Several years ago, I was sitting on a couch face to face with a therapist, and I was in the throes of what she termed “my breakdown.” Anxiety and panic had taken over my life. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t make it through a day at work, and had trouble even leaving my house.
“What are you anxious about?” she asked me.
“I have no idea,” I said.
I couldn’t make any sense of it because if you’d looked at my life, you would have wondered what in the heck I had to be upset about. I had a great, well-paying job. I had a loving, devoted husband. I loved Jesus, and I tried to serve him well. I had wonderful friends. Why was this happening to me?
“Tell me about your childhood,” she said with the tact of a drill seargent.
I shook my head. “No. I don’t want to,” I said.
“Well, I can tell you something. This kind of panic and anxiety doesn’t come from nowhere. It has to come from somewhere, and I can’t help you if you don’t tell me about your life.”
Any other time, I would have gathered my things and walked out, but I had truly reached my capacity for suffering. I couldn’t take anymore. I wanted to be free.
She offered me a compromise. Instead of telling her my story, I could write my story. From my first memory to the present moment, she wanted me to start a journal and write everything I could remember.
I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. Hard, dark, ugly moments that I’d never shared with anyone. Words that had never before come out of my mouth.
Silly me. I thought that was all that I had to do. Then, at my next session she asked me to read to her what I’d written.
“What? You want me to read it out loud?”
That wasn’t part of the deal. She was a tricky one. And she looked at me with a pointed stare that asked, “Do you want my help or not?”.
So I started reading. I read for several sessions as she listened.
Somewhere in the middle, she stopped me.
“Wait, wait, wait. Did you write this?”
Confused, I said, “Yeah, why? What do you mean?”
“You came up with that all on your own? Did you rewrite it or edit it or that was just what came out when you sat down?”
I flipped my journal over to show her my handwritten pages. I didn’t know what she was getting at.
“This is my journal. I just wrote it and now I’m reading it to you.”
“Well, honey, you’re a writer.”
And those three little words changed the trajectory of my life.
I didn’t believe her at first. I wasn’t a writer. I was a pharmacist. I went to school for a very long time to get a very fancy diploma that gave me a title that no one could dispute, knowledge that no one could deny, a guaranteed paycheck.
Because that’s what you do when you grow up without anyone to take care of you. You make damn sure you take care of yourself and secure an ironclad safety net. And then a safety net in case your safety net falls through.
Some part of me, though, was exhilarated by those words. It’s like what other people might feel if you told them they were secretly a rockstar. Could it really be true? I didn’t think so, but I was so flattered by it I went home and told Michael.
Silly me, again. You tell someone that you’re a writer, and guess what? They want to know what you’ve written. And that was a problem. These dark, tear-stained stories had been hidden for so long that I didn’t know what they would look like in the light.
We sat on our bed, and he rested his head on the pillows. My hands were shaking. My mind was telling me to just say the words. My eyes could see them, but I couldn’t make my voice say them.
Somehow, I finally said them. I read him my stories, and he listened.
What I’ve learned in the six years since then is that there is divine power in the telling of your story. When you know your own story and you share it- the real, honest, raw story that’s made you who you are- somehow it releases this intangible power in you. The shameful things aren’t so shameful when you bring them into the light. The lies you believed for so long are recognizable as a complete fabrication. The monsters you’ve been running from for so long aren’t as scary when you look at them in the light of day.
You begin to see yourself as who you were meant to be instead of the ugly version of yourself that you thought you were.
I became a writer because once I tasted that freedom, I never wanted to be trapped in the darkness again. And because I had two wonderful people who loved me enough to listen to my story even when I didn’t want to tell it, I now share my story with lots of people.
Except now, I share it with the hope that it encourages others to step out into the light and experience that freedom, too.