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Regardless of where we are in life or, what we do for a living, we each have our own stories that have played in our heads since childhood. I’m not talking about fairy tales and fantasies, but our versions of our own lives. In some ways, we make sense of ourselves and our lives by the stories we tell others about ourselves. This is a recent photo of my mother, an unhappy woman who’s always painted herself as the victim. If mother has a choice between “I’ll give it a try” or “I can’t do that,” she’s always chosen the one that leaves her the most pitiful. Mother doesn’t know it, but her stories have played a huge role in the stories I’ve told myself and the woman I am.
One of my earliest stories was that I was an overprotected only child, raised by an unloving strict father and a mother who tried to keep me wrapped in swaddling clothes until I was old enough to collect Social Security. As I got older, I told myself new stories like I was a daredevil who wasn’t afraid to do anything. Even in the early days of living my new story, I was aware that my somewhat blind disregard for my own personal safety was a facade, designed to make me the polar opposite of my mother.
Almost immediately, my wanna’ be tough girl story became a self-fulfilling prophesy. My determination to tough-girl my way through any situation was also the same bravado that saved me from succumbing, numerous times, to things I shouldn’t have done in the first place. When I escaped from my ordeal in Honduras, my brave, keep-on-going girl kept me from telling anyone what really happened to me there. I had become the antithesis of my mother and the overprotected girl who wasn’t allowed to go barefoot. I could go to Hell and back and keep on going. I now know the stories we tell ourselves can be our saving grace or our own worst enemy. Either way, we sometimes need help processing them and crafting new ones.
The last year has been the worst year of my life, full of grief, heartbreak, betrayal, financial terror and depression. You might think the story I now tell myself is one of woe, my life will never be the same, but you’d be wrong. I may be embarking on one of the most exciting chapters of my life, one that will use all of the experiences, hard knocks, survivorship skills, love and the grace of God I’ve learned, earned, endured and been given, but if it doesn’t materialize, I know I’ll be OK.
What are the stories, the inner dialog you tell yourself that have shaped your life? Perhaps they served you well in the past, but now it’s time to let them go. Or like my mother, do you tell yourself “you can’t” or “you’re afraid?” What’s stopping you from writing a new story? Where do you see yourself a year or 10 years from now, and what kind of inner story will it take to get there? If you’re struggling with cancer treatment or maybe your prognosis, what are you telling yourself day after day, and is it helping or hindering? Do you need help writing a new story and if so, who will you turn to?
Writing this piece has made me wonder where our stories stop and our identity begins, or are our identities more than just a story we tell ourselves?