The Power of (Not) Telling Your Story


Tell-Your-Story-Positively-Present

Since 2009, I’ve been here on Positively Present, writing about my life and the various challenges I’ve faced in my quest for living more optimistically and mindfully. I’ve written about the ups and the downs, the loves and the losses, the positive progress and the painful setbacks. I’ve written about tough topics, like my sobriety, and easy ones, like the publication of my first book. But, since 2015, I’ve only briefly touched on a set of circumstances that have altered my entire life.

I’ve avoided the details because I didn’t want to hurt or embarrass other people. I kept quiet because that’s what “respectable” people do. I also kept quiet because what had happened — the sex, the surgeries, the shame, the embarrassing behaviors I tolerated, the pills, the anger and anxiety, the suicidal thoughts — didn’t feel very “positively present.”

But last night I got all fired up. I’m going to finally write about it!, I told myself. I’m going to write about ALL of it, and I don’t care who reads it or what they have to say! My heart was pumping with excitement, and I was convinced that this was it — the writing was what would free me from the heartache, telling my story would set me free from all of this pain. I pulled out all of my old journals, the notebook filled with scrawled, sad poetry, and leafed through them. I’ll put it all out there, I thought, And maybe I’ll even just put all of these journal entries up as they are! I’ll be so brave, sharing my story in such a raw way!  

I looked up an old Anne Lamott quote — “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” — and lettered it with a fierce excitement. Yes, I thought to myself, I will write about it all, every little thing, and he will read it and he will finally understand how much it hurt — and still hurts— and then… And it was in the midst of that thought when I realized it: this wasn’t about my own healing or even (as I’d tried to convince myself) about helping someone else through a similar situation. It was about him.

Sharing all of the pain — the trysts and the surgeries and the disappointments and the lonely nights and the rejected invitations and the tear-soaked pillowcases and the loss of so much damn time — was still, for me, about getting him to really see me. I could tell myself otherwise — “This will be healing!” or “Sharing what I’ve been through will help others!” — but, embarrassing as it is to admit, it was really about getting his attention, about somehow convincing him that what had happened — something that wasn’t his fault but that he certainly had a part in — meant that he owed me something.

Over the course the three and a half years we were spending time together, he told me countless times not to have hope. But I did anyway. Hope can be an amazing thing, but there’s a reason it was found in Pandora’s box, beneath all of the world’s evils. It can cause a great deal of heartache, too.

Despite what he said and did — and, more importantly, didn’t do — I continued to believe all of this pain would live up to that old Ovid quote, “Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you.” I never wrote about the truth of it — never even mentioned him here over the course of the past nearly four years — because I thought to myself, Someday this will all make sense and I don’t want to write anything that might upset him or make it even more difficult to have hope. I will be patient. I will be tough. I will be quiet and good.

Over the weekend, as I was gathering my "evidence" — Look at all of the misery I wrote about in my journal! Look at all of these words he said to me that I’ve written down word-for-word! Imagine how good it will feel to put this all out there for everyone to see! — I was focused on the opposite of being quiet. I was going to be LOUD. I was going to scream every ounce of truth onto the screen until my fingers were numb from typing. I was going to be fierce and brave and unbelievably raw.

But here’s the thing: screaming the truth won’t make him hear me. Telling everyone what happened, what it’s been like for me since the summer of 2015, won’t make him do the things I wish he would do. Words, no matter how powerful, won’t turn a man into someone he is not meant to be.

Writing might be cathartic for me, but sharing this story with the world isn’t necessary for me to recover from this. He isn’t necessary for me to recover from this. He might be the catalyst for this story, but he isn’t the author. I am.

It’s my story to tell — and maybe someday I will — but, for now, as I prepare for my fourth (!!!!) surgery tomorrow, I’m going to do what I should have been doing all along: I’m going choose compassion over comparison. I’m going to remind myself that a person who can act with indifference in the face of another’s pain must be in pain himself. I’m going to focus on healing over hoping. I’m going to remind myself that people are not projects, and the only pain I can truly mend is my own.

Yes, I own this story. Yes, I can yell it as loudly as I’d like, for the world to hear. And part of me still does want to write every detail, to put all of the sex and the scars into words so that I can feel the freedom of having finally said it all. But when it comes to telling our stories — the good, the bad, the oh-god-why-is-this-my-life — I’m realizing that peace probably won’t come from pushing publish on a post. Peace won’t come from having someone else see my pain. Peace comes from feeling that pain, living through it, and moving forward without dragging it behind you.

Maybe putting it all in writing would be like leaving behind a heavy bag on a hard trek. Maybe setting it down would make the rest of this climb a little easier for me. But maybe, just maybe, I can put the bag down without putting it into words. Maybe there’s more to being a survivor than sharing the story of your survival. (Or maybe I’m about to write a tell-all book putting it all there, ha!)

Whatever I end up sharing or keeping to myself, I hope this post serves as a reminder that, yes, you have a right to tell your story, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. You own your stories. Tell them if you want, but don’t forget that it’s not the telling that will set you free. You have to do that all on your own. 

 

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