There’s a time to live the story. Then there’s a time to tell the story. But, even as you’re living the story, you must keep writing. All you might be able to do is fill journal pages with jagged, oversized script that describes dark fears and overflowing emotions. Perhaps you’ll only scribble a few disjointed thoughts on the back of your ragged checkbook as you wait for the bank teller. It might be a sentence scrawled in fuchsia crayon as your toddler works on her latest masterpiece.
There are fleeting, furious, broken, fabulous ideas that need to freed from your head, but not lost in the ethers. It's likely that they won't make much sense, but they are essential to the practice of living your life as it happens to you.
These notes to self will be tiny epiphanies scattered like beads from a broken necklace. This is not the time to string them together. It is not yet time for sense-making. This is the time for seeing and experiencing, for picking up each bead as it falls and sticking it to the private page with the ink of your favorite pen.
This is the time for shitty first drafts. For self-focused first drafts in which every sentence begins with “I.” This is the time for self-care first drafts that open up just enough space in your brain for the light to get in.
Well-crafted stories need plenty of space
Right now, my heart and brain are so full that I cannot find the space to tell stories. You need a heck of a lot of free headspace to craft a meaningful story, after all.
A long stretch of interior mental hallway in which you can lay out all the pieces of story from beginning to end is best. There must be room to manipulate the ideas, to change the order, to stretch certain moments into long, important paragraphs because sometimes entire chapters are lived in a collection of seconds.
And, you need access to closets where you can shelve the bits of the story that are not fit for public consumption. Some of those are intimacies that belong in section marked “Private: just for me and those who have earned the right hear them.”
Another closet is marked “Process.” These are the personal memories that were necessary to your own becoming but aren't of much interest to a reader. Do remember, they have their own lives to live and the time they give your story is precious! Part of being a masterful storyteller is choosing what to share and what to hold in reserve.
Sometime you need to make space for yourself before you can tell the story
The dramas that are cluttering my own everyday reality… they’re hard and they’re intimate. This is the walk through the shadows that eventually makes the lights burn even brighter. Right now, however, it feels an awful lot like being lost in the dark, but it’s all going to be OK. As my dear friend, relationship therapist Rebecca Wong, reminds me: the only way to truly find yourself is to go get lost and find your way back. Gratefully, I can say that my husband and my kids and I are all holding hands and we’re not going to lose each other in any of this.
Close friends, my mentor, and the members of my healing community know all the details. They hold space for me while describe I all of the pain and outrage and confusion. These conversations are slowly helping me reclaim the space in my head so, in time, I can lay out all the details and the feelings in a clear mental hallway and make a story out of them.
But even for me, a practiced writer who has trained herself to live the story and then write and publish it quickly and efficiently, it’s hard to jump the gap between “life is too real and I’m too full of private emotion to tell any stories at all” and putting something on the public page.
All of us in the transformation and vulnerability business, those of us who create a healing space and keep safe the stories of others… We all need the time and space and support to live our stories, to sort through them, and tell them when the time is right.
The Practice of Being Seen
This need to support the storykeepers is one of the reasons that the phenomenal Rebecca Wong and I created the online community called The Practice of Being Seen for therapists.
Professionals who hold space for vulnerability and transformation need their own place to be vulnerable and they need their own tribe that supports their transformation. The Practice of Being Seen is a safe space for mental health clinicians to unpack and sort through their stories and discover how they shape their practice, their marketing, and their relationships.
I talk about the clear interior hallway you need to put together a compelling story… This community is like a shared extension of that place of truth and clarity. Our community serves as the passageway between the personal experiences and the public telling.
We welcome new members to this group four times a year and the door will be open for just a few more days. If you’re a clinician who is ready to look deeply at yourself and your stories and discover what “being seen” means to you as an individual and as a professional, we invite you to apply now.
(The official deadline is tomorrow, September 15, but we'll extend if to Tuesday, September 20 if you tell us you learned about TPOBS from this post!)