Why Telling Our Stories Can Be Healing

I met this amazing young woman, Sarah Thebarge, at a writers’ conference in Portland this past week when I took her coaching class, “The Healing Power of your Story.”

Marlys - Healing - blog pic
Photo credit: Pixabay

Coaching classes are eight hours in length, spread over three days;   they include writing exercises and the time allows for some excellent in-depth instruction.

This from Sarah about the value of story-sharing: “Writing turns wounds into scars. Wounds are raw, painful, losing blood. Scars don’t get infected, you can touch them, they’re not painful.”

So, how is telling our stories healing?

From the combined wisdom of my memoir-writing teacher and classmates—fellow writers who have experienced child abuse, lost families, mental health issues, abandonment:

Telling our stories causes shame to lose its power. We often think if people really knew us — knew about our fears and mistakes — then they probably wouldn’t like us. Simply not true.

Telling our stories helps us accept what happened. The events that have taken place, have taken place. We can change nothing from the past; we have power only to shape what’s ahead.

Telling our stories frees us to be fully known. Instead of hiding behind a façade, telling our stories sets us free from the power our past had over us, free from worrying what others might think of us, free to be us.

Telling our stories creates community. The strength of community is hearing someone say, “I get it.”

Telling our stories distributes the weight of our burden, this heavy thing we’ve been lugging around on our own.

Telling our stories dispels the lies. You know, the lies that say, “This is as good as it gets”, “You need to forget about those goals and dreams you had”, “It’s too late for you.” Those lies.

Telling our stories provides validation. These are our stories. They’re worth telling. They’re beautiful stories of redemption, of becoming whole again.

* * *

Sarah shared a poem with the class — “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver. And it resonated with me-because I once thought, “How can the world go on?”

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.


Meanwhile. Meanwhile, as we’re going through the most devastating things in our lives, the geese keep flying, the sun shines and the rain falls. And the world goes on.

And we think, “How can you go on living as if nothing has happened? I have cancer. (Or my husband, wife, child, sibling, parent has cancer.) How can the school buses still pick up kids; how can the autumn leaves keep drifting downward; how can people still laugh, congregated around tables in my favorite outdoor café?”

Because life goes on.

And we wouldn’t want it any other way. We are grateful that laughter will return, and hopes and dreams will revive, and we will love still; again.

* * *

Sarah’s own story – as told in her book, The Invisible Girls: A Memoir – is about surviving breast cancer and a failed relationship on the East Coast, fleeing her successful career and Ivy League education to start over in Portland, Oregon. While riding the Metro, Sarah met Hadhi, a Somali refugee abandoned by her husband, struggling to raise five young daughters in a culture she didn’t understand. On the brink of starvation and “invisible” in a neighborhood of strangers, Sarah helped Hadhi and the girls navigate American life. And in doing so, brought healing to her own brokenness.

And get this: All of the proceeds from her book are going towards a college fund for the Somali girls. How fabulous is that?

This from Madeline L’Engle: “The discipline of creation, be it to paint, compose, write, is an effort towards wholeness.”

What about you? What needs to be made whole in your life? What is your story and who should you share it with?

2 thoughts on “Why Telling Our Stories Can Be Healing

  1. Since my husband of 40 yrs. passed away 6.5 yrs. ago I have not picked up the pieces of my life and moved on. I am soon to be 64yrs. old and was with him from the time I was 14 yrs. old. I don’t have interests in much except my grandchildren but 2 are grown and the othet 2 are in another state. Please advise me on how to break out of this.

    1. Oh, Donna, what a challenging thing you’re dealing with. My situation is very similar in that my husband and I were married 41 years, it’s been nearly 2 years since he died of cancer, and grandkids are far away. I can tell you what helped me with the understanding that you’re not me, and so some of these suggestions won’t resonate with you. I stayed plugged into community: my knitting group, my hiking group, I joined a Bible study group, and took a 6-week widow grief class, mainly to meet other widows. I have coffee/tea with a girlfriend or two at least once a week. Also, getting outdoors helps with the depression – walking along the river either by myself or with a friend. Volunteer work has helped – at a local women’s & children’s shelter and with the local hospice program. I also keep a journal, which allows me to be completely honest with how I’m doing and what I’m thinking/feeling. And I say “Yes” to every invitation that comes my way: from my kids, other family members, friends. Also, I have strong faith so I know that’s a significant part of why I’m doing so well with widowhood and getting back into life. I hope that helps, Donna.

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