How do stories still live with us? How do we give them space to change us?
I want to offer some guidelines for how we can continue to process #metoo stories and any other difficult stories in the future.
After a while, reading so many #metoo stories, I felt thrown off my own center, as if other people’s stories had entered my own body, and I was living in more stories than I had the capacity to handle.
I needed to step back and become more mindful of my media consumption.
Here are four tools that I find useful for listening/reading hard stories:
1) Ground: stay connected to your own body and breath as you read.
2) Don’t push away emotional reactions. Feel them. Feel them fully. The short form and fast pace of so much media often seems to preclude emotional response, but that we need to respond emotionally to process.
3) Take breaks. Step away and let the material settle before you read more. This is like shavasana in yoga practice. It’s in this period of deep relaxation that our body and mind are able to process, digest and incorporate the information we have taken in.
4) Reach out to others. We connect through stories, but sometimes we need to connect to more than just the page. Talk to friends, to family members. Be physically present with one another. Give each other a physical hug.
Our media makes it seem “easy” to share our story. But I know from personal experience it’s not.
The first times I told people—my husband and my much trusted therapist—I had been sexually abused, I had a panic attack.
I didn’t write about my own abuse story publicly for many years. I needed to take time to process the information through the safety of the private page first.
When I started to think about publishing and sharing my story, I worried about the different reactions I would get: I worried people would judge me differently. I worried I would be less respected, more victimized, more at risk.
AND at the same time, I also thought that I should just stop making such a big deal of it and just jump right in and share the story.
I needed to take my time and work with all of my contradictory responses. Now I know that all of my feelings around sharing or not sharing were normal. Our feelings around writing and sharing difficult experiences are complicated, contradictory, intense and take time to process.
If we know that about the process, it makes the process much easier; we don’t need the process to be other than it is.
Here are five tools that are helpful when we come to write our stories:
1) Expect the process of writing and sharing to be messy, complex and emotional. Don’t be surprised or blame yourself for the messiness of it.
2) Stay connected to your body and breath as you write,
3) Take breaks and be patient. Allow the process to unfold on its own timetable.
4) Keep the writing process and the publishing/sharing process distinct. You get to decide what and how much you want to share with others—and how and when.
5) Check in with friends and people you trust to support throughout and don’t be afraid to ask for emotional support.
Our stories are precious. They are also very complex. We need to honor them with space, respect and patience. Only then can the transformation power of story telling really come into being.
OPENING FOR CHANGE
We are used to being passive consumers of much of our media. We get up in the morning with a cup of coffee and read the paper. We scroll through our facebook feed when we wait in line. There is little expectation that we become responsible participants in our media consumption.
But each new story affects us, and each new story, ideally, has some impact not only on how we see the world, but also how we act in the world.
What if we consciously work to assume some responsibility for what we read? What if, for each thing we read, we ask ourselves a series of questions.
I suggest we ask these three questions in response to what we read:
1) How did what I read/hear affect me?
2) How did what I read/hear change some part of my vision of the world or of myself
3) How will I act differently as a result? What is even one very small way that I might do something different? It might simply be to remember, next time I talk to someone, that her/his story very likely was complex and challenging. Or it may be the decision to take a particular action as a result of my reading/listening.
In my own case, listening to the #metoo stories has had a number of effects: I reacted with pain and also with some hope on reading the stories. I sat down and written out a new #metoo story that I hadn’t ever really formulated before. I made a point of having some good conversations with my thirteen year old daughter and seventeen year old son that I probably wouldn’t have had this week or in exactly the same way had it not been for the stories I read.
Writing this piece makes me wonder if there is more I can do, from having more conversations with individuals to resisting the reactionary policies of DeVos to advocating again for an equal rights amendment.
We are the stories that we tell—individually and socially. The more we can embrace their real power, the more we have the capacity to make real change.
At the heart of my work is the belief that the stories we tell, about ourselves and about others, matter. They carry weight, and they have real world consequences.
As Trump pulls out of the Paris Agreement, what we see is one story competing, with enormous globe-changing consequences, with another story.
Trump tells a story about America First. He tells a story in which there are winners and losers, a story in which it is possible to roll back the clock to the past, a story in which “success” is measured by accumulating physical things and by economic gain.
But nothing more clearly shows the limit of that story than the global, environmental facts that now face us. These facts tell a different story:
They tell the story of a global reality in which we are all in this together, in which we are inter-dependent and one community’s or one nation’s wellbeing cannot be isolated. They tell a story in which the future is already upon us, in which the icecaps are already melting and in which our own human consciousness is already waking up to the global realities. Similarly, these facts tell a story in which success can no longer be tied to extractive practices of more and more physical things, because we live in a world with finite physical resources.
This second story offers us a new way to measure success: not in hoarding more things for a few, but in recognizing the inherent value of all life and the ways in which we all depend on one another, the very large and the very small, down to the bees and plankton, without which we could not survive.
This moment is a challenge to us all: to take charge of the narrative.
After all, we live by narrative. Narrative arranges how we make sense of our lives and how we organize our days and our societies.
In some indigenous communities in the amazon, for example, it was and still is considered heroic to give everything away and to share with others. Some communities structure their lives around a story of God. Some around stories of seasonal change.
In all our actions and in all our lives, we are living within narratives that have as their center certain assumptions about what matters and how we shape our lives.
I have seen in my work with clients and in the field of narrative medicine that if we don’t listen to and tell aligned stories about ourselves, we may get sick and not be able to heal.
The same is true of the stories we tell about the earth: if we don’t tell the correct story about it, we will all be in trouble.
We each have the power to tell the story that we believe in, the story that rings true for us. And we each have the power to find the places—on the state level, the city level, the local level, in our homes and in our hearts—where that story resonates and can find traction.
After all, stories are amazingly dynamic and democratic; though an authority figure may try to control them, stories can’t be controlled from the top down. We each have power over our own story.
And each of our own stories involves our relationship to the earth and to one another. So when we do this work of coming into our own truth, we do it not only for ourselves, but also for our collective narrative, for our values, and for the earth.
In these weeks and months and years ahead, it is all the more important that we come into our power to speak our truth and bring about real narrative shifts. Because action follows narrative.
As always, please reach out to me with your thoughts, questions, observations!
And check out my upcoming programs. On Friday June 16th, I’ll be leading a three hour workshop at Grub Street “Writing With Courage” where we’ll look at strategies authors use to speak their truth, often despite pressures to do otherwise, and where you’ll have the opportunity to strengthen your own courage and voice as a writer.
And if you’d like a deeply nourishing weekend of yoga, writing and meditation, please consider joining me at the Copper Beech Institute for a full weekend retreat August 18-20.
Emotional Healing & Mindful Writing Blog | Nadia Colburn
I blog about creativity, writing, yoga, meditation, justice, women, the environment and integrated well being for the individual and society.