Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story

Stories of Wounds and Weaknesses: Strengths from Within

Filed in Memoir, Stories, voices, Writing :: November 21, 2010

SupportStoriesButtonThis has turned into a tricky post of “yes, buts,” “no, ands,” and “well, maybes.”

You may remember that I committed to NaNoWriMo.  A few days ago I realized that not only was I not going to finish 50,000 words, I wasn’t going to come close.

I had to admit that I can’t do “everything,” so I put the novel away and embarked on a weekend of intense and productive memoir editing. A small part of me says I shouldn’t have “quit,” but I know that the decision to choose what’s really important to me over what was for me a “sparkly” (thanks, Jeanne) was driven by Strength from Within.

Deep in the memoir, I asked myself, Had I found Strength from Within on Christmas Eve of 2002, when my then-husband left the Waldorf-Astoria to barhop, returning  early Christmas morning drunk enough to vomit all over our bed? Did I find Strength from Within when I asked the housekeeper for more linens, then joined my family for breakfast and cheerfully wished everyone a Merry Christmas?

I did not make a scene, cause embarrassment, spoil the holiday for others. Some people say “Strength from Within” means bearing more–more weight, more trouble, more pain–with determined stoicism.  To them, yes, I exhibited Strength from Within.  But in hindsight, I know that with a little more Strength from Within, I might have spoken out publicly, might have asked for help.

Later, still editing, I asked myself, Did I exhibit Strength from Within for four more years of that marriage, including Christmas Eve, 2006,  which I spent sitting alone in my car at the beach, while at home he slept off his vodka-and-Gatorade, followed by a Christmas morning AA meeting before we joined the family festivities?

Maybe.  I persevered and hoped and prayed for his change of heart. Maybe not.  I should have made him leave sooner than I did.

Does Strength from Within mean eternally pushing a giant rock up a hill, a la Sisyphus (thanks, Julie)?

I say now that Strength from Within means knowing when to put the weight down.

It means trusting yourself enough to stop pushing the rock, allowing that maybe it will roll onto you and knock you down, but looking forward to slipping out from under it and walking away.

It means embracing my wounds, accepting my limitations, and appreciating the strength that comes from admitting my weakness and embracing my power.

My wounds, limitations, weaknesses, power: these are my Strengths from Within.  What are yours?

This post is inspired by Square Peg Karen‘s blog round-robin Support Stories–Strength from Within.



  1. Jennifer Hurst

    Powerful post, Angela. It is said “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” I’ve not yet read your memoir, only the piece you presented at Write Out Loud. Your story is scary and important. I think writing this story is part of exercising your strength. One of the strengths I know I have was learned holding the hand of my husband the night he breathed his last, dying of cancer. I wanted to run away. This as a subject is fruitful for some of my own writing for other traumas that didn’t kill me. I’m alive to write about them.

  2. Dian Reid

    you strike a powerful chord, angela. “Strength from Within means knowing when to put the weight down.”
    so many times i’ve been told that i possess such great strength for the way i’ve handled myself through rock after hard-place after death after hardship. one of my many connections to you is now made crystal clear. the stoic do-whatever-it-takes-to-get-through-this-moment is not strength, it’s simply putting one foot in front of the other. we recognize this now, after having been in that position so many times, my friend. and i believe that it’s those moments of getting through that slowly build up our inner strength to do whatever it takes to USE that inner strength and finally speak, act, leave, put down the weight.
    you are for sure alive, and i am for sure grateful. you are a beautiful spirit of strength, angela. yes, you are.

  3. Kathy

    Truth in your words! “I say now that Strength from Within means knowing when to put the weight down.”
    This is the strength of soul and spirit. This is true courage.
    The other strength of “bucking up” and “putting up” is more a kind of strength of ego. How things are supposed to be instead of how they are.
    Love your commitment to yourSelf.

  4. Square-Peg Karen

    Angela, “Strength from Within means knowing when to put the weight down.” jumped out at me (like it apparently did for other commenters, too!) –
    but then, all of this jumped out at me — how is it that we so often believe that we need “to keep pushing the rock” ? why is THAT praised so often?
    “My wounds, limitations, weaknesses, power: these are my Strengths from Within. What are yours?” I think my limitations, weaknesses and wounds ARE my power (and hence my strength from within) – they are definitely the place where people connect to me (and vice versa).

  5. Michelle Russell

    Angela, thanks for this story. (Interesting how NaNoWriMo teaches unexpected lessons, isn’t it? I’m having a similar experience to yours this year, and blogged about it late last week.)
    But yeah, the same thing about letting the rock down jumped out at me, too. Because I, too, was schooled in the stoicism of thinking I had to just take it and take it and take it and be there for other people no matter what they demanded of me. Or, all too often, what I *assumed* they were demanding.
    Paradoxical paradigm shifts like this are so often the ones that empower us. Vulnerability *is* strength. Making a scene and putting your foot down sometimes *is* the kindest thing you can do for others and for yourself. Accepting your limitations *can* liberate you.
    They’re just so counter-intuitive, they’re hard to believe. So we need to hear lots of “drop-the-rock” stories like this to remind us.
    Glad to have discovered you through Square Peg Karen!

  6. Julie Daley

    Beautiful words of strength and courage coming from a deep, wise place within you. You seem to have struck a chord…putting the weight down is a statement that is simple, yet so powerful and wise.
    Thank you for all you are and all you bring to this world thirsty and hungry to hear your wisdom.
    Many blessings,

  7. Sheila Bergquist

    It is so refreshing to hear that strength from within is knowing when to put the weight down. Going through rough times always makes me feel like I have to be strong enough to forge ahead no matter what and carry all the weight. When I can’t I, of course, feel defeated and weak. Reading what you wrote brought me a sense of peace…thank you.