“Own your story,” he said, “if you own your story, no one can ever really use it against you.
It was late August of last year when Cory Copeland spoke those words to me. I had just written about one of the most painful moments in my life and was terrified of the response. It wouldn’t be the last time he would have to speak this to me. They are words that would be reiterated byCassi Clerget, over and over again. She would whisper them to me again just a few months ago, “Own your story. You’re not publishing it to demean anyone. You’re publishing it to share your story and be a light. Sometimes we need to tell stories with others in it. Just because our past with them is rough doesn’t mean the story will reflect it.“
They were and are both right. I told that piece of my story a year ago and it not only set a part of me free, it also gave many of my readers an opportunity to know they weren’t alone. “Me too. This happened to me,” their emails and messages and comments read, “I’ve never told anyone but I’m saying it now. It happened to me.” Telling my story not only unlocked my cage but it unlocked the doors of others who had experienced the same thing. And I had been so afraid of getting it wrong, of not saying it right.
Truth is useful even in its just mined state. Cassi told me once, “Own your words and feelings. You’re allowed to have and express them. I stopped caring what people thought. Or rather I stopped worrying that they would take them differently than I intended. I can’t control how my words are perceived. So, I just do my thing and feel proud.” Last October I sat down to talk to Cory about Bedlam, the online magazine, we’ve run together for the past year and a half and he said this, “We may not have all the answers but we’re willing to ask the questions. That’s kind of our mantra everyday. Honest truth, raw, whatever it takes.”
I met the two of them because I tripped over Bedlam on Twitter a few weeks after it was born. Cory had written his honest, raw truth. The story of infidelity to his first wife and the pain which had led him to that moment, along with the consequences from it. I responded to it to thank him and sent a piece I had published a few months prior on Medium that told a little part of my story. They asked me to submit a piece to the magazine and a week later I had joined the team as a staff writer.
I had never had an online home to share my story.
Bedlam became that, not just for me but for many of our writers and for Cory and Cassi too. It was a way to use our scars to help bring healing to other people. Cory said it this way, “The way I was raised help me roll it all into Bedlam and say, ‘look at all of these mistakes, depression, suicide attempts, divorce; look at these so you can see them and sidestep them. You’re going to make your own mistakes, but if you can do it with the knowledge of what I’ve done in the back of your head maybe it will save you from some of the heartache I’ve caused and experienced.”
When Bedlam was created it was to be a place where everyone could feel welcome to hear and share their stories. “I wanted something for people. 12–65. It didn’t matter,” Cory told me that day in the sunlight of Atlanta’s Fall, “For people with a beating heart. Anyone and everyone. I wanted to build a place where people would come and feel welcome; where we would publish fearlessly. I wanted something that was for everyone. Not just Christians. It may not be for everyone but it is doing a good work and we hear from people all the time saying ‘thank you for making me feel whole and not alone.”
It became a place where you could come and tell your story and share your truth. People cried together and celebrated and encouraged one another. And as we continued writing our stories, we evolved too. We began to heal. Community does that. It runs towards your brokenness and bandages you up and leads you to all the things that will help you heal. It tells you that you’re not alone. Maybe that’s what church is supposed to be.
That’s what Bedlam became. Our own little sacred space on our tiny corner of the internet. We’ve never really known what we were doing. We’ve just tried to love each other well and hear each other’s stories and say, “You’re going to get there. You’ll make it to the other side. We’re cheering for you. You’re braver than you know. You are going to be okay.” We’ve never had much to give but we’ve asked God to bless the brokenness of our stories and our pursuit of wholeness and somehow He’s found a way to use it.
Through our writing and sharing and holding each other’s hands, we’ve found our way back to ourselves. Or maybe it’s that we’ve finally found ourselves. We’ve dug through the layers of who people said we had to be and what we imagined we might be to find that the true us is far more beautiful than we imagined.
We had a discussion the other night about how much things have changed and one asked what I thought was happening, “We’re at a time in our lives where people are figuring out what exactly they want to do and how they want to do it,” I said, “I think what we’ve created with Bedlam is a healthy place that helps people figure that out. In essence we’re growing people to the point where they know what and who they want to be.”
Bedlam became our place to become.
It’s been a long and beautiful road we’re walking together. We’re continually learning and challenging each other to live the life we want, not the one we think we’re supposed to live. And we’ve learned how to love; real, healthy love. Cassi, in her infinite wisdom, gave us permission to do just that, “Loving someone in any way shouldn’t leave us embarrassed. That’s a powerful thing. We should celebrate it. It’s hard to let ourselves love. We should be proud we do.” We support each other and fight and make up and love too hard. Because family does and that’s what we’ve become.