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What Are Your Stories?

Me, two years old, visiting my grandparents, wearing my aunt's wig and sunglasses. I call this the start of my infatuation with dressing up in costumes.

I've made the library my second home recently. I love reading but can't afford to keep up my reading pace by buying every single book I want to read. Also, I don't need more stuff. Precious books included. So the library has become my favorite place. Last week I brought home a stack of memoirs and biographies. One of the ones I'm reading turned out to be all about a woman who does yoga and writing retreats all over the world (actually they're so much more than that). I hadn't realized that that's what the author did for a living based on the blurb on the back. It had me all kinds of angsty and feeling less than because she's doing what I'd love to be doing.

But she also got me thinking about story-telling. I'm not sure whether she did that intentionally or not, I'm thinking yes, but that has definitely been my take-away from her book. What is my story? Actually, what are my stories? Because we are for sure more than one version of ourselves.

Are the stories I tell myself as an adult ones that I've created or are they based on other people's version of me and my life? Are my stories memories? Are they my memories or other people's memories of me? Are they anecdotes others have told about me? Which version is most true? Are they all true? Do some versions have more weight than others? Is someone else's version of me better than the one I tell myself, or is it worse? Can they all be true? Who gets to decide?

Which makes me think of this quote, "History is written by the winners." So many stories lost to time because the conquerors wrote their version and intentionally destroyed anything that contradicted that version of reality. Oral histories handed down generation after generation are questioned because they are not written. Does that make them any less valid? According to some, yes. Some stories are called myths while others are called history.

Two people can see the exact same event from the exact same place on the sidewalk and have two very different versions of what happened. So who's right? Which one is what really happened? Both. Of course. But again, there are many people that will argue that only one is true. Most likely the version that agrees with their world view. For better or for worse. Because some people and some versions are WAY louder than the ones we know to be true. And there are folks who invest a LOT of energy and anger and power to make sure their versions are the ones that are told. And retold. And that other versions are silenced and erased. This happens on the political stage and in our families too.

Is there such thing as the objective truth? I say no. Everything that happens to us, everything that we are raised with, everything that our families and communities and society and countries of birth tell us colors the lens of what we see and experience. These are called biases. We all have them. You cannot escape them. Again, for better AND for worse. Both/and. But you can definitely be aware of them. Actually, I strongly encourage you to be aware of them.

The idea that there can be more than one version of an event makes some people VERY upset. They need their version, the version they've been raised with or the one they've been telling themselves, to be THEE version of reality. There's a LOT of fear around the idea that their version of the story may not be the only one. Especially the ones that call out uncomfortable bits of information that contradict their own. The results of this kind of thinking? Oh so many, take your pick: war, ex-communication, rejection, brainwashing, cults, death, cliques, hate, fear...

Given this complexity of story telling, how can we possibly sift through the many versions of ourselves to know which stories are ours? What if we let them all be told, and not worry about what others think, and let go of identifying with the ones that we know deep down are NOT ours? Despite what others are saying. Easier said than done, as the proverbial saying goes. Again, taking this stance can cause very strong reactions in those around us if we choose a version that doesn't suit their needs. That questions their reality.

But we have to. We have to become very aware of the stories others tell about us as well as the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves.

My own story - or one version - my version - starts with a memory of when I was two years old. Many adults can't recall their memories before the age of three. Our ability to remember is tied to our brain's ability to store information for later retrieval. As babies and toddlers our brains are on fire developing all the bits and pieces that help us be human. Becoming verbal and learning to speak is connected to this part of brain development and to our ability to store memories, which happens around the age of three. However research says that recalling memories before the age of three is often tied to traumatic events.

And my first memory, my first story that was my own, and not someone else's version of me, was a traumatic event, and I was only two. But my memory of this starts before the traumatic event itself happened, the half hour or so leading up to the event. I think it's fascinating that I can remember that part of the story. Brains are an amazing thing. Basically my little two year old foot got caught in the spokes of the bike I was on with my dad. This sent me, the bike and my dad crashing to the pavement. It happened about two blocks from where we lived and an ambulance was called. I ended up with a sprained ankle and no visit to the hospital was needed. A scary enough incident for a small child, but it's the feelings of what happened before that have stuck with me all these years.

We had been out for a ride with my mom's cousin and his daughter who was also around my age. The cousin and his daughter were riding my mom's bike that had the child seat on it. My parents having only one child at the time (me), and hence only one child seat, I was left with the option to be perched on a pillow on the cross bar on my dad's bike in front of him. We can all see how this was a very bad decision. But what's done is done.

The feeling I remember from that day - before we even left for the ride - is that I got the worse option as far as comfort and safety goes because my second cousin (first cousin once removed?) was loved more than me. I have this memory that she was being spoken of as being adorable and cute, and that I wasn't. And so in my little toddler mind, because I was not as adorable and cute and loveable, I got the raw deal on the bike option, with disastrous results. This was to be my first experience and memory - which turned into one of many more as I grew up - of feeling less than. Of comparing myself to someone else and not feeling loved or loveable. My insecurities and I go this far back, to my wee little two year old self. They had a very strong grip on me from a very young age.

So my story of being less than became one of my core stories. My story of being less lovable has traveled with me all these years. My knack for comparing myself to others and coming up short has been a familiar tale that has kept me company for far too long. Even though it's one that I've been aware of for quite a while now, and I've spent a lot of effort and time trying to lessen its impact, it's been a stickler.

One of the many gifts I received from my 21 years of work in the field of early childhood development was a greater understanding of how the brain works. In addition, the last handful of years of my time spent in that field gave me the chance to learn all about trauma and resilience and the word "neuroplasticity." This means that our brains can be rewired. Despite those first five years being so instrumental to brain development, as adults, we can still form new neuropathways. The stories we carry within us can be transformed. We can begin to embrace better versions of ourselves and to address and heal the traumas that we've experienced in life: rejection, abuse, neglect, and on and on. We can create new paths in our brains and in our lives.

As I read my library book this past weekend and was reflecting on the many stories over the years that I've told myself - and that others have told me about me - I realized that some are definitely ready for a rewrite, others for some careful re-editing. And some need to be to let go of completely, to make room for something new. I'm done with the stories where I compare myself to others and come up short. And I'm definitely finished with the ones that tell me I'm unlovable. I'm ready to celebrate who I am one hundred percent, to put a better version of myself out into the world. I'm ready to push past my fears, to embrace my gifts, to no longer question my ability to do big things, and I'm ready to do my own workshops all around the world. I'm ready to write a new story, one that has a much better ending.


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