This week was a momentous time for me! I took my two kids to see YALE University. It wasn’t so much the college as it was that which it meant to me.
It was 14 years ago since I had the great honor of speaking to their college students through my work with Find Your Voice Project. I had been a motivational speaker for many years prior, but at this moment I was one year or so into recovery from my 14-year battle with Anorexia.
It had a deeper meaning for me than any other engagement. Specifically, someone was noticing the good I was doing in my work, they saw the importance and purpose.
The background to how this came about is a worthy story. A young college student had heard about my rather intense story of recovery and speaking. She was determined to have me come talk to the under grads at YALE. At first, I thought it was just too far out of my league, as well the distance having lived in California at the time. But she was not going to give up and I never turned down an inquiry. She pursued me for some time, before I finally decided it was something I needed to follow through on.
One aspect about this particular talk that brought me undue stress and shame in ways, was my awareness that I had not graduated from College. In fact, after years of struggling in school to finally learn of long-time learning disability, I fought the odds and was received into the University of San Francisco after transferring in from College of Marin. Just a short year later, I lost this opportunity in devastating ways having to take a medical leave due to the severity of my eating disorder at the time. To say I was heartbroken would be an understatement of highest proportions. So, when this opportunity was presented to me, it had a deeper meaning, full circle one could say that brought me indescribable JOY. It was a chance for my strength and empowerment to shine through from the evils of this illness.
I flew in mid-day and shuttled into New Haven, CT to the main campus to meet with this young woman. Every moment was extraordinary on this journey. Idle conversation on the plane with my seat mate about what I was about to do, to arriving on the campus itself amidst the glorious buildings. I was whisked off pretty quickly, briefed and honestly didn’t have time to second guess or panic. I faithfully, humbly and albeit a bit terrified would step up to the challenge.
When I arrived in the lecture hall, I was surprised by the numbers, as well as the male to female ratio. I began my talk as I normally would and instantly could see the depth of my story and pain on the faces of these students. The raw nature of my story has an impassable impact that can be great. This isn’t unusual, as the honesty in my story is presented quite clearly. In fact, I will not speak at any venue unless there is an understanding that I am not a psychologist and I make certain those resources are available to those who are present before one word is spoken.
I can often point out in the room instantly those who are struggling with this demon, for their eyes, body language and emotion give them away. It is not rare for one to tear up, it is not rare for one to leave the room in a rush. But, this evening, I had more than one leave the room. It gave me grave concern. At the end of the hour, I took question and answers longer than any other venue I had presented at before, admittedly there was a darkness over the room. My heart was sad, and I needed more closure. In that moment, I forgot I was at YALE, I was more concerned with the reality these students were facing.
My intention was to go back to the hotel before a very early morning flight. But the adviser encouraged me to come back to the living quarters and just relax in a more personable setting. As we began to talk a bit about the evening, students began to show up. Word spread that I had stayed on campus and was talking with others. Soon the numbers were great as these young women crowded into this small dorm room. The heartbreaking stories that were being shared were endless; the questions for me and my journey became very personal and more intense than that of those in the auditorium. These women were struggling. These women wanted answers to how I was set free. These women wanted what I had. Their words and questions brought purpose to my presence, purpose to my life.
I was completely taken in by their stories of how their distorted body image, lacking body acceptance and the absence of body empowerment took over their lives during their education. It reminded me of my time at University and how easy it was to let it consume you. We talked and shared for hours. Before I knew it, morning arrived and the sun was rising. I had a plane to catch. I thanked them for giving me such a gift in sharing their stories and I assured them that they could always reach out, which many did. I promised myself that day, that I would not stop my work.
I owed my recovery to every person who ever stood by my side and believed in me. I always have refused to turn down any engagements if asked. I will take phone calls, emails and introductions from parents, teachers, medical professionals and anyone else who wants to hear of my story in order to help.
I haven’t been on the full-time speaking circuit since before I was married and became a mother. I allowed this part of my life and this person to devalue my work and story, which led me to stop this advocacy path on a full-time basis. I regret losing my voice to another’s opinion. Today, I am taking it back.
It is not an easy task, now as a single mom, to get back out there. Times have changed greatly, but I realize the bottom line has not. I am committed to getting back there to share my story and help others, for I need to give back in gratitude and healing. Don’t be fooled, it terrifies me, but I just can’t be silenced.
I am developing a new talk, as I already have developed quite a few workshops and retreats on this topic. The time has come. My voice is loud. And healing is possible. Stay tuned…