The Greatest Risk.

By Roxanne StoneJune 17, 2013

“You are so brave for sharing your story.”

The words are there, on every blog. You just have to search a little, scroll through the comments, and you’ll see them: the gratitude for a story shared, the praise for the blogger’s willing vulnerability. And to see the words there amidst the other comments—the brutal critiques; the personal insults; the moralizing and demonizing—you have to agree. It is brave. To open yourself and your story up to such scrutiny, to the anonymous attacks of whatever troll might come along. Such gutsy authenticity is risky.

But it isn’t the greatest risk.

I work in publishing, so I know something about what it means to tell a story, to help someone process their experiences and put them into words—words that will heal, words that will help other people—maybe many other people. I spend my days online and in books, knee-deep in the power of the shared and written word. I believe in it. And not just as an abstract.

The last two years have been rough. Really rough. The hardest ones yet. There were moments that nearly destroyed me. At night, on my own and in my pain, I often found solace in other’s words. I read blogs, books, stories, comments. I sought connection with their experiences, the knowledge that someone else had been there and survived.

I will always write. I will always read. Yet, in the end, it wasn’t the blinking screen or the paper and ink stories that I will most remember about these past few years. What I will remember—what saved me, transformed me, and got me through—were the hours on my couch with friends, the countless coffee dates, the hugs and smiles, the prayers and tears.

Not that such conversations were always beautiful. Sometimes I got blank stares, sometimes clichéd responses. A few friends stopped calling after a while. Fledgling friendships crumbled under the weight of my pain. There were others who simply couldn’t go there with me—or who gave up long before I didn’t need them anymore. I had one friend straight up tell me he didn’t care about my healing journey—only about the mistakes I’d made. It hurt. It still hurts.

And that’s the thing about embodied vulnerability—about in-the-flesh authenticity—it’s risky. Believe me, I get it. I get how hard it is to look a friend in the face and give voice to your shame, to your secrets, to your deep fears. They may not understand. They may walk away. They may rant, or yell, or judge you unfairly.  They may never speak to you again. They may slander you.

Or they may hug you. They may take your face in their hands and tell you they love you. They may cry with you. They may ask you all the right questions. They may encourage you to get help. They may crack open and share their own pain because they have just been waiting to know someone else has been there, that someone else understands.

“Authenticity” has become something of a buzzword recently. We talk a lot about the value of vulnerability and honesty. We praise people who are willing to put words to their pain. We recognize the value in making sure honest stories get told, in using them to push past the veil of shame and fear that keeps many hidden. And by all means, let us keep sharing. Let us keep putting our stories out there for the benefit of the many.

But true authenticity isn’t telling your story to the anonymous masses. It’s living it with a few people. Two, or three, or maybe ten. Present, and in person, and with all of the embodied risk and reward honest encounters afford—the risk of personal rejection, of seeing that flash of disappointment in the eyes and on the face of this person whose acceptance means the world to you. The reward of a hug, of a light touch on the hand as you cry through confession … of being truly known by this person whose love means the world to you.

And maybe you do need to share online first. Maybe you need the anonymity of a comment section to process your feelings. Maybe you need the community present in a forum like the one TWLOHA offers—to know other people somewhere in the world resonate with your pain.

Or maybe you’ll choose to share online last—because you feel compelled to get your story out there, hopeful that others might benefit from your lessons learned.

Both of those are fine. They are legitimate outlets offered by a digital age. But your life is not lived online only. You are not anonymous, and your story is not disembodied. It exists in you, and with you, and through you.

You—vulnerable, honest, and present—are a gift to those around you. And it takes courage to offer that gift; it takes true authenticity.

Roxanne Stone is vice president of publishing at Barna Group and the general editor of the FRAMES seriesShe is the former editorial director for RELEVANT and has worked in publishing for more than a decade, serving as an editor at Christianity Today, Group Publishing, Q Ideas and This is Our City. Follow Roxanne on Twitter: @roxyleestone.

Leave a Reply

Comments (15)

  1. Lacey

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Roxanne. It’s just what I needed to read today. I wish you all the best.

    Reply  |  
  2. Elizabeth

    Wow… great blog entry! I haven’t had the courage to tell my friends (I dont have that many either) about my problems and what I am going through (self harm, etc..) I hope that I have the courage to tell them and my family someday.. I hope I get better

    Reply  |  
  3. Cadena

    This is full of truth.
    It is hard to find people that are willing to engage. People want to quick flip through your limited character updates and perfectly posed pictures; it’s sometimes too real to sit down, face to face, and share. We would have to see peoples’ responses, read the judgement in their eyes- in the way they avert their gaze or raise an eyebrow.
    We’ve learned to expect snippets of life instead of the real deal.

    Thanks for sharing

    Reply  |  
  4. Leonie

    After I wrote my story.. It vanished 🙁 so here is a short version..

    It’s really hard to read this story (again).. It makes me cry.. Those raw words, they hit me in the face. “It exists in you, and with you, and through you.” I don’t want to believe my own story. I’m fligthing. But I do talk. I talk with a teacher, with friends, my parents do know (but they call me weak and egoïstic, but they see the things who are happening) I’m afraid of the fear. The fear of starting it all again. I hate to be independent of other people, but I am. It is not safe at home, that’s the reason why.

    My friends hugs me, holding me tight, believe in me. They gives me strength, faith, love and hope. I know they can’t solve my problem, I know I’m hurting them with my story, but they really want me to get better. It’s amazing to have those friends, because one day it will get better and I will wait for that day..

    Reply  |  
  5. Maria Chamorro

    Thanks for sharing, it’s nice to read & know, I’m not alone. God bless.

    Reply  |  
  6. Rissa

    Today is my 20th birthday, and for the first time in 5 years (through depression and self harm) I’ve never felt more happy with myself.

    I was fortunate enough to have had people who accepted me as I was, but there is always the fear of having one person see the same thing and tear me down. The best you can do to survive the fear is reminding yourself that you have people who love you.

    I hope and pray everyone has the chance to share their story with one person, and that story will save them in some way. Then that person will have the courage to tell their story to someone and save them. And from there it will become a ripple of freeing yourself, and offering the gift of freedom to another.

    Thank you for sharing this today, all of you 🙂

    Reply  |  
  7. Anonymous

    This is a great post! I just experiecnced this first hand this weekend. Being open and vulnerable hurts, but in the end it was just what i needed. the acceptance of me as i am despite the sturggles of suicidal thoughts and self harm. the hugs and tears as they cried with me. Your post is perfect and so true!

    Reply  |  
  8. Leina

    Thank you truly for writing this. I have been dealing with the struggle just recently to let some of my friends know what I’m going through. I have been stuck in a deep hole the last couple of days, and some of my friends have been wondering why I’m not answering their calls or texts. I want to tell them and be honest about myself instead of always keeping my mental illness as a buried secret, but I guess I have been so scared to see the outcome of what they will say. This post has will give me the courage I need to finally let others know, “Hey this is me and this is what I have been through.” So once again, thank you so much for sharing this. You have just made my day 🙂

    Reply  |  
  9. Samantha Meo

    This is so true. I’ve shared my story a few times, but not as often as face to face. The last time I did in person, my friend cried. She bawled her eyes out at the pain I’ve experienced and even though she didn’t exactly understand what I’ve been though, those tears spoke volumes. I’m glad to have such an open-minded, accepting, wonderful friend.

    Reply  |  
  10. Bobbie

    40 years of uphill and downhill… trust…PTSD..drinking..walking in my father’s answers from God..I am resigned to reality.I have terminal depression. It will kill way or another..tomorrow or in 40 years..tired of fighting..I pray for all of you…for peace and strength..and grace…

    Reply  |  
  11. Anonymous

    I have shared my story multiple times to friends, coworkers, family. There has been rejection, mostly from those you just can’t understand. Rejection is painful, especially when you’re already hurting, but I keep sharing in hopes that my story may help someone else. To show them they are not alone. Thank you for your inspiring words.

    Reply  |  
  12. namewithheld

    I love how this is written!! I’ve been thinking of telling my story, but haven’t got the courage yet.

    Reply  |  
  13. Jam

    i tried talking but every time i open my mouth i stop. i stop because i’m scared that people will reject me. i’m scared that people will think my problems are small compare to them. i stop because they expect me to be matured because i’m 26. i stop because its too painful that i can’t find the right words to describe how i feel.

    Reply  |  
  14. kate king

    Thanks for this, I needed it more than you could know.

    Reply  |  
  15. Che'Lyssa

    Thank you for sharing this!!

    Reply  |  
Get Email Updates

Sign up for our newsletter to hear updates from our team and how you can help share the message of hope and help.