FROM FANTASIES TO FAME
Suzanne Somers figured out early on how to fantasize. While her schoolmates were joyriding through her northern California neighborhood on their Schwinn® bicycles and roller skates, Suzanne was often nowhere to be found. Only her brothers and sister knew her secret; they sometimes accompanied her as she sat hiding in her closet. Over the years of escaping the wrath of her drunken father, Suzanne had time to visualize her future many times over. Her visions were vivid and beautiful, and made the isolation and trauma of closet life more bearable.
This daunting past was many moons ago, and water under a once-much-publicized bridge that culminated in the incredible healing of the whole family, but I mention it for several reasons. First, when I consult with new writers, I always use Suzanne’s debut book Keeping Secrets as the textbook example of a brilliant memoir. Its immediate best-selling success not only helped to launch Suzanne as the huge publishing force she is today, with eight subsequent best-selling books to her credit (and the current release of the fourth book in the Somersize series, Fast and Easy, Crown), but also inspired civilians and celebrities alike to dig deep within themselves and bare all in a genuine quest to use their traumas and triumphs to uplift others. Second, her tale of a devastating childhood that fueled her future stardom is motivational for many, and not just those killing time amidst shoes and umbrellas. She really did envision her future career as it would become, giving license to anyone aching to give the whisperings of their soul, as I call them, the chance to be heard and cultivated.
I asked this stunning grandmother of five just how her fantasies oh so many years ago ended up coming true? “My escape in that closet was to imagine myself on a Broadway stage,” she began. “In that scene, which seemed so real, my mother was always in the front row, finally happy and proud. I always felt so badly for my mother because being married to an alcoholic is so humiliating–nearly every day they will do something to embarrass you. One evening, I was walking out on the Vegas stage as a headliner and I looked out at my mother in the front row. She was so happy and proud, and I remembered my childhood vision and thought, ‘Wow, never underestimate the dreams of children!’ I came to believe that they aren’t as much dreams, but premonitions.”
“I believe my visions were telling me what I was capable of doing. Even though people said I couldn’t have success, there was something in me that said, ‘I’ll show you that I’m more than even I think I am, and definitely more than you think I am.’ That driving force was my salvation; the alternative was being a victim saying, ‘Why me, poor me.’
“No one would have blamed Suzanne, for feeling victimized two years ago, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and the media accused “the master of perfect thighs” of having liposuction when in fact she was at the plastic surgeon’s office to lessen the effects of surgery. “One day I woke up and was feeling sorry for myself. I live at the ocean and in my peripheral vision I saw what looked like a geyser. A second later a huge whale leaped out of the sea in my line of site. It happened two more times. I felt like it was telling me to leap forward, that life goes on and I should look to the future. That turned me around and got me off my short pity pot. Sometimes the small messages–the lyrics of a song, words from a friend, or the leap of a whale are all it takes to get our attention, if we’re listening. I don’t want to be deaf anymore.”
We then spoke about our mutual feeling that success comes from following our intuition. I asked if she-a self-proclaimed workaholic–had been given any signs or “warnings” that she was ill? “I wish I could say that I had prophetic dreams. We like to think that we will be forewarned with great fanfare if something is amiss. But I wasn’t listening and cancer was my big wakeup call. Cancer said, ‘I told you to cool it. I told you that you were doing too much.’ There were signs like being exhausted, and feeling there were never enough hours in the day. I kept telling my husband that I needed a vacation, but I didn’t take the time.”
In other words, Suzanne was sideswiped. “Cancer is shocking,” she continued. “And, also a blessing, if you choose to look at it that way. I wouldn’t have chosen it, but I’m not sorry because it has taught me so much.”
I knew my next question was corny, and told her so, but had to ask if cancer has taught her about balance? “So much!” she laughed. “It absolutely did. I thought I was taking great care of myself, but I’m taking much better care of myself now. After I got over the shock, I rolled up my sleeves and researched everything I could. It’s only been two years, so I won’t talk about my alternative therapies until I’m given a totally clean bill of health, but the radiation stopped me in my tracks for six weeks. I couldn’t write, I couldn’t think. I just lay in my bed and rested.”
“I’ve got seven careers (selling apparel, jewelry, skincare, food, healthy sweets, books and exercise equipment), and the details were making me crazy; there was a lot of noise in my head. Now I just deal with what’s next. My office staff knows just to bring me what’s next. And, with my careers operating at full tilt, including a Broadway show in the works about my life, releasing my control and delegating is crucial. That’s the challenge for all of us, being able to do it all. The key is to take care of yourself so you have the energy to live your dreams. None of us can work 24/7. We’ve got to take some weekends off and invite friends over for dinner. Sometimes we’ll need to sleep in all day or take a long Sunday walk to cleanse our mind before Monday morning. I’m learning those skills.”
As a food-combining enthusiast myself for seventeen years, I am a fan of Suzanne’s nutritional books and wonder if cancer has given her even more of a platform from which to educate her readers about healthy living? “I often question, why did I become famous? It was such a fluke; something that didn’t happen to people from my hometown. Why was our show “Three’s Company” a number one show from its first night? I believe that I was given fame so I could use my childhood and what I’ve learned as a means to teach people. It doesn’t matter where you come from. If you’re willing to do the work and take care of yourself, you can change any situation.”