Be brave enough to tell your stories, and kind enough not to tell other people’s stories.
Glennon Doyle Melton
You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.
I think about this a LOT. I struggle with this. I live right between these two philosophies. I love what Glennon said, but if I’m being honest- some days I skew more toward Annie on this one.
I try only to tell my own stories, unless I am asked to tell someone else’s or I have their specific permission. I understand the inherent peril in attempting to tell someone else’s story. It gets a little tricky, though, when you are writing a personal blog. Our stories are hopelessly intertwined with the people who move in and out of our lives. I could tell stories that only involved me if I were, say, a hermit living in a cave without another soul for miles- an option I only seriously consider six days out of seven
Oh, I kid humankind.
The truth is, I cannot tell my story of the last few years, and my marriage falling apart, and my subsequent divorce, without butting up against the edges of my ex-husband’s story. There just isn’t any way to do that. And I am keenly aware that this blog is from MY perspective. He had his own experience of me, our marriage, and its death. But, as Annie says, I own what happened to me- regardless of who the architect of the experience was. My stories are mine, and no less so when they were life turns not of my choosing.
It felt different, though, when I wrote my piece about depression. That was much more my ex-husband’s story than mine, although it was written from the perspective of what it is like living with someone who struggles with depression. I sent it to him ahead of time, and gave him (and my sister, and my son) complete veto power over everything in it- including its existence at all. Had they not been okay with it, it would never have seen the light of day.
I can’t tell the story of my childhood abuse and the aftermath without involving the adults who played a role. I’ll be honest. I’m not super conflicted about that.
I think I’m careful to not pretend I understand someone else’s point of view, or to assign them intentions. I really try to be. I feel more comfortable writing about WHAT someone did, than pretending that I understand the entirety of WHY they did it. Hell, half the time I don’t know why I do the things I do…
There are things about some of my stories that I have not talked about, and likely never will. I have deleted large swathes of some of these essays, including this one, because while whatever was contained in those sentences may have made for a stronger story, may have made it more compelling, it didn’t pass the “is it kind, is it true, is it necessary?” test I apply to everything I write. Lots of times, something will pass the first two questions, but then we get to NECESSARY. That’s when I weigh the impact of me telling that part of the story against my ability to tell the story without it.
There is a lot of deleting after I wrestle with that question.
I think I will always struggle with this aspect. I have so many friends who are considered “mommy bloggers,” a term I feel is dismissive and wholly inadequate to describe the brave and important writing they do on a regular basis. ANYWAY, they struggle with the transition of deciding how much to share as their kids get older, want their privacy and are on social media themselves.
I haven’t had that particular struggle. My kids were already older when I began writing. I decided I would never mention my kids by name, and I would never put anything in a post about them that they’d not specifically read and approved.
The past nine months have been about story for me. Telling mine, living mine, and thinking about the immeasurable power our stories hold. Owning our stories is not a panacea, but I do believe it is the first step to healing. When we, as Brené Brown says, stand inside our stories and own them, we take the helm. When WE tell our stories on OUR terms, they stop wreaking havoc in our lives.
Survivors of sexual abuse tend to cordon our stories off behind walls of shame. We make them special, we assign them higher status, in a way. We decide they are too precious to live with the other aspects of our lives- they are too other. When we do that, they wield that power like a weapon of mass destruction in our lives. They become THE thing about us, rather than A thing about us.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but I think the only way to defuse that power is to integrate our stories into our lives. Let that story, that ONE part of your life, live out amongst all your other memories. Then it is just another aspect of your history- not the defining one.
That doesn’t mean you need to keep it at the forefront of your life either. That’s something I’ve struggled with in recent months, and something I’ve had to factor into decisions about my future. And it’s not like I indiscriminately throw my stories around in social settings. If I’m at a party and someone asks what I write about, I am likely to say, “Oh, life.” In a smaller group setting, or one on one though, I’m going to tell the bigger truth.
Now, sometimes I get the recoil, and the “Oh, GOD.” response. That’s okay, though, because so many other times when I’ve been honest about it, the response has been, “Me too.”
I live for, “Me too.” Every single “me too” moment chips away at the lie that we’re alone in this. “Me too” is kryptonite for shame and isolation.
I know how hard abuse and shame can be to talk about. It used to be incredibly difficult for me, so I didn’t. I kept my abuse on a shelf, like some hideous, expensive knick knack- tucked away from my regular life. In doing that, I gave all my power over to it. I didn’t want anyone to feel awkward around me, or make people talk about things they didn’t want to. In my effort to make sure no one saw my ugly mementos, I let my shame dictate my choices, and it nearly killed me.
No more. Shame is not the boss of me.
No one wants to be Debbie Downer and talk about dark things exclusively- but the fact is, sexual abuse is an epidemic in this country, and our systematic NOT talking about it is a major contributing factor. The generational plague of abuse only works, is only successful, in silence. So, if ending that means having hard conversations and bringing up things people don’t necessarily want to talk about? If that means dragging those painful, toxic memories down off their shadowy perches, casting them into the light, and saying “LOOK.” then that’s what I’m committed to doing.
I had someone recently ask me if I thought I was making people uncomfortable talking about “this stuff.” I answered, “God, I hope so.”
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I am on the precipice of maybe making the idea of something *bad* possibly occurring in my childhood part of the self I present to the real world. It is staggering to me how long I can balance on this painful lonely precipice without moving forward. I wish I could trust myself more.
In Others' Words says
Do you have good people in your life?
I do. I am really lucky. My husband and kids are amazing and I have good, real friends. I read what I “wrote down” after your amazing post of the same name to my girls I see once a year. Very safe; not part of my day-to-day. It was just a smidge of a smidge of the story and it was almost a month ago and the guilt is eating me up. They cried. And I don’t want to do that to anyone else. Just my therapist cuz she gets paid. 🙂 and you. (So sorry).
In Others' Words says
I ask because if you do, trust THEM. They cried because they love you, not because you harmed them. Would you want your friends to carry such a heavy burden alone? Wouldn’t you want them to turn to you for support and solace? That is what we are HERE for, friend. We are put here to love one another, and you want to deny them the opportunity to do that. Friendship is sacred. Don’t confuse them feeling pain on your behalf for them not being able to handle it. I suspect you are not giving them enough credit. As Glennon says, we can do hard things. When we lay down our heavy things in front of those who truly love us, and they all pick up a corner and carry it with us, the burden is SO much less. xoxo
You’re right, you know. The more you stuff it down, hide it, keep it in the secret recesses of your heart, the more it blots out everything.
I’ve been watching the show Once Upon a Time — you know, one of those delicious Netflix binges because you haven’t watched it all along, so you have three seasons to explore in a couple months. (It’s a good show, by the way, I’m enjoying it).
Without giving any spoilers, there’s a character who is normally good who does a horrible, despicable thing. Completely contrary to her nature. And when she views her heart (if you haven’t seen the show ever, just roll with that), it’s got a blackened center. And another character tells her that’s how it begins, and the black will spread and spread until her heart is completely dark.
There’s talk of redemption and second chances, etc. And you root for her, right? You don’t want the good guy to have a black heart.
I feel that way. Outside, to anyone’s view, I’m this normal girl who is successful, capable, competent, loved.
But my center is blackened. Charred. No room for green growth — long since burned to cinders and the ground salted. What everyone sees is such a huge fraud, a fake, and if they only knew — then they would know, right?
Every once in a while, I feel a little tendril of green try to grow — but then I think it’s me that ruthlessly crushes it underfoot, stomps it out, says, “No — you don’t belong here. She’s not good enough.”
I don’t know what I’m trying to say, other than…… you have a lot of green growing, and you share it, and that does value in the world. So don’t let anyone stop you, because from a “Me, too” person — it matters. If there’s ever a chance for some of us, it’s because you share your sunlight in our perpetual darkness.
There, enough mixed metaphors for you yet?
In Others' Words says
YES. ALL of the yeses. And you can inundate me with mixed metaphors all the live long day, just keep coming back and talking to me, sister.
Something you said just gave me an idea for something I need to write. Can I quote you? I’ll use your wordpress moniker.
You are always welcome to quote anything I say.
I just read your depression post that you linked above. (I wasn’t following you yet back then). Oh. I’m so sorry — about your brother in law, about your husband, about depression in general, because it’s weighing pretty heavy on me today. Have you ever read the Hyperbole & a Half take on depression? It’s perfect.
In Others' Words says
yes. LOVE. It’s brilliant and funny and true. xo
Keep fighting the good fight. Your writing is beautiful and you seem so wise. Still sending good vibes. Peace.
I love your posts! Thank you for being you and sharing your story. It’s very helpful and encouraging.
In Others' Words says
I’m so glad you’re here!
Rebekah Hope says
What you said about this one story living out among all our other memories makes so much sense. I don’t want my story to wield power over me, but I’m afraid I’m letting it do that. Right now I have two blogs: one to tell the story of abuse, and the other for everything else – the refined, more polished and palatable version of things.
A couple of weeks ago I made mention of sexual abuse on my public blog for the first time in a list of other hardships I’ve walked through. It was as “casual” as a mention of such things could be and for some reason it felt safe. The people closest to me already know the story and I realized that I don’t owe any details to those who don’t. I get to decide how and to whom I tell this story; briefly mentioning it doesn’t obligate me to divulge the details. That’s progress for me.. another step in the direction of owning my story as something that happened to me rather than something I brought on myself.
But I’m still scared to go public. Would my co-workers look at me differently? What if I wanted to get another job, would anyone hire me? I’m single and creeping into my late twenties, how in the world will I get a date with this information out there and tied to my name? It’s not exactly a first, second, or even fifth date topic. If/when I do talk about it, I don’t want to feel obligated to tie up the story with a neat little bow as though it’s all over and never worth mentioning again. That’s not how this works.
I joined “The Fam” at SpeakYourSilence.org (check them out if you are unfamiliar!) a few weeks ago, as an act of faith. I got my “stitch kit” in the mail and have yet to put it on any article of clothing, but I will. Even if I don’t write my story out, maybe talking to people about it in real life will get me there.
Thank you for sharing not just your story of abuse, but your LIFE with us. You give me hope for so much more.
In Others' Words says
SISTER. I totally get ALL of that. All of the things. I have a stitch kit, too. I haven’t done it yet, but I will. I think what they are doing at SpeakYourSilence is phenomenal. I don’t have answers for your questions- I am still trying to figure them out myself, and they are valid. Just stay here with me, okay? We’ll figure it out. xoxoxoxo
I was totally grabbed by those quotes….”Chance Triumphant!” I call it, when words come as gifts at just the right time! Rattled through your excellent writing…going “Me Too!” ….now I’m nearly late, so can’t read all responses and comment myself…but I’ll be back to re-read…if the devil lets me! xxx