It is our most debilitating weakness that often turns into our greatest strength. Our most shameful secrets that bring about our most lasting peace. And our deepest sorrows that lead to our greatest joys.

But not until we share them.

For most of us, this goes against every instinct we have. The awful experiences in our past – whether they are things we’ve done, things others have done to us, or devastating and embarrassing events that just happened – the last thing we want to do is talk about them. What we’d rather do is hide them, ignore them, or bury them down so deeply that we can forget about them and pretend they never happened.

It doesn’t work that way, however. Often they fester and smolder, causing untold inner and outer damage. But when brought to the surface and exposed to the light of day, they can bring about acceptance, understanding, and healing – for ourselves and for others.

I’ve seen this over and over again in my own life and in the lives of others. And I saw it in action again last weekend, in a powerful way.

I was at an event in support of a crisis pregnancy center, and two of the speakers shared their personal stories – about experiences that may have been almost as difficult and painful to talk about as they were to go through in the first place. One of the women talked about how she – as a poor, young, pregnant student – considered having an abortion. The reason she didn’t was that she didn’t have the money to pay for the procedure. She eventually had the baby and gave her up for adoption.

The other woman did have an abortion – after becoming pregnant following a sexual assault. She talked openly and honestly about her emotions and her behavior before and after this dark time in her life.

What struck me about both of these women was how brave they were to share their stories, especially knowing that even now, decades later, there are many people who would sit in judgment of them, think less of them, and perhaps even turn their backs on them for what happened so long ago. Even so, these women spoke up, so that others could learn from their experience. So that women who find themselves with an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy can feel less alone. And so that those of us who’ve never gone through anything like that could understand the fears, the doubts, the desperation of those who have.

And that takes courage.

The fact that this is an emotional and controversial topic – one in which most people have strong religious, political, and personal beliefs – emphasizes even more the enormous amount of courage it took for these two women to stand up and tell their stories. I hope that everyone who heard them, and everyone who ever will, also recognizes them as lessons in compassion and understanding. These are messages we all can benefit from. And that we can learn from each other, when we’re brave enough to share our stories.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on April 21, 2016.
©Betty Liedtke, 2016

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