This week my business partner and I had the honor of keynoting the 39th annual Tribute to Women of Achievement put on by Waypoint Services (an organization that inspires people to move forward and is a vital community resource for individuals in crisis). As I prepared for what I might say, I kept coming back to my own story and the angels that God put on my path to help me get here. I was reminded of how much we all need safety and belonging, how much we need others, and how we can find and be that for each other in community.
I am so grateful for all the incredible teachers, mentors, leaders, friends, and family members who encouraged and challenged me along the way. I am grateful for the strangers who shared a smile or compliment with me. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without you. Below is what I shared with the group.
My challenges with domestic violence started in the womb. My father was abusive. He hit my mom and when we became old enough to walk he hit me and my sister too. My parents divorced when I was young but we visited every other weekend. I’ll spare you the stories but the violence was very intense at times.
Growing up like that you don’t know what you don’t know. It wasn’t until I was 7 and after a friend said my dad was really mean that I came to realize dad’s don’t hit moms and kids like mine did. Then the questions started. The shame and the blame set in. Why does he hit me? Maybe he doesn’t love me? Why doesn’t he love me? What’s wrong with me?
I buried those questions and carried those wounds around most of my life. I sought approval and love through achievements, serving others, anything I could do to get attention and fill that hole of feeling unworthy and unlovable. I acted out.
Lucky for me, I had angels around me who knew or were intuitive enough to understand that my acting out and anger came from a place of hurt. Most people didn’t know what was happening because we didn’t talk about it, but they kept showing up no matter how I acted. Teachers, friends, and family members who showed unconditional love, kindness, and patience became a safe haven from the hurt…just by showing up with open arms and an open heart.
I had a close guy friend in high school who didn’t drink but would go to every party with me. Looking back now I know it was because he was protecting me…he could see my hurt. He would give me a ride, make sure I got home OK, hold my hair when I drank too much. He never made me feel ashamed or too much. He just kept showing up and saving me. I am forever grateful for him.
The violence continued through my adult life in romantic relationships. At my lowest low in my early 20s, the people who invited me into their circles at work and at college gave me the lifeline I needed to keep going. Without even knowing it. They invited me in, took special interest in me, and shared with me the potential they saw in me that I couldn’t see in myself. They helped me believe that I deserved something better and that things could be different…just through their everyday conversations and kindness.
I had a professor who could tell I was struggling. She invited me to stay back after class often so we could talk and she could ask specific questions about life and school. She invited me to her house for dinner with her family. When I finally had the courage to tell her some of what had happened, she made special efforts to make sure I had the support and structure to stay in school and thrive. She even helped me get my first job out of college, and has been a go to person at many tough times in my life since. I am forever grateful for Anne love and kindness, and I know I wouldn’t be here today without it. She helped me believe I was worthy, I deserved better and my healing journey began there.
1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. People are suffering in silence all around you. So I ask you to be like Anne. Be intentional about how you show up and how you treat others. You may be the smile or word of encouragement they need to build a better life for themselves. You could be a safe place for someone. It could be a person you pass on the street, a coworker, or an acquaintance…you just never know. A smile, a hello, a conversation, these small things matter. When you are deep in it and you’ve worked so hard to hide what’s happening, you start to feel invisible. You start to feel a little crazy. To have someone really see you, really hear you…that is a gift. You can offer that gift.
For those of you here today who are suffering in silence, you are not alone. I have been in your shoes. Battered, bruised, and bloodied. Feeling trapped and isolated. Wondering if it’s just safer to stay because I have no idea what he’ll do if I leave. Ashamed that it got this bad. Wondering if I’m too damaged to ever find someone that could really love me anyway. Maybe I’m not worthy of love or even capable of opening my heart up anymore. Could I ever trust anyone again? I have been in that exact place, and I can tell you after years of therapy and healing, and seeking out healthy people and relationships, that it is possible. My life and relationships are better than I could’ve dreamed. It has been really hard and I work at it everyday, but it is possible!
Please let this conversation and community help you feel loved and supported even if you are not ready to share your story. Remember this feeling…you are not alone. You are loved. Things can and will be different because each day is a new day. Do not lose hope. When you are ready, we will be here to give you whatever support you need.
That’s what life is about. No matter what the situation is in the world today or how much we try to fight the need for help from others, the truth remains that we need each other. This is why Waypoint is such an important organization. They provide community. They give opportunities for those who are in a good spot in their life to surround those who need support and lift them up. They provide a safe place for those who are suffering to find hope and healing. We trade places through life. Life isn’t good all the time, and it isn’t bad all the time either. When we’re in a good spot, we need to help those who aren’t. When we’re in a bad spot, we need to allow others in to help us. That’s how we were meant to live. In community.
We can be the hands and feet of Waypoint in the community by continuing to do our own work to heal and be healthy so we can show up as our best self for others. We can be that safe place for others. Approach strangers with a smile, use your intuition to reach out to a friend or co-worker you sense might be struggling, take time to sit down with compassion when people in your life are acting out or not themselves, invite others in.
Thank you to all the amazing women today who have clearly demonstrated their willingness and ability to be a safe place for others. We are so grateful for each of you and we celebrate not only what you have done, but the wonderful human you are! Because we know that in the end, just as our friend Maya Angelou has taught us, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”