The Stories We Tell: Testimonial Writing Led By the Very Best

Write to Heal

Guest Post by Roger A. Canaff

Legal Expert, Anti-Violence & Child Protection Advocate August 13, 2014   

Healing can, thankfully, take many forms over a long and perhaps perpetual journey. The trick, I think, is to embrace the ride as something more joyful in its own right rather than a task. Thriving is what then follows. A weekend I spent in a writer’s workshop in June of this year proved to be a perfect example.   The weekend would be difficult to describe, although she wasn’t, at least superficially. She sat on the stoop before the entrance to an address in Manhattan, a young woman in her mid 20’s I’d guess, there to greet the other attendees to the same writer’s workshop and let them with a card key into to the classroom where we’d meet. Even on a perfect June morning, that was a typical ritual in a big city setting, and so she waited for each of us.  

It was called “The Stories We Tell,” the country’s first testimonial writing workshop for survivors of sexual violence, domestic violence and trafficking. I was invited to participate in June of this year in New York City. Sponsored by the Voices and Faces Project out of Chicago, the goal was to meet as survivors, read the stories of other survivors of trauma in literature, and then help each other learn how to write about what we’d gone through. Along the way we’d also listen to how we described it, both to ourselves and to each other.  

Find your (1)

I had an idea of what to expect, but not much of an idea how I would react, and what would come forth from the efforts I made. There was anticipation. There was some nervousness as well.  

So as I approached the address, I was oddly lifted and calmed by the sight of her, giving me a clipped wave as she recognized me as a participant. I’m not sure why. She was pretty in a fresh, sweet way with a longish skirt and a simple, buttoned up top. She looked simple, in a fresh, sweet way- a flower perched on old concrete- in the blinding, perfect sunshine.  

Abuse Survivors Bloomin

It was only later that I realized how much more concrete she was, in the ways that matter, than flower. And everything she was, I found echoed in every other magnificent woman that weekend. They were generous, kind, decent and heartbroken; all of them, as was I, the only male participant. The heartbreak had healed in large part for most of us (although not all of us) but in any event my co-participants were willing to risk sharing a large part of the tragedies and crimes that had shaped their lives. To say it was an honor to be a part of that sharing would be an understatement. To say that it was an uplifting experience to see such resolve not to let those crimes control their lives would be even more of one.  

Our facilitators were Anne Ream, a nationally known author, anti-violence advocate and survivor herself (and a founder of the Voices and Faces Project), and Clifton Spargo, a long-time friend of Anne’s and a remarkably gifted professional writer. Through tenderness, patience and dignity, these two friends created a space that did more than allow us to write to the best of our abilities that weekend. Indeed, they gave us a sanctuary. We got to know one another probably more than most would have imagined was possible. We were strengthened by each other, and then beautifully united through various exercises by Clift and Anne as the weekend progressed. Their skill as writers augmented what we were able to summon from within. Their skill as responders, in the calm, healing, compassionate way that seems as angelic as it is God-gifted, made us better for the experience in far greater ways than I could have imagined.  

broken heart of abuse survivor

The cracks in our hearts, minds and souls remain. But as my good friend Chris Anderson of MaleSurivor is fond of saying, the best analogy of us as once-broken people is to the art of kintsugi (or Kintsukuroi). Kintsugi is about the art of repairing shattered pottery pieces with gold aligning the cracks themselves. The presence of those cracks makes the piece more beautiful for having been broken.   Indeed, those women are remarkably beautiful. And I was blessed to have been included among them. Thank you, Anne, Clift, and all of you. The gold along my own cracks is as much a gift as any I’ve ever received. This, at last, is healing. This, at last, is thriving.       healing boyhood abuse

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