Revisiting and Retelling Our Histories

I realized something this week. Something I hadn’t known before, or at least hadn’t recognized.

We revisit old wounds, in order to tell new stories. 

We must retell our histories, especially the histories of our wounds, over and over until we find the story with which we can make peace. When we have parts of our history that unsettle us, that keep rubbing up against us and poking at tender triggers in our hearts, perhaps, maybe, it’s because we haven’t gotten the story right yet.

I came to this realization quickly this week, but it was a long time coming, like a paper that burns and burns until the last piece goes up in a quick and ernest puff of smoke. I had been re-telling an old story and I finally got it right.

I have an old wound, I’ve been chewing on and mulling over and over in my mind for more than a decade. It stems from a season in my history that shaped my identity. A part of my journey that changed me and named me, in good and not so good ways. At various seasons this old wound would ache and call for my attention yet again. And I, I would poke and prod at it.

What happened? What did I do wrong? What did I do right? What did others do wrong? Why does it still hurt and ache? What in my current life is causing this old wound to flare up? Why now? Why then? Just why?

Each time this old wound has called for my attention I come to new realizations about my history, about who I am, and about who I want to be. Each time I have faced these questions I come to new realizations about the story itself, how I tell it to myself changes. The labels I give myself, and the names I call myself, change with each retelling. The names and labels I give to others in the story change as well. When these names and labels change for the better the wound aches a little less. When they change for the worse it only calls my attention to the story more.

This week I retold this same old story again, and in a flash of recognition and insight I saw a part of the story I had been neglecting for a long while. I realized there was part of the story I’d been jumping over, skipping, down playing, and making assumptions about. For the first time, I saw that part of the story clearly. I realized that the way I’d been interpreting my actions wasn’t accurate, there was another way to see it. The name I had placed over myself and my actions at this part of the story was very negative and it didn’t need to be.

I could see a place in the story that felt familiar to other stories from my past. I saw a decision I made in this story and recognized how I’ve made that same decision at many other points in my history, a decision that has almost always led to heart ache and rarely led to good. And I recognized a point in the story where I did something right, a point in the story where I could take back power and give myself a better more respectful label.

So I retold the story to myself again. And the wound didn’t ache. At all. It was gone. I knew in that moment that I had finally worked through everything about that story that I needed to at this point in my journey. I realized that I could tell the story rightly now. Without regret, without shame, without hesitation or awkwardness. I could own my actions. I could own my power and my lack of power in the story.

It made me think of a quote I saw on Instagram a few months ago, I can’t remember who said it, but I think it is so perfectly true:

“Feeling old wounds is the soul’s way of looking for what else can be healed.”

Often when these old wounds ache and hurt and draw our attention, we want to brush them aside, telling ourselves we shouldn’t still be hurt over something that happened so long ago, or over something so insignificant, or over something we’ve already worked through with a counselor or therapist or mentor or just good friend. Why does this still hurt? Why do I still feel so awkward whenever this comes up? Why can’t I move past this? We feel shame that this pain still stings. Or at least I have often felt shame that I still carry so many bruises and aching wounds.

But, we don’t have to feel shame that our wounds ache. Healing takes a long time, and learning to tell our stories rightly can take years or even decades. Our souls want to heal and so they draw us back to old stories we think we shouldn’t need to revisit, but the truth is healing requires that we not only revisit them, but that we re-feel them, and then re-tell them more clearly, sometimes many times over.

So now when old wounds hurt, I’m gonna let them. I won’t fight it, or feel shame about it, or tell myself I shouldn’t feel this because it’s “old” or I already dealt with it. Instead I’m gonna pull up a chair and listen. Lean in and ask the questions.

What is my soul trying to tell me? What is my heart trying to heal? What have I not yet noticed in this story? How can I reframe this story and tell it more truthfully? How can I take back power in this story? How can I rename myself, and others, giving labels that are more deeply true and honest, names that are more compassionate and loving? How can I see my past self with compassion and understanding? How can I tell this story in a way that brings grace and peace?

Grace and peace, friends. Grace and peace over all our past wounds, all of yours and all of mine.

Grace and peace, Bethany Stedman