Episode 188: Own Your Story
It’s a fact that some people come through difficult times bitter, broken and cynical, while others emerge wiser, more empathetic and stronger.
I believe the path connecting the two – the journey between the pain and the growth is maybe the most important part of the path.
I have a story – it’s all mine. I write it everyday. Today I may throw in a plot twist as I get ready to change jobs, or free myself from a bad relationship, or adopt a child. I may create a peaceful scene at a coffee shop, because that sounds nice about now. And then maybe I feel like my story needs a little trip to the spa. I love girl spa days. They always look so great in the movies. Maybe I’ll have them put cucumbers on my eyes and cover my face in some gory green mud just so I know what that’s like. That sounds like a fun story to write. Or maybe I want to become an engineer or an opera singer…..hmmmmm what should I write on my life notebook today?
Sometimes, someone else writes something we don’t like. A spouse gets abusive and all the sudden the story takes a dark unexpected turn that I get to frantically try to write myself out of. What about the shameful parts that have been shoved to the bottom of the story, a footnote we want no one to read ever? What about the fear of facing our dreams and failure and daring greatly?
While there are sometimes parts of our story that make us uncomfortable, part of loving your story is learning how to make peace with the bad as well as the good. At the very heart of learning to accept ourselves is learning to accept all the spaces we see as failures, short falls, down right horrible sections, the betrayals, the let-downs, the messy stuff we feel shame about.
This episode about owning your own story is not to focus on the rough spaces, but the rough spaces are a very real part of who we are, how we got to where we are, what we learned and how we see the world. We cannot be whole without the dark threads of our tapestry. So, let’s talk about owning it all!
It’s not a new story. It’s one we all know. You know the one, it’s where a personal loss or tragedy or need takes you to the realm from which you are certain you will never return. It’s the dark-days-of-the-soul story.
I’ve noticed a few things about this part of life.
#1 – It’s a sacred space. It’s often a private space, one where the deepest details are kept in our vaults for we can’t bear to show too much humanness, our mistakes, our heart ache, our private travails, our crawling, our moments of shaking our fist at heaven.
#2 – That everyone has these. While we may feel we are alone and life has dealt unjustly with us, that no-one in our circles would ever understand, the truth is we must each traverse this path on the hero’s journey, because it is how the hero becomes the hero. It’s an important part of being alive.
The other day I spoke with a man who was absolutely crushed. After years of fighting an addiction and begging God for help, never to receive any additional and heavenly support by his estimation, his world began to crumble. If God wasn’t there to help him beat the very darkness God claims to want to pull us out of, then could God really be there? The idea that his sincerest cries from an aching heart were not enough, not worthy of the ear of God, only exacerbated his hopelessness, and where was he to go if everything he had believed in, his foundation, was not there to support his wobbly heart? His face crumbled in tears and his sobs tore at my heart.
This was a dark day of the soul.
I spoke with a woman who told me of 5 years of going without sleep as she raised 3 toddlers who seemed to never sleep. On her last wits end there were days she would beg God for someone to show up and take care of her children so she could get one night of sleep – but no one came. There were times she would shake her son to get him to be quiet, or hit him, or even kick him when her repressed anger could no longer be held back. She was filled with shame over these actions because she knew better, but she could not handle the endless lack of sleep, and she discovered a deep hidden anger had built up. Her shame at the things she had done was buried deep and she had to find her way out.
As I prayed and pondered, demanded that God show up for those who needed him, I received an impression, the image of the caterpillar who must make it’s own way from the chrysalis; the rose who cannot be pried open early or it never flowers; the baby bird who must break its own way out of the egg so it has the strength to live.
The dark night of the soul is for everyone, even the ones we love and hate to see suffer. It must be this way because we become through our struggle.
I mention these examples, not to say that God never shows up – he often does; but when he doesn’t seem to, the path ahead has different purposes – leading you – us – to what we need to be, who we need to be. For example, the woman who was so tired she couldn’t mother well eventually found a 12-step program that was very influential in helping her become the person she needed to become in her future life. She needed to seek out that process, learn it, and become. It was part of taking her to her best story. We only know that now because we are looking back 20 years. But that’s how it goes. Hindsight teaches us many things.
So….When we can accept that these painful, personal spaces are normal and a part of all good stories, we can then move on to a realization that the dark nights of the soul are not places to hide from in shame. They need not be a thing that separates us from our human family, when in fact, they are our common thread. They bring us to the beauty of such things as empathy, understanding, perspective and depth, not to mention a compilation of other things we might need, a great class, a teacher, a support group, a 12-step program, a new perspective, a struggle born of grief that yields beautiful things.
Trust the process.
When we chisel our way out of our shell with our own little beak, we gain everything.
Oprah, in her book, What I Know For Sure, shared her shameful hidden story, and I’d like to share it with you here: She says,
“For years, I had a secret that almost no one knew. Even Gayle, who knew everything about me, wasn’t aware of it until several years into our friendship. I hid it until I felt safe enough to share: the years I was sexually abused, from age 10-14, my resulting promiscuity, and finally, at 14, my becoming pregnant. I was so ashamed I hid the pregnancy until my doctor noticed my swollen ankles and belly. I gave birth in 1968; the baby died in the hospital weeks later. I want back to school and told no one. My fear was that if I were found out, I would be expelled. So I carried the secret into my future, always afraid that if anyone discovered what had happened, they too would expel me from their lives. Even when I found the courage to publicly reveal the abuse, I still cared the shame and kept the pregnancy a secret. When a family member who has since died, leaked this story to the tabloids, everything changed. I felt devastated. Wounded. Betrayed. How could this person do this to me? I cried and cried….When I dragged myself from my bed for work on Monday morning after the news broke, I felt beaten and scared. I imagined that every person on the street was going to point their finger at me and scream, “pregnant at fourteen you wicked girl…expelled!” No one said a word, through —not strangers, not the people I knew. I was shocked. Nobody treated me differently. For decades, I had been expecting a reaction that never came….I soon realized that having the secret out was liberating. Not until then could I begin repairing the damage done to my spirit as a young girl. What I learned for sure was that holding the shame was the greatest burden of all.”
So, while it is often private, a dragon we must face to stretch our souls, we are not a lone creature who cannot be understood, a pioneer of pain. No, we are human, we are part of a greater whole, we are trusted, we are growing, and sometimes we must simply reach out of the hole we find ourselves in, ask for a hand to hold, another human, or angel to connect with long enough to get the strength for one more day.
The struggle is the dance.
Now, every story is different. Every dark day of the soul is individual. But what stays the same is our humanness and also that voice that tells you that if people knew how broken you are, or what you had done, or how screwed up you really are, how you handled some difficult emotion, some vice you allowed, some forgiveness withheld, some shame no one can ever know….if they knew, your children would not love you, your parents would dis-own you, your friends would leave in droves, and your therapist would stay, but only for the money…. I suspect we all hear this voice.
Are we unlovable because of our true stories? Sometimes it feels like that, but in reality we can expand, become more full of love, more human and more god-like at once because of the sacredness of our true stories.
Take a deep breath, close your eyes, accept that this is a part of being here. The price to play the game, especially if you’re playing big, trusting, stretching, trying….is vulnerability and sometimes pain, but YOUR pain makes you who you are, and accepting your story tapestry with all the dark threads as well as the colorful, shining threads is what makes a beautiful tapestry and a beautiful story.
Your challenge for this week is to dig into your heart, in that little space you hope to hide, that sacred, child-like space that fears exposure and name your feelings about the darker threads of your tapestry, and then extend compassion to that younger you. We all do the best we can with the tools we have in the moment. We live, we learn….accept all of it, all of you, your whole experience, and let it be what it is. It’s okay. Own your whole story. It’s the first step to loving it.
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