Recently, in the wake of a divorce and relocation, I’ve taken a closer look at my life and at the stories I’ve told myself about it.
It’s interesting that the way we spin the events of the story is so much more important than the events themselves. Have you ever noticed how there can be a particular story that grabs hold of you, and it’s the one that you tell other people when you explain some of the choices you’ve made?
Maybe your heart was broken or a dream job didn’t work out. Maybe you experienced an injury or had a falling out with someone or just made a mistake.
The story that’s tripped me up for years is one of loss. I had a long-time friend who abruptly ended our friendship by ghosting me, and I went on for years dissecting the relationship, trying to find some kind of closure in what, to me, was an inexplicable ending.
As a person who has always had difficulty making friends, losing one who meant so much to me was a wrenching experience. I felt like I grieved for years, and it was worse because I knew that there would be no closure. Life is like that, and I knew that I would be responsible for giving myself that closure and moving on.
I tried. I really did—I would feel like I let it go, and then some other change would happen in my life, and it would bring that memory rushing back. I would tell myself that I couldn’t trust other people, and I felt myself holding back from forming deep, lasting friendships, because I was afraid of ever being hurt like that again.
Even though I didn’t see it until my divorce years later, that one experience chipped away at my sense of self. For the first time in my life, someone made me feel invisible and completely unimportant. The person I considered closest to me made me a ghost, but then he haunted me instead.
When I was going through the separation and divorce, of course it all came back, because in my marriage I had also been rendered invisible and unimportant. The difference is that this time, I noticed that a lot of the stories I had been telling myself weren’t really true. I had been letting other people define me, even though I considered myself a strong person. I began to let go of the stories that weighed me down, but since none weighed heavier than this one, it was the most difficult to let go.
Then one night, I dreamed that a day came when that particular story was not rolling off my tongue so easily—that it didn’t lie just below the surface, waiting to come out. In the dream, it was simply a distant memory, relegated to all the other childhood memories and not something weighted with significance. I woke in the dark and glanced at the clock on the bedside table. It was far too early to get out of bed and far too late to get any real rest. I listened to the sound of a train in the distance and wondered what it would be like to let go of that story—to let it board that train and go somewhere far away.
What would it feel like, I wondered, not to carry the weight of it all?
Suddenly, I wanted to be free of it—to be free of the whole story and how I had applied it to my life. It had become a negative mantra for me—a story of loss and betrayal that ran so deep and yet stayed so close to the surface.
The last time that the story had come unbidden to my lips, the listener made one statement that was almost like a benediction—friendships lost are more painful than the loss of a lover.
With that one statement, I realized that there was nothing unusual about my grief—except for the length of time that I had held on to it. And in the aftermath of the dream, with the sound of the train still moving out in the night, I chose to let it go.
I realized in that moment two very true things: I had held the story close, in order to hold on to that part of my life as long as I could—and I needed to let it go so I could make way for new stories.
I took a deep breath in, long and slow. I released the breath, long and slow. I breathed out the memory of the friend I had lost along the way—the night we met, the closeness we shared, how much I loved him, the trust, the abandonment, all of the feelings of hurt and loss and betrayal and the questions about why.
I released my breath and felt it float away, and I imagined that the memory of “us” boarded the train in the night. I felt our laughter float back to me and felt a sense of peace. I could accept now that what had been was now gone, and that it was all going to be okay.
We all have our stories—the ones that lift us up and make us stronger and the ones that cripple us with all of the negative messages they carry.
I no longer choose to put limitations on myself, and I will never again accept anyone else’s limitations for my life. I’ll learn to be a more compassionate author of my own story, and I choose to allow myself to feel everything that I need to feel without letting it define me.
I know that I’ll uncover other stories I’ve told myself, and I’ll need to take a closer look at them and then let them go. I wonder sometimes, how many more stories would need to board that train before I find my true core—the real self that lives beneath all of the tales I’ve created to explain my life.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Apprentice Editor: Lindsay Carricarte/Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Unsplash/Yanko Peyankov