Suzanne’s story is far from ordinary. Suzanne Tatum lived in New York City for three years after college and enjoyed working in news operations at CBS News. While in New York, she also learned many tough life lessons Suzanne has– Suzanne had suffered from an underlying eating disorder and addiction since high school, but these struggles were not fully apparent until her early twenties. After enduring health consequences as a result of her disorder and addiction, she moved to Georgia to recover.

She has been in recovery for more than sixteen years, met her husband while in Georgia, and is now a mother of two children. Suzanne now lives in Augusta with her family and enjoys a career working in higher education. She is the Assistant Vice President for protocol and special events responsible for presidential events that enhanced diplomacy and forge partnerships with internal and external stakeholders. We are so excited to have her on today and welcome Suzanne!

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Alice: Suzanne’s story is far from ordinary. Suzanne Tatum lived in New York City for three years after college and enjoyed working in news operations at CBS News. While in New York, she also learned many tough life lessons Suzanne has– Suzanne had suffered from an underlying eating disorder and addiction since high school, but these struggles were not fully apparent until her early twenties. After enduring health consequences as a result of her disorder and addiction, she moved to Georgia to recover.

She has been in recovery for more than sixteen years, met her husband while in Georgia, and is now a mother of two children. Suzanne now lives in Augusta with her family and enjoys a career working in higher education. She is the Assistant Vice President for protocol and special events responsible for presidential events that enhanced diplomacy and forge partnerships with internal and external stakeholders. We are so excited to have her on today and welcome Suzanne!

Suzanne Tatum: Thank you. Thank you for having me, Alice. I appreciate it.

Alice: Yes. Thank you so much for being on. I just want to start with some like, more fun questions. What was your favorite neighborhood in New York City?

Suzanne: Definitely, the Upper West Side because I loved the close proximity, Central Park. I love Central Park and then just all of the outdoor cafes on the upper west side. That is by far my favorite.

Alice: Do you have a favorite outdoor cafe?

Suzanne: I cannot think of one right now, just off the top of my head. I– one of my favorite restaurants is Cafe Luxembourg, which is up there, but I do not know if they are doing outdoor seating anymore, but that is one of my favorite restaurants on the upper west side.

Alice: Perfect. Amazing. What is your favorite story from your time in New York?

Suzanne: I would have to say my favorite story actually happened after I left New York. When I came back, I had the opportunity to run in the 2013 New York Marathon and I think just since my time in New York, at that season of my life, it was filled with so much adversity that I really wanted to come back and create a positive memory. And so that really provided the motivation for me to train and run 26.2 miles, but it was really one of the best experiences in my life. My husband and family were all there to support me through the race. And so I think that is my favorite. Favorite New York memory.

Alice: That is so cool. That marathon is amazing and how the city shuts down that entire day. It is just like Marathon Day.

Suzanne: Oh my gosh, it is really– it is such a great way to see all the birds and the crowd support for the New York Marathon is the best. You know, I have a lot of Runner friends and New York really comes out and supports. So, it is amazing.

Alice: Yeah. I love cheering people on. Not so much running myself, but– [laughing] What is your favorite thing about living in Georgia now?

Suzanne: So many things. It is hard to boil it down just to one but I really love the people, the food is amazing. We are outdoors folks, so we love having the mountains and the beaches all in one state and the short winners, the southern traditions. I really think that Georgia is home now.

Alice: Well, that is awesome. Okay, you talked about the food. What is your favorite restaurant in Georgia? for all of us who would need to go there.

Suzanne: Okay. So in Augusta, my husband and I love Abel Brown Southern Kitchen and Oyster Bar. And then also Edgar’s Above Abroad, it is a new kind of rooftop open-air concept downtown, we are excited to have that open. And then one of my all-time favorite Georgia places is Skipper’s Fish Camp and it is in Darien, Georgia. It is down near the coast. You have to look it up to find it and you might wonder why you are there when you get there, but it is outstanding food.

Alice: That is awesome. And where should we go visit in Georgia if we wanted to go visit?

Suzanne: Well, I– Coastal Georgia is probably my favorite savannah, you know that area savannah is really unique and beautiful and then St. Simons and Sea Island. It is kind of where I spent my summers as a child and then we also really love the North Georgia Mountains, places like Blue Ridge or Tallulah Falls they are spectacular if you are really into hiking and outdoor adventures.

Alice: That sounds fun. I have just seen pictures of Georgia and it looks so beautiful. I really want to go someday. Really.

Suzanne: Oh, yes. You should come visit.

Alice: Yeah. Speaking of COVID, what have you been up to during quarantine?

Suzanne: My husband and I, we both work full-time. So balancing work while homeschooling our kids was definitely a challenge and it made me realize that our teachers are truly underpaid. I have never had that perspective until now but on a positive note, we really enjoyed more time as a family, you know. We had just time together and one of the things my daughter had signed up for, Run Hard, which is a program that they do for the local schools, it helps train kids to run their first 5K race. And since the training had to be converted to a virtual format and actual race day was canceled. I had the opportunity to train my daughter and run with her for her first 5K distance. And so it was an incredible experience and my husband and son they made posters and we went out to a Greenway Trail and all of these strangers that were on the trail cheered her on and it was just an awesome experience to be able to do that.

Alice: That is so amazing and so nice that you got to do that with your daughter and whole family like participating.

Suzanne: Yeah. It was a silver lining for sure out of that time in quarantine.

Alice: Yeah. Can you talk to me a little bit about living in New York City? What were you doing there?

Suzanne: Well, I had originally moved to New York to pursue my dream of being a musician and I was trained pretty much from I guess probably about fourth grade on as a classical vocalist and I sort of switched to popular music when I got to high school and I did a lot of just vocal competitions. I did get a first-place win with the National Young Arts Foundation when I was a junior in high school and I won some scholarship money and which provided a lot of opportunities to perform in cities across the country. And so I love music. After college, I moved to New York with my best friend from childhood. And this was around I graduated in 2000 and I did some auditioning and performed with a small garage type rock band, but I found that it was tough balancing my day job with the music scene and the lifestyle really led to just more unhealthy habits. And so I struggle to find my way. So when I look back I feel like New York humbled me as it can do but I also just have so many fond memories, like living in a railroad apartment with a bunch of girls and experiencing culture and the arts and Central Park and just the freedom and the excitement of being in a big city when I was young it was you know, it is a memory that I cherish and I am grateful for that opportunity. So–

Alice: And that is so nice that you go back occasionally and go visit until like you had the marathon and then like go visit the Upper West Side. So it is good you still have that time here.

Suzanne: Yeah, and I want to teach my kids about New York. I mean I– you know, we love it and I want to teach them all about it. So yeah, it is a gift to be able to go back for sure.

Alice: And you mentioned that you graduated in 2000 and moved to the city then so you were in New York during 9/11. Can you talk a little bit about that experience?

Suzanne: Sure. That was definitely a turning point in my life. 9/11 was I think a tough experience for everyone. I think that most people remember exactly where they were on that September morning no matter where they lived. Living in New York on that day was like living in a Twilight Zone and I had just never experienced the city completely shutting down probably similar to what you have just experienced in COVID-19 but it was certainly a Twilight Zone. I had a distant cousin that work for Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center, and you may remember that was one of the companies that lost almost all of their employees and his name was Adam White, he was twenty-six years old and so he was killed instantly in the attack that day. Which was really heartbreaking for all of us, especially family, but I remember waiting in our apartment sort of fearful to– for my two roommates to get home from work. The phones had died. So I really could not reach my family to tell them I was okay and back then we had these old-school cell phones, but those did not really work well either because so many people are trying to place calls in that same place.

Alice: Yeah.

Suzanne: And then that night, I just remember vividly people in business suits with their like briefcases or their backpacks just sort of wandering around the city, not really having anywhere to go because they shut down all of the– they shut down the island, the Manhattan Island really just nobody could go in and nobody could get out. It was temporary but I just remember people sort of wandering the streets and then there was this– there is a distinct burning smell that I will never forget and then the missing person signs that were placed all over Gramercy Park and people had candles in their apartment windows and actually have a piece of art today. It is a photograph of those candles in the windows and I keep it at our house, just to– is a reminder that it was to honor all the lives that were lost. And at the time I worked at CBS News and so we had the CDC actually come into our offices to swab the air conditioning vents for Anthrax. And you may remember, some people remember that Anthrax was sent in the mail to all of the network evening news anchors at the time. So we were all sort of enduring this fear of a chemical attack, shortly after 9/11 which was really daunting and I think that there were a lot of building evacuations and bomb scares and fighter jets overhead and just chaos in the city. But at the same time, it was sad and I think it was the pace was so much slower, which was really that bizarre sort of Twilight Zone feel like probably what it feels like right now in New York or perhaps a few weeks ago, you know.

Alice: What a harrowing experience. I am so sorry that you went through that. It is just horrifying and like yeah, I think exactly what you are saying that Twilight Zone experience, it feels like that. Hey, I mean not as much now, but like April, I mean April and May when I could go outside. I was stuck in my apartment all of March but yeah, it just does not like– even now it does not feel like my city that I know and love.

Suzanne: Right.

Alice: And I cannot even imagine that. It is September 11th. Like I could not imagine this, like this– this is not New York City. Which is– it is so weird.

Suzanne: Right. And I do think it is been great because some of my friends that live in the city have been sending pictures of some of those outdoor cafes with people now, so that has been really encouraging me just to see the city kind of come back.

Alice: Yeah.

Suzanne: And I think the lesson to just, at that time, I kept getting so overwhelmed by the circumstances around me but I learned, you know, that to look for the helpers and I think it is– I think Mr. Rogers, I think Fred Rogers coined the phrase for kids but it really helped me just to focus on the helpers and look at that because New York came back strong and the whole United States did and rallied at that time. And so that has been a lesson that I really carried with me and helped. It has actually helped me teach and cope with my kids during COVID-19.

Alice: I think that is a great way to look at things. That is what Governor Cuomo has been saying a lot, we are New York strong, like we can do it. We like flatten the curve or New York strong like keep it up, New York. And I think that is really empowering for all of us as New Yorkers because like when we– when you walk outside, everyone is wearing a mask. Everyone is super respectful of others and keeping distance because everyone in New York knew someone who was sick or like–

Suzanne: Right.

Alice: Experienced it themselves. And so I think like now, there is so much like New York pride and like everyone wants to help people or like find ways to like, participate. I do not know. It is terrible that this all happened but it is cool that we are coming out of it as like, not the gruff, mean New Yorkers that people know and love but–

Suzanne: Great. Well, it certainly changes everybody’s perspective. Right? I mean it is like, I just– just knowing that I would get so much joy out of seeing some of those Upper West Side cafes reopen and people actually sitting at tables. I mean, it is just these little things that maybe I know I take for granted every day when it is removed, it is daunting, so yeah.

Alice: Yeah, one of my favorite restaurants shut down during COVID and I was like, no, like it has just disappeared, but they go on my street and I love it. I just love it, but they just reopened and I was like, oh my God, I have to spend all my money there.

Suzanne: Right.

Alice: New York spent some joy of this place I get my coffee, but I love that. I love all the people that work there.

Suzanne: That is right. I mean, it is your community, you know, it is so important. So it has been a great reminder for all of us to look at those things as little things that really just really impact our lives for sure.

Alice: And Suzanne you had another experience in New York where you just– you decided that you needed to move to Georgia, you got out of there. Can you talk a little bit about your experience?

Suzanne: Sure. To where– so I you know, I had– I have struggled or been in recovery for sixteen years from an eating disorder and addiction and so really for as long as I can remember, I have loved some sweets. I have loved carbs and I have just always even as a child. I used food for comfort and so as I grew older, I had some consequences as a result of that, I gained weight and I sort of isolated more and really what I have learned throughout my recovery is I just– I did not have a relationship with God and so my food addiction really filled that– filled that void for me. And I think is that received more and more opportunities to perform on stage. I desperately wanted to lose the weight, and so I developed Bulimia. I took diet pills. I have various stimulants to try and like, you know, fix my food addiction, but over time my eating disorder progressed and so when I started, you know implementing these fixes, you know, I ended up losing a lot of weight and I receive compliments about how I looked and it really just fed that disordered thinking.

So looking back, I mean I have learned that my eating disorder was really the root of my addiction but once I learned that I could take stimulants to control my eating and stay up to perform in a band and do extracurricular activities and complete schoolwork and keep up with my social life. Like I thought I just found the solution to all my problems. And so and I think you know, I grew up in an environment where excessive drinking and partying was the norm and so I felt– personally, I felt a lot of pressure to be thin and looking back I did not really think that I was any different from my peers, you know, and my first year in New York, my best friend from childhood and remain at the time. She gently confronted me and I denied everything but deep down it was then– it was that sort of, you know, early twenties, when she gently confronted me that I started really realizing I had a problem and it took about two more years of struggle and unfortunately, a grand mal seizure as a result of you know, poor nutrition, dehydration, drinking and mixing stimulants with prescribed drugs just to get my attention, but it was a long time after that that I would before I could openly admit to having a problem. Even after all the consequences, but eventually my pain and depression ended up being gifts because I became willing to do anything to get better.

Alice: Can you talk about that process of getting better? So you move to Georgia like that is crazy, you uprooted your life in New York and you move somewhere completely different. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Suzanne: Sure. Well, I did grow up in the South and so I– you know, I really I did not want to move to Georgia at first if I am completely honest, that was not really a part of my plan and I think somebody else that you interviewed talked about these sort of detours in life that happen. I mean this was certainly a detour for me but after my seizure, my parents and family knew that I needed help and they practice some really tough love which ultimately saved my life and I was fortunate because I finally began to just embrace God when I lost everything else, you know, and I realized that the only way out of my struggle was to rely on something greater than myself and so I just became sort of obedient. I just moved to Georgia there. You know, I went through some treatment programs and therapy, and to overcome the eating disorder and addiction and hindsight is 20/20. And today I can say that moving to Georgia was the best thing that ever happened to me. So–

Alice: That is awesome. And you met your husband there. Now, you have two wonderful kids. Can you talk a little bit about meeting your husband and Georgia?

Suzanne: Sure. I met my husband two years into my recovery, and we met at a mutual friend’s house on the fourth of July and we started out as friends but it did not take us long to realize that we really were soulmates. And he and I have some similarities regarding our past, you know, he is in recovery as well. And so we have been able to share that and he is really my best friend and I cannot imagine life without him. So–

Alice: That is awesome. And then you went from working at CBS in media to moving into higher education and into protocol, can you tell us a little bit about what that is?

Suzanne: Sure. Well, I had several years in media marketing and advertising before I transitioned to protocol and events. Protocol and events are still front-facing, you know, as every event tells a story about your brand or your company or in my case, our university. Protocol is really just diplomacy in action. So I think of it as a set of guidelines to help facilitate events, meetings, ceremonies in a consistent manner so that everyone involved has a positive experience and I think in this day and age were all operating in a global market and so on campus and you know at our institution, our students, faculty staff, patient, our researchers, they are all– they are from all over the world. And so in order to strategically enhance the relationships, you know, we study the do’s and dont’s of other cultures. We ensure that every– anytime we host anyone, that everyone feels welcome and it were creating an atmosphere that enhances partnership and diplomacy and so I serve really as a resource and advisor to our president and really to our whole institution. So that when we are hosting events, we are strategic with respect to you know, the details. So anything like gifts, you know, atmosphere, location, attendees, seating president’s flags, just all the details that can really make or break your event experience or your relationship with us as an institution.

Alice: That is so interesting. I never think about like studying a different culture to see like what would be acceptable or not as a gift but that is really fascinating. I know my dad like he would work in Japan a lot when we were younger and he brought candles once, which is what you give to someone at like a funeral and he did not know that but everyone accepted like, oh, thank you, but it became so important then to like learn about, like the Japanese culture and what was acceptable or not. And that is so fascinating that you would do that for a university.

Suzanne: Yes. It really is and it is interesting, you know, there is you know, certain– a lot of people in United States will give like, you know engraved knives like really nice, you know, pocket knives or things like that and that in a lot of other countries is sort of sign to sever a relationship. And so there is just so many nuances and little things that you really do not want to do and then also focusing even on the time that you host a meeting. So a lot of times sort of, you know, the Northern European countries are very cognizant of time. If you are a minute late, it is seen as you know, rude, whereas a lot of the sort of South America, Africa kind of the countries that are in this kind of south southern hemisphere. They are a little bit more laid back and they respect if you are a few minutes late, you know, they care more about the relationship than they do about the time of the start of the meeting and so in fact, they may be a little later and that is normal. So really focusing in on all of those details helps me advise our president and helps us navigate the relationships and kind of the environment we are going into or what we are bringing them into. So it is very interesting.

Alice: Wow. That is so fascinating. And do you have a favorite event that you have planned?

Suzanne: Yes, we have done so many awesome events. I love love my work, but I have to give credit first to just our amazing team. So we have an awesome team here and it takes a team to execute our large-scale events, but I would say this last year, we were able in October of last year to host the president scalar, where we had the opportunity to raise money for our children’s hospital, which is a part of our institution because we are an academic medical institution. And so we highlighted the kids that have overcome cancer or debilitating illnesses. And then we also got to focus on our doctors and nurses which are just miracle workers and it was just an honor to be a part of that effort and to see tangible examples of how our children’s hospital has helped enhance the lives of so many kids.

Alice: That is awesome. Wow, that is a wonderful event. That sounds great. Yeah, and I know events are changing now that like your university is opening and like things are going online. Can you talk a little bit about those shifts to like protocol online?

Suzanne: Sure. We certainly transitioned to some virtual event formats. We hosted our first virtual commencement which was challenging. But also I was really proud of the team and what they did. We spend a lot of time on student calls, just speaking with our student leaders really listening to them, to find out what would they want? You know, how would they want this to look? because obviously, you know, they are disappointed. I mean when you work really hard, you know to get to that day where you get to walk across the stage and get your degree. I mean, it is very different to try to do that in a living room with your family members watching it on the screen with it being just a photo of you. But we really listened to our students and tried to take their suggestions and make it very special in spite of the circumstances we were in. So we are doing that with all of our events. I think it is an opportunity to be creative, to think outside the box, and really to you know, I think in some ways with all of these webinars and things that are offered, there is a way to sort of expand your normal audience. So there are some opportunities there. There are some educational opportunities for our team to learn more and get to participate in front of these free resources that are online about event planning but I will say that we are going to be very cautious and we are probably not able to host any face-to-face events for the foreseeable future. So we are just going to focus on getting our kids back safely, our students back safely, and then kind of go from there. So, very different times for sure.

Alice: Thank you so much, Suzanne, and how we connected was really, you are a jubilant sister, part of the sisterhood of women who take Jubilance. Can you talk a little bit about finding it and how it works for you?

Suzanne: Sure. Well, so based on my history, you know, I am kind of a purist these days. I certainly believe in modern medicine and think that there is a place for all medicines, but just as a personal choice, I try to steer clear of prescription drugs as much as I can and so, you know, I have had really intense anxiety and symptoms around PMS for the last few years. And so I met with my doctor. She said, you know really at this point your options are to really do like a, you know, low dose antidepressant and it was just not something I wanted to do and so I started researching and I found Jubilance and I just– I thought that the testimonials were interesting and I said, well, let me just try this and see and it definitely helped and it has you know, I think it took me about a month to really really see the difference. But once I got through that month, I realized, okay my symptoms– I am on a little bit of a roller coaster, but it is not the giant, scary roller coaster and waves that it was. And it is so– my life is manageable today when I have PMS and it has really really helped me and I just– I am encouraged because it is– I am not having to take the antidepressant that I thought I was going to have to take. So it has been a– it has been a blessing. It has been a gift for me.

Alice: Well, I am so glad that it can help. I know like stress levels are through the roof right now. So it has been really helpful especially during COVID with things and everything that is happening.

Suzanne: Yeah, everything is so amplified right now and you know anything that we can do to manage our stress, I mean because it is intense, right now for sure.

Alice: Thank you. And something that we always leave with is, if you had any piece of advice to any woman like about anything, what would you say to them?

Suzanne: Well, I would say to surround yourself with women who have what you want. So if you want a healthy marriage then gravitate towards women that will remind you how amazing your husband is even on the test days. If you want to be a leader in your career, invite current leaders that you admire to lunch or coffee, ask them if they might meet with you or schedule a phone call, that is consistent. I just think it is really important to find women that you trust, have your best interest at heart sort of your tribe. I also recommend that you forge relationships with women that are older than you and relationships with women that are younger than you because I found that I learned something from every relationship that I have and I just think that we as women, need to stick together. I try to encourage and mentor women here in the university setting. And I also am mentored and you know, it has just– it has been very encouraging for me. I learned so much from them. And so that is just something that I think is important for all of us as women to remember we do need to stick together and support each other. And then there is a Rick Warren, he is– he has a Ministry and he is a Pastor but one of his quotes I always loved it says wow, “It is wise to learn from experience, it is wiser to learn from the experience of others.” And so I think that that is really important and sound advice.

Alice: Thank you so much, Suzanne. That is a great piece of advice. I think that is wonderful, correct kind of creating your like board of directors of these women, of women you can call on for information or just to learn from it. That is awesome. Something-

Suzanne: Like your tribe.

Alice: Yeah.

Suzanne: I love the board of directors, too, but I– somebody you got to have that tribe. You know you got to have your women, you know, it is really important for me.

Alice: Yeah. Is there anything else you would like to add, Suzanne?

Suzanne: Well, first of all, I just want to say thank you because when you first reach out to me, I listened to your podcast and started learning a little bit more about it and you have interviewed just some amazing women influencers [cross-talking] well, say again?

Alice: Including you now.

Suzanne: Oh my goodness. Thank you. I just thought to myself. What do I have to offer to Alice’s podcast? But the truth is that comparing ourselves to others is a quick path to self-defeat and so I encourage all women to embrace their truths because I just think you never really know who you might be encouraging and I want you to– I am going to encourage you to keep up the good work with your podcast and just sharing women’s stories. I think it is really important. And I know that I have gained a lot just from listening. So thank you for your work.

Alice: Thank you so much, Suzanne. Thank you so much for being on and being a part of this. It was great to hear your story and to like get to talk to you a little bit back and forth the past couple of weeks as well.

Suzanne: Absolutely. Well, thank you for having me.

About the author

Alice Cash is the Marketing Manager for Jubilance by day and an award winning Theatre Director by night.  Leading the podcast Weekly Woman, she loves her candid conversations with women from all over the world about how they live and the amazing things they are doing to make a difference. Alice is also the editor of the bi-monthly newsletter the Jubilee, a blog dedicated to the power of female wellness especially concerning menstruation.  She’s worked in France creating theatre pieces and taught drama and filmmaking to women and children in Haiti.  She graduated from Georgetown University and holds two master degrees from NYU and The New School.  Alice has traveled to  40+ countries, including Tibet.  She is a New Yorker and can often be found in Central Park, searching out the best bubble tea, or directing a play, you never know where she’ll show up. @alicesadventuresinwonderworld
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