The Stories We Tell And The Lies We Believe

Did you know there are five brain types? I didn’t. Reading through the list I immediately eliminated the Cautious Brain. Each of the others had segments that fit the way I perceive myself, but none stood alone as the most completely descriptive of me.

How much of that is due to the stories I tell myself about who I am?

While writing my memoir there were times I had to stop and ask, Was that how it really happened? Looking back from the perspective of an older, wiser person, the version I was writing stretched my credibility. Was I that naive? Didn’t I have some responsibility for the breakup? What was going on in my psyche that would have created those circumstances?

I’m a soul-searcher. I dig deep looking for the why’s of my life. What I’ve come to realize is that my stories are a result of my beliefs and my beliefs are based on the stories I tell myself.

That poses an interesting possibility. Since they are just stories if I don’t like them, can I change them? And where did they come from, anyway? As I pondered, it became clear that everything was a story. From the moment I woke up, I began telling myself about the day. I unconsciously had a story about my image in the mirror, about what I would wear, what I’d have for breakfast, and whether I’d make coffee or tea. Whatsapp messages, emails, conversations, the way someone looked at me on the street – there was no aspect of my existence that didn’t have story attached to it.

But the question, Where did the stories come from? was the knottier issue.

Our stories occur in the subconscious. But when I started journaling, asking why I had related in a certain way, why I had taken offense to something said, why I hadn’t enjoyed an event, why I befriended some and avoided others, why I tried so hard to please…

Why? Why? Why?

I discovered toxic, negative beliefs. Some were so old and outdated I knew they had originated when I was very young and were still there at my core, informing my decisions, my actions, my thoughts.

One of the things that mystified me was the fact that I’d repeated a pattern throughout my life. I’d married five times and five times divorced the men I’d vowed to love until death parted us. Why?

I couldn’t have been more surprised when I uncovered a core belief that said, You can’t do it alone.

Was that true? I made a list of the things I had done alone, big things, little things, anything that came to mind. The list was endless. Of course, I could do it alone, had basically always done it alone. That list assured me that I was more than capable of taking care of myself, my children, and whatever life demanded.

That explained the marriages, but what about divorce? If I couldn’t do it alone, why did I leave?

The beliefs I excavated around that were brutal. I was unloveable. If I didn’t leave first, I’d be left, and abandonment, rejection – I couldn’t tolerate that. What destruction and misery those poisonous lies wreaked.

At the same time, I struggled with perfectionism. I felt I wasn’t measuring up to my own expectations. When I started asking why I unearthed a crap-load of low self-esteem contributing to that story:

  • You’re unworthy
  • You’re not enough
  • You don’t fit anywhere
  • You don’t know what to do

It took a lot of lists, but I worked through those negatives until I’d turned them around with enough evidence to convince myself that I was worthy, was enough, knew what to do, and of course, I didn’t fit everywhere but there were Sherry-shaped niches here and there where I felt seen.

An event from Kindergarten haunted me and contributed to my unrealistic perfectionist tendencies.

As we were filing out of the classroom with our Moms or Dads on the last day, the teacher took my arm and said, “Sherry, I expect great things from you.” If she’d known the terrible burden of her words, would she have said them? Her expectation followed me into adulthood and became my own. What great things was I to accomplish? What did that even mean?

I was in my sixties and one day, journaling, I wrote: Half the people in the world are probably smarter than I am. And half the people are probably less intelligent. That makes me average. I’m average. I’d found my answer.

That simple revelation liberated me. I WAS AVERAGE! I didn’t have to do great things. Leave that for the 50% smarter than I. I’ll never forget walking down the sidewalk feeling light-as-dust and oh-so-average!

I’ve become highly attuned to my own stories because I know if life isn’t working for me, I have the power to change my perspective.

But…there’s a fine line!

In 1980, Lee Atwater, a political consultant said, “Perception is reality.” The American Psychological Association defines perceived reality as a person’s subjective experience of reality in contrast to objective, external reality. One of the most blatant and widely publicized examples of this happened on January 22, 2017, during a televised, Meet the Press interview with Kellyann Conway when she defined outright lies about the number of attendees at the inauguration as ‘alternative facts.’ Over the four years that followed that inauguration, the world was subjected to the perceived reality of the then US President which rarely aligned with objective, external reality.

That’s not what I’m suggesting.

Nor am I proposing we create a la-la land of denial. There’s a place where we can acknowledge that our external reality is shitty at the moment, but choose not to let it undermine our happiness. This promotes emotional stability and sound mental health. It requires introspection and asking the Why? questions to understand the beliefs (usually rooted in fear) that are causing our distress. When we know that, we can make the lists, reverse the negatives, and tell ourselves a more hopeful, more uplifting story.

At the beginning of this post, I absolutely denied any part of a Cautious Brain. But right now I’m experiencing a telling indication of that very type: heightened activity in the anxiety centers of the insular cortex. Here I am, putting myself out there again, exposing my warts, my vulnerabilities, turning myself inside-out hoping my experience will resonate. Hoping it might shine a light on someone else’s path of self-discovery.

Is this what normal feels like?

I awoke with the stangest feeling today. What was different? I could breathe. My jaw was unclenched. My skin wasn’t burning. The twisted circuits in my brain that had been trying to wrap themselves around chaos, lies and deception for four years were melting down and dribbling out my eyes. A wave of joyous relief swept over me. Is this what normal feels like?

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Could my gratitude for their willingness to step into the wreckage that is our un-United States be any greater? I don’t think so. It overwhelms me, gives me more hope than I’ve had for a very long time. Makes me cry.

In his first day as President, Joe Biden reversed ruinous mandates of the past administration in a grand swoop of legislation. With each stroke of his pen my heart soared. Thank you, it said. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I know we still have a raging pandemic that is gathering speed as it tears a swath of death across the world. But now the United States has leaders who care, who are willing to act, who are already doing what it is in their power to do to staunch the viral hemorrhage.

In my gut I feel we were perilously close to losing what I had taken for granted my entire adult life.

Under the sham of governance for the past four years, our allies no longer trusted us – those who had come to our aid time after time when we needed them most were treated shabbily. The courageous people who committed their lives to protect our country were disrespected in the basest ways. Racism at its ugliest ruled. Living in Indonesia I didn’t want to admit I was an American. I felt ashamed of my great country, ashamed and dirty.

It is a shock to the system to realize how quickly black becomes white, how readily we numb to unacceptable behavior, how willingly we turn blind eyes to atrocious wrongs against humanity and how almost half the U.S. voting population was ready to continue that devastation for another four years. There is a hideous cancer at the core of our country that fed on the steady diet of excrement being doled out from the top.

That food chain has been sliced off.

I don’t know of anyone else who has the experience, knowledge, integrity, faith, and compassion to work the miracles needed at this time. President Biden is our man of the hour and Vice President Harris is his right hand. It’s a Herculean task before them but I believe they were born for this, a calling if you will, their karmic purpose.

That feeling I couldn’t recognize this morning – I’ve named it now. Relief. Huge, nomalizing relief. And gratitude. They’re mixed together in a healing soup called HOPE. That’s what’s on the menu for our country and there’s plenty for all.

Eat hearty.

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