Teresa Nickell’s The Girl in Your Wallet is the second and updated edition of her powerful memoir and personal development book. Teresa has written a book of vulnerability and courage. The title references a photo of herself that Teresa carries in her wallet. She describes this photo as:
“I’m about four years old, wearing a pretty dress and a bow in my hair. The black-and-white photo, tattered and worn, is very old. I carry it with me to remind myself to show compassion to my younger self. She didn’t deserve what happened to her, nor did she understand it. What she went through should never have happened. What she should have had eluded her. She was confused, scared, and just wanted to be held. None of those things were available to her. She lived in a world where children were unseen, unheard, and didn’t do much of anything right.”
Now, well into her fifties, Teresa finds that her childhood self is still very much a part of her life and needs to be comforted. “I loved her. I hated her. I was her.” Drawing upon trauma therapy, Teresa continually reminds the child that she will take care of her, and that she matters, but also that she’s not in charge anymore-her wiser, adult self is.
Teresa shares the full story of her life in these pages, exploring the dysfunction she endured as a child with troublesome parents who drank or got involved in extramarital relationships. Amid this dysfunction, Teresa learned thinking patterns to protect herself, patterns that she has come to realize no longer serve her. She states of the girl in her wallet, “We got into some trouble, she and I. We learned to manipulate and influence others. Behind this manipulation was an endless, desperate need to figure out ways to defuse angry situations.”
Her childhood dysfunction led Teresa early on to enter into domestic dysfunction. She got married at age seventeen because she was three months pregnant. She and her husband were more interested in partying than caring for a child, so eventually, her husband’s mother adopted the child, a decision Teresa felt guilt over for years, even though in time she realized it was the best decision for her child.
In time, Teresa’s first marriage crumbled. Then, her drinking and drug use led her and a boyfriend to jail and prison. Even though repeated trips to jail were a wake-up call for Teresa, who began attending Alcoholics Anonymous and turning her life around, she still made some bad choices, including marrying the boyfriend while he was still in prison. For me, one of the most eye-opening moments in the book was when Teresa talked about why so many women date men in prison. She states: “I have firsthand experience: inmates make excellent boyfriends. They always call when they say they will and they are happy to see you on visiting day. They are full of compliments about how wonderful and beautiful you are, and then there are the gifts.” But she also reveals these men are often playing with women’s emotions and may be dating multiple women while in prison.
Once clean and sober, Teresa entered the workforce, starting out working at minimum wage in a bakery. Eleven years later, she owned the multi-million-dollar corporation. Being a business owner led to new life lessons, as well as continued struggles with her past. She developed “imposter syndrome,” the feeling she wasn’t really a business owner and didn’t deserve her success, and the fear that others would recognize her as an imposter. Despite these obstacles, she continued to grow, heal, and prosper. Perhaps most importantly, she learned how to give back. She began teaching other women in prison, helping them get ready to transition back into the world in healthier ways.
I’m happy to say in time Teresa replaced dysfunctional husband number two with a husband who truly has her back, loves her unconditionally, and is always there for her. The many things Teresa has learned about relationships is powerful and telling. For example, she states:
“One of the negative beliefs I carried from my past into my relationship with Mark [husband number two] was that if a man truly loves you, he will hit you. My first marriage had further reinforced this. So, I did everything I could to aggravate Mark to the point of violence.”
Teresa also devotes a fair amount of space to how she worked through the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to become sober and how she realizes but for the grace of God, she could fall back into the lifestyle she previously had.
Each chapter ends with a study guide to help readers reflect on what they just read and how it might apply to their own lives. Readers will find much to chew on here. Far more than just telling her story, Teresa provides deep insight into many situations that our society needs to address, such as how we treat criminals who have left the prison system. This book is also about whether Christian congregations everywhere are offering a non-judgmental love to convicted felons and welcoming them into their fold. Should churches be asking for a resume in the first place?
She also honestly discusses how her AA sponsor led her to a relationship with Jesus Christ and an understanding of God’s role in our lives. In the end, she has come to realize we cannot always control our lives, but we can trust God to work out the details.
Through sharing this story, and through healing and letting go of her beliefs from the past, Teresa Nickell has evolved into a completely new person, and shows that we all can do the same.