When was the last time you told your story? You know, the “story of you” and how you came to be the way you are? I think it would be so brilliant if we could hear our take on ourselves at fifteen. If someone had recorded a conversation with us at that point, asking us about life, how things were with us, what our struggles seemed to be, why we were the way we were, that would be so interesting to hear later. Maybe again at twenty-five, and then we could all pay attention to the way we present ourselves currently. Hopefully the story would change, at least to some degree, or we would change the moments upon which we place importance.
We share these stories when we’re getting to know someone new. Sometimes it’s romantic, and in those cases it’s interesting to examine whether you offer everything up, or you edit out lots of things; which moments you choose to highlight, and which things you save for another time. When it isn’t romantic, it’s less complicated. We tend not to worry so much about how we’re received. Of course, you really just want to be yourself, either way, to be comfortable in your own skin, and to move toward people when the flow is good; when you don’t have to “work” in a conversation, or worry, or wonder.
Sometimes we’re holding onto ideas or memories or experiences we’d be wiser to release. Sometimes we’re attached to a way of thinking about ourselves that doesn’t serve us, or we have our list of ways we’ve been wronged, betrayed, or disappointed, and they dominate the story. Maybe we’re inclined to think of ourselves as damaged or broken, or easily left or hurt. We might dwell on our mistakes, regrets, paths not taken. Maybe we think eliciting sympathy is a way to get people to bond to us, or perhaps we like to think of ourselves as the hero. It’s illuminating to see what you lead with, and to examine whether it’s old stuff that you might be better off putting down, so something new and current and more accurate might emerge.
Your past shapes you, but it doesn’t have to define you. You can try to lay out your life in this linear way—this happened, and then this other thing happened, and then this happened, and so now this is the way I am—or, you can open to the reality that everything is in a constant state of flux, and although things may have happened that have shaped the way you look at the world, you don’t have to be confined by that. You could broaden your horizon by integrating those things without becoming limited by them.
Your pain is your prison, or it’s the key to your freedom. You get to choose. You can carry your pain, your history, your heartbreaks around with you like armor, and you can feed that stuff, so it grows and strengthens and follows you into every area of your life, eating away at your confidence that things might ever get better, or you can look at what’s happened and how these things have affected you, and you can decide to heal yourself. I say that like it’s easy, but it isn’t. If you decide to work with your pain, you’re setting yourself up to be deeply uncomfortable in the short-term, because taking ownership of your life takes guts. It means you aren’t going to feed the blame/shame cycle anymore, and you aren’t going to rely on your old coping mechanisms or stories about why you are the way you are. You’re going to accept and embrace all aspects of yourself, even those things that are not pretty, and maybe hard to face, so that there’s no need to run, or numb out, or reject, or deny what’s real for you.
It may be painful in the short term, because birthing anything into existence requires courage and patience and determination, and the willingness to grapple with what’s demanded. Your total vulnerability, for one thing. Your surrender, in the bravest sense. The payoff is worth it, though, because not knowing yourself is the loneliest thing there is. Understanding what scares you, what excites you, what stops you, what frees you up, what inspires you…that’s the stuff. That’s how you live a life that feels good to you. You really cannot do that if you’re clinging to that which weighs you down and eats you up. Sympathy is a poor bedfellow, and being the hero in every story is ridiculous. Being yourself is where it’s at; then you get to live the rest of your life in peace. Opening to things as they are, honoring your own tender heart, and showing up for yourself, and all the people in your life — no one can rob you of that, unless you let them. It might mean you have to search for the beauty in the aftermath of your devastation, so don’t think I’m saying this lightly. You might have to dig through your grief so you can remember it’s beautiful you loved so deeply. It isn’t all sunshine and roses, but if you face reality as it is, I think you’ll find there’s so much beauty and joy and love. In each day, there’s the potential to feel overwhelming gratitude, just for the experience of being human. Take a look at what you’re holding onto, and let go of anything that’s blocking your ability to live with your heart wide open. I don’t think any of the other alternatives are good. If you need a starting point, try this.
Sending love, as always,
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