In 2005 To Write Love On Her Arms founder Jaime Tworkowski spent five days and nights helping a 19-year-old girl he just met stay sober and clean enough to enter rehab. Then he realized rehab isn’t going to pay for itself. So he did what any sales representative would do. He made and sold t-shirts.
Six years later he stands in front of a crowd of Florida Southern kids telling us the story of how those t-shirts turned into an entire non-profit organization. He’s tall, wearing two different shades of black, and keeps putting his left hand in his pocket. His gestures are saying, “I don’t have a whole lot to give you but my words.” Which is good, because his words are soft-spoken, but unbelievably powerful.
“Stories need a beginning and an ending. Maybe that’s where we’re living. In the middle of things,” he says looking out into the crowd with concern on his face.
The kid sitting behind me can’t be more than 17. He’s sitting forward in his chair soaking up every single second and every single word the man on the stage has to tell him. He’s wearing an older To Write Love On Her Arms shirt, and just bought a new one that is sitting in his lap. You can tell in his face he came here to help himself in a way only someone who doesn’t know how to vocalize their pain can.
Tworkowski is explaining that the first shirts were black with white words because that’s what Coldplay was wearing the night he thought of making shirts. Simple reasoning.
“To Write Love On Her Arms just sounded like a Panic! At The Disco song. But that’s the title that felt right, so I went with it,” he explained.
With t-shirts fresh off the presses, the lead singer of the then popular band Switchfoot chose to switch his trendy black shirt for an even trendier black shirt- Tworkowski’s shirt. And so was born the major marketing strategy for TWLOHA- use music as a vessel for the message. People sharing their personal stories, their curiosities, and their kindness then spread the message like wildfire on the Internet.
Tworkowski suddenly shares the Branscomb stage with Aaron Moore, one of the counselors that work with TWLOHA. Moore approaches the subject of struggle and depression from a very professional point of view. He hits big issues head on and encourages others to do the same. He asks the audience to shout out why they think some people are embarrassed to get help.
One person answers, “If you tell someone, they’ll want to help and sometimes you’re just not ready to get help just yet.”
The kid behind me is quietly crying.
“Sense of shame is the strongest thing that keeps us from talking about our struggles,” says Marsh. “Healthy guilt leads us to talk about what we struggle with.”
On that note, a third speaker comes out dressed in a collared shirt, a striped sweater, khakis and dreadlocks that reach to the middle of his back. His name is Denny Kolsch and he is there to share his story.
Kolsch had extreme anxiety in high school and he was sure that he was clinically depressed the day he graduated.
“Everything seemed too heavy,” he said. By the time he was 19 he was a heroin addict. He ended up in Nicaragua on a mission trip and spent three months fighting withdrawal symptoms. When he came back, he went on a 3-day drug binge. On the third day, someone convinced him to get his life back.
“’Man I love you. You don’t have to live this way,’ he said to me,” shares Kolsch, his voice still cracking a little. “You are not enslaved by your past.”
Kolsch has been clean for 7 years.
Tworkowski steps up to wrap up the night with a quote he found “on page 11 of a bandwagon Christian book, The Shack.”
“I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships so will our healing, and I know that grace rarely makes sense for those looking in from the outside.” — William P. Young
“If my life was a movie and I thought about the scenes I didn’t want to think about, there are other people in those pictures,” ends Tworkowski. “Maybe our healing comes from the same way. Maybe healing can begin to happen when we let other people meet us in those places and we can share our wounds.”
“I can’t fix and rearrange my story but maybe along the way I can help someone else.”
Tworkowski closes the talk, but opens the floor up for questions. The kid sitting behind me has the first question, but the last question is about the beginning. They asked how that girl was doing now.
She’s still living in central Florida making music. She wrote a book and does some public speaking. Every day she still wakes up with her life, in the middle of her story.
Originally Published on: Feb 1, 2011 @ 18:49