Telling Our Story: a healing experience

Andre Heuer D.Min. LICSW

I clearly remember the hot summer evening I when I fell in love with story. The evening was warm with expectations of games of tag, orange Popsicles, and in the darkening night a thousand flashes of light from the fireflies. I noticed my parents and my neighbors gathering across the street in Hokies’ kitchen. My childhood curiosity won the best of me, and I snuck into the house through the back door. I quickly went to my mother's side and sat silently. I anticipated her command to leave but no command came. I sat listening to their stories of World War II, the Depression, their childhoods, and their families.

I was too young at the time to know what I learned about storytelling that night.  However this experience and the many that followed that night were the foundation for a life-long love of storytelling.

When we tell our stories we convey not only the events of our life but also what those events mean to us. Imagine putting your hand in front of your eyes and slowly pulling it away. Initially, we only see our hand.  However, as we pull our hand away we see not only our hand but also the rest of the room. The act of telling our story over a period of time is just like moving our hand away from our eyes. As we tell our story we broaden our vision and perspective and therefore the meaning of the event in our life. Also we grow in an awareness of new possibilities that suggest caring and healing actions we can do for ourselves and others.

Our stories are most healing when honestly told with humility. Most of us when we hear the word honesty think of telling the truth and not fibbing or lying. However, there is an additional understanding of the word honest. Honest in Latin breaks down into two words hon meaning honor and est meaning “self.” In other words when we take the time to honestly tell our story we are honoring ourselves and our lives. Similarly the word humility derived from the Latin humilitas is often thought of as meaning meek, modest and timid. The Latin word humilitas with the root hum, meaning earth, has more of the sense of being grounded. So when we say we are telling our story with humility the connotation is that the story is grounded in our lives. So our stories are most healing when grounded in our feelings and thoughts, our struggles and victories and our ups-and-downs. When we honestly tell our story with humility there is an authenticity that honors both our life and those who hear our story.

To tell our story with honesty and humility takes time, patience and courage. We need to slow down from the busyness of our lives and patiently take the time to reflect and to allow our stories to unfold. Time for reflection may initially be difficult to integrate into our life but even a few minutes a day will make a difference. To do this we need courage. We initially need the courage to look at who we are, even though we may be afraid of what we may discover or that we might fall apart. We also need the courage to share who we are with others without hiding, detaching or hedging. What can help you in the processes is choosing a friend, relative or a support group that is trustworthy. 

When we take the time to find and express our story we give ourselves to two gifts. The first is in the process of finding our story. We are giving ourselves the time to take care of ourselves, to discover who we are and what we need in the midst of a challenging time. Secondly, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to be heard and seen by others and in so doing allowing our selves to be supported. And finally in patiently taking the time to find and tell our story we support others in finding the courage and patience to face their life challenges.

As the night wore on the stories did not stop. I fell asleep first leaning against my mother’s arm and then Hokie’s arm. I felt safe and secure and I knew belonged.

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This article was written for the Maple Syrup Urine Disorder bulletin. Maple syrup urine disease (MSUD) is a metabolism disorder passed down through families in which the body cannot break down certain parts of proteins.