Tell Your Story, Heal Yourself Part 1

Asking Ourselves Important Questions

Many women have asked me to write their stories after reading my memoir, Unbridled, and Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife. Writing these books taught me the healing power of storytelling. While it is sometimes challenging to be honest and raw about aspects of our journey, the more we open up the better we can see our lives from a different perspective and make clearer decisions going forward. Putting our experiences into words transforms and heals.

With that in mind, I'm launching this series of posts on the power of storytelling.  Every journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step. Let’s begin writing the stories of our lives whether we publish them or not. In August, I'll be leading a writing workshop for the wives of wounded warriors in partnership with Hearts of Valor, and will dig even deeper into these themes! If you're interested in attending, you can apply here to join Hearts of Valor.

But for now, let's talk about storytelling as a tool for reconnecting with ourselves.

Exploring your inner past

Sharing our stories is vital to our healing processes. When we write, we show ourselves compassion.  Navigating the events of our past can help us access own inner Sage. Our inner wisdom, our intuition, what some call the voice of God.

Journaling requires more of us than just talking and thinking. Writing forces us to access different parts of our mind and opens up other realms within our psyche. Write drunk and edit sober! Meaning, write first uninhibited and don’t worry about the finished product. For some, the final transformative step in recovering from or understanding the past  is to edit on a computer and publish their work, but just journaling is transformative, too, and the first step toward publishing. Write truthfully and fully, but with great compassion. 

Telling your story, sharing your struggles and triumphs, is one of the most powerful actions a person can take. Casting yourself as the hero in your own tale, seeing your journey on the larger stage of the world, and recognizing your power to create change helps you cultivate empathy and perspective. And when you won't or can't tell your story, you can end up feeling trapped, alone, lost, and constantly wondering what's missing from your life. Telling your story to just one person will connect you out of your isolation and will heal other people realizing they are not alone.

So what's the first step in writing your story?  Mindful journaling.

Journaling exercise 1: What do you want?

Before you can undertake mindful journaling in earnest, you need to unlock your goals. Writing uninhibited about anything that comes to mind can be very freeing, but healing requires more focus. So ask yourself:

  1. What do I want?
  2. Can I admit this is what I want? Most of us feel guilty saying what we want or don’t even take the time to ask ourselves this question.  Can we give ourselves permission to ask for what we want and own it?
  3. What are my options? How can I move toward getting what I want?

Be honest and open as you answer these questions. You don't ever need to show your answers to anyone!

Journaling exercise 2: Changing vocabulary

Think back to a specific event in your past that was disturbing or difficult. Now make a two-columned list and label one column “Negative” and the other “Positive.” Under the first, make a list of negative words or feelings you are holding onto about this event and would like to release. Under the second, either try to capture the flip side of the negative word (instead of “frustrating,” try “challenging”) or just add a gentler, more positive word or emotion you'd like to associate with this experience instead.

We can do this in one of two ways.

  1. When you encounter a trigger and would ordinarily think, “I feel frustrated, pissed, angry” try removing yourself a little. Say, “Frustration is there” instead.
  2. When your “frustration” trigger comes up, think back to the flip-side version of “frustration” that you listed in your Positive column. (Challenging.)

These changes sound small, but they can have an astonishing impact!

Journaling exercise 3: Perspective and the active narrator

Consider a troubling event from your past. When you re-visit this episode, and feel the emotions associated with it, does it feel like something that is being done TO you? Step back, breathe, and re-envision it. Write a new version of this story from your past. You can do this in one of two ways:
Create some distance by writing the story as yourself today. When you summon the memory, you drop yourself back into a younger self. Instead be the current version of you, and write about the event as someone who has a different perspective, more knowledge, and the emotional support to cope with whatever happened back then.
Allow yourself to fictionalize the episode. Make yourself an active narrator, or even better a hero. Write a version of this story where you take control, shift the power dynamic, and create a more satisfying ending. Think this is lying? Well, the way we remember past events may be more influential and important than the events themselves. And in some cases, completely rewriting those events can help us heal.

Attitude and control

The events of your past are in the past, and you cannot change them. You can rewrite them, shift your perspective, and do your best to heal, but you cannot fully erase them. And you shouldn't want to. Instead, focus your energy on what you CAN control: changing your attitude toward them. These mindful journaling exercises will help you do just that.

If you are the wife of a wounded warrior yourself and would like to share your story in person with other spouses, I would love for you to apply here to attend SPA Day in April! By opening up to others you will heal yourself, connect with others to feel less alone, and help those around you begin the healing process.

Can't wait to share more on the power of storytelling with you next week!