Honoring Your Stories

Gossip and stories

Sharing stories

My wise friend, the late Musetta Giles, had a business card saying “If we can’t hear each other’s stories, nothing can save us.” Someone I barely knew once asked me “What is your story?” then went on to say “Everyone has a story, and that is what makes them who they are. That’s why I like hearing people’s stories.”
Today I hear these stories as part of my job. Hopefully my clients benefit as much from the telling as I do from the hearing.
Though the counseling profession involves a certain amount of diagnostic work, it is critical to see each client as an individual, not a diagnosis. Hence, the stories.
What have I learned from this so far?
The further back the story, the deeper the pain. Research has shown that the most severe trauma reactions are the result of abuse, neglect or other trauma before the age of 2 or 3. That is when a child is deciding whether the world is a safe place. My internship involved working with adopted children who had attachment issues. This is when it became clear to me that it is actually more important at what age a person experienced trauma, than the extent or seriousness of the trauma.
Though stories may follow patterns, all are different, unique. People don’t fit well in pre-ordained categories. Thank goodness. The variety and richness of these stories is also the beauty.
Telling your story (or hearing someone else’s) can help make sense of a chaotic past. Memories may take on a totally different meaning based on their context, i.e. the story. Listeners learn not only about the person, but their family, friends, and larger culture. For both teller and listener, it’s a history lesson in miniature.

Childhood Memories

Childhood Memories
When I think of my own childhood, many things come to mind: the tree branches I used to see outside my window on summer mornings, making baskets from cockleburs, bedtime stories from my father, the fireplace that was in my parents’ bedroom. There was a staircase that curved at the bottom, a huge kitchen, and cats. Always cats.

We had a tree house that was only a platform, and one day it collapsed under my sister and her best friend. The house was heated with a coal furnace, meaning the winter nights got awfully cold. I got sick on a couple of vacations, and on one our car was broken into. Police came to our house one night after my next older brother was harassed and run off the road by a motorcyclist.

As you can see, some of these memories are good, some not so much…and of course many fall Childhood memories and traumasomewhere in between. But there are plenty of memories.

Most of us have the good fortune to be in relatively good possession of our own history. If attempts at recalling your own childhood come up empty, it is possible you were traumatized in such a way that your own mind blanked it out. Repressed it. Because it was too much to handle at the time it occurred. Your body, however, does not forget.

I am not suggesting that every time you forget a detail from your childhood, there is a problem. The red flag would be if, for example, you can’t recall a single thing from your second and third grade years. Nada. Not where you lived, who your best friend was, nothing. Unless someone fills you in. But not from your own memory. That’s a clue that something scary may have occurred during that time.

If you start having strange dreams, or unusual reactions to otherwise innocuous occurrences, like for example you jump every time you hear a horn honk anywhere, or you flinch every time someone runs in your direction, or any of a host of other unexplainable reactions…do not discount it. Work toward accepting that whatever happened to you, happened. And realize that if this gets in the way of your day-to-day life it could be time to seek help.

None of this is your fault; it’s just reality.

Here is the good news: Once you begin to recall and deal with the uglier parts of your past, energy will be freed up and you can be in better control of your present life.