The Stories We Write
Recently, someone asked me if I want to participate in an upcoming storytelling event. Given I’ve been described as a “speech in search of an audience,” I immediately gave an enthusiastic “yes!” Listening to and telling tales can be lots of fun. Stories can make us laugh or make us cry. Sometimes they can be scary. They can even be encouraging. They can help us see who we are and how we arrived to this place in life. But learning to listen to the stories we all tell ourselves, well, that can be a lesson in self discovery. And if we don’t, our stories can become prisons of grief, resentment and despair.
Think about it.
Unless we are mindful, we are always writing some internal narrative about what and who we encounter. They are often tales of injustice; some mistreatment at the hands of another. We become judge and jury about why someone doesn’t return our calls. Or why we shouldn’t have been fired or denied a promotion. Or so many other things. As an overweight kid, peering in from just outside the popular social circles, I often wrote my own internal stories about how others just weren’t smart enough to see my value. It was an effective short term strategy for dealing with my pain, but one that wasn’t particularly useful in examining what part I might have been playing in the creating my own social exile. Or in why I was eating too much.
Looking back, I realize with each Hostess Ho-Ho and Ding Dong I ate, with every Coke and glass of chocolate milk I swallowed, I was trying to quiet the boredom and fear of that time between being a childhood and adolescence. And with each bite and swallow, I was only adding to the cycle of boredom and fear. I just couldn’t see the part I played in the story I was living. Sure, I was a kid then. But now I’m all grown up. Well, sort of.
All of us have strategies for dealing with the very legitimate challenges of life; things like abandonment, judgment, injustice, abuse, to name just a few. But if we become self-righteous authors, placing ourselves at the center of some would-be Greek tragedy, we often fail to see our own fatal flaw. It’s time we take a careful look at our stories and ask ourselves if we’re only perpetuating our own fears and pain when we write them.
If we can find the courage to examine our own tales, maybe we can free ourselves from the burden of judging others for conduct we really don’t understand—even when their conduct is hurtful. Perhaps in letting go of the blaming part of our stories, we can learn to be content with the mystery of how things arise in our lives; or better yet, see how we sometimes invite our own troubles—and stop doing doing it. Maybe it’s possible to acknowledge our own hurt without heaping more logs onto the fires of our pain by examining how our stories are written only from our own point of view.
It occurs to me that accusations of selfishness in others normally arise when we aren’t getting our own way. And that my temptation to resentment doesn’t always begin with a look in the mirror. I laughingly tell my friends that every middle-aged man needs a magnifying mirror to take careful stock of what others see in on his face, neck, and ears. We need to examine our stories like we do our face in a magnifying mirror so we might actually see the real blemishes our own. Doing so shouldn’t become a matter of self judgment. It’s really just self care. We should be gentle with ourselves when doing it. Examining the stories I tell myself liberates me when I see how they are rife with my own biases and fears, how the ending to the tale is disappointing because the story didn’t turn out the way I thought it should.
I wish I could say I overcame my childhood weight problem by some transcendental enlightenment. I didn’t. Puberty came in a flood of growth hormone and testosterone that now makes me stand more than six feet six inches tall. I simply outgrew the problem. Not emotionally, because I’m still capable of trying to eat my fears, my pain, and sometimes, my boredom. Thankfully, my frame just hides it better now. Or that’s what I tell myself. Whatever the case, I hope I’m more mindful of what I eat and drink. I hope I’m more mindful of the stories I write, of the characters in them, and the part I play. Because after all, I’m the author of my own tales. Just like you.