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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The Power of Flowers + Random Acts of Kindness

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This past week has been a really challenging one for me, but one thing these tough times have made me acutely aware of is just how much a small, random act of kindness can mean to someone who is in pain (and, let's be real, most of us are in some kind of pain). Over the past week, I've been shown so many little kindnesses — from friends, colleagues, random people I don't even know — and it's really made me appreciate the truth behind the old saying: "Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." 

Random acts of kindness are not only wonderful to receive, but they're also amazing to give as well. This week, I highly recommend you giving one of the ideas below a try. Not only will it feel great for you, but you'll be spreading kindness in the world, and we all could use a lot more of that! 

 

RANDOM ACT 1 : GIVE FLOWERS

Did you know that simply seeing or smelling flowers can be a mood booster? Maybe that's why the concept of giving flowers for all sorts of special occasions has been around for so long! Last week, the Society of American Florists did something really amazing: they had florists in 467 cities across the US and Canada hit the streets to surprise people with two bouquets of flowers — one to keep and one to give to a friend (or complete stranger!). Through these random acts of (floral!) kindness, called Petal It Forward, tens of thousands of flowers were sent out into the world to reaffirm the science behind flowers’ ability to improve moods and bring people together. Research has shown that receiving flowers makes us happy, and giving flowers makes us even happier. Go out this week and buy some flowers for someone you love (or someone you don't even know!). It's a small act that can have a big impact. 

 

RANDOM ACT 2 : GIVE COMPLIMENTS

How many times have you had a kind thought about someone else but kept it to yourself? This week, make a point to speak all of your compliments aloud. Tell that stranger that her outfit is awesome. Share with your coworker how much his dedication means to you. Call up your parents and tell them how much you love their good qualities. The trick to making this random act work well is paying attention to your own thoughts. We often have tons of positive thoughts about other people all the time, but we don't share them, sometimes because we're simply not paying close attention to them. Do your best this week to take close notice of what you're thinking and share it! It can sometimes feel awkward to compliment people, but if you feel a little weird about it, just remember how you felt the last time someone gave you a compliment. It's such a lovely feeling, and remembering that experience will make it easier to open up with others. 

 

RANDOM ACT 3 : GIVE BACK

One of the best random acts of kindness is giving back. This is obviously super broad, but it's meant to be because there are so many ways of giving back. You can give your time to a friend, colleague, or organization you want to support. You can donate to a cause that matters to you. You can give back to those who have helped you in the past by reaching out to them to see how you might be able to help them in some way now. You can even give something back to the earth by planting a tree or growing a garden! (Bonus points for a garden since the flowers will make you and others happier!) There are countless ways to give back, but the important thing is that you take action. 

 

We all recognize the many benefits of random acts of kindness, but most of us don't make doing them a priority. This week, I encourage you do something — anything! — kind for someone. Don't feel like kindness has to be some huge, grand gesture. (Personally, I think that's why so many of us fail to do kind things: we think they're too small and won't really make a difference.) Kindness is incredibly valuable, no matter what form it comes in, so pick one (or all!) of the random acts above and do something wonderful this week. 

  


Petal It Forward 3Thanks to the Society of American Florists (SAF) for kindly sponsoring today's post! Whether it’s paying for a fellow commuter’s toll, or leaving a generous restaurant tip, “paying it forward” and “random acts of kindness” give people hope and inspire kindness towards others. SAF and the whole floral industry is taking part in this movement. It started with a small idea, that grew into everyone wanting to take part. Floral industry members know the power of flowers — they see it every day in their work. Whether to give or receive, flowers make people happy. For more information on the scientifically proven benefits of flowers, visit
www.aboutflowers.com and www.aboutflowersblog.com. You can also check out this fun video that illustrates the Petal It Forward concept! 


17 Years Ago I Turned 17: Part 2


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Last week, I celebrated the seventeenth anniversary of the day I turned 17 (yes, I'm now 34!) by sharing some of the life lessons I've learned over the past year. Like so many of us, I'm always learning and growing and changing, and I really enjoy reflecting on what I've learned over the past year. (I highly recommend doing it whenever you have a birthday. We're often so busy and moving so quickly through life that we don't often pause to reflect on what we've learned, and b-days are a great time to do this!)

Without further ado, here's Part 2 of the 34 life lessons I've learned this year. (And here's Part 1 if you missed it!)

 

18. PICK PEOPLE WHO LOVE YOUR B-DAY.

This might sound superficial, but the way people react to your birthday says a lot about them and your relationship (even if they're not a big "birthday person.") Birthdays are kind of silly, yes, but they're also symbolic of the day you were born. If the people in your life aren't excited about that, well... That's not great. Birthdays are a great time to assess where you stand with people, and whether or not those people are having a positive impact on how you feel about yourself. 

 

19. BE KIND TO YOUR BODY. 

Over the past few years, I've had to deal with health issues, which is something I'd not encountered before. It's taught me a lot of things, but mostly it's taught me that health is a kind of wealth (see: Health Is Wealth: How to Cope When You're Feeling Poorly), and you have to work hard to achieve it. While I've been very consistent about my yoga practice, I definitely need to step up my game when it comes to eating healthy food! 

 

20. YOU WILL NEVER REGRET BEING NICE.

Sometimes being nice is really, really hard. Depending on the situation, your mood, the other people involved, etc., being kind can be the most difficult choice to pick, but I've been reminded over and over again this year that you'll never regret being nice. Even when you have a completely different point of view, when you're angry or upset, being nice is the right choice. For some tips on niceness and compassion, check out:  Campaigning for Compassion: 8 Essential Tips We Need Now

 

21. MAKE THE MOST OF A BAD DAY. 

Every one of us encounters bad days from time to time, but I've discovered that most bad days are only as bad as you make them. Once things start going downhill a little bit, it's difficult not to feel like everything is going downhill, to take notice of all the little annoying things you might not think about on a good day. Over the past year, I've had a lot of stressful days, so I made this for myself: Stressful Day?: 20 Things to Add to Your To-Do List. If you're stressed, it might help you too! 

 

22. LEARN ABOUT WHAT YOU LOVE. 

"Do what you love" is one of those cliched phrases that's wonderful if you have the ability to make it happen, which isn't always the case for everyone. This year I've had to do a lot of things I don't really love, but I've realized that there's something you can also do what it comes to things you're passionate about: learn about them! There's a freedom that comes from being passion about something, and there are lots of ways to connect to it. Check out this for ideas: Finding Freedom: 6 Ways to Connect to Your Passion

 

23. DO SOMETHING NEW EVERY SO OFTEN. 

For some people, doing new things is easy, but, if you're like me and really love that comfort zone, it can be hard to push yourself out of it, but it's worth it. I've rarely looked back and thought, wow, I wish I hadn't tried that thing. Even if I hated it, it gave me an experience I'd never had before and experience really is the greatest teacher. One new thing I did this year was create and launch a new product, the Instant Insta Self-Love Card Deck, and it was so great to try something new!  

 

24. REMEMBER: IT WON'T LAST. 

The good times? They're fleeting. The bad times? Also fleeting. When things have been tough this year, I kept coming back to this concept because, whether it's a good time or a bad time (like when you're coping with a meltdown), reminding yourself of the fleeting nature of life usually brings you back to the present and allows you to either enjoy the good moment or cope more effectively with the bad. 

 

25. LOOK FOR MAGIC EVERYWHERE. 

The concept of magic has become a trend over the past few years, but I've always been drawn to it. I'm not talking about magic in the witchcraft sense (though that is fascinating too!); I'm talking about the magic of everyday things and experiences. So often we focus on some grand future moment that we're not realizing how much magic is already in and around us. This year, I've focused a lot on self-love, and part of that had to do with learning to reclaim my own magic

 

26. SHARE WHAT YOU'VE LEARNED WITH OTHERS. 

One of the reasons I started Positively Present all those years ago was so that I could share what I was learning as I was going through my own growth. I always love learning life lessons from others so it made sense that I'd want to share my own, like some of the ones I shared in How to Make Your Life Uncommonly Good. Despite our differences, we all go through a lot of the same experiences and emotions and you can create real connection with others when you share what you know. 

 

27. FEAR IS PART OF LIFE. LEARN TO SIT WITH IT. 

Like most people, I don't love being afraid. But I've faced some pretty dark moments over the past year, like when I wrote this Clearing the Clouds: How to Cope with Panic, and those difficult times have reminded me that fear is a part of life. No matter who you are, you're going to experience some fearful, panic-inducing moments, so rather than try to run from them (as I'm always tempted to do), this year I really learned to sit with my fear.  

 

28. BE GRATEFUL EVERY SINGLE DAY. 

Cheesy as this sounds, today is not guaranteed. Every day you wake up, regardless of what you wake up to, is a fresh opportunity. I've always been well-aware of the value of gratitude, but this year I started keeping a detailed gratitude list, and I think it's helped my mindset in some big ways. If you're looking for some gratitude inspiration, here are three posts I've written this year about it: 26 Things to Be Grateful For (+ a Free Download!)100 Things to Be Grateful For (Part I), and 100 Things to Be Grateful for (Part II)

 

29. GET RID OF WHAT YOU NO LONGER NEED. 

This spring, I wrote Springtime Simplifying, Sorting, + Selling while I was in the midst of getting rid of a lot of things. Not only did it feel amazing to get rid of things I no longer used or needed, I also made a good bit of extra money selling some of my things. :) For a lot of people, I know letting go of things can be challenging, but I recommend giving it a try, waiting a few days, and assessing how you feel. More often than not, you'll have completely forgotten about what you got rid of! 

 

30. APPRECIATE THE PEOPLE (AND PETS!) IN YOUR LIFE.

I'm so thankful for the people I have in my life who provide me with support, encouragement, and love. Because I've been fortunate to have a great group of people around me for most of my life, it's sometimes easy to take them for granted. Still, with the help of my gratitude list, I've been reminded daily of how lucky I am. Here are two posts about the wonderful benefits you might get from those around you: 10 Positive Benefits of Having a Sibling and The Positive Power of Pups: How Dogs Can Help You.

 

 

31. KNOW THAT YOU WILL ADAPT. 

One thing that's definitely topped my life lessons list this year: you might not think you could ever handle a certain situation / person / job / etc., but if faced with something difficult, you will be stronger than you ever thought you could be. We, as people, are pretty darn resilient, and we can adjust to new situations surprisingly well. I learned this first hand a few times this year, and shared some thoughts on it in this post: 5 Tactics for Conquering Positive Change.

 

32. DON'T HATE IT 'TIL YOU'VE TRIED IT. 

It's fine to dislike certain things, but not without having given them a fair shot. Unless something truly terrifies you, try giving it a chance. It won't kill you to try a new food or get out on the dance floor for a song or two. The minute you say, "I don't..." or "I can't..." you limit yourself. Open-mindedness is an important life skill and one I've used a lot over the past year. You can check out me lettering a piece and chatting about it here in Lettering Life Lessons: Being Open-Minded.

 

33. KEEP YOUR PERSPECTIVE IN MIND. 

If you want to make the most of your life, I've learned that it really, really helps if you try your hardest to imagine where other people are coming from. So much of what we think and experience has to do with our personal perspective (read more about the power of perspective in Sky or Screen? : The Power of Perspective.) While it's not always easy to be aware of your own perspective, practicing doing so will help you cultivate compassion and empathy, which leads to better relationships! 

 

34. EMBRACE YOUR IDIOSYNCRASIES. 

This is a lesson I find myself learning over and over again each year. There are some things I get really into (Halloween, October, dogs, rainbows, just to name a few) and not everyone gets my weird little obsessions. For the first time in a long time, this year someone called me weird (and not in the nice, jokey way!) and it really inspired me to think about what it means to embrace your weirdness. I, in fact, like being different, and I like people who are different. Embracing weirdness (and having other people around you who do the same) is actually pretty awesome! 

 

 

Whew, that's quite a long list of lessons! It's fascinating to reflect on all that I've learned since my last birthday — both new lessons and old ones brought back into the light — and I hope reading these has inspired you to think about what you've learned recently. If you have any great life lessons you'd like to share, leave them in the comments below! 

 

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