Knees shaking. Heart pounding. “What are you doing?!” my thoughts spin as I sit in the back row at a MOTH Story Slam. I just put my name in a hat to tell a personal story. A really personal one. In public. Like maybe two hundred people public.
Maybe I could take it out.
With each name called my body exhales.
Not my time. Relief.
But then, a name I recognize. Mine. My name is called to a microphone on an empty stage. The story I’d been working on for the last five years in writing, speaking, filming was calling. All of it unexpressed. Just. Like. Me. Until this moment.
I had five minutes.
My legs wobble as I walk up on stage. With hands clenched behind my back and a shaky voice, I begin to tell my story.
“It’s the summer of 1995 and I’m standing in the Seoul Olympic Stadium holding the hand of a man I met just a month before, and am about to marry,” I hear my voice trembling through the microphone.
I was always the shy girl growing up. I hid behind my mother when meeting strangers. Waited to be asked questions. Never raised my hand. Never talked back. Never wanted to make anyone uncomfortable.
But this story was about to make me and others just that.
I can barely breathe as I continue explaining my upbringing in the Unification Church including my participation in a mass wedding and arranged marriage when I was 20. How there, on the Astro Turf floor of the Seoul, Olympic Stadium, I committed to marrying an Asian American man I had met just a month before. How Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church I was raised in, officiated the wedding and had matched me and my then husband using 8×10 photographs. How I ultimately left the marriage and broke from my parents and the church.
This story is one that, in the past, I could only tell in dark corners of bars.
Stay quiet, stay small, stay perfect I’d tell the story.
Speak it, get it out of you, TELL YOUR F&^&@# STORY it would yell back.
It took me years of pillow bashing and talk therapy and countless storytelling workshops to become the woman who could finally stand in its truth.
It is now taking shape in the form of a feature length documentary and memoir.
I now work with women change makers called to share their deepest life stories to amplify their message and leadership. I provide support along a transformational journey that can’t be walked alone and short cuts to a process that took me way too long.
Now, more than ever, our stories are needed as vehicles of hope, empathy and truth. Behind their blocked expression is our leadership. Our voice.
As we marry the deepest stories of our lives with what we stand for, we take authorship. Instead of these stories having a hold on us, we begin to own them. Ultimately the telling of these stories is as much about liberating ourselves as it is about influencing and inspiring others.
As I exited the Moth stage that night, I felt as if I had left a five ton burden on it. My story was no longer mine. It was everyone’s. The feeling I felt on my way home that night wasn’t elation, but something I hadn’t felt in all those years of holding my story back.