I’m Changing My Story

by Susan Hulsebos

A recent writing class using narrative therapy prompts has revealed to me, once again, how much control the stories we hold in our lives have over our sense of identity and problems. Narrative therapy seeks to unhook us from problems resulting from stories we hold, and support us as we create new stories and an alternative story line we want to live out. I have definitely discovered some stories stored in my heart as a child which have given me problems as an adult. While the meta story for me has always been a felt sense of rejection, it wasn’t until I responded to a recent prompt by writing it out in detail, that I gained a true release in my spirit and new perspective on my story. The prompt asked me to write about a female caregiver from my childhood including things I wouldn’t ordinarily say. Right away my maternal grandmother popped into my head and I began to write. I never thought much aGrandmother Photobout her before. We weren’t close. And I always thought it was me.

What’s amazing about therapeutic writing—getting the whole story out—is how adult perspective on a childhood problem is often all that’s needed. Ahhhh! I sigh as light bulbs start going off as I write, Of course you felt that way. She never had a personal conversation with you or really liked it when you came to visit. She was still in mourning for her husband’s early death and besides—“children are to be seen and not heard” was your family’s child-rearing motto. Grandma was elegant and flawless, I had skinned knees and sticky hands. I was a cute little kid, she was an aging glamour queen.

All of the deeper insights and releases I have experienced while writing to therapeutic story prompts I could not arrive at any other way. There is liberation in writing out our truths without fear of boring our partners, affording a therapist, or having to talk nice. As I began to explore my childhood hurts from Grandma, I ended up writing about the time, as a teenager, I walked into her room and caught her naked. She was standing with one thin leg propped on the bed and clipping her silk hose onto her satin garter belt. This grandmother, a woman I knew as cool, unavailable and uninterested in me, who never bonded with me as a child, laughed and excused my awkward mumbles. She didn’t care at all that her little boobs were hanging down like silk hankies. This was the first time I felt like a lady in her presence, and I bonded with her. I think I asked to borrow her nail polish and left.

There is liberation in writing out our truths without fear of boring our partners, affording a therapist, or having to talk nice.

At this point in the writing, the rest of the stories that came up allowed me to integrate our truths as family and as women. She was born in the early 1900’s. Her life derailed when her husband died at 45 and it never got back on track. She was a glamorous widow maintaining her beauty parlor coif and long painted nails, matching shoes and handbags until the end. What I know to be true is that she lived a very adult life in a very ordered house. As we got older, she played cards with us and we went to lunch, but her inability to grow close with me was not because I wasn’t interesting, smart, or stylish enough. It was because she didn’t have a taste for intimacy with kids.

This truth is the healthy break in my hurting childhood narrative that has healed my relationship her. It wasn’t just me—NO little kid got to sit on her lap or play with her. She didn’t play with toys; she played cards, smoked, and cracked snarky jokes. This type of truth-telling is a big part of regular therapeutic writing. By sorting out our stored impressions and truth-checking them we can stop creating problems for ourselves through buried, harmful narratives.

The goal of narrative therapy, typically led by a professional counselor, is to help the client re-author their story with truths to support a new life experience freed from the problematic stories of the past. I have found this to be a rich treasure of the process. I have re-authored characters in my past who I have come to see as being authentically different and unable to give me kind of love I needed when I was with them. So I’m changing my story.

My new story involves surrounding myself with people and communities where vulnerability, authenticity and supporting each others unique calling is primary. We talk about everything in intimate, sometimes hilarious conversations. And arriving at my new story line is reason enough for me to write regularly and with hope, every day.

Editor’s Note: This blog post was submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TLA Network Certification program.

My Inner Critic Is Not Having a Good Week

by Janet Toone

Responses to traumatic experiences produce one of three nervous system responses: fighting, fleeing, or freezing. The third response, freezing, is the one response that provides survival for many children living with trauma.

One effect of freezing in response to trauma is that the developmental stage of that child becomes what is described in Internal Family Systems as an “exiled part.” For that child to be who they really are could endanger their welfare and even their life. I spent a lot of time frozen and I did not write while in a frozen state.

Keeping exiled parts silent is the job of what Internal Family Systems, developed by Richard Schwartz, calls “firefighters.” The purpose of firefighters is to reduce the feeling of shame, pain, and guilt, and most often involves impulsive behaviors including overeating, addiction, promiscuity, and workaholism. As I began the work of identifying, accepting, and nurturing my exiled parts, my personal firefighters, overeating and workaholism, went into overdrive. My internal civil wars between my firefighters and my exiled parts have at times been epic.

As I continued working on this extensive recovery process, I struggled for a long time to find safe ways for the multiple exiled stages of my childhood development to find expression and be free to emerge and exist in peace so I could begin the process of integrating. I am not sure when I realized that writing in their voices was one way to provide resilience to some of my exiled parts. One of those safe ways of letting my seven- to-nine-year-old self emerge is to write mediocre poetry with lots of rhyme on subjects significant to her experiences.

Courses on writing and writing about trauma have helped me explore this process. I am thankful for those who have read and provided feedback during this journey. My empty chair has been filled by a variety of individuals providing guidance and encouragement and has had significant symbolic meaning in this process.

My inner critic has fits regarding writing this poetry but she and I have come to an agreement that this stage of my childhood has this freedom. While my inner critic has been effectively subdued about the writing of the poetry, she is very uncomfortable with it being shared or heaven forbid published in any public form. My inner critic is not having a good week :).


“Butter, I need butter” hollered the ogre.
Midge went to the fridge and with relief
Found a small wedge of butter for him.
“This wedge of butter has a bad edge,” He squawked

Midge muttered, “I want to ask that judge
Why don’t you lock him far, far away?”

But Midge’s mother held her grudge and would
Not budge. Midge was not to utter a word.
“Oh fudge, this mess is a drudge,” muttered midge
This is another sad, bad, mad day.

Midge stepped outside the sqalid dark hovel
As a hawk hovered floating overhead
Then a butterfly fluttered by Midge’s head.
Nature would hold Midge together today.


Some stuff, if it happens often enough
Or is excessively, viciously rough and gruff
Changes the wiring in the brain and luffs one by the scruff.

Gettin in a huff will only cuff the brain like it’s been muffled.
Even if one sniffs around searchin for change stuff
It all feels like a bluff, like you’re still sittin on your duff,

Cuz there ain’t no pause button, no do overs, no backspace key
And you can wish, but wishin don’t even make pigs fly in fantasy pink skies.

 

* * *

Editor’s Note: This blog post was submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TLA Network Certification program. 

How Pictures Heal – Honoring Memory & Loss through Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, by Kelly DuMar

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-51-37-amIt was nearing dawn, outside the little cabin in New Hampshire, when my Aunt Marion died, at fifty-five. All night I sat beside her, moistening her parched lips with ice cubes. When necessary, I changed her colostomy bag. Occasionally, I dozed off, but not for long. This was the third night of our vigil – my other aunt, her sister Virginia – slept in the bed beside us. My Aunt Marion had colon cancer and had come home – to her own bed, her cabin, her favorite lake, to spend her final days.

I was a twenty-two year old college student on summer break. Stepping up to care for my Aunt Marion as she died changed my life. Her death sparked an awakening for me of my own mortality and vitality. So, when, years later, I found this picture of my independent, powerful, adventuresome aunt – captured in this archetypal pose of the archer, like the goddess Diana, stretching her bow, aiming her arrow, I asked my mother if I could keep it. This photo had arrested my attention in such a mysterious, powerful way. I knew I needed to unpack all the deeper meaning and wisdom, truth and beauty it held. As I wrote my first photo inspired poem, “Monadnock,” the process of unpacking the emotional experience of the photo helped me grieve in ways I had yet to for her loss. The poem, and the photo, helped me internalize this relationship and experience as a way of summoning inner wisdom, courage, strength and healing.

Since then, I have been leading writing and expressive arts workshops on writing from photos, integrating my training and experience as a psychotherapist, psychodramatist, poet, and playwright into my method.

We all take, save and inherit photographs of the people, places and things that bring meaning, mystery, hope and connection into our lives.

In my 6-week online class, How Pictures Heal:  – Honoring Memory & Loss through Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, starting March 1st, these treasured personal archives will be the source of inspiration for writing as a means of restoring meaning, purpose, hope and resilience during and after loss. This method of writing from personal and treasured photos can help us grow personally, artistically, and emotionally, by:

Entering the three-dimensional world of photographs to stimulate meaning, surprise, delight and possibility;screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-50-02-am

Embracing the imaginative wonder of exploring role reversal and altered point of view in photos;

Writing the truth and beauty of relationship histories, exploring significant rites of passage and recognizing gifts that keep on giving;

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-50-16-amExploring nature, landscape and favorite places photos to stimulate curiosity, spirituality, comfort, relief and aesthetic satisfaction and transcendence;

Crafting first drafts (exploring forms, including character portraits, essays, poems, Monologues, letters, dialogues and creative list-making) and applying tools for revision).

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-50-27-amWho Should Take This Class?

  • TLA practitioners at all levels of experience
  • Anyone interested in personal and artistic development
  • Professionals and para-professionals who work with memory challenged seniors
  • Family members of those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s, and caretakers of those with memory challenges, will find dynamic creative outlets for personal and professional development
  • Writers and artists with an interest in exploring the healing aspects of personal photos may also be quite interested

We’ll create a safe and supportive environment, offering respectful support that inspires the development of every writer’s voice. I look forward to working with you!

How Pictures Heal:  – Honoring Memory & Loss through Expressive Writing from Personal Photos, a 6-week online class with Kelly DuMar starting March 1st

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-10-57-26-amKelly DuMar, M.Ed. is a playwright and poet who facilitates Writing Truth & Beauty workshops across the US, including The Mass. Poetry Festival, The International Women’s Writing Guild, The Power of Words Conference, Southern Writers Conference, and Playback North America & more. Her poems are published in many literary magazines and her award-winning poetry chapbook, All These Cures, was published by Lit House Press in 2014. Kelly is a certified psychodramatist and former psychotherapist. She founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 10th year, and she moderates, Let’s Talk TLA, a bi-monthly teleconference and poetry open mic for members of the Transformative Language Arts Association. Kelly serves on the board & faculty of The International Women’s Writing Guild, and she’s a member of Playback North America. Her new poetry chapbook, Tree of the Apple, about her father’s Alzheimer’s, is published by Two of Cups Press. You can follow her on Instagram @kellydumar and learn more about Kelly at kellydumar.com

Monadnockaunt-marion

This perfect aim you take
points toward some mysterious,
unconventional life.
You will never marry,
wear dresses,
make excuses.
You will love animals and women,
raise dogs,
teach other people’s children.

Baked dry as a bone,
you will bring Poncho and Bear,
back from the desert,
to bathe in Laurel Lake,
reeking of sage,
telling Indian stories.

You will teach us to hike
– to sing as we climb –
M-o-u-n-t-m-o-n-a-d-n-o-c-k!
It’s the thrill of your life
when you get to the top,
they say!

This perfect aim you take,
toward us.

Some day, when I am almost grown,
you’ll be too sick
to climb from your bed
for one last swim
I should help you take –
your bloated belly
rising like Monadnock
between us.

Death rattling your breath,
you will die at dawn
in my arms,
before you go, taking perfect aim
toward some mysterious peak
I will someday climb.

Copyright 2008 Kelly DuMar, All Rights Reserved (published in Emerge Literary Journal, and All These Cures)

“Topless in America” and Other Words to Speak to Healing From Cancer

Breast Cancer AwarenessDuring Breast Cancer Awareness month, several pieces have been circulating that speak to the power of words when it comes to deeply engaging with what it means to find a cure and/or healing.

Poet Nikky Finney’s astonishing poem, “Topless in America” tells the story of Paulette Leapheart, who walked topless (after a double mastectomy following her Stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis) with her daughter from Biloxi, Mississippi to Washington, D.C. summit. Listen to Finney read her potent poem and you can also see the poem transcribed here.

“Don’t Think Pink” published in Psychology Today by writer Harriet Lerner (author of The Dance of Anger) succinctly raises questions about how breast cancer prevention is portrayed in teddy bears and pink ribbons here. The TLA Network’s own Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s “Take Down the Bras and Really Work for a Cancer Cure” published in The Huffington Post looks at how the reality of saving lives gets muted into the illusion of saving breasts here.

In poetry and prose, out loud and on the page, these pieces — as well as many others (please share them in comments below) — aim us toward finding greater depth and healing.

Monologue to my Paternal Parent, by Janet Toone

Editor’s Note: As some of you may know, the TLA Network offers a Certification program. Chronicling TLA practice is a part of that process, which can be fulfilled by writing multiple pieces for the blog. This is the second piece by monologist Janet Toone.


As I previously mentioned, each TLA course I have taken has opened my eyes to the potential for healing with methods of expression I had not considered. I took the “Saturated Selfies: Intentional and Intense Photography and Writing” course taught by Angie Rivers. I really struggled with the technological requirements in that course. However, I was not long into it before the possibilities began to flood my mind. I found this combination of monologue and selfies to be particularly empowering.

(Yes this post relies only on the written description. I tried not to be too graphic with the descriptions but be aware the reading may be difficult for some.)

Complex Childhood Trauma, Decades Later

MONOLOGUE TO MY PATERNAL PARENT

I’m taking a course on selfies. Yeah, I can hear your response, “What the #%$#$#@$% are selfies? Don’t you have any real work to do?”

There has been a lot of talk about narcissism in this course. I haven’t mentioned that I knew a true narcissist up close and personal. That secret is out now.

I went out to the funny farm where I took some selfies out in front of the 12 by 12 foot brooder house. I was glad it is still standing, bare weather beaten pine boards on the outside and no interior walls. The outhouse is gone but some of those memories of living in that building with no electricity and no running water still seem like yesterday.

One selfie was of me holding the leather harness strap you shaved down so it would give a more thorough lashing. I remember when I got the first lashing which left welts from my neck down to my knees because I dawdled on the quarter mile walk in from the school bus. I couldn’t sit down at school the next day. Someone must have noticed my pain, because two teachers took me in an office and looked at my backside. But it didn’t make any difference. That was before CPS.

Biff wouldn’t let me borrow the gun you used to shoot at and threaten to kill us with so I could take a selfie. He still has all of his pain stuffed inside. He believes that ignoring it is the best way to handle it. So instead, I took a selfie in front of the bullet holes where you shot through the inside wall of the last two room shack we lived in. What’s it been, 58 years ago you shot those particular holes in the wall?

I took a selfie in front of the latest sawmill. It still looks like the one you threatened to saw us through lengthwise when we couldn’t roll those huge pine logs down onto the sawmill carriage, with those peavey hooks that were longer than I was tall. I was the oldest kid there — and I was 8 or 9 years old.

My selfies at the funny farm were just a drop in the bucket. The actions I observed you participate in still fill me with revulsion and disgust. But I also feel sorry for you. I won’t bore you with that journey for now, except to say that I realize you were not only narcissistic, you were also psychotic and anti-social.

Last year, I read letters you wrote home to your parents during you military training and I realized you were disturbed before you ever entered the military. Your commanders evidently realized it too, which is probably why you never saw combat duty in the war.

I have spent a lot of time trying to comprehend and understand; partly because it was necessary for my healing process, but also because I keep wanting to make some kind of sense out of it all. You walked some dark cognitive paths that I have not the time to describe here. But I theorize you may also have been filled with fear — or was it paranoia? I realize that even if you were here, you would not be able or willing to discuss it.


Janet Toone is a certified counselor, writer, storyteller, and survivor of complex chronic childhood trauma. The combination of living decades with the effects of C-PTSD and finding treatment providers who could provide neither an understanding of the effects of complex chronic trauma nor a therapeutic framework for recovery and her work with dual diagnosis substance abusing adolescents, many of whom had experienced trauma, amplified her resolve to explore the therapeutic process for trauma recovery work.

She is particularly interested in the role of Transformative Language Arts and arts in general in providing guidelines to developing a safe environment to explore recovery needs, in developing resiliency in victims, and ultimately in providing narrative structure with the goal of creating and externalizing objective views of trauma experiences.

Her areas of focus and interest include complex chronic childhood trauma, child witnesses of trauma, victims of sexual assault, victims of domestic violence and intergenerational family trauma.

Being Broken, by Janet Toone

Editor’s Note: As some of you may know, the TLA Network offers a Certification program. Chronicling TLA practice is a part of that process, which can be fulfilled by writing multiple pieces for the blog. This is the first piece by monologist Janet Toone.


I have written pieces for a number of workshops. Since my background includes a childhood of chronic complex trauma, some of my pieces focus on my C-PTSD recovery. In each course, I learned far more than I had anticipated I would learn about the healing process and different avenues for both viewing and facilitating that healing process. This is a monologue I wrote for Kelly DuMar’s “Your Memoir as Monologue” course.

BEING BROKEN

(Mature woman reminiscing about being broken. She is talking to a friend.)

I know about feeling broken. I suppose this is one of the big beginnings of my brokenness.

I was five years old. We lived in a tiny tarpaper shack with no running water, no electricity and no inside walls. When you were inside you could see the cracks between the outside rough knotted pine boards nailed to the two by four frame.

My father’s name was Bob. Since I have been an adult I have never been able to call him Dad or father. Bob stood with his hands on his hips, the bare incandescent light bulb glaring against the rafters. The rough wood floor was littered with clothes and paper beneath the bare table.

I glanced out the open door where I could see the dirt and rocks. I wanted to run, but I knew I dare not run.

On my back, I could feel the heat of the wood range where we cooked. I held my breath as he loomed over me and sneered, “We don’t want you anymore, so we are going to send you to an orphanage.”

His green eyes held some combination of glaring contempt and the look of a predator studying its prey. That look on his round face always chilled me to the bone.

My first thought was, “What’s an orphanage?” I knew better than to ask him.

About a week later, my aunt came to visit. I asked her, “What is an orphanage?”

I remember how I savored her reply. “An orphanage is where children who don’t have a family to love them are taken to be cared for until someone who will love them adopts them.”

I was ready to go.

I waited.

I waited through seasons, like a kid waits for Christmas.

One particular early summer day, we were in the second shack. Bob was screaming, and swearing at my brothers, “You stupid #$*&@#$#@#$*& I should beat you until you can’t stand up.”

I stood watching Bob’s volatile reaction and I thought, “Okay, enough of this. We’re out of here.”

Aloud, I asked. “When are we going to the orphanage?”

His response burned into my body and my soul, “You are so stupid and so bad, no one would want you, so we are going to keep you here and have you work for us.”

My heart sank in disappointment. The orphanage wasn’t going to be my great escape.


Janet Toone is a certified counselor, writer, storyteller, and survivor of complex chronic childhood trauma. The combination of living decades with the effects of C-PTSD and finding treatment providers who could provide neither an understanding of the effects of complex chronic trauma nor a therapeutic framework for recovery and her work with dual diagnosis substance abusing adolescents, many of whom had experienced trauma, amplified her resolve to explore the therapeutic process for trauma recovery work.

She is particularly interested in the role of Transformative Language Arts and arts in general in providing guidelines to developing a safe environment to explore recovery needs, in developing resiliency in victims, and ultimately in providing narrative structure with the goal of creating and externalizing objective views of trauma experiences.

Her areas of focus and interest include complex chronic childhood trauma, child witnesses of trauma, victims of sexual assault, victims of domestic violence and intergenerational family trauma.

Balancing Work and Play: Sustainable Creativity, Self-Care, and Meaningful Work

creative businessCreating a Sustainable Story: Self-Care, Meaningful Work, and the Business of Creativity” with Laura Packer begins September 14. This six-week online class — do it from wherever you are at any time of the day or night — gives participants practical and soulful ways to learn how, according to Laura, “There are many joyful, sustainable and meaningful ways that we can craft our work and our lives. We can choose our path….Using creative tools, writing exercises, brainstorming and dreaming aloud, this class will help you think about your work in practical terms, will help you develop the language to talk with non-artists about what you do and why they should care, will help you build or expand your support network, will help you plan for sustainable self-care and will help you develop the resources to succeed.” Learn more here about the class, and read what Laura has to say about becoming a self-sustaining writer and storyteller below.

The first time I decided to try to make a life as a self-sustaining writer and storyteller, I had no idea what I was doing. I thought my talent and passion for the art were enough, that the world would recognize my extraordinary nature and flock to me. I was, of course, wrong. No amount of talent and passion will propel a creative person to the forefront of their field. Overnight success usually results from many years of hard work and dedication.pencil-599116_1280

The second time I tried I thought I would apply all of my hard earned lessons about business, dedication, and marketing. I would be organized and focused. I would be a good businessperson. I was. I was so focused on the business part that I forgot about the art and, while work began to come in I’d left myself no time or energy to dedicate to it. I’d forgotten to give myself permission to play in the midst of the administrative tasks of running a business, and play is part of what feeds our creativity and passion. Without the play and self-care the work was no fun and I saw no point in working that hard for something I didn’t love.

By the third time I decided to try to make a go as an independent creative person, I’d done some serious thinking about what I’d learned. The first time I forgot that I needed more than just passion. The second time I forgot that the passion was integral. How could I balance the need for creative nourishment with the demands of running a business?

Over the years I’ve learned that it’s come down to a few basic principles.

  • Self-care is essential.
  • Planning is as essential and can be as creative as anything else I do.
  • I deserve a living wage. I don’t have to be a starving artist.
  • Even the administrative tasks I dislike can be broken down into manageable chunks.
  • It is far more profitable to operate from a mindset of abundance in all things than to assume scarcity. There is enough.
  • I don’t need to work in isolation. Community is sustaining.
  • At the same time, I deserve the time and space to do my work.

I am delighted to share what I’ve learned with the TLAN community. While we all will make many mistakes in this life and through the course of our work, there’s no reason for you to make the same mistakes I did. Creating a Sustainable Story: Self-Care, Meaningful Work and the Business of Creativity offers you a chance to develop sustainable practices for meaningful work, creativity, reducing isolation and functional income.

Through a variety of creative exercises (including writing, simple arts and other explorations) we will look at the intersections between our creative lives and the practical habits we need to make those lives sustainable. In a safe, collaborative and supportive environment we will develop toolkits that will keep us whole as we move deeper in the artistic life.


Laura Packer is a performing storyteller, writer, coach and communications consultant with for- and non-profit laura packerbusinesses. She has been a self-supporting practitioner for almost a decade. She has told stories for adults and families in venues as varied as festivals, universities, hospices, retreats, on the streets, fringe festivals and more. Her writing has been published in a variety of print and online publications and she was a featured speaker at the 2012 Ciudad de las Ideas festival in Puebla, Mexico. Laura has worked with organizations ranging from NASA to 4-person non-profits. She helps organizations and the people involved understand the strengths and weaknesses of stories they tell internally and externally; develop appropriate brand stories; works with employees to create a more empowering workplace and helps craft a variety of media to tell those stories to wide audiences. Laura also coaches storytellers, writers, executives, , teenagers, marketers and others in their own stories and for public speaking. She loves applying artistic and creative tools to the practical and prosaic, and thinks solving problems in new ways can actually be a lot of fun.

Amy Oestreicher on Telling Her Story on Stage

Editor’s Note: Amy has written for us before, and her story is a powerful one. With the Power of Words Conference coming in two weeks, we asked her to share more. We will also post her TEDx talk within the next week.
————-

Bringing Gutless & Grateful to the Transformative Language Arts Network Conference last year was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I couldn’t be happier to be presenting again this year! In my workshop,  I’m sharing my near death experience and unique personal story with humor, hunger and heart, and helping others realize their potential as storytellers who can heal through their own word and powerful personal stories.

I’ve presented this workshop on college campus, at conferences, theatres, hospitals, and many other audiences from Hawaii to Pennsylvania, to survivors of sexual assault to business entrepreneurs, medical professionals to law students.  Everyone has a story to tell – some of us just don’t know it yet! Once we discover this, it’s incredibly empowering, and my greatest joy is watching people realize this for themselves.

From the time I could remember, I have always possessed an intense passion for the world of words and music. All my life, I had dreamed of pursuing a career in theatre.  However, at 18, I was rushed to the ER, and to summarize very briefly, my stomach exploded, I was in a coma for six months, and I was unable to eat or drink a drop of water for over three years.  After 27 surgeries, I was miraculously reconnected with whatever I had left.  However, to persevere through those tumultuous years took great inner and outer strength.  I relied on my creativity to get through.  My therapy was purely based in the world of theatre, art, writing, dance, music, and whatever else I felt was an area that I could express myself appropriately.  The arts were a way for me to express whatever felt too painful and overwhelming to put into words.  They also helped me process what I was feeling.  But most importantly, they served to be the greatest reward acting as a medium where I could still engage with my community, reach out to others, and make a difference in this world while utilizing my passion.  Arts were my way of connecting with the world, sharing my story, and spreading my message of hope, strength, and finding beauty in whatever life brings you.

I was not able to fully appreciate the beauty of my detours until I was able to share them. As a performer, all I’ve wanted to do was give back to the world.  But now I have an even greater gift to give: a story to tell.  Until I could put into words what had happened to me, I couldn’t fully heal.  Telling my story is the magic push I needed to move forward, and that is what inspired me to bring my workshop to TLAN for the second year in a row: to help others bring out the story burgeoning inside of them.

As actors, writers, creators, humans, we tell stories constantly.  I first told mine over four years ago.  Not only to myself, but to complete strangers and New York theatre-goers.   Fresh out of my 27th surgery, I performed words from journal entries I wrote years ago as a way to pass the time between the endless series of medical interventions.  Every time I “perform” what happened to me, I find myself somehow transformed in the process.  Theatre has the power to change lives, both for those directly involved and those who watch. Theatre teaches us we’re capable of anything – and usually tells us this at times we need it most.

I’m truly touched by how my story has affected so many people and it only serves to spur on my creativity more and more.  Even on the more difficult days, knowing I can have an impact is just one extra nudge to get me going in the morning.

It’s really the ability to give back, and to have my work serve as a lens, a mirror, a window that others can look through, or look into, and see themselves or whatever they need to see at that moment.  To feel whatever they need to feel.  That’s how I connect with my world – that is my aliveness.  As a member of this human race, it’s how I can contribute.  Isn’t all we ever want: to make a mark on the world?  

Gutless & Grateful,” the honest one-woman musical story of my life.  It’s my story, shared through a medium I’m passionate about. I was finally able to heal and move on once I was able to share, and now I’m so excited to help others share the story within them in whatever medium that they feel most comfortable in.

Why share at all?   It takes “guts” to talk — and sing — about my sexual abuse, my anger, my guilt, how I lost hope in things ever getting better. But I share to show that things do get better with patience, trust and resilience. I share to give courage and a sense of belonging to people who are struggling with all kinds of mental health or physical challenges, but also to help build a campus that gives everyone the kind of awareness and generosity of spirit that makes that world a better place. If we all share our “detours,” we see that our detours are not detours at all. Every road leads somewhere — we just need to hang in long enough to catch the flowers along the way. The more we share our stories, the more we realize we’re not alone.

Through the transformative power of words, we can all share our stories.  I can’t wait to hear yours!

———–

Amy Oestreicher B&W 2006Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking.

As the creator of the Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical, she’s toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness  and Broadway Theatre for college campuses.

To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others thrive through difficulties.

As Eastern Regional Recipient of Convatec’s Great Comebacks Award, she’s contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others. 

She has devised workshops for conferences nationwide,  and is this year’s keynote speaker for the Hawaii Pacific Rim International Conference on Diversity and Disability.  Learn more: amyoes.com.

Making the Leap into the Work You Love with Scott Youmans

Youmans_2012March_SmallScott Youmans knows his way around Right Livelihood, having left a lucrative career in the corporate world for the work of his heart, which turned out to be its own winding rock trip. He’s also a superb facilitator of helping others find not just their dream work, but how to make their present work richer with meaning and joy. Here’s an interview on his upcoming online class, “Making the Leap into the Work You Love,” which runs June 29 – August 9. Sign up before June 10 for the Summer Buzz sale and save 10%.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg: What in your life led you to design and develop this class?

Scott Youmans: Over a decade ago, when I facilitated the first incarnation of Making the Leap into Work You Love, I was in the midst of transitioning out of the corporate world and into something … unknown. I was about to complete my Individualized Master of Arts program at Goddard College with a concentration in Transformative Language Arts, and at the same time leaving my full-time job to start a web consulting business. The thoughts and emotions were swirling: fear and uncertainty, joy and curiosity. What would happen next? How would I make a living doing what I loved on this new path?

In the midst of all of this, the TLA Network had come into being, and we noticed that our members were interested in learning more about the practice of Right Livelihood, and in particular, many of us were asking, “how do I make a living doing what I love?” The Network began to consider how we might create space for practitioners to approach this question. Drawing from the whole of my life experiences, including experiential workshops and my own writing practice, certain threads––poems, exercises, videos––began to tie together to help guide me in exploring answers to this question. It was easy to see how these could serve others on the journey. After a little encouragement from the chair of the Network, I set about building this class to be part of an early Power of Words Conference. It has since become a recurring staple of the Network’s offerings.

CMG: What can people expect from this class?

acrobatic_shadows_croppedSY: At its heart, this class is a journey into one’s self. My hope is that it is a gift, a space for being and becoming, with a focus on career and right livelihood. Each week will have a primary focus and exercise, along with accompanying readings, videos, and activities. The participants will form a community around the course, offering feedback and support, and asking for support in return. The class will begin by examining each participant’s journey by looking at the choices and beliefs that brought us to this place and time. We’ll then begin crafting a vision, informed by our past, and rooted in our heart’s desires. The class will end with specific community-supported steps to advance our vision.

CMG: How does this focus on the leap into the work you love manifest in your own life, art and work over the years?

SY: That word, leap, has a certain ring to it in my mind. When I first left my job in the corporate world, I imagined myself leaping off of a spinning carousel. I had a belief that the carousel was built by someone else, that it was spinning too fast to see any other path, and that I had to stay on it for survival. Leaping off of the carousel meant leaving the security of a full time job with benefits, it meant leaving a career path that seemed inevitable.

Since leaping, both professionally and in offering this class, I think I’ve been able to hold onto the possibility of finding a way to be in the world that allows me to share my gifts in a healthy and fulfilling way. By holding on to this possibility, I haven’t really stopped leaping. I continue to find enjoyable ways of earning a living that meet my needs in that moment.

Not everyone has a job that they love. I know many people whose jobs merely facilitate their passions, whether it’s their family, a hobby, or a side business. In many cases, to fully leap into this other hobby or side business may not be healthy, but it may one day be sustainable. Often, these extracurricular professions provide the joy and satisfaction that can sustain someone through their workday worlds.

Primarily, this focus means that I keep the idea of “work I love” present in my heart. I use it both to seek the work that I love, and to make the work that I’m doing loveable, or worthy of love. How I show-up at work, the tone I set, the language I use, impacts both my job and the work environment of everyone around me. If I make my job one that I love, then perhaps those around me will be able to better love their jobs too.

One of the ways this focus has manifest in my life has been though my most recent job change and move. There was a time when I recognized that my current job wasn’t as healthy for me as I wanted it to be. For example, I worked alone at home and I missed having daily in-person connections with my co-workers. From this realization I began to imagine and to write about ways I could earn a living using all of my gifts. I created an elaborate plan––we’ll call it “Plan A”––to transition into Unitarian Universalist Ministry. It would take six years of part-time education along with internships and credentialing while I continued working. A year into this plan, I was laid off, disrupting everything and creating an immediate need for income. Now, I also had Plan B, which involved a degree and credentialing in the field of Marriage and Family Counseling, and Plan C, which was to work for a company where I could combine my technology skills and my spiritual path. The layoff forced me to look again for companies that matched Plan C, and this time, within a month I found a job with a company whose mission is to disseminate spiritual wisdom. No extra degree needed. No additional credentialing. From this experience, I learned to not overcomplicate things. Sometimes holding on to a vision means letting it go. You might just find that you get something better than you could have imagined.

Learn more about Scott’s upcoming class here, and consider registering by June 10 to save 10%.