I work in a homeless shelter. It is a place where people are worn down by their stories, day in, day out. They carry the load like a weight upon their shoulders, sitting at tables with hunched shoulders, rounded backs. They walk with shuffling footsteps, backs curled into their chests, their hopes gripped in hands buried deep down into their pockets, forever fearful of coming up empty handed. And every day they wait. And wait. For someone to rescue them. For someone to deliver an answer. An escape. A way out. Another direction.
When you’re down and out, living below poverty, on the wrong side of easy street, sometimes all you’ve got to make yourself visible is the story you carry to mark your passing. It is all you’ve got to tell. The only thing that’s yours and yours alone. It’s all you’ve created in a life of despair. It is all you fear losing. You don’t fear death — this is a living death. You don’t fear rock bottom. You’ve already hit it. You fear, losing your story. Without your story, where would you be?
We all have a story. Doesn’t matter which side of the street we walk, we carry our story — sometimes, it will lift us up. Sometimes, it will drag us down. We decide when and where and to whom we tell our story. How often. How loudly. How softly. We decide if it is a rant or a song. A dirge or a symphony of joy, of hope, of love.
Once upon a time, I had a story. It was the story of being abused. Of being a bit part in another man’s creation. I thought I was his leading character. I wanted to believe I was and so in my mind, I painted my story of our relationship with me as the heroine. Me as the lead actor. I was strong and loving. I stood by my man. I could, as he told me, make him a better man.
I became so attached to my story that I couldn’t see it was killing me. Dragging me down into the pits of despair. Pushing me under. Drowning me.
I couldn’t let go of the story I’d created because… well because I feared if I let it go I would be lost. Where would I be without the story of me as a super heroine of such astonishing power I could make a mere man a better man? Who would I be without this story of love awakening in the rosy dawn of his happily-ever-after? I had waited my whole life for this fairy tale to come true, how could I awaken from it now?
Terrified of being the victim of my own creation, I told myself I was his, forever more, forever and a day. Ours was a love committed ’til death did us part. How could I claim my own story away from my one true love when I had promised to help him be the man he’d always dreamt of being? How could I claim my own power when he had already told me I had all the power I would ever need over him. I was all he ever hoped for. I didn’t need empowerment. I only needed his love.
Stuck in the diorama of the perfectly false creation of our love story, I could not face the nightmare of what he was doing to destroy me. Afraid his lies were true. Afraid his deciet was real, I closed my eyes to the possibilities on the other side of our happy ending that never was. That real story where I claimed my place in the sun for me, myself and I. I didn’t want to claim my power because I had already convinced myself, and anyone who would listen, that this love, this relationship, this perfect story with him as my knight in shining armor was all I had ever dreamt of, all I ever needed, all I ever wanted.
See, I’d always held onto the notion, buried deep within me, that I needed a man to complete my story. I needed someone else to make my dreams come true. Convinced that story where I was completed by another was the only one I could ever write, I became lost in the land of make-believe, telling my story again and again hoping for a different ending. No matter how many prince charmings came riding through, or how quickly they swept me away, the story never changed in my telling because I held onto the notion of needing their kiss to awaken me to life beyond my wildest imaginings.
We all have a story and sometimes, our stories keep us in the victim’s place because we cannot let them go..
Your story will be different than mine. But it will be the same. You will hold onto it, drag it out, hang it out to dry when times are tough or you’re feeling down. It’s the story you tell to explain why you feel how you do, why you are where you are, why life is just not fair.
It is not a story worth keeping, or even telling. But tell it we do because sometimes, like those who sit at tables in the shelter and wait for a better tomorrow, we can’t let go of the story we carried so far we’ve lost sight of where we were going and where we want to be.
I’ve created a different story today than that sad tale of an abused woman too scared to admit that what was happening to her hurt like the dickens. That story was a sad tale of two people where the best of times were only a figment of my imagination. I kept grasping for the golden ring of what wasn’t there so that I would not have to see what was right before my eyes –I was living in the worst of times. I was refusing to claim my power to write the story of my lifetime just for me, myself and I.
Sometimes we get trapped in our stories and have to give ourselves a shake and wake ourselves up, without waiting for the kiss of a prince of any name.
The secret to waking ourselves up is to step out of the characters we’ve created and ask ourselves, Is this truth or fiction? Am I the passive voyeur committed to watching the story unfold, letting it happen without my direction? Or, am I the active hero/heroine creating the story of my life as I direct each choice I make towards my goals, creating more and more of what I want in life with every passing day?
Recently, my twenty-three year-old daughter wrote,
“I want to race through the grass in bare feet,
and swim in the deepest part of the ocean,
and eat an apple right from the tree,
and fall recklessly in love,
and run with the bulls,
and find a cliff and dive!
No safety gear or parachute to break my fall.
Straight into the great wide open.
Sailing fearlessly into life.”
Within each of us is that place where we want to leap. To soar. To scream to the high heavens, “I am alive!”
I am alive, in spite of and because of, that relationship from hell. I am alive, in spite of and because, having journeyed through the darkness, I have found the essence of me. That wild woman willing to risk it all for one delicious lick at life lived beyond the comfort zone of my fears that I will be hurt, or bruised or let down by someone, something, somehow.
There will always be someone who hurts us. Who lets us down. Who somehow doesn’t measure up to our expectations.
We will inevitably hurt someone we love. We will let someone down. We will not measure up to our expecations. We will not measure up to theirs.
But to live life in the shadows of our fears, that’s sad. That’s giving up before we’ve even begun.
So, accept it. He hurt you. He betrayed you. He was a rat batzard to you.
What are you going to do about it?
Let that experience trap you in fear of ever stepping out of your comfort zone again?
Hold you back from living out loud? Keep you down because you fear…. Looking stupid. Being silly. Being self-conscious. Being free?
Or, are you going to leap. To grab hold of life and shake it up. To colour outside the lines using every single crayon in your box?
Within each of us is this knowing that there is a great big amazing world out there, beyond the comfort of our fears, beyond the lines we’ve coloured in so carefully all our lives.
In coming through Pdom, I have claimed my right to live outside my comfort zone. To be the heroine of my own story. To live large. To colour outside the lines in bright bold primary colours of the rainbow, including purple. I have claimed my right to rescue me — because I know, no one else will. No one else can.
Just for today. Try it. Do something you fear. Step outside your comfort zone and leave yourself exposed to creating a new story of your life unfolding like you dreamed it always would, with you at the centre of your sun, shining bright, fearlessly creating the story of your lifetime. Colour outside the lines. Speak before you think. Act before you stop. Leap before you look. And live! It’s great to be alive when there’s not a letter of the alphabet that can stop you from flying free.