I’m an avid reader. I love reading for pleasure and can devour a book in a day, something that my mom recalls me doing starting as a young child. Recently, I was discussing books with a friend, sharing favorites and “must reads” with each other. While there are many books that I love, and many I’ve read a few times, there is one book that stands out above the rest for me: The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
When I said this, my friend looked at me with a questioning expression; her general reaction was that while the writing and style are impeccable the topic of the novel was, well, a downer. I agree that the majority of the book is very painful to read; from the ongoing and pervasive abuse Celie experiences to the systematic discrimination toward African Americans, it’s not a light read; however, I don’t see it as a downer.
I find The Color Purple an uplifting and affirmative reminder of the strength and courage contained within the human spirit. Celie is a beautiful character, filled with strength and fortitude, love and gratitude. Despite years of abuse, her spirit doesn't break. She holds onto the loving relationship with her sister, Nettie, as a cornerstone in her life, something that guides her in persevering through challenges even after she is separated from Nettie. Later in her life, Celie, with the support of Shug Avery, finds a love for sewing that is initially a coping skill but evolves into a successful career. Toward the end of Celie’s life, she finds joy and happiness with those around her.
It was this conversation that got me thinking about why I’m so connected with this novel. I realized that what I love about this work of literature is also what I love about my career.
As a therapist, I help people heal from painful life experiences and overcome the struggles they are experiencing, many of which are based in childhood abuse and trauma. On a weekly basis I hear from the amazing people I work with some of the most horrific atrocities that humans inflict upon each other.
What keeps me going, why I do this work, is hearing how these amazing individuals respond to the daily reminders of their abuse with strength and courage.
In The Color Purple, I believe a major turning point in Celie’s life was when she became close with Shug Avery. Shug loved her and believed in her; Shug saw qualities in Celie that Celie wasn’t able to see because the years of abuse put a shroud or filter over her self-perception. It’s through this love that Celie finds strength to stand up to her abusive husband and leave. She finds healing in her friendship and the courage to start a life for herself.
Having someone who believes in you, supports you, nurtures you can be a pivotal point in your life toward healing. They can help serve as a mirror to help you see the strength, courage, beauty, and other amazing qualities inside of you that are sometimes difficult to see accurately for yourself.
Many times if you’ve experienced pain and hurt it is difficult to see the strengths inside yourself. Unfortunately, many that have been through a lifetime of pain also have difficulty trusting others.
For Celie she found that trust and support in Shug Avery. For you this person could be a loved one, family member or friend. It could be a trusted confidant. A support person from an activity group you’re involved in.
For some, therapy can be that safe place. Therapy sessions can offer a safe, contained place to talk about life; without judgments, without opinions, without criticism. (If you’ve never looked into finding a therapist before, there are some important questions to ask when you first speak with a potential therapist.)
Like Celie, sometimes there are friends and family in your life that can help you overcome challenges you’ve experienced. That may not always be the case, and there’s no shame in using the resources around you (like a supportive therapist).
So, push yourself a bit to find your inner bravery and vulnerability. Find someone who unquestioningly believes in you and sees the good in you. Connect with someone that sees all the amazing qualities in you, even if you can’t see it in yourself at this moment. Reach out to someone that will support you in challenging yourself to try and do new things. If you don’t have someone like this currently in your life, challenge yourself to reach out to others that may serve in this role. Or consider therapy. But however it works out, reach out. Find your Shug Avery.
Adriana Joyner, LMFT, is a Sacramento area therapist specializing in helping people lead authentic lives. Adriana’s most passionate about supporting individuals exploring their gender and sexuality, and advocating for the LGBTQIA community. Her office is located in Gold River, CA located off Highway 50 at Sunrise Blvd. For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call (916) 547-3997 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.