It was my own struggle with the pain from my childhood—followed by my ultimate decision to write my story—that made me understand the life-changing power of personal narrative.
I’d tried to write Hippie Boy for more than a decade. But the emotions bottled inside me were so painful that I cried every time I opened my computer to write and decided it was easier just to keep the hurt safely tucked away. Then, in late January 2004, I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, an incurable degenerative eye disease that is slowly stealing my eyesight.
In my quest to save my vision, I sought treatment from a doctor in San Francisco who focuses on whole body health. He kicked off my appointment by asking me to tell him about my childhood. Within minutes, I was sobbing. That’s when the doctor said two life-changing things to me.
He said, “Do you realize that you are carrying a huge negative energy charge inside of you over something that has happened more than twenty years ago and you’re still giving your former stepdad and those circumstances your power?”
The idea that I was still letting my ex-stepfather take my power and voice all these years later was troubling. But that was nothing compared to the doctor’s next words. He said, “If you don’t think that carrying this inside of you is impacting your physical health, you’re crazy.”
The doctor then told me about a groundbreaking study that had been done called ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences), which documents a direct correlation between emotional trauma in childhood and disease in adults. He also talked about epigenetics—environmental factors such as emotional trauma and stress which turn on genes that trigger disease.
When it hit me that holding onto the anguish from all those years ago could actually be causing me to go blind, it was a huge wake up call. It was hard, but I finally sat down and wrote my story and by the time I was done, I had found my voice and power around it and was no longer a victim of my past.
Over the last five years, I’ve helped more than 1,500 students of every age find healing and empowerment by writing the deeply personal stories they need to tell.
This is what I cover in my all-day Unleashing the Healing Power of Personal Narrative workshop—which includes everything from story structure to the narrative writing techniques necessary to bring stories to life. And it’s why I care so much about personal storytelling.
Ingrid Ricks is an author, speaker and founder of Write It Out Loud, a program that fosters healing and empowerment through narrative writing. Her memoirs include the New York Times bestseller Hippie Boy and Focus, a memoir about her journey with the blinding eye disease Retinitis Pigmentosa. Her essays and stories have appeared on Salon and NPR. She lives in Ballard with her husband and two daughters. For more information, visit her website or her program website.