Mapping the tides of our life through story-telling

By June Alexander

Life-writing is simply telling a story from our life. Sounds simple, but depending on how deep we dare to plunge into our past, the process can spark a ripple effect that turn into tidal waves of emotion. When we write even a brief account of something we have experienced, for instance a serious illness or trauma, we are required to duck-dive at least a little to explore beneath the surface and catch our waves. This reflective process enables us to map and illustrate our journey. Using our memory, and drawing on our ability to describe and tell our story, helps us find shape and meaning in our lives.

To encourage reflection, guidance on subjects to consider for story-telling practice can be helpful.  Usually we are drawn to topics that are mostly positive,  because they are pleasant and don’t require much under-the-surface searching. However, it is helpful to occasionally explore these deeper, I-don’t-want-to-go-there topics, as they provide an opportunity to share and gain release from a negative or troubling experience.

Story suggestions can be helpful as warm-ups in preparation for submerging yourself into your memory of times gone by. If you happen to be in a group workshop, the benefits will multiply rapidly.

Some story-starters
Paddle through your memory bank to write about a time when you:
• helped another person
• realized what really matters in life
• overcame a major difficulty
• felt you belonged as part of a group or team
• knew what you wanted to do with your life
• were recognized for exhibiting a special talent or quality
• did something that you were proud of
• learned something important to you
• lived in a certain house or suburb
• “Look back, and now understand that …”

You may feel a little hesitant at first, but keep paddling with your pen and you will be amazed at what appears on your page. With guidance from a writing mentor, within two or three weeks, even when you have not written before, you are likely to be feeling more confident and ready to engage and share your written work with others.

I offer private life story mentoring, in one-to-one sessions, which can be very helpful when sharing memories that perhaps have been suppressed for a long time, perhaps since early childhood, and also in group situations, where a positive reinforcement approach catches on quickly. One writer’s experience often sparks the release of thoughts in others, that they, in turn, wish to share, and so there develops a mutual applauding and encouragement of each other’s piece of writing.

The venue is also important – a relaxed, supportive and familiar ambiance, preferably. Envisage cups of tea and coffee on the table, a plate of cookies, notebooks and pens, laptops if you have them.

Often I find that the person who believes they have no story worth sharing emerges, as the weeks proceed, to shine as the most engaged and prolific story-teller. Mentoring helps you to focus on your story – sometimes I meet people who have felt compelled to think that their place in life exists only through servitude or in the shadow of others – but with encouragement through the narrative, they are able to connect with and strengthen their sense of self. It is most gratifying and exhilarating to witness the transition from timid to confident, from low self-esteem to feeling “yes, my story is worthwhile, I do have something to offer, I can do this, and this.” Because, truly, your story does count.

As your writing guide,  I am here to help you navigate the waves of your life, and if you have been afraid to venture forth from what seems safety in the harbor, to explore the delights of the ocean beyond, your pen can be your compass and your notebook your raft.  The waves that have seemed too big to ride before will increasingly give way to exploring new destinations, as you realize and believe that your life actually has been eventful, is worthwhile, and has possibilities.

Although not essential, group and face-to-face interaction is beneficial – occasionally, at least. Web-based support is possible and suits participants who lack mobility or who live out of town, or who feel not quite ready to be in a group situation. The Internet is a vital social networking tool, and Internet-based writing therapy is ideal if, for whatever reason, you prefer to write from home.

     Photographs and poetry add further dimensions to life-writing and can be included in your sessions if desired. Oh, and at every age and stage, humor is an essential ingredient.

Whatever your situation, it’s time to navigate and find fresh direction for yourself, or to reflect and give direction to others, through writing your life story. I’m here to guide you, so get in touch today.

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About June Alexander

I have written nine books about eating disorders since my recovery (my “reconnection with true self”) from anorexia nervosa and other long term mental health challenges in 2006. In 2017, I graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy (Creative Writing). My contribution to the eating disorder field was recognised at the 2016 Academy for Eating Disorders International Conference in San Francisco where I was awarded the Meehan/Hartley Award for Public Service and Advocacy. I am currently a co-chair of the NEDC Steering Committee Evidence of Experience Group, a foundation steering committee member of the annual World Eating Disorders Action Day, and an Advisory Panel member for F.E.A.S.T.

All articles by June Alexander

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