The Power of (Not) Telling Your Story


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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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Anxiety Ambush : 9 Tactics I Use to Combat Anxiousness

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This April is a crazy month for me, with the next couple of weeks being particularly action-packed. Tomorrow I'm giving a presentation that I've been working on for weeks, and a week after that I'm having (another, ugh!) surgery. Needless to say, anxiety levels are all over the place. To combat them, I'm pulling out some of my favorite anxiety-fighting tips, and I thought I might share them with you, too, in case you're facing some anxiety yourself! 

 

GO OUTSIDE

I'm not much of an "outdoorsy" person, but there's something about getting outside that can be really calming when you're feeling anxious or stressed. When my anxiety rears its ugly head, I try to remind myself to get outside, even if it's just for a few minutes, to get some fresh air and a fresh perspective. 

 

ASK FOR HELP

As someone who enjoys being in control, this can be a tough one for me, but it's always so helpful whenever I reach out to others and ask for help. No matter what you're going through, you don't have to go it alone. If you're lucky to have friends and family who can help you out (even if it's just as emotional support), ask! And, if not, seek out resources online to help you feel less alone. 

 

CREATE SOMETHING

Even if you don't consider yourself a "creative" person, creating something is a great way to get your mind off of your anxiety and into something new. Recently I've been focused a lot on creating my presentation, but I also take breaks from that to do a little bit a of drawing (which I share nearly every day on Instagram!). If art isn't your thing, consider creating a meal! 

 

DRINK WATER

Making sure you're hydrated is a good trick for combating anxiety, even if it might seem a bit odd. Personally, whenever I don't drink enough water, I get headaches and just generally don't feel right, so whenever I feel my anxiety level getting high, I check in to make sure I'm hydrated. (Eating healthy is also a good idea, but I'm not always so great at it, particularly when stressed!)

 

WRITE ABOUT IT

Whether or not you consider yourself a writer, taking the time to jot down your anxious thoughts can be a great way to alleviate some of the stress you're experiencing. If that ends up causing more anxiety, consider writing a list of things you can do to make yourself feel a bit better or write a list of things you're grateful for. 

 

TAKE A DEEP BREATH

Deep breaths sound cliche, but paying attention to your breathing really can make a difference when it comes to combating anxiety. Your breath is something you have access to at all times so it's a useful tool for soothing yourself no matter what the situation. I personally find the 4-7-8 Breathing Method to be really helpful when I'm extra anxious! 

 

LISTEN TO SOOTHING SONGS

Music can have such a big impact on your mood, and you can use that to your advantage when it comes to your emotional state. Create a playlist with soothing (or uplifting!) songs and put it on when you're having difficulty staying calm. It's a quick way to shift your focus. (And, if you're like me, you can also through a little dancing in there!) For some playlist ideas, follow me on Spotify

 

STAY PRESENT

Staying present might feel like the opposite of what you want to do when you're anxious, but it's important to remember that anxious thoughts come not from what's happening now, but from ruminating on what has happened or worrying about what will happen. Do your best to ground yourself in the moment to ease some of your anxious feelings. 

 

FIND A POSITIVE DISTRACTION

When my anxiety really starts to get to me, I do what I can to find a positive distraction (usually in the form of a really good book or a funny film). Avoiding your feelings isn't something I'd generally recommend, but distraction can be a useful tactic when feelings get out of control and turn unproductive (as anxiety almost always does!). 

 

If you're feeling anxious or struggle with anxiety, I hope some of these tips will help you out. I'd also love to know what tactics have worked for you when it comes to battling anxiety or stress. Let me know your top tips in the comments section below! 

 

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6 Things Open-Minded People Do

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Recently I've been working on a (very exciting!) presentation on open-mindedness, and it occurred to me that it's been awhile since I've written about it here. (Though 7 Benefits of Being Open-Minded is still one of my most popular posts!) To me, this is one of the most important topics in our culture right now (so much so that I'm even thinking of writing a book about it!), so I'll probably be sharing a lot of that here, but first, let's start out with what it means to be open-minded.

The dictionary defines "open-minded" as "willing to consider new ideas; unprejudiced," but to me it's so much more than that. Open-mindedness is like positivity: it requires self-knowledge, patience, and, depending on your culture and temperament, lots and lots of practice. It's much more complex that just being open to new ideas. Here are the six traits I consider essential for open-mindedness. 

OPEN-MINDED PEOPLE... 

  1. Consider different perspectives + beliefs

    Those with open minds are open to considering different points of view, perspectives, beliefs, ideas, etc. This might seem incredibly obvious, but it's trickier than you might think. Consider, for a moment, something you believe strongly in (a religion, the rights of a certain group of people, someone you love) and then think about the last time you openly thought about a different perspective. It's easier to do when encountering a new idea, but it's something truly open-minded people do even when it comes to deeply held beliefs.  

  2. Recognize + fight against desires for generality + closure

    As humans, we have strong desires to label things clearly so we can understand them. We want to put things into neat little boxes so that we can identify them. Likewise, we have a desire to get answers that are clear and final. We love closure. Those with open minds recognize that concepts like generalization and closure are alluring, but they aren't always useful. Open-minded people see these built in human desires and fight against them to seek truth rather than answers.  

  3. Accept + embrace the concept of ambivalence

    The concept of ambivalence, or having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone, isn't always an easy one for people to grasp. As stated in #2, we want answers and clarity. We want to know that there is a conclusion or at least an explanation. Open-minded people realize that this isn't always the case, that there are often many situations in which feelings will be mixed, in which they might hold two contradicting ideas about something. Rather than resist this, open-minded people accept it and strive to embrace it. 

  4. Understand thoughts are warped + distorted

    All the thoughts we think are distorted in some way. We are influenced not only by our moods, cultures, stress-levels, surroundings, etc., but we're also limited by what we can humanly observe with our five senses. Open-minded people seek to recognize the ways in which their own thoughts (or the thoughts of others) might be warped, and factor those distortions into account when making decisions, taking action, or aligning themselves with a belief. 

  5. View open-mindedness as a skill requiring practice

    Open-minded people recognize that open-mindedness, like any worthwhile skill, requires practice. It's something that comes more easily to some (depending on how they were raised, what culture they come from, what kind of personality they have, etc.), but regardless of what skill level they started with, open-minded people know that they need to keep practicing to keep their open-mindedness ability sharp.  

  6. Create opportunities to rethink assumptions

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, those with open minds give themselves opportunities to rethink assumptions and consider new perspectives. They recognize the limitations of their own minds and cultures, and they actively seek out sources that will help them explore new ways of thinking. They know that what they believed at one point might not still be true today, so they work to rethink about assumptions. In a world that makes it easy to surround yourself with what's familiar, open-minded people create opportunities for themselves to learn new ways of thinking and explore a variety of points of view. 

Staying open-minded is a skill, and a particularly challenging one to cultivate in an age when we're all being fed information, advertisements, articles, etc. that align with what we've already said we like. We're all in individual bubbles, tailored just for us, which is why we have to work even harder to keep our minds (and hearts!) open. 

If you consider yourself an open-minded person, what would you add to this list? If you struggle to keep an open mind, what would you like to learn more about to enhance that skill? Also, if you have any great stories about being (or struggling to be) open-minded, I'd love to hear them in the comments below! 

 

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