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.