I have a confession: as a writer, I get a little sick of the word “share”. We use it all the time, after all – we’re always encouraging family members to share their stories. It’s right there in our Threads of Life values! It’s also core to our programs – family members share their stories when they’re paired with a volunteer family guide; they’re encouraged to share experiences at family forums, and there’s always an opportunity for personal sharing during our FamiliesConnect workshops.
But why does Threads of Life think sharing your story is so important?
Solitude is great (ask an introvert!) but people are built for community. In their book “Opening Up by Writing it Down”, doctors James Pennebaker and Joshua Smyth write about the health benefits of disclosing trauma and other personal experiences, whether verbally or in writing.
“Talking about a trauma is a natural human response,” they write. “When this need to disclose is blocked or inhibited, stress and illness result.”
By contrast, there’s lots of research showing the benefits to health and mental wellbeing, from sharing personal experiences. These include real concrete improvements like reduced blood pressure and reduced doctor visits. One specialist in traumatic bereavement, Maureen Pollard with GriefStories.org, notes that writing about grief and trauma can improve mood, improve working memory, and reduce intrusive thoughts and avoidance symptoms.
Many people find comfort in keeping a journal, and there are benefits to simply writing, getting your feelings and thoughts down on paper. But when you actually share that with someone else, the benefits increase. Often, people who have experienced grief and trauma need to tell and re-tell that story, in order to reconstruct the narrative of who they are – that process is critical to the healing journey. But sometimes family and close friends get tired of hearing that story, or you feel you need to protect them, so you’re reluctant to share your experience. As Karyn Arnold at Grief in Common says, that’s where finding our peers becomes important:
“In loss, it’s about finding those with whom we have our grief in common. It’s about finding those who will listen to our grief story and show us that we’re not alone. We’re not ‘crazy’. This loss happened and every day we’re trying to figure out how to process it. Sharing our story can help.”
Fortunately, Threads of Life provides that ready-made, understanding peer group. In addition to the programs which encourage verbal sharing, there are opportunities to write for our newsletter and blog. You’ll find an empathetic readership – people who truly “get it” and have been through a similar experience. In addition, you can be assured that you’re helping someone else who reads your words, know that they too are not alone.
We’ll be digging more into the benefits of writing and sharing your story, and some practical tips on how to do it, during our FamiliesConnect workshop on September 21. We’re going to talk a little about how and why this works to help you heal. And we’ll think about what to include and where to start, whether you’re writing the whole story of your workplace tragedy, or a short reflection on your experience. Register for the workshop here.
When I look up the definition of “share” in my dictionary, I find “give away part of; benefit from or possess or use or endure jointly with others…” So it turns out “share” is a tiny, perfect word full of meaning. Writing or telling your story to others is a chance to give away some of that pain and grief, and to endure it jointly with others – an ideal description of what Threads of Life is all about.