I’ve been thinking a lot about stories this week – the personal stories that we carry with us and roll out for visitors. We’ve told them so often that they purr out of our pores. My story has always been one of being a survivor – of an unstable childhood and low self-esteem. My story is that I grew up poor. I experienced and witnessed abuse and addiction. These things are true, but I’ve found that the story no longer fits who I am or who I want to be.
Sometimes our stories were given to us by someone else. I got called a pessimist a lot. My army buddies called me Chuckles for my dry, unsmiling humor. My stepfather used to call me a prude, because I always had my nose in books and didn’t think he was funny at all. A friend’s father said that I’m a cold fish. A boss told me once that I could be cruel.I’ve been told encouraging things as well, but those never seem to have the same staying power.
If your self is fully formed, grounded in confidence and you are experienced in being loved and loving as is, these things tend to roll off a bit easier. If you’re still searching and there’s gaps in your armor, these words slither in and sit on your skin until they sink in. You take in pieces and patches until you’re an emotional Frankenstein. Just waiting for villagers to run you out of town.
This was my story. I’ve clung to it. I’ve repeated it over and over. It was, I would declare, my truth, my reality. I’m a wounded bird who learned to fly. Yay me. Except that’s not me at all, anymore. It might not have been me for years. It’s all a big damned falsehood that I sit comfortably in like a bean bag chair. And while I’m sitting there, I can’t move. I can’t write a new story.
Most of us don’t like to be defined by others, but we’re still very adept at assigning labels to ourselves. I see labels as limits, as hard core definitions that you carry like an awkward badge of honor. It’s supposed to help – this knowing what you are and aren’t. But if you take a moment and see all the exceptions you’ve made, all the qualifiers in place, then a label is a lie. Then all personal truths become temporary.
I am sometimes a pessimist. Sometimes I’m a daydreamer. Sometimes I’m a wounded bird and other times, I’m a fierce predatory hawk. Sometimes I’m a fuzzy Buddhist feminist liberal bleeding heart and other times I’m a puritanical and judgmental fascist. We make choices about who we’d like to be most, but we have to be humbled by the moments when we’re complicated humans. And that’s about the only label I can work with – I’m human.
Our stories inform who we have become and this is the point that gives me pause. If that is the case, then what I am I telling myself now and what will that look like in ten years? When I’m procrastinating creative work, I chide myself. Stories don’t write themselves, knucklehead. And they don’t – we have to be willing to sit down and devote time to writing them. Even our own stories.
We all have them. I’ve found that as I work through my old tales, there is much to archive. Like pictures, it’s time to take down the yellowed photos and frame new ones. It is time to write some new stories.
What’s your story?
Books I’m Perusing This Week:
Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Martin E. P. Seligman
Stuck in the Story No More: Breaking Down the Defenses that Define You and Bind You by Dr. Nicki J. Monti