Thickening My Stories

May 2, 2024 | Agency, Authenticity, Worth

Some years ago I worked with Dr. Lani Peterson, a storyteller and psychologist I met through the Healing Story Alliance.  Dr. Peterson created a program called Story XChange. One of the key premises of that program is a concept she calls “thin stories.” These are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. They are never the whole story, but we live inside them as if they were. Stories that we have spun out of one incident, stories that may have a kernel of truth in them—or may not have any basis in fact. Either way, no one story about ourselves ever could hold all the truth, all the potential, of who we are. But that truth doesn’t matter because these thin stories are powerful, and unless we work to thicken them up, they determine the parameters of our lives.

I have lived inside a lot of those thin stories, and let me tell you, multiple thin stories do not a thick story make. Ironically, though for me, it was the stories themselves that thickened me up. I entered the world of storytelling by sharing old folk tales with kids. Much as I enjoyed doing that, there was one story inside me that kept rumbling to be told. For years I claimed I was going to tell that story in the Kansas City Fringe Festival. Years kept passing. Finally I met a storyteller whose stories I loved, and I turned to her for help. With Laura Packer’s guidance, I achieved my dream.

That first story made the second one possible. Even more importantly, it made me possible. Not just the me who could spend months forming a story, get up on a stage, and share it, but the me who has become brave enough to step off the stage and into the very core of who I am—the me who is more powerful and, in that power, more vulnerable, than I could have imagined  being from the prison of thin stories I had inhabited most of my life.

All of the stories I have created arc toward hope, toward being more than I have been able to actually manage living out loud. Once they had surfaced, though, they weren’t settling for just being stories. It was as if they were saying, “Hey, we didn’t work this hard to make it to the light of day to just sit here on a dusty shelf. We have showed you who you are. Get busy.” And they were right. Stories are powerful like that. And when we pay attention to them, so are we.

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