The Stories We Tell Ourselves

literatureIf you follow this blog you’ve undoubtedly noticed a break in the content, first slowing from a run to a walk over the course of the last year, then finally to an almost complete standstill over the last couple of months. If the struggles I’ve been working through weren’t so personal and intimate, I would talk about them more. Perhaps in time I will, but right now it’s going to have to play out in spaces that are private.

To my mind, the periods of silence are part and parcel of being a writer. Sometimes in order to get to the bottom of what you’re thinking through, your pen has to go still for a time while you sort it all out. I’ve often maintained that I can either be writing about life, or I can be living it, but I can’t always do both at the same time—at least not very well. And the more I have going on in my life, the less time I have to write about it. But for me at least there can be *too much* time to write. I need to be growing, learning, meeting new folks, and hearing their stories to gain a better understanding of my own.

I’ve been doing that a lot lately. And there’s a lot to take in.

You can be sure that once my head starts to clear about the things I’m processing, you’ll hear plenty about it all. I seem to have run upon a new learning curve I didn’t even know to expect, and it has everything to do with figuring out how to take the next few steps along this journey of becoming human.

I was born into a culture that disparages being human. In my world, or at least in the one I’m slowly growing out of, the word “human” is synonymous with weakness, fallibility, and at times even wickedness. When that’s what you hear at the sound of that word, you’ve got a lot of unlearning to do before you’ll ever be able to fully embrace the life we’re now living—a life, I might add, that is likely the only one we’ll ever get.

Which means we only get one shot, if I may invoke Eminem, and we should make it count. Life is precious because it is so terribly limited, and we owe it to ourselves to refuse to settle for the fullest life we can make.

The Story in Which We Find Ourselves

If being human means anything, it means telling stories. Everything we do is tempered and directed by the stories we tell ourselves and each other, and nothing can change a life more thoroughly than discovering a new story in which we find ourselves (hat tip to Brian McLaren for one of the best book titles ever).

When people like me leave our religion, it takes time to piece together a new understanding of who we are. The old story we found ourselves in before made us out to be the bad guys. And there’s a good reason for that: In order to sell you a cure they first have to convince you that you have a disease. You live with this story so long, you learn to supply your own symptoms from time to time out of deference to the framework you’ve been given.

Then one day you give it all up. You begin to extricate yourself from the prison that once held you, but then you discover the prison follows you around. It’s become a part of who you are, like an unwanted parasite that latched onto you for dear life. It takes time to root out this thing that’s gotten under your skin.

And that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m doing some surgery on my own innards with the help of a handful of friends, and to be quite transparent I may also require some professional help. My only previous experience with therapy was in a Baptist church, and let’s just say there’s a special place in my still unwritten memoirs for a dissection of that experience. The short version is that it didn’t turn out well, and it left me with even more baggage than I had before the year of weekly sessions began.

It’s time, though, to redeem this practice for me. Sometimes you need help working through your own inner turmoil and I don’t seem to be able to put it off any longer. So there’s that admission.

Supporting Characters in Our Own Stories

Right now I’m in the process of learning to examine the stories we tell ourselves. We can be the villains in our own stories as easily as the heroes, and often we make ourselves out to be a mixture of the two. And then sometimes we make ourselves only supporting characters in our own life stories, and there’s something really tragic about that.

We all play supporting roles, of course, but who will take care to see that our own plot gets fully developed? If not we ourselves, then who else? Our friends can help us find our own story, but that presupposes we value ourselves enough to develop those friendships that can make it happen. I’ll be working on that, as well.

For extreme empaths like me, it can be far too easy to center your entire consciousness around other people, as if you only exist to tend to their needs. Doing so may make you the hero in someone else’s story, but in your own it leaves you lacking in development, oddly out of the picture even in your own movie.

At some point that has to change if you every want to be fully alive. I intend to work on that, and as it’s happening of course I’ll be happy to share what I’m finding with you. I can’t promise it won’t be messy. It will likely be full of the kinds of computational errors people make whenever they’re trying to develop a new skill (or in this case a new way to think!). But then I figure there are things to be learned from watching those happen as well.

Bear with me, keep reading, and I hope as I walk through the next phase of becoming human you will find yourself in your own story as well.

[Image Source: Adobe Stock]

About Neil Carter

Neil Carter is a high school teacher, a writer, a speaker, a father of five, and a skeptic living in the Bible Belt. A former church elder with a seminary education, Neil now writes mostly about the struggles of former evangelicals living in the midst of a highly religious subculture.