It was my own struggle with the pain from my childhood—followed by my decision to write and share my story—that made me understand the life-changing power of personal narrative.
I’d tried to write Hippie Boy for more than a decade. But the emotions bottled inside me were so painful that I cried every time I opened my computer to write and decided it was easier just to keep the hurt safely tucked away. Then, in late January 2004, I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, an incurable blinding eye disease. In my quest to save my vision, I sought treatment from a doctor in San Francisco who focuses on whole body health. He kicked off my appointment by asking me to tell him about my childhood. Within minutes, I was sobbing. That’s when he said two life-changing things to me.
He said, “Do you realize that you are carrying a huge negative energy charge inside of you over something that has happened more than twenty years ago and you’re still giving your former stepdad and those circumstances your power?”
The idea that I was still letting my ex-stepfather take my power and voice all these years later was troubling. But that was nothing compared to the doctor’s next words. He said, “If you don’t think that carrying this inside of you is impacting your physical health, you’re crazy.”
The doctor then told me about a groundbreaking study that had been done called ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences), which documents a direct correlation between emotional trauma in adolescence and disease in adults. He also talked about epigenetics — environmental factors such as emotional trauma and stress which turn on genes that trigger disease.
When it hit me that holding onto the anguish from all those years ago could actually be causing me to go blind, it was a huge wake up call. It was hard, but I finally sat down and wrote my story and by the time I was done, I had found my voice and power around it and was no longer a victim of my past. Then I began sharing my story with the world and experienced the next level of healing that comes from connecting with others and realizing we are not alone in our struggles.
In 2012, I began using my story as a guide to help struggling teens find healing and empowerment by writing the deeply personal stories they needed to tell. And I’ve never looked back.
Since then, I I have helped nearly 2,000 students of every age experience the life-changing power of personal narrative. I’ve taught my healing through writing program in high schools in both Washington State and Utah and have captured students’ stories in seven teen anthologies. I’ve taught educators through both online and in-person workshops and have held storytelling workshops for organizations such as GenPride, which provides programming and resources to those aging in the LGBTQ community. I also teach ongoing workshops through Hugo House, a Seattle-based literary organization and provide individual memoir coaching.
I love arming people with the story structure techniques and narrative writing tools they need to bring their story to life. But it’s the healing power of personal storytelling that drives me to do this work. It’s our stories that humanize us, connect us and unite us. And it’s our stories that foster the awareness, understanding and empathy that leads to change.
Despite doing everything in my power to save my eyesight, I recently lost my ability to see. I’m now on a quest to restore my vision but in the meantime, I plan to put the power of personal storytelling to work by sharing my journey with my eyesight struggles as far and wide as possible. I’m determined to use my story to raise awareness about the harmful societal prejudices heaped on people struggling with challenges that have been shoved under the disabilities label. We all struggle with something in our lives and what we need is to pull together and help each other—not separate and isolate—which only exacerbates that pain. Along the way, I also want to use my journey to inspire others struggling with adversity to flip it on it’s head and channel it into something powerful. (Listen to my Harnessing Adversity talk here).
I hope you will join me in unleashing the healing power of personal storytelling. Together, we can make the world a better place.