“Don’t judge me by the chapter of my life you’re walking in on”–Anonymous.

I stumbled across this quote while preparing my speech for the national CareNet Conference earlier this year, and the moment I read it, it resonated with me, both personally and professionally, and by the feedback I received from the conference, it hit home for others, too.

Light years ago, it seems, (seven years ago, in reality), I was still a practicing social worker.

Over the course of the seven years before that (interesting that the number seven keeps popping up here), after graduating with my undergraduate degree in education, I worked in the areas of domestic violence and sexual assault counseling, substance abuse treatment, child welfare and Christian counseling, while completing additional coursework in psychology and then my Master’s degree in social work during that time.

Over the course of those seven years, I witnessed people living out the worst chapters of their lives.

They entered into services either by choice, through having their family members commit them, or by a very powerful suggestion to do so by authorities due to charges they were facing, their need to begin a new chapter in their lives to avoid jail time, the threat of having their children removed from their care, or even to have their children ultimately returned to them.

There are many patients and clients that I will never forget. Some of those entered into healthier, happier chapters of their lives, once their chapter with services ended. Some regressed into old behaviors, or relapsed, and continued to relive past chapters in their life. Sadly, there were some whose story simply ended way too soon due to relapse.

I think about them often. Both those whose chapters continued on, and those whose chapters ended. And although you will never know their stories the way I did, I hope that you can find encouragement and motivation to change from them.

It’s not just patients in treatment or clients involved with the child welfare system who find themselves living out chapters of their life they don’t want to be judged on—chapters of their lives that they wouldn’t want anyone to read.

It’s you. And me, too. It’s our friends and family. It’s complete strangers who we pass by in our day to day lives, and maybe catch a glimpse of in their worst chapter or best.

We all have these chapters. Does it change the way you view others when you acknowledge that? Does it change the way you see yourself? The way you will treat yourself and others?

I hope it does. I’ve lived out and even shared transparently some of the longest, hardest chapters in my life, and as hard as that initially was, I was set free by that honesty. And from what I’ve seen and heard, others have been freed, too, by that example.

We all have chapters of life we don’t want to be judged on, and although those difficult chapters may be long and hard, induce feelings of shame, embarrassment, guilt or fear, the good news is that we’re not alone in this.

And when one chapter ends, another begins. Which chapter will you choose to live out?

The one that you would never want anyone to read, or the one you can proudly share with the world, to show how far you’ve come?