The caterers bustle about in the luxurious conference room, arranging utensils and igniting food warmers. I drop my bags beside the media cart and acquaint myself with the electronic equipment, fiddling with buttons and cords. My presentation slides appear on the massive projection screen. I smile. I have never presented in a room this large. I look around at the vacant tables that will soon be filled with people. I wonder if my purple shirt and multi-colored sneakers are too casual.
“You are fine. Just be you,” I silently assure myself.
Guests begin to file in. I sneak a plate of food and sit in the back — next to the bay windows that curve around the building. I look out into the city. My eyes fixate on a block of row homes. “This is for them,” I silently remind myself. I envision the children playing double-dutch and basketball in the street. The teenagers walking home from the corner store. The faces of youth whose stories I have both heard and felt.
Distinguished members of the university community speak to the ever-growing room of professionals. And now, it is my turn. One of the hosts introduces me to the crowd. I have never been formally introduced before. I want to shrink with embarrassment. Run out of the room. Tell them they invited the wrong speaker. But then I remember the children. The teenagers. The stories.
I stand before the crowd. I talk to them about trauma. And treatment. And then I tell them about Storiez — the intervention I created to help traumatized youth. As I speak, I see members of the audience nod their heads. They smile. They respond.
The presentation comes to a close. I invite the audience to ask questions. My heart pounds with anticipation. What if they ask the question? How should I respond? Should I give them a contrived, formulaic version of the truth? Or should I give them the real answer?
“Can this be used with adults,” someone asks. I breathe a sigh of relief and provide an easy answer.
“How do you use this with groups,” asks another. I calmly smile and provide a simple response.
Several questions later, I check the clock. My time is up. I have successfully made it through the question-and-answer segment without anyone asking me the question. The question that I dread.
The guests clap and thank me for coming. One person walks up to me and shakes my hand. Tells me about the youth they work with. Another, a distinguished figure in the field congratulates me for my innovation. Others file behind him until a sizable line forms.
Although no one has yet asked, I know that one day, I will have to answer the question that I dread: How did it all begin? The truth is that when this question is asked, I am not sure how I will respond.
How did it all begin?
To answer this question truthfully requires that I delve into my own story. Mental images flash through my mind. Images of tears. And butterflies. Courtrooms. Parking lots. A warehouse. Mosaic art. Locked doors. A dead baby. Shackles. Barbed wire.
I am flooded with feelings. Fear. Abandonment. Courage. Isolation. Betrayal. Loss. Determination.
My senses are overloaded. I hear noises. Screaming. Shoes and books tumbling down the steps. Waves at the beach. Threats. The clinking of chains as they crash against one another. Criticism. Glass shattering.
But how did it all begin?
Maybe it began at the cemetery as I comforted my crying grandmother. Cleaned out the vase embedded in my grandfather’s headstone. Filled it with water. Placed the flowers inside.
Maybe it began in the backyard of my childhood home as I pumped my legs on the swing. Imagined that my feet were breaking through the heavens. Pretended that I didn’t hear the screaming through the window.
Maybe it began in the darkness of the basement as I peeked through the crack in my mother’s bedroom door. Checked to make sure she was okay. Felt her pain but never saw her tears.
Maybe it began in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant as I waited for my father. Looked in every car. Scanned every face. Until I realized that he wasn’t coming.
Maybe it began in writing class. When I wrote stories to escape. Escape to a world where other children didn’t pull my hair to see if it was real. Or pinch my skin to see if it turned red. A world where people didn’t make fun of me because my skin was light, my hair was coarse, and my face was freckled.
Maybe it began in a warehouse filled with glass. Where I was trapped by a teacher I trusted. Deceived by a mentor. Betrayed by a friend.
Maybe it began in those moments of darkness when I could not see the light. When the end of the tunnel was dim and there were no silver linings on the clouds. When life felt heavier than death.
Storiez grew out of each of these moments. But it also grew from my personal encounters with hope. Moments when I looked at the flowers instead of Grandma’s tears. Found my mother’s strength instead of her pain. Buried my shame in creativity. Used moments of darkness as opportunities to create my own light. Painted silver linings on my own clouds.
This is how Storiez began.
I propose that although traumatic experiences have a significant impact on our lives, they do not define us. We are not our traumas. Despite the pain that we experience throughout the courses of our lives, we can find strength, purpose, and meaning in our stories.
I look around the room. The line has thinned out. I collect the stray brochures left behind on the tables. I close my computer and pack up my cords. I step onto the elevator and breathe a sigh of relief. The speaking engagement is over. But beyond this accomplishment, I have come to the empowering realization that I don’t have to be afraid of the question anymore.
How did it all begin? It began with a story. A story of trauma. A story of strength. A story of hope.
Meagan Corrado is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who provides clinical therapy in the Philadelphia and Camden, NJ areas. She specializes in work with children and adolescents who have experienced complex trauma. Storiez stems from the author’s own experiences with trauma, as well as her clinical work with children, adolescents, and families.