It was my own struggle with the pain from my childhood—followed by my ultimate decision to write my story—that made me understand the life-changing power of personal narrative.
I’d tried to write Hippie Boy for more than a decade. But the emotions bottled inside me were so painful that I cried every time I opened my computer to write and decided it was easier just to keep the hurt safely tucked away. Then, in late January 2004, I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, an incurable degenerative eye disease that is slowly stealing my eyesight. In my quest to save my vision, I sought treatment from a doctor in San Francisco who focuses on whole body health. He kicked off my appointment by asking me to tell him about my childhood. Within minutes, I was sobbing. That’s when the doctor said two life-changing things to me.
He said, “Do you realize that you are carrying a huge negative energy charge inside of you over something that has happened more than twenty years ago and you’re still giving your former stepdad and those circumstances your power?”
The idea that I was still letting my ex-stepfather take my power and voice all these years later was troubling. But that was nothing compared to the doctor’s next words. He said, “If you don’t think that carrying this inside of you is impacting your physical health, you’re crazy.”
The doctor then told me about a groundbreaking study that had been done called ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences), which documents a direct correlation between emotional trauma in childhood and disease in adults. He also talked about Epigenetics—environmental factors such as emotional trauma and stress which turn on genes that trigger disease.
When it hit me that holding onto the anguish from all those years ago could actually be causing me to go blind, it was a huge wake up call for me. It was hard, but I finally sat down and wrote my story and by the time I was done, I had found my voice and power around it and was no longer a victim of my past.
The experience was so healing and empowering for me that I knew I wanted to help teenagers dealing with similar struggles to find their voice and power by writing and sharing their personal stories. I also wanted to share my passion for narrative writing and help students learn how to effectively structure a story and use dialogue, description, thoughts and emotion to bring their personal narratives to life. This is why I started using my story to work with middle school/high school students—and now adults—and the reason I’m so committed to bringing the power of personal narrative to as many individuals, schools and organizations as possible.
I know that arming teachers with these personal narrative writing techniques is key to reaching more students – which in turn can transform their lives and has led to several suicide interventions. It’s why I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with Summer Institutes and help educators tap into the power of personal narrative by experiencing it for themselves.