I like hearing people’s stories. I’m the type of person who loves a good autobiography just as much as I love fiction, and there are more documentaries in my Netflix queue than anything else. My favorite bands, favorite shows, favorite movies—I’ve seen all their “behind the scenes” footage and read all their “did you know??” trivia. I recently got choked up watching a video of a professional hockey player sharing the story of his good friend’s struggle with depression and eventual suicide. Yes, that’s right: A professional sports figure I’ve never met and who plays for a team I don’t even root for nearly moved me to tears with the story of his friend. Knowing and seeing someone’s surface is one thing, but it has always meant more to me to see the story underneath: the nitty-gritty underbelly that hasn’t been carefully polished for public consumption.
I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to sit down for one-on-ones with a group of high school girls. The things they talked to me about varied greatly; I heard everything from “I don’t always get along with my mom” to “I was sexually assaulted by a teacher at school.” But one thing was consistent: Almost all of the girls I talked to told me a part of their story either preceded or followed by “I haven’t told anyone this before” or “I don’t really talk about this with very many people.” It surprised me how honest these girls were with someone they had met only that morning, but I did not take it lightly. I felt honored and humbled by their choice to share parts of their stories with me. Every single one of them expressed some form of relief at the end of our conversations, too. Several of them felt empowered to share their stories with someone else they trust. It made me realize an important truth that comes with sharing stories: The more you share them, the easier it gets. For some, that happens fairly quickly; for others, it is a gradual process. But at the end of the day, one thing was clear to me: Sharing our stories is an important part of healing that often gets overshadowed by our fear, our shame, or our pain.
So often we end up feeling like we’re going through life unheard. When we don’t feel our voices are heard, we don’t feel like our stories have value. And when we deny the value of our story, we stop fighting to make it heard. But whether you want someone to offer advice, words of encouragement, words of consolation, or even if you don’t need anyone to say anything at all, we all deserve to have someone who listens to what we have to say. You deserve to have someone who listens to what you have to say.
In a world of stigma, shame, victim-blaming, and apathy, it can be terrifying to share your story. I am not going to tell you it’s easy because truthfully it can be really, really hard. I still struggle with knowing whom I can trust to share my story with. And the first time I really told my story, I didn’t even say anything. I found myself unable to actually speak; instead I wrote down what I needed to say and gave it to someone I trusted to read. What’s important is that you find the way that is right for you.
As someone who has heard many people’s stories, I can tell you that there are people who are willing and want to listen. And as someone who is working on telling my own story, I can tell you that doing so can be healing. Sharing your story not only has the power to heal you, but it also has the power to help others as well. Remember that someone else might need to hear your story just as much as you need to tell it. So I invite you to share your story with someone; it could give them strength, keep them hopeful, or even just remind them that they are not alone.
And most importantly, remember this: No matter how much of it you do or do not share with others, this is not the end of your story. Your story matters. Your voice matters. Find the people who will listen to you. Remember that you are not alone.