Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Broadening our future by redefining past stories

A few months ago if you had asked me about my childhood, I would have told you my default story. It's been the same story I've always told - how my dad left us several times and my mom was a struggling, emotionally charged single mom. "It was a hard childhood," I would have dramatized. "One with lots of emotional turmoil and uncertainty."

When I came across the prompt to write about my favorite childhood memories of summer a couple months ago, for a split second I defaulted to my sad story. But as I thought about summers back in the small town where I grew up, I was able to quickly list 10 things that had been really wonderful. I realized that there really are good stories to be told about my childhood, and that I had unconsciously covered them up by focusing on the sad times instead.

We all have things in our past that were hurtful, and as humans we tend to hold on to those things as part of who we are. Perhaps we do this as a defense mechanism, rationalizing that by holding on to those events we may be better prepared if it happens again - we remain cautious when we no longer need to be. And sometimes, quite by accident, those things can dominate our story. They become the part of our story that defines who we think we are.

What if we began to re-tell those stories from a different perspective? What if, instead of the terrible thing, we remember something good around it? Might we even find a lesson we learned as a result? Or something good that finally came out of something bad that happened in the first place?

Of course, there are things that have happened that are always going to feel like the worst thing ever. That's life in this current body. But what if the next time you think about that time you do so with a bit of self-compassion and nurturing in the mix?

One of the things I've been working on this past year is forgiving my father for not being the dad I wish he had been. As an adult I realize his actions were selfish and had nothing to do with me. His choices were completely out of my control, and one of the ways I'm working on finding forgiveness for him is by revisiting some of my childhood memories through the eyes of an adult.

One of my earliest memories - and always one of my main stories - happened when I was five years old. I was coloring at our kitchen table when my parents entered the room and were having a heated discussion about my dad leaving. My mom was hysterical and was begging him not to go. My dad "couldn't take it anymore" and it was clear that he was [from my five-year old vantage point] running away from home. I remember being frozen with fear. I didn't move a muscle, afraid that I would be noticed there at the table, with my little hand wrapped tightly around a blue crayon.

I can close my eyes and recreate that entire kitchen scenario in my mind and body - and believe me, I've done just that many times over the course of my life. That single memory has haunted me for years! But now, as an adult, I can put myself in that place and have different thoughts about it. I can tell my five-year old self, "It's ok, Debbie. This is not about you. Mommy is scared right now but she'll be better, and everything really will be ok!" And really, everything has turned out just fine for me in the long run - and ultimately for my mom as well! That was an upsetting moment, but it was over a long time ago.

I have become a compassionate observer of that story, rather than the frightened child still experiencing the event.

As I practice sending nurturing thoughts to that particular piece of my story, I am more free to find forgiveness for the people I'd blamed for the wrong that had been done. I am able to articulate feelings now that I couldn't as a five year old, so I'm able to bring a different perspective to that part of my story. Is it still a sad memory for me? Of course. But it doesn't define my entire childhood anymore. I have a healthier perspective through the eyes of an adult.

The simple act of listing my 10 favorite summertime memories brought about a refreshing realization that I have made progress in my quest for healing and forgiveness. Even though there were hard times, the good times totally outnumbered the bad. I'm personally dedicated to bringing the good memories to the forefront - to have the good things become my main story instead of the ones I used to tell.

I wonder what stories you tell about your past. And I wonder what stories you could heal from a perspective of love and compassion for yourself and maybe those who may have wronged you. Might you be able to change some of your own stories that way?


Sian said...

This is such a great post. My experience is this: I started to scrapbook, I think, because I wanted to explore with my brother and sister, and my own children, the happy parts of our quite sad childhood. Because although big, sad things happened, we also had lots of fun. And I wanted my children to know that. Sometimes a blog reader will say to me "Oh you had such a happy childhood" and depending on my mood that day, I'll think - yes, she's right, or oh, I've gone too far the other way and recast things too much. So, it's a constant retelling, isn't it? Again, great post :)

debs14 said...

What an interesting, thought provoking post Deb.
There are always two sides to every story and it's easy to just focus on the way you remember it at the time. Very hard to put yourself in the role of your Mum until you get older. That old saying 'what doesn't break you makes you stronger' is very true and your Mum's experience of that time made her the woman she was. I'm pleased that you are able to put a different perspective on things now.

Alison said...

Such a thought provoking post my's always good when we can look at what we're sad memories in a new light and be able to see the situation in a slightly different way xx

Becky said...

Very thought provoking post xx

Audrey said...

Wow Deb, that is really inspirational. You described that day in the kitchen so well. My heart ached for that little seriously hurt me to read it. It's obvious how much that experience shaped you as a person. And your Mom too. Gives me a lot to think about and makes me want to write down some things for myself. I still remember your favorite summer memories post ~ I LOVED that one too! XOXOXO

Anonymous said...

Deb, I'm way behind on my blog reading but for some reason I decided to do a bit of catch up today and started with this post. I could not have read this at a better time - I guess it was just meant to be. Thanks for writing such a thought provoking post - it's given me a lot to think about regarding my own childhood and upbringing.


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