On Saturday night, like countless others around the world, I tuned in to the season finale of Iyanla Fix My Life. And what I saw was far beyond what I could have ever imagined. The episode left me with the same haunting disbelief that I feel when someone dies. I remember when I was a teenager watching Debi Thomas soar to stardom as the first internationally recognized African-American figure skater. The vibrant Stanford University pre-med student who I cheered for during the 1988 Calgary Olympics was no more. In her stead was a broken, co-dependent woman living with her alcoholic boyfriend in a bedbug infested trailer in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. Many wondered how an Olympic Bronze medalist could descend to such a low. I know exactly how this can happen. I know because there but for the grace of God go I.
The moment Iylana sat down at the table with Debi Thomas, I immediately recognized it. The look of disconnect and vacancy when your mental health and stability have forsaken you. I’ve been there. Not to the same extent as Debi, but I have been there. A wounded spirit left unchecked, untreated, and unhealed will destroy even the strongest of people. And over the course of a lifetime, the cumulative assaults on ones spirit can eat away at their essence until all that remains is a hollow shell. Assaults like childhood trauma, self-esteem deficiency, failure, substance addiction, human addiction, co-dependency, mental health disease, self-doubt, fear — the list is endless. In the best case scenario, there is recovery from these assaults. In the worst case, there is Debi Thomas.
My awakening occurred when I found myself at the exact crossroad that Debi found herself on the show. I was faced with the same choice that Iyanla confronted Debi with. Stay in an unhealthy relationship and struggle to fix it under the false belief that it could work, or go forward and save myself as a woman and a mother. At the time, I was pregnant. After years of not having the desire or will to save myself, I knew that in order for me to be the mother that I wanted to be, I could no longer bound myself to a relationship that continuously jeopardized my sanity, spirit, and survival. Iyanla presented Debi with the opportunity to take control of her life and begin the process of treatment and healing. I rooted for her. The same way that I did while hoping that she nail the Triple Salchow during the Olympics. I wanted her to win then. I want her to win now. Nonetheless, Debi chose her relationship.
The unraveling that we witnessed in Debi Thomas’s life can happen to anyone. Especially to a woman who is not operating from a place of wellness as a result of the sum total of trauma in her life. She is vulnerable, weak, misguided. It does not matter how educated, successful, wealthy, confident, or functional a woman may seem. She could be the very one who defies suspicion as she walks through life handicapped by a broken spirit left to fester.
Moreover, when a woman makes a man the distraction from what ails her, the result can be catastrophic. During the 60-minute attempted intervention, Debi’s primary concern was about the alcoholic boyfriend who punched her in the face on the same property where she once practiced medicine as an orthopedic surgeon. And about the care of her boyfriend’s two sons while she remains unfit to care for her own teenage son. And about the fate of her boyfriend while clearly her own life hangs in the balance. This is not the heart, mind, or spirit of a well woman. Debi Thomas’ story is the wreckage of a wounded heart, the devastation caused by an infirmed mind, and the remnants of a shattered spirit. Do not judge or scorn Debi Thomas. Pray for her. Hope that when it comes to saving her life, she will eventually emerge as the winner that we once knew her to be.