Resisting Rewriting the Narrative

Sherna Alexander Benjamin
Posted July 17, 2019 from Trinidad and Tobago

I listened attentively as Mr. Harmony (not his real name) made his presentation during the forum on Domestic Violence and Economic Empowerment. In his quest to motivate the audience and begin a discussion about rewriting the various negative social narratives we are presented with he used storytelling to evoke emotions among the audience as he called upon us to #ReWrite our #Narratives. He echoed popular cliches such as "you hold the pen to write the next chapter" and "your past does not define you." Those cliches spoke to me during his deliberation and still do today. 

He called on members of the wider society to #Rewrite the narratives associated with violence against women, men, and masculinity and systemic patriarchy.  As a gender justice advocate, I eagerly listened to his presentation with wrapped attention. Any person pushing against toxic masculinities and the effects of the same brings a measure of hope amid the global resiliency of patriarchy; resiliency through institutionalized systems which enable inequity and inequality. 

As he spoke I reflected on parts of my experiences of pain, abuse, economic disempowerment, and social exclusion. My flawed decision-making process and limited socioeconomic status. Suddenly feelings of shame tried to overwhelm me and I began to feel grossly inept. I came face-to-face with the many masks I wore however, my skewed understanding of "vulnerability" kept me imprisoned and fear of society's judgments enabled that self-prison for a period. This emotional escapade was cut short by the grumbling of an aristocratic woman sitting next to me. Though I tried to ignore her continuous grumbling it eventually broke my concentration causing me to speak to her with my eyes denouncing her disturbance. In my mind, I said, "you are disrupting a wonderful learning experience, what is your reason for being here". Yes, I made some assumptions without careful thought, I automatically placed her in the "We versus Them" category. Stereotyping can subtly occur contributing to institutionalizing and societal ladders of oppression.  ​

However, her response started me on a journey which would forever change my point of view about rewriting my narrative. I began this journey as I needed to honor my process. As I gazed into her eyes fear gripped me, I thought about what people may say if this journey brought me to a place where I had to embrace a view which opposed the popular rhetoric. I soon realized this journey was not about others it was about me and would represent my process of finding peace within while being intentionally present, conscious and authentic to my experiences. This journey was about honoring my process and learning to embrace not to rewrite my narrative. 

With soul searching eyes, she responded to my gaze with poise asking pointed questions such as, what parts of your narrative would you rewrite, and what would that rewrite look like? What aspects would you keep and what aspects would you throw away?" Her questions sent me on an emotional tailspin. For the first time in my life, I realized I was reducing my experiences to spear listeners the horrendous details of a vicious cycle of abuse, and shame and perceived or real fears as I desperately wanted to be accepted. As I advocated I rejected aspects of my experience and held those aspects which I believed were accepting enough to share with the public. I was not honoring my narrative because I did not embrace it. 

When people speak about #ReWriting Narratives. Most times it's attributed to changing something negative into positive. How do we rewrite our narratives without reducing our stories, subtracting details and adding what we think is palatable? How do we do this without violating our conscience? What parts of our narratives do we remove and what parts do we hold and consider worthy to speak about during the process of REWRITING. 

When all our individual and collective experiences (positive or negative, healthy or unhealthy) brought us to where we stand today. Rewriting my narrative was asking me to erase aspects of my individual and collective experiences which shaped me. It contributed to devaluing my experiences and covered atrocities while hiding success. 

The #ReWriting #Narratives movement enabled moments of frustration as I sought to move away from my negative life experiences and decisions to create something or someone new, writing a chapter in the book of life which does not validate my presence. I was failing miserably as I sought to rewrite my narrative. 

A shift had to take place as I felt more disempowered and experienced great anguish. For years I was creating a version of myself which I assumed would be accepted by society. We never really want to share all the messiness we have experienced, we desire for people to see a pristine version of who we are even at times judging others hypocritically. Most times we do not want audiences to hear about our deep-seated pains, failures, and depressions or our past and present morbid family, community and national atrocities. So we push ourselves and ask others to rewrite history, experiences and make it palatable. We encourage the wearing of masks, lies, devaluing of stories and excusing of detrimental behaviors. All because the majority of society thrives on fear-mongering and shaming; coming face-to-face with ourselves, acknowledging our experiences and honoring our life processes are not welcomed. 

Rewriting our narrative and societal fear-mongering has encouraged many women leaders and advocates to hold back from authentically sharing and speaking about their true experiences and challenges endured thus enabling a fantasized version of women's leadership and advocacy. Rewriting our narrative has contributed to many victims of gender-based violence, sexual assault, and adult victims of childhood abuses remaining silent. Rewriting the narrative has contributed to the toxic veracity manifested by many underprivileged individuals in the pursuit of living a dignified life. And rewriting our narrative has enabled many to wear numerous masks and encouraging the global dishonoring of authentic stories. 

My perception of grumbling catapulted me onto a path of self internalization and acted as a catalyst for my evolving journey.  As I am #ReFocusing, finding my authentic voice while embracing my narratives. It is emotionally difficult to face ourselves and our realities but it is also one of the most rewarding life experiences we can have. This process will evoke various emotions and feelings one which cannot be engaged in alone. I recommend you connect with a supportive community of likeminded individuals and link with a change partner, or coach. "The process of facing one's fears or demons can become so disorienting at times that one may choose to abandon the process for perceived safety in the fear of oncoming vulnerability."   

When vulnerability presents itself we chose one of the next best things; we rewrite our experiences, this process encourages a plus and minus exercise, an exercise of blame and rejection and one of wearing of masks while we bleed through other areas in our own lives and also bleed on others. Embracing our narratives is a process of validating our experiences. Simple saying "every aspect of my experiences is valid and my life process ought to be honored" it means having the courage, boldness, resilience, and grit to be authentically vulnerable by acknowledging the stories of our experiences and how those experience impacted and shaped us. 

Embracing our narratives means consciously and intentionally sharing our triumphs, pain, challenges, and the process which shaped us into the individuals we are today. Even though our present process is messy, imperfect, and at times we are still figuring it all out. But doing so with no masks no rewriting. Embracing is about inclusive collaboration, reflective dialogue, and consciousness-raising. Speaking our truth, sharing our realities, and making a conscious decision not to reduce our experiences.

Embracing our narratives is about speaking and writing our story and being unashamed about our process. It's about taking note of the consequences and encourage accountability. It's about a process of learning, growing, advancing, healing, forgiving and being present in every moment as we embrace ourselves and making intentional conscious decisions not to be perfect but to embrace progress which leads to excellence. Rewriting encourages us to seek out perfectionism, the pursuit of perfectionism frustrates our very presence, existence and destabilizes our mental, social and emotional equilibrium. 

#Rewriting encourages us to run away from ourselves. Embracing our narratives nudges us to find peace within ourselves which eventually manifest outwardly when we speak our truth, walk our mile, stripe away the labels and stigmas especially those we assign to ourselves and understand that our response to our narratives matter. 

If someone's leg was severely damaged during a violent domestic violence incident and the victim has to live with a physical disability as a result of the attack. If after the attack someone says to the victim "rewrite your experience." What aspects must the victim subtract and what aspects ought to be kept? How would the victim improve (rewrite) that experience? How can the victim "rewrite" if the understanding of what occurred and why is not known to some extent? How can the victim rewrite if they have not embraced their narrative? Why should the victim rewrite the experience? Some may argue that rewriting is about enhancing and adding value to your present self, charting a new path for your future while creating a positive outlook.

​What do we do with our narratives? We embrace every aspect of it! Authentically acknowledge our experience, emotions, and feelings. Document the impact and strategically create endless empowering opportunities to live a dignified life, honor our existence, process of healing and strength, use every part of our experience to add our voice to social change, justice, and societal transformation for a better world. 

Embracing our narratives makes us actively present and engaged during the building of a better world. I am writing to encourage dialogue and healthy conversations around this topic. I am not writing to change anyone's mind as "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still" I am writing to honor my journey and share my truth which is I am no longer seeking to rewrite my narrative nor any narrative. I am now embracing my narratives and creating endless empowering opportunities. The question remains what are you doing with your narratives and how are you honoring your life journey, existence, and process of progressive excellence?

This story was submitted in response to Why I Resist.

Comments 4

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Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Jul 18, 2019
Jul 18, 2019

Dear Sherna,

Wow, oh wow! I love this piece so much. It resonates with me in so many levels. You are such a gifted writer, and I can literally hear my heart pumping as I read every sentence. Powerful piece!

I agree, we cannot invalidate what happened to us. We face it, without sugarcoating, grieve if we must, but never ran away from it.

There are so many things you wrote that I love, including this, “every aspect of my experiences is valid and my life process ought to be honored“. So true.

Thank you for speaking your truth! Please keep on writing. I love reading posts like this.

Jill Langhus
Jul 18, 2019
Jul 18, 2019

Hello Dear Sherna,

How are you doing? Thanks for sharing your introspective and deep post about narratives. I agree with what Karen says, and I have found myself trying to figure out what pieces to keep of my stories and what to discard throughout the years, too. I always feel the push to make my story more positive, like in my recent post about my driver's license. I've always had the distinct impression that people have an aversion for reality, unless it's on tv:-(

I hope you're doing well, and having a good week, dear?!

Tamarack Verrall
Jul 19, 2019
Jul 19, 2019

My dear sister,
Your wise and powerful voice rings out here, with such a journey of self reflection as if we are in the same room. I love where you lead us: "​What do we do with our narratives? We embrace every aspect of it!" I love and miss you, my sister. It is so good to read your voice this afternoon.
Much love in sisterhood,

Jul 20, 2019
Jul 20, 2019

This is an amazing article, in fact I read over and over again ha. Self reflection I agreed help us identify our wrongs and hence work towards future improvement. However, if we are not careful in rewriting we might want to look like others and the rest. This is where we try to immitate styles, and replacing weakness with strength.

Also I think is very much as due to our upbringings. Our society frowns on wrongs, weakness etc. So in rewriting we try to plead them by hiding these weakness of ours. It's highly time we acknowledge that we learn from mistakes, and falling does not means we are bad hence why.
Thanks for sharing cheerfully. Have a nice weekend.