Note: What follows is a chapter (Oh The Stories I have Told) from my book, AFTER (the before & after): a real life story about weight loss, weight gain, and weightlessness through total acceptance . I was reminded of it when a friend said: “I have recently noticed something about myself. The more I just truly accept who I am, and that I have a right to my opinions, my choices, my life, I am losing the need to embellish stories, or make excuses, or feel awkward and stupid. I am truly starting to live more authentically and it all started to happen without me forcing myself to do anything. I am also much kinder and less judgemental about others journey because I have forgiven myself for being so hard on me.” Writing this chapter and now sharing it here is an act of vulnerability for me.
I used to tell stories – sometimes based on the truth (but embellished) and other times outright lies. Some of these lies were funny and relatively benign – “I was born on an airplane” – but other times they were destructive, not at all funny – “I was raped.” And everything in between.
I’m not sure when I started telling stories but I continued up until about 10 years ago. I understand now why I told them…I thought they would make me more attractive, funny, interesting, tragic, relatable, dramatic, lovable.
I’ve come clean with the most important people in my life about these lies, so this isn’t a confession. And just so you know I haven’t lied or embellished the truth in this book. What I have done is told my version of stories. We all do that.
Some recent experiences have me reflecting on the phenomenon. I know I’ve heard this before…it’s not a new concept, but let me lay it out for you the way I understand it:
There’s what happened.
Then there’s the story I tell about what happened.
And finally there’s the story I tell about what it means that it happened, and how I feel about it.
I am not saying that the stories anyone tells about what happened, or about how they feel about what happened, are lies…but that they are perceptions and not complete, objective “reality.”
So yeah, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I thought it was worth exploring here because I realize that it’s the stories I tell about what happened and what they mean, that weigh me down.
For example, there’s the story of my first marriage. I married a guy from Brazil…a guy I met in a bar just four months prior to marrying. He needed a Green Card. I had convinced myself that he really loved me even though, if I am really honest, I knew he didn’t. The marriage was sham on all levels. I felt forced to divorce him because he was not what I considered a willing participant in the marriage. I was very angry but I portrayed myself as a victim and told anyone who would listen that he took complete and total advantage of me, leaving me heartbroken, in debt…and feeling like an utter fool.
I declared bankruptcy a few years after my divorce and my story is that I was forced to because of the “tax burden” he left for me. That’s partially the truth, but the bigger part of the truth is that I spent more money that I was making.
Then there’s the story about why I was so desperate and lacking self-esteem that I would enter in to such a marriage in the first place. Was my story “because my parents got divorced when I was three”? Or how about, “I grew up in a dysfunctional family”? Or maybe just because? Maybe that’s just the way it was supposed to work out for me.
Another example: someone claimed to have slept with a former boyfriend of mine (after we had broken up), even though said former boyfriend said it never happened. The story I told after the fact was designed, not to elicit sympathy for me, but to elicit disgust for the someone…to “build my case” against that person.
And another: I was out of the country just before 9/11 and arrived at JFK Airport at 9/9. On the morning of 9/11, Tim had to fly to Virginia for work. He flew out of Providence, RI, into Reagan National in Washington, DC, where he made a connecting flight to Norfolk, just 15 minutes before the Pentagon was hit. He was in the air while planes were crashing into the World Trade Center. Even though what was happening scared the crap out of me, I knew he was okay. But in the days, months, and for several years afterwards, when I told the story, I would tell it in a more evocative way. It was the truth, but it became more dramatic in the telling than it actually was.
And what about the rape story? That’s a doozy. I had sex for the first time at a pretty young age but to this day I do not count it as losing my virginity and I choose not to reveal why in order to protect the innocent. Afterwards I thought I might be pregnant so I made up a rather unlikely story about being raped by a faceless, nameless, unrecognizable man, just in case. What’s ironic is that I didn’t tell anyone the rape story until well after I knew that I wasn’t pregnant. I didn’t “need” the story, but I “used” it. And what’s destructive about the story is that I often concluded it by saying that it (the rape) didn’t affect me or damage me in any way.
I could go on and on, but you get the picture. These are the stories I’ve told myself and others…stories that made me feel better about myself, stories that helped me feel right, stories that helped me feel like I was getting revenge. I got off on these stories. They gave me an out and allowed me to abdicate responsibility.
What I see is that I made a whole series of decisions, then came up with stories and lies to make myself feel better, but which really led to a lot of physical, emotional, and mental heaviness. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that these stories took me farther away from who I really am. And the farther I got, the “heavier” I got.
As I said, anyone who knows me really well already knows the truth and it’s been quite a while since I’ve even felt the need to tell an outright lie. But I recognize that I’m still telling stories about what happened…mostly in an effort to understand.
“Whenever two people meet, there are really six people present. There is each man as he sees himself, each man as the other person sees him, and each man as he really is.” ~ William James, pragmatist, philosopher, and psychologist (1842 – 1910)
This whole weight loss thing has turned into my quest to figure out how to bring “who I really am” as close as possible to “how I see myself” and to “how others see me.”