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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