Wide Open

You could feel his rage leave the room as quickly as it entered. It made the air feel thick and heavy until it was hard to breathe. She looked up at me as if to say, “help me”. I put my arm tightly around her shoulder and told her she’d be safe with us. Her name was Alyssa. A freshman in high school, trying to survive with a father determined to force her into compliance. Alyssa was a beautiful, strong young woman who stood up to her dad in the beginning, but wore out over time. To say her parents were strict would be an understatement. The bedroom became her prison where she was barely allowed to leave except to go to church. The times she did come to youth group, you could tell whether it had been an okay day or a really bad one. The emotional and verbal abuse was not always visible as marks on her body, but it was there. She constantly slouched over when she walked or sat as if carrying an invisible weight. Alyssa began wearing long sleeved shirts that covered her wrists. Even in the dead of summer, her grunge look was layered with a long, white cotton shirt with a self-made holes for her thumbs. One evening, she volunteered for a youth group game and was splattered with water. It provoked laughter from the group and for the first time in a long time and without thinking she pushed up her sleeves. Her arms were *wide open,* revealing fresh cuts on her wrists. We exchanged a glance and she quickly covered them up again. Her pain was no longer a secret. Someone now knew a part of what she’d been going through…a part of her story.

Our world is so big…it truly is. Since my early twenties, I have invested a lot of time, energy and money on mission trips that have shaped my worldview. When I arrive home, I always appreciate the luxuries our great Country provides, but try to maintain a global mindset. Our American culture has the tendency to compartmentalize humans into different categories,which influences our overall thinking of one another. People are either poor, making ends meet or rich. White skin, tan skin or dark skin. Male, female, or transgender. Introvert or extrovert. Driven or lazy. Popular or socially awkward. Think about it. What thoughts run through your head when you walk by dozens of homeless people in downtown Chicago? We may feel compassion for the person, but we also unintentionally create barriers in our thinking that separate us from them based on socio economic realities. Here is my point: That homeless human sitting on the filthy sidewalk has a story. Their personal backstory would probably blow our minds. We all believe we’re so different, unique and one of a kind. While we have been created intentionally incomparable, there is someone in the universe who can relate to your struggle, your loss, your pain. Someone is going through a parallel experience bringing on the same feelings you might be experiencing: the panic attacks you cover up, the depression that creeps in every time you’re alone, the critical voice inside your head that beats you up incessantly or the frustration that builds up causing you to freak out on your kids. Maybe it’s feelings of disappointment when the job promotion goes to your friend instead of you or the weekly “high” that comes from shopping online. I didn’t say “all the feelings” we experience make us proud! There are plenty of feelings we turn to that should be traded for healthier emotional habits. However, I am saying that someone out there has felt what you feel now and while we’re all different, we don’t have to journey alone.

Every person has a story with the power to crack you wide open.

3 Ways We Can Move Towards the Power of Story

1.You’re Not Alone. I love the idea that each of us is unique, one of a kind, and different. Depending on the type of family you grew up in, this belief may be ingrained in your thinking. While each human on the planet is diverse, there is someone else who can relate to you. Someone in your community, job, or friend group who has a backstory filled with similar experiences. Establishing the fact that it’s not “just us”, will create movement towards relatability.

2.Sharing is Caring. We’ve all heard the saying, “sharing is caring” as children, but it’s actually true. After we’ve established that someone else in our world can relate to our story, the second step is to value the connection that comes as a result of sharing our story. Brene Brown is kind of incredible. She defines connection as the “energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship”. We all thrive on this kind of connectivity, but it begins with the willingness to be vulnerable.

3.Where to Begin. The platform you choose for connection is a personalized decision. Social media can be an incredible place to start or having coffee with that acquaintance you keep putting off. Find someone this week who just might inspire you with their personal “why”, their triumphs, their loss, their story. They don’t have to look like you, act like you or think like you. If it’s your first time, you’ll be amazed by the power of connection. It will rip your heart *wide open* to receive the grace, empathy, and strength that comes as a result of opening up.

Her Arms

What happened to Allysa? She made it. Making the choice to be incredibly open about what she had been going through was HARD, but because she chose vulnerability we were able to get her the help and intervention the family needed. Let me end with this thought. If you are hurting to the point where you are harming yourself, please stop. Stop now. You are beautiful, valuable, and amazing. You were created for a purpose in this life and there is someone who is meant to listen to your pain, your story and help you through it.

To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery. If YOU or someone you know is dealing with anything like this, please find the place in your community and ask for help. [Find Help — TWLOHA](https://twloha.com/find-help/)