For a week I worried about presenting my autobiographical speech for my communications class. I had to prepare a speech that fell between three to five minutes. My first initial concern was, how could I have prepared my story of 36 years in under five minutes! My second concern was that majority of my classmates were fifteen years younger than me. My final concern was how was I going to share my story, a very dark story, filled with missteps and trauma with a youth on looking from a perspective I imagined was a huge difference to my own life.
Today I had to present my story to my classmates. My heart was racing; my face I could feel began to blush, palms sweaty, and my voice trembling I stood up there and gave it my best shot. I focused on my breathing and trying to appear loose. Little things were making the anxiety worse like the clicker for my slide show was not cooperating fully. The content making me feel uneasy as well.
Someone had said, “Maybe you shouldn’t share some of your story.” Referring to my past drug addiction and perhaps some of the trauma I went through growing up. I contemplated this myself as I went over the speech several days. I spent days refining it, cutting things away from it, adding material that was brighter. In the final draft however I kept the drug addiction, the information about my mother being mentally ill, and I kept the information in it about my disability.
I mean why should I choose to omit these things when they belong to me? Yes, they belonged to me. So much so, that if these things did not exist I would be a completely different woman today. Quite frankly, I am proud of who I am today. Do I enjoy having a dark past? Does anyone? No, but you have to own your mistakes in order to prevent repeating them. I acknowledge what I have done wrong in my past and I do not plan to repeat them ever.
I stood there, looking at the crowd of my fellow students, feeling my heart in my throat. I took a deep breath and I began from the beginning. Each section I arrived at I’d glance over my classmates, hoping they would be preoccupied with some electronic device so I could feel at more ease with the next section. To my amazement every eye was glued to me. Some were even leaning into the desk as if they were leaning into my story wanting to hear it all, word for word, what I had gone through, what I had conquered in my life thus far. This increased my anxiety.
Fleeting thoughts running through my mind, “they are judging me; they are so young, can they even begin to understand what events I am sharing…” I was trying so hard to push those thoughts aside so I could get through to the end.
Then, something happened. I locked eyes with a few classmates. Something in their facial expression told me they were not judging at all. They were curious, almost mesmerized by my words of defeat, hurt, loss, agony, joy, success, and hope. Standing up there suddenly felt different. I was still anxious but I felt acceptance from the crowd.
Five minutes is not a long time, but when you are standing in front of crowd feeling naked as you share your life history, those five minutes feel like forever. In the moment I locked eyes with a few classmates it changed. Three minutes passed by so quickly and before I knew it I was ending the speech.
The claps I received felt like at any moment it would turn into a standing ovation from the entire room. It filled me with accomplishment, confidence, and acceptance.
The class sat and listened to about five more speeches and class was over. I was approached by a few students in amazement. They said, “They were so touched, and inspired by what I shared.” I said, “Thank you so much” and walked on out of class.
Then one student called out my name, “Rachel!” I stopped in the hall. Her eyes were glossy and on the brink of shedding tears as she reached out to put her hand on my arm. “Your story was so inspiring Rachel, you have greatness in you. Wisdom came out as you presented your story perfectly. You inspired me. I can’t begin to tell you how much I related to what you were saying up there. I see you reaching your goal to graduate and you will be an honor student I see in the future” wiping tears from her eyes as she shared some more of her story with me.
She shared with me her history with an abusive past. She talked about how her journey to where she is now wasn’t the easiest either. We shared thoughts about courage, strength and a desire for independence.
She said to me again, “Rachel, I am so glad you shared your story and I got to be lucky enough to hear you give it so gracefully.” I reached and hugged her I was so overwhelmed with warm feelings for this woman. I did not think I gave it gracefully. I thought I was a wreck standing up there trying to speak to the room. Anxiously, I was throwing most of my flaws into the wind of that small communications room, giving out bullets that could be used to harm me later.
She lifted me up to a level at this moment I can’t describe in words. She said I moved her but yet here she was moving me. She was moving me closer towards determination. Closer to victory over all I had done wrong in my past. She was moving me closer to acceptance that I had in fact been a drug addict, an abused woman, a lost young lady feeling hopeless with the death of my dad, but that those things were OK because I am not the only one carrying scars from childhood, or young adulthood.
It was an amazing end to my school day. I am glad I didn’t cut away some of my dark past. Today I took responsibility for all of it. Today I didn’t hide behind a sheltered computer screen, BLOG post, or safer environment. I am glad that I was able to stand up in front of strangers today to finally own it all.
I am not ashamed of that. I am not ashamed of any of it anymore. Today proved to me that I am finally not ashamed of where I have been, or where I come from. Most importantly today proved to me that I am where I belong and my future is going to bright. I am so excited about my life, my entire life. It deserves to be celebrated.
We all have those times when we get lost in the past. You know those times don’t you? Times when you think about some decisions you’ve made in your life that you consider to be mistakes. You feel guilty about some memories that haunt you because they scarred you in some way. So you continue to carry about the baggage even though you know you shouldn’t and it destroys everything around you. The stuff that prevents or provokes you from finishing projects, beginning projects, staying in relationships, staying in bad relationships, finding peace in the day, loving freely, trusting anyone including yourself, preventing you from living life and enjoying it to the fullest.
Why do we do this to ourselves? We feel as though we should punish ourselves because of the wrongs in our past. We sit and dwell on what if this, what if that? We’re human that is why we do these things. That really is the only answer I can come up with.
We yearn for perfections. We want a perfect world. We want a perfect life, perfect love, perfect home, neighborhoods, friendships, childhoods…ah perfections is what we ache to acquire but we never own.
Flaws are a unique part of every one of our personalities, lives, and world’s within worlds. The flaws are what make us who we are. The fact I was raised in a very poor household makes me the giver I am. It makes me more compassionate as a person today then I think I would have been if I’d grown up differently. Even though some of my past is very hurtful it has made me into the woman I am today. Sure it would have been lovely to have not had those terrible things happen to me but it happened and staying back there isn’t going to allow me to go anywhere in the future. I will get lost back there. I have been lost back there many times as I’m sure some of you have been lost in your own past. Wondering how to get out, how to stop thinking about certain times, memories, wishing you had some sort of way to fix what had happened to you, wishing you could have made a different choice. There is no way of fixing it, forgetting it, changing it. All one can do is learn to live with the fact it happened and accept the fact it’s shaped them forever.
Certainly you can’t go forward if you are too busy looking backwards. I’ve learned that the hard way. I held on to my past for so long and so tight thinking that if I didn’t hold onto I’d NEVER get over it. Well, let me tell you first hand that is not the way to get over bad choices, regrets, abuse, scars, and loneliness. You have to let go. You have to embrace it, work through it, and LET IT GO!
We can start to feel sorry for ourselves too at times and we end up right back there don’t we? It is bound to happen from time to time. The key is not to stay there for too long. You have to get out of there as quickly as possible. Being back there saps your energy, your future views and dreams, it reminds you of things about yourself that are easy to hang onto instead of allowing you to view yourself as a survivor. It’s harder to see yourself as a survivor because ultimately you still have self esteem issues. If you didn’t you wouldn’t be dwelling on those past issues still today. It’s so easy to see yourself, as a screw up isn’t it? So easy to see yourself as a loser stuck in a life you’re unhappy about isn’t it? So easy! I know I’ve been there many times too.
It’s hard to see all the great things you’ve done, especially when you get low and want to go back there. It’s hard at times to see how much good I bring to my children at times. It is hard at times to see that I’m a great wife to my husband. It gets hard to see those things when you feel so low I know. You really have to fight it and try hard to see those things. Find something that will help guide the way for you. Could it be bible verses? Could it be dance music? Find what brings you out of the lows and surround yourself with that. Try to avoid what brings on your lows. I know eventually one will come on no matter what you do. The lows still hit me at times. I write a lot of those times. Maybe you should try that as a release of those past demons. You have to learn to recognize them lows and go to what brings you out quickly. Sometimes lows can be very dangerous. If you feel like you are not coming out of the lows soon enough or feel suicidal you should seek professional help immediately. You might have a chemical imbalance that needs medications to level off. Please don’t delay.
So while you’re back there visiting your ghosts, demons, joys, memories, or whatever it is back there in your past….just remember not to stay long because you can’t go forward looking back. Also those things you see back there made you the wonderful you that you are today. God bless.