I was born without an ear. I was born without an ear but to a very wealthy Jewish family. Luckily for me, my parents put me through reconstructive surgery. I was a unique child, not just because of the ear or being Jewish or the wealth. I was and I suppose still am unique. As often as I question that statement and feel a bit bizarre claiming uniqueness, I have been told my whole life just how unique I am. And I would like to think that this uniqueness has lead to Katie Sandler and The Impact Retreat. I also look forward to where it will take me.
Meet Katie Sandler
I had an awkward and unique upbringing, mainly raised by a few women who were not my mother; one was my bus driver, the other a black Jehovah witness, and the last but definitely not least, my horseback riding instructor. My mother, well I’ll save that story for another time. But when she did show up, she was pretty freaking fabulous. No joke, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. My dad, well he is probably the best person ever. As far as being a dad is concerned, he wins an award because he also happens to be my best friend. Throughout my life I’ve had influential people who kept me in contact with my spiritual connection. It’s not like I knew at a young age spirituality was key to me being okay. I always felt I had abilities. And as much as I still like to be in denial about it, I’ve realized its okay to claim them. I use them more and more every day, but it took sometime to find the appropriate outlet.
At age 17 I faced an illness, which paralyzed me from the waist down. I can walk today, thank God. I still cope with issues as a result, but I always park away from the front door so I can really be grateful for my legs. Humor and determination, faith and hope; these are things that a life challenge can equip you with.
Just as I was getting my feet under me, literally, around 20 years old, I went through a series of messed up spinal taps. I was in the hospital for weeks. Sublexed my whole rib cage. Spent over a year in physical therapy. Not fun. I hated pills because of my mom so I turned to alcohol to cope. Had a lot of fun. Made bad decisions. Got in trouble with the law.
“I have some ridiculous stories, but in hindsight I’m impressed I am alive.”
Suffering from chronic pain and debilitating depression lead me to being hospitalized 8 times. I dealt with suicide since I was 14, was in therapy at 14, being sick at 17 made my depression drastically worse. So, starting at 17 I was regularly hospitalized for depression and suicidal thoughts or plans and attempts. I just didn’t want to live. I still don’t sometimes, but I keep it to myself and manage it with my therapist. I mean, I really manage it. Its fucking impressive. Its real. I keep it real.
A few years later, at 190-some pounds, my finance and I split. The rug was pulled out from under me and my life would make a drastic change for the better. I started taking care of myself. Got over my fear of the grocery store. Got back in the gym. Through all of this stuff, I’m in therapy. Going to a therapist at least once a week. There were definitely a lot of missed appointments throughout the years.
But starting at age 14, I went to therapy until I stopped at age 27. So between the therapists I saw and the hospital programs which included a lot of group therapy, I learned a shit ton. It’s interesting how over the years I’m accumulating skill and insight and knowledge, but sometimes it takes a switch being flipped in order for it to activate. Its one thing to know something, it is another to practice it. Thinking and doing are two very different things. We often do not close the gap. But, I would like to think that through my experience I found tricks to close the gap. To choose my behavior and expand on my thoughts. Not change my behavior and change my thoughts.
One day, while in a suicidal state, contemplating what could help me shake the thoughts, it dawned on me; I needed all the bullshit I’d gone through to mean something.
Maybe if I had purpose and meaning I would have a reason to live. If I could make meaning out of everything then I could live with it. I decided to help others given what I was trying to push through on my own. Its funny looking back on that, I think, in my mind at that moment in time, I believe I had my shit together and boy was I far from it. So I set out on this journey, around 24 years old, to help others so I could help myself. I focused on self-betterment, starting with my eating habits, physique, relationships – you name it I was working on it. Slowly. It didn’t happen over night. I lost weight and dropped down to 140lbs over a span of 4 years. I read a lot. Learned a lot. Started yoga because I thought it would be a great exercise, turns out it actually introduced me to a whole new world. A world that aligned with me, a world that combined so many of my characteristics. It helped me feel like I made sense, like I was not alone.
I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology. Then after interning as a research assistant at Johns Hopkins, I went for my Masters in Mental Health Counseling. I figured it would make me credible enough to be able to help people. It was all coming together.
In school you read books. In school you do an internship for a year. Otherwise, you have no real experience with private practice therapy. I loved working in the hospital inpatient psych ward but it was not how I envisioned helping people. I originally thought I wanted to specialize in working with people who suffer from chronic illness, because if I can cope then I can help others cope. And so I set off on my private practice, I finally graduated and can do what I dreamed of doing. I never thought helping people would be so hard. I had to acquire my clients. I couldn’t just set up shop and hope they showed up. I thought in my head, I am really good at what I do, I come equipped with so much education and experience. But I did it, I got the clients, I did the work. I was good. I loved it. And then it took its toll. I realized one day that people weren’t getting all the help they needed. That coming into my office for 60 min once a week was never going to be enough. I realized I was stuck in a business model. But, this is what I set out to do. So I started another business, a mindfulness based stress reduction business that offered one on one mindfulness, MBSR workshops, and life & health coaching. I love it.
I was helping people, given the business model I was in – I was honestly helping people. But it still wasn’t enough. What got me to where I was, was not only mindfulness and therapy, it was so much more than that. I realized that if I had someone in my life that cut through the shit and helped me learn about putting the picture together, maybe I would be a little more ahead of the game. I will say at this point, I respect therapy. I respect that the process takes time, it will never happen over night. But no one ever connected the dots for me. I had to do it myself. And if I wasn’t so damn determined, I would probably be dead by now. I have realized through my experiences that others don’t have near the luxuries that I have. So it is my social responsibility to try and put it all out there.
Along the way I have learned some foundational perspectives that I believe I pass onto others and I stay mindful of these perspectives, as I am not the best at them myself. I find that these perspectives help me stay aligned, grounded, healthy, sound.
I practice the acceptance of all parts, even if I get angry or frustrated. I accept that I like being fancy and sloppy, formal and casual, serious and humorous, ying and yang. I accept that most days I care what I put into my body and other days I say fuck it. And the days I say fuck it too often signal a red flag. I stay active because it’s a gift, because it’s good for me, and because it leads to experiences. I stay socially responsible, but occasionally I have gotten out of my car to yell at the person in front of me, knowing damn well I could get shot; knowing damn well that I might be scaring this person or ruining their day, worsening their image of other humans. I know I am wrong, I know it is not okay, I know I will hopefully never do it again. I try to learn from my mistakes, because if we’re not learning then what are we doing? I stay curious because I preach curiosity. I stay compassionate because it’s literally the answer to almost everything. I’ve learned and practiced that our thoughts shape our behavior and our behavior shapes our reality.
My hope is that if I can have an impact on one person, they will impact those around them. This originates from personal experience. I grew up with a variety of characters. I know I am a conglomeration of people in my life, and I know which people had what impact. I’ve watched my impact make peoples lives better, and their impact do the same for others. It’s about being true to oneself. Because if I strive to be something outside of myself, I will fail. And most important, being your best self does not necessarily mean drinking green juices every damn morning.
So there it is. I’m Katie Sandler, and I’m here to make an impact.