The Hard that Cracks You Open to Freedom

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"Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult spending our lives running from it. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light." -Brene Brown

I remember reading these words for the first time. Owning my story. The darkness. All of me.

And in that moment, I felt a pang of discomfort. A deep sense of knowing. Accepting all of me meant accepting my story in its entirety - an awareness I had gained during the early days of living with PTSD. 

I've been going to therapy weekly since leaving the hospital with my Heart Warrior. And in that first year, I dove into the brutal with my therapist. We spent 12 months together talking about what happened.  I'd come in, sit down and try to tell the story of the morning Mia's heart failed. 

I'd try to tell the story in order. And trauma would take over. The words would fly out of my mouth. Fragmented. All over the place. And just like being sucked into a time warp machine, my vision would go and I'd be right back in her hospital room - short of breath, rocking, sobbing.

My therapist would bring me back. To the present moment. And together, we'd fill in the missing pieces of the story. Opening up space so light could shine onto the darkness. 

Then, we would retell the story. Slowly. Fluidly. Pausing to feel. And hold space.

So stumbling upon these words by Brene Brown during this time of deep healing - was no accident. 

It was time to come home. To a freedom that exists when we no longer shove the parts of ourselves down that seem too painful to process. 

It was time to come home to me. And to that 18 year old girl who proudly stood atop the Olympic podium.

I knew what I needed to do.

Sit with all the emotion. Ground in the present. And choose compassion.

This kind of work is brutal. And, we can do brutal.


The day I came home from the Sydney Olympics, I stood in front of 600 wide-eyed students and shared my story. Honored. Humbled. And so excited to pay forward what I learned along the way. Dreams Come True, I'd sign next to my name. 

Before my talk, the organizers played a clip of my race for the students. It was the first time I had seen any news coverage of the Games. When you're on the inside, it's just like any other meet {except you know it's not}.

I wasn't prepared for what came next.

My prelim swim was the fastest 200m swim by an American that year and 6th fastest in the world - earning me a spot on the night relay. Lead-off leg.

On paper, we had no chance at Gold. The four fastest Aussies were 2.5 seconds faster than our top four -  a lifetime in the sport of swimming. On their home turf.

As the lead-off - my job was to stay as close to the field as possible. The Aussies led off with Susie O'Neill who had taken home gold in the event the night before. When my hand landed on the wall - we were 6th. I was devastated - AND - I did my job. My time was a few tenths off my morning swim - and the second fastest time an American had put up all year.

Still. As I swam to the side of the pool to climb out, I was so distracted by the whispers of my inner critic.

My time was slower. We were in sixth. I failed. I was a failure. I didn't belong.

In between screams for my teammates, that voice tore me apart.

Slowly. Surely. We started closing the gap. And then took the lead.

Diana. Lindsay. Jenny.

We won.

And there I was. In front of 600 wide-eyed students reliving the moment that changed my life.

Except this time, the criticism didn't come from the whispers in my own head. As I stood at the front of the packed hall, I listened to the commentator tear apart my race - from start to finish.

My time was slower. We were in sixth. I failed. I was a failure. I didn't belong. 

I froze. Flooded with cement. And every part of me wanted to run and hide. 

At the time, I was 18 years old. An Olympic Gold Medalist. And I was just me. 

My identity. My worthiness. My sense of belonging. 

All conditional. Hinged to my successes - and my failures.

When I heard him ripping into my performance - on a broadcast that was watched by millions of people - I heard him ripping into me. A bad swim (even though it wasn't) meant I was bad. 

I was standing there in a complete shame shit storm. 

By the third leg, the commentator retracted his harsh words about my performance - but it did nothing to take away the sting. The emotional tidal wave had already washed over me.

I stood there - minutes away from giving an inspiring speech - and did my best to shove all that pain into the deepest parts of me.

And for 13 years, I continued telling my story.

I shared my truths - just not all of them.

Fear of what others would think, holding me captive. I desperately tried to avoid the pain of shame, blame and judgement.

The definition of perfection.

My perfectionist armor was so thick it took me witnessing my 12-mo old daughter's sudden cardiac arrest post-open heart surgery before it finally shattered.

I've finally come home to me - to true belonging.

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” -Brene Brown

I'm whole. I'm free. And I'm so grateful.

That voice no longer holds power over me.

 I finally opened all.those.boxes that had been buried in my parents' basement. Inside - photos, newspaper articles, journals and my log books. 

Cracking open the pages of my log books was transformative - allowing the light to shine on the darkness captured by my written words. Releasing all that no longer serves me. Rewriting the false narratives. Grounding them in truth. Telling the whole story.

Real. Raw. Brutal. Painful.

And stunningly beautiful.

In that moment, I could so clearly see what I could not see then.

A connected soul, driven by her desire to grow - strengthened by challenges - committed to honor the magic inside of her. 


A wounded soul, cut open by the words of those closest to her - overcome by perfection - striving + proving + chasing down her worthiness. 

Both were true.

When we walk through life looking for all the ways we aren't enough - we will always find them. 

Honoring me meant honoring all of me - no more running. No more living underneath the armor of perfection. No more proving.

I've stopped running. I've gone back and held her - offering her compassion and grace and perspective. 

Because, here's the thing. She is me.

We can't keep running. Well, we can. But that's not the hard that cracks us open to freedom.

It's time to step into our light. And, if the way to the light is through our darkness, in we go. Together. Because, we are not alone in this. 

And, so I share.

We can't go back in time. We can bravely dive into the darkness to heal old wounds. We can hold our younger selves. And by doing so, we can set ourselves free. 

We may have been cut open.

We are not broken.

_When you get to a place where love and belonging, your worthiness, is a birthright and not something you have to earn, anything is possible._.png




Friends! I'm so excited to share this podcast interview with you ~ the host, Kelsey, is a soul sister, forever teammate, friend for almost 30 years and someone I call coach.

I loved this time with her - and am honored to share it with you. 

You can tune on itunes - or by heading here



I'm SO beyond blessed to have a January FILLED with work I love - facilitating three (!) High Performance Deep Dives with collegiate athletes - presenting at my first TEDx - facilitating my wellness group - and working with private clients. Literally living my dream!!

AND. I overestimated my ability to open the doors to The Compassion Project - an online learning community for women and men who are ready to step into their LIGHT. Content is READY. Just need to get the platform up and running!! {PS! If you know someone tech savvy who could help a sister out - send them my way!!}

FEBRUARY here we come!! It'll be worth the wait!!

In the meantime, join me in the I AM CHALLENGE. It's free. It's real - raw - powerful and so inspiring.


Doors are OPEN for my Wellness Group Coaching program - to learn more and/or apply for a spot head over here. We start on January 15th!


Samantha Livingstone is an Olympic Gold Medalist, transformational speaker, high performance coach and mama of four.  She inspires and empowers others to cultivate the courage, resilience and perseverance needed to let go of perfection and other limiting beliefs so they can live their dream. Samantha candidly shares her battles with her inner critic, depression, perfection, PTSD and parenting as a working mother because she believes in the transformative power of story – and the strength that comes from knowing we are not alone. She is on a mission to pay forward all that she’s learned to help others find joy and live free.  

A mama of heart warrior and mama of twins, Samantha and her husband, Rob, live in the Berkshires with their four girls.  

You can learn more about Samantha at