The importance of telling your story
The stories worth telling aren’t always the big ones. Our lives are made up of stories, ones we narrate, ones we watch in awe, ones we can’t look away from, triumphs and tribulations, love and hate, peace and war. It tells a story.
I can honestly say without the ability to tell my story I may have ended up in a psychiatric ward, or worse, I may have ended up dead. Now I don’t say these things lightly but that very moment I pressed print on the first draft of my manuscript, ‘Blue Widow’, was the very moment I was able to let go of all that was holding me back. On those pages in my hands, I could see the hurt and the pain, the love and the joy, and all the moments in between. I could touch it, I could feel it, I could read it, or I could put it away and bury it for the rest of my life, but instead I chose to share it. I chose to tell my story. I chose to believe that it was important, not only for me but for those who were brave enough to read it and come on this journey with me, through the laughter and the tears.
It took me 10 years to find myself again and now proudly be able to say, ‘hello, I am Sonya Leeding,’ without cringing when people recognise the surname and then ask if I am Damian’s wife. I proudly say yes, knowing that I have had to do a lot of work to get where I am. It feels now like I have come full circle. My story was no longer a burden, but it was something to be celebrated. It was a proud moment for me because I could see the journey, I had to take written right there on the pages. I could see how far I had come. And although this sounds cliched, despite years of counselling and other forms of therapy, it has been the one thing that has made me feel lighter. Initially it felt very self-indulgent writing about my life but once it was done, I felt pure relief.
Now I can see the importance of storytelling in my work. I am a detective in the Child Protection and Investigation Unit. I investigate some of the most heinous crimes that can be committed against a child. In order to investigate these types of offences we start by taking a statement from the child. This is done by sitting with them in a purpose-built room and having a conversation about what has happened to them. These conversations are both visually and audibly recorded so that they can be used as evidence in court. When I sit down to speak with a child about some of the most horrific things any human could do to them, they are often guarded to start with, and you can see the weight of their story sitting on their shoulders. By the time they have finished speaking with me it’s like they are lighter, and they are free. They have shared their burden and their weight has been lifted. The look of pure relief on their face lets me know that even though this is only the start of their journey I am able to alleviate some of their pain just by having listened to them and allowing them to be heard.
Sharing stories helps us connect with each other. Every story shared is an opportunity for someone to feel less alone. Every person has a story to share, and every person’s story matters. Telling your story may also help you to heal, a catharsis if you will. Catharsis is the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions. For me the relief of not carrying my story around with me has allowed me to be free. For many years I felt like I was destined to be sad and feel heavy for the rest of my life. Holding all of those emotions internally was eating away at me. I often felt ill and anxious. It felt like I was on a rollercoaster waiting for it to drop, but not knowing where it was going to end up, which twists, or turns were coming up next. Once I released those feelings on the page that awful, permanent feeling in my stomach disappeared.
Sharing my story helped gain back my identity. When Damian was killed, I became reduced to his wife or his widow. All the other things that I had achieved in life my life was diminished and I was defined by the very moment that changed my life forever, the murder of my husband. It is only after sharing my story that I was able to see that I had achieved a lot on my own as my own person and that I was finally free to be me again. I was free to enjoy all that life had to offer, despite the moments of trauma I had endured.
There’s a quote from Brene’ Brown which has been guiding me on this journey – “You either walk inside you story and own it, or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” I found this quote a while back when I was toying with the idea of writing a book. I always worried that somehow, I had let Damian down by not being honourable enough to be the wife of a man hailed a hero. It made me examine exactly what I had to go through to raise two young children and grieve and work and create a life without Damian in it. When I could see my journey on the pages, I could see that I had in fact lived a life I should be proud of. Brene’ said it right again, ‘we’re wired for story. In a culture of scarcity and perfectionism, there’s a surprisingly simple reason we want to own, integrate and share our stories of struggle. We do this because we feel the most alive when we’re connecting with others and being brave with our stories – it’s in our biology.’ Whether your story makes it to print or not, telling your story may just help you or someone else.