story-healing circles

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Tell me your story.

These were the words I used to begin every interview I conducted with asylum seekers and refugees for over a decade. They were an invitation for the individuals sitting across from me - some of the world’s most vulnerable people - to have someone bear witness to their experiences of persecution, injustice, trauma, violence, grief, and the list goes on. But never once in all those years did I stop to consider that the story I needed to witness most of all was my own.

But why would I want to?

Our life story doesn’t just say what happened to us - it also says why it was important, what it means, who we became through it, and what comes next.

In addition to all the good things that had happened in my life, my story was also filled with experiences of pain, sadness, trauma, grief and shame - all of which, I’d learned at a young age, were viewed by the culture in which I existed as making me somehow weak, when the truth is that these experiences simply made me human. So I worked extra hard to move past these stories and leave them behind. The only problem? I hadn’t actually moved past them or left them behind. My survival instinct had kicked in at some point and helped me suppress them and shove them down into the deep, dark, recesses of my brain where things go to hide and I wouldn’t see them every day. But not seeing them didn’t mean I was healing them, and without actually healing them, the stories stayed buried, but alive within me, becoming an inherent part of my identity, impacting my thoughts, actions, and beliefs for the next three decades of my life without me even realizing it.

Our need to share stories is an inherent part of being human. Stories are how we make meaning of the world around us. How we discern between friend and foe, danger and safety. Our stories help us understand who we are as individuals and our role in the world. They influence and build the lens through which we see and experience the world around us.

What I’ve learned over the years of working at the crossroads of the government and humanitarian sectors is that there is power in sharing our stories and speaking our truths. There is healing in the collective, common humanity when we share them with others.

Our facilitated story-healing circles are designed to create deeper, more meaningful connection on teams and across organizations. We work with you to create brave spaces of community where people can show up fully to heal and flourish.

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Regardless of whether you call it stress, trauma, occupational challenges or something else, leaving these issues unaddressed can negatively impact our mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational health and can often lead to:
  • Emotional isolation
  • Feeling disconnected from purpose
  • Lingering feelings of anger, rage and sadness related to your work
  • Experiencing bystander guilt, shame, feelings of self-doubt
  • Being preoccupied with thoughts of work even when you’re not working
  • Violence towards yourself or others
  • Loss of hope, pessimism, cynicism
  • Distancing, numbing, detachment
  • An inability to effectively do your job

Stories are how we connect to others and share our experiences.

HOPE + HEALING WRITING GROUPS

In 2010, while on assignment in Zambia, I recognized that I was experiencing signs of compassion fatigue, burnout, and vicarious trauma as a result of my work. I figured that if I was experiencing this, others in the field likely were, too - but we weren’t talking about it. At the time there was virtually no post-trauma therapy for staff in these sectors and individuals were simply expected to “tough it out” until they no longer could.

Exposure to traumatic events and danger, long working hours, stress, and frequent, often back-to-back deployments abroad, meant that my colleagues and I were at high risk of experiencing different forms of trauma and susceptible to depression, burnout, and anxiety. A survey run by the Guardian in 2015 found that 79 percent of respondents had experienced mental health issues, and 93 percent said they were related to work. A separate study found that only 20 percent of humanitarian workers felt their organizations were supporting them. Over 50% said they'd experienced or been diagnosed with anxiety, and 44% with depression. Panic attacks and post-traumatic stress injuries were cited among over 1/5 of these staff.

While I recognize that working in service of others can be rewarding and provide opportunities to support and connect to a greater purpose, I also know that any work that impacts the lives of other human beings is also messy and challenging and can leave you feeling depleted and susceptible to occupational challenges that are unique to high human impact careers.

The Hope + Healing Writing Groups are a series of 6 virtual group coaching sessions held over 6 weeks. In the days between the live coaching sessions, you will access a daily writing prompt designed to help you explore the impact of your experiences through writing, providing you with a brave space to work through, and move towards, healing complex emotions, loss of trust, and feelings of grief, demoralization, fury, shame, guilt and despair in order to preserve your own humanity, and reconnect to hope and gratitude in order to continue serving others.

This is a trauma-informed space so you will never be required to share the details of the personal experiences you write about, but you will be invited to share any thoughts, perspectives, and insights coming out of the writing.

Journaling and writing about my own experiences over the past couple of years has been such an important part of my own healing journey, and has helped me not only heal and find connection with others who have had similar experiences, but it’s also allowed me to cultivate new perspectives and insights about myself, and reconnect to hope, gratitude and resilience in ways I could not have imagined in the past.

The health benefits of writing about trauma are well documented and suggests writing about trauma can be beneficial because it can help people re-evaluate their experiences by looking at them from different perspectives and ease the emotional pressure of negative experiences.

We will be launching our first writing group later this year. If you would like to be added to the waiting list and be contacted when the group opens, please sign up for our waiting list.

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