I recently had the pleasure of speaking with “Michelle Speakz“, Michelle Poitier. This was one of the more powerful conversations that we have had to date here on Courageously Go! Listen in or read the transcript below. Thanks Michelle!
Debbie DiPietro: Hello, welcome to Courageously Go!, where we will venture into places we’ve been afraid to go. Women of the world, we are going to start a movement, a movement towards courage. Hello, my name is Debbie DiPietro, and for many years I wrote about my challenges of anxiety and low self-confidence on my award-winning blog, The Warm Milk Journal, and now in this podcast I simply wish to have a conversation about courage because I believe that when we live from hearts by choosing courage, the life of our dreams and a better world for all are possible. No matter our age or circumstances we never need to feel stuck or alone, and today we are all in for a real treat. I’m excited to introduce our guest Michelle Poitier.
Debbie DiPietro: Meet Michelle Poitier, who is nominated and selected to attend former first lady Michelle Obama’s United State of Women’s Initiative 2016, for her work in the community. She was the recipient of a letter of recognition from Governor Rick Scott on September 23rd of 2016 for her community contributions. Additionally, Ms. Poitier received a letter from the White House in March of 2016 to be selected, and for her participation in the mission continues in the Women’s Veterans Leadership Summit. If you’re seeking words of hope and encouragement, and release from pains of the past you’re in for a treat as Michelle takes you on a journey to healing and wholeness. She is an author, national speaker, entrepreneur, and advocate.
Debbie DiPietro: Michelle is a voice for the voiceless, defender of the defenseless, and hope for the hopeless. She delivers a message of transparency, vulnerability, authenticity, encouraging others to be comfortable being authentically who they were created to be, unapologetically fully embracing the skin that they are in. Her direct quote is this, “I cannot separate who I am from what I do, because who I am is intertwined with what I do, and how I do it.” Michelle passionately addresses and advocates about issues specifically unique to female veterans, because she is her sister’s keeper. Michelle provides trainings, workshops, and one-on-one coaching that addresses those challenges head-on. Michelle, welcome to Courageously Go!
Michelle P.: Thank you so much, Debra, I am so excited and honored for the opportunity to be on your program.
Debbie DiPietro: Well, the honor is all mine to have such and esteemed and accomplished guest is just … you have lived quite an interesting life, and I look forward to us hearing more.
Michelle P.: Right.
Debbie DiPietro: Why don’t we start with this, what are you excited about these days? What’s going on that you’re excited about?
Michelle P.: I am excited about raising the alarm or the trumpet on mental illness and mental health challenges, I really don’t like that word, mental illness, but just helping people to realize that they are not their trauma. I’m excited about an upcoming event in Orlando, the Jim Moran Institute, I’ve always wanted to be able to present or speak, and I actually just recently accepted an offer to do so. I’m just excited about all the things that are going on and the doors that God is opening. I’m just excited about life.
Debbie DiPietro: Awesome.
Michelle P.: Which is a big deal.
Debbie DiPietro: It is a big deal.
Michelle P.: Because it wasn’t always that way.
Debbie DiPietro: What got you going on this journey in working with people and inspiring people? What got you started an interest in mental illness and challenges that you help people with?
Michelle P.: Well, the thing that got me started, after being diagnosed with my own issues with post-traumatic stress, secondary to military sexual trauma, and generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, adjustment disorder anxiety, I mean, I was of course devastated because you’re telling me that I’m a culmination of all of these disorders. I was embarrassed and ashamed, and I felt, honestly I felt that my body and my mind have failed me, and it didn’t matter that I’d served my country, raised a beautiful daughter, I’ve been a friend, a wife, a leader, even with all of that, along with the stigma associated with mental illness especially in the African-American community, I was just devastated.
Michelle P.: Then the resources that I was reaching out to, of course they were doing the best that they could, but there weren’t enough resources, and then again, the stigma that was attached to that. I dreaded going to that part of the hospital labeled Mental Health, because I just felt I had this big neon sign on my back. I just … I was passionate about helping to change the dynamics of that.
Debbie DiPietro: Why don’t we … I think it will help our listeners to just get more of a picture of your background. Why don’t we take a step back and at what age did you enter the military, and maybe did you go on tour, maybe share with us a little bit of story or two about your experiences and then lead us to where you are now. I think that will help us.
Michelle P.: Right. Well, I joined the military not right out of high school. I dabbled around for about a year and a half, unsure of what I wanted to do, but I was already battling with issues that I’d encountered as a young girl. Beginning at the age of six I started being violated by family members, sexually violated, and that just carried on into my teenage years. Actually my going in to the military was my way of escaping that. I’ve always had a heart to serve and I figured what better way to serve than to serve my country, and so I joined the military and I was very excited about that. One, about getting away from the dysfunction that I was surrounded by, and two, just about the opportunity to travel.
Michelle P.: I come from a military family, I was used to traveling, but being on my own for the first time away from that, and just getting to explore who I was and trying to change my perception of myself, which was very low at that time. I joined the military as a cryptologist, I was a code breaker. I was helping the military keep its secret a secret, which was the perfect job for me because I had been groomed for that by my experiences. But then at my first duty station, which was Pyeongtaek, Korea, I encountered the same things that I was running from. I was violated, sexually assaulted by a fellow service member, which completely devastated me because I was excited about serving my country and leading alongside my fellow service members, and to be violated in that way that was … it almost broke me.
Michelle P.: I continued with my career, but that was always in the back of my mind and I tried to go forth and just share, but the kickback that I got was unexpected and very devastating. I was encouraged not to tell. I was encouraged not to pursue it, and that just led to my own feelings of low self-worth, that I wasn’t important, that I wasn’t valuable, that I wasn’t worthy of even having a voice. My voice was effectively silenced, in which it was why I was joining to kind of amplify my voice and not to have it be silenced.
Debbie DiPietro: At what point you decided you needed help or you got this at what point? How and when did you decide that enough is enough and you needed to get yourself some help and start healing?
Michelle P.: Actually I began the journey 13 years later after I got out of the military. I got out of the military with a heart-related condition, and then I realized that I just wasn’t functioning. My relationships were very dysfunctional and I was married and had a daughter, and things were just … everything was going haywire, and I realized that I need some help. I went to try to get that help, but there were so many other personal things going on. I was going through a divorce with my husband of 20 years, my daughter was acting out because she was a daddy’s girl. He actually got into some trouble and was going to prison for 25 years.
Michelle P.: It was just a lot of transition, and in the midst of all that I was like I’m losing it, because for everyday for the first year that he was, after he was sentenced I would take my daughter my to school, go home, curl up in a ball, in a fetal position in the middle of my floor and just cry for eight hours a day for a year. I knew that I was at a point that I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew that I couldn’t help myself because I’ve always been a fighter, I’ve always been one of those that never let anything get me down, but I was just done. I was at the end of my rope, and so I started seeking the help.
Debbie DiPietro: How did you get out of it? What helped you ultimately?
Michelle P.: Well, ultimately I would have to say it was my relationship with God. I believe without that I really would have ended my life, I attempted to, but was not successful, thank God, but one of the things that helped is I changed my environment. I relocated and got closer to family so that I would have a strong circle of support. I had to humble myself because I’m not going to say I was prideful, but I was very private and just ashamed about all the things that I was encountering. That was the start, the beginning of the journey to healing.
Debbie DiPietro: Well, you have quite a story and I know there are a lot of people out there listening to this, and there are women out there that this resonates with, and they have some things they are seriously struggling with and they are kind of down there in the pit as well. What would you say to them? Who can they reach out to, to get help?
Michelle P.: Well, I would say first, I would say to them that to realize that you are not your trauma. Accepting the fact that you will encounter peaks and valleys on this journey called life. Establish some healthy boundaries in all aspects of your life. Guard your heart, and it’s okay to not be okay, that’s the best of thing, because we as women we wear this mask of strength when inside we are bleeding. Reach out to some resources, if you have encountered any kind of sexual trauma. There’s an organization called rainn.org, it’s R-A-I-N-N.org, of course the National Domestic Violence hotline, all you have to do is Google domestic violence, but the thing I would say is to reach out for help. Reach out to a trusted friend that you know, I know we all have at least one person that no matter what we can reach out to them, let them know where you’re at, that you’re struggling, that you don’t know if you’re going to make another hour, let alone another day. Have them help you to find resources.
Debbie DiPietro: No one needs to be alone.
Michelle P.: Exactly.
Debbie DiPietro: Right. Well, thank you for that, and I know just on some past communication with you I want to bring this up while we have time, is that it’s a big deal to leave or have a long-term marriage break up and you have a child. You have one child or-
Michelle P.: One daughter, yes. One daughter.
Debbie DiPietro: Maybe share with us, because I think including myself I’m in a second marriage too, and I left a marriage of 20 years, I think there are a lot of women out there that can relate to this and what a difficult life transition that is. If you wouldn’t mind maybe sharing a little bit about how you’ve been dealing with that and how your life presently is as a result of such a huge change in your life and your daughter’s life.
Michelle P.: Right. Well, the most challenging aspect of that transition was realizing that for me, that I no longer had that title and the role of wife to hide behind and to use, as both the crutch and an excuse as to why I was not living the life that I desire to live. I had to do the work and find out, or redefine my identity as a woman, not as a wife, not as a mother, but as a woman. I had to learn to explore to find out who I was, what I like, like what kind of entertainment I like, what kind of clothes, what kind of books, social outings.
Michelle P.: I had to really reflect and determine if the choices that I’d made during my marriage, were they mine or did I make them because it was what my husband wanted or liked, and I had to adjust? To not walking in eggshells, living in constant fear of displeasing my husband, and letting my family down because the covenant of marriage, that’s for life and I was very committed to that through thick and through think, through better or for worse, but when I realized it gotten to the point where I was literally dying. My spirit was dying, my soul was dying, I knew that I had to make a change, and when I saw how devastating it was for my daughter to watch that I knew that I had to make the decision to make the change for her, because I didn’t want her to think that this was what marriage and partnership was about.
Michelle P.: Was it painful? Yes. Was it devastating? Yes, but I did it in spite of the pain. I did it with tears and crying, by day doing what I had to do, working through, but at night just going home and literally sometimes just staring at the wall and questioning, “Did I do the right thing?” But when I think about who I’ve become now as a result of that I refound my voice, I’ve amplified my voice. I’ve come into myself as a woman. I’ve done things that I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve climbed mountains literally. I climbed the Andes Mountain a couple of years ago. I’ve gone skydiving. I started my own business. I just realized that I am strong and I am worthy of being on this Earth and fulfilling my dreams.
Debbie DiPietro: Yey, yey, I’m happy for you, that’s awesome. If I may ask, how long ago was that? When did you leave your marriage and how long ago was that?
Michelle P.: I left my marriage in 2009. He went to prison in 2006, and I was going to stay, but I was like, “I can’t do this anymore,” and I was alone anyway. It took me the … The beginning of my coming into my own was forgiveness, forgiving him, and it took me seven years to do that, to work through that because forgiveness is a process. There are layers of forgiveness just like there are layers of healing. Healing is not a destination it’s a journey, and I say the same thing for forgiveness, it’s not a destination it’s a journey because you can think you’ve forgiven someone for something, and you maybe have, but then something else comes up. You go along for a while and you think you’re good, but then you are confronted with something else and you realize, “Ah, I’m not over that, so let me just go back and deal with that,” whether that be through counseling or talking or whatever you find that works for you, and that’s what I had. I had to do the work.
Debbie DiPietro: Well, thank you for being so open in sharing with us. Obviously you’re so strong and you have found your voice, and let’s talk a little bit about that. What are your projects that you’re up to today? It sounds like you do a lot of exciting things out there that I know we’d love to hear more about while we have the time.
Michelle P.: Because I’ve just realized there is no box. I started a nonprofit, Healing Women Healing Nations of Northeast Florida, and my target audience is female veterans, but it’s also any woman that has encountered any kind of trauma, that has been a survivor of domestic or sexual abuse. We provide empowerment events, workshops, one-on-one individualized plans to help you get back on track. We’re about to start offering virtual services, a three-phase program to unmasking the hurt, preventing you from living your life to your fullest potential. I have a radio program, Michelle Speaks, If You Hide It You Can’t Heal It, no topic is taboo. We talk about topics that society considers taboo, but we don’t just talk about it, we provider viable solutions, but more importantly we provide hope.
Michelle P.: I’m very much for community advocacy. I’m in my community advocating for those that the world has deemed unsalvageable or worthless. I teach dance, inspirational dance to children and adults because that form of expression is just a way to express yourself through music, and it’s so freeing and it’s so liberating. Whatever I feel like that I want to do, I do it, and I want to inspire and empower other women to do the same, to not just find their voice, but to amplify their voice, and help other women do the same.
Debbie DiPietro: I love that. Let’s tell all the women out there listening right now, Michelle, how can they learn about your show, about what you do? Is there a website they can visit? How do they get a hold of you?
Michelle P.: There is, my website is michellepoitier.com, or you can reach to me at my e-mail, it’s michellespeakz, with a Z, @gmail.com, M-I-C-H-E-L-L-E S-P-E-A-K-Z@gmail.com, or you can reach out to me by phone, 904-370-3549. I’m here and whatever resources I have I’m more than willing to share.
Debbie DiPietro: Right, and you are now … Are you a 100% working for yourself or do you have a job or [crosstalk 00:19:25] full-time?
Michelle P.: I’m a 100% self-employed. I’m a national speaker. I’m a published author. I’m the partnerships coordinator for our business entrepreneurship organization, E3 Business Groups. Anything that I do, I do as an independent contractor or I just manage my business. I have a for profit business, Future Impressions, where I provide virtual administrative support and professional writing services, so fully self-employed.
Debbie DiPietro: You do, you’re pretty busy, aren’t you?
Michelle P.: Yes.
Debbie DiPietro: You do, I [crosstalk 00:20:01]. Wow.
Michelle P.: I want to leave no gift left unturned.
Debbie DiPietro: I guess so, that’s awesome. Gosh, it’s awesome. Well, I think there are probably a lot of people out there, a lot of women out there who maybe they’re in a job that they’re tired of or maybe they want to break out on their own, and go into business for themselves, but it can be a little daunting, can’t it? What would you say to people, to women who would like to go out on their own? How do they even get started?
Michelle P.: I would say first of all, do your research, write your plan, just write the vision and make it plain. Those that see it may run with it. Put your vision on paper so that when you begin sharing it with people you get people to come alongside you to help you. But reach out to your local business resources with wherever you are, they had that or reach out to the organization I’m a part of, E3 Business Group, it’s www.e3businessgroup.us. We have programs, we have coaching, we have strategies, the Call of Eagles is another way and it will give you step-by-step instructions on how to start your own business or how to become an entrepreneur.
Debbie DiPietro: Do a lot of the people you work with or groups you speak to, are they from the military or do you speak with civilian groups as well, Michelle?
Michelle P.: No, I speak at universities, I speak in churches, I speak at community events, so no, I’m not just targeting the military, I’m targeting men and women that need to be inspired or that want to go to the next level of whatever they want to do in life. Yes, I’ve spoken at Missouri State University, in [inaudible 00:21:56] Wells Fargo, Minnesota, California, for several organizations, No Barriers USA, The Mission Continues, and these are all organizations that want to empower their target audience to move forward. There is no box.
Debbie DiPietro: Okay, while we have time I just have to ask because I want to clarify the bio, did you actually meet first lady Michelle Obama?
Michelle P.: I did not get to meet her personally, I was one of 5,000 women that were selected to attend her United State of Women’s Initiative in 2016. Someone from the community nominated me, I don’t know to this day, but if you’re listening I thank you.
Debbie DiPietro: Awesome. Go ahead.
Michelle P.: It was an amazing experience, the energy that was in the room, and to see all the women from all over the United States, and internationally that are empowering and impacting positive change in our communities, in our nation by raising their voices. They’re using what they thought was a weakness, and actually it was a strength to help other women realize they are own strengths. It was phenomenal.
Debbie DiPietro: It was an honor. That’s just awesome. That’s kind of like one of my bucket list things, is to meet someone like her, and even have her on Courageously Go!, I would love to have Michelle Obama on as a guest. If you have six degrees of separation, if anyone out there is listening and can put me in touch with Michelle Obama, I’m all about it.
Michelle P.: Right, right.
Debbie DiPietro: That’s awesome. Well, we just have probably a couple minutes left, any parting words that you would like to say before we’re out of time?
Michelle P.: I would say for those women that are battling and that are straddling the fence between wanting to give up and needing something to hold on to, I would say to embrace the woman that’s within, that’s been hidden for so long, waiting for a chance to be accepted. Accept yourself, flaws and all, and start living the life that you want to live.
Debbie DiPietro: I second that, all right. Well, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you on. Thank you so much for being a guest on Courageously Go!, Michelle, I wish you much success into the future, and do stay in touch with us. I would love to hear how do you do.
Michelle P.: I will do. Yes, ma’am, I would love to stay in touch, Debra, and thank you so much. I’m truly honored that you reached out to me and asked me to be a part of your program, and continue to do what you’re doing because it’s so needed.
Debbie DiPietro: Thank you. Thank you so much, the feeling is mutual. Ladies, until next time, remember this, it’s our time to shine, let’s make it so and courageously go!