Retelling my stories

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” ~Nora Ephron

Have you ever had one of those days when it seems like the universe is hitting you upside the head with an idea? Even long after you’ve taken the hint? I’ve had one of those days today. There’s no way I can miss the message on this one!

In my call with my coach this morning, I was sharing some recent struggles I have been dealing with and what I’ve learned about myself in the process of dealing with those issues. The action item we designed for me to work on before our next session was a re-writing of my story of some key life events to change my role from life’s victim to the heroine. As we discussed this proposed action step, it was very clear to both of us that this was something that addressed a wide range of issues we had discussed in a very tangible and powerful way.

But although I had already committed to taking this step, the universe wasn’t done with me yet.

As soon as the call ended, I checked Facebook to find that two different people had posted the Nora Ephron quote above using completely different graphics. (In other words, this wasn’t just a popular image being shared widely; it was unique appearances of the quote.)

Later in the day, I was trying clear out some of the many browser tabs I had open (it’s often an embarrassingly high number!) only two discover two articles I had saved for reading on the power of story. One was about research done with patients at mental health clinics that showed that the more the story that someone told about their experiences showed a sense of personal agency (i.e., the hero or heroine of the story), the greater the improvement in their mental health. In fact, those increases in the degree of personal agency included in how a patient told their story preceded the improvement in their mental health.

The second article told of the way that our brains are hardwired to use story in the way we make sense of the world and in the way we connect to others. Our stories are how we make meaning. It’s how we are made.

As I went through the backlog in my RSS feeds, I read an article by Gail Brenner on 10 Life-Changing Facts to Heal the Pain of the Past where she talks about the importance of dealing with the stories we have about our past as part of the healing process because those stories are all that we have of the past in this moment. And because we can only operate in this moment, the stories we bring to this moment are the ones that matter.

And if I hadn’t gotten the point clearly enough, I picked up the book I’ve been reading this week to find that the chapter for tonight’s reading was called “Revisionist History: Being Grateful for Everything.” It talked about the importance of re-framing the stories we tell ourselves to find gratitude for everything we have experienced and the power this has on changing mood, motivation, energy levels, and overall life satisfaction.

By this time, I just laughed out loud as I read. Message received! In fact, just spending the day contemplating some of the places that I need to retell my story to myself to accept more of the role of heroine has done wonders for my mood and my outlook on life. I’m feeling more encouraged than I have in some time just by beginning the process of changing the way I tell my story.

For those of you that may be worrying that I’m deciding to leave reality to enter a realm of fantasy, let me reassure you that this isn’t what I mean at all. The facts of my past experience don’t change when I retell my story in a new way, but my interpretation of the meaning of them does change.

For example, I chose to quit my full-time job in January 2011 without having another job to go to when I turned in my resignation letter. Several people have pointed out that they would not have been able to live with such a decision because they saw it as running away from a bad situation instead of choosing to run toward something better. Given how bad that situation was, it is easy for me to fall into telling that story in terms of me being a failure because I chose to “run away” instead of staying around to try to improve the situation or at least find something better to move toward. I can also focus on the fact that some people felt like the situation improved just by having me gone. Talk about a version of the story that makes me feel lousy!

On the other hand, I can tell the same story differently. The job situation was an unhealthy one for me and was having serious impacts on my mental and physical health, in addition to creating stress for my co-workers who found me difficult to work with. I chose to take the courageous step of leaving that situation in an act of radical self-care that brought enormous benefits for me—and for my co-workers who could now find someone better suited for the job. It also opened the door for me to find other employment that has provided benefits beyond what I could have imagined, and this new employment was something I would never have found or considered had I not already taken that leap of faith of doing what I knew was right for me no matter how crazy it looked to everyone around me.

The reality is that both of these stories are true. I did run away from a bad situation, AND it was something that required great courage and was based on an absolute conviction that it was the right thing for me to do.

There are people who believe the first story wholeheartedly, but that story doesn’t serve me very well. It leaves me feeling like a victim, a failure, and a coward—none of which offer much encouragement for moving forward toward the life I want to live.

The second story, on the other hand, serves me much better. It reminds me that I have the power to act on my own behalf, I can trust my inner knowing, and that I have the courage to do what needs to be done even when others don’t get it. That story sets me up for continued growth and empowers me to take action toward my goals.

I’m choosing from now on to focus on the second story. In fact, I’m claiming it as my version of the story. I have more stories that need to be retold in the same way. There will always be people around me who embrace different versions of the story than the one I am claiming as the heroine. That’s ok. What matters is which version of the story I choose to embrace, and for my own future growth, I’m choosing to claim the one that makes me the heroine from now on. My story matters.

Your stories matter too. What stories are you telling yourself? Are there any that need to be retold with you as the hero(ine)?

A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.

5 thoughts on “Retelling my stories

  1. I recently read an article on how our birth experiences are held in our memory and impact our lives from day one. I feel, however, that this experience begins at conception – that our spirit is evident and somewhat sentient at conception. If this is true, we have more stories that make us, us, then we know. I have been led to an incredible therapist who also believes by retelling our stories we change our neurological makeup.

    My mother was always quick to mention that I was an “accident,” the only one of her children (5 of us) that wasn’t planned and anticipated. I have only recently come to acknowledge the possibility that my conception was from a rape by my father (a complicated story to say the least). Talk about feeling like a victim! I was loved dearly – don’t get me wrong – but there was always a sense of being a blacksheep. I was not only the baby but I was always the “different” one, the “strong” one, the “independent” one. Always on the periphery.

    As my mother’s health deteriorated, her attitude toward me became more angry and spiteful. This was something I never fully understood until I rewrote the story. If I was conceived by force of some kind – unwanted – why WOULDN’T she resent me as her cognitive abilities deteriorated? Why wouldn’t I become an awful reminder of being forced to do something against her will in such a defiling manner? It is beginning to fall into place why she was so angry in the end and why she delusionally accused me of abusing her. In my own rewriting of the story – not to mention the pieces of the story finally making sense – I am able to understand my mother’s aggression. It takes away the victimization for me. It’s not that I wasn’t loved, I was just a walking, talking reminder that ended up looking and perhaps acting a bit too much like my father.

    The rewriting of my conception, birth, and maturity allows me to see myself as more of a survivor than a victim. I survived in utero after a rape. I survived to live. These same survival skills are the same ones that keep all my relationships at a safe, protected, arms-length distance. So now my rewrite gets to take the shape of learning that my very existence has value and purpose. I no longer have to feel like an outsider or a defilement. I finally see where my behaviors and patterns originated.

    I have to say, there is power in retelling (and sharing in words) the reformed story of “me.” Quite liberating and empowering!

    • Wow! What a powerful retelling of your story! I love the fact that retelling your story give you so much compassion for your mother in addition to empowering yourself to see your life in new ways. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with retelling your story. It gives me that much more encouragement that my process of retelling my story will have positive effects on my own life.

  2. Pingback: Judging favorably | Journey Through the Chrysalis

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