How Soaping Saved Me by Stephanie Tallent
Years ago, my journey into more holistic, natural, local and sustainable ways of living spurred me to abandon the detergent-based soaps that are sold in most mainstream stores. Thankfully, there’s an abundance of wonderful artisan soap makers nearby, and I became a most faithful patron of their craft.
As years went by, though, I found myself struggling with reacting even to the artisanal soaps. I broadened my buying from just local soapers and tried other “natural” bars from health food stores. Occasionally, I could use one without skin tightening and itching, but soap became more and more of a challenge for me. It got to the point where I would sparingly wash only my stinky parts and refuse to use soap on the rest of my body!
Meanwhile, my dabbling as a product formulator for Beeyoutiful continued. I gladly tinkered with essential oil blends, tea blends, and occasionally a salve or herbal tincture, but the process of making soap both intimidated and fascinated me. I read books, spent hours watching tutorials on YouTube, and haunted groups of brilliant and experienced soapers sharing their jewels of wisdom with wanna-be’s like myself. Even so, every time I felt ready to take the plunge and try to make a few bars, I would chicken out and push the idea to the back burner so I’d have time to “do more research first.”
I’ve always been a very pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps sort of person. If life gets hard, the answer is to just work harder, put your head down and get through until you come out on the other side. I’ve battled health issues, family stresses, business woes and challenges with this philosophy and it had yet to fail me. As I reached my 30s, it did seem a bit harder to put my mindset into practice, but I chalked it up to just the combination of age and bigger life challenges.
But suddenly, one day my ordinary life came to a screeching halt. A series of surreal and horribly stressful life events happened over a period of a few months, creating a cascading domino effect. My coping skills collapsed like a house of cards in a windstorm. I found myself saying simply that “something broke inside.”
My productivity and emotional stability spiraled downward. My work performance suffered and I was forced to cut my hours. Social life became limited because there were simply no emotional reserves to put positive energy and effort into relationships. Leaving the house took so much out of me it required days to recover. Panic attacks became a normal part of life.
A low point sticks in my memory: a panic attack struck one Sunday at church. I stumbled out of the building and collapsed on my knees on the sidewalk of our town square, unable to stand upright or stop the gut wrenching sobs.
After months of trending downward, determination and desperation to find my way back to emotional health gradually began to take hold. As a wife and mom, it was simply not an option to remain nonfunctional for the rest of my life. I had great support from practitioners making sure my health was as supported as possible, and I learned personal strategies to calm the internal storms.
It soon became apparent that a crucial part of my recovery would involve doing what sparked joy, what triggered that sense of calm in a storm. I set about rewiring my brain by generating pockets of happiness, love, and contentment.
Creating and formulating had always soothed me, and I decided it was time to try soaping. With trepidation, I put on all the safety gear, (a necessity when dealing with lye!) and carefully began making my first batch of soap.
Instantly, all was right with the world. The knot of anxiety of my stomach untied itself and the weight on my chest lifted. A sense of calm crept over me as I carefully measured each ingredient. Because everything in soaping depends on chemical reactions, each ingredient must be precisely measured to ensure a quality and safe end product. At the same time, the options for creative expression within the formulas are endless.
Soaping became my therapy. My safe haven. The one little corner of life that could be controlled and managed in the midst of the mayhem inside and out. As the months went by, my hobby began taking up every available bit of shelving space we had. Dozens upon dozens of batches of soaps and experiments were housed here and there throughout the house.
Not only was soaping restoring my ability to cope with life one batch at a time, but as I experimented, I discovered solutions to my earlier reactions to soaps. Crafting gentle, yet effective and long lasting bars with a rich thick lather became my obsession. This therapy-turned-hobby was anything but cheap and I began to wonder how I could afford my twice-weekly habit.
Family and friends were gifted dozens of bars and I begged them for feedback along the way. The soaps were welcomed with enthusiasm! People didn’t always truly understand or know what to make of this strange new obsession of mine, but I didn’t care. A few raised eyebrows and skeptical questions was a small price to pay.
Soaping became the handrail I clung to as I struggled my way up the steps to recovery. My husband Steve noted that if I continued on at this pace, we’d have approximately 150 years worth of soap on hand for our little family to use, and that perhaps I should start sharing these handcrafted bars with more than just friends. And thus, a business of my own was born!
I’m thankful that life is much happier for me now. My emotional strength and resilience is improving by the month. I’ve learned how to make healthier choices for myself, and am allowing myself to process the hard parts of life as they happen.
Because of our sweet customers, we’re able to do more of what we love at Beeyoutiful… and, in my case, more of what I need to do. Doing what we love and what scratches that internal itch for personal satisfaction is an incredibly valuable part of maintaining mental and emotional health. For me, that is continuing the pursuit of creating the best batches of skin-supporting soap that I possibly can
It’s with great joy that I’m able to share some of my soaps with our Beeyoutiful friends. Each one has been formulated and crafted with a great deal of love and care. It’s my hope and prayer that you’re able to benefit from the artisan craft that has been such a tool of healing for me.
You are such a wonderful writer, Stephanie! I could feel the soaping washing you clean from your trials as you painted the picture for us. I’m happy you are now going to share through Beeyoutiful your art with others!!! I love you, old friend. ❤
Stephanie, thank you for sharing your struggle and recovery. I went through the same thing at the same point in life. I am now watching the next generation of my family approach this time of life and I will use this article as a resource. I would love to see more of your thoughts on this subject as I think it’s more common than people will admit. I also love the idea of soapmaking☺