Telling a story

I have approximately twenty minutes before I have to fly out the door, and I am still in my pyjamas. Now is the time I thought, to write another blog post.

I wanted to write about something I have been turning over in my brain over the last weeks. It’s jumbled up in my head with dental appointments and homework and what we will have for dinner, so it’s not entirely clear, and I thought writing about it might help.

What it is, is, this.  It’s about stories.  The stories we tell ourselves about who we are, and how we live and what we can and can’t do.

You know, those of you who have known me for a long time, that stories are important to me, that I pin a lot on narrative as a vehicle for imparting wisdom, that I believe that fundamentally we are story telling creatures and always have been.

Here’s something I’ve been mulling over in the long, long hours sitting with and talking to someone struggling with a disorder that is as much about the mind as the body.

One of the ways we render ourselves powerless is that we tell ourselves the end of the story of us before the end of the story has actually happened.

And then, because we ‘know’ what the ending is, everything in us strives to get to that point, because the story becomes real, and finishing it becomes necessary to us, because we are creatures of habit and pattern and we like certainty because it is safer than uncertainty.

And if that story is one which doesn’t have a happy ending, that can be a very bad thing indeed.

We don’t necessarily do it consciously. In fact, I’m fairly certain that it is almost entirely unconscious, that finishing the story before we’ve lived it, is something we do as easily and effortlessly as breathing, only breathing is good for us, and sometimes, trying to finish the story isn’t.

Here’s a story.  ‘I have an eating disorder. People with eating disorders do X and Y on the way to Z. If I want to be really good at having an eating disorder and feel safe and in control, I must get to Z, because that’s the end of the story and I can do X and Y to get there, because that’s the way, and it’s safe and certain.’

There are other stories, of course. Major stories like that one. Minor stories like, ‘I can’t stand up for myself because the end of that story is that people will think I am a harridan and on the way to that, they will shout at me.’ There are millions and millions of stories we tell ourselves every day.

They happen as soon as we think about something we might do. We run the scenario in our heads, and instead of realising that it’s one of many stories, and there are many outcomes, we pick one.  Sometimes we pick shiny endings and achieve amazing things. Sometimes we pick dark, sad endings and end up making ourselves deeply unhappy.  We feel, because in our head, that the story has already happened and we are just following behind, that the ending is real, and we must be true to it.

Here’s what I am learning.  It is important to ask other people, and ourselves, what story we are telling ourselves.  When I say, ‘I can’t do that’. When I say ‘I must do that.’  What I must try and remember to say to myself next is, ‘What story did I just tell myself? What was the ending of that story?’  Then I can ask myself if I like that ending.  What if I don’t? Well, then I can go back, and rewrite the ending, because it’s just a story.  I can ask myself how I want things to end, and then, instead of sleep walking down a self destructive path, thinking I am powerless, I can own my power and my story, and make choices that are better for me.

If I can’t think of an ending I want, that’s ok.  I can think about it in chapters. I can break it down so that I ask myself what I want now, and now, and now, because every story has cross roads, decision points, places where we get to change the path we chose.  We can even get half way down a path that looks good, start smelling the sulphurous bog ahead, turn round, and go back to where we started, if we want to.

Does that make any sense at all?


16 responses to “Telling a story

  1. Makes a ton of sense. Groucho Marx broke it down even further – not even chapters of your life; just a day at a time. And if today has been a bad day – well, tomorrow is a whole other story. “I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet.”
    When I find myself limiting myself, it’s because of the word “enough” – I’m not good enough as a writer, I’m not thin enough, I’m not strong enough. Well, bollocks to “enough” – I’m trying to ban it from my personal narrative.
    Sending you guys hugs. And powerfully good story vibes.

  2. Does it make sense? No, but it doesn’t have to!!! Maybe we can handle fear if we can get rid of the need to “make sense” of anything and everything. It can be very tiring, does that make sense? Xxxxxxx

  3. This is wonderful and so relevant to how we construct our selves, our lives and our relationships.
    Doing postgrad history we discussed the “teleological” approach to history which is like another aspect of your point. This is when a historian takes an end point they wish to reach and then recounts the historical narrative with that end in mind, discounting any evidence that would conflict with their chosen end point, Sometimes to such an extent that events are distorted to fit the chosen narrative.
    Might I add that your daughter is lucky to have such an insightful and caring parent. Love to you all from Ireland.

  4. One of the things I do is catastrophise in my head. That is, the story I tell myself has all negative outcomes. I’m a real Eeyore. I’ve had a lifetime of practice at it, so it’s a difficult one to break.

    The other thing is, that from the moment we come into the world, we are told a lot of stories. Some of them are true and accurate, but a lot are simply bullshit and misinformation that we take on as children and then usually have to unravel later in life.

    Take a look at my blog posts, The illusion of being me, it’s in three parts, but not too long a read.

    It’s good to have you back by the way😊

  5. Isn’t this basically how a lot of therapy/counselling works — rewrite the narrative?

    • To be honest, Keith, I have no idea. I haven’t had counselling in at least fifteen years, and the last counselling I had was so terrible that I left after two weeks. If it is like this now, that’s quite cool.

      • Well a quick Google turns up, inter alia, and It seems to me to be partly what CBT does and also something which can be achieved through hypnotherapy.

      • A few years back now, I had three ten hour blocks of counselling, each with a different counsellor. Each of them sat 10 feet away from me for the duration of each session. Their counselling style was very similar. Mainly passive with the occasional insight or question thrown in. It was ok as far as it went, but I felt the process fell short somewhere. Somehow a lack of real connection and empathy. I decided to reconnect with the peer to peer counselling network that I had drifted away from some 20 odd years back. I’ve found this much more useful. Some genuine connection and common humanity works wonders; and I don’t have to pay them, except in kind😂😂

  6. It makes a great deal of sense having thought about it overnight. And even if it didnt, which is not the case, the main thing surely is that it works for you?

  7. Yes. This is your best piece ever because it is true, and a Good Thing to know, and I shall bookmark it for when I forget that I’m always going to remember and use this and be helped by it. Thank you!

  8. It makes perfect sense. Thank you.

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