‘The Power of Storytelling’ by Lisbeth Riis Cooper

lrcooperLisbeth Riis Cooper is another person whose blogs on Mad in America I really appreciate and value. Here’s one on storytelling.

‘Over the years, I have heard many powerful recovery stories. I’ve also had many opportunities to share our family’s struggle with mental health challenges and our recovery journey.

Each time I share my story, it gets a little easier. I feel a little lighter, a little more hopeful. And I realize how far our family has come, how much we have learned and healed.

Stories are powerful. And so is the process of telling them. Here is what I have observed over my last 10 years of storytelling:

Sharing our pain makes it easier to bear. Being able to share my story in a safe nonjudgmental space has been deeply healing. So has hearing that other families have experienced similar challenges, fears and concerns. I know now I am not alone. Not by a longshot.

Stories inspire hope. When families come together, we not only share our pain but also our joy. We help remind each other that our family members are whole and complete human beings with unique talents and strengths. Our recovery stories offer hope to families that have forgotten or didn’t know hope was possible after a diagnosis.

Stories help us view our lives in new ways. Hearing other families’ stories helps us see patterns that might not be apparent when we are knee deep in our own. We see that recovery is a process with ups and downs. Sometimes there are leaps forward, sometimes steps backward. But over time, with good support, recovery moves in a positive direction. We also learn that there are many ways to heal.

We aren’t always the main character. For many of us, it takes a little time to realize that our family members are ultimately responsible for their own recovery. In fact, taking personal responsibility is the key to recovery.

By sharing stories, families help each other learn how to let go, how to trust, how not to enable (or disable) and, yes, how to let our family members stumble sometimes. We are not the stars of these recovery stories, but we can play supportive roles.

We are the main character in our own recovery story. When a family member struggles with extreme emotional states, all family members struggle. Families need support and encouragement to work on their own recovery process to heal and find joy again. When families regain balance through self-care, they become more supportive and available to their family member as well.

Stories aren’t always pretty, or funny or happy. Stories aren’t always ugly, or serious or sad. They are all of these things and more. Just like life. When we share our stories, we cry together, we laugh together and we heal together.

Stories help us access what is true about ourselves so we can create meaningful and supportive relationships.

Sometimes it is easier to tell our stories to strangers. Unfortunately, mental illness is still misunderstood in our culture. We don’t always feel comfortable or safe sharing our families’ emotional struggles for fear of being judged or blamed.

Initially, it was easier for me to share my story with complete strangers. I knew I’d never see them again and, so I wasn’t as worried about being judged. Often, I felt that my story had really touched them. I also sensed by their reactions that they might have a similar story hidden inside them but had been afraid to tell it.

In my last blog, I shared my own family’s recovery story. This experience was initially wrought with sorrow and grief but it ultimately became the greatest gift. Without it, CooperRiis Healing Community would never have been created, and I would not have had the privilege of meeting and lending support and hope to hundreds of wonderful families.

I would like to invite each of you to consider sharing your story. Whether here in response to this blog or with a friend, a neighbor or a stranger – whatever feels most safe to you. What you will find is that you are not alone, that there are many stories out there, and that there is reason for hope.

Together, we can bring hope home. Where it belongs.’