When you fictionalize your story, you can leave the technicalities at the door.
Your memoir, essay or personal story is waiting in the wings for some day. There could be a lot of reasons that block you from getting started. You don’t have all the details. It’s been ages and you can’t remember what really happened. It’s too painful to get into though you long to connect with that missing part of your history. Writing, you believe, comes after you’ve healed. Yet, all these stumbling blocks can be remedied by a single strategy. The benefit of turning your true story into a work of fiction is threefold. You’ll have enough distance to write about your life without worrying about how accurate it is, and the process will be healing.
When you fictionalize your story, you can leave the technicalities at the door. The past is done. You may never know what really happened. Fiction gives you creative license to recreate a scene, play with different endings, and let it unravel the way you fantasized about instead of trying to piece together the actual event.
For example, instead of writing about the realities of a disappointing wedding day, describe it the way you envisioned. Skip the mishaps, the belligerent bridesmaids, and delinquent guests. Draw a story pulled from your imagination. Compose a picture detailing your father’s meaningful speech, your dress, and how you felt more loved and beautiful than you ever have in your life. Fictionalizing it may help you remember the good things about the day, the small, meaningful moments that got overlooked. It may also help you recognize the salvageable pieces from a shattered memory such as your appreciation for the people who supported you, resilience and courage to accept the things that didn’t work out.
If a memory is too painful, creating a fictional character will give you distance to write about it. And playing God transforms a past experience of victimization to empowerment.
It won’t be easy. You may experience grief, loss and even discomfort in sounding ungrateful for the life you have. This is part of the healing process. You can’t move forward unless you accept what was. If a past event is still interfering with your present life, chances are your unconscious is hunting for a different ending. In Becoming Supernatural, Dr. Joe Dispenza explains it this way, “If where you place your attention is where you place your energy, then the moment you place your attention on a familiar emotion, your attention and your energy are in the past. If those familiar emotions are connected to a memory of some past event involving a person or an object at a particular place and time, then your attention and your energy are in the past as well. As a consequence, you are siphoning your energy out of the present moment into your past.” He says the way out is to change the way you think and feel.
Amazingly, you don’t have to undergo actual change to benefit. Dispenza says, “If you focus your attention on specific imagery in your mind and become very present with a sequence of repeated thoughts and feelings, your brain and body will not know the difference between what is occurring in the outer world and what is happening in your inner world. So when you’re fully engaged and focused, the inner world of imagination will appear as an outer-world experience—and your biology will change accordingly. That means you can make your brain and body look as if a physical experience has already happened without having the actual experience.” Writing a new ending will give you that new experience. In this way, changing your story isn’t just cathartic. It’s healing.
As part of my training to be a marriage and family therapist, I understandably had to seek my own therapy. It's been years since, but there was one session I will never forget. In fact, it completely transformed my life. My therapist asked me to change my story. Instead of the one from my past that strung me in a constant loop of sadness, she invited me to insert my own happy ending. Even if it wasn’t true, a part of my soul, the one that was on a relentless quest to relive and remake my past, believed it. Authoring my story gave me a second chance to make things right.
If you doubt the transformative potential of falsifying your life, don’t underestimate the power of creativity. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield says, “Remember, the part of us that we imagine needs healing is not the part we create from; that part is far deeper and stronger. The part we create from can’t be touched by anything our parents did, or society did. That part is unsullied, uncorrupted; soundproof, waterproof, and bulletproof. In fact, the more troubles we’ve got, the better and richer that part becomes.” You can tap into that source by writing a fictionalized version of your story. Your creativity will be the salve to the part of you that still needs healing.