Self-esteem comes from having the courage to tell your story.

Everyone has a story. Regardless of what our lives look like today, we have a history. For many of us, recalling certain times in our lives is painful. We’d rather forget our history. We’d rather put a lid on it. But in truth, it doesn’t go away. It simply lies in waiting until it is given permission to resurface again. And make no mistake about it, it will resurface. Until we truly make peace with our history, it never goes away. To heal, we must forgive ourselves but not forget the past.

Why do we want it to go away? Because we hope that out of sight means out of mind. Somehow we think if we aren’t living the experience today, it no longer exists. We are also afraid people will judge us or use our past against us. We may fear we’ll lose friends, family, and job opportunities. Another reason is we don’t want to feel the feelings that surface as we recall our past lives. Shame, self-loathing, guilt, disappointment, and betrayal are among the feelings we’d prefer to avoid. And sadly for some, we believe if we remember our past transgressions, we minimize the accomplishments we’ve given birth to since that time.

But the truth is that before we can truly get past the hurt of what came before, we must acknowledge and accept it. That requires a delicate balance between time and action. It has been proven that time by itself doesn’t erase the pain. Think about your own experience. Bring to mind someone—years ago—you didn’t like. Perhaps five, ten, or even twenty years have passed. When the thought of that person comes up or someone mentions his or her name, how does your gut feel? Unless you’ve done some serious work, it’s likely the pain is as strong as it was years ago.

But often action too quickly engaged doesn’t get us past the sting of our past either. Think of all the times you thought if you did everything right today, you’d feel better tomorrow. And you didn’t. Action coupled with a healthy dose of time is the magic combination.

It took me years to get to where I could openly and without shame tell my story. In brief, here is what it was like and what it’s like now:

  • At fourteen, I was a heroin addict and a practicing alcoholic; today I’m twenty-six years clean and sober.
  • At eighteen, I was a high school dropout who lived homeless on the streets of New York; today I’m a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center and have my own home.
  • At twenty-one, I was a prostitute selling my body to support my drug and alcohol habits; today I’m a lawyer, a successful entrepreneur, a loving wife, and a published author.
  • At twenty-six, I was hit by a car and told I’d never walk again; in my early forties, I ran two 26.2-mile marathons.
  • At twenty-eight, I was the poster child for someone who is selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed; today, at fifty-two, my life is about being of service to others.

Here are some steps I took that enabled me to get from being traumatized by my past to accepting it, and then being willing to share it with others:

  • I came to peace with my history and forgave myself.
  • I stopped behaving the way I used to behave. The further away from the old me that I got, the easier it was to forgive myself.
  • I asked for help. I couldn’t do it alone. For some people, therapy might be the answer; for others, a life coach; for still others, just a supportive mentor who has been down the same road.
  • I sought out people who had overcome challenges and asked how they did it.
  • I recorded my story on paper. There is something to be said for putting pen to paper.
  • I started talking about my past to others in a safe environment.
  • I recalled times when I was affected by other people’s stories. I realized how much they helped me. This made me want to help others by sharing my story.

Telling your story is important for several reasons. There is power in truth-telling because first and foremost it’s cathartic. The very act of sharing our life stories with other people lessens our load, particularly if we feel burdened by our past. Sometimes it helps just to get the stuff out. Telling our stories helps us become free from our past. Over the years, as I’ve had the courage to share my story, my past has less control over me. I’m not so worried that my secret will be discovered, because it’s already out!

Here are some other benefits to telling your story:

  • You become a role model. You’ve walked out of the darkness into the light and can now help someone else do the same. I get tons of e-mails from men and women who’ve struggled with addiction, prostitution, getting through school, failing exams, letting go of destructive relationships, getting married late in life, going for a dream, or just walking through some of life’s big and little fears. Hearing my story helps them know anything can be overcome.
  • You can see how far you’ve come. Sharing your story creates a re- minder of what happened, what it’s like now, and how you got here. This is important in a culture that only celebrates reaching the final destination, not the baby steps along the way. You get to remind yourself of how far you’ve come.

Everyone has a story. What’s yours? This week, you are invited to recount your life and explore the benefits, for yourself, of sharing your story.