Tell Your Story, Heal Yourself

Part 6: Revealing Your Personal Myth

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, here's the fifth post in my series 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 the power of allowing your personal myth to unfold.

History is power

Many people fret over “dwelling in the past,” and understandably so. If you're constantly looking back, it's hard to see what's ahead of you, impossible to make meaningful progress on your future goals. But the past shouldn't be ignored or disdained! After all, our memories give meaning to the lives we live. Moments that transformed us, people who changed us, experiences that shaped us are among our greatest resources in our journey towards self-knowledge.

Here is a strong (but upsetting) personal example:

Driving across the Coronado Bridge, I saw a man jump to his death.

It was a beautiful May afternoon in San Diego, at around one-thirty. As I drove onto the bridge, I began releasing my morning’s stress and started thinking about the things I would do when I got home. Suddenly, the car in front of me came to an abrupt halt. The driver-side door opened and a good-looking, well-dressed man in his late twenties got out. He was physically fit and had the grace of an athlete. As he turned to face me, my curiosity changed into surprise and then to stomach-turning horror as he quickly moved to the edge of the lane, stepped over the knee-high barrier, and fell backward off the bridge.

No hesitation. No ambivalence. He was there one moment, and the next he was gone. I fumbled for my phone and dialed 911, but it was already too late. There was nothing to do but wait for the police to come.

I later learned that he was a a combat-injured veteran. He went over the side as if it were a military maneuver, which he might have imagined it was. His last mission.

After that day on the bridge, I knew I had to get more involved. My work as a physical therapist had connected me with many other men and women who had returned from combat injured, just as he had. But I wanted to do more, and I did: My book, Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife, was the result of the research and writing I did after that day.

The memory is still one the strongest I have. It's a jarring and disturbing one, but also a transformative scene from the depths of my psyche. It's a scene from my past that continues to shape my future, even many years later.

Memories are incredibly powerful. Unfortunately they often appear to us as disjointed fragments instead of a linear, easy-to-follow story. The bits and pieces may seem confusing at first, but if you take the time to work with them, they can lead you on a journey into the deepest layers of your psyche.

Exercise: Authoring your personal myth

One way to understand your past and make sense of your memories is to draw parallels with myths, fairy tales, or classic stories. Casting yourself as the hero in a familiar tale can shed new light on events from your past.

As you think about your own personal myth, explore your core values and write in a voice that emphasizes your passions and beliefs. Think about the major events of your life. Which story or myth are you playing out? Is there a mythological character or fairy tale icon that you identify with? Don't limit yourself to the classic Greeks and Romans, think about Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, the Peter Pan, even Wonder Woman or Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Whose story echoes your own? How and why?

Start by briefly describing the basics of the mythic storyline, then explain the aspects of your life that connect you to it. Once you begin exploring your personal ties to the myth, try to write in the first person. (“I” statements instead of “she” statements.) This will make that connection feel even stronger. Don't worry about length or format, just write whatever comes for as long as it takes.

If you need a jumping off point, try something like, “I remember being ___ years old, there was a time when I ...” Don't worry if there are aspects of the mythical tale that don't fit with your own experiences. Focus on where there is overlap, and the big themes that resonate with you.

Reflections of you

A myth or fairytale that speaks to you can become a metaphor for your own life's journey. By examining the lessons mythic characters learn, you may finally see important lessons that you also need to learn. It's complex and cloudy work, but important. The way back to self-understanding is not an easy journey, but it's well worth making.

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