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May 8, 2024 26 mins

Karena Kilcoyne is a former criminal defense attorney turned self development expert and author of the book Rise Above the Story : Free Yourself from Past Trauma and Create the Life You Want. After surviving her own harrowing journey of trauma and healing, (from her father’s imprisonment, to dealing with a mentally unstable mother to eventually adopting her sibling) Karena shares tips that have helped her bridge the gap and make therapy more effective, by helping listeners uncover the HOW, the WHY and the WHAT they need to really getting on a growth journey and actually benefit from therapy. 

  • Learn the how: Learn how we can “work” our therapy and have more ownership of sessions by tapping into emotional freedom and untethering ourselves from past hardships. 
  • Learn the why: Learn why we feel the way we do by exercising trust and vulnerability with our therapists so that we can reveal the true root of the issue and break the toxic patterns. 
  • Learn the what: Learn what tools we can use to make use of our time in between therapy visits to make active progress, resolve conflicts, and find peace. 


Socials: @karena_kilcoyne 


Book: Rise Above the Story: Free Yourself from Past Trauma and Create the Life You Want. 

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Conversations on life, style, beauty, and relationships. It's The Velvet's
Edge Podcast with Kelly Henderson.

Speaker 2 (00:08):
Karena Kilcoin is a former criminal defense attorney turned self
development expert and now author of the book Rise Above
the Story three yourself from past trauma and Create the
life you want. Hi, Karina, thanks so much for being here.

Speaker 3 (00:23):
Hi Kelly, I'm just so so happy to be here.
Thanks for having me on.

Speaker 2 (00:27):
Of course, so I know that you wrote the book
based on your own childhood trauma and just realizing at
some point in your life that you really needed to
start a healing journey. Can you take the listeners back
a little bit and kind of talk us through what
your story looks like.

Speaker 3 (00:44):
Yes, I'd love to. So you're right. I did write
this book to include my past trauma because it was
really what set me on this healing journey, and just
to kind of really set the stage. I didn't go
on the healing journey until my forties. So I had
this really traumatic childhood, but it took me decades to

really process it and pull it up and then go
on the stealing journey. But it really all started early
in my life and my parents had a very volatile,
a lot of just abusive behavior to one another, verbal, physical,
And I grew up in that, and I had a
younger brother and a younger sister. And when I was

about i'd say, I think around eleven ish, my father
started to have some trouble with the law and we
were being surveilled by the FBI, and he ended up
getting indicted and being sentenced to the federal penitentiary for
a financial fraud situation. So when he left, he left

my mother in charge of us. But unfortunately, she suffered
from a lot of mental health issues. And this was
back in the eighties, you know, and a rusted out
steel town in Ohio, and you know, back then, people
where I came from didn't go to psychologists or psychiatrist. So,
knowing what I know now about mental health, I would
say that my mother suffered definitely from depression, anxiety, and

probably bipolar. She had a lot of manic episodes. And
so when my father left, she was really not well
suited to handle the stress and the situation we were
left in. My father left us a fair amount of money.
Unfortunately my mother didn't manage it very well and in
some of her in some of her manic episodes. We

would go on these big shopping sprees, and you know,
she wrote up shopping bags full of clothes and buy
birthday cakes, big lavish birthday cakes. It was nobody's birthday,
so there was no real management of the money. So
before too long, the money was gone, and my mother
spent a lot of time desponded and depressed in bed

and around. You know, twelve thirteen years old, I started
taking over the responsibility of my family, and so that meant.
What it meant was, you know, scrounging around was change
to buy food, and when that loose change was gone,
it was asking strangers or neighbors for money to buy food.
We'd go without hot water or electricity, I mean countless times.

And when I was fourteen, my mother had my youngest brother,
and I knew when she had him that it was
going to be mostly my responsibility to take care of him,
which it was. I also knew that education was going
to be my way out, so I put myself through
I was a very good student in school, regardless of
what was going on in my home life. I made

that a priority, and then I put myself through college,
and then through law school and my third year of
law school, my mother died of cancer, and she and
I had not resolved any of our relationship by that point,
so I was still very angry and resentful of her.
And after she passed, I adopted my youngest brother, who
was nine at the time. So he was nine and

I was twenty four, and I was still very impacted
by all this trauma and very much still in survival mode, right,
And I adopted him and carried on with my life,
trying to be a new lawyer, learning how to practice law,
trying to support us financially. So all that old trauma
I had just got suppressed and compartmentalized, and I carried

that around with me, like I said, for decades. Yeah,
so what happened?

Speaker 2 (04:37):
You said? I love that you've mentioned, first of all,
that you were in survival mode, because, as you know,
a lot of us have been through trauma, and it's
like you can't always just go, oh, I'm going to
go on a healing journey, like we do have to survive.

Speaker 3 (04:49):
And so, like you said, you were.

Speaker 2 (04:51):
Asked to be an adult from a very young age.
You're put in this place where you now are a caretaker.
So I would imagine there were things that you just
felt like, Okay, I have to go make money for us.
I have to you know, I have to keep the
lights on. Because you had experienced times in your life
where you hadn't had that. So what happened that forty
that shook you in a way that you knew something

had to change.

Speaker 3 (05:13):
So that that's a great question. I want to get
to that. But I also I love what you were
saying though about, like so many of us, certain survival modes.
So to kind of link those two things together, I
also want you to know and in the audience know
this that because I think a lot of us do this.
I went through like phases where I said I had
a bad breakup. Oh I didn't know what if I
was going to survive whatever. You know, in my thirties, Okay,

let me go to therapy. I show up to therapy
and all I really want to talk about is, well,
this guy was such a jerk and what happened to me?
And I got a little bit into the past about
my parents because I was having these memories and such.
But as soon as I felt like, okay, I'm over
this guy, I know, over this relationship, I was like,
bye bye, I'm out of here, and I never really

tell it, so I knew I was carrying it around,
and I have these moments, these tiny moments along along
the timeline where I'd have these brief moments of awakening,
like oh, something is not right, and it felt so
hard to unearth it and so scary and so overwhelming
that I was like, I don't want to do this.
I'm not going to tell you everything, therapist. I'm going
to go on my marry little way now. So by

the time I was forty, I had all this, all
these ideas in my head that something was still, that
there was things, that there was so much suppressed energy
in me and so much dunk in me that I
wanted to get out, but I was afraid to. So
by this time, you know, I had done all the
things that I thought would heal me. I thought, Oh, yeah,

if I'm successful enough, if I check all these boxes,
if I represent these people, if I win all these cases,
if I make all this money somehow, I'm no longer
going to be ashamed. I'm no longer going to think
I'm this poor little girl whose dad went to prison.
Spoiler alert, none of that worked. Right, I was still
just as miserable and in fact feeling like an imposter
in my life. But by the time I got to

be forty forty one, I had this beloved dog. I
had this Golden Retriever, Finn, and he was unbeknownst to me.
I didn't ask him to do this or train him
to do this, but he became my emotional support dog.
And it was just so heartbreaking to me when I

found out that he had an incurable form of cancer.
He was young. When he was diagnosed, they said there's
no help for this, and it was pretty quick. It
was like, you know, I don't know a month and
a half or so of him being sick before he died.
But what was so interesting to me was that while
we were going through this with him, this whole you know,
should we give him chemo? You know, what holistic things

can I do for him? Whatnot? I realized that I
was having all these memories about my mother having cancer
and dying of cancer, and I realized that it was
twenty years to the same exact like fall to winner
of her dying when my fin was so sick, and
when he died, I it's like the floodgates of my

grief just opened, and I was grieving him. And you know,
there's all these all these articles out there about like
how you know, the death of an animal of impacts
us and affects us so differently than the death of
a human. And I had that experience because he and
I were so close. But after you know, a week
or so, it was like I just couldn't stop emoting

and I couldn't stop grieving, and I realized that it
was more than just about him. I was finally really
feeling all of these things I never felt as a
little girl, and you know, losing things then my childhood,
right like not having a real mother, not having a
real father who was around all the time. So it
was really that it was him, my dog dying and

me me having this release of emotion that I had
never allowed myself to have. And that's when I knew
I was ready to find they just do all the work.
So you know, in my people pleaser type a personality,
you know, child of trauma way, I dove headfirst into

I made this right relates. Yeah, how can I be
perfect at healing? You know that's a perfect heal. Let
me get an a pleasant healing.

Speaker 2 (09:20):
I totally relate to that.

Speaker 3 (09:23):
So that's what I did. And I went on this
journey and I read everything I could, and I just
devoured books and I went everywhere and I tried everything
I could and it was so overwhelming and it was
so scary, and but I was like, I'm doing it,
you know, like I'm middle aged, like it's time. Yeah,
So that's what it was like for me.

Speaker 2 (09:43):
I think they're making such a really this is such
a great point that I forget often because I've been
doing or all my let's call it my own healing journey.
It's such an overused term nowadays. I feel silly saying
and sometimes but that's what it is, you know it is.
And I would say I started a eleven years ago,
and I think that forgets often when I'm telling friends

or other people, just go go get do the work.
It's so much better on the other side. But I
forget that we sometimes need the denial, like it's like
a comfort blanket, right to protect us at first, because,
as you're saying, when your mom first passed away, you
might not have been capable of feeling those emotions because
it might have taken you out it might have been

too much, And it wasn't till twenty years later when
your dog was dying that you're actually able to process
through those emotions. But none of us are going to
get away for free. Like you can't not feel the
things without facing them later in some capacity because they
do impact your life. So you mentioned also like going

to therapy for the breakups and the relationships. Is that
something you see often with people where they're like, let
me go deal with the one thing happening right in
front of me, but I'm gonna sidestep all the reasons
maybe I'm even in this relationship, which is probably from
your childhood.

Speaker 3 (11:04):
Isn't that so true? I mean, yeah, I did that.
I did that, you know a handful of times for sure.
And it it feels though like we definitely we do that.
We go in and we say we go in, you know,
to therapy a few times, handful of times, like it's
not really working. It's not working for me. Why isn't
working for me? It's I don't really really get anything
out of this because I think you go in and

you go in and you think what you want to
talk about is I'm so unhappy in my job. I'm
so unhappy in this relationship, like you said, and you're
not really digging into, well, why did I take a
job that I knew I didn't want anyway? And why
did I sign up for a relationship that you know,
anybody else can see from the outside as toxic as hell? Like,

why did I sign up for that? So you don't
really get into that, and when and when, somehow they
don't magically throw dust on you and go, oh there
you go, you walk out like discouraged and unhappy, and
you think, and not to mention it's expensive, right, You're like, Okay,
what am I really getting out of this? And I
think the other thing too, that's important to know is
that you know, to your point about you know, I was,

you know, my mom dying and I was twenty four.
Our brains don't even fully developed to warn our mid
twenties exactly. Yeah. So it's like, you have all this
childhood trauma as a child, you don't know how to
process it. And if you don't, if you're not parented
by people who know how to walk you through that experience,
you're not processing it. It's staying right there inside of you,

and it's impacting the way you are dealing day to day.
It's impacting the way you're having relationships even as a
child eight ten, twelve, fourteen, eighteen. Who are you trusting?
Who are you talking to? Who are you believing? Because
of what you've witnessed that you couldn't process and your
brain's not fully developed, you're not fully online to do

any of that. So it's like, I think we put
a lot of pressure on ourselves and we think, oh,
that happened, like when I was so young, Why am
I not over it by now? Well, you're not over
it because you didn't know how to process it in
the first place, right, And you're not over it now
because you haven't given yourself the space and the grace
to do so, which is, as you said, the really
hard work of I got to unearth it. I got

to walk back into the darkness like that's scary. That's
really scary, you know. And that was a big thing
why I wrote this book, because I wanted to write
the book I wish i'd had, So I wrote a
guide book for people. Yes, I include a lot of
my own vulnerable stories and my bad breakup story from
my thirties, you know, that rocked me so hard. I

include all of that stuff because I want there to
be like this, this almost like a roadmap, like come
with me on this and let me share what I did.
Because even though your stories aren't my story, we all
have a story.

Speaker 2 (13:49):
One hundred percent. I mean, you talk about that seventy
percent of adults in the US have experienced some type
of traumatic event at least once in their lives. And
I think now anyone living who have lived through twenty twenty,
we all experienced a collective trauma of some sort because

the world shut down. So I am seeing more people
be opened to the idea of therapy, I think, than ever.
And I'm also seeing people maybe not getting the exact
results exactly like you're talking about from those sessions and
so then they stop. So let's talk a little bit
about that, because I know we've mentioned this before, the how's,

the whys, and the what, and I know this is
something that you really talk about a lot. I want
to know what you would tell listeners about the how, Like,
how do we learn to utilize therapy as such an
essential tool that it's going to change our lives.

Speaker 3 (14:47):
I think first of all, you have to trust and
you have to believe. I think so. I think so
much of it is we think, oh, well, we've been
in this for so long, there's this whole I had
this as well. I mean, you just think that there's
this whole concept of like we take it on the chin.
Oh you know that happened to me. Yeah, everybody's got
a sad story, blah blah blah. But you know we're

not meant here. We're not here just meant to have
our sad story. We're actually here to like live a joyful,
happy life. And sure these other things happen. So I'd
say the how is you really have to understand and
believe that there is there is a difference, There is healing,
there is hope for you, there is there is something

other than what you're in. And so to me, that
feels very much like I always had this sense, you know,
like there's a sense of I'm so in this muck.
I don't know, I don't know how to necessarily get
out of it, but I know that there's something different
out there, there's another way I can live. So I

think that I understanding that having this faith and belief
that you are worthy of something else and I think
going into therapy knowing that that it's going to be
hard work and then it's going to take some time,
and there's going to have to be some truth on
the table. But I think it's this belief that you
are worth it and that it will pan out.

Speaker 2 (16:12):
I love that you just said truth on the table,
because that's the perfect transition to my next question. Another
thing I'm seeing is that I'll see people go to
therapy and they're like, I'm like, well, did you tell your.

Speaker 3 (16:23):
Therapists about blah blah blah.

Speaker 2 (16:25):
They're like, oh, no, I'm not going to tell my
therapist that, And I'm like what Because for me, the
only way that I really truly feel like therapy really
benefited me was I just laid all the cards on
the table. I'm like, I'm doing this, I'm doing this,
I'm picking this guy again, I'm doing I cannot stop,
Like just completely laid it out. I didn't really know

any better, Like that was just what I thought to do,
And I'm like, this is a safe space. This person
can't tell anyone at this legally or whatever. I could
tell them whatever I want. And it ended up really
benefiting me though, because once all your cards are on
the table. I think the therapists can see what they're
really working with. Do you see people doing what I

just described where they're like, I'm gonna go in and
I'm gonna kind of structure the things that I tell
the therapists so they sound, you know, time up in
a Latin, nice, pretty bou kind of thing.

Speaker 3 (17:17):
I definitely, well, I definitely did that myself, you know,
and I've had friends over the years the same thing.
And and I think that's a by the way, kudos
to you though, for going in there and just laying
it out on the table.

Speaker 2 (17:31):
I think that's so broken, you know, you just say, well,
no help.

Speaker 3 (17:35):
It's really brave. It's really brave, is what it is.
And it's very courageous. But it's also I think you
had that right. You had that sense of I don't
want this, I want this, so it takes me laying
it on the table. I'm gonna lay it on the table. Yeah,
so that's I think they go hand in hand. But yes,
I absolutely see that. And I see it too that
there's like a certain amount of shame around it. I

see it as to like shame, like I don't want
to tell you that I was, you know, abused as
a child, or I don't want to tell you that.
I keep signing up, you know, for these guys who
treat me like a b or C. I think that
there's a certain amount of you you think, oh, that
you want to believe that that has nothing to do
with this, that that that your past has nothing to
do with because that would give your past so much

more power than you wanted to have. So I think
that that that's what kind of like leads people into that,
into that thing. And you know, shame is such a toxic,
toxic way to live in, that bound up and that shame,
and and you're so right. When you go into a therapist,
it's like it should be free game. I mean, it's
like they are legally required to sit there and listen

to you and not tell anybody anything about what you
talk about. So it is the safest space you could
be talking with somebody who who By the way, it's
like going to the gynecologists, right, you're akinocologist and you're like, oh,
I don't know that I scoot down, scoot down, and
they see it all day, all right, nothing so different
about yours. You're going to therapy. I kind of feel

like it's the same thing. They hear so much stuff
all day long. They're like, scoot down, let it out,
go on. And so I think that we were so
better served by having that courage and that it need
sense that like this is my safe space. This is
where I can tell somebody all the things that I

don't tell other people. And I think another big thing too,
And I don't know if you've had this experience, is
this whole idea of like you go in and you think,
and you show up with nut like you just show
up like I have learned to work it, like I
will keep because I still go. You know, that's why
you say, I hate to calling me a healing journey,
but you're right, there's nothing else to call it. It's

a journey. I'm not healed. I'm still healing. No, so
if you think of a better term, let me know,
but anyway, or a more unique term. Yeah, so, but
it is. And so I still go therapy. And when
I go, I go in with like notes and like
things I wrote out and I'm like, Okay, so here's
what I want to talk about today, here's what I

want to get into. Because yes, I was upset with
my significant other, but really, when I started think about it,
I acted like twelve year old meat. Why did I
act like twelve year old meat? Well, because he said
this or what this and didn't tell me and I
felt abandoned. Can we talk about my abandonment issues? So
it's like the more you go and the more self

awareness you create around your triggers, around what upsets you really,
what gets you going? In between your appointments and you
start writing them out, keeping notes. I don't know if
you do that, but I find that's a great way
to work therapy, like.

Speaker 2 (20:47):
After therapy, taking notes and keeping the notes of me. Yeah, yeah,
I mean that's a great point because a lot of
times your therapist is going to give you these little nuggets,
and yeah, you want to take them with you, but
you get so many during a session you mind, remember, right?

Speaker 3 (21:01):
Or how about between sessions when you're upset about something
and you're like, oh, that's what I want to talk
to her or him about next time I go in, Right,
I want to get into that, like why was I
so upset about that? You know? And that's another thing
that I have had people say to me about my
book is they're like, I've done the book. I've done
all the journal prompts, the very chapter. And actually I

was on a book club call the at the night
and some woman said to me, I've been in therapy
twenty years and now I've read your book, and I'm like, wow,
that's really insightful. Like maybe she'll take the book in
and say, this is what I want to talk to
you about. Right, if you can kind of like speed
the process along by saying, do what you do, Kelly, Like,
here's all the stuff I want to lay on the table,
it speeds up the process.

Speaker 2 (21:49):
I always say that because it's so interesting to me.
First of all, I don't think saying I go to therapy.
I mean, I see why that would make you feel better,
but it's all so if you're not utilizing it or
working it, like you're saying, it's a waste of time
and money really, so it's like you might as well
just not do it. The other note that you've said
a couple times that I want to just you know,

point out to listeners. And something I've learned over the
years is that we do try. It seems as humans
to be like, no, it's this thing happening right now,
like it's the breakup. Those were a lot of times
the catalyst for me as well of launching into some
of my own work. And really, like we really try
to avoid that it was the thing from the past,
or that it was the dynamics at our house or

the families or the I mean, you can even go
to past lives if you want, depending on how spirit
your spiritual beliefs, but we often try to sidestep that stuff,
and it's like you can't because it all the root
is always that it always comes from that whatever is
playing out in your adult life, in my experience, has
been something from your past, and so unless you heal it,

it's going to keep haunting you. So if you really
want to heal it, do the.

Speaker 3 (22:57):
Work for sure. For sure. Absolutely.

Speaker 2 (23:01):
Well let's talk about you mentioned the taking the notes.
Do you have any other tangible tips for listeners with
the what like in between your therapy sessions. I know
you talk about this in the book a little bit,
but like, are there things that we can be doing
to really maximize the session or the work we are
doing with our therapist.

Speaker 3 (23:20):
I love this idea of you know, creating more self
awareness around you and your life and your relationships, and
so it's almost like this idea of really kind of
examining your mental loop, like your narrative. Yeah, I learned
so much about myself when I became very self aware

of how I was talking to myself, and so I
love kind of stepping back and saying when I hear
negative things or I hear oh that's the way it is,
or you know you could have done that better, or
whatever the mean things are you saying to yourself, stopping
yourself and understanding why you're doing that. Where's that coming from?

How do you stop it? Making notes about oh, you
know I have this negative this negative loop about this,
or I feel like I'm really challenged in love relationships here.
So I really created I really created work and exercises
and awareness in between sessions, and I talk a lot
about this in the book too. I really tried a

lot of other things as well, and I know, I
know you're into that too. I looked at a very
like holistic approach to therapy. I'm not I'm not just
a talk therapy girl. I believe in it. I believe
there's a lot to it. But I also believe in
a very holistic manner of healing. So for me, that was,
you know, doing all kinds of other things. I did

holotropic breath work, I did some a lot of meditation
I did, you know, just I mean emdr. There's all
kinds of things I write about the book that you
can do that kind of unearthed deeper or wounds that
I feel like maybe you don't get to in talk therapy,
you know. And then back to this whole idea too
we talked about earlier with this like you're in survival

mode when you're like that, your body is also so stressed,
like your nervous system is completely out of lack and
tired and bruised, and you're like, well, how do you
heal that? So there's like this whole thing you know,
that you try to do in between therapy sessions of

turning off that fight or flight relaxing, getting your nervous
system to relax to you know, And there's there's so
many ways you can do that, but you really have to,
especially you've had a if you've had a lot of trauma,
a lot of child too, trauma, your your nervous system
and your mind and your spirit they need a break. Yeah,
so in between talk therapy, I would really try to

do other modalities.

Speaker 2 (25:50):
Yeah, I love that.

Speaker 3 (25:53):

Speaker 2 (25:53):
The book, as we mentioned, is called Rides Above the Story.
Free yourself from the past and create the life you want.
I will put that in the just description of this
podcast for you guys, Karna, if there is a place
or if listeners want to keep in touch with you,
where would you say they can do that.

Speaker 3 (26:09):
My website is Rise Above Thestory dot com and they
can find me on Instagram and social at Karna Killcoin
Karna Killcoin.

Speaker 2 (26:17):
I will put that in the description of the podcast
as well. Thank you so much for being here with us.

Speaker 3 (26:22):
Thank you Kelly very much. I appreciate it.

Speaker 2 (26:24):
Thank you guys for listening.

Speaker 1 (26:25):
Thanks for listening to the Velvet's Edge podcast with Kelly Henderson,
where we believe everyone has a little velvet in a
little edge. Subscribe for more conversations on life, style, beauty
and relationships. Search Velvet's Edge wherever you get your podcasts.
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3. The Dan Bongino Show

He’s a former Secret Service Agent, former NYPD officer, and New York Times best-selling author. Join Dan Bongino each weekday as he tackles the hottest political issues, debunking both liberal and Republican establishment rhetoric.

Music, radio and podcasts, all free. Listen online or download the iHeart App.


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