10:26 in LA
"When you do not believe that who you are and what you do is good enough, that message will contaminate everything you do..."
We all know Iyanla Vanzant for her motivational show, “Iyanla Fix My Life”, that comes on OWN but many don’t know that there were times when she too needed her life "fixed". It was about two years ago when I first read, “In the Meantime”, a book of anecdotes that offers wisdom and guidance on how to prepare yourself for love, while you are single. It was helpful to learn about the many different stages that we have to go through when we walk the narrow path toward a deep sense of self-actualization and self-love. She made it clear that we must successfully get past each those stages, while being fully aware of ourselves, as we embark upon our personal breakthroughs. We cannot truly be one with another person until we are able to love and know ourselves.
Once I finished "In the Meantime" I began "Peace from Broken Pieces." According to my iBook app, I started this book in January of 2013. Don't judge my reading skills but the truth is, I just finished it last week. I have no shame. There are books that I have finished from anywhere between two days and two weeks, depending on how much down time I've had, however, this was and is one of those books that you don't need to read all at once. It's a courageously intimate autobiography of her life. I can honestly say that every time I read a section of it, I would be spiritually and mentally full. Her life is a living testimony that I found to be surprising relatable to my own childhood as well as my adulthood. As she matured as woman, she faced and overcame many adversities that I, too, have had to endure. Whether it was a few pages or a couple of chapters, reading "Peace from Broken Pieces" always gave me exactly what my heart needed.
My bookmarks indicate the periodic times that I felt compelled to read her book over the last two years. I'm sitting here reflecting on bookmarked dates such as August 8th, 2013 and I distinctly recall the immense anguish I felt during that season. That summer, I attempted, for the umpteenth time, to bond and bridge the love gap between my mother and I. I treated her to brunch one Sunday at the Coral Diner on 158th in the Heights. She began to open up to me like never before.
"I've always been depressed since I was in 1st grade. I don't think I ever told you this but I'm bi-polar."
I listened to her, thinking about how much sense things were finally starting to make.
"Not making excuses for not raising you but..." Her eyes began to water and I had to look away. "I couldn't stop crying after I had you." I handed her a few napkins. "I wouldn't even hold you. Mommy and them admitted me into the hospital and they kept me there for over a month. That's when the people took you and Al from me. They knew I had sh_t in my system. They asked me I was using and I told them the truth. I didn't know they would take y'all from me."
"But..." I wasn't sure what to address. She said so much. "Was that when you found out that you were bipolar?"
"No. It was the 80s. Everything was really about drugs. They had a lot of women in there that were addicted. Doctors, lawyers, bankers, even grandmothers, Val. I found out about the bipolar sh_t when I got locked up a few years later. I didn't want to go to jail so I played crazy."
We both laughed. She was too cleaver.
"But one psychiatrist told me that my addiction was because I was bipolar and I was depressed and he said it came from my resentment and anger with Mommy. I always loved her but I hated her Val. I was mad at her because she didn't start raising me until I was 9. She left me in North Carolina and a lot of f__ked up sh_t happened to me while she was up here. Some stuff I never told her about until I got older. But I never really had love you know?"
I didn't answer her. I looked outside and noticed the birds taking cover from the rain. I tried to drown her voice out with the hard taps of the water pounding on the glass. I went from feeling sorry for her to being pissed off. How could she allow me to go through the same thing she went through as a child? She knew how it felt to not have her mother's love, why would she do the same to her children?
We drank our coffees with two sugars and one cream as she went on to tell me stories about her childhood that were so detailed that I felt like I was there. My anger died down, just as the rain ended. Her stories earned my empathy and compassion. She had a crazy life and I earnestly wished that as her first born daughter, I could have been a part of saving her from herself ... but that was impossible. Apparently, my entrance into the world was the reason that she lost her sanity and could not take care of us. Looking back, it probably shouldn't have affected me as much as it did but hearing her tell me about how quick my dad was to abandon her, and how many months she spent crying after giving birth, made me feel so unwanted... I internalized her words. They tainted my heart and slowly my summer days became bleak.
Before I go on, I should mention that today, I know that her mania has more to do with who she is internally and less to do with me, the child who never asked to be born in the first place but after our talk, so many things began to unravel and fall apart around me - from family to friends. My faith in brighter days was weak and I was frightened by my inability to keep everything together.
IT WAS A SATURDAY morning, a few days after that conversation with my mom.
"Val, what about your students. Think about them..."
I laid on Aunt Lorraine's living room floor, surrounded by dirty, used tissues. I hadn't been able to sleep for 3 days and I spent every night sobbing into my pillow. I texted Carissa and she never texted back. She called. She was slowly able to talk me out of ending my life by reminding me of my purpose. At that moment, I should've known that my depression was bigger than just a few tears in a bucket. I was really sick but I was afraid of getting professional help. What if the doctors told me I was bi-polar too? I didn't want to be labeled. I didn't want to be on medication for the rest of my life. But I also didn't want to grow up to be a dragon that can't control when and who I decide to blow fire on. I saw no other way out of my mind's never ending maze of despair other than cutting my life short. I needed to be back in control but my strength was minimal. I couldn't get a firm enough grip to really alter things. I was convinced that my only option was to just end it, for once and for all.
"You can't do this to them. And you've come so far Val. You are way too strong for this. You know how many stories you told me about when you and Kandy were little? You been through way worse than this. And bish, I can't lose another best friend. Not now. Not like this. You can't do this. Get your Bible, you always give me the scriptures I need. Read Val, remember who you are. You're strong."
I cried for a while before hanging up with her. Then, I turned my phone off for the rest of the day. Silencing the world was then and still is my way of clearing my head. While the world was on mute, I read the book of Job and wrote journal entries that helped me to release everything that I was bottling within.
When I turned my phone back on, I felt better. I wasn't completely out of my funk but I felt well enough to spend some time under the sun. I put Tay on his leash, walked down Riverside, and sat by the water. I decided to begin reading "Peace from Broken Pieces" again.
“Challenges and difficulties are opportunities to deepen your faith.” Vanzant's words were nothing short of evangelistic. I highlighted that sentence and wrote it in my journal of book quotes. After that day, it would be another two years before I considered death as an option for quelling my fears again.
THE NEXT TIME I picked up the book was in January of 2014. This was a much more positive time in my life. Not perfect but definitely much more positive. That month, I was facilitating a spiritual-challenge with my peers. The pray-fast-meditate challenge helped me to gain a warming sense of inner peace but my confidence was dismally low. I wanted to be the vessel that I was called to be. I loved helping to guide my peers to the Light but because of my own past, I held myself back. I was convinced that the people who knew me in my youth were judging me and in disbelief of my growth and spiritual gifts. Although I completed the challenge, I allowed my assumptions of other people's perspectives stop me from reaching my full potential.
January had been a busy month for me but because of a few snow days, I found time to sip some ginger tea and read more of Ms. Iyanla's memoir. Her words turned out to be the exact boost of confidence that I needed:
"When you do not believe that who you are and what you do is good enough, that message will contaminate everything you do..."
“God doesn’t do anything halfway. When you lay your heartfelt desires before God, he will bring them to fruition in their fullness. When you trust God with your dreams, they will materialize better than you expect.”
“When you are in alignment with the desires of your heart, things have a way of working out.”
“Until and unless you know that you are enough just the way you are, you will always be driven to look for more. Knowing that you are enough is a function of consciousness. Your enough-ness develops in direct proportion to the relationship you have with your true identity. Until you wholeheartedly believe in your own worth, in spite your of accomplishments and possessions, there will be a void in your Spirit. I had more than a void. I had a gaping hole that no amount of achievement, money, or acknowledgment could fill. I’m not good enough, and I will never be good enough to deserve this kind of attention..."
Honey! I put the book back down for almost a year after reading that. I don't want to ruin the reading for you, should you decide to purchase the book later but I have to tell you: She'd struggled with so many things by this point in her journey, yet she was still able to persevere and pursue her passions. Her self-determination was stronger than her lack of self-confidence. She wasn't just "preaching" about aligning dreams with goals and expectations, she was actually LIVING her words. It was through her authentic experiences that she learned, our shortcomings are not failures but instead, they are divine gifts of wisdom.
This past February was when I picked the book back up again. This was unequivocally the hardest time of my adult life to date. So this time, I was determined to finish it. I needed to know how things ended for her. How did she finally overcome all her depression? What was her secret?
I read and annotated:
“There can be no change without chaos. All real, lastings change comes as a result of trembling at the foundational level of what exists.”
“There was something extraordinary that I was being prepared for, and the only thing required of me was to keep my heart open and my mind at peace. All I was experiencing was teaching me to become fully reliant on my inner authority, the power of God within me.”
“When, however, you have made up your mind that the old you is dead and buried, when you have embraced a certain level of clarity about who you are and are not, as well as who you are choosing to be, you have a different response."
“Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair … And still I climb.”
All of my questions were answered with the completion of the book. The quotes that I highlighted impacted me enough to be reassured that what I perceived as pain was actually preparation for something greater than I could fathom. Faith is, after all, the substance of things unseen.
Vanzant left her readers with concrete examples of what one may bear when they are chosen. She exemplified the benefits of fighting through every problem and not letting any situation that may seem like a loss defeat you. She also painted a vivid picture of the unwavering power of forgiveness of self and of others.
Before reading "Peace from Broken Pieces", I was silly enough to regard Vanzant as just another motivational speaker who happens to be great friends with Oprah. After reading her autobiography, I gained a newfound respect for her as a woman. Sure, she may never read this but still, I have to take a moment to thank her. I am so grateful that she shared such a detailed account of her journey with the world. Her candid ability to reveal her mistakes, insecurities, fears, and failed relationships show that even with a gifted soul, we are still human. As humans, we are supposed to make mistakes - that is how we we grow and prosper.