We live inside the stories we tell ourselves.
Stories help us make sense of the world around us. We form a narrative out of events, we derive meaning from our chosen interpretations, and we create façades for anything inconvenient as a way of propping-up our sense of control.
There was a point this year where I couldn’t seem to form my experiences into a coherent story. I was confused by my own inability to comprehend what was happening, and by my seemingly disproportionate reaction to events which were unpleasant, but not catastrophic. Why was I finding everything so hard? Why couldn’t I reason myself out of the way I felt? If I couldn’t explain the discrepancy through what was happening, maybe it was something about me that was falling apart. I couldn’t explain the circumstances otherwise. I felt lost.
We think that we cry because we are sad, but we mostly cry when experiencing a loss of control. My bewilderment challenged my sense of self and threw me further into the feeling of free-falling. I really did feel like I was losing control.
What changed for me was deciding to trust my own perceptions. Where I had felt dislocated from my body’s reactions to situations, I instead decided to trust that it was kindly alerting me to things which weren’t quite right. I re-wrote a story to match, and stuck with it.
This of course was much more of a process than I’ve made it sound. Sometimes if you are failing to make sense of something, it’s because you are encountering something you don’t yet have a frame of reference for. It doesn’t make for an easy time.
In as much as I still feel bruised, this process has made me much more conscious of the way we live inside of stories, and in particular, stories which are acting as scripts.
Scripts are stories we write ahead of time, which we treat as more fixed than whatever we first base them on. You will hear a parent tell you of “their problem child”, “the academic one”, and “the comedian”; you will hear friends say that “so-and-so is exactly the type to do this”. Often we punish others for deviating from the scripts we have written: scripts are familiar, and a challenge to one therefore becomes threatening.
Some of the most difficult scripts to challenge are the ones we have written for ourselves. We like to think we know who we are, and sometimes we’d rather foreclose our own options than make the choice about who we become more self-consciously.
One of the best decisions I have made this year has been to dip-dye my hair a hot pink colour. I want to be the sort of person who dyes their hair fun colours, the sort of person who can hold their appearance more lightly in order to have fun with it. However, I knew that to make this decision I would need to challenge my own script that I’m ‘not the sort of person who dyes their hair’, and deal with the consequences of challenging others who I perceived also held this script.
Self-consciously challenging a script was initially really uncomfortable. Because we treat scripts as fixed, we forget it is use in charge of them and not vice versa. They are ours to change. Changing one of my scripts in this self-conscious way has been really positive – I’ve been reminded of my freedom to determine who I become.
There is lots about the time we live in which is determined for us and over which we do not have freedom. To borrow from Heidegger, life is thrown possibility. We live specifically, situated in time among particular circumstances. And yet, one of our greatest freedoms is choosing how we react.
This is what makes our stories and scripts so important – if we live inside the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we tell ourselves determine our life.
So often we accept ourselves as fixed, and reject the way life has been fixed for us. There is power in accepting life’s thrownness, and instead examining the scripts about ourselves that we treat as given.
More than any other year, I’ve seen the impact that my own narratives have in shaping what I live inside of. It’s been a year I’ve determined to write off at times, and yet it has been a year full of its own joys and new adventures I never could have anticipated. Life’s specificity can feel like limits which are imposed to confine us, but we can learn instead to treat the very same limits as ones which are gifted to release us.
Limits are always rich with possibilities.
Someone who was chatting with me about my pink hair protested about this choice: “But by that logic you’ll end up doing all sorts of things”.
By God’s grace, I hope so.
That’s good. It made sense of what my daughter thinks about me, She has a script in her mind about how I behave, unfortunately I cannot change it, she owns it. Thanks for sharing that. I hope you are having a blessed Christman. Andrew Ridley.
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Rachel, A thoughtful analysis of your 2022. Life can be messy because the orderliness of our environment is often disturbed by the heresies that a world tosses at us throw the gift of free will. How boring life would be if not for confusion. What challenge would there be if God made us robots. But He didn’t. He made us to choose. And in so doing we can choose what we what or what we should. Like a person who buys a new car can follow the owner’s manual to get the maximum efficiency and longevity out of the car as intended by the designer and manufacturer or plan to make many visits to the auto repair shop. I liken life like a simple game found in most breakfast cereal boxes. It is a plastic covered item with a design on the interior base. In the game are three little metal balls that roll around the base that has an equal number of depressions for the balls to settle in. The object and challenge of the game is to use one’s skill, touch, patience and determination to get all three to settle in those depressions. And isn’t that like any of us. Testing, trying until we find a fit into who we are. And there may come the time in our search when we find what Dante alludes to as the most important thing, in his “Divine Comedy”. And that is, “In His will, is our peace.”
Keep writing the script, Rachel.
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