- Janyne McConnaughey, PhD
Writing My Own Ending to My Story
Last week I had the opportunity to sit with a new group of potential friends and tell my story. That was a frightening thing to do because my story is one my mind has mostly hidden from me for 60 years. Survival required safety and being aware of my own story was not safe. It certainly wasn’t safe to tell it!
Where is it safe to tell our stories? Not many places fit the criteria of safety. For me, to tell my story meant that I had to reach the point where safety was not my paramount concern. Reaching that place was a long, arduous, painful road—especially since betrayal was so deeply embedded in my life.
As I sat in the circle of strangers, I wondered how safe I was—but then I remembered that telling my story was more important than being safe. No matter what reaction I received, I was on a mission to help others to feel safe. There are very few ways to do that. I can say, “You are safe here with me,” but what guarantee is that? The only way I can truly say, “You are safe with me; I will not judge or betray you,” is to tell my story. My vulnerability creates that safe place.
Sadly, my experiences in the church have centered on diminishment of story. “Share if you must, but remember the past is covered by the blood of Christ and you are no longer that person. Your goal is to leave it behind, forget it, live above and beyond it.” I lived that mantra—it actually fits very nicely with repression and dissociative tendencies. It wasn’t healthy, but it worked—kind of. I made up a true story of my life that was a perfect cover but didn’t tell anything about those experiences that were so formational to who I became.
This morning, I found a reminder note about a website that has several interview videos of Brene' Brown discussing faith topics as they relate to her research on vulnerability and shame. Goldmine! One particular video, Story is Love, stopped me in my tracks--so much so that I carefully transcribed the quote below. In this video, she defines courage as its original meaning: “To tell the story with our whole heart.” The problem is, as the interviewer states, “We are not creating safe places for people to tell their stories.” Absolutely true.
“Humans are meaning making machines. How we make meaning is story. Most of us have stories that make up our lives, that explain who we are, how we see the world, and we orphan a number of these stories because they don’t fit with who we think we are supposed to be . . . the problem is that our worthiness our wholeness lives inside those stories. So you either own a story or you stand outside of it— and you hustle and you pretend for your worthiness . . . when you deny a story, it defines you. When you own a story, you get to write the ending . . . [My stories] taught me more about compassion and empathy than anything I could have learned anywhere else. The ending for those stories is, I use those experiences to try make the world a better place, to try to make a contribution. So when you own a story, you become the author, you get to write the ending, and I think that’s what’s beautiful about story; but if there’s no safe place to tell them or dig into them, how do we ever get to the point where we are writing the ending?” Brene Brown
That is exactly what I am doing; I am writing my own ending to my story and in so doing, my desire is to create a safe place for others to begin to share their own stories and be encouraged to seek help if necessary. That is exactly what happens every time I tell my story. Without fail, someone says, “I have a story too.” What grieves me is how often he or she will also say, “I haven’t ever told anyone.”
I did not come to this place of sharing easily or quickly. It was necessary to heal before sharing. It is important to share selectively and carefully at first because we may not get the reaction we hope for. Only in healing can we ever hope to help others to heal. When we share with others who themselves have unresolved pain, their silence and/or judgment can be frightening. That is the ending to their story; it is not the ending to yours. It is certainly not any ending I would ever desire.
Sometimes when I share, it is assumed that I must not be OK—that I somehow feel the need to share in order to try to find peace. This was certainly part of my process at times; but that particular kind of sharing was very selective. Telling my story at a website and blog is not what I would ever do to heal (hear me laughing)! What I am doing now, by sharing my story, is writing my own ending to my life by helping everyone understand the importance of creating safe places for story—which almost always requires owning and healing your own.
I may not have had very many choices in the writing of my story as a child (or teen, or young adult), but now I do. It isn’t easy. It isn’t free from fear. It requires courage and vulnerability. It is a story that could have ended very tragically, but now it is up to me to write my own ending.