Thursday, January 26, 2017

Sheila Laughton - Another Side of Storytelling

Sheila Laughton works with Veterans and their families to address the spiritual dimensions of reintegration, moral injury, and other life issues. She is a facilitator for Healing of Memories Workshops, providing one step on the healing journey for anyone who has experienced trauma. Sheila is a 2016 Veterans’ Voices awardee.

I am a professional listener; it is my job. But sometimes, I get to tell my story.

A few months ago I, along with fourteen other individuals, mostly strangers, drove though the first blizzard watch of the season to sit in a circle and share our life stories in an effort to deal with some memories that were affecting our lives. We were an eclectic bunch — young and old, male and female, Ph.D.s and high school dropouts, African- and European-Americans, alcoholics and abstainers, pillars of our community and homeless. We had been promised a safe place to tell our most traumatic stories. For some, this would be the first time; while for others, the stories were well-rehearsed. We thought we knew how much we would be willing to share, but we would all be surprised by the depths we actually reached. This time we would not only tell our stories, but we would be heard, believed, and acknowledged by multiple witnesses. We would be affirmed as valuable human beings. And we would see that it was our pain that connected us.

Storytelling has been a part of every culture for longer than recorded history. It entertains, educates, transmits culture, and creates community. But it can also reinforce a climate of “us-versus-them” to create an “other,” or strengthen existing negative stereotypes. And then there are the personal stories we have never told which have become self-destructive, overpowering our otherwise rational mind.

Each of us sees life through the lens of our unique experiences, but sometimes our perspective is clouded by trauma or physical, emotional, or spiritual injury. Are we aware of the ripple effects of family and community stories? Which stories do I share? Do I remember what actually happened—what I did, what was done to me, or what I failed to do—or could the ‘facts’ be distorted by time or trauma? Does how and what I tell convince me the ‘other’ always has the upper hand or that I’m somehow not worthy—or, do they help me make meaning of my life? Can I see the positive in life, or is everything negative? And what about those stories I never share—the ones where I am the shameful victim or the villain? Can good listeners help me put my stories into a context beyond my vision?

Now each time I tell my story, it’s different because I have seen it through the perspective of my listeners. I can see cause and effect between my past and present because I have been able to tell my story to multiple people who honored it. I learned to no longer judge yesterday’s actions by today’s insights. I’m even learning to forgive my worst critic—me.

I cannot change the past, only my interpretation of it. But I can change the story I tell.


  1. Very well written segment. You are doing good work. Telling our stories in a secure, healing environment is always a growth experience.

  2. Sheila, your last sentence is especially powerful--"we cannot change the past, we can change how we interpret it". and we can change NOW the story we tell each each other--and we must help create the stories that will carry us and children into the future. Thank you for the critical work you do!!