This is My Story.
This is My Story.
Watch Linda’s Video
‘The way others see us is not always how we see ourselves.’
Linda Williams grew up in Buffalo, New York surrounded by her five brothers and sisters, her parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. She describes her childhood as always having a houseful of people, lots of love, and laughter. But even with the family support, Williams sought the acceptance of others to help validate her self-worth. She longed to be in the popular group, not realizing until later on in life that her friends saw her as not only a part of the group, but also one of its leaders.
After high school, she studied English at the University of Buffalo. It was there, in her senior year, that she fell head over heels in love. “My mom begged me to finish my degree, but instead I got married, left school one semester short of graduating, and moved to Cincinnati with my husband, where I knew no one and no longer had a support system,” she recounted.
Five years later, her tumultuous marriage ended and Williams packed up her then-3-year-old son, their belongings, grabbed an extra tube of toothpaste, and never looked back.
‘My sons kept me from completely falling off the deep end.’
She and her young son moved to Atlanta, where two of her brothers lived. Soon the rest of her siblings would join them. Williams worked at a series of jobs before landing a permanent position as a process analyst. Over the next several years she finished her degree and changed employers a couple of times, always for new opportunities, including supervisory roles.
It was during this time she also remarried and had a second son. To the outside world, including her siblings, she was the same Williams, but inside she was harboring dark secrets. She was a victim of domestic abuse, took up social drinking, which over time turned into alcohol dependency, and began abusing substances.
In recounting her story, Williams said she was barely hanging on and the further she went down the rabbit hole of her own despair, the harder it was to crawl back out to the light. However, through the midst of that internal chaos, her sons kept her from losing it all. She recalled her son telling her, “You always had time for us. You’d sit on the floor and play as many games as we wanted.”
The spousal abuse continued, she said, until “one day we were driving down the highway and my ex hit me and I snapped. I thought ‘it’s the last time you will hit me or anyone else.’ I knew I had to get us out.”
‘My sister grabbed my hand, held onto it, and wouldn’t let go.’
Williams packed her bags and called her sister, Joyce, who found her sitting on the curb emotionally broken. She said, “I don’t know what happened, but get my nephew and your belongings and come live with me.” At the time, Williams’ oldest son was in college, so she and her younger son moved in with her sister. Her sibling’s home was a haven and space for her to begin to heal.
Williams paused for a moment as she relived that period in her life. Then she continued, sharing what had been a private prison of pain. “No one knew what I had been through. I had been suffering in silence, but now my family was there surrounding me,” Williams said. “At the time I thought it was to keep him from getting to me. But it wasn’t. It was to keep me from going back to him.”
She continues, “I had left my job before I had left my ex. So now I had a degree, no job, and no way to help support my son and contribute to my sister’s home financially.” A few months later, her sister came home from church and gave Williams a piece of paper with a phone number on it. At church that day, one of the members made an announcement that his company, MeadWestvaco (MWV), a packaging manufacturer, now WestRock, was hiring relatives and friends of current employees. Williams made the call, began the interview process, and was hired to work on the production floor of the large manufacturing plant in Atlanta.
‘MWV saw in me what I had buried beneath all of the layers of anger and guilt, insecurities, drugs, and alcohol.’
For the next three years, Williams showed up to work at the manufacturing plant every day, contributed to the monthly expenses at home, and went to church each Sunday. However her drinking hadn’t changed. She was a self-described “functioning alcoholic” who, in retrospect, says those two words are polar opposites. One of her co-workers who realized she had a problem would invite Williams to an Alcohol Anonymous (AA) meeting. But each time, she turned down the offer, saying she didn’t have a problem.
One day, mid-shift, she began crying uncontrollably and couldn’t stop. Her manager, Jim Kudwa, put her in his car and told Williams, “I’m going to take you to get some help.” She was taken to the hospital where her blood sample revealed that she was toxic, and was transferred to a local program to be evaluated. Less than 24 hours later, Williams was told her insurance would only cover one night and that her problem wasn’t significant enough. She was given cab fare and told to go home and sleep it off.
She woke up the next morning in her bed, and started praying for help because she feared she wouldn’t make it through the weekend. At 4 p.m. she called AA and explained her situation. An hour later she was sitting at her first meeting at a church not far from her house. For the next six months, Williams never missed a meeting and described that period as the best thing she could have ever done for herself.
“As I got sober, I experienced all types of emotions – guilt, shame, and anger,” she said, adding, “the people at AA were just like me and I never felt judged there.”
‘Everything in manufacturing is inter-connected.’
Six months later when she went back to work, clean and sober, she hugged and thanked Kudwa for everything he did for her. “He recognized the situation and reached out to me. MWV gave me the time I needed to get better. This company saved my life and I will be eternally grateful,” Williams said, her face breaking into a smile.
Williams lights up when she talks about the manufacturing environment being a hands-on setting. She describes it as one function feeding into another, and that all parts are dependent on each other, similar to a family dynamic. She attributes this way of thinking to her co-workers reaching out to her — believing she was an important part of their manufacturing family, and needing to get help to keep the team working cohesively. She shares she is not the only one MWV has helped to get their life together and that she is proud to work in manufacturing, with a team of people who truly care about one another.
‘I wake up every morning with the intention of having a good day.’
Sober now for 15 years, Williams wakes up each day thankful for her life. She is careful with whom she lets into her inner circle, making sure that those that surround her are positive forces. She also prides herself on staying ahead of the rumors about her past. She made a decision long ago to share her story and not hide from it.
She has continued to grow with MWV and now WestRock. She has taken on more responsibilities in new positions within the company, tapped into her process and systems improvement background, led large teams, and has added skills to her repertoire, including earning a Forklift certification and becoming a Six Sigma Green Belt. Today she is the Atlanta plant’s quality supervisor.
‘I went through all of this so that I could help other people.’
In addition to her career at MWV and WestRock, she helps other women reclaim their lives. “It’s a process and doesn’t happen overnight,” she said. “My breakthrough came when I got to the point that I could take responsibility for my part of the situation.
“I give women the tools and resources they need to move ahead and realize there are other choices in life and there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Today, in addition to helping out at various women’s organizations, she also tells her story to women in transitional facilities, and community-based programs. She recently released her first book, “Your Past Has Passed”, and is a contributor to several popular women’s blogs and on-line women’s magazines. Williams is now set to retire from WestRock and admits that retirement, although a huge transition, is a next step that she is excited and ready to take. “I have all kinds of plans. I can’t wait to spend the time with my children and two grandchildren,” she said. “I’ll continue to speak publicly and help women through numerous charities and I have a ghostwriting project in the works, where I’ll be able to tell someone else’s story through my words.”
On a deeper level, the trouble she endured, and more importantly, overcame is, as Williams described, a journey of her redemption, “I may have taken a long road to get here, but I wouldn’t change that path. Today I get to empower others and restore their faith.” Please visit her website at www.lindahwilliams.com for information on Williams’s organization.
In 2015, MeadWestvaco and RockTenn joined forces to create WestRock, a leading global packaging company fused on customers, innovation, and operational excellence. The company has more than 42,000 employees and 275 locations in 30 countries. WestRock manufactures more than 6 billion beverage cartons each year and produces 50 percent of all pizza boxes made in North America. In addition, the company holds 2,400 patents and operates 23 recycling facilities, where it recovers and recycles more than 7 million tons of fiber each year.