Glennon Doyle And Abby Wambach On Why The Best Storytelling Happens When You Embrace The Past

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By now, fans of the bestselling author Glennon Doyle and Olympic soccer star Abby Wambach are familiar with the couple’s unconventional, contagiously joyful love story. The two met for the first time during 2016’s tour of Together Live — the annual speaking tour that celebrates diverse, female voices and recognizes the power of storytelling to change the world — and were married in May. During this year’s Together Live tour (which the duo headlined, across ten U.S. cities), Doyle and Wambach joined forces with Ancestry DNA, exploring how their families’ pasts inform their own family’s future. Together Live also partnered with Ancestry as a way to encourage audiences to discover where they came from and how that impacts who they are today.

“Knowing where I have come from was truly moving. Our stories all have started somewhere and I know for me, having some questions answered allows me to know my family and myself better,” Wambach tells Bustle, just after the conclusion of the 2017 Together Live tour.

Photo courtesy of Together Live

Both women — storytellers, activists, truth tellers — were surprised by the results of their AncestryDNA kits.

“My ancestors left Ireland during the Famine. They followed coal mining work to Scotland, and eventually got on a ship with their daughters to America,” says Doyle, author of the bestselling books Carry On, Warrior and Love Warrior. “They found mining work in Pennsylvania, and eventually their daughters were able to put each other through nursing school — they each worked until they had enough to put one of the sisters through, and eventually they were all able to go, other than the eldest sister, who kept working so the other four could graduate. They experienced great loss, carrying on, and taking care of family with big dreams for a better future. What’s surprising is that their story is the story of so many people now, in this moment. I believe we can honor our ancestors by welcoming the immigrants of today — with all of their grit and tenacity and belief in the promise of America.”  

Wambach has recently joined the ranks of author as well, with her 2016 memoir Forward. “Fascinating is not a strong enough word to describe how I feel about my family heritage,” says Wambach. “The truth for me is that we are all immigrants from somewhere. We all began as a dream from our ancestors.”

As women who have both written deeply personal memoirs, I ask if having more information about their identity and their family history informs their storytelling — in the books they’ve written and the intimate stories the couple shares in every single city throughout the Together Tour.

“I believe that life starts when we stop running from our pain and who we are and instead surrender to it — run toward it and own it. That's where healing begins,” says Doyle, who has written about everything from the struggles of her first marriage to how faith and feminism inform the way she parents her children. "We say: 'Here I am, pain. I give up. All that stuff really happened. I’ll let myself feel it now. Then I’ll tell the story and let other people feel it, too.' Everyone has a history, everyone has a story to tell. When you write your true identity, it is a love offering to the world because it helps everyone who hears it feel braver and less alone. We all need to know that we are seen and heard. We don’t need our lives to be different, or easier, we just need someone to see the pain. To know what we’ve faced and overcome.  To say: Yes. I see this. This is real. We don’t need a magician to take it all away – we just need a witness. That's what we're doing on the Together Tour, we are witnesses to each other's stories, and it makes us braver in this world.”

I believe that life starts when we stop running from our pain and who we are and instead surrender to it — run toward it and own it

But the effects of digging into her past goes far beyond the influencing the words Doyle puts on the page. It’s also helped inform how she understands herself, her history, and the personal stories that have gotten her to her present. “It’s cemented my belief that the moral of our collective story is love, and that love is relentlessly showing up for your people. And that the invisible thread leading the way — the force constantly rising up to take care of their people — is the women," she says. "Being a woman is more like taking your place in a parade than it is like hiking an individual journey. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we’re alone in this challenging family, friendship, health, career stuff; that the trials we’re facing and joys we’re embracing are original. But when it comes to womanhood, there’s nothing new under the sun. Whatever it is — thousands of brave women have faced it before us, so we should learn from them. Whatever it is — thousands of brave women will face it after us, so we should teach them. I believe that we are all more alike than different. That we are all connected. That one woman’s pain is our collective pain and one’s woman’s joy and success belongs to all of us. That's the story of our past and the story of our future.”

Being a woman is more like taking your place in a parade than it is like hiking an individual journey.

In a short video that compiled the couple’s big ancestry reveal, Doyle says that any time she’s made progress in her life, it’s been by looking backwards first.

Ancestry on YouTube

“When I’ve made progress, I’ve always looked back first to figure out how to move forward,” Doyle says. “I talk about my addictions because everything beautiful in my life right now came out of the ugliness back then. And still does. All that pain turned out to be the good stuff.  I used to say: 'I’m broken. Fix me.'  And now I say: 'And I love, love, love my beautiful, busted up past and my messy, complicated present.' No one is ever "ready."  The world is changed by messy, complicated people who show up before they are ready. It's the story of my life, and the DNA of this tour: Show up exactly how you are, right now, and we'll change the world together.”