Updated: Oct 31, 2018
I’m proud to be a strong, independent woman. But I haven’t always been that way. I’ve had hardships, insecurities, (still have many), stressful times, and times where I have no idea what to do. Part of what has made me a stronger woman today is the strong, encouraging, supportive women I surrounded myself with -- seriously, it made a huge difference!
The things I have been through, however, in no way qualifies me to understand the struggle of all women. I’ve never been cheated on, pregnant, in a toxic relationship to the point I can’t function for myself, had to take care of sick relatives, or had to fight to protect myself. What this does qualify me for, though, is to listen to women in my life who have been through these things and more. What it does qualify me for is to lift them up and not judge them for the decisions and situations they have gone through in the past. When did we, as women, forget that we should be lifting each other up? I’m not saying we all did and I’m not saying I always do, sadly. I’m so exhausted from watching other women put another woman down when they don’t fully understand their situation. Life is hard. And it doesn’t always go the way we plan it, so let’s spend our energy, our emotion on building each other up instead. I get it. We all make mistakes. But holding those mistakes over someone makes it impossible for them to move forward and be the person they were created to be.
“Instead of telling people what they want, we need to tell them who they are. This works every time. We’ll become in our lives whoever the people we love the most say we are.” - Bob Goff, author of Everybody, Always
I’ve learned a lot about strength from my friend, Rachael. Her story, her past, her life lessons are complicated, but when you hear them and then see the person she is today, it’s hard to process.
Drugs and alcohol were part of her life at an early age. The guy she was dating and the people she spent the most time with were no strangers to either of those things. She was lost in the lifestyle. Then a life-altering experience occurred, she became pregnant...Meanwhile, she continued to use drugs and alcohol. Until one day she finally realized her life NEEDED to change; Rachael was going to become responsible for someone else’s life.
“It was hard to realize that it was my own choices that put me where I was. That was hard to grasp and to cope with,” Rachael told me, full of sincerity. “Realizing that I had to or I would be dead somewhere is what got me out of that lifestyle. I was getting ready to have a baby. I was at point zero. I was in a pit and no one else was going to get me out of that besides myself. I needed to get better. It wasn’t anybody else’s responsibility.”
Her daughter, Leah, changed everything for her. But life wasn’t easy. She was a single mom trying to co-parent with someone who she didn’t always see eye to eye. She’s recently divorced from a relationship that turned toxic, and she knew the best thing for her and her daughter would be to separate themselves from that. Some people may see that as one mistake after another. Those who know Rachael, like myself, see that as strength.
Rachael learned something years ago -- let go of the negativity, let go of the past. It’s the only way to live for today.
“When I stopped numbing everything and started to be forced to feel things, experience things, then I was forced to see the hurricane I created in my own life. Giving power to that negativity ate me alive,” Rachael said, with hope in her voice. “I refuse to live in that negativity. I could think of all the bad things and all of the people I hurt and all of the storms I created. But I refuse to do that. You have to literally tell yourself that’s not how you are anymore.”
When asked what helped her get through the hard times, her answer was quick. “My friends. You guys.” Ladies! Let me tell you how that feels in that moment, for a friend to tell you the difference you made in their lives simply by being there. I had tears in my eyes.
Rachel told me, “I went from being a bad human, to getting knocked up, to continuing to be a bad human during my pregnancy, to ‘Oh, shit I’m about to have a baby. I need to get my crap together’, and then finally to having a baby. I went through postpartum depression like a whirlwind. I couldn’t imagine going through all that alone. I did for so long.” She continued to say, “Who you surround yourself with is the energy you’re going to start breeding yourself. People who saw my potential and not my past and wouldn’t hold anything against me, that’s who I kept in my life. They saw that I was better than my old experiences. If you fall into those same old groups of people you’re going to fall into those same old habits.
“When it [my mistakes] was still fresh for me, I don’t know how people could see the good in me, or didn’t hold that stuff against me.”
Seeing Rachael now, you wouldn’t see her past if she didn’t tell you. Leah will soon be 6, and life is still hard. Being a parent is difficult, but Rachael and Leah are still happy. Rachel is creating a good life for her and her daughter. She has love in her life; true, honest love. She’s raising her daughter to know her worth, and to know she is loved.
“Shit’s hard man. It’s hard because you don’t have control. You’ve created a human and you have no idea how much time to give that person tips and tools to be a decent human. Time is not guaranteed,” Rachael said adding, however, that it’s worth it. A smile filled her face. “I absolutely love her. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t get pregnant.”
Leah is strong-willed, funny, and energetic. She has a lot of things stacked against her, but she’s still happy. She’s also really bad at knock-knock jokes, but Rachael still loves hearing them.
Rachel is among the most honest and open people I know and I am proud to call her my friend. Rachel wants her story told even if it only helps one person. If sharing her story can help even one person, she wants it told. I asked her what she would tell others struggling to let go of his/her past.
“You have to let it go. Fix what you can fix and let it go. Pray and hope that people have forgiveness in them. You got to make changes or the cycle will continue,” she told me. “Other people play a big part of you being able to let that go. Don’t stop until you find your support system. Real, authentic people. You need to have healthy, authentic relationships with women that will be a positive influence on your life.
“You need to get the mindset that you will have to pull yourself out of this pit on your own first, really taking full responsibility. But then you start to see hands around you to help you. Those are hands are attached to arms, that are attached to people, and those are your support system.”
Ladies, we need to let go of the past. We need to see the women in our lives for who she is, who she can be, and who she is working her ass off to become. Be that person for someone. It’s beyond worth it.
“Judging is still one of the most hurtful, spiteful impulses we own, and our judgments keeps us from forming a stronger tribe … or from having a tribe in the first place. Our judgment prohibits us from beautiful, life-affirming friendships. Our judgment keeps from connecting in deeper, richer ways because we’re too stuck on the surface-level assumptions we’ve made.” - Rachel Hollis, author of Girl, wash your face
Stop with the gossipping. Stop tearing down other women to protect yourself. Stop judging how a woman is a mother, friend, spouse, daughter. Stop glaring because her heels aren’t high enough, or too high, or because she’s been divorced… twice, or living in a toxic relationship, and you don’t understand why she just doesn’t leave already.
Instead, I encourage you, plead with you, to simply be her friend. Encourage her to be the woman you know she can be and show her grace when she falls short. Be there. Listen. Learn. Understand. See other women for their heart and not their pasts or their situation. When we can truly do that, we will see women be their true selves and in turn experience the love they deserve.
We are stronger together.
Written and Photographed by Sarah Elkins