In our community, we’ve created a culture of silence. That silence is built on a foundation of secrecy, shame, and isolation. We too often think about the bad things in our lives in terms of how we hide them. How do I keep my co-workers from finding out I have a mental illness? How do I keep my child’s addiction from our family members? How do I make sure that my past experiences remain in the past?
The reality is that our experiences continue to be a part of our lives. Sometimes the things that have happened to us are a continued source of pain, but other times, they can be a source of incredible strength and resilience. Unfortunately, our culture of silence sometimes keeps us from sharing those experiences and how we’ve recovered and most importantly, that silence can keep us from connecting with and supporting others.
Our experiences can give us a profound opportunity to help others in our lives. The power of shared experiences allows us to help create supportive communities in a number of ways. First, the more we are brave enough to share with others the hardships we have experienced, the more we start to lift the veil of shame and break the culture of silence. Our sharing actually has the power to increase the empathy our community has for one another.
When we share our experiences and break our silence, we also invite others to do the same. Sometimes, all it takes is one person to share what has happened to them to allow others to name and begin to heal from things in their own life. This sharing can be the first step for someone to seek help, connect to resources, and start his or her own journey to being an active part of an alive and well community.
Finally, when we break our silence, we open ourselves up to new opportunities. Without being vulnerable enough to talk about our struggles, we might never find the support system that we need. Sometimes conversations about shared experiences prompt us to create new solutions-new actions that we can take to start to heal ourselves and others. These solutions may never be found without having these difficult conversations.
While there is power in breaking our silence, we also must remember that there is vulnerability. It is a journey for all of us to decide when and how we are ready to share what has happened to us. That journey is different for everyone, as is the timeline it’s on. What is important is that we start that journey and believe in the power that can come from speaking up and out. If you want to learn more about other ways to help build a supportive community, visit www.aliveandwellstl.com.
By Joe Yancey
Chair of the Community Advisory Board of the St. Louis Regional Health Commission
Executive Director of Places for People