True Transformation Requires Bold Vulnerability': US Self-Help Author on Healing From Trauma

Even in darkness, joy can be cultivated and spread, says author Rachel Baribeau

True Transformation Requires Bold Vulnerability': US Self-Help Author on Healing From Trauma
Rachel Joy Baribeau has survived domestic violence, drug addiction, depression, and a suicide attempt. (Eric Adkins)

Rachel Joy Baribeau often gets asked if her middle name, Joy, is her birth name or one she has chosen for herself. It is both. Joy is her birthright, her purpose, and her message. She knows, however, that joy is hard-won. Joy can be reached only by digging through what she calls “funky junk,” through deep-diving into soul care, through radical vulnerability, and through choice.

Baribeau is a former college football sportscaster; a retired radio host; a founder of a non-profit promoting positive mental health; a public speaker; and, now, an author. Her book, “Relentless Joy” (June 2023), is part-memoir, part-story, part-devotional, and part-journal, and its intended audience is anyone who wants to receive encouragement and support along the road to choosing joy.

 Rachel Joy Baribeau has survived domestic violence, drug addiction, depression, and a suicide attempt. (Eric Adkins)
Rachel Joy Baribeau has survived domestic violence, drug addiction, depression, and a suicide attempt. (Eric Adkins)

Baribeau has survived domestic violence, drug addiction, depression, and even a near-suicidal experience. The reason she is willing to put all of the shameful parts of her story on display is because she knows that vulnerability is often the key to drawing people in, to encouraging them to face the dark parts of their own stories. “I know why I survived,” she said, regarding her brush with suicide. “I survived because God knew that I would tell my story far and wide and make other people feel less defective, less weak and broken. I survived to tell them, ‘You’re not any of those things. You’re a miracle.’”

“A book is the closest thing we have to a stone tablet,” she said, “And it’s going to live in infamy. All my junk is going to be on display, and there's a part of me that’s terrified.” However, Baribeau always knew she had a book in her. Years ago, she wrote a book proposal and worked with a great agent, and they thought they would get lots of interest. She was crushed when she didn’t get one single offer. But, she said, maybe it was just not the right time. “I believe the word ‘No’ is just the first two letters of ‘Not Right Now,” she laughed.

Why is now the right time? “Who doesn’t need more joy?” she asked. “The world is so dark right now. We need more joy. This is the perfect time to get this book out in the world.” In her life and in her book Baribeau pronounces that joy is resilient, joy can be cultivated, and joy can be spread.

Writing the book was hard. She had to dive back down through her darkest moments, her deepest pain, and her ugliest shame. It was lonely. There were times that she wished she had chosen to write fiction instead. She persevered because of the profound love she has for other people, a love exhibited in the book with terms of endearment like “sweetpea” and “darling heart.” This love made her strong to face her own darkness, bring it into the light, and show how God has transformed her story into a beacon of hope for other people.

She encourages her readers to face the dark parts of their own journey, to dig down deep in order to cast light, and to learn how to cultivate joy. Every chapter ends with a “Joystart,” a journal space that “instantly invites you to take the lesson you just learned and apply it to your own life,” she explained. The book also has more journaling space at the back.

 Baribeau’s latest book, “Relentless Joy” (Baker Publishing Group, June 2023).
Baribeau’s latest book, “Relentless Joy” (Baker Publishing Group, June 2023).

Rachel Baribeau's Guide to Cultivating Joy

  1. Take a metaphorical shovel and dig down into the deepest parts of your story to find out who you really are. It may not be easy, but in discovering your pain, you will also discover your strength.
  2. Put other people first. Baribeau wrote in her book, “Because I was once a burning building myself, it is imprinted on my DNA to carry buckets of water for people.” In digging through your own ashes, you will find the fire to light your torch and then will be able to carry that torch to light the way for others.
  3. Find the places where joy has been hiding in your own story. Even in the darkest times, joy can be found in the sight of a wildflower or a smile on someone’s face. “When we are looking for it, joy will nudge us at just the right time,” Baribeau wrote. Look for joy. Allow joy and pain to commingle.
  4. Isolation is the enemy. Don’t go through pain alone. Find the three people who you can call anytime with any joy or sorrow. They will be your “ride or die.” If you can’t reach any of them, call a crisis hotline.
  5. “True transformation requires bold vulnerability,” wrote Baribeau. Everybody wants to be seen for who they really are, but letting ourselves be seen requires us to be vulnerable and risk rejection. Baribeau assures the reader that God will never reject, and in showing vulnerability, you often encourage others to become vulnerable too.
  6. Feed your soul. List the things that give you real joy and make a plan to incorporate them into your life.
  7. Be aware of the ripple effect of your own life. What you do and how you view others will have a legacy that travels far beyond your lifespan. Find joy in imagining how what you do now blesses others in the future.
  8. Learn to love yourself and see yourself as a miracle. Only then will you start to see everybody else as a miracle too.
This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.
Hazel Atkins loved teaching English literature to undergraduate students at the University of Ottawa before becoming a stay-at-home mom, enthusiastic gardener, and freelance writer.
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