Telling our stories. This has been on my mind a while now, brought up to the fore by the #MeToo phenomenon, bubbling away like an itch that wants scratching. There is much (so much!) I love about #MeToo, the solidarity it has shown, the feelings of hope that the tide is turning, that women are being believed, that predators are being exposed, the hundreds of thousands, millions, of survivors feeling supported, no longer isolated, telling their stories, standing up and being counted. And yet, I know that telling our stories, even just saying #MeToo without context, can be overwhelmingly exposing.
Telling our stories. There’s so much in those three words isn’t there? Does anyone want to listen? Will we be heard? Or will we be judged? Will the voice inside our heads who told us that sharing what happened will just cause more problems for us be right? Will we be told it was our fault, we deserved it, we are sluts, slags, worthless? And, is it a story? I mean, if we can’t quite remember everything, or how it happened, or what order it happened in, maybe it is just a story in our head, not really real, fiction, worse, a lie? Isn’t it easier if that story never happened? But why do we keep getting dragged back there then, in the nightmares, in the flashbacks, we wouldn’t make that up, not to scare ourselves that way. Why did this story have to happen?
There’s a lot in those words.
Our stories are our truths. They happened. They happened to us. And I think that there is a reclaiming of that story that needs to happen for us in recovery.
Cheryl Strayed said, “Fear was a story I told myself, so I told myself a different story.”
In neuro-linguistic programming (NLP, a method I use in my coaching) we talk about ‘reframing’ and that’s all about telling ourselves a different story – not so much changing the what happened, but the meaning we attach to the what happened. Instead of telling myself a story about the fear of what happened, I can tell myself a different story about how I survived the what happened, how I have some inner superpower which meant that I didn’t stay down on the ground, but I got up to fight another day, and another, and another. I can ‘reframe’ my what happened from victim, to survivor, eventually, to thriver.
There is a healing in telling our stories
There is a healing in telling our stories, if even only onto paper. James Pennebaker’s Opening it Up by Writing it Down focuses on the healing nature of doing just that. He proved that when we write our traumas down, we release internal stress, and that this can actually mean we’re happier even six months later. Richard Stone’s The Healing Art of Storytelling focuses on how human connection has been lost through not telling our stories, and how we all have a human need to have stories witnessed and validated, and heard. In the field of recovery from sexual trauma, Judith Lewis Herman in her 2005 work, Justice from the Victim’s Perspective, identified the five needs survivors had to feel that they had been done justice: the opportunity to tell our story was one of them (and validation, being believed, another).
There is risk in telling our stories
And yet, there is risk in telling our stories. That inner voice warning us of what might happen has evidence to back it up. We see how the media treats survivors. We see how society blames and shames us. We know the judgement of our friends and families can be a very real thing – and we know sometimes that physical, financial or other repercussions could happen too. Being able to tell our stories, safely, to be heard, held, witnessed, and validated is our human need but it is also a privilege for us when we’re in that place, because it is rare that we are. That is why so few survivors report (varying 15%-33%), and it is why so many have never told anyone, no-one at all (estimated at about one third).
There is a power in speaking out
There is a power in speaking out, it’s a lifting of the weight that we carry around, it’s a way to break out of the isolation that not speaking out traps us in. But that first time we do? It’s a critical moment and we know, almost a sixth sense I’m sure, that how our story is heard will be so important in how our recovery path follows. When we first disclose and we are not validated: that is a wound that takes a long time to heal; there is a huge responsibility on the person we’re disclosing to, and they may not be ready for it, or even understand it.
We might raise our hand and say ‘#MeToo’ on the internet, and we might feel that we’re part of something but if when we actually say, ‘this happened to me’ and the person we say it to doesn’t instinctively support us, hold us (not always literally, we might not want them to), listen to us, and believe us, then we can suddenly feel thrown back to the wolves, or trampled on underfoot.
Movements like #MeToo, previously #Ibelieveyou and now #TimesUp and #MeTooWhatNext are wonderful, inspiring, tide-changing and I am so very hopeful that they do signify a momentum to change in a positive direction. But I am very mindful that there are still hundreds of thousands, millions, who feel that because of the circumstances of what happened to them (perhaps it was a family member, a work colleague, a close friend) they cannot join in.
This is why (one of the many reasons why) I created the ReConnected Life Community. Because we do need to have safe spaces where we can tell our story, our way, and be heard, and be witnessed, and have our truth validated. And then we can become start to heal and move forward in our journeys of recovery.
For a long time now, I’ve been wondering about holding a local event, where we all sit in a circle and one of us holds the story stone, and the rest of us listen whilst the one speaks. It’s an old Native American tradition to come together in this way and witness the stories of others. And yet, the Community is global, and so a local event isn’t entirely practical for you all.
So, let’s try something else.
Once a month, on a Sunday, we’ll devote the day to Storytelling. Opening Up by Writing it Down (and so releasing that stress that Pennebaker says will be released) and having that story heard and validated in the safe space of the Community. The hashtag will be #MyStory. And if you ever want to just open up by writing it down, it doesn’t need to be on that day, just use the #MyStory hashtag and know that you’ll be heard by others who know the enormity of what you’re sharing with them.
Live ReConnected. In solidarity and love, xx
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I developed the ReConnected Life Experience to help people just like you move from a place of self-blame and disconnection to a place where they can look forward to what the future holds, with a happy, hopeful heart.