In a recent interview, Oprah asked a question, “were you silent or were you silenced?” and that struck a nerve in me because I remember a time when I felt both. I smile to myself at times when people often say to me, “I love your confidence!” If they only knew how long I would silence myself to please those around me. Or how many conversations I had with myself in the mirror wishing I would have spoken up, or how many nights I cried hoping to be a different person. I smile because I know how hard I fought for me, this powerful woman, comfortable in her own skin, living her life to the fullest, unapologetically, unscripted, and unrehearsed. Yea, I can smile today because I love my confidence too, but that’s nowhere near my beginning…
Growing up as the eldest child in a single-parent household, I was extremely protective of my mother. I was witnessing all the sacrifices she made for my brother and me, and consequently I didn’t want to say or do anything that would further add stress to her day to day. Her desire to give her children what she considered the best education, placed my brother and I in many classrooms where we were the only children that looked like us. I learned at an early age that I needed to adapt to fit in. Every school I went to, I would re-invent myself hoping that I was “good” enough to be accepted. I never was. There was always something wrong with me (or at least that’s the story I began to tell myself). The need to conform robbed me of my voice very early on and this continued through middle and high school.
When I left home to go to college, I thought this was another great opportunity to re-invent myself yet again. However, this time, I was coming in with high expectations and much local media hype as I was the first ever Track and Field athlete to receive a full scholarship at the University. I genuinely thought that this had solidified my worth and started my first semester with a false sense of confidence. Freshman year will forever be marked as the year my mindset began to shift – slowly, but little by little, I started to become curious about who I was and the value I carried. I cried more times than I could count my first year – battling with the need to be liked while challenging experiences in my childhood I had buried or never considered. Both my relationships and friendships tested me deeply as I started to understand that by being something for everyone, left me with nothing for myself. Depression kicked in quickly and I would realize days later that I hadn’t left my room other than for class or practice.
By my junior year, I went dark. I isolated myself, making excuses for why I couldn’t go places or overextending myself to avoid being alone with my thoughts. I fought the inevitable change that was happening through self-reflection. I had gotten so good at playing this character, my mask had become a part of me. My mask served me well and I wore it for many years.
In 2009, I met this young man by the name of Jamel Jenkins, who completely changed the way I viewed love. From the way he pursued me, spoke to me, reassured me, loved me – his love was the catalyst for my healing. It was his consistent and persistent love that convinced me that I was a gift to be cherished. A few years into our relationship, I fell back into dark place. I realized later that it was unfair of me to make him the sole source of my happiness and self-worth. It was my job to value myself above all else. So, in 2012, I began a 14-month intensive self-reflective, healing journey that forced me to be intentional with myself and discover my voice. This Celebrate Recovery process was one of the most emotionally draining experiences of my life. Every week for 60 weeks, I asked God to examine me and clear out the lies, hurts, and shame that had kept me at the mercy of other people’s opinions. I was so weak by this point, I didn’t even fight God for it, I just trusted the process and let God be God. As always, He did not disappoint. I emerged with new skin and a new appreciation of the creation He had crafted. I was no longer ashamed about who I was nor seeking the approval of others. I was authentically me and she was breathtaking. I couldn’t believe the person that stared back at me in the mirror now. I was not void of brokenness or the scars of past hurts and trauma, but all those pieces had become steppingstones for a powerful, confident woman.
The choice to invest in myself and be open to the transformative process was nothing short of a gift and exactly what I try to pass along to my clients today. I found the beauty in just being myself and see now that that unapologetic light attracts so many beautiful people and opportunities I could have never imagined. I stand boldly today because I own my story. My voice will never be silenced, its too powerful of a weapon and too beautiful of a sound.
May we all come to know that each of our unique voices are perfectly made.