Stories are powerful.

This is a truth I’ve believed for years because I’ve experienced it. As a child, the books I read took me out of my own world, my own fears, my own pain, and allowed me to find myself in other worlds. Worlds that, despite their inherent dangers, were safe. I could explore what it was like to live a life different from my own—from the safety of my own home.

Other times, the stories were ones I could relate to powerfully, and through the characters I was able to navigate possible ways to interpret or live with the problems I was facing. These experiences are a large part of why I’ve always had the desire to write. I wanted to create worlds and opportunities to explore and think and navigate for my readers. But, as so often happens, sometimes when we focus so much on pursuing a dream we forget why we had that dream in the first place. And then life reminds us.

The past few months have been some of the most stressful, scary, and painful I’ve ever endured. The culmination of these stresses and struggles started taking a serious toll on my mind and body. Have you ever just felt raw? I mean really raw, like you’re walking around as this fragile person, in danger of falling apart at any moment? That was me.

I had so much negativity, fear, pain, and loss whirling around in my world and then, to top it all off, it seemed like all of that energy embodied itself in an actual person—a racist, angry, hot-tempered, and potentially violent person—who decided to take out his anger at his own crumbling life on me, and whose words and actions made me feel both terrorized and trapped in my own home. I feared for my life.

And because (thankfully) this person didn’t follow through on his threats there was nothing the authorities could do about the situation. And so I’ve had to live knowing this person is still out there, close at hand. Fear is a powerful thing. It affects the body in ways that are very real. It makes us sick. And so, trying to escape from the fear that gripped me, I spent several days lost in a book. And what medicine it was!

If you’ve read Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty, you know it is full of complex and strikingly honest characters. One character in particular, an abusive, violent, liar of a man reminded me very much of the real life person in my life. And seeing the way Moriarty portrayed this character—as a monster, but also just as a man, capable of goodness, love, laughter—helped to remind me that the person I feared is also not just a monster. He is a son, a friend (to someone, I’m sure!) and a person who is obviously struggling with his own demons. Seeing him as this took away a lot of his power.

The novel also reminded me that, partly because of this man and partly as a result of the other painful circumstances in my life right now, I’d written myself as a particular character—the victim. And books are full of victims, but how boring are they if that’s all they are? How weak and sad. That’s not who I am or who I want to be. That’s not the type of story I want my life to tell. I want to be the person who steps outside of her victim-hood and takes control of her life. So, thanks to the perspective gleaned from a good book, I’m back on the road to doing that.

I’m also experiencing new excitement and drive about the characters I create and the stories I tell. Ms. Moriarty had no idea her story would affect me the way it did—provide distraction, initially, and then perspective and courage and hope—and she probably never will. I may never know the way my characters help someone else. But I believe if I keep writing and putting my heart and soul and thought into my books, lives will be touched. Stories are powerful.

Do you have a story of how someone else’s story affected you? A novel, a memoir, or even a conversation? I’d love to hear about it! Scroll down to comment below.

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