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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Coming Up for Air

It really does feel like I’m drowning in children. Drowning in their whys, their wants, their unending demands for attention. Drowning in their little hands tugging at my hands, my legs, creeping under the hem of my shirt to tuck into the warm heavy flop of my breast. Drowning in cracker crumbs, soggy Cheerios floating in almond milk, toast crusts, uneaten vegetables, rotten apple cores under the couch. Drowning in broken toys, rocks hurled through air, sticks slapping the ground in a challenge. Drowning in the challenge of every day.

I’ve had a run of bad days. I’ve forgotten myself again. When I have a moment to myself I don’t even remember what to do with it. What do I like, again? How did I used to spend my moments? Oh, right. Doing whatever I wanted to do. When I see a free moment looming, I feel this rush of “shoulds” pouring over me. I should write, I should read, I should do yoga, I should meditate, I should wash the dishes, I should close my eyes and nap for a moment. Often I do none of those things because they all feel exhausting. I scroll through Facebook, news blogs, and then the moment ends and they need me again and I’ve wasted it. Fuck.

The negative self-talk is screaming loud these days. I won’t bring those words further into being by typing them, but they’re pretty nasty. And I’m starting to believe these awful things about myself, my life, my kids. And reacting accordingly.

So two days ago now, after probably the worst of the bad days, a day that ended with me yelling “HERE IS YOUR DRINK OF WATER” because I’d forgotten how to not yell, I woke up and told myself as kindly as I could “just be present today. Be present for you, for your emotions, for your kids and their emotions. That’s all you have to do today.”

And it’s working. Being present is working it’s magic. It still fucking sucks, a lot of the time. But I’m there for it, instead of checking out. I’m there, saying “yeah, this fucking suck, it sure does,” and there is power in that. Power in witnessing your own life, instead of going numb. And I’m there for my kids, too. I catch them before their “please pay attention to me” outrageous behaviour reaches its crescendo, someone crying and things broken and me just yelling like an asshole.

So here I am, present in this space, letting you all know that it’s not great right now but I recognize that all things are impermanent. This will pass. It’s a cliche but that’s because it’s true and it’s been proven over and over, with each moment passing by, it’s proven.

I’m not writing much these days. Which makes me question if I’m still a writer. I look over the poems I’ve collected for a chapbook and I hate them, because they’re all about how difficult this is. I’m tired of it all, tired of my own voice, my own words, circling over and over how difficult this is. I want to bury those poems, bury myself, or maybe that’s the wrong metaphor. Circle back to the beginning. I want to break through all of this, come up gulping fresh air into my lungs. I need something bigger than all of this, something outside of it. I’ve got an idea for a project, that might actually be two projects, and I need to focus on that. I need something to take me out of this groundhog day loop that is my life right now.

I am not just mom, mommy, mama. I am more than the maker of snacks, the breaker-upper of fights, the picker-upper of toys. I am a woman and a writer and I am interesting and interested and evolving.

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