Becoming a Sage: Discovering Life's Lessons, One Story at a Time

Becoming a Sage: Discovering Life's Lessons, One Story at a Time

by Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780757319044
Publisher: Health Communications, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/16/2016
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse is the founding Chairperson of the National Association of Children of Alcoholics, and founder of Onsite Workshops. She has brought hope and healing to millions as an author, counsellor, trainer, consultant, and lecturer. She has written 18 books translated into 13 languages, and broke ground and fostered a movement with her works, Another Chance: Hope and Health for the Alcoholic Family and Learning to Love Yourself. Sharon has traveled the world and developed programs in the United States, Europe, Australia, and Canada, and has appeared on The Phil Donahue Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Larry King Show, as well as in multiple media events.

Read an Excerpt


Sages are people who have reached a time of inner wisdom and peace and yet yearn for more. The art of becoming a sage mixes personal life experience with learning from ancient and historical people who have gathered their own wisdom. Sages know that they stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. When ancient wisdom and current wisdom collide, they activate the process of becoming a living sage.

Sages are radiant, vital, grateful, curious, settled, accepting, and responsible. They are mystics, psychics, shamans, and wise men and women. By their very presence, they lay down paths and lead others to find their own path. Gurus encourage people to follow their teachings; sages encourage others to find their own personal path.

Historian and author Tamara Hareven identifies 'time' as a life span, an approach that helps us to see the developmental transitions and changes that are the defining moments in our lives. Some of these moments we choose and others are thrust upon us, testing our resiliency. Sages are the mentors, leaders, and teachers who honor our stories that have shaped us and then help pass them on to the people of the future. Our memories are transmitted in words, traditions, and wisdom.

Writing this book at this time is recapturing and sharing my memories one more time. We live in a culture and era where many things have been kept private and unspoken. For me, this is the time to tell some stories for the first time and retell others that are important. It's not always easy to tell our stories; it can be too scary and too private. As we grow older, however, we find courage and confidence by deciding to become 'a teller of truth.' We have earned that position, and we gain mastery as we tell our stories. Each of us has a first and last day of life. In between, each of us has an incredible number of stories. Our stories are the legacy that we leave to family and friends.

Dr. Tim Frank, a compassionate sage, once whispered in my ear, 'Keep the wisdom; let the experience go.' Little did he know the profound effect those words would have on me. He awakened in me the acceptance that I have lived with that 'letting go' process for a very long time. When I failed to heed those words, life became a painful struggle. My life has had soaring highs and deep lows. It has been a journey of 'lessons learned' and a celebration of living with those lessons. My hope is that my stories will bring you some solace, comfort, and joy—and inspire you to write or record your own stories.

Once a great lesson has been learned, Dr. Frank explained, there is no going back. The butterfly never returns to the cocoon. In my programs of recovery in the Black Hills, I used to say, 'Once you know, you cannot 'not know' again. Information must lead to change or it becomes depression.'

Peter, Gary, and Dan

My life has been graced with many sages, female and male. In my family, strength, intellect, and goodness came through many powerful women; male energy, however, was glaringly absent. But the universe did provide me with masterful and loving male sages that have led me to a very balanced and rich adulthood that continues to this day.

Two special male sages, Peter Vegso and Gary Seidler, became my publishers. They, like other men before them, believed in me, and my talents. Peter and Gary moved to the United States from Canada with dreams and talents of their own. One of the gifts they both possess is an inner goodness that helped them discover the value of respect and relationships in both their personal and professional lives.

For me, there was no sharp distinction between being friends and coworkers. Professional distance was neither part of my training nor my value system. Meeting Peter and Gary was life-changing and affirming.

Colorado Opportunity

My first connection with them is a story on its own, and this book is told in a storytelling style because basically, I am a storyteller. When we met, I was a counselor and was setting up a practice in Minnesota to work with youth and adult children of alcoholics. Speaking in workshops and traveling for the agency that hired me had been the extent of lecturing that I had done, even though public speaking had come naturally to me ever since high school.

A telephone call brought an amazing invitation one day. Virginia Satir, a master family therapist well known in the field, was scheduled to deliver the keynote address at a major national conference in Colorado. Her topic was family therapy; hundreds were expected to attend. Virginia had fallen ill at the last minute and suggested that I replace her. I had about two days to prepare and get to Colorado. Without hesitation, I accepted. I was soon to meet Dan Bartmettler, another wonderful sage.

From Local Speaker to National Stage

The success of that conference is what brought me to the attention of Gary Seidler and Peter Vegso. They then invited me to speak at one of their conferences. These three dynamic men formed much of my professional male interaction for many years.

They helped me by putting me on several national stages. They also showed me what a team of healthy men running healthy organizations looked like. They built a field of addiction, family, and codependency knowledge that had not existed before. Their conferences, the books they published, and the workshops they staged have saved and enriched the lives of countless people. The training they developed has produced competent therapists and innovative leaders in the fields of addiction, codependency, and mental health. I am humbled to have been part of the birth of a movement and development of a field.

Storytelling as an Art

I can't help being a storyteller. Life reveals itself to me and directs me through stories. When someone brings up a topic, I think, I have a story about that. The stories just flow out of me. Once one of my children said, 'Mom, you tell too many stories.' Then she added, 'You also sometimes embellish those stories and they are not exactly the way I remember it.'

I took that to heart and thought about it. I decided that being a storyteller is just who I am, embellishments and all. I hope my stories will mostly be a source of joy to me and of interest to others. I do add texture, color, and details. Hemingway once said, 'All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened.' As long as they are true, the details can afford to be rich and colorful.

I love this quote from Madeleine L'Engle: 'Stories make us more alive, more human, courageous, and loving.' When I tell a story, it will contain many facts, and it will also contain my memory of an incident that is true for me. Others might have different memories. I will be sharing many stories from the people who have enriched my life. They are ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

As this book took shape, it became clear to me that a pure memory is only pure when you are asleep or in a coma. Otherwise we are changing every single time we remember something, maybe changing every hour and every day. My rewrites have been persistent and plentiful. Each time we remember, we remember differently because we are different. It has been hard work to freeze-frame life, story by story, to capture the memories that have made me who I am today.

Some of my journey is heavy, some is light, some is dark, and some is full of joy. Understanding my life has become increasingly focused, serene, and empowering. I have been able to understand the stages that defined me inward and outward. Going deep inside to find my shadows and bringing them forward to take their place beside my gifts was a brutally honest journey. It has brought me inspiration, inner peace, and personal power. As Joan Didion said, 'We tell ourselves stories in order to live life.'

I invite you to share my journey through storytelling with Carl Jung's words in mind: 'Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.' Each story calls to us and presents a karmic lesson. The word karma will be used often in this book; the definition I refer to is 'a person's actions in this world that help decide their fate in future times.' The action can be words spoken or deeds done. It is the principle of causality, which holds that an individual's intent and action influence his or her future. There are many schools of thought about, and definitions of, this principle, but this is the one I will be referring to in my writings about karma.

Sometimes people are stuck in their lives and cannot get past certain situations. I hold that when someone stays stuck too long, he or she may be doing someone else's work. Each of us has a karmic ancestry; it's important that we separate from it so we can move on. Sometimes we have to leave a situation and accept that it is not ours to solve. It belonged to our ancestry and we have just carried it.

Becoming a sage is not defined by age. Each life is lived individually. Not everyone lives through all the natural cycles. Some lives are shorter, and some manage to live through all the cycles in that shorter life span. Some people advance in years but never make it through all the cycles. My plan is to go through each of the cycles and transformations and let you decide where you are and where you might like to go in your journey.

I believe in stories, in their ability to keep the dead alive and the living engaged. There are no rules in storytelling; your story is your truth.

To have known the extremes of joy, grief, loss, birth, letting go, poverty, wealth, fame, rejection, comfort, and fear is to be fully aware of one's self. When all the ingredients come together in a recipe of life, we become a personal masterpiece. The sweet and the sour blend in the production of each life. So it is. We are the sum of our experiences and choices.

For me, the decision to tell my story at this time, both personally and professionally, is because I accept myself as a link in a chain. The intensity of my relationships with people who have gone before me needs to be linked to those who come after me. I hold stories that no one else knows and it's time to tell them.

Even though my name has been before the public for forty-three years through my books, movies, workshops, and lectures, my private life has been private. That was always my choice because I believed that my soul mate, my children, and my grandchildren deserved autonomy. They have their own views and their own stories.

I want to be clear that I love them all with my whole heart and soul; they are the most important people in the world to me. They will only be mentioned indirectly throughout, unless it's integral to a certain story. I have tried to keep it my story and not their story. Hopefully, some day they will each write their own story. My story is mine to share and these are the reasons for choosing now as the right time. I choose:

Engagement over retreat
Passion over leisure
Redirection over retirement
Joy over depression
Small over big
Manageability over overwhelm
Curiosity over 'been there, done that'
Learning over knowing

As Robert Browning wrote, 'Grow old along with me!/The best is yet to be.' I invite you to share my journey and my stories.

The first eight chapters of this book comprise Part One. It focuses on telling some of my stories and inviting you to share in the life lessons that have brought me to this time. A reflection that sums up the lesson learned follows each story. As a therapist, public speaker, entrepreneur, and author, I've already told many of these stories. They cover so many extraordinary experiences and events and hold so many lessons. I love telling them.

Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse

©2016 Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Becoming a Sage: Discovering Life's Lessons, One Story at a Time. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xv

Foreword xvii

Introduction 1

Part 1

Chapter 1 The Early Years

My Restless Soul 9

The Hobos 12

Chicken Sexing 14

Pheasant Hunting 16

Smells and Memories 18

Special Aunts: My Family Sages 21

What Is Being Poor? 23

Bathtubs 26

Stockings: Its All About Status 28

Abandoned 30

Brass Bed 32

Stuttering and Speaking: Finding My Voice 34

Spirituality and Holy Hell as a Child 36

Childhood Resiliency 39

Chapter 2 High School Years

Growing Up 41

Two Alcoholic Parents 44

Inside Life and Outside Life 46

Alcohol and Cigarettes 48

Mrs. Mett, My Speech Sage 50

Mr. Halos, My Business Sage 52

Hard Times 54

Sex Ed 56

Social Life 58

The Fire 60

Chapter 3 Becoming Responsible

Move to the Big City 63

Fairy-Tale Wedding 66

Eden Prairie: My Own Home and Family 68

My Dad's Suicide 71

Prayer Table 74

Cursillo 76

Time, Energy, and Money 78

Heartview Treatment Center 81

Divorce from Tom 83

Chapter 4 Evolution

College 87

Friendship Club 89

University Years: The Sixties 92

Family Time with Don 95

Nurturing Networks, Inc. 98

Healing in My Thirties 100

Disneyland and Walt Disney World 101

The Family Factory 104

The House 106

My Search for Virginia Satir 109

Virginia Satir, My Professional Sage 111

The Esalen Institute 114

The Johnson Institute 116

Changes at the Johnson Institute 118

Air Force Family Programs 120

Freedom Fest 122

Minnesota North Stars 124

Olga Worrall, Psychic and Sage 126

The Freedom Institute 128

Struggles Writing My First Book 129

Leaving the Johnson Institute 131

Don and I Divorce 133

Chapter 5 Onsite Begins

Angels Appear 135

Texas Invitation 138

Red Rose 139

Conferences, Keynotes, and Workshops 141

Texas Surprise 143

Meeting Joe Cruse 145

Restless in Palm Springs 147

Back in the Business of Onsite 149

A Home in the Black Hills 151

A Place for Our Programs 153

Crestwood 155

Chapter 6 Golden Years of Onsite

Blessings 157

Reconstructions 160

Nicotine Addiction 162

Coupleship Programs 165

Living Centered Program 167

Twelve Steps of Recovery 169

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics 172

Lady in the Red Dress 174

Mystical Happenings: Danny 175

Favorite Group-Leader Stories 177

Marty Mann Award 179

Jerry Florence, My First Musical Sage 182

Lace Afghan from the Homeless 184

Retirement or Redirection 185

Jobs Versus Careers 186

All Teachings Axe the Same 188

Chapter 7 Las Vegas

Culture Change: Learning How Not to Work 191

Timeless Time 194

The Minnesota Vikings 195

President Gerald Ford's Funeral 197

The Giraffes 199

Cancer, the Hard Word 201

Trip Around the World 203

Spa Experiences 206

Chapter 8 From Restless Seeker to Sage

2012: Three Crises 211

Trauma 214

Grief, Guilt, and Forgiveness 217

Forgiveness Is Freeing 221

The Courage to Change 223

Living Smaller 225

The Apple Dishes 228

Prayer Table 231

Marine on St. Croix 233

Crisis and Caretaking, Again 236

Who Takes Care of the Caretaker? 238

Reflections on Family and Relationships 240

My Children 241

My Grandchildren 245

My Soul Mate 248

Memories of My Mom 250

Memories of My Dad 252

Legacy Conflicts 253

My Grandma's Funeral 255

Dogs Are Important! 257

Contentment in Colorado 260

Part 2

Chapter 9 What is a Sage?

Basics of Wisdom 269

We Choose Our Journey 270

The Meaning of Harvesting 272

Harvesting My Life 273

Sages Celebrate What They've Done Right 275

Bob Subby, Spiritual Sage 277

Jerry Moe, Children's Sage 278

Claudia Black, Helping Professionals' Sage 279

Larry Cumpston, My Financial Sage 280

Peter Alsop, My Second Musical Sage 281

Getting Rid of What Doesn't Matter 282

Sage Training 284

Sages Are You and Me 286

Transformation 289

Choosing to Harvest 291

The Now 292

Epilogue 293

About the Author 294

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