This blog post is not going to win me any popularity contest, in fact some people may not agree with me or like me…who knows. I do know that since this blog is about my truth, I really have to honor that for myself and not get caught up in being afraid of being disagreed with or disliked. I am not a polarizing personality and have no interest in being one, but when I watched Oprah’s Life Class this past week with Iyanla Vanzant I could feel the polarity within me, the part of me riling up against what they were doing and saying on that show and the part of me that saw some aspects of truth that resonated for me.
First I need to start off by saying that I am a huge fan of Oprah and Iyanla, have been for many, many years. Oprah’s show saved me in so many ways and Iyanla’s appearances on Oprah, her books and her time on Starting Over (which I auditioned for, right before it went off the air) have been some of my favorites and most enlightening moments throughout the years.
I was looking forward to this episode and did not go into it in a cynical mood (not that I am aware of). In fact I was open to receiving the message but found myself fighting it all the way through. And perhaps my attachment to my own story is what riled me up..I’ll even take that into consideration. But I don’t consider myself someone who tells her story (childhood story in particular) very often at all. In fact, there are so many parts of my story, that I haven’t told, that I still need to tell in order to heal and I would truly resent being cut off as many times as Iyanla cut off all the guests who went into the their stories. I realize she was driving an important point home and this is television after all and so there really isn’t time for people to go into their stories and because of what she was trying to say, there was no need to give space for stories.
But I am a firm believer that stories are meant to be honored.
Unfortunately what I saw on this episode of Life Class was a bit disheartening to me. Iyanla talked about being addicted to your story and I agree many of us are addicted to our stories…some of us like to commiserate over our stories over and over again, carrying them from year to year with us like badges of honor as she so aptly put it. I totally agree with this and the question “who would you be without your story” which comes from Byron Katie’s The Work, is a question I ask my clients as well as myself often.
My work revolves around coming back to the truth of who you are underneath your story…it is my byline after all, but in order to come back to the truth, I believe our stories are the forests we have to get through to get to the truth. In fact I believe our stories are the path and the way we get to the truth of who we are. It is through healing ourselves from the pain of our stories, that we come home to ourselves.
We just can’t jump to the truth, at least most of us can’t. It is not as simple as cutting yourself off when you go into your story and jumping to the truth over and over again. When you cut yourself off that way, you are cutting off the parts of you that are still in pain..and they are not going anywhere. In fact I believe they will become stronger, and want to get your attention even more. It is dangerous to not acknowledge the truth of where you’ve been, and the pain you are still in. Fancy words will not get you there. Affirmations without true healing work will not get you there…and being in therapy and telling your story over and over for 20 years, for that matter, will not get you there either.
What I think we are missing here is the middle ground or rather the work in between honoring your story and creating a new story. That is my issue here with pop psychology and a lot of self improvement movements..they miss very vital points. (by the way the name of the Iyanla’s new show is tentatively, Iyanla: Fix My Life)
Quick fixes for long held beliefs, shame, pain, anger, sadness do not work. We want to buy into it..we want to believe that by knowing we are addicted to our stories, it will change our lives, that by having someone shake us up, we will transform. It rarely works that way.
Here are some of the vital points I think were missing from this episode of Life Class:
One, there are many people who have never been able to tell their story, who live in shame, and are afraid to tell their story. Sexual abuse survivors in particular come to mind. These are people who need to tell their story and probably over and over in safe spaces in order to loosen the power of their story.
I found it a little deceptively easy the way Iyanla worked with Steve on the stage. It doesn’t take into account the different parts of him who now probably feel exposed, used, the cynic who is telling him this is bull once he sits down, the young child in him who really still needs so much love and nurturing, the addict in him who still wants the fix. I wish more had been said about what Steve needs to do now after this dramatic scene on stage. It is not enough for most of us to have someone look into our eyes and act as our mother or father and tell us what we needed to hear once. This kind of work is ongoing. I’ve done this kind of work in my own life, many times, and we heal layers of it each time. I wish we had heard more about what Steve and the Steve’s of our world need to do on an ongoing basis to “Stop the Pain”.
There seemed to be a couple of contradictions..don’t tell your story and then tell the story of your pain which even Oprah noticed. I’m not sure anyone was clear on this. I’m still not clear.
And then there was the mother with the autistic child…I can’t even tell you how upset I was by this whole segment. The lack of compassion, the tag team, the not letting her speak, not letting her have a moment to feel into herself for what she was feeling. This kind of work with people needs to be slowed down. The asking her whether she loved her son and finally the most disrespectful moment in which Iyanla basically told her if she can’t love him to give him to another family. I am sorry, but I think this was a case of retraumatization for this woman and of course I can’t be sure, but I can’t imagine how much this could have helped her. Never was she given a moment to grieve the loss of the dream, the dream of motherhood in the way she envisioned it. Never was she given the space to really explore what she was feeling and her truth beyond the circumstances. I never doubted for a moment that she loved her son…and yet they did and I found this a dishonoring of this woman and her relationship with her son. A pure example of quick fixes going too far, making great television, but leaving these human beings exposed and shamed.
We heal not by being shamed. We heal by being heard, seen, honored, respected, loved, and known.
Stories are meant to be honored..they are part of us, part of our history, they still affect us today whether we go around telling those stories or not..they are living, breathing parts of us. they deserve reverence, we deserve reverence when we are speaking our stories and our pain. How long we do it, and at what point does it still serve us vs. work against us, is an individual process. There is no cookie cutter answer to this. I believe some of us need to tell it again and again for the years we couldn’t say a word, for the years we held on to toxic secrets for our own self preservation. Each time we tell it there is another layer of feeling that is revealed and is able to bubble up and be felt. It unfreezes us, it rises from the rubble to be seen and heard, this time with the love and compassion it deserved in the first place, not with cutting off once again, the stifling, the dishonoring of it. as it happened in this episode of Life Class.
I am still a fan of both women and what they have accomplished in their lives. I still see them as my sisters, but I just don’t agree with them on this one. I thank them though because I became very clear on what is true for me because of them.