Backstory (Long Version)
I’m Shelley Lieber, writer, empath, muse, mystic, intuitive guide. This is my true story.
Sometimes we’re the last to know the important truths of our own lives.
I’ve always been sensitive. Always squirmed at jokes that made fun of others. Always sensed the emotions of people around me. I am deeply affected by the moods of people I care about, to the point that I “absorb” their feelings. I experience the pain of loved ones when they are ill.
I feel the energy of a room, home, or place of business upon entering. I instantly get good or bad vibes from people and situations. I know when someone is lying or being dishonest.
I always assumed this was true for everyone, at least to some degree.
I could always spot a trend and “knew” where things were going. I thought it was because I read so much.
I can correctly predict the end of movies, shows, and books — sometimes by just reading the blurb. I thought it was because I’m a writer.
I had no reason to think otherwise. Whatever you experience is what’s “normal” for you, and most of us think others have similar experiences.
This can continue for an entire lifetime, or until you receive a wake-up call in the form of a Destiny Moment — when a life event so affects you so deeply that your entire being undergoes massive transformation.
My Destiny Moment
For me, that moment came on August 10, 2020 in the midst of my perfect life with the man who was my Twin Flame (when one soul is split between two people — truly your “other half”).
Everything I thought I knew or believed changed instantly that day when a rumpled-coated, masked oncologist we met only moments before told my husband, “You have aggressive, late-stage liver cancer.”
A few weeks earlier, we had been told an ultrasound scan had revealed a “spot,” and Joe was sent for an MRI, which would be reviewed by a specialist. A similar ultrasound taken only months earlier had been clear, so we had every reason to expect that this was a “little something” that could be treated and remedied quickly.
Instead we listened in numbed shock while the oncologist explained the only two options that he and a review board of specialists determined were available to us. The cancer was not curable, and the best they could do was to try to slow the rapid rate of cancerous growth to extend his life expectancy.
“How long if I do nothing?” Joe asked.
The masked oncologist shrugged. “Six months.”
“And with the treatment?”
Another shrug. “Maybe longer.”
He was being overly optimistic. Almost three months to the day later, Joe left this Earth to shine among the Moon and Stars.
Grief and Loss
Grief is powerful. Loss guts you. Having such a profound experience in the middle of a pandemic only magnifies the intensity.
During that three-month period of time, my sensitivity to EVERYTHING increased 1000 percent, and not only to my own sorrow. I felt every individual’s as well as the world’s collective grief just as deeply as my own.
Violent or even suspense-filled films or television programs have always made me uncomfortable and I avoided them. Suddenly, anything higher than PG-rated was more than I could bear to watch.
Even my limited attention to news media became off-limits and I scrolled through social media feeds quickly, passing by anything to do with political events, climate change, #MeToo, #BLM — all of it was just too much for my heart and soul to carry.
Yet still the collective grief of our nation and world seeped into my reality. I felt the unhappy pain of generations on top of my own almost unbearable grief over my loss.
I lost weight, my appetite, and desire to see anyone or even leave the house. I welcomed the social restrictions of the pandemic. They were my excuse to concerned friends and family for my seclusion.
I knew I could not sustain my self-imposed isolation without causing serious damage to my own health. I forced myself to eat and get rest. And although I was blessed with supportive family and friends, I felt an urgent need to connect with a community of like-minded individuals, even if I had to create that group myself.
I turned to the two things that have been the go-to, feel-good, never-let-me-down activities of my life — reading and writing. After Joe’s death, I read voraciously: widow memoirs, Buddhist texts by Pema Chodron, Joan Halifax, and Shunryu Suzuki, assorted historical fiction that featured romance or heart-warming plots, and books on shamanism, grief and loss, and writing.
I Am An Empath
Through these readings and in my search to find answers about how to deal with the pain I was experiencing, I learned about empaths and highly sensitive persons (HSP). I discovered that most other people do not process information as I do. In fact, I am among only 20 percent of the world population who have increased sensitivity, intuition, and perception as an HSP and even fewer as an empath.
At first I was hesitant to admit my discovery to others. When I broached the subject cautiously with close friends or family I knew would not mock me, I got an unexpected response. They were amazed I didn’t know this about myself earlier. Evidently it was obvious to everyone but me. But this small foray into “going public” eased the way to what I would later develop.
I journaled nonstop. Hand-wrote scores of thank-you responses and holiday cards. Finally one day, I decided to type up everything from my journals going back to about two months before the diagnosis. It was a painful exercise, reliving the events of those few months and our descent from perfect life to end of life.
But I found that surrendering to the pain, allowing the grief to permeate my being, was far better for me than trying to avoid it. Although there were many moments where waves of grief washed over me and sometimes brought me down, doubled over in sobs and wails, it was less painful than my attempts to suppress the deep emotions at my core.
My appetite returned and I slept better. I realized how acutely sensitive I’d become but instead of wanting to run away from the pain of what was happening within and around me, I “knew” I was meant to use my heightened senses to help myself and others. Great, I thought, but how?
My intuition told me to be patient and take care of myself for now and be open to receiving hints from the Universe. And so I nurtured my body with healthy food and my mind with meditation and uplifting literature. I added daily clearing rituals with sage and crystals to enhance my ability to receive.
You might be expecting me to say at this point that the answer came to me in a puff of sage smoke and swirling of chakra-aligning crystals, but it didn’t. It came in my email inbox.
A former book consulting client had contacted me earlier about a cover for the new book she had written, a retrospective look from the one-year mark of the pandemic. I referred her to the book designer I’ve worked with for years. A few weeks later, she sent me a thank you for the referral with a copy of her beautiful new cover. She asked if I had any ideas for how she might promote her book on a budget.
When I scrolled down to view the cover, I gasped. The emotions of hope and compassion peered back at me in the face of a masked teddy bear looking through a windowpane. It invited me to join the movement to relieve the pain and suffering being experienced by those who’ve lost loved ones, jobs, homes, and hope due to Covid, disease, climate change, prejudice, and social injustice.
Why me? Why now?
I understood instantly and without any doubt how I could do my part. In one of those forehead-smacking moments, I knew I was to continue what I’ve been doing most of my adult life: writing, and helping others to write and — if they chose to share their work with the world — to publish. Only now I am meant to focus entirely on using my talents and know-how to bring light, love, and healing to the world.
I have a career-long history in publishing. I don’t go back as far as Guttenberg, but when I started as an editor at Holt, Rinehart & Winston, then a division of CBS Publishing, we still sent out the manuscript to be typeset, created page layouts on mechanical boards, and sent the art and page copy to color separators. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that is what traditional publishing did before the advent of digital press. I spent eight years at Holt before moving from New York to Florida.
I continued my publishing career as a magazine editor, freelance writer, and marketing and public relations writer while my children were growing up. Once they were off to college, my attention turned to my own writing and and back to publishing. By then self-publishing was gaining a foothold in the industry, and I began helping indie writers learn how to create and publish professional-quality books, comparable to what traditional publishers put out.
I was the South Florida Regional Rep for the National Association of Women Writers and created my own private group, The Women’s Writing Room in Fort Lauderdale.
In 2007, I moved to Asheville, NC and started the international online writers’ organization, VIP Authors, and began publishing selected authors with my own company, VIP Press.
By 2013, I turned over the reins of those endeavors to someone else so I could focus on getting my own novel finished and published. Until 2017, when my husband and I began a three-year road trip across the United States, I published over 20 novels, mostly under pen names.
The pandemic forced us to curtail our travel and we settled back in Asheville, where I remain after my beloved’s passing in November 2020. I had planned to write a memoir of our travel years, and I still intend to complete that work. But first, the story of our last year and my witnessing his transition from form back to spirit, and his continued guidance and contact is my current focus. A huge section of the book comes from my journals, texts, and emails during this period.
Journaling, timed writing with prompts, and sprints to complete daily word counts are the methods I use to stay sane and complete book projects. I want to share how I do it with you and help you to employ these strategies to also write to heal yourself and the world.
And although I don’t have a full-fledged plan as to how this will all play out, I’m inviting you to join me in whatever way resonates with you. If you want to read my stories on this site about how we can heal ourselves and others and create happiness and joy, start with a subscription to this newsletter. You can also find me on Facebook.