Tell Your Story & Heal Your PastOwning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. ~Brene Brown
I emigrated halfway across the world to escape my story. That’s how desperate I was.
It was a story of loneliness, rejection and depression. I blamed my country of origin, my family and a run of bad luck.
And instead of facing my story, I ran from it.
But our pasts always catch up to us. And so it wasn’t long before my life in a new country with a great new job resembled much of my life before the emigration.
Not on the outside, but on the inside. I had escaped my physical circumstances only to find that what I really wanted was to do was escape myself.
For years I tried to ignore the black cloud of depression that still hung over my head and the feelings of resentment toward my parents over our broken family.
But negative thought patterns and the victim mentality remained in control, always ready to tell me who I was — no one — and what I was capable of — nothing.
I ambled on in denial. In my studies as a writer I pursued fiction, always looking to lose myself in my character’s stories, eager to create a life within the pages that I hadn’t created for myself.
Outside the Comfort Zone
But then my work lead me to write and edit for a magazine where women tell their personal stories of faith, hope and humanity — where authenticity and vulnerability are the essence of people’s words.
And I found myself out of my comfort zone.
At first I would write about the parts of myself I didn’t mind revealing: my faith, my career struggles, motherhood. But never would I reveal that other side of myself — the side that suffered behind a veil of darkness.
Until my editor called it out of me.
I was in the midst of my worst depression yet, struggling to keep my head above water, trying to write from a place of joy but unable to ignore my true emotions.
And eventually I couldn’t fake it any longer — I had to write the truth about what I was feeling. I had to show up in this community where others were being authentic.
So I began to write my story.
I settled in at my desk and stared at the blank screen, not knowing where to begin. And when the words came, I was careful with them — revealed some parts but not others, phrased my sentences so I didn’t sound like a crazy person.
When it was done, I noticed tension in my body; my hands and face were moist to the touch and my back ached. I was afraid. This was essentially my big reveal, the article through which people would learn about my depression.
I feared that if they knew this part of me they would reject me.
But I pressed through the discomfort, took a deep breath, and sent the article to my editor.
Her response: “Go deeper.”
It wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted to be done with it, close my eyes on the day it would be published. Instead, she wanted to know more. She wanted to know all my heart.
I ignored her response for days. I didn’t want to go deeper. I couldn’t go deeper — couldn’t face the pain that came with returning to the heart of my story.
And then I was ready.
I didn’t know it. In fact, I was on my way out to the gym. But then the first line came to me and the next. And I found myself sitting in my aerobic pants and Luon top, fingers racing across the keyboard, tears pouring down my cheeks.
A Weight Released
I didn’t look up until I was done. And when I did, it was as though I had released a huge weight from my shoulders.
The calm and peace that came over me was so inviting I just sat and reveled in it for a while. I imagined this was the way painters feel after completing a work of art.
I emailed the piece back to my editor and she replied within the hour. “I’m crying.”
I knew then that I had revealed my whole self.
This was the beginning for me. I wrote many more pieces for the magazine about my journey with depression and in doing so helped others who were stuck in that same place of fear I once found myself in.
Revealing my story helped me to come to a new place of understanding about its truth. It also helped me to begin the healing process. Because I truly believe that until we face any pain in our past, we can’t possibly live an abundant life in the present.
Writing our story is not only a safe and powerful way to process past hurts and to heal, it is also a way of helping others who have experienced something similar.
The simple act of sharing our stories and being heard is one of the greatest needs of humanity. In the words of Virginia Woolf, “If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.”
How To Write Your Story
The thought of writing your story can be daunting, especially if writing doesn’t come naturally to you, or if you have a lot of pain in your past. The key is to be kind to yourself. Here are some guidelines to help you get started:
- Buy a nice journal in which to write your story. Let it be something beautiful that draws your eye in a store.
- Write your story for yourself without worrying about prose or what people think. All spelling mistakes and grammar errors allowed!
- Tell the truth.
- If reliving emotions from the past is too painful, enlist the help of a counselor or write your story in a community.
- Be gentle with yourself. Write when the words come; don’t force them.
- Start anywhere — no need to start at the beginning. Just write and see what comes up.
- Face the uncomfortable parts. I didn’t find any relief or healing from writing my story until I faced the parts of it I didn’t like.
- Write as much as you like. This doesn’t have to be a memoir. Write the parts that matter, in short story form, journal form, whatever you like. The important part is to feel the feelings and process them on the page.
- Believe in yourself and your story. You need to tell it and someone out there needs to hear it.
Stories unite us — every one of them is worth telling. Don’t make the mistake I did of locking your story away in the back closet of your mind until it finally bursts out of you. Your story matters. Now is the time to tell it.