“We are all stories, in the end.”
I was talking to a friend last week and our conversation went deep. She was telling me some things about her past, and when she got to a certain part of her story her voice changed. It tightened. She stopped making eye contact. Her shoulders hunched. She got physically smaller.
I looked at her, this funny, smart, strong woman who I’ve grown to love and respect, folding in on herself. Another origami girl. I got pissed
I held my hand up and said, “Wait. Stop.” I leaned in and asked quietly, “Who is telling your story right now?”
She looked at me, confused.
I believe babies are born loved, necessary and enough. So that’s our story when we come into the world- Loved. Necessary. Enough. That’s our baseline. The most basic of plot points.
Then our stories get entrusted to the adults in our lives. They tell our stories until we are old enough to do it ourselves. That is an enormous amount of power to have over someone else’s life, and adults have a sacred duty to wield that power with integrity and discretion.
When your story is entrusted to someone worthy of that responsibility, it’s told like a great biography. These are the facts. Your praises are sung. You are reminded of your Belovedness, your necessary-ness, your enough-ness. It’s your truth. And even when there’s a HARD truth, even if it’s something you’ve struggled with, failed at, need to work on, it’s told with compassion and without judgment.
Those people, those trustworthy people, tell your story until you can tell it for yourself and then they hand it back to you. If you are going through a hard time, if you have forgotten who you are -that you are loved and necessary and enough they might gently tell you your story to remind you, but they know it is not theirs to keep in the end.
The trouble is, not everyone who gets that privilege is worthy of it. Sometimes, our stories end up in the wrong hands. There’s even a term for it in fiction- an unreliable narrator. That’s appropriate, actually, because in the hands of an unreliable narrator our stories become works of fiction. And just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it isn’t hugely persuasive. Heck, I sat in the theater at the beginning of Jurassic Park and thought, “Maybe they CAN make dinosaurs out of mosquitos trapped in amber…”
Anyway, this friend and I talked some more. She asked, “How can you tell when someone else is telling your story?”
It’s a great question.
In our workshops we spend time with the participants helping them to untangle the narratives of their lives, so I’ve been in a position the hear many women tell me their stories- and this is what I’ve come to believe: Anytime you feel shame- you know that hot, sick feeling in the pit of your stomach? Anytime you feel that flush of shame, someone else is telling your story. Even if the words are coming out of your own mouth. Your story has been hijacked.
Because here’s the thing, you can admit wrongdoing and not feel shame. You can have made terrible mistakes and not feel shame. Shame and guilt are very different animals. Guilt is your conscience- a giant arrow pointing to something you’ve done that says, “Hey! You know that was wrong. Make it right.” Guilt serves a purpose within reason. Shame does not. It is singularly destructive.
You know how from time to time you’ll hear a story about some crazy fish that is normally only found in the Amazon but somehow it shows up in a river in Michigan? When that happens, the fish in question is referred to as an ‘invasive species.” It decimates the local marine life. It is destructive, because the fish who are supposed to live there have no natural defense against it.
Shame is foreign. It’s an affront to your inherent belovedness, it implies you are not necessary. That you can NEVER be enough. Shame speaks in absolutes and offers no grace. It is always introduced by someone outside of you. It is never indigenous.
That’s actually great news, because if shame doesn’t happen organically, if it is not innately part of who we are, it can be removed. Eradicated.
The first step is identifying those chapters awash in shame. The second is identifying the narrator- who is telling that part of your story? Round up the usual suspects. Then, question their stories. Stack those stories up against these three things, the bones of the story you were born with: Loved. Necessary. Enough. If the stories contradict those facts? Rewrite them. YOU are the author of your life. YOU are.
Until you do those things, you can’t reclaim your story. And if you don’t own your story, it will own you. Guaranteed.
“Keaton always said,
“I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of him.”
Well I believe in God,
and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze.”
Verbal – The Usual Suspects
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