[This presentation was virtual]
Soup and Hope Lunchtime Speaker Series
Sponsored by: The Office of Spirituality and Meaning-Making and Cornell United Religious Work, Cornell Dining, and Cornell Health
Dr. Jacque Tara Washington, LCSWR
“Hope in the Face of Adversity”
Running Time: Thirty-Five Minutes
27 January 2022
SONG (Pre-recorded) Living Here on Earth
Lyrics, Music, Vocalist: Dr. Jacque Tara Washington
From Jazz Passions CD
Throughout my childhood, I often cried
I always wondered, I wondered
Why things couldn’t be better, Oh Lord, Living Here on Earth
I searched and drank, for peace of mind
But heartache and loneliness were all I could find
Why couldn’t things be better Living Here on Earth
In desperation, I lost my soul
But God stayed with me, I just didn’t know
That things could get better Living Here on Earth
Stopped all the pity, got outside of myself
Kept praying and praying for guidance, kept asking for help
And things began to get better Living Here on Earth
I count my blessings, you see they’re more than a few
I still have some down times, but God’s love brings me through
And life is so much better, so much better
It feels so good Living Here on Earth.
[Sentiments of thanks and some other opening remarks are excluded from this version]
[speaking] If there is anything I share that causes you discomfort or brings up things for you that you need to process, please seek professional help or a trusted friend who will sit with you as you process.
So, with that in mind, please take a moment to connect with your breath and discover or reacquaint yourselves with your core, where you feel the most grounded and safe in your body. I will certainly be connecting to that place in my body as I share, and I invite you to breathe right along with me, or as you will.
You might have heard the recording of my song, “Living Here on Earth” as you came and settled in for my share. I wrote that song for my 2nd CD and it outlines, in blues form, some aspects of my life. The 1st verse is where my life started, the middle verses touch on the struggles and journey to hope and healing, the final verse is a reflection and continuation of that hope and healing journey.
It starts [singing]:
Throughout my childhood, I often cried. I always wondered, I wondered why, things couldn’t be better, Oh Lord, Living Here on Earth . . .
[speaking] I sat in the despair and sadness, hurt and pain, fear and anger. I sat in it because there seemed to be nothing to do at the time, but be in it, sit in it, wallow in it. When hope shined through like tiny rays of sunshine, I didn’t always see it because I was so deep in my sorrow and pain. But once I got a taste of hope, I wanted more, even though I didn’t always know how to embrace it.
I share this because here I am now, and hope feels good and looks good, and it’s important that anyone listening and hearing my unshakable hope also hears the struggle and how God’s love brought me through. While sharing the power of my unbendable relationship with God is for another conversation, it means, quite simply, that I have a strong, beautiful, trusting connection with God. It’s not about judging others, as some Christians are known to do; rather it’s about love! Love for myself in a healthy, kind, compassionate way, which allows me to love you that way.
That’s a far distance from where I was several times in my life. There were times when I was afraid of people because they hurt me and took advantage of my innocence, my gentleness, my desire to be loved, my generosity, my caring spirit. Yes, I know myself to know who I was and who I am; that’s healthy. I know I have flaws, and I know I am a beautiful spirit. I know I am not a victim; rather a victor; victorious because of hope! Now, I’m not trying to sell you on hope, i.e., “Buy this hope, it will change your life . . .” I’m just sharing with you what it means to me and how it, indeed, kept me alive and how it was my companion, even when I didn’t recognize it.
I went into a dark place of not trusting people and not trusting myself because I kept trusting people who kept hurting me. Then I noticed the ray of hope: a kind person here and there who turned out to be sincere and I took tiny moments to test that sincerity. I had to recognize the tiniest ray of hope, the tiniest kindness from people, the tiniest inner strength, and keep building on it . . . taking tiny, micro steps, faith, trust in God, learning to trust myself, which was very hard to do and therefore even harder to begin to trust people. But I had to keep moving forward. For me, hope was realizing, there was not a dead end, that there was a way around, through, over a situation.
So, yes, dark times and yes, rays of hope, and yes, trusting God, Who was with me all along. So here is where one might ask, “Well, if God was with you, why did He allow all the darkness? My response is that, as a therapist, I am always reminding my clients that we can’t be in someone else’ head, in their thoughts, so I say that in this case as well. There is no way I can know what God is thinking or why things occur, why they occurred the way they did for me. I do know that Psalm 23 promises that God is with me in my darkest moments, and proof of that is, here I am!
In those dark times, I learned more about myself, and I grew emotionally stronger, wiser, braver, more aware of myself and others and situations, I learned how to practice self-care and how to say no, how to accept reality.
Flowers grow out of funky fertilizer, the dark moments represent the fertilizer, stinky, nasty, foul, dirty, and messy . . . and I am the beautiful flower that emerged from that stinky fertilizer, those dark moments. It’s not an easy journey from no hope to hope. Did I enjoy pushing through all of that funk? Absolutely not! However, I can’t know who I would be if that had not been my journey. What I do know, is that I am very happy with the outcome. And I still have so much more to embrace. My experiences have taught me that I don’t need to run away from the stinky fertilizer because I know how to cultivate and harvest and use it to keep growing strong, powerful, and beautiful.
So, what were some of those dark moments?
Being raised in an alcoholic family with a functioning alcoholic dad who worked hard and came home to drink, laugh, play lots and lots of music very loudly, and fall asleep every night in a location we all had to tiptoe around, so as not to awaken him. This “being quiet” rule was from my enabling mother who was very unhappy and didn’t know how to deal with her sadness in a healthy way. The words “addiction” “enabling” “functioning” never surfaced when I was a young person growing up in my family system.
However, I watched my dad cook, and he washed and ironed our clothes sometimes; he kept our family car cleaned and shined and dropped all six of his children off to Sunday School every week; he renovated our property and built a garage; tore down walls and built a fireplace in our home; and remodeled property, next door to our family home, for my mom’s beauty salon . . . and he drank.
My mom sewed and made all of our clothes, and we were always so beautiful in our new dresses and neatly coifed hairstyles; she made the drapes/curtains for every room in the house; taught us how to be respectable and responsible; she went to school in her 50’s to get her beautician’s license and opened her beauty salon . . . and she was a master enabler, hard to satisfy, hard to please.
My parents both worked full time jobs while raising us and did the best they could with the realities of their back stories: my dad had a lifetime of not feeling wanted by his mom and step-dad; my mom a lifetime of knowing she was despised by the woman who raised her – the sister of her biological mother, the mother who died when my mom was 2 years old.
As an adult, I understand multigenerational dysfunction, and I also know that the drinking and the enabling and all the other behaviors left me indelibly scarred.
I love them! More importantly, I forgive them for whatever needs to be forgiven and that is an important part of hope for me. I also found hope in the values and beliefs they instilled in me, and my determination to discover my true essence by reflecting on the good times along with the pain, sadness, and fear. I learned a lot about music from all the various genres my dad played, and played very loudly, and I became a professional musician/vocalist. And as a mental health therapist with professional experience in alcohol and other drug treatment, I am able to assist individuals and families as they struggle with addictions.
Moving on . . .
I was raped when I was in my late teens . . . raped by someone I thought was my friend, who had a plan all along that, that day he was going to violate me. He knew; I had no idea. In therapy, we discuss the various trauma responses, fight flight freeze, collapse and submit, attach/cry for help, and others. I froze, collapsed, and submitted; I dissociated, became numb and helpless. I was so frightened and confused and I felt so alone. Later I became angry, still confused, and the shame crept in . . . and hatred . . . hatred for him for devising a plan and for raping me . . . and hatred for myself . . . how could I have been so gullible to think that someone cared about me with no strings attached . . . hatred for myself that I did not fight him – that stayed with me for the longest time until I was able to understand what had happened in my system. I was in shock, and I was being traumatized and my system shut down.
What hope is in that? That experience taught me to be more discerning, how to be in touch with my inner child and my wounded part, how to heal, and how to take back my power as a female. It also equipped me to connect in a deeper way when any of my clients need to process through the shame and various emotions they feel after being violated, and I can sit with them in a way that goes deeper, even without sharing my own experience.
Moving on . . .
When I was in my 20’s, a drunken White man referred to me as garbage, along with other derogatory racial slurs, because of the color of my skin. I was waiting for the driver from the theatre company to pick me up, in a town and location that was unfamiliar to me. Being vulnerable and frightened, I, again, froze and kept my mouth shut for survival. The anger came later and has stayed with me, because part of me still wants to defend and vindicate my 20ish-year old self and my existence as a worthy human being. My present strong Self reminds that part that wants to defend and vindicate, that I am worthy and that is not a battle I need to engage in, yet it’s hard to convince that part because racism keeps rearing its ugly head and I am reminded that there are many people who demonstrate their erroneous racist belief that I am not worthy.
The hope in all of this is that I fight it now. I advocate for myself, and I go further. I am a fearless advocate for social justice, human rights, and race relations, and I encourage others to do the same, to know their worth and to own it, and let others know how they expect to be treated and to settle for nothing less.
Moving on . . .
My 7th grade art teacher and I went back and forth about the correct spelling of my name, which she adamantly stated should be spelled J-a-c-k-i-e, and then she blatantly declared, in front of the entire class of 7th graders, that the spelling of my name, J-a-c-q-u-e, “comes from a place of ignorance because Black people are stupid and don’t know how to spell.” The spelling of my name, in fact, is the JAC comes from my dad’s nickname of Jack and the QUE comes from my maternal granddad whose name is Aquilla.
So, not only was that White teacher challenging my intelligence to have the audacity to declare I did not know how to spell my name at the 7th grade level, something that is taught most-times even before kindergarten, she also attacked my heritage my dad and my granddad and the creativity of my parents to combine those representations in my identity. The hope, the reality? I am a Dr. of Clinical Social Work with several degrees from various institutions, including Syracuse University and the University of Pennsylvania.
I could go on and on about other dark moments and how I draw hope from them, but I trust that you get the point. These ‘hope realities’ did not happen in the moment. I recognize them upon reflection. In those moments, it was very frightening, sad, unsafe, confusing, demeaning, and hurtful to the point of going inward, not knowing there was safety there, either, but going inward, nonetheless.
I’m reminded of a poem by African American poet Langston Hughes that was published in 1922, “Mother to Son.” In the poem, the mother uses the metaphor of a staircase to describe the difficulties she’s had in life, and to offer hope to her son. She says,
“. . . Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light . . .”
And then in the poem the mother lovingly admonishes her son to keep going, and this, for me, is how I am able to be before you today. She encourages:
“ . . . don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now . . . keep climbing . . .”
The hope I garner from this poem is that when facing problems, I have been able to move forward through the struggles with dignity and determination, with perseverance and hope, and yes, sometimes with despair and sadness, fear, and desperation. Through it all, however, giving up has never been an option for me. Oh, I know it is an option, but not for me. I can’t explain why it was not an option for me. In my faith, I would have to say it’s because of what God instilled in my spirit. I don’t know how to see it any other way. But I can assume that those who don’t believe in God have another way of interpreting this. Although I went inward to care for myself and although I settled in those dark places for periods of my life, somewhere in me was the Truth of who I was, who I am, and that Voice that was a constant subliminal soundtrack in my spirit, telling me that giving up was not an option for me.
Now, presently, I believe there is always a solution . . . always . . . that is hope! I began to learn how to embrace hope by being determined to live. If I didn’t have an answer, I found one by reaching for help, which was very hard to do. I determined to think outside that small dark box I had built for myself as a form of protection. I learned to trust by realizing that I was strong enough to comfort myself if I got hurt again; that took years and I still have ways of protecting myself.
I knew I had to start somewhere because I wanted things to be better. And if I wanted things to be better then I knew they could be; I had to figure out how and what to do and where to go for help. I had to change my belief system from: no one cares, to someone will care, and if no one does, I have to care. I cared enough to want to live and that had to be enough for me. If I wanted to live, then what was I willing to do to make that happen? Death was not an option for me; giving up was not an option for me. If I would have made those things, death and giving up, options, then I would have likely chosen them. In all the challenges, disappointments, confusion, sadness, anger, fear, and hurt, through God’s grace, I always held on to hope.
As the lyrics to my song “Living Here On Earth” state in the final verse [singing]:
. . . I count my blessings, you see, they’re more than a few. I still have some down times, but God’s love brings me through. And life is so much better, it feels so good, Living Here on Earth.
[speaking] Thank you for sharing these moments with me and for caring enough to listen and to sit with me while I shared some of my realities with you. I truly hope you garnered something from my share because that was my motivation to participate in Soup and Hope: to uplift, encourage, and motivate you. What happened for me, without realizing it would, is I received a gift, as well: my reflection on the things I shared with you today solidified my healing and validated my journey.
I leave you now, with a virtual hug. If you like, please wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze. That’s my hug to you! Please stay safe and thank you all again!
“Hope in the Face of Adversity”
Dr. Jacque Tara Washington, 1.27.22