Finding Strength and Compassion Through Struggle

Guest Writer: Matt Fisher

Matt is a yoga teacher, college student, and most importantly a student of life. He likes to think he has interesting and unique thoughts to share about life. Read more of Matt’s thoughts here.

Finding Strength and Compassion Through Struggle

My friend I recently had a conversation.  He is a Reiki healer and has helped me through a lot. He told me that he is able to help others so much because he has stood in their shoes before and understands what it is like to be in their struggle, yet also knows what it is like to make it to the other side.  

In a lot of myths someone would come across the path of a shaman or healer, because they themselves needed healing. Having walked through pain and struggle themselves, the Wounded healer has the ability to empathize with others, yet having come out the other side they are able to provide prospective and healing.

In my generation there is an unprecedented amount of suicide, violence, depression, anxiety, addiction and countless other signs that show we are suffering. I have heard countless stories from friends, girlfriends and people I barely know about how much struggle and pain they are going or have gone through , and have had my own struggles. But I have also seen incredible strength, compassion, awareness and a deep desire for change from these same people. Struggle and hardship have valuable lessons to teach us if we are willing to listen. They tell us to value and be grateful for those we love, to care more about the people and environment around us, to be gentler and kinder in the face of hate. We have the choice to allow these experiences to be a catalyst for growth and change, but we have to be willing to face, heal, and learn from them. A lot of the times our first reaction is to numb ourselves so we don’t have to feel anything so horrible every again. Yet when we numb out the bad we numb out the good. When we can’t feel fear or sadness we can’t feel love and joy. But when we having the courage to face the darkness, we find incredible light. And right now the world and the people in our lives need this light more than ever.

Chapter Five: Three Sisters

Chapter Five: Three Sisters

It is when I am in nature where suddenly a feeling of total elation passes over my being and I recognize what that feeling represents, memories from times in my chidhood where I was completely one with nature as it beckoned me in to play and get lost in my imagination.

The memories are of times spent with my sisters, Melanie and Michele, playing in the woods of the isolated places where my parents had their houses. Maybe our deep-rooted bonding came from the isolation where we had no one else to play with but ourselves, or maybe it was from our desire to escape our father’s thunderous roar,  whatever the reason, my sisters have always been my everything, breaking trail to make life easier for me as I was growing up.

Chapter Five: Three Sisters

Having two older sisters who were the kind of girls who didn’t whine and liked to climb trees was a bonus. Melanie, the oldest by three years, was, and still is, powerful and has taught me how to accept personalities so different from my own. With long, thick and curly chestnut hair and a Stallion-like body made for a bikini, she turned me on to Led Zeppelin and what it felt like to be cool. She introduced me to the world of acting, producing and casting plays where we softly bullied the neighborhood boys to dress as girls to perform Zoom plays in our backyard that made for the perfect stage. The best part about Melanie growing up were the scary boyfriends who revved up the driveway on their motorcycles, cigarette in mouth, hair blowing in the wind, sans helmets.

While we were in high school Melanie loved to show off her baby sister. In between classes I’d suddenly find myself barraged by a gang of Seniors, embracing me with bear hugs and delicately running their fingers over my cheeks to check out the peach-skin softness that Melanie spoke of. She ruined me that Melanie-Mouse, making me feel so adored. One can’t possibly live up to that reputation all their lives…. but one can certainly try.

Michele was the total tomboy. Independent, petite and always willing to try anything, she was the one that lured us deeper into the woods, finding sand dunes to leap off of and sledding hills with no run off where you’d have to bail before hitting your demise. We played on the hills of the golf course that belonged to the private country club located behind the woods of our backyard. A club that was restricted to Jews and Blacks. At that age I had no idea why they wouldn’t want intelligent and entertaining people around. I just chalked it up to the fact that they must be stuffy and boring. Our revenge was to let loose our completely untrained German Short-Haired Pointer who would race off to their golf course and deposit lifeless ducks on our doorstep.  Other revenge tactics included blowing dandelion seeds onto their manicured lawns and poaching their swimming pools on warm summer nights. Kids have their passive aggressive ways of retaliation.

Like the most playful of kittens, we three sisters couldn’t stay away from each other, pawing at each other one second, and tearing each other’s hair out the next. We became proficient in holding our hair from the top when facing the anger of each other so it didn’t hurt so much and we tumbled through life intertwined with one another, always playing, always wrestling. We were not of the computer/cell phone generation and so were present and everything we did, we did to its fullest.

Most of our time was spent swinging off the boughs of our favorite pine tree that stood where our yard met the forest. Climbing its branches, we’d reach the tippy top to get a much larger scope outside of the insular world that we were too familiar with. It was safe under that massive pine, and our go-to place when we weren’t playing flashlight tag at night with all the rough boys of the neighborhood, or launching off of the sand-dunes that eventually got leveled like the home we lived in. We chased stars and boys with the fireflies until the dinner bell rang summoning us to come home.

But life wasn’t always charming. Being the third child, I was placed in the worst and coldest room in the house that was situated above the garage with a dark back staircase that led to the kitchen. My only comfort was to hear my mother cleaning the dishes as I fell asleep, which led me to yell out a litany of actions she had to do in order for me to actually drift off, “don’t go in the den (too far away from me), don’t turn the lights off, kiss me good-night again before you are finished” …. the list got longer as I grew into a toddler … and shorter as my high school boyfriends began to climb onto our roof and sneak into my window.

It was scary back there in my little room. To get to my parents room I had to choose either to traipse through Melanie’s bedroom that connected me to the other side of the house, or travel down that dark back stairway with a Narnia-like closet at the top (all of our closets were Narnia-Like, some felt more villainous than others).

Depending on Melanie’s mood, who became a teen-ager way too early, that hallway door was not always open to me, and so I often lay in bed staring at the darkest closet of all, my own. With a vast imagination, that closet brought on recurring nightmares of the door slamming open and dragging me violently into an evil vortex, tossing me about in the darkness. The nightmare lasted well into my adult years and only terminated when the house, and the hill it stood on, was leveled by new owners who built a contemporary monstrosity.

On those dark days when Melanie had the door closed, I’d summon up the courage to knock. Trepidatiously she’d open the door to find me in my footsie pajamas, thumb in mouth, curly hair wildly spilling out in all directions, demanding passage, a Swiss Army Knife in my hand as my sword. Assessing the benign situation, she’d laugh at me and slam the door on my cute little cherubic face. There I’d be left standing alone in the darkness. Just me and the sharp-toothed beasts that waited to pounce on me inside the stairway closet, just a hairs-breadth away.

All would be fine in the mornings though when I’d awake to find myself uneaten with the sun streaming through my windows and the birds chirping outside.


Chapter Four: All About Harold

Chapter Four: All About Harold

My father, Harold Melvin Wernick, was born in 1917 and lived through two wars, as well as the great depression. A tall and sporty man with a shark grin and a mischievous twinkle in his baby blues, he was single into his forties and had a treasure chest filled with photographs telling tales of his bachelor life. From skiing in Switzerland with one gorgeous woman, and sailing in the Netherlands with another, he was quite the eligible playboy. But romancing multiple women at a time came to a dead stop when he met our mother, Nicolette Atlas.

At the age of nineteen, Nicolette, nicknamed Nicky, had just flown from her life in England to work for a division of Brevitt Shoes in the Empire State Building in New York City. A huge departure from the elegant American women that Harold had been showering with affection, Nicky was different from the others. There were no pretensions with this one. Very young and naive from her sequestered childhood, and deeply homesick for Gerta who was still back in England, she was his biggest challenge. For Nicky, Harold, with his American charm, adoration, grace and adventurous spirit, was unlike anybody she had ever encountered before and he awakened her to a luxurious and vital world of adventure and travel, but he was not the only man after her affections and he had to work hard on Arthur and Gerta to win her over.

Gerta, who was also a strong and positive force in my mother’s life, when she was well, was the one who convinced Nicky that marrying Harold was the right path to take. Not only did he have beautiful long black silky eyelashes which would make for beautiful children, and grandchildren (which of course was most important), he was a strong, funny and confident man. He was also the antithesis of my mother; grounded, solid, straightforward and charging through life with a purpose. On a rainy day in June they wed and my mother wept, begging to spend the first two days of their honeymoon with Gerta. My father, love-struck and confused by her behavior, consented.

Then we came, the three daughters, and it didn’t take Harold long to recognize that he was deeply in over his head with a young wife half his age and three baby girls that his traditional upbringing would never allow him to relate to.

My sisters and I as well as our mother, consistently pushed him over his threshold with our rambunctiousness tomboy behaviors, always finding the noisiest activity to engage with, from singing from the album Jesus Christ Superstar at the top of our lungs, to parading through the house as a marching band, smashing together the largest and noisiest pots and pans, or wrestling and tumbling throughout the house, and throughout the upscale resorts of Europe that we visited in our travels.

My mother never wanted to leave her daughters behind at camp and so summers were spent traveling all together on luxurious vacations planned by our father. We stayed at the “poshest” (Harold’s favorite expression) resorts in Europe; The Waldhaus in Sils-Maria in Switzerland, Marbella, Capri, St. Tropez, Zermatt, Barcelona, Ramatouelle, we lived the lives of princesses in an enchanted, but also often tempestuous world.

I believe now that Harold felt like an outsider in a young female world, and it would sometimes get the best of him, tipping him over the edge when we least expected it from something innocent that we were doing like wrestling a bit too much and spilling our Tortellini Soup, or not finishing our Strawberry Shortcake. The female harmony would be broken by his unleashing his temper upon us, standing up and waving his arms as he shouted at the ridiculousness of our behavior, usually embarrassing us to tears as the patrons of the upscale restaurants stared in pity and disbelief. But every fairy-tale has its dark side, or it wouldn’t be a fairy-tale.

As teens, we didn’t tolerate his turbulent intrusions, and were either adding fuel to his fire by shouting back, or escaping from his tirades with our friends, and our pints of blackberry brandy, into our coveted woods to drink away the pain and seek comfort from the bottle … and our male friends who were there to support us.

With time came the understanding that our father’s frustrations lay not only with us but also with our mother who lived for her children, and her friends. At times, we pitied him for living on his own island amidst a sea of women. At other times, he reeled those of us of whom he had pushed away back in by making us laugh until we cried with his charm and witty humor. If only my mother had slipped him that little blue pill earlier on in life, he would have been better equipped to make light of the frustrations that he endured being a father of three girls and a husband to a wife who forever remained an enigma to him.


Oblivious to the fact that we all shut his noise out as best we could by escaping to other worlds, or leaving the house, he’d lecture us for not being serious about life. “Life is not about having fun,” he’d bellow animatedly with his hands. This advice coming from a man who did not settle down until his forties, was very hard to take seriously. If life wasn’t all about fun than why did he marry a women twenty-one years his junior?




Chapter Three: Living in a Fairy Tale

Chapter Three: Living in a Fairy Tale

My childhood was its own fairytale. Yes, it’s true, I grew up in a fairytale within a fairytale.

My two sisters and I grew up in Massachusetts in a white house set up high on a hill. A white picket fence enclosing our mother’s wonderfully British bright and cheery hand-planted gardens. She was always in the garden with a colorful handkerchief tied on her head to keep her hair back, and playing by her side in the yard were her three little girls, of whom she adored, and their German Pointer, Stormy, an untrained hyperactive love bug, who just happened to only bite uniformed people like the milkman, the postman, and the trashman.

The house with blue shutters on Overbrook Road, Longmeadow, Massachusetts was as idyllic as it sounds. The back door was the entrance to a sunny kitchen where skylights let in the sun, and windows framing the backyard with blueberry bushes and a terraced area where I put on Zoom plays for the neighborhood. 

In the middle of the house was a wide staircase, our indoor playground when we came in from the outdoors. Under the paintings we sledded down the stairs as fast as we could on our bums, or we played jail games with our dolls through the bannister rails. When our parents would throw a dinner party, we would get in our flannel pj’s, and gather our pillows, stuffed animals and lay with Stormy at the top of those stairs and listen to our parents entertaining their friends.

My mother, who I am so happy to say is still alive and well has always had wonderful dinner parties, filled with intellectual conversations about 19th Century art, current affairs, antiques, and films and books. The dining room was the perfect size, with an antique Hunt table of the richest, most beautiful wood. Of course, it was covered with the finest of linen table clothes, Baccarat wine glasses, and my favorite … in front of every place setting stood petite enameled salt and pepper shakers in brilliant shades of red and blue.

Beaded napkin holders held linen napkins with lace edging, to the side were silver utensils that my sisters and I would polish prior to any dinner party. The china had a light blue and gold rim with dragons flying around. In the centerpiece stood crystal candlesticks and always fresh flowers.

The insects that my mother loved to collect appeared on the side tables; a giant copper ant, gold sculpted bees on marble stands, and encased tarantulas and other enormous furry spiders. On the walls hung my mother’s art collection; 19th Century Fairy Art with fantastical painted images canvassed with iridescent wings and evil-spirited spindly creatures, peaking out from behind gnarled tree trunks in the thick of dark misty forests, painted by; Arthur Rackham, John Anster Fitzgerald, Richard Doyle and Edmund Dulac. Everywhere one looked one stood the chance of being swept away into the magical worlds that my mother’s artwork collection evoked, whether it was Tiffany lamps with glowing red dragonfly wings, bronze sculptures of mythical creatures, or magnificent insects flying through space with fluorescent wings, the house was its own theater of magic and mystery.

At the table Harold would have everyone crying from laughter, but there was one particular evening, where he, 21 years my mother’s senior (born in 1917) must have thought it was time for everyone to leave, so he disappeared for a bit, and reappeared in his silk pajamas and a shower cap, just in case the guests didn’t get the hint by the clock that it was time to leave. That was my father, and I was very much like him.

It was our mother, Nicky, who was the collector of all these beautiful and magical art pieces. Having grown up in England after they won the war our mother remembers living through one of the coldest winters on record with no fuel, heat and limited food supplies. The food that gives children such pleasures such as ice cream and oranges and bananas were not enjoyed until her later adolescent years and the houses were freezing and the heat they did have came from coal fireplaces that emitted a heavy fog into the wet British air.

As an only child it was her books that she read voraciously and sought comfort in outside the house, after often finding herself locked out after getting off the school bus. The books were here companions helping her to escape her loneliness, and it was her paintings that helped to grow our imaginations as children.

Our mother’s childhood was a complete departure from ours. In March of 1938, the week before Hitler and his German troops marched into Austria to annex the German-speaking nation for the Third Reich, Nicky’s parents, Gerta and Arthur Atlas, were in England buying for Arthur’s leather shoe factory, “Brevitt Shoes” (hence the name of our eldest son, a.k.a Thumper). With news that Hitler was coming, they cleverly never went back home. Leaving their Jewish roots behind, and all of their possessions, in the little town of Grinzing, a leafy suburb of Vienna where the wine was celebrated in little vineyards in the autumn, they assimilated life as much as possible in England, starting over with nothing. Gerta was pregnant with Nicky.

A 1960's ad by Andy Warhol of Brevitt Shoes showing the "Continental" appeal of Brevitt shoes.
A 1960’s ad by Andy Warhol of Brevitt Shoes showing the “Continental” appeal of Brevitt shoes.

My mother grew up thinking she was Christian and sang in the church choir, and didn’t find out that she was Jewish until she was twelve years old. For her parents it was more benign neglect than a repudiation of their heritage as to why they did not raise their daughter to be Jewish.

Chapter Three: Living in a Fairy Tale
Arthur & Gerta

The loneliness stemmed from a father eighteen years her mother’s senior whose life revolved around his work, and a life filled with whiskey, women and cigars. He loved his Gerta but she suffered from depressions that grew darker after she lost her adored baby brother, Bobby, who was betrayed by his best friend during the war who lured Bobby back to the border with the promise of giving him back his belongings. Bobby was shot dead at the border.

Haunted by a past of loneliness and neglect, Nicky somehow emerged as an extremely generous, positive and poetic person, passionately appreciating life’s beautiful gifts and taking comfort in her possessions, and her three daughters. Our father, Harold, 21 years her senior was quite the antithesis of the women in his family; a solid and humorous man with both feet standing solidly on the ground, and a desire to bring his family back to the planet they came from.

Chapter Three: Living in a Fairy Tale

Chapter Two: Our Dream House

Chapter Two: Our Dream House

We moved into our dream house in Jan of 2009. Built by Baddy and meticulously designed by me, every window had a designated view. The house was our new baby, and our other three boy babies were making their claims on it very fast, hanging off of every ledge and jumping off of every precipice. How wrong I was in thinking I had them in mind when designing the house, apparently short sighted. “Great designing Mommy,” sadistically joked Baddy, “too bad we didn’t put in your requested interior skateboard ramp, instead of stairs.” And it was indeed too bad. Once again, Baddy shoulda listened to mama bear.

Chapter Two: Our Dream House
My dream staircase

But I was happy, and felt as though we had arrived. While it’s true that home is where your heart is, this house was the shit, where our entire family could run around inside and out in our skivvies and throw cannonballs into our very own pond built by Baddy and his beloved skidster. As a family with boys, we didn’t have to worry that our loudness would bother our neighbors, and that the only purveyors of our lives were the wildlife who occasionally peeped into our windows.

We were like real adults, with a bonafide East Coast staircase with the softest carpet winding up it and through the upstairs hallways. Below our feet lay wide-planked recycled hard pine wood floors. And the kitchen? The kitchen had windows where we could watch the boys playing while cooking. We had a side by side freezer/refrigerator, and sparkling Caesarstone “White Shimmer” quartz countertops with ultra fine mirror chips. I took immense pleasure in cleaning that shimmer. We also had a breakfast nook with queen Anne windows where the boys could eat in the sun and do their homework. The rooms had soothing J Crew faded colors that I painstakingly chose with heaps of hours spent combing through magazines and in paint stores. And it was all ours. I felt like we were cheating

I had to sheepishly apologize to the crew for moving in before they were ready for us but I was ready for more space and needed release from the tiny condo we were living in while building the house. Two years was enough. I agree that living in small areas keeps the family closer together but I’m not convinced this was healthy for our particular rogue family.

In the condo all three boys slept, and leapt off of, bunk beds adjacent to our room. The bathroom was where I went for privacy while on the phone. The worst part of suburbia was my neighbors who hated the thumping. “What is going on in here?” They’d inquire as I turned down my loud music to yell at the kids to stop doing 720’s off of the couch. Why did I never hear a thing from their two little girls?

Having space made us so much happier and we actually all liked each other again. Perhaps I should exclude Baddy from the equation. He wasn’t ready for us yet, but I didn’t mind that the oven was disconnected and sitting unusable in the middle of the kitchen.

Chapter Two: Our Dream House
My beautiful kitchen. Photo by Michele Cardamone Photography.

A yard with sod would have been nice. April in Colorado is not beautiful like back East. It was muddy and messy around the house. Even the children didn’t like it, unless they were deeply immersed in it, buck-naked. As soon as all their crevices were filled with mud they traipsed through the house yelling for me to hose them down with the warm water bib outside and throw their clothes into our enormous washing machine.

Chapter Two: Our Dream House
Our Bedroom

Chapter Two: Our Dream House
The view from our breakfast room of our local coyote neighbors

You might like Moving From Our Dream House.

The First Chapter – Looking Back on AspenRealLife

The first Chapter – Looking Back on AspenRealLife

It was summer of 2010 when my eyes opened, slowly focussing in on black storm clouds rolling in, threatening well needed rain. As the shadows were cast over Goldie & Kurt’s ranch land and the elk and packs of coyotes who frequently grazed and played in our backyard, I slid down deeper under our down-filled comforter and rolled on top of my very own electric furnace, digging my nose into his neck and inhaling his still intoxicating scent that first drew me to him back in 1995. When he sleepily arose to step bare-foot on our radiant-heated, wide-planked recycled wood floors, I asked “Baddy” to switch on the gas fireplace in our room and I drifted back to sleep, feeling happy, safe, and very very lucky.

I didn’t know that our stay in our contemporary farmhouse was to be short lived, I thought we were going to be there forever. As somebody who likes to look forward into the future I had NO premonition that we would end up where we are today, in a tear down lodge-like rental on Red Mountain, with the richest view in town. And where we were last night, popping champagne corks off our balcony, celebrating life, love, family, and friendship.

So here we are in our new phase of our lives. Four moves later. In a house with single-paned views of Aspen mountain, that lets all the freezing air in, and the smoke from our real working fireplace out. And I still feel very very lucky, but forever?What a foreign expression. Does anything last forever?

Cryotherapy: The Fix Aspen

Cryotherapy: The Fix Aspen

After one month of training in Pilates with Denise Searle, and experiencing many of the therapies that go on at The Fix, I am impressed by her knowledge and meticulous attention to detail and trust that she is on the right path to naturally healing the aches and pains of her clients, and get those on medication to be able to throw those pills away.

One of Denise’s most valued therapies that she offers to Aspen is Cryotherapy. Invented in the 1970’s for people with rheumatoid arthritis, it is said that Cryotherapy removes inflammation of the joints and also helps with athletic recovery for those who are taxing their body through training. It is also said that it can relieve fatigue, insomnia and stress and increase the metabolic rate for weight loss. With many Roaring Fork Valley athletes recently returned from running in the New York City Marathon I am thinking they could use a good bout of sessions in the Cryochamber for relief of sore limbs and torn tissues.

Starting at -166 Farenheit and dropping to temperatures as low as -300 Farenheit, the Cryochamber exposes the whole body or a specific area to subzero temperatures, which stimulates skin’s sensors, activating a response in the nervous system. This causes the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain inhibitors and mood elevators. Cryotherapy also enhances blood circulation which helps to decrease inflammation by clearing toxins and metabolic waste from the blood supply. The additional supply of oxygen and cleared, nutrient enriched blood then stimulates faster healing through cell regeneration.

These types of treatments are at the forefront of healing technologies and have been adopted by elite athletes and pro teams for muscle and injury recovery. Cryotheraphy is becoming nationally well documented as being used for the daily management of pain, inflammation, energy, and stress related conditions, as well as a treatment for fine lines and wrinkles when used as a facial application.

Although I have not yet gone into the Cryochamber, I have experienced the cryo-elephant on my shoulder and it definitely seemed to help with my mobility after falling on my mountain bike. Denise has informed me that if I continue to take swan dives into the dirt on hiking trails and body slams off my mountain bike into the sage brush than the whole body chamber is next…I’ll let you know how that goes.

*Suggested use is four – six visits close together

**Mention that AspenRealLife sent you to The Fix or The Art of Fitness and receive 20% off based upon availability. Check the website for monthly specials.