I have a friend who also likes to write, and it’s always an exciting moment for me when I see that he’s posted something new – I know that it’s probably going to make me think about something or to feel something, because that’s what good writing does.
His most recent post was about the stories we tell about ourselves – stories that are based largely on things that have happened to us in the past, the good and the bad. For many of us, we tend to keep telling the same story again and again, even when it no longer truly reflects who we are. (And even if it never did.)
When I think about the way I’ve been moving through life in the past couple years, what stands out to me is the way that I often find myself in the same little maze, running into the same few walls over and over again. Insecurity. Harsh and hurtful self-criticism and loathing. Impostor Syndrome. Upper-limit problems. Fear of being rejected. Fear of never being enough.
I built those walls – or, I should say – the story I created about myself built them. Our stories often come from a place of truth. Things happen to us. Things happened to me, and I can’t change that. When we’re young, everything we do helps us to start building our own little personalities, and to form the ideas about who we are, how we respond to things, and how we fit into the world. And during this time, we fall, we dent. We suffer blows, we bruise. We all come out with some scars – and with a story.
The story I tell about myself today is the same story I told myself when I was 6 and 17 and 28. I’ve changed, but the story hasn’t. In a sentence, it’s this:
I’m an ugly, fat, lazy and stupid person with no talents or abilities, who will never accomplish anything, who is a burden and an annoyance, and who is unworthy of love and care.
Yeah, it’s brutal, but I don’t share it for sympathy. I share it because I’m guessing that there are so many other people like me who are telling themselves a similar story, even when we don’t want to tell it any more. We tell ourselves we’re failures as we are succeeding. We tell the people who love us that we are unworthy of their love.
It’s just the craziest thing.
It’s so powerful, that fucking story. One of my first therapists told me that my story was like a tape that I play over and over so that it’s always looping in my head, and that in order to get rid of it, I needed to imagine myself destroying that tape and recording a new one. I understood the metaphor; it made sense, but it never felt right to me. Because destroying a tape and throwing it into a fire is too easy. It didn’t match the tremendous struggle I felt.
Instead, I imagined myself as a statue. (I know, but stay with me.) I was created by an artist (and maybe this represents God or the Universe or whatever creator you believe in) and the artist was pleased with his creation, however imperfect. He felt as though his statue spoke for itself – with no inscription, identification or description needed. He intended for it to stand on its own. But a few years later, a person came along and started engraving on the base of the statue. He identified the statue by name and date of birth and included a brief narrative of the person in the statue’s life. Over time, people who visited the statue read what was engraved there and started to learn the history. They told others. The story was created.
Except there was a problem: None of it was true. All of the “facts” engraved were wrong. Intentionally or not, that person had created an identity and a narrative that was entirely false. But once the fiction had physically become part of the statue, it became difficult to separate what was real and what was not.
That always felt like a more appropriate metaphor for me – it was the best way I could come up with to describe how I felt, and why it was never as simple as just swapping out a tape. That story wasn’t just something looping in my head. It was a part of me, carved into my slate. And like the rigid and lifeless statue, I felt powerless to change it on my own. I was always waiting for someone else to come and fix it. Someone to come along and to smooth out the stone and to carve in the right identity and the right story (but – what was that?) Or maybe the artist would someday come back and somehow make things right again.
But in either circumstance, I was the victim waiting for a hero. And there’s very little in this life that angers me more than that. I won’t accept it.
My old story may never be wiped clean. So … now, I guess, it’s about finding the power to take control and to continue the story – to find the ability to say that yes, these things happened to me and there were times when I was this way or that way, but this is not everything that I am.
Because there is so much more to me than that. I will learn it for myself and I will show you and I will tell you.
Because it is my story to tell, and it is my turn to tell it.