When Sharing Our Pain Helps Others

 

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the concept of “sharing”. Specifically, in the realm of life experiences.  And more specifically, the sharing of adverse life experiences.  Case in point. I recently attended a fundraiser for a non-profit agency where the guest speaker was a recovering  addict. His story was quite compelling. He was a basketball protégé, a star athlete in high school, who went on to be recruited by top basketball programs. He ultimately made it to the NBA and played a few years on the Boston Celtics. (Click here to learn more about him: Chris Herren)

Along the way, he became addicted to alcohol, cocaine, heroin, opioids, you name it. He got married, had three kids (all while using), and almost killed himself in a drug induced car accident. His story was that of overcoming the odds to beat his addiction, reclaim his family, and ultimately become a champion for helping youth learn how not to follow in his footsteps. As a speaker, he spends over 200 days a year visiting high schools, colleges, professional sports teams, fundraising organizations and so forth. In other words, he shares his heartbreak, his failures, his pain to give others hope, inspiration and ultimately redemption.

As I listened to him tell his story, replete with excruciating details of how he sunk lower and lower into addiction, how he threw away a stellar basketball career and almost lost his family, I couldn’t help but wonder how he rallies to give these talks over and over and over. At one point, he said he feels blessed to be able to do what he’s doing. That he’s been given a second chance at making something of his life. And it got me thinking about how one person can touch so many lives by simply sharing their story. He said that if he can save just “one kid” as a result of his speaking, it is worthwhile.

How many of us have the courage to stand in front of an audience and share in detail our rock bottom failures? Or share anything of a personal nature, for that matter?  I asked myself that very question about a year ago when I was approached to be a speaker for a women’s performance called “That’s what She Said.” To this day, I’m not sure why I was asked to speak. My “story” wasn’t anywhere near as dramatic, compelling, messy or interesting as some of the others. One woman spoke of her addiction and recovery. Another, of domestic abuse (of her and her infant son) and her struggle to finally leave and start her life over.  Another spoke of her struggle as a stay at home mom stuck in the Midwest while dreaming of performing on Broadway.img_0209

So, what did I talk about? I shared that I sometimes feel like I’m “not enough” and the ongoing struggle not to compare my life to others. Typical “first world” angst. I also spoke about loss. Losing my brother in a plane crash. Losing my dad to Alzheimer’s. And I talked about challenges I’ve faced in “middle age”. I closed by saying that I no longer measure myself with other people’s yardsticks and that I try to embrace aging and living every moment to the fullest. Pretty basic stuff. But I wondered if my “sharing” actually made an impact? I felt my woes were a little “shallow” compared to what others have overcome. I am not an addict. Nor have I lived with domestic violence. Yes, I’ve had my share of life struggles, but compared to others, they seemed a little too… pedestrian.

But to my surprise, several audience members approached me after the show and said they related to my story and that their struggles were similar. A friend texted me a few days later. She had listened to my talk and told me that it spoke to her on many levels. Specifically about feeling “not enough” and about feeling left out by friends.  what this told me is that being a bit of an “open book” with your life can really help others. What better feeling is there than to know that you are not alone in your struggles, that you are not the only person facing a tough situation.

In this world of social media, people tend to only share the highlight reels of their life. This enforces feelings of inferiority. Of not measuring up. Which is why I think it’s so important to balance what we present in social media to more accurately parallel real life. Real life isn’t 100% perfect vacations, endless social events, stellar business success or your offspring’s amazing accomplishments. I figure, what’s the point in trying appear as a jet setting socialite if it just makes other people feel jealous or inferior? We all have bad days at work. We all struggle with illness and failure. Most people spend entire days doing housework and mind numbing errands. It’s great to share milestones, wedding photos, births, graduations, and the occasional vacation. But those are the highlights of life. Real life is not always so glamorous.

I know that not everyone is comfortable sharing the “not so impressive” aspects of their lives, and I’m not advocating that everyone do so. I’m just suggesting that we consider sharing experiences that let others know that they are not alone in leading a life full of twists and turns. That we all are imperfect. Wouldn’t it be interesting if people posted more everyday events to balance out the highlights? Here’s me on vacation in Italy… and here’s me walking the dog, trying out a new recipe, sharing an article about Alzheimer’s (or any other disease), or a humorous post about what your kids or dog destroyed that day. And maybe, here’s someone talking about a tough diagnosis, or sharing a resource that can help someone who desperately needs it.

The speaker I mentioned at the opening of this blog, The NBA player/recovering addict  Chris Herren has undoubtably touched thousands of lives and helped countless young people struggling with addiction by sharing his story. Sure, he’d probably rather he didn’t travel that road, and instead had a long career as a professional athlete, but his recovery, his rise from the ashes, his sharing of his story is what turned his struggle into an opportunity to change lives for the better. And that is the true power of sharing.

 

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