s see what else was it for me … numbing out,  going after dreams that I had or pursuing things … I would come up with excuses. I would feel doubt.  

And it wasn’t verbal. So you know, the inner critic, right? It wasn’t verbal. It was just this “Nuhhhhhh … “   Almost like a little kid. So when you meet a little kid and you tell them to eat their broccoli, they’re like “Blech!  No. Yuck!”  It’s kind of like my certain parts of my life. If I was taking on something that was slightly nervous about something outside of my comfort zone, my inner bully was like “Yech!” 

Yeah. So that’s kind of coming from … it sounds like it’s coming from the limbic system level – that the reptilian brain.  That’s where that fight-flight ….

Yeah. But Doug, think about it, and even as a self-defense instructor, I trained people against an external bully and external relationship. But this is all me. I could not run. 

So in the TED talk, I talked about how we’ve all known toxic relationships. What do you do in that toxic relationship is inside of yourself?  And it doesn’t have words; it’s just a feeling. You’re like, “Uhhhh!”  You know, you look at a big project you have and you go, “Uh, no!”  And that’s what it was like.

And so what do you do with it?

 

Well, I got to apply the lessons that I had learned through martial arts and through self-defense. The first thing that doesn’t work is fighting it. And I’ve done a lot of interviews and podcast interviews, and sometimes they’ll say, “tackling it”, “conquering it.” Arianna Huffington … they wrote an article on me called “Conquering Your Inner Bully”.  And like, yeahhh … conquering is like a fight, which can be exhausting. 

So really, it’s an acceptance. And for me it’s like, “Oh, hey!  I am so not focusing here.”  Or I am totally distracted, or I am binge-watching television, or I am afraid.  And I don’t even know what it is.

So then you feel into it. And you’re a somatic dude. It’s learning how to feel into it going, “Okay, so apparently, I am afraid about something” or “I am nervous about something” or “I’m fighting something. What’s in there?” And actually having a curious mind – and open mind – to go look and see, and even just chat with the inner bully and go, “I get it.” 

When I did the TED Talk, holy crap, did I have so much fear coming up. It’s so many pieces I wanted to get out. And it was a memorized talk. And I had slides produced.  The creator was so supportive. But I was freaked out.  I had to memorize 18 minutes and my inner bully kept coming up and I would just … I taught myself how to breathe through it.  

One of the methods that I use is a counting breathing. So when your limbic system is sending out signals, it will decide – if it’s a scary event – you will have adrenaline and cortisol and epinephrine and all kinds of really wonderful drugs to help you fight or flee, or if you need to free – it’s kind of not as helpful – but you will freeze. So what I had to do was move my brain out of the limbic brain into the front brain. And one of the best ways to do that is counting, breathing. 

So I created this in-power pause – this power pause – and it was just a “3-2-1” or “1-2-3” breath, hold for just a second, and then give myself another kind thing to say.  And for me, it was always like, “You got this, I got this. I knew this.” And that helps me move out of that fight or flight. Because really, all you have to do is – “all you have to do” … I say that, like it’s so easy – is learn how to breathe through a response like that. 

Hmm.  Is that something you had experience with in your previous, you know, before the accident … breathing through something. So you were drawing on something that you already had experience with, but applying it in a somewhat different way,

Yes. So the antidote to adrenaline is breath. So when we teach self-defense, we will often teach that it’s important to learn how to breathe. Because if you don’t learn how to breathe, you’re not going to be able to fight or flee. So when in self-defense, you breathe.  We teach people to speak.  Like say “No” or “back off” or “leave me alone” – because then it’s forcing breath. 

Well, when it’s your own inner bully, you can’t necessarily – well, you could talk to it. But what I can do is focus on breath. And it’s really not as much the inhale as it’s the exhale. The exhale is what relaxes our body. So counting a 3-2-1 or 1-2-3, pause, and then exhale. And on the exhale, I’ll say, “I got this. I got this, I can do this.”

So you start doing these exercises, these breathing exercises. You’re moving more into the cognitive side of things and sort of getting a handle on it again. Where does your life go from there. What’s happening now?   And how far out are we from the accident … about two years out?

Well, the TED talk was four.  The accident was July 2014. Ted Talk was April 2019. So that’s actually almost five, four and a half years later. So all of this practice has been … so I tried over 40 different healing modalities to try to get my brain back. I found some amazing technology. One was brain laser, where they actually help your brain regrow brain tissue. The only place in the world they do it is here in Colorado. So I did that. So it’s a technology where they use a laser, a lazer – sorry, a little Austin Powers there – light and they are able to help stimulate regrowth brain regrowth. 

So usually what happens after a brain injury is that tissue is necrotic and dies off. What these two doctors in Colorado at Neuro Luminance have been able to figure out is a way to use a class 4 laser to produce results. And the results are actually regrowing nerve tissue. So I started that in 2017, and I started regrowing brain tissue. And it’s almost like being a little kid. And when I had a brain injury, your entire sense of self is gone. Because somewhere in your head is knowing who you are. 

And when you don’t have that anymore, you’re like, “I dunno.” You’re trying to figure out your skills again. I was trying to figure out my skills again. What was I good at? What could I still do? I kind of did the whole Princess Bride thing. There’s a scene where Wesley’s been dead, mostly dead all day. And he’s like, “why do we have among our assets if we had a wheelbarrow?” 

And for me, I still had a great sense of humor, a desire to help others to share and spread light. And I thought I was funny, or I am funny. It’s all in the eye of the beholder (snarky).  And I could still put wisdom together. I could still put knowledge together and I knew I was going to do something with that. I knew I was going to do things with that; I just wasn’t sure what that would look like.

So you were … basically your mind just completely deconstructed, or at least the egoic side of you that’s like, you know – that external part that two people see that you’ve constructed inside that’s your personality – disappeared in this. And now you’re like, wondering who you are, because you’re definitely not whatever you were before that is in terms of that egoic structure. So what is that? Is that pretty accurate?

Yeah. It is like you don’t know who you are. But you don’t know who you are to yourself. Like, people would tell me who I was in the world to them. And, and I would be very clear that that was to them.  Like “Okay, I appreciate that.”  And there’s a different level of feeback … all of my feedback of myself was gone.

 

So you know, in Buddhism and meditation, they talk about developing the observer … the eternal side that’s always there and sort of watching. 

Yes! 

You were able to get in touch with that. Yeah, that’s a lot of what we’re talking about here. This sort of eternal piece that’s like watching this. Can you just talk about that somewhat?

Um, yeah, the whole thing was about it. I mean, I was completely detached all the time. And I still have that with me. I am very … “I don’t care about how I come across anymore. There’s not a lot of people pleasing. I have zero guile. I can’t flirt at all. I’m only present. I am present in this moment to this. I can’t really lie. I mean I guess I could try, but it seems so worthless. It seems so exhausting. There’s a feeling of  … 

… and I gotta be honest, I mean, I slip in and out of it too. I mean I do get to ego and go “No, that’s not right. I should be respected more when someone disrespects me.”  I still get triggered, but it’s a lot less. There’s this feeling of “not care”. And I think that was part of feeling the essence of self, that all this other stuff is just what other people see or perception, belief. So much of that is like fuzzy. So I guess I don’t know if I’m answering your question.

So one of the reasons we create that ego is to protect our identity, right? It’s, like, within the enneagram there’s like, sort of nine different core wounds, nine different personality types.  We respond to something in the world, or we come into the world with a certain … something happens. There’s a pain we seek to avoid.  in my wounded place I believe the world is out to get me.  I’m a Type Six. So “the world’s a dangerous place.”  So I’m constantly looking out for where things can go wrong, and I’m trying to mitigate them before they come into my sphere. 

I’m an eight.

You’re an 8. So that’s the challenger, the boss, an the power just moves through you so easily. And also eights are centered in that anger area, a lot of anger in eights, and a willingness to express it.  Eights have no problems accessing it and bringing it out, especially in the wounded part. There’s like 10 different levels of each type. And as they rise up, they have these higher values that come through or the higher ways of being.

So but you had that constructed personality basically taken away and it disappeared. Now you’re stuck with them … not stuck … you’re ending with a blank slate – a canvas to work with, in some ways,

 

I felt that way a lot. It was like this tabula rasa.  And I would have to … that’s why I had to take stock of what I still know about myself. I’m still funny. I think I’m funny. I’m still light hearted. I still care about people … you know, like that.  Like I had to kind of get down to the base of “Who in the hell am I?” Because it was all changed and it’s all being recreated. So I started learning about neuroplasticity. 

I do love habits because … I gotta tell you man,  when you can’t think and you have rote habits and they’re all gone, you have to recreate everything. 

Talk about that. 

Okay. So you’re not a girl but if you were a girl … you get in the shower, and you’re used to doing the shower and you’ve got your systems,  and you shave things at this time, and you do the washing and the shampoo. I would get in the shower and I would look out and go “What is all this crap for? Like, what is all this stuff? What am I doing?” And I would wash half of my hair or like do it backwards – condition and then wash. I would forget to shave one leg … like there were so much that is automated memory.  

Even coffee in the morning – I do bulletproof coffee. Oh my god. There’s like 18 steps. You have to have butter and cream and … you know what I’m saying? Everything is steps, and when all the steps are gone you’re like “I don’t know what to do all this stuff.” 

So I learned how to start setting up steps again.   It’s still easy for me to get off track. Like right now I rebound in the morning for 20 minutes while I’m watching educational – what are they called? – online programs on Udemy. So I am now in a 20-minute jumping cycle now where it’s working great. And I’ve been doing it for like- I don’t even,  I can’t tell you – I’ve been doing it for months. And something could happen and I could switch and go somewhere else. But I try to be very conscious of what habits I am doing and reinforcing them.

Mm hmm. So what else is going on in this reconstruction now … this blank canvas? What are you bringing to the canvas now? How much of it is you saying “I want to create this” versus “how much of this is something that I need just to get through survival?” I mean, it’s, there’s so many questions around that just ..,

 

Yeah, I had to think about what was important. And what is definitely important to me – like I am on a mission – is to help people create safety. Boundaries … incredibly important to me. 

I’m actually a spokesperson for a brand new safety app, a tech app on the phone, called e-bodyguard. And it’s about offering people who – if they’re walking alone, or if they whatever –  they can just use a voice activated command and the app will call 911 and send GPS location, record audio, and then video of the scene. 

And that helps me know that people can be safe because the police can’t be everywhere, at any time if you’re in danger. And most of the time a predator or someone who’s who’s trying to cause harm is … they don’t want to get caught. So that app could help end sexual assault. I would love to see that. 

But I still teach self-defense work because that’s imperative. It’s imperative for me to teach people how to have their voice. And maybe it’s the 8-ness of me, but it’s like helping people find their power. I have a trademark system called InPower, where we stop – I teach people how to stop putting their power outside of themselves. Jobs, people accepted money success, and what it looks like somatically to take it inside, and then create a difference from that perspective.

So talk about that process. What do you do? What do you do? And what are sort of the internal shifts that people have? What do they feel? What do they have to do to maybe let go of the way they used to do it so that there’s space for this newer way to do it.

 

It’s a practice.  And we are either giving our power away or we’re owning our power … pretty much. 

Sometimes the only way to know what you’re doing is how you feel.  if you’re confused, frustrated, angry, upset, unclear, in fight or flight, then typically something else externally has your power. And I’m not even talking about a human being; I am talking about, “wow, the economy. I can’t do anything with it!”  

I could have given my power over to my brain injury. Do you want to know how many times I had to choose myself over … “Wow, I just have a TBI. And that’s just who I am”? I had to continually choose my own power. And that looks like going within, getting grounded, making choices from the inside out, not making choices out of fear or scarcity. 

Our inner power to me is the inner inherent innate power that we’ve all got. And when we can make choices from that position, we get better results in our lives. And the best way to know you’re in power is you’re in flow.  You feel it.  It’s just this calm peacefulness. It’s this observing mind. It’s all of that.

When you’re out of power, is when we’re spinning and unhappy or struggling. Something else has got power.

Could you describe maybe an exercise?  It would be pretty simple for people to do like as they’re listening to this, or when they’re listening to when they’re not driving the car.

Yeah.  I would ask that people think about something that is frustrating them right now – the biggest frustration. And it’s funny, because that’s how we find our power is by what’s not working. And I wish it was different, but it’s not.

So what’s not working? And look at what’s the biggest frustration that I have right now? And is this a frustration based on my purpose? Is this a frustration based on an external event? Am I making choices from inside? Or am I making choices from outside? 

An example that I’ll give you is – at one point I had mice. I live near open space … so sometimes animals. And I had mice, and they freaked me out. So I was trying all of the devices and all of the things.  But here’s what else I was sort of doing … eating out all the time. I didn’t want to eat here, because I was afraid I would get more mice.  So I spent so much money eating out for a month. 

So who was winning In that situation?  The mice were! 

So I call the exterminator and it ends up being like $89 for three visits, versus how much money was I spending eating out because I didn’t want the mice to get me!  And it’s something simple like that. I mean, it’s those decisions that we make. I don’t want to go outside because it’s raining. Well, then the rain wins. 

Do you know what I’m saying? It’s like, what’s frustrating you right now about yourself? What is something that you wish you could change? And is that coming from something externally? Do you have any examples?  Anything you’re willing to share? 

Hmm. Okay. 

If you want to …

Oh, you’re asking me that question! you’re putting me on the spot here?  Um, I know that’s, that’s good. It’s a good question. 

I actually get pretty frustrated politically; I get pretty frustrated with what’s going on online. One of the big things I have is I like to see truth in information. And when I see the way, you know, things get politicized.  People become the experts at spinning things. And people buy into it like there’s this the coronavirus

Oh my God … I’m laughing at our response to it.

And oh god, I know there’s a rumor that’s actually getting traction. I fact I just posted it. 

There’s three things coming together here – the Chinese have been given … . 

So this is a construct, right? And it pisses me off when I see stuff like this. And I just hit my head and go, “come on, people pay attention.” It’s a combination of Chinese given mandatory vaccinations that are replicated, they’re digitized, they interact with the dust that was spread out through chem trails, right, that we’ve been breathing in over the years.  And they they get activated by turning on 5g you know, the new wireless spectrum. And of course on that Princess cruise, specifically equipped to make this happen, right? 

And I just read this and people buy into I was like … 

So my background is journalism. I really like truth. Like, “let’s deal with what is.” Is it evidence based? 

You know, I’ve had my own journey with glaucoma and people coming up with all these different “miracle cures” and I kind of bought into it. Yeah, same sort of, you know, it’s a different thing but same sort of things are happening. So “drink this”, “try that” … and none of it worked.

So truth.  When your power is on the political when you are focusing on the political, can you do anything about it?

So what I do is like to deconstruct things – like this particular one about the virus and all of that.  I put it up on my Facebook timeline. I said, “Look, folks, this is what’s going around now. Like, seriously?  We’ve got bigger issues.” 

So I’ll get it up online, get discussions going good. And this one took right off. I’ve got, what, 20 comments on it at this point, nice and growing. I’m sure there’ll be 100. So that at least gets the conversation going. But yeah, it’s probably in an echo chamber for the most part… 

But it’s not. And based on this conversation, your power would be out if you were concentrating on what others were doing. And if you were like, “ah, people suck”, whatever. That’s out of your power. By saying, “I’m going to open a truth discussion, I’m going to do what I can do” … that’s in power. That is you taking your InPower.

All of us have dislikes. It’s just do we do something about it? Or do we just complain? Complaining is disempowering. Blaming is disempowering. You’ve made a conscious choice. That’s empower So does that make sense? Do you understand the distinction? 

It does, actually. Yeah. So it’s doing something for the better.

It’s doing something for the betterment of … even if something is driving you nuts, it is creating a solution from an inside you. And even if it’s based on an external event, you are creating conversation, you’re creating openness, you’re creating … these are all good things.

So, a somewhat related question, but going off on a little bit of a turn here. I guess the first one would be what is your North Star? And you have discussed that a bit.

Power.

Yeah, power, empowering, empowering others. But what informs you when you know that you’re on course, when you’re in the flow? What do you feel? What do you sense? What’s going on in your mind, your body that … you know what I mean?

So for me it is a feeling of peaceful energy. And I enjoy the feeling of excitement as much as the next person, but sometimes that will blow my circuits. So if I have a really exciting thing happen, then I have to take a nap. So embarrassing, but it’s true. 

I love that calm, peaceful energy of getting something done. I still love the feeling of accomplishment. I don’t get to accomplish as many things. I mean, I’ll feel proud of us when we finish this podcast.  I make sure to celebrate myself as often as possible. And my celebration is literally like, “Yes I did it!” which I will do after this podcast. I’ll be like, “Yes, we did it.” 

My North Star is finding that inner power, that breath that … our bodies and our minds create a lot of resistance. And when we are out of resistance, we are in the flow. And that … I can feel the resistance. I teach boxing and kickboxing now, and I teach my clients my students how to drop their shoulders and not live like this. So it’s getting into the grounded part of your body, getting things done – because we can all sit on mountaintops and “Ohm”. But it’s that peaceful feeling. 

I have a side note, can I share it with you?

Go for it. 

So one of the things I was also shown at some time during my healing was the work … I’d already read David Hawkins stuff on Power Versus Force.  But I was guided to reread it. And I was also shown like a feeling scale, and some feelings fall into a category where they’re constrictive – they’re energy taking.  And other feelings go into energy giving – compassion, light, etc. 

Well, I was given a definition for enlightenment that I’d love to share with you.  I always thought enlightenment was the guy on the rock meditating, or at the cave, right? But here’s the definition I was given: “Enlightenment is learning how to detach from triggers, detach from desired outcome or outcomes, and not take things personally.” And it’s a moment by moment phenomena. It’s not a place we get to.

In every moment, if I’m triggered, I have the opportunity to go, “Okay. Do I want this is the serving me? Is this informing me, etc.” So releasing triggers, releasing – what is it called? – attachment to outcome. And then releasing taking it egoically or personally.

Enlightenment is “in light”, enlightened, lightning everything ever. And they showed me that I’ve shown that and I was like, “Ah, cool. I want to aim for that!”

I remember a quote I liked about enlightenment. It was, I think it was David Pond, who’s an author. And it goes, “Lighten up, lighten up, lighten up until … you’re enlightened.”

Yeah, I like that.

And I think Don Miguel Ruiz did The Four Agreements, which I think are definitely very, very powerful. And I like so much of things I’ve seen from others … try not to get too much input anymore from others. I think I was maybe addicted to learning about other people’s work, and I don’t want that anymore I want to create from my inside out. But yeah, lighten up,

 

As we’re coming to the end on this, what are some of the big takeaways you have now? Looking back across your life, what do you have gratitude for in this journey? And what are your big three takeaways?

I have gratitude for completely changing. I don’t think that we’re broken; I think we’re broken open. And I’m very grateful for that. I was broken open to new ways of thinking and being. The accident was a blessing. I retired from martial arts and I don’t think I would have done that without the accident. So I’m grateful for that. 

The three big takeaways are 1) learn how to celebrate, even the little things. I didn’t celebrate even making a difference for other people and I’ve learned how to do that.  

2) My goal used to be “I must motivate and inspire 1 million people.” Now my goal is I want to have positive impact on one person today, because I could do that. It doesn’t matter; a soul as a soul. So I make the impact or create the difference that you can make one person at a time. 

And the last takeaway from the accident is- it’s really the power of light: light heartedness, enlightenment, laughing, not taking us or life seriously. It’s like we are that floating light being. Own that.

Okay, anything else you’d like to add? 

I just want to say that, to me, resilience is something that every single one of us have. It has been said to me, “Man, I could never go through what you went through.” And I think that’s crappy. You could totally do it; you would just do it your way and I’m not special. I’m unique. All of us are unique, but I’m not special. We all have very similar equipment. It’s what we choose to do with it. So resilience is all about you, knowing that you can get past something. 

And here’s my other favorite thing about the word resilience. In the middle of the word resilience is silly.

Okay.

That’s how you spell resilience.  That’s how I remind myself to spell resistance r e s i l i . It’s “re-silly”.

 

“Really silly.”  

Okay, if people want to learn more about you where can they go for information?

 

TheresaByrne.com is my website.  I also highly suggest Ebodyguard.org/protectorseries – because that’s the series of wellness and protective apps that are programs that we’re teaching.

 

Okay, anything else? What’s the name of your book or word? How would they find your TEDx talk?

It’s called “The Danger of the Inner Bully.” 

okay, by Theresa Byrne. And is it on your website?

It is on my website and it’s also on Ted.com or TEDx.com. Just do a search on inner bully and it’s the only one. 

Teresa, thank you so much for your time.

Doug, thank you. I appreciate your friendship and have always appreciated your insights, your wisdom and the in-depth questions.  I forgot you were a journalist. Now your questions make so much more sense

 

 

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