When I started writing in a journal at the age of eleven, I knew instinctively that something had clicked into place. Some odd, misshapen piece of me that had previously resigned itself to loneliness had found a home. The words once tangled up inside my messy, prepubescent mind were untangled and straightened out into sentences. Paragraphs. Pages. Writing became my thing. The thing. The singular skill that would offer me solace and a place to make sense of the world while, simultaneously, allowing me to have a voice, no matter how quiet.
In some ways, writing has become my identity. And, as a teenager, having an identity in something beyond myself kept me from going down the path of least resistance. It kept me sane. My journals were extensions of my body, the parts that told my story in a way the rest of me could hold onto without feeling like the weight was too heavy. Notebooks got filled and pages got covered. And I was able to breathe again. Not much has changed in that regard.
When I look at my daughter, who just turned one, I often imagine the shape of her nose at age thirteen. The color of her now-flaxen hair at the age of sixteen. The sound of her voice at age seventeen. More often than not, though, I wonder about the state of her mind when the world is large and looming and she feels tiny, yet somehow invincible, in its shadow. Will she have a place where she can be authentic? And, if so, who or what will she trust with that part of herself? First, my hope is that she will. And, second, my hope is that she'll find her trust is well-earned. We all need that. Without it, we cannot survive. Without a safe space to just be, we break away and atrophy, hardly realizing what has happened until we can't even recognize what authenticity looks like anymore.
For me, telling stories has been the way I connect the dots between who I was, who I am, and who I will be. It's the way I say "I love you" and "I'm sorry" and "You matter." Writing things down can take its toll on a person, but it's kind of like working out: At first, it hurts and exhausts. But then it strengthens. Lightens the load. And despite the pain I know is coming, I look forward to it again and again. Day after day. Year after year. Eventually, I look in the mirror and actually like what I see. Before I know it, strangers, and even enemies, become friends. Because I when I recognize the value in what I have to offer the world, I can recognize it in you, too.
Why does sharing our stories matter? Because from them we build communities. We create connections. We look at each other instead of at the ground. And we finally learn to see the things in people that we see in ourselves. Losses. Victories. Lives.
A story shared can release even the tightest grip on pride. It can heal the deepest, ugliest wound. It can lower the pointed finger and open arms wide. This is the kind of world I hope to give my daughter. This is the kind of authenticity I want her to see. She's going to need it, just like I did. And it will make all the difference.
Almost three years ago, I met a woman who was pregnant and felt incredibly shamed for it. Some of the shame she experienced came from others. Some of it came from within. But her willingness to be transparent shined a glorious light on the darker places in my heart, the ones I thought could never be exposed or they would certainly lead to ruin. The veil had been lifted and there was no going back. There we were: two women who, from the outside, looked very different. But who, on the inside, were very much the same. Fast forward three years and this woman is one of my closest friends, all because she chose authenticity when she could have easily chosen to hide. And, in so doing, she helped me find a way to look at the ugly parts of myself and see beauty inside of them. Her story didn't give me any light that wasn't already there, but it certainly turned up the wattage.
If there's something you want to say, say it. Say it with truth. Say it with kindness. But say it boldly. Someone else is out there waiting to read your words, to hear your story. Someone who doesn't know how to use her voice yet.
Speak up and show her it's worth using.