After facing her trauma and learning how to heal from the inside out, Ruthie Lindsey has become an inspiring picture of self-love.
Words by Ginny Ellsworth
Photos by Abigail Bobo
We all have moments in life that seem downright overwhelming. Like you’re stuck in quicksand and can’t seem to dig your way out. Moments that leave us looking up to the sky, asking God when we’re going to catch a break. Your moment might look different than someone else’s, but no matter what it looks like, the pain still reaches deep.
Ruthie Lindsey is no stranger to pain. In her senior year of high school, she was hit by an ambulance going 65 miles per hour, leaving her with three broken ribs, punctured and collapsing lungs, and two broken vertebrae. But it wasn’t just any vertebrae; it was the C1 and C2, the ones closest to her brain. After fusing the broken vertebrae, doctors gave her a 5 percent chance to live and a 1 percent chance to walk. She was discharged after only a month, and she walked out of the hospital, y’all!
Ruthie went on to graduate from college, and on time. She left her family farm in southern Louisiana and moved to Nashville for a job opportunity that fell in her lap. Shortly after marrying a musician who caught her attention, Ruthie’s past started creeping in. She experienced shooting pains, and doctor after doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Finally, one took a closer look and probably saved her life. The metal wire that was used to fuse her vertebrae years before, was piercing her brain stem.
This discovery took her down a long road of more doctors, therapies, surgeries, and narcotics. All of which she was paying for out-of-pocket. Just before coming to visit her in Nashville and reveal his plan to sell the family farm to help pay for her last surgery, Ruthie’s dad fell in a freak accident—and just like that, he was gone.
If you are thinking that there was no room for any more trauma in this beautiful girl’s life, her 10-year marriage began falling apart. Ruthie moved home to Louisiana where her family could help care for her. There, she spent every day in bed, depressed and highly medicated. “I just completely isolated myself—shut down, checked out, took all the drugs [the doctors] recommended, and stopped living life,” she says of the four and a half years she spent in this dark internal place. It’s a story that makes you feel heavy, but we are not going to stay there. Ruthie didn’t.
Something shook her as she lay in bed one day and snapped her back into action—likely the threat of being sent away to get help, along with words from her brother. He came into her room and told her to get up and live life. And with the same determination and resilience that sent her walking out of the hospital years before, Ruthie did. She weaned herself off the drugs in just four months and discovered the powerful healing effect that facing trauma head-on has on the body.
“All the pain, all the loss, all the trauma, was this beautiful invitation to do all this really hard work. And it was so healing,” Ruthie says with joy in her voice. “I thought for a really long time that my body was against me and hated me because it was the source of all my pain,” she explains. But she came to realize that she actually abandoned her body, rather than her body abandoning her. After embracing that realization and learning how to heal from the inside out, she has become an inspiring picture of self-love.
“I jumped straight into serving other people,” Ruthie says about her turn of events. “I knew that this would be my job: looking for beauty, serving people, loving people, trying to help them find hope and joy.”
Even while serving and inspiring others, she talks about the numbing techniques that held back her own healing. I think we can all relate: “being with people, staying super busy, drinking too much wine, using entertainment like TV and my phone—here were so many ways to distract and try to avoid pain.”
Ruthie never had intentions of writing her story. To write it would mean to relive it, which sounded anything but appealing. However, she actually found much healing in the two-year process. “Writing the book, as crazy as it is, really brought me the most healing. I had to relive my car accident, my divorce, my dad’s death, my surgeries, living in that bed.”
Writing There I Am sent Ruthie on a journey of embodiment, a foreign term to many of us, as we remain distracted by our busy lives. Ruthie’s friend and teacher, Hillary McBride describes embodiment as “the experience of being a body—fingers, toes, emotion coursing through our core—instead of just a thinking being or only thinking about our body when it comes to our appearance.”
Ruthie embraced the concept and put it to work in healing herself. In addition to a ton of trauma work, she began practicing mindfulness and meditation. “These things brought me back inside. I started seeing my body as this beautiful vessel that has been holding me and taking care of me, and loving me and holding my soul. It has changed everything.”
This attitude of gratitude gave Ruthie a whole new perspective. “It has all been a part of the journey,” she says. “I see all of it—the wreck, the wire, my divorce—as part of the journey to bring me back home to myself. And as crazy as it sounds, I see it all as really loving.” Suddenly, Ruthie was able to see that the hard parts of life were happening for her, instead of to her.
Ruthie now travels the globe speaking on embodiment, self-love, and living in the present moment, encouraging others to face their trauma and heal from the inside out. “Our body holds the trauma,” she explains, referencing Bessel van der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. “The lie that trauma tells us is that we are all alone,” she says. “We try to push it down and we try to stuff it and we try to avoid it, but it doesn’t go away,” she says of the trauma that we all face.
“Healing is for all of us,” she says. “We are so deserving of it, and we are so worthy.”
So, let’s bring it back. Remember at the beginning when you read, “We all have moments in life that seem downright overwhelming”—and that moment for you flashed into your mind? How do you begin that healing process that has transformed Ruthie’s life?
One of Ruthie’s go-to resources is a journaling practice called JournalSpeak, by Nicole Sachs. It involves writing (or typing) a stream of consciousness acknowledging what you are feeling and thinking in the moment. The topic can be something from the past or something in the present: family, friends, work, situations, events from childhood. If you don’t know where to begin, start with what you are feeling in that moment. JournalSpeak helps Ruthie, and so many others, to process hard emotions. In JournalSpeak, when you’re done you delete it all. Or if you wrote it, you tear it up. “It was never actually true,” Ruthie says of the words on the page. “It’s just that your body didn’t realize that.”
Ruthie follows up her JournalSpeak practice with a love meditation directed toward the same person her emotions were directed toward in her journal entry. “It sounds so basic and so simple, but it has brought so much relief in my body,” she says. “The only way through it is actually through it.”
If you are new to meditation, Ruthie says the Headspace app is a great place to start, but she is biased toward being in nature without her headphones. “Truly the greatest medicine in my life is being in the woods and going on walks, and just observing,” she says. A good friend taught her a form of meditation called Forest Bathing. “You walk super, super slowly,” Ruthie explains, “and you just engage your senses.” Notice all the different colors. Notice all the different sounds and smells. “Engaging your senses reminds you that you are here, that you are present,” Ruthie says. “So often, we are either future-tripping about something we’re scared about in the future, or we are regretting something that happened in the past.”
“There are a million things out there that are little things, but they’re just really loving to do for yourself,” she says. Whatever you choose, consistency is key, even though it is so easy to slip out of these habits. “When I stick with a practice,” Ruthie says of her on-going healing process, “I can just tell a huge difference.”
Ruthie’s book tour will be kicking off this spring, but the best place to find her right now is on Instagram. A quick glance at Ruthie’s feed will tell you she loves to dance. Well into her healing journey (after seven years of pain, suffering, and internal and external scars), one night Ruthie was dancing it out to Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake’s greatest hits medley, when she caught a reflection of herself in the window. For a second she paused and said to herself, “Oh, there I am.” It was a revelation that became the title of her book, and one that we can all find, if we take the time to be with ourselves.