“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”
– Brené Brown
My friend lost her sister to cancer four months ago. She talks about it—the pain and disbelief, the pressure to move on, the things that help and the things that don’t. She talks about the good days and the indescribably bad days.
I listen to everything she offers. I tuck it away for safekeeping. With her help, I’ll know a better thing to say when someone hurts. With her help, I have some perspective on inconsequential problems when they’re getting more attention than they deserve.
Each time my friend shares, I am struck by admiration and awe. I think to myself, she never wanted to be the messenger; she never wanted to be an expert on grief; she never wanted to know what words, what actions bring a moment of solace to an aching soul.
But she is. And she does.
This is now my friend’s story and as much as she’d like to deny it, she’s chosen to own it—quite bravely and brilliantly, I might add.
I thought of my friend and her unchosen expertise when I had a CT scan in June. It was the first time I laid beneath a big scary machine and held my breath for dear life. When the machine began to inch forward slowly, I thought of my friend and her story. I wasn’t sure how my story was going to play out, but I decided I would own it. Tell my close friends what I was going through. Say, “I’m scared,” when I felt scared. Ask for help when I was in pain. Above all, I knew it was important to pay attention. So I vowed to take it all in—the good and bad—and perhaps discover something worth sharing in the process.
Four weeks after the CT scan that saved my left kidney and possibly my life, I was home from the hospital. I was swollen and sore. I was groggy on pain meds. I was having trouble thinking of words. I was kind of a mess. But I had something I felt must be said. I pulled my laptop computer gingerly onto my lap and typed some words to my friends and family on social media. I remember worrying for a brief moment if there were incomplete sentences, misspelled words, and extra periods. Words were blurry through my grateful, teary eyes, but I pushed publish anyway. Here is an excerpt:
“I am home from the hospital recovering from kidney surgery and feeling incredibly thankful to be here. It’s been many months of infection and uncertainty, but I finally have peace. I am on my way to more years, more love, more life. My little public service announcement in the midst of this overwhelming gratitude is this: If you feel like something is not right in your body or mind, please don’t dismiss that feeling. Make an appointment today. If you are not satisfied with the answers you get or things do not improve, keep searching. Keep asking. Keep listening. Keep going until you get answers. You are the only one who can truly look after YOU. And your people need you to be HERE.”
An interesting thing happened. Two of my neighbors contacted me over the next few weeks to tell me those words prompted them to action. One of them made an appointment regarding a persistent pain she’d neglected to look into. Another friend said she’d been worried about her spouse’s health and my words were the perfect words to offer him.
Though I felt like a mess, I provided a vital message.
In that moment, I felt better than I had in months. The uncertainty and pain I’d endured weren’t all for naught. For the first time, I saw my story not a curse, but as a blessing. It was a blessing to be the messenger.
When all this transpired, you came to mind countless times. I have come to cherish every member of The Hands Free Revolution community like family. Through this painful experience, I thought I could offer something that might help you see your life’s mess in a new way. This is what came out in a tiny notebook during my first walk outside after having two surgeries in one month:
You never wanted to know how to survive divorce.
You never wanted to know the joys and heartaches of autism.
You never wanted to know the signs of addiction.
But you do.
You never wanted to know loss so devastating that your mind has trouble believing it’s true.
You never wanted to know how to leave an abusive relationship.
You never wanted to know it was possible to bounce back after a financial crisis.
But you do.
You never wanted to know the pain of caring for a parent who doesn’t remember you.
You never wanted to be the strong one.
You never wanted to know the car could be a safe place to cry.
But you do.
You never wanted to know a family could break.
You never wanted to know how to put the pieces back together in a new way.
You never wanted to know a new normal.
But you do.
You never wanted to know the perfect response when someone stares at your child.
You never wanted to know the courage it takes to ask for help.
You never wanted to know how to find joy after having lost it for so long.
But you do.
You never wanted to know when it’s time to sever the ties in order to have inner peace.
You never wanted to know how hard it is to say to yourself, “Enough is enough. My loved ones deserve better. Change starts today.”
You never wanted to know the weight that can be lifted when you say to yourself, “It wasn’t my fault.”
But you do.
And perhaps as time has passed you’ve discovered that to deny your story hurts more than the story itself.
So you’ve chosen to own it.
To speak out, even when your voice shakes.
To tell the truth, even when it’s not pretty.
To encourage someone else, even when you can barely encourage yourself.
To get up and face the world, even when you can barely look at yourself in the mirror.
You didn’t ask for this story, but it’s yours, and you’re owning it.
And I thank you for that. I thank you.
The tears that streak your face at the most inopportune times of the day, at the most inappropriate moments, are the lines of your story. And when you own it, someone else is not alone in his or hers.
Though you feel like a mess, you are providing a vital message.
Perhaps you sit here in a mess that you haven’t shared yet. Maybe you thought it had to be all figured out before you told someone. Maybe you thought it had to have a happy ending before it could all be revealed. Maybe you thought you had to have perfect punctuation and periods in all the right places for it to be seen.
I hope and pray you see it differently now.
Even if you are smack dab in the midst of your trial … even if have no idea how it’s going to play out … even if it feels like you are failing miserably, your story can still resonate … it can still comfort … it can still enlighten … it can still inspire action.
Your jumbled mess, whether whispered as a prayer to one or shouted in desperation to thousands, could be the message someone needs right now.
And perhaps by sharing, your pain will ease … your hope will grow … your tomorrow will look a little bit brighter.
You there in your mess: Thank you for being. Your life is a message. And through your story, there is power to save.
Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, you may have noticed that the comment section of this blog and the Facebook page have become a safe haven where people freely share their stories—both the struggles and triumphs of their messy lives. It is quite beautiful the way members of this community encourage people they have never met. Last week a member of this community bravely asked for help with her struggle to respond to her children in a more positive and peaceful way and shared that her children were picking up her harmful behaviors. She was initially met with a non-supportive response. Then a flood of encouragers followed, commending her for asking for help and offering their support and insight. She and I corresponded privately when I provided her with resources and strategies to create a more loving home environment. She told me she didn’t know if she would ever ask for help again given the response she initially received. I promised her that by her openly asking for help, she spoke for someone else. Sure enough, I heard from another member of our community who was struggling with the same issues. Now there are two families getting the help they need because one of them shared their story. Through her life’s mess, she provides a vital message. I hope and pray she keeps asking and sharing so bravely. I’ll be there to support her when she does and I know many of you will be too.
My friends, I know two incredibly talented writers who continually share the most difficult and messiest truths, truths that took decades to be shared. Their reach is smaller than mine so I feel compelled to help get their messages out. Their stories have the power to save. They really do. And this incredible community has the power to spread a message far and wide. I am leaving their stories in your loving hands. Thank you for being part of this unique family of open-hearted people seeking to live better & love more. Together, there is hope.
“I Still Wonder” by Don Blackwell – I read this piece a year ago and the insight it gives into a child’s mind and heart has benefitted me and my children every day since. I am convinced someone needs this message TODAY. It could save an adult’s life and a child’s childhood.
“Muscle Memory” by Katrina Willis – I read this piece three days ago and the insight it has given me into loving and understanding my own inner child will benefit me until the day I die. I am convinced someone needs this message TODAY. Someone out there needs to feel unalone in his or her pain, maybe for the first time ever. [Trigger Warning: childhood sexual abuse, rape, eating disorder]
P.S. My offer to provide a list of strategies and resources to create a more loving home environment is open to anyone. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Know that you will initially receive an auto-response, but I will respond to you in time. You are not alone. There is hope.