“Today I will release a heavy burden. I will voice what feels unspeakable to a trusted soul. I might start with: “I need help,” “I am afraid.” “I am overwhelmed,” or “I haven’t felt like myself in a while.” There is something about voicing the burden that makes it feel lighter, and this is why: when we meet each other in the light of realness (a place where we can love each other even more because of our shared struggles and human imperfections), hope grows for both of us.”
There are a group of writers that I refer to as my north star writers. They are, to a person, prodigiously talented- but that’s not why they’re important to me. I used to call them fearless truth-tellers, but I don’t know about that. They might be afraid- who am I to say?- but then they tell the truth anyway.
These writers, the ones who always seem to help me find my way home to myself, lead with vulnerability. All of them. That is the one common denominator. When you do that, when you show up (whether in writing or in life) and say, “Here I am, scars and all,” you make a space for other people to do the same. Somehow, even when a writer’s struggles are completely different than my own, their willingness to be truly seen helps me feel seen- and then we all feel less alone.
Rachel Macy Stafford is one of my north star writers.
Some books make us hold our breath- that can be good, right? They’re suspenseful or powerful in some way that makes us stop breathing for a minute and we’re suspended in the author’s world of words for a time. As readers, we are on the edge of our seats.
Only Love Today: Reminders to Breathe More, Stress Less, and Choose Love by Rachel Macy Stafford is not that book, though it certainly stopped me in my tracks often enough. I probably did catch my breath once or twice as I recognized some part of my own story and struggles in the author’s honest and vulnerable words, but mostly I relaxed deeper into my chair and I exhaled.
Only Love Today is an exhale book.
You see, many mornings I wake up with the dull ache of untreated regret.
This is both unpleasant and a vast improvement.
When I was still drinking, I woke up every morning drenched in shame and dread. The fact that it is at the level of discomfort and not searing pain is progress, indeed.
Back then, I knew I was failing every single person in my life. I was failing as a mother, a friend, a partner, a sister. I was keenly aware of everyone’s frustration. The weight of everyone’s disappointment was crushing, but I felt powerless to do anything about it. I’d try and overcompensate in other ways, but that never works. People know when they’re being offered cheap replacements for real love and connection. It was what I could do, though, given how sick I was. It was, in fact, my best. Not nearly good enough, but still my best.
For someone like me who has spent most of her life as an ardent perfectionist, that sense of failure was so acute it was paralyzing. It is a testament to how sick I was that despite my despair over my failure, despite my life-long pattern of trying to be all things to all people all of the time, I could not do what was being asked of me. I knew what people wanted, I knew what was expected- and for the first time in my life, I just. couldn’t. I could not get better, right up until the moment I could. I don’t know why getting sober works that way, I only know that it does.
One of the things they say in recovery is, “The good news is, you get your feelings back. The bad news is, you get your feelings back.”
When I began to comprehend the enormity of the pain I’d caused, I can honestly say it was the worst feeling of my life. To know that I’d been an agent of harm to the people I love dearly, and to know I’d let my children down so spectacularly, was devastating. It didn’t feel fixable.
I bet that’s one reason why so many people in early recovery relapse right away. The fog begins to lift and you see the wreckage brought about by your addiction and the pain is overwhelming- and you FEEL it. You’ve put down the anesthesia and are left with so much grief and guilt, and even worse, their evil twins regret and shame.
The author reminds us that the antidote for that aching regret is love. Love for the people we let down, and love for our imperfect selves.
Sometimes the mountain of damage feels overwhelming, and I begin to believe I’ll never repair what I broke.
That’s what is so beautiful about Rachel’s message, Only Love Today. It reminds me that love, like everything else of value in my life- sobriety, parenting, faith, creativity- is a practice. A verb. And every day, every moment of every day, is an opportunity to love better. In recovery there’s another saying, “you can start your day over at any time.” That’s what it feels like reading this book- even if you messed up, it’s not too late. Even if you made a mistake, it’s not too late. The author reminds us, reminds ME, that I can just keep showing up with a wide open heart, be present for the people in front of me, and forgive myself.
Show up. Tell the truth. Ask for help. Help when asked.
Lead with love.
THAT seems manageable. THAT I can do.
“Today, I release myself from judgment. I will not view the mistakes of yesterday as failures but instead as stepping stones to the lovingly imperfect, grace-filled life I’ve always wanted to live. Who I am becoming matters more than who I once was. Today matters more than yesterday.”
Rachel is someone who manages to give voice to hard truths in a gentle way. We seem to place such a premium on being “brutally honest” in our society, but that brutality often strikes me as largely recreational, and it frequently undercuts our ability to hear the intended message. Rachel’s writing is more like that best girlfriend who lovingly reminds you of what’s important when you’ve lost your way, who reminds you who you are meant to be and what you are capable of.
A north star friend.
It should come as no surprise that the author’s mantra and book title are “Only Love Today,” because every word she writes is rooted in love- that’s why we can HEAR it.
I read this book straight through, but I almost think it’s best used as a devotional- that’s how I’ll use it going forward. Open it up to any point, read an essay and make a commitment to live out of that story that day. What situation in your life has ever been made worse by leading with love? Can’t think of any? Me either.
This book is a treasure, plain and simple.
ONLY LOVE TODAY is Rachel Macy Stafford’s latest book filled with soul-building words and life-changing intentions. With a unique flip-open, read-anytime/anywhere format, this beautiful book is designed to help busy individuals stay anchored in love despite everyday distractions, pressures, and discord. ONLY LOVE TODAY began as a mantra to overcome her inner bully, but it is now the practice of Rachel’s life. It can be yours too. Click here to order. Click here for a signed copy. Mail your pre-order receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive your collection of gorgeous hand-lettered bonus gifts! Offer good until release day 3/7/17. Join Rachel in her daily quest to choose love for herself and those around her at
Joanie Madsen says
I remember a women that I worked with when I asked her, “How are you?” She would reply, “I’m just perfect, everything is just perfect.” I was always blindsided by her response and perhaps it was for her in that moment, yet there was no way for me to hook in and converse with “perfection.” This is not a critique of her, just a noticing as it felt like a shiny vinyl fence that nothing could stick to, adhere to and there was simply no way for me to find connection or enter within. My efforts to respond felt as if they landed and slid right off.
Your sharing resonates deeply for me about the fog lifting and seeing the aftermath of my actions. Thank goodness for new beginnings which do happen for me throughout the day and always I ask myself am I coming from a place of love? If not, I stop and check in with myself and rather than taking myself out for floggings, I inquire and most times it’s my little girl, she’s about eight, who needs to feel safe, listened to and to know that she’s okay even if she’s feeling far from being okay.
I look forward to your sharing so very much and find myself looking for you if a few days have passed, wondering what you are thinking, feeling and what you are up to?! 🙂 Thank YOU for touching on those places within me that need to feel a human touch.
Hugs of care and gratitude,
In Others' Words says
YES. The floggings. I need to be careful about that- about taking appropriate responsibility, too. I’ve been guilty of both not owning what’s mine, and beating myself senseless over things that are not my fault. GAH. This humaning business is hard work. So, so glad you are here, Joanie! xoxox
What a beautiful book I’ve now added to my collection. Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt book review. ?
Mary P says
” This is not a critique of her, just a noticing as it felt like a shiny vinyl fence that nothing could stick to, adhere to and there was simply no way for me to find connection or enter within. ? Thank YOU for touching on those places within me that need to feel a human touch.