When I approached the presenter at the cancer caregivers workshop to share my reaction to her words about hope, she responded, “I wish you would have said that at the mic.”
At the end of each presentation, we were invited to come to the mic and ask questions or share reflections.
But, I don’t do that; I don’t share in front of groups.
Ironically, I love public speaking and have done a fair amount of it for my nonprofit work. But there is a difference between telling other people’s stories and sharing my personal stories. Other people’s, ok. My own, not so much.
As a child, I was told that what happened in our house stayed in our house. We also did not talk inside our house about anything that happened. I felt invisible, as if no one cared what I was going through—or even noticed that I was there. I didn’t seem to matter.
By my late twenties, I was an emotional mess and started going to therapy to help me process growing up in a chaotic house and to reconcile my past.
However, growing up in a home where I was told never to talk about what happened made sharing extremely stressful. Every time words formed about an experience or feeling, an alarm would sound inside my head. Do not say that!I was incapable of identifying what I was feeling, much less talking about it.
Early on in therapy, I shared one of my earliest memories.
I was four years old, playing in my back yard, when I found a dime. What luck! Even at that young age, I knew a dime could buy me something special. I remember how shiny it was and how fortunate I felt. And then my older brother saw what I had and claimed it was his. “No!” I shouted. “It’s mine!” He tried to take it from me, and I knew he would triumph, so I swallowed it.
My therapist commented, “And you have been swallowing every challenge since them.”
I once heard Fr. Richard Rohr talk about our shadow side, and he described it as a sack where we stuff all the negative things from our lives. The image that popped into my mind was of something like Santa’s bag—this huge sack, dragging behind me. I could feel the weight of it pulling me back.
My shadow bag was filled with twenty-eight years of negative experiences that I had swallowed and tamped down deeper and deeper.
As I began to unpack my shadow bag in therapy and at retreats, and look at my history, I started to realize that surviving those experiences had made me who I was; they had made me strong and resilient. Learning to talk about it—especially at the mic—is still a work in progress.