You and I are so much more than the bad things which happen to us
Even the best of all stories have an ending. The Phantom of the Opera delivered its final show on April 16th 2023. That put an emotional end to a 35-year, 13,981-performance run as Broadway's longest-running production, a remarkable story in every single regard.
But it came to an end. All stories do, including our own, no matter how desperately we cling to the idea that we will somehow beat the odds and keep on past our due date.
In the meantime, though, there is always time to work with whichever narrative dominates our lives. Invariably there's a throughline which tends to pop up repeatedly like an irritating game of Whack-a-mole.
There's a dead giveaway as to what that throughline is. We draw people to us who reinforce it, and our circumstances reflect what we believe about ourselves. Usually it's something that we've made these grand pronouncements to ourselves and everyone around us to the effect, well I've learned THAT lesson. Never EVER going to do that again.
Until we do.
There's enough bite to that truth, isn't there? We have certain beliefs about who we are, our intrinsic value, and we work very hard to be right about what we believe about ourselves.
We love being right, and will work to prove others wrong when they tell us we are worthy of love, worthy of joy, worthy of a happy life. If that doesn't fit our internal narrative, we will do everything we can to undermine relationships, our jobs, anything which is leading us in any direction other than that which suits our stories.
We will literally trash our lives to be right that we are trash, when we are, in fact, a gift to the world and ourselves.
Humans love their negativity far more than they love their joy. Just look at social media and the cancer it's created.
This author includes herself in all this, so this is personal. Which means I get to look at the stories I'm invested in just as I invite anyone else to do the same. No side-stepping. When we identify too strongly with a certain story, it owns us. And can ruin us.
Let's explore a bit, shall we?
There were some authors on a different platform whose work I really liked. They were outspoken, brave, wrote with real skill and flair about feminism and dating and related issues. Some evolved into a circular pattern of writing about the same sad circumstances which got them eyeballs in the first place.
The woe is me theme, which garnered them lots of likes and an income.
When we as writers, or as storytellers (and we are all storytellers, just listen to gossip), end up benefiting more from being a victim than we do from overcoming the odds, life can exact a terrible cost.
The other day I read a story about YouTuber Eugenia Cooney. I'm not going to link to her - and I did not go look at her site - for very obvious reasons. She is severely anorexic and slowly starving herself to death. She makes money for her story, which means that social media is effectively enabling a slow-moving snuff film.
I'm not going to embark on all the moral issues of where we are that social media enables such spectacles, but you can come to your own conclusions.
Cooney was admitted by friends to get help, then when she got back home she went right back to starving herself to feed her voracious fans. And feed her story.
As someone who battled eating disorders for decades, this story horrified me to the core. It's not just this young woman. It's the flesh-eaters fascinated by and paying to watch her demise. That says a great deal about us as a society. People are effectively putting pennies in the meter to watch her starve to death. Why?
The way I see it, it's like the Roman colosseum: at least that's not me down there being chewed up by lions.
However, Cooney, and others like her, had to start with a story that they don't deserve love. We conflate food with love, as we do many other things. I sure did.
Here's what to understand about those of us who have had these disorders:
In reality, eating disorders are serious mental health disorders that result in the need to gain a sense of self-control. Eating disorders are more than an obsession with food and weight loss but are characterized by underlying triggers that are associated with depression, self-harm, trauma, interpersonal conflicts, substance abuse, low self-esteem, and anxiety. (author bolded)
There were, and are always, plenty of those who pushed for her to get healthier. They often have a savior complex, which is a whole different story. Folks get so distracted trying to save those who cannot be saved that they forget to save themselves.
The ones who win Cooney's attention are those who reinforce her need to be right about her story. In this regard, Cooney has a one-way ticket to hell unless she gets institutionalized long enough to recover.
Cooney's story is, of course, the extreme end of the long tail of that particular bell curve. All these disorders likely begin with a story about the sacred self. That would be the same with each of us as we carry our bucket forward: alcoholic, abusive or absentee parents, abandonment, any one of a thousand bits and pieces of colored glass which make up the kaleidoscope that is our lives.
We can add many more bits of color to that story, and that's the whole point. We are not JUST that story or stories. Those stories are often starting points. It's what we do with the throughline that makes us who we can be.
Most of us likely deal with some lie about ourselves which pops up repeatedly, for we have not yet healed it. We become heroes when we find peace, and we find peace when we can negotiate terms with the lie(s).
Our story or stories will always be a part of us, but that doesn't have to be the primary driver of how we navigate the world.
That's especially if that story is about our unworthiness, how we don't deserve love.
One of the fastest and most powerful ways to gain peace is to use the lies we've been told to launch ourselves skyward to our highest and best selves. That motivation, which we see with those whose use bullying and abusive to motivate themselves to become all we can be, is the essence of the hero's journey.
That is just one of many reasons why, when I need a lift, I watch a number of Golden Buzzer episodes of America and Britain's Got Talent and the like. So many of the kids and young men and women have been horribly bullied. Yet they channeled that into the willingness to take a massive risk, and it paid off.
That, in a nutshell, is the hero's journey.
I love the hero's journey, the great story arc that informs every great tale know to man and woman.
We are now in a place where people are paid so that we can witness their pain. While we have always liked to watch suffering, that seems to also be a human trait; now it's at unimaginable scales. We are already in a dystopian future.
If I get well, where is the incentive, when I am being incentivized for my sickness? or for my perpetual woe-is-me, ain't-life-a-bitch victimhood?
As I was researching for this article, I stumbled on this blog, which contains some quotes worth sharing:
As I roll, sometimes bumbling and stumbling, into my 70s, I am once again faced with stories that I was told as a child:
You should have been a boy.
I wanted to drown you as soon as I found out you were a girl.
I wish I never had you.
I'm not the only kid who was told this, nor will I be the last.
I'm not the only child whose bigger sibling commited incest against them, nor will I be the last.
I'm not the only person to experience gang rape, sexual assault and abuse by trusted adults and so-called "superiors" (I choke on that one) and I won't be the last.
Those stories and my experiences which likely happened as a result of those stories in many cases are part of my DNA.
However, you and I are not our circumstances. What is around us doesn't define us any more than being in a Russian prison defined Brittney Griner. As an experience it helps define who she becomes going forward, but she doesn't have to be a Russian prisoner for the rest of her life.
That's a choice.
Just like I am not a gang rape victim the rest of my life. That most certainly happened. I have the choice, as do we all, to use any and all experiences to chisel out the hero that potentially lives within.
At the risk of sounding like Tony Robbins (pardon me while I vomit), what I mean is that while it can be helpful and soothing to garner what feels like "support" from imaginary "friends" online, the real support we get is from those people in whom we have invested time, effort, care and love.
What's it going to take? Here's a suggestion:
I am shamelessly borrowing here to make a point. We all have krakens in the basement. Too many of us cower at the idea of facing them, too many of us choose to anesthetize with drugs, alcohol and other avenues (for me food, clothing, sex, exercise, I could go on) when their real purpose, as in the tales of the Greek gods, is to help us find out who we are.
Many if not most of us are driven by old stories, and those stories are our personal krakens. If we spend our lives running full tilt from our personal krakens, if we avoid them at all cost, the cost to us and the world is enormous.
Today we have a world chock-full of kids and adults who have no idea how to deal with the demons which are part of life. Especially in America, we've been told we deserve a soft, comfortable life.
There's a real cost to choosing or running towards comfort vs. conflict.
Life isn't comfortable. It isn't soft, either. Being rich doesn't pad you enough from your story. It might give you more ways to avoid or anesthetize, but it keeps you poor in every other way.
To this, right on time, I got this in my email from fellow writer Robert Roy Britt over on Medium:
My brother lost the battle with his krakens. He had chosen drugs, alcohol and anesthetizing himself vs. learning to cope,
They are just part of life.
Those story lines from my earliest memories still drive much of what I do. I have found ways to dance with those demons rather than have them dance on my head. It takes long practice and considerable courage to first, see that what frightens us is the Wizard of Oz. Second, those things which hurt, also show us forward to healing.
Finally, for those whose krakens threaten to crack them wide open, and they take them on anyway, those are the ones who change the world for all of us.
We change the world when we choose to change a story that can keep us from being our very, very best. The story is the gift: it's your set of starting blocks.
The rest is up to you and me.
Dear Walkabout Saga Reader:
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