Turning a would-be sad story into a story of happy possibilities
The other day I collected my young grandchildren when school was out, and after inviting them to each share their news, I shared my own and said: “Today’s date marks a special anniversary in my life, and every year on this date I give thanks and celebrate life.” The day looked perfectly plain and normal to them, so they asked: “What are you celebrating, Grandma?”
I explained that on this day 46 years ago when married for just 10 weeks to their grandfather, my car collided with a large and loaded log truck on my way to work at the country newspaper office. An ambulance was called to take me to hospital.
“But that doesn’t sound good, Grandma. It sounds awful.”
“Oh,” I said, “hitting the truck was no fun, and being injured was no fun, but the police officers who attended the accident were amazed that I survived the crash. Every year, I remember them and other people who helped me that day. Every year I give thanks that I did survive. Because I worked on recovery I am able to be here to meet you after school and to enjoy time with you. You are like a delicious tonic for my wellbeing and being with you makes me very, very happy.”
Satisfied, as soon as we reached their home, the children happily accepted an invitation to look inside my shopping bag and select a favorite chocolate snack to munch on. Soon, their mother would arrive home from work to take them to their weekly swimming lesson. Everyone was happy. Yes, this was indeed a special day on what was otherwise another regular day.
The way we create a story and how we go about telling it determines its impact on the reader. Often, the understated narrative connects most profoundly with our emotions. Accordingly, what could have been a story about disappointment and regrets regarding loss can instead become a focus on contentment, blessings and looking at life with fresh eyes.
Certainly, there have been down times over the years in coping with the aftermath of severe road trauma, but regular writing in my diary has helped me to deal with factors that cannot be retrieved or changed and to develop a positive frame of mind through focusing on what can be changed.
Skills I have learned through lived experience and academic studies have helped me to mentor myself, and today I am able to share my expertise by mentoring others through difficult times. I can provide narrative guidance in acknowledging the stormy times in your life, and in finding a way to accept what cannot be changed, and beyond this, to focus on seeing and building your life through a positive rather than negative lens.
Benefits observed by participants in my workshops include:
• Written narratives give value to life experience. Each participant works at their own level and pace. Previous writing experience is unnecessary.
• Often the most amazing stories come from those who lack initial confidence and self-belief.
• Participants gain a deeper understanding of their thoughts, behaviours and relationships.
• Writing in a group situation helps to break down the rigidity of thought and behaviour patterns. Light bulb moments occur as new thoughts occur, repressed memories are released, and things that seemed previously impossible become possible.
• Writing can provide comfort and encouragement on days when feeling despondent or vulnerable.
• Insights enable tormenting thoughts to be repackaged and made more manageable.
• Writing with a mentor can develop skills for promoting mindfulness and self-awareness, and for expressing and nurturing the inner self.
• Life-writing can encourage belief that one can be productive, purposeful and content.
• Life-writing skills include: keeping a journal, letter-writing, poetry, sharing experiences in short stories, and creating autobiographical chapters that may develop into a book.
• In short, life-writing can help to develop an awareness that one is worthy and deserving of respect and that your life counts.