What’s In An Experience?

I’m telling this story based on hearsay. I didn’t actually witness this event, but I’ve heard it retold from a few different people who were at the scene.

A few months ago, my bestest friends Mary and Mike got married. The time had come for them to see each other in their wedding clothes. Mike was outside waiting in the picturesque scenery only found in Luray, Virginia. His back was to the door where Mary would be exiting. Mary walked up to Mike and turned around so they were facing back to back. The photographers were downstairs to capture the moment, and their family members and some very good friends staying at the big cabin were witnesses to this amazing moment.

Mike and Mary both turned to face each other, and the people on the balcony saw Mike rubbing the tears from his eyes and Mary embracing him and helping him remove the tears from his eyes. He was so overwhelmed by his bride – obviously the most beautiful bride in the entire world – that he just couldn’t hide his emotions any longer. *Cue the sigh* The onlookers were witnessing the sight of true love.

But that’s not what actually happened. …At least not from Mary and Mike’s experience.

Mike was standing outside, and the gnats could smell his super sexy cologne. He was surrounded, and couldn’t escape. Mary came out, and while Mike was trying to keep his shit together while under siege of the gnats, the time came for them to turn and face each other. As Mike turned around he caught at least one gnat in the eye. It burned and scratched and he couldn’t get it out. Mary tried to help him. There was a full-blown violation of Mike’s eyeball!

The photographer captured these candid moments so beautifully. What looked like particles of dust around Mike were actually gnats. The pictures showed the two of them trying to see each other through the veil of gnats while trying to escape the swarm. The pictures are pretty funny.

If Mary and Mike didn’t actually tell the folks on the balcony what happened, they might go on believing that they had witnessed nothing more than a groom being overwhelmed by seeing his gorgeous bride. If the balcony folks told me what happened, I would only know their story. However, I would not know the additional details of what happened.

Even Mary’s and Mike’s experience is difference. Mary saw and felt the event from her own experience, while Mike’s experience was unique in that he actually had a gnat in his eye. While Mary was empathizing with Mike, which lead her to try and help him remove the bug from his eye, only Mike had the experience of his eye being violated by the gnat (and subsequently, Mary’s finger). The story Mike would tell of his experience would be different than the one Mary would tell.

Hypothetically, let’s say Mike was the kind of guy who never showed emotion, had a big ego, and wouldn’t ever admit to crying (far from the truth, but let’s go with this). If he told me the gnat story, and I didn’t believe him because of my invalidating attitude and pre-judgement about Mike as a person, I might think he’s lying to cover up for someone judging him as a crybaby.

Lucky for Mike, he had Mary and a photographer present that could support his story.

Others are not so lucky.

This week a family member specifically challenged me about a blog post, accused me of making false statements, and told me to tell the truth. I challenged her a couple times asking for her to enlighten me, but she wouldn’t respond in writing to share her truth – or her direct experience. Interestingly enough, there are five living witnesses to one event she challenged. When I’ve previously reminisced with two of the witnesses, we all had the same version of the story.

Without the luxury of video or photographic evidence, we have only our memories. She claims my grandmother wasn’t there, but me and both my sisters remember my grandmother being there.

First Question: Why does it matter if my grandmother was there if the meat of the event is true?

Answer: It doesn’t. It only matters to a person who tries to pick apart one portion of the story that she doesn’t remember clearly to serve as a platform to invalidate the entire experience.

Second Question: Why is this important to discuss?

Answer:

First, blogging is all about sharing an individual and personal experience. In my blogs, I specifically recount what I remember, what I was feeling, what I did, and how I overcame it. Then I share tools and techniques that I find helpful to rising above some of the sad experiences of my life. Maybe this family member didn’t see my grandma because she was in a fit of rage, blazing up the stairs, with her attention focused on the 16 year old girl she went on to assault. I know that when people experience that level of rage they can forget major details of the story. While she spent two days taunting me to tell the truth and demanding that I call her on the phone (probably to just yell at me some more), she spent no time validating my experience, acknowledging the pain that she caused me, so this further illustrates and supports the type of treatment I received as a child. How ironic that my blog gets invalidating and abusive comments. I can’t say that I’m surprised. …and yes, Grandma was there.

Second, validating and acknowledging someone’s personal experience is very valuable because it prevents the story from being changed. If someone came up to Mike after the event and told him he had an eyelash in his eye instead of a gnat, he might believe it and go onto retell the story using the eyelash. Although possible, based on the photographic evidence, it’s unlikely Mike had anything in his eye other than a gnat. They were everywhere! Like Mike’s experience, my experiences didn’t have the opportunity to be rebutted (until now). Mike had photographic evidence and an eyewitness bride. No rebuttal needed. I didn’t often share my experiences, but when I did I was validated by friends, or largely ignored by family members. There was no one to taint my memory.

Third, as a society that has a bad habit of victim shaming and invalidating the pain of others, this is a wake-up call to checking ourselves when we notice ourselves behaving this way. I see daily Facebook posts of invalidating, threatening, demeaning, shaming, and other yucky stuff. What’s the end game in posting something like that? Why is it so important for us to shame someone? Is it because were were shamed as kids and now we feel that people deserve that shame for doing the same things? Is it because we need to tell people what to do? Is it because we feel the need to control the behaviors of someone else?  Oftentimes, the people who are trying to control others are the ones who have the least control over themselves. …It’s something to think about, and it’s very much what I saw happen in my last blog post. A person who could not control their own self was trying to control me.

If there’s any takeaway in this post, let it be this:

If someone is sharing a personal experience with you, it’s likely true for them. They’re recounting the events they remember, how it made them feel, and sometimes they just need to vent off some steam. Know that when people are doing these things, they’re digesting their emotions. Practice compassionate listening. You don’t even need to offer any advice. Just be there to listen. If they ask you for your advice, you might want to take a moment to step in their shoes, feel what they’re feeling, and then offer up a suggestion from the heart. If that’s too difficult for you, just offer to be a sympathetic ear. If this person is suffering from abuse and violence, make it your responsibility to help them be safe. Not only is it the human thing to do, but the payoff for you and that person will be huge.

I want to specifically thank those of you who reached out in suppot this week. Your messages of kindness really helped balance the attacks from the internet trolls. I’m so grateful. And as always, I’ll sign this blog the way I do…

With all my love,

The Guru Girl

 

 

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