Second Acts & Becoming Whole

12 mins read

Jennifer Shaw is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), yoga instructor, health and wellness coach, and podcaster. She is vibrant, physically active, and loves to read—in fact, Jennifer read 33 books in 2020! 

She is also an advocate for clean living in all areas of one’s life. 

“I cherish everything about my physical body, my emotional body, and my spiritual body,” Jennifer says, “And I make sure that what I consume in all areas is going to help me be a better person.”

Jennifer was a cheerleader in high school and was hired to work with the National Cheerleading Association immediately after graduation. She had been a varsity gymnast, as well, and suffered various injuries along her athletic path that required physical therapy. 

“Every time I went to physical therapy, I thought, ‘This is so fun! They get to play all day. They work out in the gym with their patients.’ I had this fascination with understanding the physical body. And I was always a physically active person. I knew from the moment I went to college that I was going to be a physical therapist.”

Jennifer continued to work with the NCA throughout college, and she credits the experience for her development as a leader. Jennifer relates, “If you can stand on a stage and get 500 teenagers to listen to you, you can get any audience to pay attention. I credit much of my teaching ability, as well as my public speaking and leadership skills, to working with those coaches, cheerleaders, and colleagues. It’s an incredible organization.”

Jennifer recalls, “After seven years of college, I was a professional cheerleader; I was very fit and excited to take on the world. I worked hard and got my dream job. I couldn’t wait to get started. Plus, I was involved in a new relationship.” 

Three weeks into her career as a physical therapist, Jennifer was riding her bike when she was hit by a car. Jennifer shares that she “suffered a spinal cord injury, a brain injury, a brainstem injury, and all the other back injuries that there are. I went from being a professional athlete to dependent on pain medication and fully disabled. I never was paralyzed, thankfully, but I suffered a lot of neurological symptoms.”

Conventional Western medicine wasn’t offering Jennifer much hope for her own physical recovery. In fact, Jennifer remembers, “I went from a very big personality to very small. I really struggled. And after eight months of pain pills, the doctors finally told me that I’d be dependent on pills for the rest of my life. I did what any rational 26-year-old would do. I put the pills away in a shoe box and said, ‘No more.’ Maybe I was irrational, but it was rational. I stopped taking medicine, and I was in severe chronic pain for over five years.”

Those five years were difficult, and Jennifer was told many times that life was as good as it was going to be for her… that she should accept it. She remembers how, “Everywhere I turned, I was told ‘It’s not so bad to live in pain for your whole life,’ or, ‘At least you’re walking; you could be dead.’ It was so heartbreaking.

Not to be deterred, Jennifer was strong in her belief that “This was not my destiny. I wasn’t going to give up. There were times that I really wanted to. And looking back, I know that I was very depressed. I was just shoving all my emotions down. I was numbing with alcohol.”

With the support of Dr. Christopher Chisolm, her pain specialist, Jennifer slowly began to explore natural healing. She was introduced to yoga, and through its practice, Jennifer was introduced to her acupuncturist, Ginger. As Jennifer’s healing modalities evolved, she shares that she was “extremely reluctantly introduced to essential oils.” In fact, Jennifer admits that she only agreed to try the oils to prove a friend wrong. Little did she know that her life was about to change yet again. 

“Within six weeks of following my friend’s instructions, I was pain free for the first time in five-and-a-half years. I was floored! I couldn’t believe that the compounding effect of all of the habits I had been practicing, along with the addition of essential oils, allowed me to feel a pain-free day for the first time in years!”

Life began to look bright for Jennifer again as she looked toward her future. “I started to gain my life back, and my personality was returning. I’m a tiny person at 4’11, but I have a huge personality. And I’m very driven and eager.” 

Soon, Jennifer went through yet another huge life change: 

“After six-and-a-half years together, my partner proposed. I thought, ‘This is what we’re supposed to do.’ That’s the next box, right? So, I checked it. And we got married. At this point, I had started my health and wellness business. I was doing well, and I was getting to the point where I was going to leave my physical therapy career.”

But soon after their honeymoon, Jennifer began to better understand the dynamics of her relationship with her husband. “I quickly realized that, to him, marriage meant ownership. And it became a very unhealthy, toxic relationship for both of us. I was told I wasn’t to speak about my injury and recovery. He told me that it wasn’t impactful to others; nobody wanted to hear about it. It was nothing important. My injury was never ‘that bad.’”

 Jennifer began to question herself and the journey she was undertaking. Then, the marriage became unhealthy to the point of Jennifer feeling the need to get away. 

“Thankfully, I had an income that provided me the opportunity to escape and not be found. I was able to disappear for a bit of time to get some healing done. A controlling spouse is going to be controlling even after leaving, but I felt safe, being able to leave and take care of myself. It was a big blessing.”

Six months after leaving her marriage, Jennifer was still hearing her ex-husband’s words in her head—that her story wasn’t important and that it wouldn’t change anyone’s life. Jennifer knew different. 

“I knew in my heart that I had so much to share and so much value to add. And since I wasn’t allowed to speak in my marriage, I was going to speak on the largest platform I could think of. And that was podcasting. I started my podcast, honestly, to heal myself, to share my story, and to gain confidence. To know that my experience made an impact. I started my podcast for a selfish reason… to document my healing journey. It’s turned out to be so much more. It’s been absolutely incredible.”

The Natural Wellness Tips Podcast was born out of Jennifer’s desire to share her experience and offer hope for people living with chronic pain and/or healing from abusive relationships. 

Jennifer says, “In the beginning, I had topics I wanted to cover. Just the other day, I found the document listing them. I only got through a third of them before I just started to follow my heart.

“Now, I share what’s happening in my life. I recently did an episode on communication and getting back into a relationship after an abusive one. I covered questions like do I need to feel safe? And what does that mean? And how do I communicate in relationships? I now truly speak from my heart and from my life. And thankfully, I have an amazing partner who is totally on board and supports me being fully vulnerable and raw. Even if he’s part of the discussion, he says, “Share it. People need to hear this.””

Jennifer recently started a membership site that includes meditations and yoga classes. Jennifer considers it her opportunity to “spoil” her community while she continues her mission to “help people live their healthiest, happiest life through simple, sustainable, healthy habits. I am so blessed to have people who believe in me, and that I get to be a light for so many people.”

Jennifer’s two dream guests are authors Jordan Peterson and Mark Wolynn, and her wish list includes being a guest on Joe Rogan’s podcast. Her plan is to grow her business financially to a place where her fiancé can work with her. She also intends on spending some time in Mexico with him before starting their family. Jennifer and her fiancé are also buying a home in the next few months. Even more exciting is the news that Jennifer is celebrating her 20th month of sobriety!

Jennifer sums up her journey to healing and wholeness with these words of wisdom: 

“We have this idea in life that it’s all or nothing. And it’s just not the truth. I evolved because six years ago, I made a decision to change everything. I made one decision at a time, and I changed one habit at a time… one thing at a time. And those ‘one things’ have had a compounding effect. Take one step at a time, and you can reach any goal you have.”

 

March 2021 Issue

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