Abandoning Our Stories

by Ashley Solomon

Here’s a story for you… Once upon a time there was a dark-haired little girl who, to her dismay, was not particularly coordinated. She struggled to learn to ride a bike without training wheels, while all of her friends were zooming past her doing wheelies. She nearly failed (or so it goes in her memory) kindergarten physical education because she could not skip for ten feet across the gym floor. She was a terrible basketball shooter and a worse soccer ball kicker. Even four-square was a challenge…

You can probably imagine how the rest of my story goes. For a while I continued to try to overcome my perceived deficits, continuing to stumble on the volleyball court and whack the air with my tennis racket. And then at some point – I think around age 12 – I threw in the towel. I gave up on sports, and pretty much all activities that required coordination (e.g dancing, ice skating, chewing gum while walking), and decided to “accept” my fate of sitting on the sidelines. But in reality I was not accepting in the Mindfully Accepting way that I discuss so frequently on this blog. No. I was getting caught up in my story.

See, the story that I have of myself is of the girl who tried really hard to be coordinated and failed. I can’t tell you the exact moment at which the story developed from a small seedling into a mature plant, because one doesn’t exist. The story began growing when I was very young and continued to play over and over in my mind, like my iPod getting stuck on that Justin Bieber song. And over time, each new instance of stumbling would water the seed, nourishing and strengthening the story.

The problem with my story is that it’s just that – a story. We all have them – telling us who we are, how things are, who we can trust, what we can achieve – and they are all dangerous. Now, it makes sense that we as humans have developed these stories. They make our lives infinitely simpler and minimize the thought we have to give to the decisions we encounter each day. (“Hey, do you want to go rock climbing?” “Me, rock climbing? Oh no, that’s not something I could ever do!”) These stories also provide explanations in a culture that demands explanations. (“Why do you think you’re depressed?” “Well, my parents both have depression and I they always treated my sister better than me.”)

But hold up. Explanations are not all that helpful, as it turns it out. In fact, research shows that people who believe they have “good reasons” for their depression tend to be more depressed and be less responsive to treatment (Addis & Jacobson, 1996). Is this because the stories they have are just so bad that of course they’re going to stay depressed? Data would suggest no. Instead, it’s because they have attached themselves to these stories so tightly that to let go would be… unthinkable.

Far in the distance, riding a bike in Acadia National Park.

Our stories also keep us limited to the endings that they provide. If we believe that we are highly anxious because our mother was overbearing, we’re completely and utterly stuck. We cannot change our mother, particularly our mother of 25 years ago. But if we believe that our overbearing mother story is 100% valid and true, we have no other alternative than to be anxious… forever. Fortunately, this does not have to be the case. Going back to the post on Acceptance and Change, I’ll remind you that truth is always evolving. This means that what was true yesterday doesn’t have to be true today, and vice versa. It means that we can stop taking our stories quite so literally and see what happens.  This is not to say that we did not in fact have an overbearing mother or that her demeanor has not influenced our own. It means simply that we don’t have to attach or stick to that story.

When you find your mind replaying a familiar story, there are some useful questions you can ask yourself:

  • Is the story 100% true?
  • If it’s true, is this story helpful?
  • What is this story in service of?
  • Is letting this story live on moving me toward and further away from my goals?

If you find that the story is not helpful to you, consider what’s keeping you holding on to it. Is it the comfort of familiarity? Is it the fear of having been… wrong… all these years? Once you answer these questions, consider this last one: How might my life be different if I didn’t hold on to this story?

I may still not be completing triathlons if I let me story fly off into the wind, but perhaps I would be more willing to risk trying rollerblading one more time. Or skiing. Or taking a dance class. Or any of the hundreds of things I have told myself are not for me. And then, even if I stumbled and fell and broke six bones and required thirty stitches, I’d have a chance at a different ending.

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6 Responses to “Abandoning Our Stories”

  1. So so true. And you know, it’s funny to hear that “story” of you, because you’ve always seemed coordinated to me (particularly since you run with your crazy marathon-ing husband!).

    Anyhoot, I know a lot of people who create stories for themselves and thus hold themselves back. Ironically, I as a writer have never trapped myself in a story (not for long, anyway). I’ll have to keep this in mind next time I’m talking to one of these people. Maybe I can help them rewrite their stories. 🙂

  2. Ashley, I was meant to read this today, I have not been on this computer in days. But as you know I’m flying to Florida on Friday. Flying has not been my thing But that’s just my story I am getting on that plane on Friday. Maybe I’ll write a new story of how much I enjoyed the flight and my time with my family. Thanks for the insight. I love You.

  3. I loved this post! And I am also really glad that we’ve found one another – not only do you have a beautiful blog here (truly), but it also appears that we share MANY of the same professional interests as I am going to school to become a therapist specializing in many similar issues… Thanks so much for commenting and bringing me over here : ) xoxo m

    • Ditto on the finding one another! I fell in love with your blog instantly – I think we’re very much on the same page psychically 😉 I’m sure I’ll be linking to you often. Thanks for checking NTS out!

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