By Marsala Rypka (CelebrityScribe.com, reposted with permission)
“Sincere forgiveness isn’t colored with expectations that the other person apologize or change. Don’t worry whether or not they finally understand you. Love them and release them. Life feeds back truth to people in its own way and time.” – Sara Paddison
It was January 2006 and I was looking for a celebrity to interview who had faced some difficult challenges who would serve as an inspiration to others. I had just seen Wynonna on Oprah and I was impressed with how incredibly brave she was when she let her guard down in front of millions of people and shared how “sick and tired” she was of being overweight. Wynonna knew that she wasn’t fat simply because she ate too much; she was overweight because she’d spent her life using food to stuff the pain from the unwanted feelings of anger, shame, guilt, and fear.
Wynonna is not alone. An estimated 58 million people in the United States are overweight; 40 million are obese and 3 million are morbidly obese.
I contacted Wynonna’s publicist and after trading emails back and forth for a couple of weeks, she finally confirmed the interview but said I would only have 15 minutes.
Usually I spend at least an hour talking with the people I interview and I wondered how could I possibly ask 20 thought-provoking questions and get any worthwhile responses in 15 minutes. I agreed, hoping that once Wynonna and I started talking we would create a connection and she would give me some extra time.
LESSON – Don’t accept defeat! Work with what you are given and turn it around to your advantage.
In preparation for our interview I read her autobiography, Coming Home to Myself. In this no-holds-barred memoir Wynonna opens up about the years of deception and lies told to her by her mother, Naomi, about who her real father was. It’s a story of conflict, self-doubt, feeling left out, and not belonging, but more important it’s ultimately about the road to forgiveness and self-acceptance that Wynonna has traveled.
Forgiveness is a hard thing to master. It doesn’t matter whether we are disappointed by a friend, devastated by a cheating spouse, or betrayed by a parent who didn’t tell the truth; when we hold onto the pain, we pay the price. Wynonna Judd knows more about forgiving others than most of us will ever be called upon to do.
For anyone who doesn’t know The Judds “rags to riches” story, Naomi was 18 when she found out she was pregnant with Wynonna. After being abandoned by her boyfriend, Charlie Jordan, she quickly married Michael Ciminella, and four years later Ashley was born. The couple divorced in 1972 and in 1979 Naomi moved to Nashville with 15 year-old Wynonna and 11 year-old Ashley. Naomi and Wynonna were often at odds. Wynonna wanted to be in a band, while Naomi wanted them to be a duo. Wynonna wanted to play at clubs, while Naomi wanted a record deal and a hit on the radio before they played in front of a crowd.
Wynonna was a rebellious teenager, while Naomi’s attitude was, “I’m not going to give up until we make it.” She worked a double shift as a nurse at a hospital, then she’d come home and change clothes before going down to Music Row where she distributed demo tapes they had made on their K-Mart recorder.
It was a long, hard haul, but they finally got their big break in 1984 when they auditioned for an RCA Records executive. In a short period of time, The Judds went from their dirt-poor beginnings in Ashland, Kentucky to being named “Best Country Duo” eight years in a row. They sold more than 26 million albums, had 14 number one singles, and earned over 60 industry awards including five Grammy Awards, nine Country Music Association Awards and eight Billboard Music Awards.
Then in 1990, Naomi was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, a life-threatening disease, and after finishing their “Farewell Tour” in 1991, she reluctantly retired. Having achieved mega-success as a duo, Wynonna was suddenly faced with the possibility of losing her mother as well as her singing partner. Filled with doubt, she stood alone on the stage for the first time.
LESSON: Most of the time, the thing we fear never turns out as bad as what we imagine.
Wynonna had nothing to worry about. Judd fans embraced her. So much so that in 1992 her first album as a solo artist sold over 5 million copies and became the highest-selling debut album by a female artist at the time.
Fast forward to 2006. I was about to interview the famous red-headed country singer. I dialed the phone number I’d been given and I immediately recognized Wynonna’s deep, earthy voice. I started by saying how much her book had touched my heart and soon we were talking and laughing like old friends.
She asked me to call her Wy and she called me “sister-friend,” an expression that reminded me of the movie, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. It’s a term more commonly used in the south, but it feels like it has roots in the African culture. When Wynonna said it, I felt like I was part of her tribe. It conjured up images of women in a simpler, though not easier time, who watch out for each other. Sister-friends give you counsel, keep your secrets, take your hand and hold your heart.
She asked me to call her Wy and she called me “sister-friend.” When Wynonna said it, I felt like I was part of her tribe. It conjured up a images of women in a simpler, though not easier time, who watch out for each other. Sister-friends give you counsel, keep your secrets, take your hand and hold your heart.
When I mentioned the 15-minute time constraint, Wynonna laughed and said that her publicist was trying to protect her. “She knows when I start talking, I can keep going.” Sure enough 15 minutes turned into 90 as Wynonna opened her heart and shared her personal thoughts, feelings and pain.
She talked about learning the truth about her real father in 1994 when she was 30 years old. She said,
“I was so stunned I couldn’t speak. My heart was pounding, my ears were ringing, I felt sick to my stomach. I think my spirit left my body because I couldn’t feel my hands or my feet. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t anything. I belonged to no one. I was faced with having to forgive my mother for keeping the truth from me for so long.”
For six years, Wynonna put off meeting her biological father fearing that he wanted nothing to do with her. She thought it would happen someday, that there would always be time. In 2000 time ran out and she got the news that Charlie Jordan had died. Now Wynonna faced the even bigger challenge of forgiving herself.
Anger, grief, guilt, and regret take their toll in various ways. It doesn’t matter whether we ignore or deny the pain, or dwell on it and relive every moment. It doesn’t matter if we forgo responsibility and play the victim who cries “poor me” or if we mentally beat ourselves up over and over again for relinquishing our power. To relieve the pain we usually engage in some kind of obsessive, destructive behavior that involves too much eating, drinking, shopping, sleeping, gambling, working, sex, or whatever else you care to fill in the blank.
In Wynonna’s case she admitted that her way of stuffing the pain was to stuff her mouth and her closets until she was not only in danger of having a heart attack, but facing bankruptcy.
LESSON: Many times we hit rock bottom before we are willing to address the problem and make some tough decisions that lead to positive change. The sooner we are willing to recognize the truth, the quicker we can begin to heal.
One of the things Wynonna said she had to do was muzzle her ego. It takes a lot of strength and self-love to stop worrying about what other people think of us. And if it’s hard for the average person, imagine how difficult it is for those who are in the public eye where everything they say and do is under a microscope.
We have little patience with ourselves or the people we idolize. We elevate our celebrities to superstar status only to tear them down when they don’t live up to our expectations. We stand ready to attack at any given moment, incapable of understanding how those who have been given so much could abuse it.
It doesn’t matter whether we are a household name or simply the star in our own life; it’s only when we are able to quiet that little voice within that bombards us with negativity, criticism and judgments about ourselves and others that we will ever be free. It may take a lifetime to subdue the ego, but it is only in mastering it, that we can stop being enslaved by it.
Wynonna inspires me with her courageous fragility, her powerful tenderness, and her complex simplicity. After we hung up, I just sat there quietly basking in the spiritual glow that comes when two human beings connect heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul, even if only for a brief time.
I was saddened when news broke that her second husband, D.R. Roach, was arrested on March 22, 2007, while at a rehab center in Texas, and eventually indicted on three counts of aggravated sexual assault and battery against a minor under the age of 13. Roach had been Wynonna’s long-time security director and road manager and I met him when I went backstage after one of her concerts at the Las Vegas Hilton.
If I knew anything after talking with Wynonna, it’s that she is nothing if not truthful. That’s why it didn’t surprise me when she admitted that like herself, Roach had issues with addiction when she married him. She said she knew what she was getting into, but she thought she could change people by loving them enough. She learned that it doesn’t work that way.
Wynonna had her husband out of the house within an hour and filed for divorce within days.
“It blew the door open to my soul,” she said. “In this moment, this heartbeat, this breath, I’m okay. Everything’s not all right, but I’m all right with everything. And when you surrender, which is where I live right now, you find serenity.”
During the healing process, Wynonna went to hell and back, both mentally and physically. In March 2010 doctors found blood clots in her lungs, complications from a surgery she had to repair damage to her stomach muscles. Four months later she was in a head-on collision while in Salt Lake City for a show.
But Wynonna has Judd strength running through her veins. She said, “I can be a victim or a victor.” Her beautiful home in Tennessee is surrounded by wilderness and she started taking daily walks and watching what she ate. To date, Wynonna has lost 60 pounds.
It was good to hear her say, “I feel more alive.” Recently she went to her first nightclub in Las Vegas and did a pole dance with friends. She’s traded her turtlenecks and coats for jeans, low-cut tops and sexy new underwear.
We all have disappointments and regrets. In some way, we’ve all done harm to and inflicted pain upon ourselves and others. We all have people we need to forgive and things we need to ask forgiveness for. So when you’re feeling discouraged and the road seems bleak, put on a Wynonna song like “New Day Dawning” or “Love Will Build a Bridge.” By her example, Wynonna shows us that like a Phoenix we can rise out of the ashes, above the pain, above the sadness. We can learn to love and respect ourselves and create a meaningful life filled with happiness and appreciation.
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