The first thing you get when you join Toastmasters, besides butterflies in your stomach, is the Competent Communicator manual (cue heavenly music).

This manual is a masterful work.  It takes the components of a great speech and breaks them down into 10 do-able projects.  When you’re finished this manual, you should know how to put together a solid speech.

What I found though, is that there was an interesting path of self discovery during this process.  With each speech topic, more is revealed of oneself.  It is up to each of us to decide what we’re comfortable revealing to others and to ourselves.  I still have some heavy duty things I’ve kept to myself and it seems to me that I may be saving them for the ‘big show’.

It could be that, but it could be that I want people’s opinions of me drafted by who I am, not who I used to be.  My club Toastmasters have known me for 4 years now and I consider them family.  I am getting to the point where they know some very intimate things about me.  In the past year, as my TM circle has expanded to the Greater Vancouver Area and even B.C., I feel like the same process is happening with them, on an accelerated scale.

It took me 2 years to complete the CC manual and I was a changed person at the end of it.   Now some people can fly through it; for example, we have a new woman in our club who is already on speech # 6 and she’s been with us for all of 4 months.  I am in awe at this accomplishment.  (Although Lance Miller, 2005 World Champion thinks we should be doing a CC a year!  WhatEVER!  Lance is obviously not a home schooling dad.)

I’ll tell you a little about each of my speeches and what I learned with them.

1. The Icebreaker

The easiest and hardest speech you’ll evergive.  Easy because the subject matter is something we know well.  Ourselves!  Hard because the subject matter is something we know well.  Ourselves!  And because we’re scared spitless!!!!!  This is where we introduce ourselves to the world and discover our basic strengths and weaknesses as a speaker.  I always think of my Icebreaker as my formal introduction back into public life after years of hiding in the woods and the bars.

I literally AGONIZED over what content to put in my Icebreaker.  What did I want this group of strangers to know about me?  I had only been living a “normal” life for a few years at this point, what else was there?

Well, what the heck, I may as well post the entire content.  Here is

The Comeback Kid delivered Nov. 3, 2008!!!!

Good evening fellow Toastmasters. 


     My name is Paula and I’m an alcoholic.    Sounds like I got my meetings mixed up, doesn’t it? 

     I really agonized over what I was going to share with you all tonight.  My first, second, third drafts were uncomfortably personal.  My husband’s advice was good.  Always leave a little bit of mystery about yourself. 

     I thought, however, that it was important to share some truly personal things about myself in order to connect honestly with you.   So here it is. 

 I will have been sober for 5 years on December 8th, the anniversary of the day John Lennon was shot.  That’s how I remember.  My last hurrah was while I was on a trip to my folks’ place in Windsor, Ontario where I grew up.  My little sister had just announced the news that she was pregnant and it was time to celebrate.  Although I thought that I had my drinking under control, my dominant thought that night was not that I was going to be an aunt for the first time.  It was that my parents had a cellar full of wine and that we needed to polish off every single bottle.  I then proceeded to try to do just that. 

      The next painful day, I finally, after almost 2 decades of dancing and wrestling with alcohol, had the guts to admit that I could not quit drinking under my own power.  I went to an AA website, did some reading and recognized myself.   I called Lloyd (my then boyfriend and now husband) to tell him about my revelation. He was happy and relieved, as he is also a recovering alcoholic who had less than a year of sobriety under his belt at that time. 

     I never did AA although I truly respect the program.  My faith has been the key to my sobriety.  I’ve been given the knowledge that I can never drink again, and that is the absolute truth.  I can live with that… although I really miss having a glass of wine sometimes.  But as my husband likes to say, “We have, unfortunately, abused that privilege.” 

      As I mentioned, my faith has been key to my sobriety, but it has been much more than that.  I owe my life, my sanity, my ability to think clearly, and perhaps most importantly, my ability to look and act beyond myself to the One called Christ.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all religious on y’all so breathe easy.  I just want you to know that my relationship with Christ is the most important thing in my life.  It has made me into a person that my parents are proud of for the first time since I was a teenager.   It has made my marriage possible and brought my incredible daughter Meaghan to earth.  Christ breathed life into my existence and I owe Him my life for this. 

       In a way, Toastmasters is a first step back into public life for me.  The past few years have been spent in healing from my addictions and in the process of maturing for really, the first time in my life.  I’ve always been a late bloomer. 

      Becoming a mother two years ago has engaged this maturing process in ways I could never have comprehended before.  My faith encourages me to be less selfish – but my on the job training has come with Meaghan and in learning how to give up what I want for what she needs- even moment to moment.  It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. 

     Most of my time and energy goes into my family – they deserve the best of me.  The rest of my time has been spent trying to serve through my faith ….. ok, and playing on the computer.  Particularly important to me has been trying to help women and children who have been devastated by the sex industry.  This is one of the reasons that I joined Toastmasters.  That I may speak effectively about an evil practice that needs to be stopped.

      In closing, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I feel somewhat intimidated by you all.  You seem to be confident, well-spoken, educated professionals and in a way, I feel totally out of my league.  Alternately, I know that I am one of God’s creations and that He brought me here for a reason.  And that gives me confidence.  I also know that you have all welcomed andencouraged me and I am truly grateful for that.  Moreover, I’m grateful to be here, alive on this magnificent unbirthday night.  Sober and loved.  Healthy and challenged.  Nervous, but thrilled that I have finally broken the ice. 

Reading this speech again brings me back to who I was 4 years ago.  It’s strange to be her and not be her.  I like her.

After I delivered this speech, I felt like a totally different person.  I felt like I had accomplished something noteworthy for this first time in a long time.  I literally felt re-born.  It was magnificent.