I was seven years old when I saw the murder. No it wasn’t on TV. My family had been on the West end of Galveston for the day, hunting for seashells and surfing the waves. We were driving back to the other side of the bay as the sun was going down, when we passed a situation where a man was beating a bloody man with a crowbar.
My dad pulled the car over and jumped out, and I immediately thought he would be murdered. He grabbed the man with the crowbar from behind and drug him backwards, while the man tried to hit him with the crowbar. Finally my dad wrestled him to the ground, but the bloody man never moved again.
Lights and sirens came from every direction. The police handcuffed the man who my dad was holding on the ground facedown. Firemen and EMTs were on the ground surrounding the bloody man. My dad talked to policemen while they took notes. Finally, they lifted the bloody man on the ground to a stretcher and loaded him into an ambulance. I hoped and prayed they could help him. I had no idea that the white sheet over his head meant that he was dead.
Shortly after, my dad came back to the car. I’m fairly sure he knew I was awake. But my mom whispered, “Let’s get out of here before they see anything.” I’m fairly sure she thought I was asleep (because I was usually asleep within 5 minutes of being in a car!) After we pulled away from the scene of the crime, no one ever spoke a word of it again.
I was already a little girl who was scared to death of life. That moment stayed with me, and tormented me for decades. For many years, I had nightmares about the man with the crowbar breaking in our house. I was afraid to open my closet door because I thought he might be inside looking for us because my dad had tackled him, and yanked his weapon away from him.
The event was traumatic. It haunted me until I figured out what I’d love to share with you.
As a little girl, I think the story I tucked away in my mind could be summarized into three sentences:
- Life is dangerous, all the time.
- You never know when you could be brutally attacked.
- And you never know when somebody might hunt you down for revenge.
Of course the murderer did not know my dad, and was not paying attention to who my dad was. But in my mind, I thought we were all at danger. For many, many years.
Although we never spoke of that traumatic incident I witnessed, the feelings that I experienced raged on.
- Always vulnerable to life-threatening danger
When things occur that impact us, we all create a story in our minds to make it make sense to us. Usually that story is created under emotional distress.
The feelings that those stories elicit run in the background of our minds all the time. We may not even be aware of it. For example, I often find that I have apps running in the background of my phone that I have not even thought about for quite some time. However, whether I’m aware of them or not, they affect the memory in my phone, the battery drainage of my phone, and effects the speed that my phone responds with (or not!)
So whether or not we are aware of the stories or the feelings our story generates, they continue to operate in the background of our lives … draining our energy, occupying bandwidth, and slowing us down.
I released my signature proprietary process for extraordinary living years ago, and the first step was “heal your history”… I was taken aback by how many people thought that step one was a five-year process. Certainly when we experience trauma it may require some coaching or counseling to process through it and heal our heart. But we can heal our history (meaning what’s operating in the background on a daily basis) rather quickly by rewriting our story.
I would love to see you practice this exercise. I will lay it out in a step-by-step guide line below. But let me walk you though it first.
When I began doing this with my clients years ago, Their greatest fear was that I might want them to make up a lie about the story. Or to deny its impact. It is definitely not about that because creating lies would do nothing for the healing process. It’s simply about looking back on the story with a new perspective, hopefully with some new wisdom and insight.
When I rewrote my story, the three sentences were this:
- Kids need to process anything traumatic or impacting and I wish someone had done that with me.
- My dad came from such a rough background, I’m not sure he even realized that it was traumatic.
- I live in a safe home, in a safe neighborhood and use great wisdom about my safety, so I do not have to live in fear.
My updated feelings from the perspective of the new story…
One of the things that we know about our brains is that these stories are running in the background continuously, rehearsing the feelings from our original story. Unfortunately, they are usually not empowering and quite draining.
However when we re-write the story… Not changing the facts or denying the impact .. but instead adding some perspective and wisdom, it creates a new set of feelings. I know for certain that disappointment, resolve, and safety created a whole different set of experiences for me than horror, terror, and vulnerability to life-threatening danger.
The third step of the process is to write a resolve. I suggest that people resolve to do something, resolve to become something, or resolved to adopt a new belief, or resolve to us it to help others.
My resolve was and is to help people in my practice, as well as in my personal relationships, to process through trauma.
Because I made that resolve years ago when I re-wrote the story I tell myself (and others, if you share your story), I find that I am often in situations where people have experienced some sort of trauma. I believe part of that is because I am more aware of it since I made the resolve. But I also believe that because I am equipped to do that, people can sense that in me.
I would love to see you give this exercise an honest try. Here is the exercise:
- Think of something hurtful, unfortunate, devastating, infuriating, etc. that has happened in your past. (Whether it was 20 minutes ago or 20 years ago). Write the story you tell yourself in a three sentence summary:
- ___________________________________________________________________List the three strongest feelings that story evokes:
Usually we never re-examine the story, we just keep running the story that we created. We have a choice. A powerful choice! We can look back and write rewrite the story (whether it occurred 20 years ago, or last wee), into a different story that remains true, does not deny the impact, but adds perspective and wisdom.
2. Now rewrite your story with some new perspective and wisdom:
Write the three feelings that this new version of the same story creates: List the three strongest feelings that story evokes:
3. Think what resolve you would like to make. It usually has to do with what you could do, what you could become, a new belief you might like to adopt, or how you can help others. Write your resolve: ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
You may ask, “What difference does it make?” Great question!
This past weekend I did this with my class of Life Coaches, certifying to become Master Coaches.
One of the Coaches in the course said to me, “I hated the story because I never thought anything good could possibly come from that story. It’s still a horrible thing that happened, but rewriting the story, the same story from a different perspective, helped me write a resolve that I know will help other people in my family. Even though it’s still not good what happened, at least there’s the potential for some good things to come from it.”
Don’t misunderstand, he isn’t glad that the situation happened. He is glad that the resolve (that he would have never know to consider without this exercise) will help others get through similar situations.
You cannot imagine the huge impact that this could potentially have for you. At the end of each weekend I ask these amazing Coaches to “check out“ at the end of the weekend by sharing a gratitude, sharing their “ aha moment“ from the weekend, and speaking out a wish for their colleagues. As we processed around tables, I would say more than 90% of the room found this piece to be their greatest “aha moment.“ My wish is that it will be the same for you.
I strongly encourage you to “press pause“ in your schedule and do the exercise above … either right now, or if you are driving or at work, as soon as possible. It sounds like a simple exercise, and it is. But the internal result can be quite amazing.
For me, rewriting the story about the murder, relieved fears and anxieties that had plagued me. In addition, I noticed I gained a significant increase in my energy levels.
If you need additional help healing through your trauma or bad experience, please find a Coach, a counselor, a mentor. There is absolutely no shame in that. I’m not suggesting that this should replace any of those, but I am declaring that you will find this exercise can help you reclaim significant parts of your life. I hope you will give it a try. You deserve to have excellent things running in your background. Not things that drain your energy, and bring you distress.
I have no idea what happened to the man with the crowbar. I never heard a news story or read anything about it in the newspaper. But there’s one thing I know for certain. He does not live behind every bush in my life any longer!
I wish you the best as you set yourself up to be free from things running in the background that drain you or disturb you. I’m a big believer that there is abundant living available to all of us. This is just one small step to start your journey in that direction! Let’s step up and out toward greater things!