This past weekend, I shared my story with a small group of women.
It wasn’t the first time I’d shared parts of my story, but it was the first time I’d shared so many of the parts that have kept me shamed and stuck.
It’s evident that it was the right time and the right audience because I did not sweat it as I stood up to introduce myself, nor did I consider the outcome or place expectations upon their responses. I shared openly and without hiding.
It was dark stuff. The stuff that trolls and haters feed off of. The stuff that loved ones hear and then shut off a part of their heart because your story tries to address + awaken things in them, but they are not ready for it, and it affects the relationship. Things that make us feel like we’re completely crazy, damaged, and undervalued. The kind of things that we think sharing might actually kill us in some way. Like I said, dark…
Anywho, I introduced myself and started talking. Never once did I second guess whether it would be safe or appropriate or necessary. I did not spend time wondering what should be edited to be made better or censored to be more tolerable. I shared what happened to me after my first husband died, how people treated me, how I behaved, thoughts I’d had and that the thread keeping me alive and moving forward was/is my faith. I shared about being a single mom – many times, not the best one – and my “adventures” through dating and online dating to my third marriage.
I “went there” y’all, because the weekend was about empowering women. And because I knew that there was no freedom like telling and owning one’s story – especially the messy, less pretty parts we bust our hind parts to gussy up for the public.
My particular connection to these women was to them being war or veteran-related widows. It had been a while since I’d been in front of a group of women as a sharer, facilitator, and leader – but I’d done some growing and believed I was ready and empowered enough to share.
It was phenomenal.
Phenomenal not because it was easy, but because I shared without second-guessing myself or doubting that it was the right thing to do. It was liberating. And it was empowering. For me and these women whom I chose to trust these parts of my story.
There was a release because I’d done this courageous thing and did not apologize for any of what I shared or how I delivered it. And it wasn’t because someone told me what to share or how to share it. I had prayed about my role during this weekend and knew that the most earnest, valuable thing I had to offer these women was my story. To speak it from the depths of my soul.
More of it than I’d ever shared with almost no trust built up amongst ourselves; I shared on our very first night and after only a few hours of being in the same space together.
But I didn’t get there overnight. I wouldn’t have been able to share like I did – unapologetically and without shame – even four or five years ago and I have been telling parts of my story for over a decade; oftentimes to the wrong people because of what they wanted to do with it and even the right people but in the wrong season (either theirs or my own).
Part of knowing that I could share courageously was because I’d been doing the work.
For years, I’ve been hustling and running and hiding and circling back without much of a map. And then I realized I had been doing a few helpful things consistently. Here are three of them:
ONE: IDENTIFYING + ADDRESSING MY FEELINGS
For years, I’ve been filling journals with all the words inside myself.
After deciding that it meant more to me to have a healthy release than concern myself with what someone might feel when reading what I wrote (that wasn’t their business), I wrote more freely. It has been incredibly effective for helping me understand what I’m feeling and process what may be happening in my mind. Most days, I read my Bible and apply what I’ve read to what I’m feeling and thinking, and then journal about it.
The contents are unedited and thoughts flow more easily when I journal daily.
TWO: GETTING HELP
I’ve been to
several many therapists, participated in a peer-grief support group and shared slices of my story with many along the way. My momma also knows (almost) all of my stories. I’ve paid for some help, insurance has covered some of it and sometimes crying to my family and a few trusted friends was exactly what I needed to be able to remain curious about what could come from knowing and boldly sharing my story without shame.
This was the step that I needed to push through most often. In an effort to get help, it turned into wanting to please people; something that I’m still needing to lean on God’s promises about who He says I am to combat. It was also too much pressure to put onto people who cared for me and had the best intentions. Learning to boldly share without shame frees people up from feeling sympathy and pity (ick, ick, ick) effectively shutting down any desire for me to share more.
Finding the right people/person is key, but there has to be some “just you” work too.
THREE: LEARNING ABOUT SHAME + VULNERABILITY
Towards the end of my second marriage, we were asked to read, “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown. I read the entire book, but our sessions stopped because I was the only person doing the reading and the work attached. It was the beginning of understanding my own imperfections and how shame penetrates so much of our stories, which impacts how small we live.
Brown’s research and findings of shame and vulnerability were so eye-opening for me, often speaking to parts of my soul that I’ve often ignored or quieted because I was so overwhelmed. I’d stopped being willing to look honestly at the truths (the wonderful and horrific) in my story which made it near impossible to share it with others.
Since then, I’ve read her books, “Daring Greatly” and more recently, “Rising Strong” (got mine from the library) and have been convicted that the path to connection is directly related to how willing I am to own my story and then share it.
So when I shared so much of my story without hesitation, reservation or apology and did it with impact, I realized how important it is for me to keep sharing my story – the big tragic chapters as well as the smaller challenges – and inviting and encouraging other women to do the same; without shame.
What about you, soul tender? When’s the last time you shared your powerful, impactful story without apology?