On Writing Your Own Stories

April 26, 2013 in feel-good, grief, self-coaching, Uncategorized

I love stories. Stories shape societies.  Stories make for works of art that move people to feel things and take action.  People win Oscars for stories. Stories are awesome.

Except when they’re not.  One of the fastest ways for me to access peace is to remember that I get to write my own stories.  That life is a series of circumstances that are neither good nor bad; they just are.  The story I tell myself about something, and whether that story feels amazing or terrible, determines what I feel about the circumstance.  For example:

rain: Ooh, an excuse to stay in, bang out some of my to-do list, and then figure out why everyone’s so obsessed with Game of Thrones!

OR

rain: Ugh, great. I am stuck inside all day with nothing to do, lest I risk going out and getting soaked. And today was totally the day I was going to plant a garden, run five miles outside, and clean up all the parks in my neighborhood.  What a waste of a day. Ick!

Same rain, two radically different days.
The rain is just rain, people.  It is water in the sky.  
The rain does not suck; my sucky story about the rain sucks.

Okay, so I can create better stories,” you say, “but what about the ones I’ve already written?“  100-point, gold star question!  Think about it: all we can experience – in the present moment – of our past is our story of it, and the feelings that story creates.  Stories like College was so hard, or I’ve only dated losers.  But, those instances happened in the past. They are over. Those events are not happening anymore.  All that’s left now is the story of ‘that sucked,’ and that story sucks.  I for one at least, don’t like walking around with the belief that I’m just the target of a series of crappy events.

This is not how I choose to see my life, as neither a series of unfortunate events, nor a Jim Carrey movie poster.

Nothing bad has ever happened.  Maybe that sounds extreme.  Maybe ridiculous.  Maybe it pisses you off  (believe me sister, it really crumbled my cookie when I first started wrapping my mind around it). But to me, now, it sounds awesome.  It means that no matter what happens, or what has already happened, I don’t have to carry around old pain with me.  Here’s a story about story:

When I was 20, my feisty, fireball of a best friend was killed suddenly in a car accident.  And I grieved.  Hard. Because it was all I felt I could do.  Miserable as her absence was, there was a weird comfort in knowing I could just grieve – not get out of bed, not have to feel good about anything.  I could just miss her, and sob, and miss her.  And for as long as I believed that grief was my only option, I gathered evidence for it: my grief was “rewarded,” with condolences from others, with taking to comfort food, with sleep, and with a notion I heard over and over: that being so sad must mean that I was a good friend, that I loved her a lot. And even though the pain of missing her was almost unbearable, believing I was a good friend to her bound me to my greif.

So I labeled her accident with a sign reading “THIS WAS AWFUL” because, weirdly, it was the most comforting thing to do.  But after so many tissue boxes and delivery Chinese orders and rejected invitations to return to my life, grief got tired. It stopped breathing any false feeling of connection to my deceased friend and began feeling just purely terrible.  My ‘this-was-a-bad-thing’ story wasn’t serving me anymore, so I questioned it.  And I realized that the notion I’d bought into was wrong: my sadness didn’t mean I was a good friend - it just meant I was sad.  Me being a good friend who loved her a lot?  That meant I was a good friend who loved her a lot.  I didn’t need to hit re-fresh on my pain just to access how deeply I loved this girl, because the love never left. I was carrying pain around when really I just wanted what I had before her crash: to think of her and be filled with love and a deep, connected sense of friendship.  Take a look at what that desire really is: the ability to think something and feel something.  That doesn’t happen because of a thing.  That happens in me: my thoughts, my feelings, my stories.

In order to drop the suffering, I had to change my story.

Editing that story was fucking hard. It meant challenging yucky beliefs I had around wanting to feel good about losing my best friend (which was a doozie).  But in my current story, that feel-good is where I find my connection to her: her memory creates love now, instead of pain. The feeling I derived from my friendship with her doesn’t have to change because she’s not here, and so she continues to be for me what she was when she was on this earth: a bottomless source of sass and humor and encouragement and love. And experiencing her loss like that feels so much more real – so much more loving - than it did to tie her loss to my misery.

I did not bring my friend back.  Nobody ever will.  Nothing about the unchangeable circumstance of her death changed.  But in questioning my painful story about her loss, I was able to create a new one, and reconnect with the love she inspired in me while she was alive.

So yeah, it can be tricky to change something you’ve believed for months or years or your whole life.  And yes, believing it for as long as you have is part of what got you to where you are now, which can be a hard thing to just let go of.  But when how you feel now and how you want to feel now stop feeling like the same thing, there may be some re-writing in order.

I’ve found it’s usually worth the revision.