The Healing Power of Narrative

July 21, 2020
Diana Martin

Exploring your story can bring awareness and closure — and help you love this new version of yourself.

I belong to a creative gardening club on Facebook. Recently, one of the members posted a photo of a nest filled with three light blue eggs and one odd-shaped speckled one. She was determined to find out what bird had laid such interesting eggs.

The site blew up with responses. The blue eggs were from a robin, but the brown speckled egg was from a cowbird. Apparently, cowbirds are known to lay their eggs in the nests of other birds because they are too lazy to raise their own young.

Then came the unsolicited advice: “Remove the brown egg immediately. When the cowbird hatches, it will be bigger than the other birds and push them out.” And also, “The cowbird will take food from the other birds, and they will starve to death.” On the opposing side: “If the egg is removed, the robin will sense that humans have tampered with her nest and not return,” and “Cowbirds are becoming extinct. If you remove the egg, it will die.”

The debate was intriguing and heated. What would this woman do? And then it hit me. There is no right answer.

Somehow this made me remember all the opinions people shared with me after my husband died from bile duct cancer almost five years ago. How was I to heal with all this coming at me? What decisions should I make when everything had a consequence that didn’t seem good or right?

At times, I did nothing and let nature take its course. Other times, I branched out — and then became overwhelmed. I started a new relationship, which ended badly, and suffered consequences I was not prepared for. I also found a group home for our 26-year-old son who has autism. That, too, has been a challenging adjustment.

A few months before the cowbird dilemma, I took a class called, “The Healing Power of Your Personal Narrative,” offered by Rachel Nusbaum of Orchid Story. In the class, she presented an illustration of a tree and asked us to write on the trunk how we felt when we first experienced the traumatic event. I wrote these: My life is over. I have nothing to give. I am not loveable. My heart is broken. I have no future. I will never know love. I am hopeless.

Next she asked us to write on the leaves how we feel today, since most of us were several years out from the loss. On the lower leaves I wrote: Love will find me. I have a purpose. I have more to give. I am loveable. As I wrote my way to the upper leaves, I became even more positive: I will survive. I am strong. I can be happy. I am enough. I continued around the tree with more positives: I am capable. My life has just begun. I am not alone.

I have a future.

Although I was in an average mood that day, I did this exercise and it showed me that I had begun to heal — and that it was not all bad. I had made some progress.

My tree had grown fresh green leaves that I wanted to color and add pink flowers to. Today I look at the tree, and I still see that hope. Some of the leaves have turned brown and withered away. Some are tiny sprouts still waiting to fill in. If I nourish the tree, it will grow strong, but a wind may blow it down anyway. Some things are out of my control.

I also know that just when I have mustered enough faith and hope, a cowbird will lay its egg in my perfect robin’s nest. I wonder what I will do?

This questioning is, of course, what keeps us all alive. It is an ongoing process, as is my story, which has made me stronger and helped me heal more deeply.

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