Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Why We Need to Keep Telling Our Stories

I was recently reminded about why it was so important to tell my story. We all have stories, all of us have unique experiences that shape who we are. Some of them are positive, wonderful and funny. Some of them are negative. They involve mistreatment and abuse and sadness. I don’t believe in telling your story as a way to define yourself. As a way to remain a victim. I believe in speaking the truth in order to put the ugliness behind you.

Very often, when you tell your story there are others who believe a different story about you. Others who should or do know better, but they cling to the lies they've heard or told. So when you share the truth, there will be people who won’t believe it. Who think you’re “whining” or making it up.

So why bother? I chose to tell my story because first of all, continuing to lie about it all was exhausting. Some families get so used to the lies that they forget what’s real. They lie so much they can’t remember what’s the truth and what’s a lie they helped perpetrate. Forgive these people.

And forgive yourself, because if you’re anything like me, you continued the lie just to please these people. To fit in. To be accepted. To try and feel that you were loved because you were doing what they wanted.

I chose to tell the truth after years and years of verbal abuse (and plenty of hitting, slaps across the face, and financial abuse where I helped fund my father’s alcohol habit) because I knew somewhere there was another little girl who believed the lies people told her about herself.

I’ve told my truth lots of different ways. One of them was during an essay I wrote for NPR’s “This I Believe” in 2006. I had heard they were starting “This I Believe” up again (it was originally a 1950’s radio series hosted by Edward R. Murrow) and were looking for essays. I wrote mine, sent it in, and forgot about it. I didn’t hear anything back at first so I figured they weren’t interested.

Boy, was I wrong. The essay took off. I received a note from the person that oversaw the “This I Believe” series six months later telling me it was the second most popular out of the then 20,000 entries on the site. I couldn't believe it.

And yet, I could. Telling the truth often helps us connect, and I was sure that the reason behind the popularity was that what I spoke about is a common thing, something people don’t talk about that often. We’re afraid to tell the truth sometimes because it doesn't always make us look good. I certainly don’t look back on the decisions I made or things I did back then with pride.

But I do look at my “recovery” (I’ll call it that for lack of a better word) as something I’m so grateful for I can only attribute it to God. He held me, moved me past it all. He brought me here, and where I’m at now is a very good place.

Recently I was told that my essay, which is now nine years old, is still one of the top 100 essays on the site out of 150,000 entries. I’m so humbled by that. NPR also asked me to record my essay and it was really weird to read it again, actually. It seems so long ago, so far away… but that’s another reason it’s important to talk about it again. If you are there right now, in that ugly place where someone who should love and care about you is telling you that you are worthless, please know that there is a way out of that.

And for the writers out there who are wondering if telling your story matters, I can tell you that it does. You may never hear from the people you touch, but know that your words have meaning.

Cherie Burbach is a poet, mixed media artist, and freelance writer specializing in lifestyle and relationships. She's written for, NBC/Universal,, Christianity Today, and more. Her latest book is: Emotional Affairs: How to Stop, Prevent, and Move On from an Emotional Affair. Visit her website for more info,
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  1. Excellent. Vulnerability is defining and refining.

  2. Wow, Cherie... what a wonderful piece. I know it's hard to reveal so much of your inner self with all the turmoil and hurt and struggles and yes, the lies, but you've faced them and helped who-knows-how-many others in the process. Well done.