This past year, I spent a huge portion of my time each week writing my first memoir. That meant that I looked at and examined my own life from all angles and perspectives for hours each day. It was like immersing myself in intensive therapy. I learned a lot about myself and I uncovered truths about my childhood that were both tough to acknowledge and hard to sit with. While some of those realizations were difficult for me to accept as truth, they were equally helpful at helping me understand my own story. It was both healing and heart-wrenching, both eye-opening and painful to see.
I’ll admit there are things in this book that I wish weren’t about to be made public to the entire world. It’s not easy to expose your most painful moments to anyone and everyone that wants to read them. But I am also aware that had I chosen not to include some of those vulnerable details, the story would not be as relatable, nor as powerful. I believe that it is when we are vulnerable, raw, and open about who we are, the mistakes that we’ve made, and the pain we’ve experienced that we not only find our own freedom, but we liberate others to find theirs as well.
This belief was ignited from a defining moment I had as I neared the end of writing my manuscript. I was reading through a particular section and thinking to myself, “Gee, I sure wish I didn’t have to include this in the book.” Then it dawned on me: I didn’t want to include this in the book because I still felt as an adult the same shame it caused me to feel as a young child. And there I was, back at the issue of shame. Again.
But then I realized, I had a choice: I could move forward and continue to feel shame over this piece of my story or I could own it. So I said to myself, “Heck, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to go all the way.” Scavenging through old photo albums, I chose several pictures that illustrated this piece of my story, and copy and pasted them into the folder of photos to be included in the manuscript.
Over the following weeks as I thought about the situation, the idea of owning my story began to resonate deeper and deeper inside me. Those pictures I chose to include are ones that I’ve always hated to look at myself, much less show to another person. But now, choosing to include them in the book as evidence of my story made me feel a sense of power and authority over a part of my life that previously, had always made me feel weak. It was my way of looking it in the face and deciding that it wasn’t going to own me or cause me to feel shame any longer. Instead, I was going to own it.
I’ll be the first to admit this transformation doesn’t happen overnight. In moments of uncertainty I’d find myself in a state of panic, wanting to delete entire sections of the manuscript to hide away all my weaknesses and failures where no one could see. “Surely the whole world doesn’t really need to know about all this, right?” I’d try to convince myself.
Wrong. Deep inside I knew that people needed to see all sides of me in order to both know that I am human and to raise awareness for issues that people may not otherwise confront or understand. But vulnerability is hard. When the years you’ve felt shame over something far surpass the number of years that you have not felt shame over it, admittedly, it’s going to take some time and practice to fully let go. But once I decided to take that plunge into the sea of vulnerability, a sense of pride rose up alongside my fear, and gave me the confidence I needed in the road that lies ahead as I intentionally own my own story a little more each day.
I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I continue to marinate over this idea at the same time that my book group and I press on in our study of Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. So much of her work focuses on discovering our own worthiness through owning our stories and letting go of shame. So it was no surprise when I typed “own your story” into my Google search engine, that a list of quotes by Brené Brown came up. Here are a few I’d like to share with you. Perhaps you will join me in meditating on them throughout the week:
-“When we own our own stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in the stories someone else is telling.” -Brené Brown, Rising Strong
-“You either walk inside your story and own it, or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” -Brené Brown
-“When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending.” -Brené Brown
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hustling for my worthiness. I’m tired of trying to convince myself that I belong. I want to be brave in owning my story, I want know deep in my being that I belong, I want to choose what defines me, and I want to love myself for all the beautiful and unique imperfections I possess. I hope you will join me in this journey.
Because we are all beautifully imperfect, Amber