I love stories, so much I forget that I'm not in them. In many ways, fiction is my narcotic. It elevates my existence to something beyond my own life, and makes me feel like I'm part of something amazing. But, to be honest, real-life stories have often scared me. Real-life stories are uncensored and cannot be closed up like a book. Real-life stories have a nasty habit of leaking their contents onto your hands as you read them.
But I've realized that the beautiful thing about real-life stories is that you can be part of them. They elevate you beyond your own existence and, even better, they don't end. It's a frightening, frustrating, and exhausting experience but it's real and undeniably beautiful.
I've since fallen in love with real-life stories and those who tell them.
A few years ago, one of my good friends shared a group with me called To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA). I'll let them tell you about themselves because they can do a better job than I can but I'll share just a tiny bit here:
To Write Love on Her Arms was, appropriately the title of a real person's story. Her name is Renee and she was on her way to being a tragedy when some friends stepped in the middle of her scary story filled with addiction, depression, self-mutilation and suicide and didn't run away. Instead they decided to write a different story with her. Then they shared her story with the world.
The movement is ridiculously simple and heartbreakingly impossible: to walk into someone's story and to tell them they are not alone and that they matter, to not be afraid of the mess, the pain, and the darkness, to stay with them and to write love on their arms.
Denny Kolsch's is one more of the many stories TWLOHA has told since then.
"All of those broken pieces of my past [are] connected to this bigger story. It's not this black and white: "I was to be an addict and now I'm clean." Everyday it's a struggle at some level. But I'm able to do it because of the people around me. Because of my community, all of the people around me that I love and that love me, I'm able to live."