When I lived in St. Simons Island, Georgia, I attended the kickoff event for MLB player Adam Wainwright’s charitable foundation. Adam is from the area, and the marketing agency my company worked with at the time was assisting with the marketing and promotion for the event, so several of my co-workers and I were invited. I invited my then boyfriend’s parents to the luncheon that was held at a hotel on St. Simons. We took our seats, and an opening speech was given by a preacher, (a pretty standard practice in the South), and I saw his mother take a notepad out of her purse during the speech and jot something down. After his speech was over, I joked with her, “Taking notes?” I asked.
She smiled, “I wrote down what he said.” She often recommended doing that, excerpts from speeches, books, a kind word or compliment from a friend. I don’t remember what his words were or what particularly struck a cord with her, (I’m sure I was too busy focusing on what was for lunch) but I always remember her advice. It’s something my therapist has often said as well, “Write that down.” (I’m not ashamed to admit I see a therapist, I functioned in an incredibly dysfunctional environment for the majority of my upbringing, and therapy has quite honestly changed my life).
I haven’t always taken this advice, I’ve thought: “Well, I have a good memory, I’ll just access stuff like that when I need it.” But I realize how valuable this advice is, that at some points in life you may not be able to access those words, much less believe them.
Over my four years spent living in Georgia, there were words spoken to me by several people that I never fully took in, partly because giving myself enough credit has never really been my thing, and partly because of some other life circumstances that weren’t allowing me to be or fully recognize myself.
When I left this job, my boss threw a huge lunch, made a picture collage of my time there, and got up and gave a speech and said, “I made this collage in the shape of a “D” because it reminded me of the “M” in the Mary Tyler Moore show, and that’s who Doria reminds me of, the epitome of class and grace, like her.”
There was the HR Director who said “I can’t believe what you’ve been able to do here, it’s commendable.” And the successful business owner, a sister-in-law of a close friend who one day asked, “You didn’t have one parent you could depend on, I’m so impressed, how on earth did you figure it out and manage everything on your own?”
I realize words like this mean more than this to me, someone who never heard them as a child, and who was instead prone to insults in drunken fits of rage, someone who’s had to pick up the pieces and make herself believe these words. But during my time living in the South, I heard things like this more often than not, and I know it was part of the valuable lesson of my time spent there. I surprised and impressed people, even more so when I was brave enough to share the details of my past. In the end, when it seemed the pieces of my life were crumbling around me, I lost the words, and almost stopped believing them, but I knew somewhere they still existed.
The honest answer to “How have you done it?” is: “I have no idea.” There’s something within, a driving force that’s been able to assess the environment and circumstances I was given and say, “No, screw this.” I’ve done it mostly alone, and until recently have not been able to recognize what an incredible feat this is, how easy it would have been to get caught up in the past and go down with the ship.
I know this post probably seems like I need an extra therapy session or some extra attention (there I go with the not enough credit thing again) but I hope you’ll heed this advice and write down valuable words- ones of encouragement, strength, positivity, courage or otherwise. They’ll always be there when you need them or when you’ve forgotten them, and they can’t be altered according to circumstance. Today I took this advice and opened a notebook, and I wrote them down. I wrote down excerpts from part of the script of the journey of creating a different life for myself, something I again accomplished mostly on my own. I traced over words of encouragement, recognition of perseverance, words where I’d been acknowledged for resilience and refusing to dim my inner light, even when faced with the darkness of others. I read them over and over and was moved to tears. Because today I believe them.