This afternoon, I had the honor of being the Keynote Speaker at an Education and Employment Luncheon. A couple years ago, I shared the speech I gave as a recipient of the excellence award at this same luncheon, so I thought I would make it a tradition and pass this one along as well. The only thing that could have made this event sweeter, would have been if my former employment specialist was there to hear it. There is no way I would have made it to this point if I hadn't met him...
About five years ago, I sat at this very same luncheon, somewhere near the back of the room, and as close to my employment specialist as possible. I didn’t know many people in the room, and I wasn’t the type back then to just spark up a conversation with strangers. In all honesty, it took some convincing on the part of my employment specialist for me to even come to the luncheon, but he promised that there was going to be an incredible and motivating keynote speaker, and that this was an event that never disappointed.
Back then, I struggled with a lot of anxiety. The head tremor that is hardly noticeable now, drew stares and questions back then. I was terribly self-conscious about myself, and convinced that I was never going to get better. At that point, I had decided I wanted to start working again, but that negative voice in the back of my head kept telling me that I was too uneducated, too depressed, too unlikeable, and too shaky, for anyone to want to hire me. Despite my employment specialist and people in my support network telling me otherwise, I truly believed that the only thing I was good at was not being good at anything.
I sat at that luncheon that day, staying quiet and trying to just blend in. When the keynote speaker took the stage, like everyone else in the room, I gave her my full attention. I wasn’t expecting to be so moved, but her speech that day made me realize I was limiting my potential. She spoke of the struggles she had faced in her lifetime, the heartache and obstacles that seemed to follow her around like a black cloud, and ultimately, her decision to stop looking in the rearview mirror of her life, to take back control and pursue her dreams. I remember vividly watching her with tears in my eyes, and jumping to my feet to give her a standing ovation when she finished her speech. My employment specialist had been right. This was an event that did not disappoint.
That quiet young woman who walked into that luncheon unsure of herself and wanting nothing but to blend into the background, walked out of there wanting to change her life.
For the next year, my employment specialist worked tirelessly to help me listen to and find my dreams. He encouraged me in my recovery and pushed me to think outside the box. When there were bumps in the road, he reminded me of the goals I had set for myself, and helped me to figure out how I was going to reach them. He, along with my therapist, my family, and the friends I had made on this recovery journey, were my cheerleaders when the self-doubt would creep in.
In that year, with this incredible circle of support I had built around me, I found something I had been looking for my entire life. I found myself.
I spent the next couple years working with BRS, who even further helped me find my passion and my voice. I started writing a blog about having a Life Worth Living and how I use the skills I learned in DBT, and in life, to continue to recover and move forward. Within months my blog had gained the interest of readers from all over the world and the feedback I received boosted my confidence and belief in myself that I was on the right track. My goals of getting a job expanded to goals and dreams of motivating others with my story. I was able to get an internship with Marrakech as a peer employment mentor, and eventually I was hired permanently for that position. The same agency who had provided me with the most incredible employment specialist and support in finding work, was the same agency that saw my strengths and helped me meet one of my goals. That year, I was asked to speak as a recipient of an Excellence Award at this luncheon.
Once I started gaining traction, I couldn’t stop. I received my certification as a Recovery Support Specialist three years ago. I applied for a job with the state, and I was hired. I have been the Recovery Support Specialist for Young Adult Services here in Stamford, for nearly 3 years now. Not only do I get to work with some of the most incredible young adults I have ever met, but I get to help them along their recovery journey by using my life experience. What they probably don’t know, is that they continue to help me as well. They have taught me patience and compassion, humor and hope, but most importantly, they have taught me about commitment. That entire table over there is my reminder to never give up.
What the young adults, along with anyone else who knows me will tell you, is that a huge part of my recovery, and now my life, is DBT. DBT stands for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and it’s based on the idea of balancing both acceptance and change. The goal of DBT is to create a Life Worth Living. It entered my life nearly ten years ago, however it’s effectiveness didn’t sink in for me until I started putting the skills into action, all around the same time that I began to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. For the past year, I have been co-facilitating a DBT skills group at my agency, and next week I will complete the intensive Core Clinical Training.
Five years from now, one of you will be up here sharing your success story. You will be honored by the invitation to speak, and you will also wonder if what you have to say or how you say it will affect anyone in your audience. The answer is an unwavering yes. Five years ago, my life course changed when I came to this luncheon. I believe there is a power here, among peers who are working towards their goals, regardless of whether or not they have identified them just yet.
That young woman who sat towards the back of the room five years ago, is not the same woman who is standing before you today. What I know now, but didn’t know then, is that nothing in this world is promised. Life takes unexpected twists and turns, whether we are ready for them or not. There are choices that we face everyday. We can choose to be the quiet one in the back of the room afraid to make a move or speak up, or we can choose to be the one who takes a chance, maybe even falls down, but gets right back up and takes the stage.
It is an honor to be present before all of you today. Although there are faces I have not seen, and people I have not met, what I can tell you is I am humbled to be in your presence. You are all here because you are taking a chance. You are taking important steps towards education and employment. You are allowing yourself to be vulnerable and are walking bravely into the unknown. You are exactly where you are supposed to be, and heading directly towards your dreams.
This is the day where we honor you.