The Stories We Tell

Less than two months ago, this is the story I told myself: you are a tired, overwhelmed mom. You don’t have time in the day to do things for yourself. Wine is your thing now: you live for that bottle of wine at the end of the day.

I let this story become fixed in my mind. I let it define me and shape my days. By 2 in the afternoon, I began to wonder: will I have a glass of wine tonight? Will I have the whole bottle? When can I have the first glass? Do we have wine? Should I get more wine? How much wine is too much? By 5 o’clock I was well into my first glass, and by 7 the bottle was empty. I’d get the kids to bed and fall asleep too, full of guilt. By midnight, I was wide awake, hungover, beating myself up.

This story became my truth, and I lived it almost daily. And because I believed it so completely, I let the important things that I’d worked so hard for slip away: a daily writing practice, exercise, connection with myself and my kids. We tell ourselves these stories, we let them become fixed, forgetting that a story has a life of its own. Stories change, can be reinterpreted, rewritten. The person I am today is not the person I was yesterday, is not the person she was a week ago, or even a moment ago. Everything about us is in constant flux, and so too are our stories. But we forget that and we get hung up on what might have been true for a moment, but is no longer true and no longer serving us.

What other untrue stories have I told myself throughout my life? And what have those stories held me back from? Stories about not being good enough. Stories about what people expect from me. Stories about what I can’t do. Stories about sex and love and friendship that kept me stuck in unhealthy patterns.

The stories I tell reach beyond myself. There is a story my partner and I sometimes share about the kids: they are out of control, they are monsters, they are unlikeable. We pass this story between us like a drug, feeding each others’ irritation, anger, dissatisfaction with life. And then this narrative bleeds into the way we interact with the kids, and they pick up the thread. Yesterday, coming down from a particularly difficult week, my oldest said of his explosive behaviour: “it’s just the way I am.” And this is how it starts: if you hear often enough that you are bad, that you are mean, that you are hurtful, you start to believe it, don’t you. Boys will be boys. Boys are aggressive. Boys fight, there’s nothing you can do about it.

I refuse to believe that story. When it ramps up in my mind, like on the difficult days, I tell myself a new story: a story about little brains still developing, about big scary feelings that are hard to deal with. Our stories aren’t so different, mine and my son’s. We are both trying to escape uncomfortable things, me with wine and screen time, he with hurtful words, spitting and slapping hands. We both need to rewrite our stories. I need to help him rewrite his, and to give him the language to do so.

Today, I tell myself a new story: you are capable. You are aware. There is a spaciousness in your day if you allow it. You are worthy of your own love and attention.

How might this new story change me, if I let it? How has it changed me already? I’ve stopped turning to a bottle of wine every night. See how I don’t need it. I’ve started to find my way back to healthier forms of self-care and I see and feel how they fill me up. I tune in to my body, now. I ask it: what do you need, right now? I see 10 minutes or 30 minutes or an hour open up and I fill it with what would feel best right then. I press on doing this, and I know that I’m not starting from nothing this time. I’ve already done this once before, and I know I can do it again. It’s easier, this time, to go back over and make the changes I need to make.

What stories do you tell yourself? Are you stuck in a narrative that’s no longer serving you? Maybe it’s time for a rewrite. What stories do you tell yourself about others, and how does it change the way you interact with them?

The stories we tell ourselves are powerful.  Going forward, I choose to use that power for good.

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Image via Flickr user Daniel X O’Neil

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9 thoughts on “The Stories We Tell”

  1. Tara, this post speaks to me so clearly it was weird to read, as if you were in my brain or I had written this. Oh the wine. And the stories. I have one about my kids as well (along the same lines….) and it’s only worse when you and your partner share the same story – it becomes self fulfilling in the worst way. Here’s to changing the stories in our lives, the ones about ourselves and our loved ones. I feel such a kinship with you and vey glad to know you through this crazy internet writing- mama circle ❤️

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    1. Thank you so much for this, Dana. It means so much to know my words resonated with you, and to know I’m not alone in this. I feel that kinship, too, and I’m so happy to know you!

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  2. I wish this would go viral.It would be so helpful for others to know they are not alone and it’s ok to be honest and vulnerable. Go Tara go I love you

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  3. I feel this post big time! About two months into reclaiming my narrative and carving out my daily writing practice, I came to the conclusion I could no longer drink. Wine was running interference on my goals and self-care. It also made me a less patient, higher anxiety mama. It was a pretty amazing realization, one I wish I’d had sooner, but I can’t waste time or energy on regret. When my birthday rolled around a few months later, I allowed myself a few celebratory drinks. Three drinks put me out of commission for two days. And I went back on the wagon. I haven’t told many people because I know it’s off-putting. I still want to be included in happy hours and evenings out, which are rare as it is! Thank you for the opportunity to talk about it here. I am so moved by your honesty and beautiful writing.

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    1. Thank you for sharing this, Sarah. It’s strange how off-putting it is, to tell people you don’t drink. In fact, I feel so hesitant to “offend” someone with my not wanting to drink, that I still join in and have a glass of wine when I go out. For now that feels okay, as long as I don’t let it get out of control…like you, that’s about 3 glasses of wine! Anyway, I think when we make a choice that goes against the grain, people feel judged. I’m so intrigued by your daily writing practice. I’m still trying to find my way there. It’s always shifting, though. I find it hard to feel on solid ground. Thinking about blogging daily, inspired by you!

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      1. I feel the same hesitation to “offend.”And you’re right, I think people feel judged. For those reasons, I’m kind of a closet nondrinker. If it’s possible to mingle at an event with a club soda that passes for a vodka soda, I opt for that. Maybe I’ve just stumbled into my next essay, the Closeted Nondrinker.

        I would love the camaraderie of a fellow daily blogger! Plus, more chances to read your gorgeous writing. The Flash Nano group I joined begins today, so I’ll be writing twice daily for the month of November. I hope I can pull it off!

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