Strength in Weakness
“…for when I am weak, then I am strong.” ~II Cor. 10b
The most important instruction given to those writing a memoir is to be honest about our shortcomings and to be generous in describing others so as not to demonize them. That is why we are encouraged to wait until the stings of life no longer throb intensely before we embark on writing a memoir for publication … keeping our eye on writing a story that serves a larger purpose and can be useful to others. It is a process.
In my process, for years I poured out my agony in my prayer journals, writing about shame-filled events that I have always had difficulty talking about. Finally, I reached the point where I was ready to embark on seriously writing a memoir.
Writing my story in a way that might be beneficial to others forced me to dig deeper and discover the treasure hidden in my pain. As a result, I emerged with a whole new and transformed perspective on my life and the people in my life.
Still, shame and fear of judgment prevented me from giving voice to some of my most painful experiences. Now that my memoir has been published, I worried about how to handle book signings. What parts of my book would I be comfortable sharing verbally with others.
Knowing that writing honestly opened me to criticism, I have kept Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, on the book shelf above my computer as inspiration to keep moving forward. And because my book is now published and it is time to share my story with the world, I have kept Deborah Winegarten‘s wise counsel before me.
A special sister writer, Deborah focuses on the greater purpose her books serve ~~ giving her opportunities to connect with others and be present to them in their need.
And so, this past weekend I took my books to the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation (MDF) conference in San Francisco. And by the way, Deborah joined me at her own expense to give me support and sell my books so I could connect with other conference attendees. She walks her talk and has fun no matter what she is doing. A great role model for me.
The first morning before heading to my author table, I sat on the edge of my bed and set my intention … to be present to the needs of others as I connected with them and to be mindful of my larger purpose in writing this book.
Myotonic Dystrophy (DM) is a multi-faceted disease with numerous physical, behavioral, and psychological components. Because the physical is easier to address, researchers have put their energy there. However, the behavioral and psychological cause the most concern and produce the most emotional pain for those carrying the disease and their caregivers. I have shared a wish with other members of the community that researchers give more attention to this aspect of the disease.
My opportunity to share my concern came during this Friday morning session: “Bringing the Patient Voice to Central Nervous System Targeting Drug Development.” James Valentine moderated while five patients and caregivers shared their experience. Then the floor was opened to hear from conference participants. I raised my hand immediately because the panel had not addressed the concern that is central in my family’s experience of this disease.
After a couple of other people shared, Mr. Valentine handed the microphone to me. I pointed out that the panel had not addressed anti-social behaviors ~~ the behaviors that my son had exhibited. I pointed out that I shared a concern with one of the founders of MDF that researchers address these behaviors. Then Mr. Valentine said, “Would you be specific about the behaviors your son exhibited.”
I gulped. And then I reminded myself of my intention set that morning to focus on the larger purpose of my memoir and my attendance at this conference. I hoped research would prevent other families from going through what we went through.
My hands began to shake. I looked at Mr. Valentine and told him that it is still very difficult for me to talk about. And then, in that ballroom full of nearly three hundred people, I gave voice to the behavior that had caused our family the most shame and pain. I shared how I had handled this behavior, noting that others may judge me for that, but it was what I had to do to preserve myself. Mr. Valentine thanked me and said the information I gave is needed.
“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.” ~Brene Brown
Immediately, other conference participants approached me at the table where I sat tearful and still shaking to give me hugs and thank me. Later, in the restroom, a new member of the board wrapped her arms around me and said, “You are the bravest of a roomful of brave people.” Another woman noted how I had shared with courage and grace. For the rest of the conference, I received hugs and expressions of gratitude. I was told there are many in the room who could relate to what I had shared.”
One of my new DM friends asked me, “Are you glad you shared?”
I replied, “Sharing that was life-changing! I got a monkey off my back.” I am aware that judgment and criticism may still come, but in the warm embrace of my DM sisters and brothers who know, the shame demon I’ve carried for far to long dissapated like the warmth of the sun burning off fog.
If you read my memoir, you will know how big that was for me. It is a huge piece of being faithful to the person I was created to be … to fulfilling my purpose for this sojourn on earth. I hear the God of my understanding, my True Self within, proclaiming, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you;” ~Jeremiah 1:5a