“The stories we tell ourselves shape our lives. They shape who we are, and this belief translates into who we become.” ― John Assaraf
What childhood story do you remember most, the one you asked your parent to read to you at bedtime? Each of us, at least, remembers one childhood story by heart. I remember giving some books to a young couple with two young children. The oldest was not in school then, and did not read yet. I sat with her and read one of the books I gave her for Christmas, whose story I tweaked a little. “Noooo,” she said looking at me, giggling. “Tell me the real story,” she added. “This is the real story,” I responded. “Nooooo …” she said. I later found out they had checked out the same book from the library. Her dad had read her that book almost every night months prior. She still remembered it clearly just by looking at the pictures. She knew it by heart. When I asked her to tell me the story, she could recite the whole book almost verbatim.
This morning, a dear friend of mine shared a story that her husband has had a stomach ulcer for the last six months, with no sign of getting better. I blurted out a short statement, “It may be stress.” A short discussion later I learned one thing that caught my attention. When her husband was young, he witnessed his mother often argue and threaten his father with divorce when he could not bring home enough money for the family. He must have witnessed it quite frequently that it made a mark in his being. He remembers the story well as a young person that it now plays on a loop in his mind when triggered.
He was a successful writer (he still is), worked for a prominent news magazine for years. But for a few years after he retired, he was not able to find work. He has some writing projects now, plus ghost-writing a book, but these are projects, not a full-time gig and may not bring home consistent income. Enough to trigger his old story to return and haunt him. He is not his dad, his wife is not his mother, yet the scenario seems familiar. Two different couples, two different times, two different life stories. What is the same? The story you hear or tell yourself regularly is what you remember by heart. The effect can be detrimental.
I have experienced an unfavorable incident in the past that haunts me and stops me from moving forward. As a little girl, I inhaled water when I was learning to swim. It was an awful experience that kept me away from water for years. I did not start swimming again until I was in high school. Painful experiences are not easy to forget, they seem to be recorded in every cell of our being. It does not help when we keep replaying it in our mind like a broken record. How do we shake it off?
We must rewrite the story. We have the pen in our hand, or the laptop in front of us, start typing away a new story. I love watching movies. I remember years ago when I was in college, I went to see a movie called the Poltergeist with some friends. For days afterward I begged my brother to allow me to sleep in the same room he did. To push that experience out of my system, I had to watch many other movies; love story, episodes of Little House on the Prairie, comedy that got me to laugh until my stomach hurt, daily.
We are the screenwriter, the producer, the director, and the leading actor of our own life. Let’s write stories and make movies that inspire and transform us into a better version of ourselves. When life throws us a bad story, do not accept it. My mentor and teacher, Mary Morrissey, often reminds me, “Horror channel presents horror movies.” We have the remote control in our hand, change the channel. We have a pen in our hand, or a laptop in front of us, create stories that bring us joy.
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