As she begins her workshop entitled, “Live Out Loud,” Erricka Bridgeford stands in front of her students with arms stretched out wide and declares, “I am whole. I am complete.” The crowd erupts and applauds her for her statement. This statement even brings many to tears. Why? Because physically the Erricka that people see, is not whole. Erricka was born with what she affectionately calls her “nub.” On her right side, her arm stops a little below the elbow. On her left hand, Erricka is missing a finger. But the idea of being whole for Erricka has nothing to do with her physical appearance. It is her spirit, the true Erricka, who is whole. But for this bundle of energy, whose alter-ego is “Wonder Voice,” being whole wasn’t always how she felt.
As a child, Erricka’s parents taught her that she was special. Her parents told her she could do anything. She was a happy vibrant child who embraced being special. Her family was “the Huxtables of the ghetto.” A tight Christian family that believed God will protect us. Even with this strong foundation of love and faith, Erricka started to feel uneasy.
It started as early as Kindergarten. She knew the majority of the stares of people were not based out of curiosity, but judgment. Erricka would wear a prosthesis from time to time, but it got in her way (she did learn it was a great tool to the whack the boys with). As she aged she started to disconnect with that vibrant happy child. In fifth grade, age 10, was the last of her younger years that she truly loved herself. As she aged, the stares bothered even more. Kids started to make fun of her and people even blamed her mother for her nub. She became very needy. Always looking for the approval of others. At 19, Erricka feel in love. She now had someone in her life to validate her, someone who loved her spirit and physical being, but it wasn’t enough.
In her 20’s, Erricka had three children, and was married, but her neediness… her constantly seeking the acceptance of others… was eroding her marriage and herself. Once a year, she would allow herself a good pity party. She would cry and ask, “Why me?” She describes this time as being cloudy. You can get through the cloudy day, but you never experience the warmth and glow of the sun. In 2004, Erricka had a breakdown and was admitted to a psychiatric ward. There, she fought for herself. She kept telling people, “I can’t find me.” This time gave her a fresh start. She started to find that happy 10 year old girl inside of her. She realized that God had approved of her at creation and that was the only acceptance she needed. She was on her way to feeling whole, but this feeling was about to be tested.
In 2007, Erricka lost her first love, not her husband. This person was her soul mate, her first baby, her protector and friend, her brother, David “Corny” Thomas. Corny was shot. Killed, she suspects, by people connected to the world of drugs. This is a world to which Corny also belonged. Out of that world, he freely shined his light. In it, he battled with the belief that he was unworthy to live any other way. The loss of her brother made Erricka think about what she was doing, how she was living her life. She thought, “If people can just drop off the planet, I need to live.” She wanted to take her philosophies, her thoughts, and how she “single handedly” got through life to others.
Erricka found her first audiences in comedy clubs. Though she garnered quick success with this audience, poking fun at the two-handed world felt a little empty. One particular night while getting ready for a set at a comedy club, Erricka felt very connected to her brother. It was as if he was sharing his new found angel wings with her. He had one and she the other, and Erricka knew that together they could fly. So at the end of that set, the words that came from the two of them were, “Live out loud.”
Though the audience exploded, Erricka knew that the clubs were not the forum she wanted for this message. So Erricka began work on the “Live Out Loud” workshop. It is a workshop where she teaches that you should live despite what people think of you, regardless of the hurt, and because this is what you were meant to do. During these workshops, she shares the stage with her 10 year old self and Corny, for it is with them that she is whole.
SOUL Survey Questions
- How do you stay focused and motivated?
I work on not feeling guilty for not walking in perfection. My goal at times is to break things into little tries, and to remember those tries are blessed tenfold. It feels less overwhelming.
- How do you deal with naysayers?
I have more problems with imaginary naysayers than ones in real life. Those in real life help sharpen me and help me practice how to show love.
- How do you blur the lines between work and play?
I play all the time. I love my full-time job. I train people in non-judgment based mediation. It really is spiritual work, so it doesn’t feel like work. But when I have to do paperwork and such, I just try to bring that goofy, silly 10 year old girl with me. I try to keep her alive and in everything.