The Story You Need to Tell:
Writing to Heal from Trauma, Illness, or Loss

by Sandra Marinella

New World Library, 2017. ISBN 978-1-608-68483-0.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 08/02/2017

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Creative Life

Sandra Marinella's warmth and understanding come through on every page of her book, The Story You Need to Tell. She has taught in high schools, and presented workshops to veterans, educators, and cancer patients and shares the stories that many needed to tell.

I was interested to see in Marinella's acknowledgments that writing group members insisted she integrate her personal stories into the book. She says she struggled with the challenge but is thankful to them "for seeing that I had to walk through these pages too." Marinella's personal story, woven throughout the book, is a very important aspect of it.

Christina Baldwin has been inspiration and support to Marinella who found that One to One, Baldwin's first book on journaling, "carried the magic of personal writing into my life and into the lives of my students." Baldwin wrote the foreword to the book and says: "The power is in you to shape how you will live with whatever happens. The power is in the stories you tell to encourage you to take the next risk, to make the next move, to help saying yes to life."

When diagnosed with breast cancer, Marinella decided to "rewrite" her life and left full-time work to "remake" her life. She did lots of meditating, talking to friends, praying, and writing in her bright red I HAVE CANCER journal.

In a chapter entitled, "Facing Trauma: When There Are No Words," she acknowledges that trauma and grief can silence us. In one of her high school classes, the students upon hearing of the violent death of a classmate embraced silence. When the time feels right, people can begin to "unravel the knot inside and to make sense of our loss, not bury it within," Marinella says.

She refers to the groundbreaking work of James W. Pennebaker who tested the power of "expressive" writing. For those in his studies who were writing about difficult experiences, there were many physical and psychological benefits.

In "Breaking the Silence," Marinella says: "Students taught me the power of writing, but working with veterans at the VA hospital helped me see the patterns in how we used writing to heal." The steps in the pattern that usually surface, she says, are: "Experience your pain and grief; break your silence and find your voice; accept and piece together a difficult or broken story; find meaning or make sense of this event or story; rewrite your story and find ways to reconnect with your well-being."

After her cancer and after having a boss who suffered from mental illness, Marinella "felt called to help underserved populations to write and sort through their pain and losses. Working with veterans suffering from PTSD, I was uncovering the same needs in them that I had discovered in my students, stories similar to our stories," she says.

Each chapter is an invitation to know more about Marinella and the people she has worked with. The stories are heart wrenching and heartwarming especially as people find a way forward through writing. At the end of every chapter are writing prompts and suggestions for readers to write their own stories from life.

In the final chapter, "The Burst of Creativity," Marinella says she "realized that when the people I interviewed used writing to help them make sense of a difficult story, be it sexual abuse, war trauma, cancer, or grief, they often rediscovered themselves—and their creativity."

Out of Marinella's own pain came this book and her drive to work with others. We can be grateful for the way she has listened, what she's learned, and how she shares it in her book. May readers realize their own creativity and live more fully through the power of writing their personal story.

Read an excerpt from this book.

Sandra Marinella, MA, MEd, has taught thousands of students and fellow educators and presented hundreds of workshops to veterans, educators, and cancer patients. She founded the Story You Need to Tell Project which uses profits from her book to provide educational scholarships, writing workshops, and writing materials for those in need. She lives near Phoenix, Arizona. Visit her website.

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