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