Season 4 – Episode 2 – Interview with Claire Benson

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-2svky-13f638a

Thanks for tuning in to another interview in Season 4 of the Wise Not Withered Podcast! Today’s guest is Claire Benson. We met at a retreat about a month and a half ago, with a program called BWA (Body Wisdom Academy) that we refer to in our conversation. She talks about what she’s learned from relationships, overcoming fear, and we talk quite a lot about trauma. The exact content of our conversation hopefully isn’t too triggering to listen to, but she does talk about nervous system collapse, so just be aware of that.

All right. Okay, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. So let’s get right into it. Claire Benson! How old are you? What is your age?

I am 58!

58, awesome! Let’s see. What roles do you carry in your current life?

I’m a partner, mother of two daughters, daughter, friend. And professionally I’m an accountant for a non-profit group that provides communication services to people with aphasia. These people have loss of language, not intelligence, from a brain injury like a stroke. I really like it. I’m not so much into the accounting anymore, but I work with a really inspiring team of young women therapists that lets me marry my skills to support a community program that’s really important to me.

Yeah, that’s so interesting. How did you get into that?

I’ve been involved with them for years. One of my good friends is the president on the board. And I was on the board for many years, trying to support the accounting function, and in the end said “Why don’t you just let me do it for a couple of years?” So I came off the board and got more organized. And I still do it cause it works, and I enjoy being with them.

Let’s see… What can you tell me about the romantic relationships in your life and what did you learn from each one?

That’s a big one… I met my first husband when I was working in Bermuda. We were both newly qualified chartered accountants. He’s Canadian, and I’m from the U.K. which may or may not be obvious. We married, and moved to Canada, from Bermuda. I was a quiet, and shy young person, and a bit of a people-pleaser. I was always worried about what people would think.

We were married for 26 years, but ultimately I realized he was a very self-contained person, and didn’t have anything of himself to share with me. And I am more of a highly sensitive individual, and he just didn’t have the capacity to give me the affection that I needed. So I was very lonely. I decided I’d honor my heart and leave. I realized that being loved isn’t enough if you aren’t shown that love.

Yeah.

And I’m now in a relationship with a really very affectionate man. And he makes me feel loved and seen. The dynamic is very different. I didn’t really know that was possible. We both work really hard on communication, and it’s not always easy, bu it’s worth it!

When you and I met at the retreat, there were a few other young women there, too. And I was really, really pleased to see you all doing the work earlier in life than I did. To me that’s a real gift.

In terms of what I learned, if I’m looking back, the advice I’d give to young adults, and I do to my own kids, is to seek out that inner learning early: therapy, retreats, whatever you can. Begin that self-reflection early. It’s so important to understand who you are, especially before you consider committing to one person for the rest of your life. You have to learn your communication styles, you have to learn to be discerning and put yourself first. You have to stand on your own mountain and see who wants to join you there.

Yeah… What started you on that path, that journey of self-discovery?

I think I’ve always been a seeker. Things have happened in my life that have made me stronger and more able to face that and look at that.

Was it more of like a gradual process, or do you remember like a turning point, a single event that kick-started it?

Becoming a mother made me more of a lioness, definitely. And one of my children was very sick. Things that happen in the outside world that you have to deal with… They make you realize that you only get one chance at this. And I think I was just cruising, and doing the best I could. But you know, you learn as you age.

Yeah, sometimes it does take those really dark, down moments to really shake you, right.

It really, really does. Yeah.

Yeah… Thank you for sharing that. I guess a little lighter then, what do you spend most of your time doing these days? What are some of your hobbies and interests, and activities outside of work?

My schedule is kinda up to me, which is a really nice thing to have. And I kinda work when it makes sense, and organize my days to try and make sure I get to do things for me. I try and meditate and walk, stretch my body and do some yoga most days. I find that that self-care takes longer and longer, and becomes more important every day. But it is a win—I have to pay myself first. That’s a really difficult lesson to learn; when you’ve got young kids, it’s really hard for mums to hear, that “You gotta look after yourself.” The reality of that is a little harder.

I’m a big hiker! I like to integrate hiking into travel whenever I can. The walking and being in nature is grounding for me. I feel really untethered if I don’t get to do that. A few years ago, I hiked the Inca trail in Peru.

Oh, wow!!

And that was kinda like the longest walking meditation… Being off-grid, and just such a moving experience. All you had to do was put one foot in front of the other.

Mmm!! How long is that trail?

It took about five days.

Wow! Oh my gosh! How many miles a day?

Well, I don’t remember the miles, but the longest days we were probably walking for about eight hours. That sounds like a lot. But we had sherpas and guides that took care of putting the tents up, so all you had to think about was “Just gotta put one foot in front of the other.” Which is a really freeing experience!

Right, so you did it with a big group?

Yeah, a group of about eight of us. We all knew each other. We were with an organized group. So we had a leader, and then we had all the people carrying the heavy stuff, and the food. We just had our day pack with us, and could just… Go.

Mhm! What made you decide to do that? And when did you do that again?

I did that after my marriage ended. My partner, still now, asked me in our early days, would I do it? I had decided unless something was really off-the-charts scary for me, I was just gonna say “Yes.” And I didn’t know whether I could do it. Yes, I’d been a big hiker, but I had never been in that elevation. And I just said yes, and we did it, and it was amazing.

Wow. Are there any other… I guess maybe “crazy” isn’t the right word for it. Any other, I guess unusual, hiking feats that you’ve done? Or traveling? I guess you put them together, you said, you like to hike when you go traveling?

Yeah, I try to put them together. We did do a trip to Africa, just before Covid, and we were on safari for about ten days.

Where specifically in Africa?

So we landed in Nairobi, Kenya. And we went through Kenya and Tanzania.

Oh wow, okay.

And you know, I don’t know if you’ve ever been, but Africa has a very different energy to it. And you totally feel it. And you see poverty and a totally different way of life. So that was really… That was good to see.

Yeah… How do you feel it changed you, if you can even put it into words?

Well I think one thing it does for sure, apart from seeing the beauty, and feeling the different air… I always love elephants. And seeing a herd of elephants cross in front of you like twenty feet away, was just, for me, a very spiritual experience. But you also come away really knowing the difference between first world and third world problems. Not that I suffered, but you certainly see… You know, when you’ve got people collecting plastic bottles from you so that they can use them to recycle them to get any pennies they can… So desperate to make a living, just to feed their family, you really do realize that we have a lot of first world problems, that we shouldn’t worry about.

Right. Definitely gives you some perspective!

Yeah.

Yeah, so I guess in the same line of perspective: what’s something you learned about yourself just in the past year?

Well, this’ll give you kind of a bit more… Core… Sort of… What I’ve been through. I grew up in a house where I felt quite different from my family. I think a lot of people start to realize that now. You know, you hear people say they think they were adopted. And I just craved being seen and heard, and I can see now that I was seeking connection, and was sensitive to what was going on in people’s inner world. And if I didn’t get any sort of connection, I’d pull back, and turn inwards.

I’d do things like buy my family small gifts, and put them under their pillows. I really wasn’t doing it for attention; I was doing it for connection. And, like many families, my parents were focused on providing for us, and totally gave us a good standard of living, and kept us active and safe. But there was also a lot of fear modeled, which made me very uncertain as I ventured out into the world.

I’m quite determined, luckily. I realized last year that I wanted to look at my inner turmoil. So I signed up for an intense training program that taught me about trauma, and how it shows up in the body, and how to reprogram the wiring. This has really been a game-changer for me in how I live my life, and pushed me to listen to my inner wisdom.

I’d always thought something was wrong with me, because I was so disregulated around other people, and I didn’t know what it was. And now I know how common it is. So I know how to practice staying in my body, and sometimes I can actually feel a little bit more regulated.

Yeah, that’s great! Is that Body Wisdom Academy, or something else?

Yes, that was BWA.

Okay, and just out of curiosity, how did you find Leslie and all of that? The whole world of BWA!

It’s kind of interesting. She came across my Facebook page, so obviously the AI was doing something. And I had been looking at… I was at a point in the relationship where we were in a bit of a rocky place. And I wanted to do some… I realized there was more damage from my marriage than I hadn’t dealt with, more from my childhood that I hadn’t dealt with, even though I thought I was okay. So I was looking at just wanting to learn something in the healing world. And I was looking for people to learn reiki from! I hadn’t even done reiki. And I think that triggered her coming across my Facebook page. And it was at the right time for me! I looked at it, and I spoke to Leslie, and I just took a leap of faith!

Yeah. That is so interesting. I feel like I had a similar experience, where… Just on my Instagram page, I added “musical healer” in my description, and I swear my feed changed a little bit just from that. And what the algorithm will throw at you, depending on what you’re searching for. I feel like it’s this weird balance of like… It’s kinda creepy, but then it also sometimes does point you in the right direction, you know?

That’s right! Yes, yes. So I think I did her free course, to start off with. Which sort of pulls you in a little bit and shows you what she’s actually doing. Because it’s got to be such a heart-aligned… It’s such a hard thing to market and explain to people in a way they’ll understand, until they’ve done it.

Right. Definitely!

Did you do the free course first? Or did you jump right in?

I did a couple of… I think I did the 7-day audio challenge, and I stayed subscribed to her. So it’s like I did feel like a little pull.

Yeah, it’s interesting how things happen to us, and we just kinda… Go a bit more in, a bit more in, until we can commit.

Yeah! I do feel like things show up when we’re ready for them, you know?

Yes, absolutely. I’m really proud of you and the other young women for doing it, because it’s life-changing!

Yeah, it really is. Thank you, I appreciate that. Yeah, I guess this is very related, so what’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve overcome?

When my youngest daughter—I have two daughters. When she was twelve, she began to have health issues. And it started with a central nervous system collapse after she’d had the third of three HPV vaccinations. And she was with the first cohort in her school, the first year that they gave these vaccines, at twelve years old, and it was before we knew much about them. And I use the term “nervous system collapse”, I’m not sure if it’s a medical term, but it makes sense to me, because she was in constant fight-or-flight, she was in high anxiety, off-the-charts pain, catastrophic thinking, physical symptoms were amassing, and the exhaustion.

So it kinda circles back to what we were just talking about, with how the body… The body works, and connects with the mind. And it was really complicated. And I was really out of my depth. And it didn’t fit into the mainstream medical silos. She had two surgeries. The first one left her with a deadly infection. And the second one kinda cleaned up the damage from the first.

And, at that time, nobody spoke about trauma, and the impact on the body and the nervous system and how it creates pain. Pain can frequently show up in the pelvis, especially in females.

After about three years, a physiotherapist started me on that path of learning about trauma and its impact. And I kinda became the queen of research at night, when I was trying to look after her in the day. I made so many mistakes… I took advice from the medical community, which I now know was the opposite of what she needed. I made her go to school, and that caused more trauma. She was rarely in school. It really impacted my oldest daughter as well. She was able to be a supportive sister, and care for herself as much as possible… But we were both traumatized from what we witnessed.

And it was just a huge period of responsibility for me, without much of a break. But with a lot of courage, and therapy, and energy healing, she’s now done a lot of the kind of therapy I’ve done. And she really started it before me. And today she’s a lot better, but she’s fighting to deal with the physical symptoms that remain—tracking her trauma on the nervous system.

The reason I wanted to bring it up is because if this happened today, there would be so many more resources available, and guidance from parents. And if somebody had just said to me at the very beginning, “trauma”, I would have known where to look. It was a very difficult journey, and I really hope that today any young Mums would be sent on the right pathway, because we know so much more about how, you know, the body really does keep the score. You’re running around saying, “Okay, I’m having these physical symptoms because of this physiological thing?” Or is it because of what we’re learning about the nervous system and trauma? And it’s just such a long journey.

My oldest daughter, now, she’s quite an amazing individual. She’s an emergency room nurse. And I think because of what she saw with her sister, she’s got a bigger picture with her patients, which I think is quite a gift that she brings. But it was a lot of responsibility caring for a child that can’t process what’s happening to her. And that really has been my biggest challenge. It’s been my biggest failure, and it’s been my biggest success.

Today, it’s not my journey—it’s her journey. And my job is to try not to cross too many boundaries… You know, inevitably I mess that up, too!

Yeah. Oh, I love that you said it’s one of your biggest failures but then also biggest successes, too.

Yeah. Yeah.

They can just be so interrelated. How you look at it.

Yeah. Cause I wouldn’t be as close with them both, now, I don’t think, if we hadn’t gone through all of that together. But of course you’d give your right arm to take pain away from somebody. And for some reason, this is her journey.

Right.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand it, but that’s what it is.

Yeah. Did you also read the book “The Body Keeps The Score”? I’m literally reading it right now!

Yes. The first book I read was “Waking The Tiger”—I think that was Peter Levine. So that was what really started to show me how trauma in childhood can connect with pain. And then I moved on to “The Body Keeps The Score”. That one was a little technical for me, but I did get through it. I just read as much as I could.

Yeah. So in light of the successes… Again I just love that you called it a failure but then also a success.

Thank you.

What are some of your other successes that you’ve had in life?

Well I think the biggest one for me, because of my upbringing, has been overcoming fear. And I kinda have to constantly remind myself that it’s okay to be uncomfortable. And just going back to the trauma thing… You know, even with that awareness, parents can still pass fear or anything else, traumatic-wise, along their children, because we now know that trauma can be passed down through the DNA.

Right, oh my gosh.

And, you know, DNA is a little bit flexible, too, so it’s not a… foregone conclusion, which is nice. But, you know, in terms of things I had the courage to do… I moved to Bermuda even though I was terrified, and I moved to Canada. I had the courage to go against my teachers, who tried to dumb me down in school and told me I couldn’t do what I needed to do to become a chartered accountant. And I actually ended up being one of the youngest people to get it.

Yeah, going back to overcoming fear: what exactly does that look like? How does that show up in your day-to-day life? Like, how have you overcome it in different circumstances?

Well it’s an awareness that the way I was programmed as a child was to go to fear and worry about doing something. So just that awareness of it, so that you question yourself when something you might want to do comes up. One year, I was hiking in Alberta. And I am terrified of heights, I do feel like I want to jump off the edge of a cliff… That’s just what it is. But I still went up these switchbacks, up the mountain, and did it! And it’s just… A mental switch to catch yourself from going to fear and worry, and trying to go to “Oh, maybe I can do that!”

Yeah!

And it’s really hard. Because I do come up against things that I have on the go, that seem to get to a certain point, and I don’t let it get out into the world, where it would be seen. So I definitely have that fear of being seen. That’s why the BWA has been good, to keep making me realize, see that, and move towards being seen more.

Right, yeah. Like right now! (Laughs)

Like right now! Yes, exactly! My first reaction when you asked me to do this was “Hell no!” (Laughs) And then a few people said to me, “Well… Isn’t this why you’re doing this work?” (Laughs) Got me!!

I love it. So great. All right, so what’s something you’re looking forward to right now?

I have some nice things coming up! I have a trip to Norway next month, going to see the fjords. In the middle of planning that now… At the same time, my oldest daughter is doing a hiking trip in Nepal, so I’m looking forward to hearing about that. She’s got… Actually, both my kids have the hiking bug. But my oldest has more opportunity, and health, to be able to just go for it.

I’m at my partner’s cottage right now, being in nature… My big thing is I want to write a novel. I have lots of ideas from my family. I’m not sure yet if it’s my story to tell. I’m kinda figuring that out. I’ve also written a children’s book. Goes back to trauma again, it teaches young children strategies to self-soothe with when they’re triggered.

Oh wait, you’ve written it and published it? Or you’ve just written it?

No, I’ve just written it… It’s sitting on my computer waiting to be illustrated and published, if I can.

Oh, that sounds amazing!! Yes! Yes, you can!!

Yeah! So it’s based on my youngest daughter’s golden retriever, who is really in a lot of ways a therapy dog for her, brought her a long way. It’s just where the dog teaches the child, does something with the child like meditate, or breathe, or shake. You know how a dog will shake off trauma, just stand there and shake?

Yes! Oh, I love that!

So it’s just repeating things like that, and giving the child confidence to do it on their own, for themselves.

Oh! That sounds so great! Oh my goodness! I really hope you can get that out into the world. That sounds amazing!

Yeah, I really would like to. It’s pretty well-written. I just have to illustrate it, and then figure out how to get it self-published.

Oh my goodness. You have my support for that! That sounds so great.

Thank you! I’d have to get you to review it for me.

I’d be happy to! That sounds so good.

Yeah, it’s helpful actually, teachers especially.

Yeah, I’d be happy to. So, how do you define success?

At this point in my life, it’s just internal peace. Health is critical. Self-care. Kindness. Curiosity. Courage to change things when you have to.

Yeah. That’s a big one.

Yeah. Yep. I think I’m successful in having amazing and courageous kids, good friends, loving partner. And at the end of the day, accepting that I can’t fix everything. And really trying to be okay with being imperfect, instead of controlling the dynamic.

Yeah, definitely. Is there anything you wanted to talk about that I didn’t ask?

I don’t think so! I think you’ve covered quite a lot.

Yeah, cool. That’s all the questions I have! Any final thoughts?

Final thoughts. I would say just… If your purpose of doing these podcasts is to try and show some wisdom, get younger people thinking, maybe… It’s just, trust yourself. And do the work. Therapy is the smartest thing you can do, for everybody. We used to think… There was a perception that it was a sign of weakness. Now it’s a sign of strength. You’ve really got to know yourself. And I know I didn’t know myself as a young woman. Not at all. And I just wish people to be more prepared.

Yeah. Definitely.

Every generation of parents tries to do better than the last generation. And maybe we do. Maybe we don’t. We always screw up. But hopefully there is a little bit more awareness coming in around mental health. That’s what I really wish for.

Yeah, I’d like to think so. I do feel like there are just more resources now, too.

Yeah, that’s right. You’re more likely to come across things.

Yeah, and like free things online, and online therapy! There are so many resources.

That’s right, yes!

Yeah! Okay well thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. This was great!

You’re welcome, I enjoyed it!

Follow Claire on Instagram @claire.benson.927! Thanks for listening, and tune in again next month for the next interview 🙂

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