Drop the rock. Sounds simple, right? Yet, what’s simple can be very hard to do. We drop the rock and, then, discover, out of habit, without having decided to do so or even realizing we’ve done it, we realize somehow we’ve picked it up and resumed carrying it again. When we’re carrying that rock — usually, the rock is heavy fear and shame that, consciously or unconsciously, dominates our thoughts and feelings and, therefore, influences our behaviors — our hands are not free to do the work that we are intended to do. 

Thomas Merton wrote in No Man Is an Island that, when we wring our hands with anxiety and worry, they’re no longer free to do the good work that God intends for us. When we live in hope and turn our wounds and worries over to God, however we understand a Power greater than ourselves — i.e., we drop the rock. With the help of our spirituality, we empty our hands so that we may use them. 

“Let go and let God” means that by believing that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to “sanity,” we understand, accept, welcome and, in fact, embrace that a Power greater than ourselves has a clearer, safer and healthier vision for us and for our lives than we do. That spirituality is what frees us from living in the bondage of self, which is a miserable way to live. We embrace this because the pain from “self-will running riot” (12 step programs) has made our lives painful and unmanageable.

So, how do you drop the rock? Tell your story.

Tell your story not just to your current partner in your trauma-bonded relationship or your therapist but also to your 12-step program sponsor, to 12-step meeting attendees (especially newcomers), select friends, your “Higher Power” and, most importantly, when it’s developmentally appropriate to do so, to your children and other members of your family who are receptive to hearing it. Most of us have more than one story or our story is so long that it’s best to tell it in parts as smaller, more digestible stories. It’s important to share the trauma and loss narratives that are an intrinsic part of your history and your family’s history to raise awareness and share the insights that your generation and, equally important, future generations need to know in order to learn how to navigate their own lives to stop the intergenerational transmissions of trauma. If we don’t do that, then the saying, “We’re only as sick as our secrets,” inevitably will continue to play out not only in your own life but also in the lives of your children and subsequent generations. 

Sadly, many people, with the very best of intentions, decide to try to protect themselves and their children, grandchildren and others from the traumas that they experienced by keeping their family dysfunction, wounds and traumas secret. All too often, that results in some manifestation of the intergenerational transmission of those same traumatic experiences. There’s even some evidence that, to some degree, trauma transmits to the next generation on a physical, genetic level.

Oprah Winfrey and Bruce Perry, MD, PhD have written a book, What Happened to You: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience and Healing, that asks the right question — What happened to you? — rather than the wrong question — What’s wrong with you?

The next step is telling your story — not just what someone else did you to but, also, what you did with that experience. Tell your story, not just your perpetrator’s story. 

Take it one step further — do what you can to learn why your dysfunctional, abusive and/or neglectful parent(s) had the life story they had. Once you know what contributed to making them who they are/were, you’ll be able to view them with compassion and forgiveness that you didn’t have access to before. When you answer the question — what happened to you? — over time, you’ll begin to feel clearer and lighter because, while telling your stories, you’re letting go of the shame and fear that never did belong to you. 

It’s not your fault. What happened to you is not your fault. Repeat that however many times you need to do so. And, even better, listen to the stories told by someone who’s got what you want — that inner peace and serenity, lightheartedness and laughter. Listen to them tell their stories to learn from them and to realize in a deep way that you’re not alone, you’re not unique — that you’re a member of the human family. Through our stories our healing becomes contagious. Share it generously.

So, now, let’s get to your story. What did you do with your life as a result of what happened to you? Most of us internalized the shame and fear and, at times, we also projected it onto others, usually those who were closest to us. Here’s where we take a close, honest, gentle look at ourselves, giving ourselves as much compassion, forgiveness and acceptance as we’ve seen in and experienced from others in recovery. 

  • Did we drink alcohol or misuse or abuse drugs to self-medicate our grief, anxiety, stress, fear and/or shame?
  • Did we smoke cigarettes to distance ourselves from our feelings and other people? 
  • Did we become obsessed with trying to change or rescue other people? 
  • Did we spend money or gamble compulsively?
  • Did we bury ourselves and our feelings in work, becoming human doings instead of human beings?

There’s a freedom, serenity and happiness that comes from living our lives shamelessly, from no longer being terrified of and running away from our feelings and other people and, instead, learning how to welcome them to sit with us, from no longer judging others and accepting them exactly as they are today, even if/when they’re still reeling and/or hurting. Inevitably, there will be times in our lives when we’ll still feel anger fear, guilt or shame and when we’ll slip back into old habits. That’s okay. “Progress not perfection” is as good as it gets. Learning to identify our feelings, to sit with them, to tolerate experiencing them, to talk about them, to express them and, even, to welcome them empowers us to no longer make decisions in our lives based on old, toxic emotions. It’s how we free ourselves — how we learn to get out of our own way. Sharing our stories and listening to others as they share theirs empowers us to know that there is safety in numbers, to realize and feel gratitude in knowing with confidence that we are never truly alone.