Healing Through Storytelling

“In the end, we all become stories.” – Margaret Atwood

A good story sticks with you. A character you root for. A setting you find familiar. The story is the vehicle for the lesson shared.

The learned lesson imprints on my mind and soul when it occurs from a story. A cautionary tale which warns of the devastating effects of risky behavior or the how-to directions to decipher through a family recipe passed down through generations are meant to teach us something about ourselves. Whether through someone’s pain or triumph, the lesson remains with me because of the story.  

Whether it’s standstill traffic pissing them off or the agony of loss, as a therapist the story is my glimpse into their experience, their perspective. The lens of perspective is tinted with the individual’s identity, and it is that identity which shapes how they interrupt the world around them. Perspective is key in understanding.

Therapy is essentially three parts. Listening, Validating and Trusting.

Listening is just that, shutting our mouths and opening our ears. Listening to understand is empathizing with one’s perspective or position. Remaining present with the storyteller and holding the space for them to share important details is the active part of listening. It’s not difficult to spot the difference between waiting to speak and active, compassionate listening.

We all need to have our experiences validated. Validation does not require someone co-signing all our life’s decisions. It does allow for acceptance of our purpose. Contentment is finding peace and purpose in our day. That’s it. We all want to know our experience matters and to find a way to rest with solace at the end of the day.

Entrusting our stories and experiences to someone else is a sharing of ethical responsibility. When a person takes advantage of this human exchange, there is an immediate void in the experience. The storytelling then becomes a source of pain and doubt. Trust separates healers from predators.

I do not meet people on their finest day. Most people do not seek help from therapy when life is sunshine and rainbows 24/7. Most people come in hot with their hair on fire seeking answers to extinguish the flames.

Once a person travels the distance to find a therapist, schedule the appointment and then show up to the session they hope to find some relief by unloading the charred baggage at the feet of the authority on peace (who does not exist).

There is no answer waiting to be uncovered or classified document given out to therapists upon graduating therapy school (which also does not exist).

The story is not complete. The next chapter is waiting to be written.

Trust that if you are still smoldering from the fire, your story is not complete.

Trust in the healing of being the storyteller.  

You came in hot and showed up on fire. Your freedom lies in the ashes that remain and the story you create.

When we risk vulnerability and tell our stories, we allow others to learn from and find hope in our experience. We are not defined by a single chapter or event in our story. We are the entire book.

One person’s struggle is not uniquely theirs. Struggle is universal. I don’t have to be you to relate to your struggle. We can find a common ground built on empathy and learn from each other.

I’ve worked with folks from different countries who spoke different languages and yet still we found a place of understanding and healing.

A young, single father let me in his home to listen to his story after being misunderstood most of his life. His story read very differently on paper than it did when I heard it on his living room couch. Since I listened to understand this man who is the expert on his own life, I was able to share lessons I learned to empower him to express himself and communicate his family’s needs. He finished his own chapter as the hero because we both were willing to be vulnerable and learn.

I met a woman who’s story looked familiar from ones I’d seen before. A story which consisted of selling her body to support her addiction. However, when I listened rather than sent her own her way, I learned she wasn’t selling anything. She was the victim who couldn’t find the words to ask for help. I even used storytelling to give her the words she didn’t have to help her find safety and write a new chapter on her own terms.

As a collector of stories, I listen and learn from each person I’ve seen and share these lessons to help the next person. My grandmother, who as a girl walked to school in the snow uphill both ways while dodging a bull in the field, continuously told us that story as we were growing up to define the struggle of actually getting to school. She was very animated when telling about how her father, my great-grandfather would use a pitchfork to keep the bull at bay while her and her siblings would cross the field to get to school each day. She typically pulled this story out when my brother or I would complain about school. She had to fight to go to school and we merely had the privilege of complaining about it. My grandmother went on to graduate from nursing school which was not a typical story at that time. I hold on to her diploma as one of my treasures because her struggle laid the path for me to finish graduate school.

Therapy works best when the storyteller is brave enough to go the distance, learn the lessons and continue their story. A good therapist will not tell you what to do. A good therapist will set the table and allow you to pick your seat and invite the rest of the guests and even plan the menu. They may guide you and make suggestions on the appetizers or wine choice, but you are the expert on your story and your life.

You are the guru at the top of your mountain.

You are the extinguisher for your fire.

You are the freedom in the ashes that remain.

And if the story isn’t going the way you want, there’s nothing like a good plot twist…

Be Your Own Advocate

I am not a fan of pink – I’m just not.

I do not like being put in a color box because I am a woman and pink is feminine. Pink is a color – not an identity. However, this month, October I love pink. Pink signifies survival. My mother is a brave breast cancer survivor. My grandmother was also a brave breast cancer survivor. My cousin who beat breast cancer, but was taken from us after cancer returned in her brain. So many friends and family members that I could make an entire post filled with their names, who have bravely fought the battle with breast cancer. Women who make me proud to wear pink. Women who gave me the strength and knowledge of how to not only trust science and medicine, but to ask questions and advocate for myself.

I do not have breast cancer, and for that I am grateful. I know I do not have breast cancer because:

✅I follow the recommendations of medical professionals.

✅I perform self-examinations.

✅I get a mammogram every year.

At 37, I asked my primary care doctor for a referral for a mammogram. The year before, the recommended age to begin mammograms was pushed from age 35 to 40. When she looked at my family history, she gladly made the referral – but only because I asked and I have received a mammogram every year since.

My first mammogram showed ‘dense breast tissue’ which could be difficult to detect masses with a mammogram alone. Though, each year, my mammogram came back ‘clean’ with no concerns.

Until this year…

I read “There is an isodense, oval mass measuring 14mm with obscured margins seen in the posterior one-third upper outer region of the right breast” from the MyChart app while I soaked in the tub after my daughters’ swim meet.

I froze – I was terrified. A mass in my breast.

It was a Monday night and I had no other information, with the exception of what WebMD had to say. I didn’t know what this meant, so I messaged my doctor on the app. Then, I read the report to my husband and we sat silently while we processed what this could mean. And of course, I did all the things I tell people not to do. I hopped in my time machine and traveled into the fearful future I made up in my head and began planning for what may come – not a helpful practice.

The next morning, I called the office where I had my mammogram and scheduled a “diagnostic mammogram and targeted ultrasound”, as recommended in the report I read on MyChart app, to get more information on what was going on inside my boob. In the meantime, my doctor messaged me back encouraging me ‘not to worry until we have something to worry about.’ That was Tuesday morning. The “diagnostic mammogram and targeted ultrasound” were scheduled the FOLLOWING Friday morning – 10 days away.

I told a couple of close friends, but kept this to myself. I didn’t want worry anyone else until I had to.

Honorable, right? WRONG!

My problems, my fears, my issues and my struggles are worth the worry of others. I did not have to go through that alone and each time I shared my fears with someone I trusted, I felt better – lighter and better able to function in the midst of the torturous holding pattern of waiting for more results.

After the diagnostic mammogram and targeted ultrasound, the radiologist explained there was not only one but two masses in my right breast and the recommendation was to biopsy both of them. I was a fan of this plan, because if there is something in there, I wanted to know what it is. I asked the radiologist how they found the second mass. He said the ultrasound is more sensitive than the mammogram and is able to pick up masses a mammogram misses.

My next question was ‘then why aren’t we doing an ultrasound on my left breast to make sure the mammogram didn’t miss anything there?’ He agreed and said if I waited while they contacted my doctor for an order, they would do the ultrasound right then. And guess what…there were two small masses in my left breast as well. These were much smaller and did not indicate any concern, however, they are there and now we know they are there – because I asked.

I was then scheduled for an ultrasound biopsy the following Tuesday – 4 days later – on both masses in my right breast. It didn’t feel great, but it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever felt either. There was a lot of pressure, but the doctor and the nurses were wonderful in explaining every step and checking in with me along the way. They realized, they do this every day, but I do not and they treated me as such which I am grateful for.

I had bruising, bandages and swelling, but I’ve also had bug bites that have caused about as much discomfort. I felt empowered to take action to know what was going on with my body. The action fought against the fear of the unknown. The practice of mindfulness was extremely helpful to my mental health during this time. Mindfulness stopped me from time traveling down a path that I may never walk.

About 24 hours later, as I was getting seven inches of my hair chopped off at the salon, the doctor called me with the results and she led with ‘Stephanie, I have good news!’ From there, I heard very little other than the word ‘benign.’ She told me I didn’t need to do anything else for follow-up unless I had issues with the incisions. Sweet relief rolled over me!

Even in that celebratory moment, I remembered a note from the initial mammogram report which indicated I was now at an “increased lifetime risk for breast cancer” and an annual MRI was appropriate for additional screening. I asked her about the note, and she said I would be eligible and my doctor could order it no problem. Again, I asked the question to get the answer.

I am grateful for medicine and for medical professionals – more so than I have ever been. They have so much to juggle, monitor and prioritize without working from home or calling in sick. Medical professionals are our partners in taking care of health and it is our obligation to ask questions and participate in our medical care.

I share my story today, because I was terrified when I got these results. I read words I didn’t understand and I was intimidated to ask questions, but my medical professions held space for me and even encouraged me to do so. I wasn’t made to feel inferior or stupid for asking, nor did they make me feel like I was bothering them. And when I asked questions, I got more answers – it’s that simple.

I advocate for people for a living. I consider myself outspoken. And still…I struggled to ask the questions to make sense of what was going on in my body.

Ask the questions. Find doctors and nurses and therapists and facilities who encourage you to do so because it is your body and your health and you have an obligation to yourself and those who love you to take care of you!

Your concerns, your fears, your issues and your problems are worthy of the worry of others.  

✨Ask the questions

✨Share your story

✨Reach out for support

(Spoiler Alert – YOU ARE NOT ALONE!)

What Promise Will You Keep to You?

Recently I made a promise to myself, which I have done time and time again. In the past, I’ve promised to eat better. To read more. To write more. To stop cussing. To exercise more. I even promised to stop hitting snooze. Well, I still love to eat ice cream, I’m sore each time I exercise, I cuss like a sailor and hit snooze 4 out of 5 days a week.

However, if I promise my daughters or my husband or my mother I will do something, I will break my leg before I break my word to them. I am uncomfortable disappointing other people.

I decided I am tired of breaking my word to myself. I deserve the benefit of keeping my promises. I promised to stop disappointing me.

I am a therapist. I know the benefits of self-care. I preach the benefits of self-care (please refer to ANY one of my posts).
When feeling overwhelmed the last few weeks with quarantine, working from home, working in isolation at the office, debating the benefits of in-person-vs-home school and how to keep my sanity, I realized I was not practicing what I preached and reached out for some help.

I did not find the key to happiness, a secret code or a magic pill, but I did find some peace. I began practicing daily meditation to take better care of myself.
I know the research to support the benefits of meditation – I quote them daily to my clients. I did not need a reason to believe this would benefit me. I only needed to promise not to disappointment myself by making me a priority.

While I would love a weekly trip to the spa for a day full of pampering, that is not in the cards for this working momma. What I can commit to is 6-10 minutes per day where I am present in my life (sounds hippy-dippy right? bare with me).

When I am present, I am not time traveling back to the laundry list of shit I didn’t get finished yesterday and I am not jumping into what waits for me tomorrow. I am only focused on how my feet feel in this very moment. What I found was a peaceful heart, a still mind and a grateful human. I found me – not employee, not mother, not wife, not daughter, not friend, feminist, therapist, writer – just me in a moment that I can be proud of. My soul needed that and I look forward to it everyday.

I do not sit with my legs crossed while I empty my mind. I may have to fight for those tiny minutes to find the balance I crave, but I made a promise to myself and am no longer willing to break promises to me. I carve out my 6-10 minutes EVERY. SINGLE. DAY and it saves my life every single time I do because I am worth not disappointing.
What promise will you keep to yourself? 👑🧡

Stay tuned for more on what meditations I love and how I carve out 6-10 minutes in my day.

Six-Minute Self-Care for Anywhere

This is your official reset button!

Use one or all of these when your day is overwhelming or you are confused on your path forward.
You have the right to start your day over at any moment (again and again).

You are worth your own grace and time.

I Do Not Belong

I’ve spent far too much time finding ways to belong. Removing pieces. Adding pieces. Changing bits and pieces of me for the comfort of fitting into something. This, I’ve found is not belonging. That person fitting in is no longer me.

I belong among the wildflowers. -Tom Petty

You are only free when you realize you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.
-Dr. Maya Angelou

For a spiritual awakening pick up Women Who Run with the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

So how’s it going, friends?!?

Are you holding on by the thinnest of thread repeating, “nothing to see here – everything is FINE”?

If you remember from previous posts, I’m Not Fine and Neither Are You!
Which also means, even if you feel alone, you are not!
I am WITH you and I am here FOR you!

I share a lot of my shenanigans with you and wondering… what speaks the loudest to you?
What do you relate to?
What do you want more of?

Send me your thoughts! Please!
I want to hear from YOU!
If you want to chat individually, let me know!

Your feedback means so much to me!
Grateful for you all! 👑🧡

What’s in your cup?

I love this analogy!

You are holding a cup of coffee when someone comes along and bumps into you or shakes your arm, making you spill your coffee everywhere.

Why did you spill the coffee?

“Because someone bumped into me!!!”

Wrong answer.

You spilled the coffee because there was coffee in your cup.

Had there been tea in the cup, you would have spilled tea.

Whatever is inside the cup is what will spill out.

Therefore, when life comes along and shakes you (which WILL happen), whatever is inside you will come out. It’s easy to fake it, until you get rattled.

So we have to ask ourselves… “what’s in my cup?”

When life gets tough, what spills over?

Joy, gratefulness, peace and humility?

Anger, bitterness, harsh words and reactions?

Life provides the cup, YOU choose how to fill it.

Today let’s work towards filling our cups with gratitude, forgiveness, joy, words of affirmation; and kindness, gentleness and love for others.

(Shared from Heart of a Lioness)

Light Up the Darkness

Do you feel angry?
Are you afraid?
Is hope hard to come by?
Daily life brings triggers that send us into panic and before we know it we are overwhelmed and out of control.
I struggle when there are too many avenues to travel.
Multiple choice exams are my enemy!
Is “B” more correct than “A”?
Well, “C” is “A and B” so that makes the most sense, right?
When I spiral into the out of control tunnel of darkness and despair, to find my way out and back into the light I make just one decision and go with it. Only one.
The choice is not the end-all-be-all-absolute-solution. The choice is step one. Each individual choice I make, my options and path become more clear.
I fight fear with choice. I may not like the choices I am given, but choices they remain.
Where will you choose to start the week?
Light up the darkness with step one. 👑🧡

Anger or Grief?

I find comfort in my anger.
I have been known to hang on to grudges like tiny little birds. I keep them safely tucked away in their cages preventing the process of acceptance from occurring and letting go of what hurt me.
I have kept score of hurts I felt and ones I caused like it was my job – striving for balance between the two accounts.
There was a time I felt it was my right to hold on tight to these grudges and a sign of strength on my part because I was not going to be taken advantage of.
This time was not long ago in a place far way. The not-so-distant past has a way of tricking us of when it actually took place.
My grudges and my anger kept me warm in my comfort zone, blocking out the light needed for growth and change.
Anger is much easier to feel than grief.
Anger lets me rage outside of myself searching for an external answer.
Grief involves pain and loss and sadness which all direct my attention inward.
Have you ever looked in the mirror after an ugly cry?
It’s not my favorite sight.
Recently, my Bitter-Betty side has been showing herself more often. (No offense to any Bettys out there – I actually love the name but it does go well with Bitter)
I have been angry about everything, literally EVERYTHING!
My grudges were growing exponentially by the day and it was just too much to keep up with. Red-truck-guy cutting me off only to slow down and turn left directly in front me was where I threw my hands up in defeat.
Red-truck-guy was only doing what red-truck guy does. He had no malicious intent toward me. He just needed to turn left as I have needed to do on a daily basis.
Life just happened on life’s terms and I had a choice to accept it or not.
When I turned my attention around to face myself in the mirror, I recognized grief instead of anger.
My grudges had grown because my world had been thrown on its ass. My regular life was now filled with empty calendars and anxiety of the unknown.
I have been walking around using the very phrase I swore off of, knowing damn good and well I AM NOT FINE!
I am grieving over my regular life. I miss hugs from my family and dinner with my friends. I am sad for the thousand of lives lost and level of hate I witness daily on the news. I am scared for my children and what life will look like as I try to raise decent human beings in this new world.
When I tear back the anger, I find grief and grief is no one’s fault. Grief is a reaction to life on life’s terms.
So I am going to do my best to stop keeping score, be honest enough to hold myself accountable and let people turn left when they need to because at some point I will too.

What Makes You Strange

Strange is someone else’s perception.
Strange is unique, uncanny, different, special, unfamiliar and distinctive.
Strange stands out in a crowd.
Strange is your you-ness in all its glory.
You must be vulnerable to be strange and when you find that courage, don’t ever let it go.
Your strange is your strength and that is worth a thousand celebrations.
This is not a lesson I learned over night and not a way of life I don’t have to practice on a daily basis. Finding comfort in my own skin, took years of trying on different looks to figure out it was my look that fit just right all along.
My story is strange.
My look is strange.
My way of seeing the world is strange.
As a young girl and even as a young woman, I just wanted to be “normal”, like everyone else. I feel sad for that girl and young woman. I know how hard that was trying so hard to figure out a place to fit. An impossible task that would never work.
You can spot me in a group at 1,000 paces. My hair and my laugh are bright and bold.
Out with some girlfriends one night in a crowded restaurant, a friend joining late found us quickly without calling. When we asked how, her response was she only had to listen for my laugh.There was a time I may have shied away from that, but I was able to nod my head acknowledging that truth.
My story has trauma, sadness, beautiful love and incidents I am not proud of. I cannot own pieces of that story. The entire story is what makes me, me and what makes me strange.
What makes you strange?