It was by the grace of God and my employer P.E.E.R.S that I was given the great honor and privilege of attending the Alternatives 2011 Conference held in Orlando, Florida. Alternatives is the oldest national mental health conference organized by and for consumers. I met a diverse group of people who were eager to share personal stories with me, a complete stranger. In my awkwardness, I found myself listening attentively, nodding my head and making many facial gestures. It can be quite overwhelming hearing people’s stories and not getting around to share my own. I’ve come to the conclusion that people like sharing their stories with those who listen, but they aren’t very good at listening to other’s stories.
I struggle with and become quite anxious when it comes to telling my story of recovery. What I’ve come to realize about myself is that I don’t feel safe sharing my story with everyone. Everyone isn’t interested in hearing my story. There have been times when I’ve shared my story and felt what I said wasn’t taken seriously. Those situations left me feeling devalued. The purpose for sharing my story is for my own healing, first and foremost, and to be an example for those faced with similar life experiences.
The first workshop I attended at the conference was “Crafting Your Story,” presented by monologist Elizabeth Kenny. It was priceless. She answered many unresolved dilemmas confronting me and provide various tools I could work with. I finally found a process and technique to telling my story. I have so much to tell. I just can’t tell it all at one time (something I always find myself doing). This practice will help me stay focused on one story at a time. It has also helped me discover and uncover those testimonies deep within that, when shared, will heal, deliver and set others free. My stories are too powerful to keep to myself. I learned how I could obtain my goals and overcome tremendous obstacles in telling my story. I will perfect my story and delivery when presenting before an audience.
Trusting the process and myself is a good place to start. Elizabeth encouraged us future storytellers to think and say to ourselves, “I’ve always had (fill in the blank).” And we should ask ourselves such questions as:
What’s the point to what I am saying?
Did you hear the fullness of what I said?
Is it clear where I’ve come from and where I’ve gone?
What would happen if I told my story backward?
I learned from Elizabeth that it’s important I captivate the audience’s curiosity when getting my point across. As I establish an emotional connection without getting too emotional, I’m able to share my most intimate memories effectively and with clarity. I must admit, after the workshop I wanted to apply these techniques right away.
Elizabeth held several group exercises. The one that impressed me the most was “Telling Your Story without Emotions.” I don’t want to overwhelm my audience by being overly emotional. I leaned to practice until I reach a place of telling my story with a tone that doesn’t waver, but keeps the audience engaged. Elizabeth told us that 90% of the time the audience has heard a story like yours before. It’s the 10% they haven’t heard. And that’s you, telling your own story, not someone else’s story. The benefit to telling your own story is that you decide what and how much you want to share.
It takes skills to reach this level of storytelling. Here is an exercise I took away from the workshop:
- Get color-coded index cards and write a word, sentence or paragraph (whatever comes to mind), on separate cards.
- Write a topic for whatever word(s) you’ve written for each card. You can go into as much detail as you want about the word.
- Shuffle the deck. Pull a card daily, weekly or monthly until you have completed a story for each word on a card.
This practice will allow me to empty my soul, let go of all my fears and get focused on one experience at a time during my storytelling. As I study these topics, I will eventually reach a point where I am able to retain and maintain each topic, and tell my story with a natural flow.
I’ve discovered a greater confidence within myself for the love of people. It’s been my goal to help others find themselves (the Will) and accept, love and encourage themselves for who they are, and capable of becoming. I thank you Elizabeth for being a beacon of enlightenment.