This is my story in a nutshell: I grew up in the Midwest, the older of two children. My mother was emotional; my father was dominant. She stayed home; he worked a lot. I was a strong student. I went to college in New York City, fell in love a couple of years after graduation, and moved to Vermont. I got married there, later moved to the Boston area with my husband, and tirelessly pursued my career. My husband and I divorced a few years ago. I got romantically involved with his polar opposite, and later moved to Los Angeles.
Each of us has a story that’s uniquely our own—a storehouse of experiences only we have had, a perspective unlike anyone else’s. We may think our lives are ordinary or lackluster, that scribbling about our parents’ marriage, a childhood friendship, or a relative’s death couldn’t amount to much on paper. But when we take the time to tell the stories that have shaped our lives, when we describe the events and feelings that are right on the surface, or buried deep within our memory banks, a treasure chest often rises to the surface as if it were being pulled up from the ocean floor.
“It’s cathartic to get the secrets and stories you carry around in your body, heart, and soul and put them on the page, even if you don’t publish them,” says Nancy Slonim Aronie, author of Writing from the Heart and founder of the Chilmark Writing Workshop on Martha’s Vineyard. “Keeping your stories bottled up inside can make you sick, but when you write them down, you get them out of your cells. You feel lighter.”
In Nancy’s workshops, there’s only one rule, which comes into play when participants read their stories aloud to the group. “The rule is that we must tell you what we love about what you wrote,” says Nancy, who believes creativity requires safety and validation. “Then people are encouraged to go deeper and take greater risks.”
A couple of years ago, Nancy was a guest on a television series I’d created about alternative ways to heal the body and mind. A participant in one of her workshops also appeared on the show. She had multiple sclerosis and walked with a cane. This woman frequented Nancy’s writing workshops because the opportunity to share her feelings about her condition provided a meaningful release—but there was more to it than that. The experience of writing and reading her stories boosted her confidence; at the end of Nancy’s workshops, she came away uplifted, aware of all she was still able to accomplish despite her disability.
“These workshops are life-changing,” Nancy says. “In writing your story, you can honor your lowest self, and you can access your highest self. It’s a spiritual practice.”