You Get To Choose Your Story

A few years ago I went through one of those cry-in-public, so-sad-you-don’t-even-want Totinos (!!!) type of break ups.

I was completely enamoured with the dude in question.
Like, a previously unprecedented “How’d I get the best one?” level of infatuation.
So when he dumped me out of the blue with the words “I’d like to bring our relationship to an end” and I found out he’d engaged in some less-than-awesome behavior while we’d been dating I was, understandably, crushed.
I wept into coffees, cocktails, giant pails of movie popcorn, and steaming bowls of pho. My friends did their best to comfort me, frequently resorting to the age-old lady trick of Saying Mean Things About Your Ex.
“Dude, bullet dodged. He has crippling school debt AND credit card debt. Also, he was short. And he had tiny hands.” 
“Yeah. AND he lives in a condo overlooking a manmade lake in a housing development in a third ring suburb.” 
“He’s always late and he’s super messy. Remember what his car looked like?” 
And while my friends were technically correct (my ex-boyfriend was all those things) telling myself that story – that I was the sort of person who dated guys like that – got me exactly nowhere. It didn’t feel good to dig into the bad qualities of someone I’d cared about.
While my ex was, in fact, drowning in debt and his condo was stupid, I could also describe him as:
incredibly smart and capable
handsome, dapper, sparkly-eyed
a great cook, a loyal friend, a fantastic dad
adventurous, driven, funny
Both these stories are true. He was smart and funny, late and messy. He was bad with money and good at parenting.
Similarly, there are two stories I can tell myself about our breakup: 
1. That I was unceremoniously dumped by a dude I later discovered had been less-monogamous-than-I’d-like
2. A relationship ran its course and I learned how to live through heartbreak. Through that relationship I met 15+ people I’m still friends with, who make my life better almost every day.
Obviously (obviously!) I choose to tell myself the latter. When people ask me why it didn’t work out or what he’s doing now, I’m positive and kind. And really what’s more important – when I think about that break up (which is rare) I think about it in those positive terms – new friends and lessons learned. *
And you can do this with just about anything. Our identities are so, so deeply influenced by the stories we tell ourselves and ourselves. Are you really “bad at sports” or did you just hate volleyball in fifth grade? Are you actually shy or do you just take 10 minutes to get your social bearings? Are you really, actually bad at managing people – or did you just have a terrible intern for one summer?
Next time you find yourself repeating a story (in your mind or in a loud, crowded bar) for the fifth time – you were terrible at that job, she’s the reason you lost that client, you were unquestionably a victim – take a step back and examine your words and beliefs. What would happen if you reframed that experience? What would happen if you tried to view your struggles through a lense of empathy and growth?
I bet you’d feel smarter. Clearer + cleaner. More in charge of your life and your feelings.
(and you’d also probably hate your ex a lot less).
What stories do you tell yourself about things that have happened to you? How would things change if you changed your story? 
* also, it’s obviously a million times easier to think kind things about your ex-boyfriend when you’re each dating people who are a much better fit for you
photo by caleb george morris // cc

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  1. Vanessa

    Preach it, girl! This is the whole reason why I blog about my life post-cancer. I took what is most people's "worst case scenario" and turned it into a reason to start over (new immune system = new me), learn some hard life lessons and generally get rid of emotional hangups and baggage I've been carrying since the 2nd grade. Cancer sucked, I cried a LOT over it but then I turned it into an awesome story.

  2. Joy

    Loved this. I got into a terrible discussion with my mom yesterday. I could describe my long weekend as upsetting and shitty because of it- but you just reminded me that it was, in fact, enjoyable and special — surrounded by the people I love. xo

  3. Mika P.

    Wow, thank you for your perspective! I love when you really pour your heart out in these personal posts, because they're so relate-able and even if it hasn't happened to you, you can really empathize. You really do need to look on the bright side- there are positives and negatives to everything!! Ultimately though, I'm glad that you're out of that bad relationship and are in a much better place (:

  4. Leslie

    A. Men. Sister. xoxo.

  5. mrs3084

    This reminds me of the book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. I love the concept of changing our lives by changing our story.

  6. Phyllis

    SO true and so well written! This is where I find journalling to help as well… it's much more tangible to write your story out, with actions, victims, heros, etc. vs the fuzzy feelings in your mind.

  7. Stacey (FreshStitches)

    What a great post! I agree completely!

    I always tell myself that I'm strong, a runner and a yogi. So… maybe I only run twice a week, but who cares? I like to run. And the story of being a runner is *so* much better than telling myself that I'm slow and am just a person who runs twice a week.

    Your story has the ability to change your perspective and empower you… so rock it!

  8. Heidi Jo

    Thanks Sarah! A million times over what I needed to read today. Also, absolutely LOVED seeing Dolly in the previous post. I recently referenced your Dollywood post on my own blog. 🙂

  9. Elli Davis

    I know it's sometimes not easy to think positive but I believe that ups and downs make us all feel alive… The book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz helped me to learn the basics I still use for my way of thinking and life. I think it's important to have a guide – a book, person, anything that can help us find the right way and your question "How would things change if you changed your story?" is also a great help I will try to use, thank you.

  10. Heather

    The link for “a two step plan for getting what you want” is not working.
    PS- I love your articles. Thank you so much.

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