Andrea Steffens: founder-director
I have always loved stories, something I've traced back to my maternal grandmother who visited our family for a few months every year. She was basically bed-ridden -- I was the only child I knew whose grandmother had been hit by a train.
And, when she journeyed into memory and regaled me with near fairy tale like quality stories that reached back into the era of the Irish and English horse drawn carriage -- both sides of the family raised race and steeplechase horses. She had old sepia photos -- many on tin that showed her, unrecognizable to me then, in brocade ball gowns, standing next to a carriage or an elegant house. She was fierce that I know who my people were. And so I learned the importance of story telling in developing identity and connection to tribe. Human beings are, after all, tribal animals. I was hooked. As a Jungian trained psychotherapist, I know the human story from a psycho-religious perspective, a mythological perspective -- this is my base, not psychotherapy.
My father also was keen on story telling about my ancestors, our Scottish family, my other tribe, my clan who like our Irish ancestors fought the good fight, fought for their freedom for centuries at great price -- there are I am certain there are toxic stress symptoms that our family carries trans-generationally.
We have a high incidence of depression and anxiety which I can track through four generations. These symptoms made sense as I learned about the intricacies of how the body responds to severe stress. Responses to trauma suppress or activate DNA -- transmission of trauma is as real physically as it is psychologically in attachment difficulties. So the legacy of toxic stress symptoms pass from generation to generation and one of the ways in which that sequence is interrupted is through telling the story -- in a quite specific way, a directed way -- one that is natural to human beings as listener and teller, a natural response to adverse experience. I once wrote a piece I called Body Through Body about what the women in my passed on to each other. I was aware that the egg that was to be me was carried in utero by my grandmother. Quite literally, we all go back body through body. Years later, I found the explanation of my intuitive understand in the neuroscience/epigenetics of trauma. And one of the ways of releasing DNA is through telling the trauma story.
Talk about it. Tell me. Tell me.
Think of the times you have been cornered by someone who has had an accident, a loss, a tragedy. She will tell her story over and over while you have thought or eventually said " would you get over it already! Pl;ease!" But she doesn't and shouldn't. Part of the healing of an accident, a loss, is to talk about it, tell its story. The drive to tell our stories is, I have come to believe, an instinctive need to render experiences in language so the cognitive brain function is engaged.
When the story is not told, it sits in our body expressed through the symptoms of Toxic Stress. It seems as though we are instinctively pushed to tell our story. To heal it requires that the trauma story must be told and told and told until it stops quivering and lies relaxed and quiet with all the details present. We are wired for this. And the trauma story demands an audience, a community, a patient deep listener. A Witness.
The real tragedy is when the story that wants to be told, isn't and the story lies silent and trembling for an entire life. These are the stories we want.
Over the years, I grew to love memoir, one person plays, autobiography and yes, even confessional poetry. I became a performance poet as I put the stories I knew and created into share-able form. To this day -- today even -- I continue to serve story. I overhear them standing in lines for whatever reason -- groceries, tickets, entrance to football games, at the bank, waiting for dinner reservations, in Macy's checkout line and at various airports where I wait -- like so many others these days. Wherever I am, i hear them, stories, in loud conversations or whispered -- in restaurants, the subway, in the waiting room at the doctors office. We are surrounded by stories -- just pay attention to your day. See how often you hear one...about something, anything.
In most, if not all cultures the important stories were told in a ritualized form: told repeatedly, redundantly, again and again. So I say,for those important stories, if you can't get to us then I hope you will find a friend and/or another writer, an artist, or a story teller, someone who will Witness -- Witnessing, an important function for all of us -- a friend who will listen deeply, who will receive your story in the total presence of Deep Listening and ride with it as you tell it, retrieving all the details you can -- exactly what the event was, or the condition, when, where, what and how your body felt, what you decided about your life from this or these experiences. Tell and listen to yourself as you tell it. Repeat it. And to those of you still suffering after years of silence, know that your story waits for you. It wants to be told. It stays there right at the edge of your awareness and if you don't find a way to approach and tell it, it will kidnap you, hold your life hostage. And yes, it needs to be held in an environment of safety, trust and Deep Listening. Your life, like those of many others, could change dramatically for the better in telling that difficult story the one that waits to be told.