We have all experienced loss at one point or another. Maybe it is the passing of a loved one, loss of our dream job, or our partner breaking up with us. These losses in life can and do have a profound impact not only on our emotional state, but also can have a lasting impact on our health and happiness. Of course, grief is a natural process. But sometimes we get stuck and end up permanently wounded or emotionally crippled by the wounds of our past. So why do some of us get stuck, perpetually suffering the negative health impacts of our emotional wounds and traumas? And more importantly, how do we start moving on and moving forward?
This week, I’m interviewing Christina Rasmussen, author of the book Second Firsts: Live, Laugh and Love Again. She’s also the founder of the Life Reentry Institute. Christina is a powerhouse — a brilliant and passionate woman on a mission, doing amazing work to help people learn how to move into a new chapter in their life after loss.
How did Christina get into this work? At the age of 36, she was devastated by the loss of her husband to cancer. Her life changed drastically from one moment to the other with the passing of her partner. The years following, she found herself in what she calls “the waiting room,” stuck in grief and not willing to start a new chapter in her life.
In this interview, Christina will uncover the five steps to moving on after loss, and reignite your health, happiness, and energy. It is a very unique conversation, and it is definitely one worth listening to. If you’ve ever suffered from loss in your life — and of course, we all have — then I think you’re going to love this interview.
In this podcast, we’ll cover
- How we get stuck in the “waiting room” after experiencing loss (and how to get out of it)
- Why “just give it time…time heals all wounds” is a bad advice for people who are mourning
- How loss affect your health
- Your future self is a work of art – how to create a new identity
- Why can’t I move on? It could be your personality
- Why “invisible losses” are mostly unknown (and the most challenging losses to overcome)
- The 5 steps to moving on after loss
- How to change your brain to move on (and why it is essential to your health and happiness in life)
Download or listen on iTunes
Listen outside of iTunes
The 5 Steps To Moving On After Loss/Grief And Re-Kindling Your Health, Happiness, and Energy with Christina Rasmussen – Transcript
Ari Whitten: Hi everyone, welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. I’m your host Ari Whitten, and today I have a very special, very unique podcast for you on grief and how that impacts your health, how it impacts your energy, and how it impacts your life more broadly outside of that, and how to do the process of life reentry.
So today my guest is Christina Rasmussen, who I had the pleasure of meeting about a year ago and who was just a wonderful powerhouse of a woman. And, she is the creator and founder of The Life Reentry Institute, Second Firsts and Star Letters. She’s on a crusade to help millions of people rebuild, reclaim, and relaunch their lives using the power of their own minds. And her work has been featured on ABC News, NPR, the White House Blog, and MariaShriver.com. She’s the bestselling author of “Second Firsts: Live, Laugh and Love Again”, and is currently working on her second book on expanding the mind in ways that allow co-creation with the forces of the universe.
So Christina, welcome. Such a pleasure to have you on finally.
Christina Rasmussen: Ari, so good to be here. Thank you for having me.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, I’ve been meaning to do this for like over a year. I planned to do this initially after meeting you a little over a year ago and the timing just didn’t work out, and I reached out to you again recently and I’m glad we were able to finally connect and make this happen.
Christina Rasmussen: It is the right time now.
How losing her husband changed Christina’s life
Ari Whitten: Yeah. So, as I mentioned to you before we started recording, I want to do something a little interesting in this interview that’s unusual. I want to read some of the quotes from your book because your writing is just so beautiful, and I had such a pleasure of reading this book. It’s really an amazing book as far as the content, but as far as the writing as well. As I mentioned to you, I’m not grieving myself so I don’t have that sort of personal motivation to read this, but it just grabbed my attention and was such a fascinating and well-written book that I just, I loved it.
And so this, quote really jumped out to me at the beginning that says, “I have lived in the shadow of loss, the kind of loss that can paralyze you forever. I’ve grieved like a professional mourner in every waking moment draining every ounce of my life force. I died without leaving my body. But I came back and now it’s your turn. I’ve learned to remember my past without living in it. I’m strong, electric and alive because I chose to dance, to laugh, to love, and to live again. I’ve learned that you can’t recreate the life you once had. You have to reinvent a life for yourself. And that reinvention is a gift, not a curse. I believe your future self is a work of art and that science can help you create it.” Yeah, absolutely beautiful. I have to say, I wish I could write like you, but I think this encapsulates the whole message so beautifully.
So I, I think to start off with, I would love if you could talk a bit about your personal story, in what you said you have lived in the shadow of loss, the kind of lost that can paralyze you forever. So can you talk a bit about what that was all about and what led you on this path that got you interested in grief and grieving, and how people can get stuck and not reenter life?
Christina Rasmussen: Yes, Ari. I was 30 years old, married to this incredible human being, head over heels in love with him. He was 31, I was 30. At the time we were living in California and then we moved to Boston. We were on an adventure, with love life. We had two children, a two and a half-year-old and a nine-month-old baby. And one day, his name was Bjarne, from Denmark. Imagine this six foot, four guy who looked healthy and well. He said to me one day, I have something here on my neck. And there was a lot there, and I said “that’s so strange.” It was just shocking actually, just out of the blue. And he went to the doctor, they biopsied it, and they thought it was probably lymphoma, but what it was was colon cancer, stage four colon cancer.
And as you know, colon cancer is very rare at such a young age. They gave him at the time, six months but we fought until we couldn’t fight it anymore. And he passed three and a half years after that day. And I remember, Ari, really clearly, that I wished it was me that had died. The pain of losing him…. and, I remember saying to everyone, “I’m in love with a dead man.” How can love continue? You know, it just goes on when you love someone so much. And I didn’t think that I would make it. I had the two little girls at the time. When he did die, they were four and six years old. I was living in Boston by myself. I got a job. I was a single mom, with no help from anyone and I started my journey back to reentry. And Ari, I couldn’t believe that I lived in a world that had so much suffering. Nobody was doing anything about it. Shocked. And, that’s when I said to myself, if I ever, ever make it back, I’m going back to get everyone else.
How to move on after being struck with grief and loss
Ari Whitten: Nice. I love that. So what was it, or maybe it was a single event or maybe it was more of a process. But what was it that helped you transition out of your own kind of being stuck in grief of that loss to reentering life, and then to go on this mission of going back and getting everybody else as well?
Christina Rasmussen: Yeah, so there’s a story that I tell and have shared a lot about the mailman and I don’t know if we have time to share this here, but the way I share this with people is, that I’ve discovered this place and… I don’t know, is this interview going to be just audio or video?
Ari Whitten: Both.
Christina Rasmussen: I’ve discovered this place. So, when something bad happens to our lives, Ari, whether it’s a traditional loss like the death of my husband or a job loss or something happened to you in your life…. rejection, abandonment… all of your listeners, actually, all of them, 100 percent including you have gone through something that has been difficult in your life.
I call those moments, the moment of impact, that you’ve been impacted. When that happens, when something really tough and terrible happens, we actually get exited from our old life and we don’t automatically go to the new one. We go to a place in between that I call the waiting room. And, I know you’ve heard many people say “just give it time,” Ari, “just, you need time to heal, you need time to think.” So the brain hijacks that moment, not the heart, actually the brain comes and says, this place in between, the waiting room, is actually better than actually trying to rebuild your new life. Just wait here. We’re not feeling well, just rest. And we start a life that is in the gap and millions of people die there.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. It’s interesting because on the one hand we’ve all experienced this kind of natural tendency for time to pass and for us to kind of recover from wounds…that often happens that way. But, it also often seems to happen that a person may just get stuck, or that a person may have some kind of trauma or stressor, and that is actually the catalyst for their health really taking a nosedive, and then for them to just get worse and worse and worse. Their energy tanks, they may have chronic fatigue, they may get other diseases. It can go both ways. And then I think also, given what we know about neuroplasticity, it just doesn’t seem to make that much sense to me that you would just say to somebody, “hey, just give it time and it’ll heal itself” because we know that neurons that fire together wire together. And that if you want to get back to a good place, it seems like you would kind of have to consciously practice being in that new… you know, wiring in those new neural pathways. And yet, if you try, it doesn’t feel right to do that too soon. Right? We feel almost we’re dishonoring the person if we get back to being happy too soon after a loss.
Christina Rasmussen: And, Ari, you said something really important, you know, other things can happen that gets us in this place, in between, stuck. And I call those things invisible losses, because they are invisible to everyone else, to yourself. And something happens in life that doesn’t have that traditional name of like a divorce or death, or something happens to some of us that is invisible, quiet and silent. And they’re in that place, and they’re just waiting to feel better tomorrow, maybe another day I’ll feel better so I can go and get that new job or start a new life and they don’t. And they stay there. Neuroplasticity is my favorite topic in the world. This is why I actually got out and I’m going to share the story that I wanted to share, but before I share, I want people to understand the concept of the waiting room.
It was about a year and a half after the death and I was still in a lot of pain and suffering a lot. I mean, this doesn’t go away. It just doesn’t, you don’t just enter… or feel better. And, I hope it’s okay. Is there, do we have time to share this? And you probably read it in the book. I used to live in Boston. We had a lot of snow outside, actually mountains of snow and the mailman hadn’t been able to deliver the mail because I didn’t shovel outside of my house.
One day I say to the girls, “girls were going to shovel, let’s go and make space for the mailman. He has a little car to stop right outside and deliver our mail,” and we shoveled. That was actually a big thing for me. Then I worked a job in the corporate world. I was a single mom, having time to do that was a big deal. I did it. We measured the space. It was a lot. It was big enough. We went back to the house and I see the mailman driving, approaching my house, looks at the space that I had just created with the girls and moves away. Does not deliver my mail.
In my depressed mind and devastating mind, the waiting room thoughts that I call the survivor self, the part of us trying to keep us safe and protected from all this pain and keeps us stuck, said to me in that moment in time, “you can’t even get your mail, life is so bad, you just need to just sit and cry here on the couch.” And something, a new thought came in, and this is how we slowly get out, and said, and everyone who’s listening to this, there are moments in their life when they have two options. One is to just sit and retreat. Another is to do something different. Another thought came in and said “Christina, the hell with that, put on your snow boots and start running.” And Ari, I ran four blocks to catch him.
This is how I exited the waiting room for the first time. So he would drive the car and you know, put the packages in the mailbox And just drive away. So I would catch up with him, but not quite. And he would see me in the mirror. I wasn’t jogging, right? I didn’t have my sneakers on. This was a snowfield. So I said to myself, “he’s going to stop at some point to deliver a package, right?” So actually he does four blocks down. He gets out of the car, delivers the package, and I am like getting there. I got there out of breath, mascara running down my eyes. He comes in, he comes from a house and I’m on this side of the car, he’s on the other side, and said, “how can I help you?” You know, like basically “I’ve seen you running.” And I said “you didn’t deliver my mail.” And he’s like “there was no space for me to deliver your mail. “And I said “but I shoveled.” He goes, “you didn’t shovel well enough.” I said,” I shoveled, we shovel really well.” And he goes “you should have asked your husband to do it.”
That one time I really said to him “you know, he would if he could, but he’s dead. Give me back my mail.” He went white. But that moment changed my whole life. Ari.
That moment I claimed, I reentered, I went after whatever it was that was mine. And, thousands of people have written to me when they read my story, or they have their own version. It’s not the mailman, it’s a person at work that they finally tell them what they think or their boss or a neighbor or whatever that is. We actually reclaim our life from that gap, from that passive pitiful place of circumstances in we, we slowly…. This was not a slow exit. This was a little bit of a hurricane. I mean, I looked like a crazy woman, but for me that’s what was required at the time…to exit that waiting room. And after that day, and you asked the question “what was the moment,” after that day I think I started slowing to ask for what I wanted and having intention around it and that was my first time out and into my new life.
Ari Whitten: Wow.
Christina Rasmussen: Crazy story. I don’t normally chase down mailmen, but…
Ari Whitten: Unless they are exceptionally good looking.
Christina Rasmussen: That’s true. You know, we wave at them, they stop longer time. Yes. But he wasn’t a good-looking mailman. But yeah, that’s how I did it. Yeah.
Moving on from loss – the factors and personality traits that keep us stuck in the waiting room
Ari Whitten: So what do you think it is or what do you think are the critical sort of factors that determine whether a person reenters life or stays stuck in the waiting room, or, even worse, takes a nosedive where it just gets worse and worse and worse? Have you found any kind of personality traits or life circumstances that kind of form a pattern in which a person might be more inclined towards life reentry?
Christina Rasmussen: Yes. Actually, I teach this to my Life Reentry Practitioners. We teach this to professionals. One day, every therapist, hospital, hospice, corporation will have life reentry benefits and services. That’s true, actually. We’re doing it. We are…it’s happening.
Ari Whitten: I love that. So needed.
Christina Rasmussen: This is not a maybe anymore. The work is being studied by a three-year brain study. Amazing, Ari, there’s a lot of weird things. So I determined three different personalities. One is the “attached” type, the other one is what I call the “limbo” type and another one is “complete.” And we teach our professionals to detect the type of personality that you are. The “attached” personality is the personality of the type of person, and I know you’ve met them, that they actually identify with being a victim. They identify with the trauma more than they ever did with anything else, Ari. Don’t you know people like that?
Ari Whitten: Yes, I do.
Christina Rasmussen: You see them everywhere and so the characteristics of that are that they like to retell their story. That is the way they introduce themselves. This is the way they communicate. This is how they get out of things. This is, that person cannot actually… do not want… the waiting room is actually their best way to be, it’s their highlight. So we can’t help those. Then we have the…
Ari Whitten: So you just flat out say we can’t help you if you are completely identified as being a victim, and you are basically addicted to your own suffering.
Christina Rasmussen: Yes. I know, it’s horrible to say, right? We can’t help them.
Ari Whitten: I mean, this is just true. I mean I’ve done a PhD program in clinical psychology. I’ve seen this many times and studied it, you know, and it goes by different names and oftentimes when we talk about masochistic tendencies and things like that, and masochistic defense mechanisms as far as ego defense mechanism. But that is one valid way of defending the ego that some people have learned as their best strategy for defending their ego and not feeling wounded, are they become addicted to their own story of trauma, their own suffering and identify with being a victim.
Christina Rasmussen: Yes. And they don’t, they actually tell you they need to be rescued and how they’re suffering and nobody is helping them. And actually, that is not the truth. The truth is that they just want to stay that part and express that part, and receive the attention from that part, but they don’t want to be helped. And Ari, I’m a bit of a nerd because, we’ve identified those human beings from thousands of people who have taken my classes and they’ve done the work. I know exactly the place in the life reentry process they will go, and then they will go up to a certain point Ari, and then they will reset. Yes, yes…
Ari Whitten: They just refuse to go…
Christina Rasmussen: They can’t. There are two things. There’s the personality type and so on, but also their brain is so heavy on automatic identification of that trauma that’s been revisited millions of time, and I’m sure you know about the maps in the brain that just, the more they’re visited, the stronger they get and we can never get rid of them. That’s the easy way, that’s the more scientific way to look at them, I guess. But they will not… they will reset, and they can’t go beyond that stage. And I know I can’t help them. I would give them…it’s very rare actually, but there’s probably one or two people in every class like this. It’s actually not a large number that is the complete “attached” type, which is good news.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. So what are the two other personality types?
Christina Rasmussen: Yeah, the “limbo,” which is the person that makes it. And then is gravitated back in again, and if they don’t jump into the work, they’ll stay there. It’s a risky personality because they have what it takes to get out. They have resilience, they have the ability, they have the want, the wish, the dreams, the passion, but they also have the comfort within that waiting room. And we actually fighting between what is called the survivor self, which is the automatic brain, you know, maps that make the fear center of our brain, and the thriver self, which is the new baby maps that are being created in the brain that actually escort you out of the waiting room fast if you let them. So we have this “limbo” kind of dancing that goes back and forth. And we want to make sure that we rescue them, that we help them.
New Speaker: And then the “complete” type, and I bet you are one of those, Ari. The “complete” type do the work. It’s hard what they’ve been through. And you see people like that, they do mourn, they do grieve. They have a heart, they experience loss and pain, but they do the work and actually create even a better life than they ever had before.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, it’s a fascinating phenomenon. I’ve always been fascinated with people who have brushes with death due to their own health problems, like health scares where they have cancer or they have a heart attack or whatever, and they come out of this very negative, painful, traumatic experience with a new lease on life. And they all of a sudden see the world with fresh eyes and they realize how many things they’ve taken for granted, and they now live so much of a better life and become better people as a result of this negative experience. It’s kind of this very… I mean, we all know of it and it’s very, it’s a very common thing and yet it’s also this very weird phenomenon that humans have to go through such a horrible experience in order to become good people and happy people, oftentimes.
Christina Rasmussen: It’s amazing. Actually, the part that I didn’t share is that I used to be a grief therapist. I mean I studied, my thesis was on the stages of bereavement for my masters before this happened, I didn’t know this was going to happen in my life. So I am the worst believer. I’m actually the person that I couldn’t imagine loving people and losing them, Ari. I didn’t think I would ever recover from the heartbreak of that. And I remember telling my professor I wanted to study grief and she’s like “you’re such a happy person, why would you ever want to study grief?” And I studied in the UK, so I said, “no, I want to know what it takes to live again after you lose someone you love so deeply. “
And what I didn’t know then was that ultimately this happened and I ran away from the work, right? The beginning. I ran away from it. I couldn’t imagine possibly doing it. But, yeah.
So anyway, that’s the type of personalities. I love them all, the people that you meet along the way in the journey of your work often. And in the way that I look at life reentry and all its stages, actually it is meant for everyone who’s going through something difficult and gets stuck in a place they don’t want to be. The waiting room is the way I talk about it. Actually, I’ve turned down all these TEDx talks and I finally, after all these years said, I will apply for a TED talk. I just did this yesterday for the first time. I was like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, but it’s time. It’s time to do it. The waiting room has millions of people and most of them are not people who have actually gone through tragic, tragic losses. They’re ones that are staying there and die there. They’re the ones that have the seemingly smaller, less traditional invisible losses. They’re the ones… I never wrote a whole book about this. They are the losses that actually hijack our lives and ultimately, I’m going to use a strong word, kill us. Yeah.
Your future self is a work of art
Ari Whitten: So one of the things you talk about, and it was part of the quote that I read earlier, you said in the last line, “I believe your future self is a work of art and that science can help you create it.” So there’s kind of this aspect of what you do that’s art and aspect that’s science. Can you talk a bit about what those two pieces of the puzzle are?
Christina Rasmussen: The science part – I fell in love with the science because I couldn’t find solace and hope and action in the books of grief that were in my…. Now I believe, and I know I don’t want to sound big headed, but the work I’ve been doing for the last eight years, it’s a very action-oriented work based on science. Now we finally have books out there on grief specifically that bring science and talk about action. But action and rewiring our brain after loss is the only way to reinvent, the only way to reenter. So you have the loops at the neural pathways that have been created to protect you after loss because you just experienced something so traumatic that you’re so afraid of going anywhere, trying anything new, that these maps in these loops of fear and anxiety are being created just to keep you safe.
New Speaker: The science behind this has nothing to do with your heart, your heartbreak, grieving, mourning, Ari. I wanted to get up on the roofs of the houses and jump and just scream. No one said anything about this. This has to do with the brain and the brain’s ability to take us from an old life to a new life and create a new story, a new narrative and a new beginning that is actually very different than a new identity of who we are. The art part is the dance that you have to do between the old life and the new life, between going in the way you were coming out. Because we don’t just get out of the waiting room to never come back. We actually go back to rest. We go back to wait for a day. We need rest after we thrive, after we get out and get hurt again. Right? There’s something I wrote a while back that says that it’s not the fear of loss, but the fear of losing it all again that keeps us in the waiting room. And that’s a hard one. That’s a really hard one. That’s what we try to fight against with our brain not our heart.
Moving on from grief and loss – How to change your brain
Ari Whitten: So let’s dig into the science piece a bit more. Can you talk a bit about what the science has shown as far as what actually happens in the brain with loss, with grief? And then I guess the second part of this will be what does the science say about how to effectively rewire the brain out of that state?
Christina Rasmussen: So the science, so there are no studies that I have seen to date where it specifically says if you’re in grief…it’s happening now, the studies are beginning, to study this work which is based on brain science, to see what changed and how it does it. But so the brain, in order to survive, it has to protect itself, right? That’s the way we evolved. So we’re fighting with evolution, against our own evolution. The brain will come in and say, “Christina, you just went through something,” and I always try to simplify it for people. “Christina, you went through something really difficult and now, therefore, we’re gonna stay in this.” I call it the infinite loop of loss. “We’re going to rehash the story. We’re going to go to the support group at my local hospital where my doctor has sent me and I’m going to stay there for three to four years where I can meet other people who identify with the same story as me because that’s the only place I know that understands my pain and sorrow.”
The biggest waiting room in the world, those support groups in every church, hospitals, organizations everywhere. That moment the brain gets very comfortable with that story. That’s how we create a complicated grief, actually. People are going to come after me for this, I know, because complicated grief, you know, I mean people talk a lot about that and say you need medication. But the symptoms of complicated grief and the symptoms of the waiting room are the same. So we are living that loop, in that pathway at the Amygdala. The fear center actually expands and grows and becomes bigger and it’s actually not grief that keeps us in the waiting room, but the fear center of our brain. And it will not let us start again.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. You know, I think there’s this interesting thing where, kind of going back to what we talked about earlier, like time heals all wounds. Well, we also have this narrative and this cultural belief around the catharsis that happens with just speaking about, just putting into words our experience, our pain, our sadness, our fears, whatever it is. But, I think it is honestly possible to … you can go to a support group or do talk therapy and you can continue to do it and continue to have cathartic conversations and cry and speak about your pains and your sadness and your fears and, you know, all of the traumas and so on, and you can just continue to do that forever without actually ever rewiring the brain into a better….
Christina Rasmussen: Ari, I’m so glad you said this. So the life reentry process begins with what I call the grief point, and begins with stepping outside of the grief trance and begins with really finding out where are we. Because of that re-traumatizing the self, of resharing the story. Actually, life reentry should not be allowed with anyone at least… it has to be offered at least six months after the loss that has happened. The support groups, the resources that are out there in the world right now are great for the first six months. Go. You have to share your story. You have to talk about what happened. We want that. I was speaking to the Warrior Foundation, the number one organization in the United States that actually helps four thousand grieving children a year. Nothing yet, but hopefully we will work together on bringing life reentry to children. But, I can’t do life reentry unless there is the sharing, right? But when you stay in that place, that’s how the complicated grief or the waiting room gets created. So, we do something called grief cleanse as soon as life reentry begins, we actually cleanse everything, a stream of consciousness, of everything that’s there. And then, you know, what we do? We find the patterns that are being repeated in that stream of consciousness, Ari. Can I ask you a question? Well, if you wrote down, if you did a cleanse of everything that’s in your head that bothers you, that’s hard for you. What would you see as being repeated?
Ari Whitten: Repeated. That’s tough. A couple of things that I want to mention. One is, for me… one big issue that I’ve always had is feeling like I don’t know enough, you know, and especially in the health field. There are 10,000 studies published every day and it is literally impossible to keep up with everything, and, even if you made it your full-time job to do nothing else in your life, you don’t have to work at any job, you don’t have to have fun or spend time with your family. All you do is read studies for 18 hours every day. It would still be impossible to keep up with all of the literature. So the body of knowledge is expanding at an exponential rate. And we have all these specialists so there’s always some specialist in some little narrow sliver of expertise who knows more about that topic than anybody else on the planet. And then there’s somebody else in some other sliver that knows more about that topic and so on for a thousand other topics. And I’ve always had this feeling like I should be as much of an expert on all of those topics as all of those people are in their little sliver of expertise, and so there’s always this tension for me around that. Like I, I feel like I should know as much about everything as everyone does.
Christina Rasmussen: Would you say that the pattern or the theme that you may be seeing in your cleanse, if you did it would be these two sentences that I’m hearing. Tell me which one sounds more correct. I can’t keep up or, and I can never be enough.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, the second one for sure. And it was very healing for me actually, when I started meeting lots of our colleagues in the health space. Other health experts and doctors and having conversations with them and doing this podcast and interviewing people and realizing that there are lots of holes in their knowledge, too. I was like, “oh, I’m not the only one who doesn’t know a few things here and there,” but everybody has holes in their knowledge and doesn’t, you know… everybody’s human basically. And so I’ve been able to heal that, you know, kind of feeling of not knowing enough to a large degree from that. But yeah, that’s definitely embedded into me
Christina Rasmussen: Embedded. And tell me if this sounds right and the honest truth around this. My guess is that if there was a machine that could measure the data that you have in your head, Ari, versus someone else in your field, my guess is that you will have more data than the other person.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, I mean there are certainly other people out there who are very, very knowledgeable. I definitely don’t want to come across as feeling like I know more than anyone, but I would say I’m in the upper echelon for sure.
Christina Rasmussen: Yes. So the reframing here is that we can actually find the proof of your data capture, and I’m using this word very specifically because you used the word “study” and you have knowledge that has been captured within you because your intention has always been a need to know more. So I can feel like I am enough. And because of that intention, you’ve actually built an incredible body of knowledge.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. And, that’s the gift of that constant feeling of inadequacy is that it’s driven me to kind of study obsessively and actually know quite a bit.
Christina Rasmussen: And be an expert on a lot of things. What would you say is the topic that you could see yourself as the top of that expert list, that you know so much about?
Ari Whitten: I would say circadian rhythm is one, but hormesis is another one, which is the concept of metabolic stress, temporary metabolic stress and how that impacts mitochondrial health and resilience to stress and resistance to disease and longevity and a whole bunch of other things. That’s definitely one of my biggest areas of passion and something that is kind of this weird paradox very few people know what it is or… and I saw your reaction when I mentioned the term that’s like, “what the hell is that?”
Christina Rasmussen: I’m not surprised you would respond with something like that because of the way that you are. You’re incredible.
Ari Whitten: Thank you. I appreciate that. But yeah, it’s this paradox of something that not a lot of people know about and yet there is actually a mountain of science suggesting that this is probably the single most important thing when it comes to longevity and resistance to disease. And so I’ve kind of had this… because of the fact that hardly anyone knows about it and there’s a mountain of science on it, it’s led me to kind of really focus on that very excessively.
Christina Rasmussen: Now you’re writing a book about that.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. I have a couple books in mind.
Christina Rasmussen: Yes. Your next book…. and it sounds like the… and then we ask people to reframe they cleanse, you know, from going from I’m not enough or it could never be enough to actually being more than enough, and the expert of your field. And that’s the truth. The reason why I’m asking you those questions is that actually the brain, even though you deeply believe… if we took you outside of that loop in your mind that is, as you said, “ingrained in you,” I think you’ve used that word because it’s automatic. So it’s actually taking place, Ari, without you really thinking about it and it’s actually educating your choices and decisions in your life. And, if we step outside of that and rewire it consciously and tell ourselves a different narrative from that cleanse… we change, we reenter and change our life. And, underneath that loop that you shared, once we see through that, there’s something else. That’s the part that is invisible, because that loop has been standing there is actually… when we find that part, the invisible part is the most liberating thing in the world.
Christina Rasmussen: We exit once and for all from that gap, that place in between. So yes, we start with a moment of impact, we start from the moment of something dramatic and terrible happening in our lives. But the work of life reentry is more about discovering what’s keeping us in this automatic hypnosis, of living our lives in a place of a fear-based experience. And that allows us to be stuck forever.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Fascinating. So what does this actually look like? Actually, before I go there, I’ve another question. You’ve mentioned a couple times invisible losses and I’m wondering to what extent small experiences of trauma or loss. You know, for example, something as simple as a girlfriend or boyfriend breaking up with you or something like that or, getting fired from a job that you really loved, or some kind of friendship combusting or whatever it is, but not necessarily losing, you know, suffering a loss to the degree that you have, where you’ve lost a husband and a life partner who you envision spending the rest of your life with and you just… you know, who was so much of your world. I mean, that’s just absolutely devastating. But what about these small losses. Are these kind of engaging the same physiology and the same aspects of rewiring the brain in the same way, but to a smaller degree?
Christina Rasmussen: Actually, my answer will surprise you and your listeners. They’re harder and more dangerous than a dramatic catastrophic loss.
Ari Whitten: In what way?
Christina Rasmussen: I know this is such a controversial thing to say, but that’s okay. When you have been living… sorry to ask you, Ari, actually your loop… is that okay if I just refer to you?
Ari Whitten: Yes. In my clinical psychology PhD program I did lots of this, I’m very comfortable…
Christina Rasmussen: Awesome. I love it. So, that “am I enough?” question “I’m not enough statement” actually comes from another place, not from your field, not from looking at all those people around you that are in your industry. It’s coming from somewhere else. I bet you anything you want, you already know the answer to that.
Ari Whitten: I‘m not sure I know where you’re going with this.
Christina Rasmussen: Think about the past. Think about, an earlier time in your life as a child that you felt that… in a relationship…. or in a situation….like there was a time you… you see, I knew you knew…
Ari Whitten: Yes, yes, yes. So I would say probably with my dad always feeling like… I was the youngest of three kids in the family. And there was a big age gap. So my older brother, the middle one, is five years older and then my older sister is four years older than that. When they were kids capable of having a conversation and carrying on, you know, kind of intelligent discussion at the dinner table, I was still a little kid, you know, kind of barely putting together coherent thoughts. And so I grew up kind of always feeling like they didn’t listen to me. And, this is actually kind of a joke in the family, you know, and it’s lighthearted. I don’t have any deep feelings of trauma from this, anymore, sadness around it or anything like that. But it’s kind of like a joke in the family. Like, oh, nobody listens to the little one, you know. And, so I kind of grew up feeling like my opinions and thoughts weren’t important or didn’t matter. And so I felt this, I think as a counter response to that, I felt this enormous need to develop really impressive thoughts and knowledge to kind of demand people’s attention and be like, here’s, like I actually really know what I’m talking about. You better pay attention to me.
Christina Rasmussen: And so, this is what I’m hearing, and I’m hearing you say that people in your family at the table didn’t come to you for answers. Right? And also the sentence that you actually said at the beginning of my question was that you “can’t keep up” is also present here because you couldn’t keep up because they’re older than you. You couldn’t keep up because you hadn’t developed enough to keep up with their level of conversation. So the invisible map is that people would choose to go somewhere else for the answers. They wouldn’t come to you. They wouldn’t consider you as the authority. Even though that map actually has been, the best way to say it, has been shattered by your expertise and by your incredible quest to be the expert, if we were to look inside your brain, which map do you think would be the strongest?
Ari Whitten: Yeah, that’s a good question. Probably still the I don’t know enough. Yes. Even though I’ve gotten to a place where I really have, you know, I’m very much at peace with it. I don’t operate from this sort of fear and sense of inadequacy anymore, and I see the gift in it and me kind of pursue greater knowledge obsessively still, but I do so from a place of being very comfortable and confident with the level of knowledge that I’m already at.
Christina Rasmussen: But, what if, Ari, actually because you still go after the knowledge and the way that you are. That’s the map that’s operating still underneath. Right? And what if you are ready to be without any more knowledge. What if you’ve learned everything you needed to know to help millions of people already. That’s uncomfortable, right?
Ari Whitten: Yes. The idea of just saying that I know enough and I’m good at this, I don’t need to learn anymore, is not good. And especially because, I don’t want to digress too much here, but I have seen a number of, especially doctors that I know. I’ll give an example of a doctor here in San Diego that I grew up seeing as a kid that’s been around in the preventive medicine field since the 1970s. He was kind of one of the pioneers of talking about being healthy and preventing disease before being healthy was cool and before anyone cared about it
Ari Whitten: So you’d think somebody who’s been doing it since the 1970s, who’s an MD, who’s got a, you know, all the specialization and preventive medicine and eastern medicine training and all these other specializations in nutrition and so on. You’d think that he has by now just accumulated this enormous body of knowledge that just would blow anybody out of the water. But in fact, what has happened and what I see happen all the time with health experts and doctors is they get to a place where they feel comfortable with their level of knowledge and then they just stay there. And, I mean, if I look at this person just to name one example of this phenomenon, his level of knowledge and his recommendations honestly haven’t changed probably at all since 1985. You know, I mean, there’s a lot of people like that. And that’s, for me, that’s a big problem. I always endeavor for that not to happen to me and always to stay at the forefront of knowledge.
Christina Rasmussen: And you’re the opposite of that, right? You’re the complete opposite. But I think that you are definitely the expert. I wish I was your patient, right? I wish I was coming to your office and you could help my whole family and all the people that I love and we’d find ourselves in the most healthy place. But this is a great example of what educates us and moves us to action. And yes, you took it and did something incredible, amazing with it. You became the expert so you don’t feel like that. But a lot of people live in that place of infinite automatic thoughts of invisible experiences. And you asked me in the beginning, what are some of these examples? And that’s one example, not being heard at the table. And another example, that’s your invisible loss…. is someone there?
Ari Whitten: No, I was just checking the time to make sure that we’re good on time.
Christina Rasmussen: Okay. Another invisible loss would be someone leaving you as a teenager, being bullied at school. I had a father email me once he went home to find his 16-year-old daughter hanging from…. because she was bullied at school and she didn’t tell anyone and the bullying is not… nobody’s pulling her hair or beating her up. But it was a verbal quiet experience that she kept inside of her invisibly. So her grief didn’t come from, Ari, from losing a person. It came from that experience of being bullied quietly, when nobody saw anything, and she didn’t share. She didn’t tell anyone and she hung herself. There are thousands of stories like that, this is just one that was shared with me. Those invisible losses are deadly and they operate behind the scenes inside of our brain every single day.
The 5 stages to moving on after loss and grief
Ari Whitten: Yeah. So what does this process look like? And I think this will be… this is a very big question and this will probably be the wrap-up. But, there are five stages to life reentry and this, I think encompasses the art and the science aspect of life reentry. And you’re incorporating the arts side of it, but it’s also kind of a practical guide to how to rewire your brain to reenter life. So can you give kind of an overview of what these five stages involve?
Christina Rasmussen: The five stages. First one is the stage of getting real, because when you don’t know what’s operating underneath, what is the real grief, what is the real loss, you are not… you’re on automatic pilot talking about losing your spouse or your child, or a traditional loss, actually, will not get us to reentry. So we have to understand what’s operating underneath that place. Step two is what I call, this is my favorite, the most fun place actually, called the plugin. And I named it that, Ari, because literally we plug in for the first time into the new life that is waiting for us. And we do it only at five percent, because I learned after working with a lot of people, that when we try to leap really high and jump really far, we actually run back to the waiting room and we hide and we never want to go out. So we’re sneaking around the fear center, sneaking out of it. And so we’re doing things that are new for our new life, but not things that make us afraid in the beginning. So we are rewiring and sneaking out of our fear center in the waiting room really carefully in the beginning. Actually I tell people, don’t leap too high.
Small. If that makes you afraid, we’re not going to do it. So that’s how we start. We actually… people love it. Then of course they increase slowly and seven percent, 10 percent. So we keep training our brain, and then the next step is the shifting of the mind. The reframing, the actual… I am the expert, and not just saying it. Actually, our actions, the plugins that I call it, operate under that new language and new way of describing our life and ourselves. And in the class you actually see every narrative changing, Ari. The sea of new thoughts… I’m sorry to focus on you, you’re no longer trying to become the most knowledgeable expert, but you’re out there helping more people. And that’s the focus, right? Still learning, but the focus is about how do I get all this knowledge to the people, how do I go out in the world. People are going from feeling afraid to ready to take on life. And you see, that’s when we lose the people that I told you about, remember in the beginning I said we’re going to lose some people. They can’t make it further. They can’t change the narrative.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. You know, there’s something there and I just digress a bit at this point. There is something in this transition, and you can probably put better words to this than I can, but this transition from living in fear and living identified as a victim, to getting to a place where you are actually giving back. Because actually it is it’s own kind of scary thing to get up and say, here’s what I think, I’m going to go help people with this and I have these beliefs and I have this knowledge and I think this is the right way to do things. It’s scary because you have the potential to take on a lot of criticism of people saying, no, you’re doing it wrong and you’re a quack and that’s not the right way to do things. Right? So, they almost feel like polar opposites to me. to live identified as a victim and addicted to your own suffering versus transitioning to a place where you’ve transitioned so far away from identification with the victimhood. To I’m… as a result of my bad experiences, I’m now going to go and help other people.
Christina Rasmussen: Do you know how many people actually get there? I have people every day who reach out to me, how can I be like you? How can I write books? I want to, I now want to help people. Actually, as a matter of fact, then I’m always very transparent, direct. I just had an event in Phoenix to help people, to help people reenter, and half the people wanted to become practitioners and we said no, because we want our practitioners to be doctors, therapists. We want life changes to be given now at that higher level and, but ultimately people want to help others. They want to help others because of the compassion being created after experiencing their own sorrow. Ari, one day, you know, we all go through loss. It’s a 100 percent of us will experience devastating losses. You’ll come back to this conversation and look at it even from a different place, right?
Because that’s how people who… I used to be a grief therapist before I experienced this. Afterward I was like, oh my God, how do you guys sit in a group facilitating people who’ve lost their spouses without knowing what it was like? And it was like…. grief is like moving to a different planet, becoming an alien species. Anyway, shifting, changing from the victim to…and we’re doing it slowly so we don’t go from victim to victor, right? We go from victim to maybe I want to try again to I want to start something new, I want to have a new hobby, I get my coffee at a different place, maybe I’m not too bad, maybe I do have an idea that can help my friend, maybe I can write five words to share with someone.
So that’s shifting, that’s shifting. And we’re doing it in very small intervals. And the next thing is discovery. That’s number four, and who we used to be before the loss is not here, It’s gone. And people trying to go back to the ghost life that doesn’t exist anymore with the old identity, and it doesn’t work. That is also what keeps them in the waiting room. And number five is reentry. Literally, we actually are… there was a gap in the industry between the coaches and therapists, so people either went to a therapist or went to a coach. And if you go from having therapy to then go to a coach, you’d go from like just telling your story to what’s the biggest goal you could ever have in your life. Let’s go and make your dreams come true. That doesn’t work at all from someone who’s gone through something really difficult. So we are not… life reentry sits in the middle and all we do is take people who never made it to the other side and literally walk them from that gap into the door to their new life. And that’s what life reentry is.
Ari Whitten: Beautiful. You have one more quote that I want to read here and one more thing I want to mention in this podcast that I’d like you to speak to. So this quote says, you said, I should say, in your book, “ultimately living a truly unapologetic life is about being proud to feel alive after a terrible loss. It’s about being able to tell guilt that it’s time to leave because you’re ready to re-enter your life and start living again.” This is a fascinating concept, but I think it gets at this feeling that sometimes we have that we’re almost doing good or we’re honoring a bad experience or we’re honoring a loss or we’re communicating to the people around us how much we’ve suffered in this sort of, you know, or whatever. We’re kind of honoring this loss by being sad and unhappy and being miserable. We feel compelled to be miserable in a way to honor the loss. How does one get over that need to self-inflict suffering as a way of like paying back this loss or showing this person that we’ve lost, how much they’ve meant.
Christina Rasmussen: Yeah. This is a very good question, Ari, and this is what holds people back the most. Guilt and shame. Guilt for… I can’t laugh. I remember the first time I laughed, I cried immediately after I just went….. Yeah, how could I possibly laugh? I need to like punish myself… He died. He was 35 years old and died, you know, and he can’t live life. And many people have this guilt and shame for even daring…. dating again. Or, I’m remarried to a wonderful human being. I had to buy a wedding dress. Imagine that moment. It’s like, how can I put it on? It’s impossible, but yes, that is a big, big part of the stuckness in the waiting room and the guilt and shame. But when we shift the whole culture to actually use the words life reentry as part of the social norm, we are supposed to evolve.
Grief is an evolutionary experience and our evolutionary advantage, and without that we wouldn’t be the species that we are. I believe in this with all my heart. And there’s one quote that is my favorite that is the number one quote that people find my work, actually, and it is: “You can do the impossible because you have done the unthinkable.” It’s true. It is so true that you’ve survived something so terrible. You can do anything you want, you have nothing to lose. You’re at the rock bottom arena and that’s when I started… when I was chasing… and I will end this with this… when I was chasing down the mailman, I didn’t care if the neighbors thought I was a crazy widow living in the house over the hill over there. I didn’t care what they thought. I lost everything. Who gives a shit what anyone thinks. And you go after anything and everything you want to create a new life. Actually you should. As a matter of fact, I’m spending the rest of my life making sure that nobody’s left behind.
Ari Whitten: I absolutely love that. I am a huge fan of your work, of you, of everything that you’re doing. This has been an absolute pleasure and an honor to do this interview with you and I look forward to more conversations with you. Really, this has been a blast and I think such an important conversation of a topic that is damaging to health. My audience is focused on fatigue and energy levels, it’s a major source of chronic fatigue for a lot of people. And so I think this is just a critically important topic that has the potential to help so many people. So, to end I would love to just let people know where they can find out more about your work and what you’re doing. Obviously, I highly recommend everybody listening to go out and buy your book on Amazon, Second Firsts. And, to go get that, Christina Rasmussen’s Second Firsts. Get it on Amazon. But people should also go to your website, sign up. I know you have another book coming out very soon. We’ll have to do another podcast.
Christina Rasmussen: I know. It’s about physics. You are going to love it. I am like you, I want to learn all the time. I mean we are so like, we’ll have another conversation about this, but yes, another book
Ari Whitten: Beautiful. So your website is.
Christina Rasmussen: So Christinarasmussen.com, secondfirsts.com, lifereentry.com, and I do have a hobby which is about space and we actually have a pretty cool space platform called starletters.com that is just fun about space exploration, so yeah.
Ari Whitten: Well thank you so much Christina. It’s been an absolute pleasure and I look forward to doing it again sometime soon.
Christina Rasmussen: Thank you, Ari, so much for having me.
The 5 Steps To Moving On After Loss/Grief And Re-Kindling Your Health, Happiness, and Energy with Christina Rasmussen – Show Notes
How losing her husband changed Christina’s life (1:35)
How to move on after being struck with grief and loss (6:14)
Moving on from loss – the factors and personality traits that keep us stuck in the waiting room (15:46)
Your future self is a work of art (25:10)
Moving on from grief and loss – How to change your brain (28:08)
Invisible losses (41:01)
The 5 stages to moving on after loss and grief (50:46)