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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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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You Are Somebody: Lessons from #MarchForOurLives


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Over the weekend, I (and over 800,000 others!) attended the #MarchForOurLives protest in DC, which is now being called the biggest single-day protest in DC's history. Though I wasn't there long (good ol' anxiety and post-surgery troubles kept me from making it all the way to center of the action), I was present long enough to feel awed and inspired by the sheer magnitude of people, the enthusiasm and determination of those marching, and the fact that all of this was taking place because those who went through a horrific, unimaginable experience decided to take action. 

Whether or not you support the cause, #MarchForOurLives is a powerful movement, a shining example of what can be done when people come together for a common goal. I saw people of all ages, races, genders, and orientations. I saw those with disabilities. I saw little babies and old ladies. I saw people loudly chanting with colorful signs, and people quietly standing on the sidelines in support. There are very few times in life that I've seen so many different kinds of people come together in one place, and that alone is uplifting. But there were a few other important life lessons that I picked up while in the city. Here are just a few of the things was inspired by at the March: 

 

COLLECTIVE CONNECTION

As I wrote above, one of the most inspiring aspects of the event was the astounding number of people, many of which had traveled much further than my 20 minute drive, gathered in one place for one cause. No matter how different these people were, all of them believed enough in one issue to make the effort to attend. And DC was just one of the many cities and towns around the world holding an event. I'm not one for group activities (I generally avoid them all costs), but there truly is something amazing about so many people supporting one single cause. Even I, the most anti-group person I know, was in awe of how it felt to be connected collectively to all of these strangers, both the ones standing around me and those standing up across the globe. 

 

INFORMED INSPIRATION

Of course, it's no surprise that the event was inspiring. The posters alone could keep me motivated for ages! And those speeches...wow. But the coolest part about it, for me, was taking in inspiration in the form of various types of information. From the statistics shown on the big screens to the personal stories bravely shared on stage to the hand-written signs held aloft, every aspect held a bit of information that led me to feel even more passionate and inspired by the cause. More people doesn't always mean more information (and it's important to remember that all information isn't accurate), but something about the way everything came together for the event made me feel not only more inspired, but also more informed as well. 

 

UNITED UNCERTAINTY

One of the most fascinating and aspirational aspects of the March was that, even with all of the voices and all of the people standing side by side, there's no guarantee that change will come. Everyone participating was, and still is, united in the uncertainty of potential change. We don't know if what we did will matter. We don't know what kind of difference it will make. And being united in that uncertainty is oddly life-affirming and powerful. Generally speaking, most of us don't know what will happen for sure in our lives. Part of being human is being uncertain. But to see so many people face an uncertainty head-on, to know they're facing an uphill battle and still choosing to fight, was such a poignant reminder that, when it comes down to it, we're all united in the uncertainty of what's to come. 

 

POSITIVE PARTICIPATION

While I'm sure the event wasn't without some issues, for the most part, it was hundreds of thousands of people coming together to take a positive, proactive action. The words spoken, the signs created, and even the songs played on the loudspeaker provided feelings of hope and optimism. Yes, there was pain and anger, too, but most of what I heard and saw was focused on motivation, inspiration, and a cultivate of ambition and hope. I've never before seen so many people, all in one place, participating in the same activity with the same goal in mind. Positive participation on this level is rare, and seeing it in real life is something I'll forever be inspired by. 

 

There were moments, over the past few weeks, when I thought I wouldn't go to the March. I wondered, as many others probably did, if it was really going to do anything. I wondered, selfishly, if it was worth the time and energy. But I'm so thankful I pushed my selfishness and doubts aside and went. There's something truly unforgettable about being surrounded by thousands of complete strangers who believe in a cause passionately. There's something truly magical about standing among all of those people and knowing that you're not the only one who, despite everything that's happened in the past, believes that change is possible. There is something powerful about being surrounded by people and realizing that, though you're unsure of if and when the change will come, you are somebody and you are standing up for something. 

 

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