let go of your victim story

If you have a story to tell, come sit by me.  You tell yours and I’ll tell mine. We’ll talk about our pasts, how we fell apart, how we picked up our pieces and put ourselves back together.  What we won’t do is apologize, feel sorry for ourselves, or blame anyone for the choices we’ve made. We’ll own our stories but we won’t be defined by them and we won’t be afraid to make new ones.

We’ll also be patient with each other because all of this is easier said than done.

Growing up, I felt like a victim in my home and there was no one to talk to about it.  In public, I kept secrets, told lies, and made up stories to keep up appearances. In private, I felt sorry for myself and worried about the future.  As I got older, I wanted other people to feel sorry for me too and validate my sadness. So I started opening up and telling the truth about my life and what I’d been through.

I always befriended women with stories in their eyes — polished, ambitious, insecure beneath the confidence, wild beneath the calm — like me.  Women who put smiling faces on for the world then go home, take off their masks and cry themselves to sleep. We’d bond over our family wounds, our broken hearts, and our self-destructive behavior.  In the safety of each other’s company, we didn’t pretend to have it all together. In fact, we found depth in being more complicated than most people had the capacity to understand.

When I started writing and being more honest about myself beyond my circle of friends, I discovered a freedom I’d never felt before.  I’d been so used to living secret lives, wearing different masks for different people. When I found the courage to use it, the truth felt like a surge of power, like a chance to create a new path.  Writing gave me permission to stop pretending and do something positive with my angst and confusion. I started using vulnerability as an ice-breaker, sharing my truth proactively to set the tone for my conversations.  Can we go deep or nah?  I steered away from people who seemed put off by my honesty.

At that point, I am owning my struggles so much that I find it hard not to talk about them all the time.  Almost as if, to be authentic, I had to share my pain. I couldn’t say what was going well without saying what was going wrong. I couldn’t receive a compliment without deprecating myself.  I didn’t think I was being negative, I just wanted to be real. My attitude was, life is hard, let’s not pretend that it’s not. I became so identified with this victim identity that I couldn’t present myself without it.

Part of me liked the pity and the drama.  Maybe it made me feel generous to carry this weight on my back.  I even convinced myself that some of us are supposed to suffer so we can make art that resonates.  Every challenge that life gave me was an excuse to blame my circumstances and stay stuck. So while I said I wanted to grow, deep down I didn’t believe that I could.  I still felt sorry for myself. I didn’t want to leave the island of misfit toys where I could stay broken.

I thought, what if my sadness is the key to my creativity?  So I held onto it, not sure what to do without it. I wore it everyday like lingerie under my clothes, a layer I didn’t show to everyone.  People who only told happy stories, who only spoke of ease and simplicity, didn’t move me and I couldn’t see myself ever being that way.

As my writing presence grew, I found myself with opportunities to connect with creatives who were emotional and complicated like me, but empowered.  I was able to collaborate with women I admired who were doing great things. These experiences often left me feeling inadequate, imposter syndrome telling me that I could not resist my demons and shine as bright as these women did.  Telling me I didn’t truly belong amongst them. I saw the potential to build relationships dissolve many times because energetically, I wasn’t ready to connect.

I saw this happening and I had to admit that I was refusing to expand. I’d never stopped having broken, defeated thoughts.  I was still walking through life looking for reasons to feel wounded. I began to notice when someone would ask me how I was doing and immediately I’d start complaining or carrying on about my doubts.  How hard things are. How little I have. How much I’ve messed up. How the past still hurts and the future still threatens.

When I finally started to see how I was in my own way, I realized this narrative wasn’t keeping it real, it was keeping me low and depleting my energy.

Writing and talking about our painful experiences are helpful ways to process our emotions.  It feels good to let it out and be honest and be heard. But talking about our problems too much reinforces them.  We need to ask ourselves, why am I talking about this again? Am I talking through my feelings and what I am learning or am I talking about how bad it is and how this always happens?  Am I telling helpless or hopeful stories? There is a point when we need to let go of the pain and evolve.

We have a choice to be empowered or disempowered by our experiences:

Did the abuse you experienced make you cold or did it deepen your capacity to be kind and compassionate towards others?   Do you blame your past for your current circumstances or do you find the opportunities in your challenges? Do you resent people who are happy because you can’t shake the blues or do you celebrate their energy and allow it to inspire you?

I’m aiming higher these days, making sure that I am using my story to empower my life and not to make excuses for it.  The last couple years have shown me how easy it is to lose your way even when you think you know it with your eyes closed.

You can find your voice and learn how to use it, you can talk about your past, how you fell apart, picked up your pieces and put yourself back together. But if you see yourself as a victim, and you get stuck there in that story, your mindset stays the same, your actions stay the same, what you attract stays the same and your story and your struggles stay the same.  We have to let our old stories go so we can make room for new ones.

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