Guess what?! Your sexual experience doesn’t make you more or less valuable. Period.
Neither does your relationship status or the number of divorces under your belt or all the “obvious, repetitive, horrible disaster” relationships you’ve chosen to get into or stay in over the years.
They just don’t say a single thing about your worth.
They are part of your story and you have many parts to that story.
So, let’s not fixate, idolize, or obsess about how pure we can be or how tarnished we’ve become due to the pleasures we have or have NOT indulged in.
There is no formula we can insert ourselves in and come out the end as the MOST blessed or pure or beautiful. We are human. And that means we are made an entire world of other amazing things like:
And so much more. Let’s fixate on THOSE things. Because it’s in the choosing of those things, where we BECOME.
We become big thinkers and active doers–unafraid to stand alone, but recognizing the value of community. Let’s teach our children that they can BECOME whoever/whatever/whenever they want. It is the gift each of us gets just for existing.
Let’s learn for ourselves so we can teach our sons & daughters that we are more than the sum of our sexual activity.
We are powerful humans who get to choose how BIG we live in the ways we are–kind, capable, conscious, collaborative, and creative.
Let’s stop living small and teaching the next generation to stay small by supporting and repeating implicit (and explicit) messages like:
“Virgins are whole.” (aka Because once you cross “the” line, you can never have your purity back (aka be whole again). You’re broken if you explored your sexuality–before or between marriage(s)–or if you were violated by incest, rape or molesation. And if you forbid yourself from getting to know your own sexual blueprint before you sign a paper and have a ceremony, then you can achieve the ultimate purity prize which no one in particular is assigned to adorn you with, but rest assured, IT’S REAL and it’s totally worth it).
“Sexual acts tarnish you.” (aka You can never be as “clean”, “acceptable”, or “valuable” as you were BEFORE you engaged in a sexual act. But what “act” this specifically pertains to is up to whomever is currently surrounding you–for some it’ll be actual penetration, for others it’ll be any form of arousal before you’ve said vows in front of people who will never be a part of your sexual discovery process, and still for others it’ll be kissing before your wedding. So! Good luck figuring out how to not be tarnished and forever less desirable and even repulsive. Better be safe and never touch anyone you think is attractive… or even talk to them).
“Your virginity is a gift to your future spouse.” (aka You’re destined to marry someone who is ALSO just as unconcerned with your lack of connection to yourself as you are, and this most certainly translates to your sexuality and other areas too. So, be sure and DON’T live in the present moment and appreciate all you are and have today, because maybe one day some hypothetical person is really, really going to want the BEST GIFT EVER–your lack of sexual experience and ignorance about what you like and want in the bedroom–Oooo, fun! Hope you live long enough to experience your hypothetical gift exchange. Death is so uncertain, so I hope THAT day doesn’t come before you do. And for anyone who isn’t sure they want to get married or is certain they don’t want to be married? Well, that’s just silly! You either want to get married as soon as possible or you want to get married a little bit later. Those are your two options. This formula is for everyone, and that’s all there is to it).
“There’s no greater treasure than a virgin bride.” (aka Men can’t help themselves b/c they’re biologically wired for sex, so don’t expect them to be virgins, but women don’t like sex as much as men, so they’re “purity” is a testament to how asleep they are to their own biology, desire, and destiny–to explore and dive intimately into every part of who they are sexually, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically. But shhhh, don’t tell! What women don’t know won’t hurt them. Keep them thinking small and living inside the box or else, because think of what might happen if they didn’t–men AND women alike might go on sexual explorations without shame! Yikes! That’s not in the formula).
Ok, I could go on and on, but there’s no sense in beating a dead horse. A lot of people are probably appalled at my insinuation that all people should have sex BEFORE they get married (what can I say? I’m a rebel). The truth is, I actually couldn’t care less if people have sex (however they define that term) before marriage. As with ALL THINGS, I simply frown upon perpetuating ridiculous subliminal, implicit, covert messages AROUND the topic of “sexual purity”. Americans especially have fine-tuned the idealization of abstinence. To me, it sounds more like a dismissive approach, “Hey, listen, as a collective (parents, educators, clergymen) we’re not entirely sure or wholly committed to knowing each of you as individuals to have the hard and brave conversations about sexuality that would require. It actually makes us feel a little squirmy and uncomfortable. So, we’ve decided to just have you all STOP wanting it or doing it until you have the social/emotional intelligence to figure that out for yourself. And we’ll of course back that up with some religious doctrine so you will feel the shame of any inkling toward rebellion and that will only help you make the “right” choice. This will allow us to remain ignorant and just let you deal with this whole conundrum when we’re no longer responsible for your well-being.”
Yeah. Am I wrong? I get it, nobody wants to admit to this or talk about it because then we actually have to acknowledge what’s happening.
So, here, let me get my point across with another elusive analogy. The American method for sex education is a lot like saying to a starving child, “Listen, I know you have an empty feeling in your stomach, that happens when you are biologically wired to eat and haven’t, but listen, you just can’t. If you choose NOT to eat, even though everything in you is made to do it, if you don’t, you’ll be more pure. Just trust me. There’s no actual scientific proof of this, of course, but it’s true. And, by the way, it will ALWAYS be harder for males to turn down food, so as a collective, we don’t really expect them to, but if one occasionally does, he’s a keeper no matter what other questionable behavior he may display. You can trust him if he has chosen not to eat until his wedding night. So, just don’t even play around with food. Just pretend you aren’t even curious about it. Oh, until your wedding feast of course! Then you should eat as much as you want! It won’t hurt and you’ll know exactly what you like, because you trusted the process and you dreamed about it your whole life. It’ll be the best experience of your life because you pretended you didn’t even want it or need it before, so that made you knowledgeable and ready to consume. You’ll be able to handle allllll the side effects of choosing to have your first meal at your wedding just fine– there will be no emotional, physical, or mental pain AT ALL.”
Ok, so maybe there are some holes in my analogy, but you get the point. Pretending the truth is a lie or somehow unnatural will never serve our race. Humans were wired to procreate. If there’s any question about this, just take a look at the male and female anatomy–it’s hard to argue with that. Regardless of what you think about my analogies, consider what you’ve been taught about sex, your sexuality, and all the “shoulds” that surround the topic. Did those teachings serve you well in adulthood? Did you feel free to live fully expressed? Were they confining or damaging in any way? If you could go back, how would you educate yourself about your sexuality and sex in general?
Now, if you have children of your own, consider what you are or will be teaching them (whether with or without words). I am raising my kids to be conscious, critical, and FREE thinkers, and that means I tell them the TRUTH about humans as a WHOLE. For instance:
- The masculine and feminine are equally valuable and uniquely designed–for a REASON. It’s our gift to get curious and discover how and why we are different and made to complement each other as masculine and feminine entities.
- We are more than the sum of our experiences. That means our sexual history, our trauma, our upbringing, our color/race/status/religion does not define WHO WE ARE. We are far more complex and sacred than those kinds of one-dimensional identifiers.
- Humans are constantly evolving, which means we will be in a continuous dance to get to know ourselves and choose who we want to be. You can choose to be aware of this. This is the life of consciousness. This is what it means to live outside the box and not follow the crowd just because that’s the way it’s always been done. Humans are not a system, we are an organism. Each of us is worth discovering every part of what makes us… us.
- Sex is a natural part of the human experience. Our bodies are designed for pleasure, productivity, power, and purpose. This is one of the most compelling and universal experiences we will have in life, so enjoy the process of discovering YOU.
- Truth does not lie. No matter the audience (young or old, religious or atheist, color or nation), culture, situation, job, goal, or perception, the truth is a super power. The truth has the power to pierce through every social, economical, cultural, physical, and spiritual barrier so it can be seen. Our only job as humans is to make space for it. We begin to do this by practicing identifying and speaking our truth.
Being human is a journey. There is no destination for our intellect, desires, or connections. Identifying who we are is much more complex than a number of partners, a score on a standardized test, or our ability to articulate what we know, what we’ve seen, or what we believe. Humans are sacred, evolving organisms. I think it’s about time we start treating ourselves that way.
We can only teach what we believe to be true ourselves. That’s why parenting is such a gift for those who desire it. It asks us to explain, process, and prove why we believe what we believe. We will always have the choice to deny the whole truth and play small, pretend reality is more picturesque than it is painfully human, or practice shame where we are being called to acceptance, but let us make our choices with care. For it is our choices of today that become our substance of tomorrow. There are little eyes, big systems, and potent beliefs that are forming all around what we choose. As we choose, may we forgive ourselves, deepen our truth, and free those who follow us.
Words are just words unless YOU give them meaning.
Faith, fuck, family, love, happy, marriage, bad, shit, honesty, right, good, truth, hell, belief, lie, dream, kind, relationship, passion, father, ambition, mother, friend… grass, sky, school, finger, rain, job… you get the picture. They’re all just words. (Say “grass” aloud 20 times and TELL me that word isn’t random af!:)
Until you assign a meaning and believe in that meaning, adopting what that word will stand for and hold value to, it is meaningless.
I first started thinking about this idea when I began to realize my idea of “marriage” was dying an excruciatingly slow, painful, inevitable death. I’d say, “Marriage. It’s really not all it’s cracked up to be.”
I became so frustrated, feeling everyone who sang praises of being married had LIED to me and I had bought into the lie and ruined my prime years (twenties) and probably my children because of it!
Eventually, as I usually do, I began to see my responsibility in living the definition of marriage that I chose to be a part of and it wasn’t pretty. I adopted the idea that I would be submissive to my husband and try my damnedest to learn how to be gentle and… quiet. (In case it isn’t obvious, my influences were the church and the patriarchal system.)
None of this went well for me, as I am the actual opposite of those things. I consider myself to be a wild woman meaning I have always roamed with spiritual beings in wide open spaces as a free bird, changing directions and a lot of other things on a dime and in my own time. But I am also deeply connected to myself and others, nurturing authenticity, drawing out the heart and holding it safely as it speaks to me and I speak back to it. There is a lot of tenderness and peace in who I am, but I prefer to not be corralled or limited to only one way of relating, being, or personifying the rushing waters of my soul.
So, “marriage” became almost meaningless to me because I began to see all around me that what I thought it meant, it didn’t actually mean at all. People were having affairs, becoming drug addicts, quitting their jobs and leaving their families, sleeping in separate bedrooms, and asking their spouses for “permission” to do this or that… it all made me want to puke.
I stopped holding marriage in such high regard. It wasn’t an achievement to me anymore–no matter how long some couples had endured it–because what’s the point of two miserable people continuing to miserably coexist forever and ever until one of them dies? That kind of existence is the opposite of anything I esteem.
Now, I’m not saying marriage is lost. But, as Mark Groves @createthelove says, “Since when is quantity over quality more admirable?”
All of that to say, my questioning of definitions and terms began with “marriage” then moved to “truth”, “reality”, “living”, “worth”, “honesty”, and pretty much hasn’t stopped since. Even cuss words are literally worthless unless you associate offense, passion, cruelty or emotion with them.
I get it, if someone said, “FUCK YOU” it would definitely be intended to puncture, but does that mean it has to?
No matter what the words are, even when they’re “I love you,” I always read the full picture. The actions around them, the tone beneath them, the pain behind them, the hope in front of them. It’s not that I don’t trust people, but you know when someone is trying to manipulate you? HOW do you know? Because you’re reading all around the words. The words becoming meaningless and everything around them become the true message.
This makes the giving of meaning very powerful and the sort of thing that shouldn’t be done so… unconsciously.
When my son says in a fit of rage, “I hate you! You’re the meanest mommy ever,” it hurts my feelings because I give those words meaning when they come out of the mouth of the person I hold dearest in life. Even still, the meaning of those words isn’t SO deep that I become blind to what is happening around the words. Here’s what I see swirling around his firing tongue:
First, his age. Then I pay attention to how he is still learning how big feelings feel and how to let them move through him. Next I remember the times before (usually just hours before) where he softly runs his fingers through my hair and whispers, “I love you, Mommy,” with no prompting and straight from the heart. And lastly, I tune into what he is holding onto in this moment of hurtful word tossing, and that it usually his own… big shocker… hurt.
Ah, cue pivotal parenting moment! I will help him find the original point of pain and address that first, soothingly and with patience, then later when he is in a clamer state, we will circle back around to the hurtful words he threw my way. I will help him understand how they hurt me (and other people) and give him some better options for next time.
And the same goes with good words too. Did you ever date someone (or maybe you did/do this) who lavishly pours out love, intentions, and plans for a future with you and it seems so damn genuine, but then, in time, you discover it was all empty words and promises? Yeah… reading around the words never stops being important.
It’s always going to be OUR job to take inventory of other people’s full frame–not just their words, not only our feelings of attachment/excitement, not fixating on how they seem to meet our needs, and not only taking account for their actions either.
People who deserve to have meaning attached to their words–the people with high integrity–will show you that in the entire frame of who they are, not just pieces or scraps here and there. But that is on YOU to do your due diligence and not allow your wounds and insecurities to overlook the half-assed people in your life. You’ll learn how to do this in your own shadow work.
It’s part of paying attention to your life and living consciously. Learn to do it and you will be well on your way to becoming a relational jedi.
So, what words are hurting you? Fueling you? Filling you? Giving you hope? Piercing your heart? Makin’ you feel all the feels? Or triggering you?
Pay attention to what’s happening around those words. What behaviors support them? What messages are grounded and true about them? Is there any part of your “bullshit radar” going off about them? LISTEN. Get curious. Dig deeper.
Find your truth, then find the truth about the words you’re hearing (and speaking).
A Letter to 42 Year Old Me from 35 Year Old Me
Hey there Hot Stuff,
I hope you’re still working out. And I hope you grew your hair out and finally figured out what your natural color is.
I want to start off by reminding you where you are today. Only 2 weeks ago I began to truly understand what it means to live without any Representatives (the versions of myself that I sent out to represent a cooler, stronger, prettier,… more acceptable me). I am still practicing not leaning on them when I go into new situations or revert back to them in my old habits. It’s exciting every single time I remember I just get to be ME throughout the day, and it’s still a little unnerving not knowing the rules on this path and what lies ahead for me. I am hopeful that the Law of Attraction will actually start working in my favor instead of being a cool idea, now that I’m finally unlocking who I really am. But I also feel a little lonely right now. Probably because of the holidays (this is our 3rd without Tyrel, and I still hate Christmas), but maybe it’s because I’m not familiar enough with myself to not worry about or try to predict what’s coming in my future.
I feel like I have a lot of learning to do… about ME. Hopefully, as you’re reading this, you can see the fruit of this season in your life in 2025!
Above all, I am so thankful to be me. I’m grateful that my path has led me to today and I have accepted who I am and what my life is. Speaking of that, the reason I’m writing you is because lately I keep thinking, “Man, I hope I remember that when the kids are older…” So, I decided to take matters into my own hands as opposed to my own memory (what’s new, right?) and write you a note! So far, this parenting gig is a Lone Adventure, so I just want to make sure you’re remembering what we set out to do by the time they leave the house. It’s a tough job raising two humans on your own, but in the end, love wins. So, let’s take a look.
First and foremost, do they experience unconditional love everyday? Have you pursued their hearts and worked to keep them open to you? Do you meet them where they are and hold their hand while they experience the pain of the day? Is their pain validated (regardless of how ridiculous it is)? Sports, crushes, homework, anger, happiness, disappointment. Are they able to express themselves in a healthy way without paying a negative consequence from you?
Do you still take them on dates? Do you put your phone down and stare into their eyes? Do you remind them of who they truly are? Do you tell them about the things you’re learning? Do you ask them specific, open-ended questions about their minds and hearts? Are you teaching them how to stay connected to their own Body-Mind-Spirit? Have you taught them how to talk and walk through pain and not avoid it? Do they talk to you about their battles?
Do they know that other people’s opinions are none of their business? (Do you know that?) Have you helped them see how their unconscious bias can keep them living small and cause them to miss the greatest joys in life? Are they respectful of each other, you, and the people and world around them? If not, where’s the disconnect? If so, damn, how’d you get to be so good at parenting!?
Are you over-parenting still? (I mean, I’m working on it now, but please tell me you’ve mastered the art of letting them make their own decisions without you rescuing them from failure or consequences by now!) Remember, I want them to be fully autonomous BY THE TIME THEY START their Senior Year of High School. Are you still on track for that? Do they know how to figure out what choices they want to make, manage time, do laundry, make food, work, handle money, save, set goals and achieve them?
Do you write provocative ideas on their bathroom mirrors to get them to think deeper than the status quo? Please tell me you regularly find ways to embarrass them in public.
And, oh, my god, how exciting is it watching them turn into the little humans they were born to be?! I can’t wait to see it! I hope you haven’t forgotten that they don’t have to fulfill what YOU (subconsciously) wish for them in order to earn your love (you know, to one day have healthy relationships, no teen pregnancies, a sober/accurate view of marriage, mental health, emotional wellness, financial stability, the freedom to do what they love every day of their lives, and true love with their own souls). You better be loving them unconditionally and on purpose every single day! Do you still write them notes about how much you love them and who they are? They love getting those now, I wonder if they will in 7 years.
Parenting is hard. I have no idea how you will fare over the next 7 years, but my hope is this: that you will learn to love yourself, your precious babies, and the world a little more in every moment. Time is always moving forward, so you can either keep living today or get lost in the past. I hope you’ve chosen to be among the living.
So, just because I know you’ll be curious, here’s the scoop on where we are today… (I did not publish this paragraph as it is deeply detailed and too personal for the interweb to ever know!)
Did you move into a lake house with a pool yet? I hope you have a little land with chickens, goats, a garden, and 2 golden doodles too. I hope you invite people over regularly and have parties several times a year. People, food, and a house on the water–that’s everything you need to sustain a beautiful life. I hope you still lay in the grass and look up to the sky and listen to the wind. And I hope you’ve finally found friends with horses and ride regularly. Most of all, I hope you are full. You suffered too much early on to not be living a life full of love, hope, and fun.
If I was the bravest version of myself (which I think I am pretty damn close to being), I would write until I made six figures doing it. Then I’d keep doing it so my family would always remember how pain and love changed the legacy of our lineage. I’d fall in love with my soul every day and I’d fall in love with matching souls around me too. I’d touch the water, breathe the fresh air, feel the sand on my skin, travel the world, meet the people, drink the wine, and laugh till I cried. I’d push my limits and never shut up. I’d speak life and love and power to every pair of eyes that met mine. And I’d never withhold hugs, touches, kisses, I-love-yous, or affection for the people in my heart. I’d speak the truth even when it’s difficult and feel the heartaches deep in my chest. I wouldn’t forget how pain helped me learn how to truly live and I would never speak or think negatively about myself again.
42 year old me, are you living the bravest version of me yet?
Image created by Wonder+Light Photography
I love my kids. They’re the best thing that ever happened to me. It is a gift to be a mother and all that jazz. But parenting is not for the faint of heart (especially doing it solo), so I’d just like to note that we are deep inside the war-games in my home. I live minimally and on a budget. Most of my money goes to bills, Organic food, and my children’s extracurricular activities. I call this the epitome of balance. They are healthy, active, and well-cared for children who get plenty of love and cuddles from me. So, why? Whhhhhhy? At the ages of 6 and 9, do they feel it is acceptable to use an entirely new bottle of organic, Costco-sized shampoo to create “potions” during bath time?
This offense occurred two weeks ago and it flipped a switch in my brain. As I floated from my body, I watched some braver, smarter, more enlightened, badass version of myself continue to speak,
“Hey, guys! Here’s the deal. The jig is up. Shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper, water bottles, sweatshirts, socks, all clothing and shoes, food, school supplies- all the things- they cost money. And because they cost money, it means they should be used properly and for their designated purposes unless otherwise permitted by ME. I’m not sure why this hasn’t been retained yet, but because I know you’re both old enough to understand that in order to get these things into our home we must hand over money for them, I’d like for you both to really understand this life-lesson today. Starting right this minute, for every item you waste, you will pay me exactly what that item cost me. (The Sergeant surveys the small bathroom, mentally calculating) Here we have an entire wasted bottle of organic shampoo $12, an entire roll of toilet paper in the toilet $1, and organic toothpaste dollops all over the sink and floor $3. That’s $16 I see that you have both contributed to wasting. Each of you needs to give me $8 from your piggy banks please and thank you.”
The sergeant dismissed herself and I returned to my body. I noticed my children’s faces are uncharacteristically somber and remorseful (usually they look at me like I’ve lost my mind when I ask why they waste things and money so much). My daughter (9) went immediately to her room and gathered her dollars as she cried. She asked, “Is this really real, Mommy? Do we have to give you our money? That’s all the money I have!” I winced. This was painful to watch my offspring feel the pain of loss. But the Sergeant’s message was firm but loving, and it would teach them a lesson they would carry for a lifetime so I hugged her and said, “It’s my job to help you understand what costs money and how money works. I’ve asked you so many times before to stop making potions with shampoo and you keep ignoring me. This is the consequence for being wasteful. Your birthday is coming up, I’m sure you’ll have more in your piggy bank soon.” She nodded and hugged me back.
I went to collect on my son’s debt. He looked up at me with the biggest, most beautiful puppy dog eyes you could ever imagine and said, “I don’t have any money in my piggy bank, Mommy.” The Sergeant inside fought off the coddling mother instincts to scoop him up and say, “Oh, that’s OK. Just don’t do it again, OK sweet boy?” This time I let the Sergeant take the lead and she said something that had never occurred to me to say before, “So, if you don’t have the money to pay for what you waste, borrow or need, you have what’s called debt. That means you owe me $8. So any Christmas or birthday money you get will go directly to me until your debt is paid.” He gasped at the thought and questioned my resolve, “Wait, so you’re going to take my birthday money?!” I shook off the push-over-mom-vibes that were quickly rushing in, “Yep! I’ve asked you many times before not to waste toothpaste, shampoo, and toilet paper, but you keep doing it. So, now you’re going to start paying for what you waste and this time those things will cost you $8. Once the $8 is paid, you will be able to keep the rest of your birthday money.” His shoulders sunk as he sighed and looked at his feet. Debt is wearisome. My 6-year-old understands this now.
When I walked away and evaluated the pros and cons of this parenting moment, I realized 3 essentials every parent should remember:
- I need to stop rescuing my children from consequences. Sparing them from feeling the full weight of their choices is robbing them of life experience. We all know personal experience is the best teacher. And applying correlating consequences to the offense is MUCH more educational.
- I don’t have to bear the burden of their disobedience. It is such a weight off my shoulders to not have to keep spending unbudgeted money to replace items they chose to waste! I’ll just use their money now.
- I’m the one who is responsible for teaching them to respect people, property, and time. It’s not their teacher’s job to train them how to be a responsible adult, nor their first boss or spouse one day. It’s mine. And all it takes is a little less “pushing-over” and a little more “steady Sergeant”.
Life in the Koenes Casa is a little more peaceful these days. Step by step, my littles are paying off their debts and choosing to reconsider participating in naughty behavior, and I am feeling less stress and frustration towards them. Now it is just disappointing when they make choices to be wasteful, it no longer incites anger in me. And I have learned that if I am angry with my children, it is a red flag indicating a misfiring of parenting on my end. We all have more to learn and practice, but we are in these war-games together, fighting for our home to be full of peace, empowerment, individuality, and responsibility. We’re building trust, comradery, and security, and it’s priceless.
Every day I am enjoying my children a little more, and they are becoming a little poorer, but really, who can put a price on peace?
P.S. I’d like you to know that when I was searching for a good angsty “child debt/parenting war-game” photo, all they were giving me was happy (like SUPER happy) children and families. Those kinds of images would not accurately portray the travesty my children felt during the teaching of this lesson on debt. So, I chose a picture of coins. Cold and calculated.
Storytelling. We all do it. Every day about every interaction, reaction, or action we’re a part of. It’s the way our minds are wired. Some (i.e. me) tell five million stories a day in their minds, others only a handful. However many we tell, as we process life we develop stories about ourselves, the world around us, and the people in it. We tuck them away nicely, and often unconsciously, in the back of our minds clueless to how much they are directing our lives and relationships.
There are a few elements that have a lead role in the kind of narratives we tell ourselves. Over time, these narratives become subconscious second nature to us, so it’s important that we are aware of the kind of foundation we are building our stories upon.
The first lead role that defines the voice of our stories is credited to our past experiences. The way we were treated, betrayed, or loved becomes a powerful influence for the narrative of our thoughts. Then our own assumptions about other people will play a heavy part in structuring our inner voice. How we judge, empathize with, or see others will ultimately take a lead role in the stories we tell. And finally, the third lead is our perspective. From childhood on our perspectives of the world and people, and therefore ourselves have been shaped little by little. This is perhaps one of the most forgotten elements in parenting. Perspectives are completely moldable, especially in the early years, but rarely noticed or intentionally shaped. Perspectives are never permanent even though they often feel like core truths. And with just a slight perspective shift, we can experience incredible breakthroughs and freedom in our lives. Perspective is extremely powerful. It’s the difference between racism and love, rock bottom and second chances, abuse and normal.
Each of these three elements that help write the stories we create in our thoughts are heavily influenced by our associations. We associate certain types of people, food, ideas, and things we don’t have enough data on with what we have experienced before that’s either similar or somewhat related. This is both helpful and dangerous, depending on the association.
Let’s look at some examples of my storytelling in action!
When I was going into my sophomore year in high school, I transferred from the small Christian private school I had attended from the third grade to a massive 5A neighborhood public school. To say I experienced a solid dose of culture shock would be an understatement. Imagine a very sheltered, kind, Christian teen entering a lively circus of heathens. I had no experience or data to draw any conclusions from, I didn’t know if I would be loved or hated, noticed or unseen, accepted or rejected. All my teenage dignity was on the chopping block for these hooligans and I was at the mercy of this unfamiliar and unstable institution. Anything that didn’t profess Christ as Lord was to be approached with caution. This life-long teaching now created a mountain of fear in me as this school, the teachers, and all the students were not only disassociated with God, they were forbidden to speak openly about him. I was forced to adapt to this new environment or disappear altogether.
I chose to become a wallflower for the first year. I pretended I was an introvert. It was fun and sneaky at first but quickly became horribly depressing. When I was finishing up my freshman year at the very safe and predictable old private school, I had people of all kinds telling me what to expect at a huge public school. A teacher (TEACHER) told me, “You need to be really careful. I was substitute teaching at a public school once and saw a big boy walk up to another smaller kid and shove him into the lockers and hold him there for no reason! You never know when someone will just walk by and grab you. Be very careful. I don’t know why you’re going there, God doesn’t call people to go to dark places like that.” I only wish I was exaggerating this story. So it was stories like that that helped me develop a lovely little terrifying story about public schools in my mind: People are mean and unpredictable and God is not present at this school. I am not safe with my beliefs and I have no allies since I don’t know anyone. Trust no one. Fear everyone.
I was scared but deep down inside (beneath the bad story) I was also ready to try something new, so I did my best. To be unseen, that is. I did my very best to be completely unnoticeable. For over a year, other kids would try to talk to me and engage with me during class and I would shyly smile and look down, pretending I was socially inept. I made a couple of friends in choir class, but for an unreasonable amount of time, I held them at arm’s length because I didn’t know if they would turn on me or humiliate me for no reason. After all, there was no standard to be Christ-like at this god-forsaken school, so how could I truly trust anyone? My story was protecting me.
I remember in sign language class this boy would always sit near me and ask me questions about who I was. Where did you come from? Do you have siblings at this school? Who do you hang out with? Oh, God. That last question was like poison in my soul. I didn’t hang out with anyone. I ate lunch alone. I pretended it was by choice, but really it’s because I had created a scary story in my head about this school and all these people and that fear was isolating me from what I really wanted. I wished I had friends in every class. I wished I had lots of people to eat lunch with. I wished I saw people I could talk to in the halls during passing periods. I was lonely and depressed, spending my days alone and without genuine friends.
I know we’re all still figuring out who we are in high school, it’s part of the gig, but had I known about storytelling back then, I could have substituted some different narratives and at least given myself and other people a chance. Instead of walking in with a blank page (no assumptions, judgements, or speculations), I chose to create a story based on other people’s past experiences and perspectives and I lived through that lens. I regret listening to that story for my entire sophomore year and most of my junior year. It was only towards the end of my junior year when I finally realized that school wasn’t that scary and I started opening up to more people. By the time my senior year rolled around I had everything I wished for my sophomore year- friends in every class, in passing periods, and at lunch. I was never alone. I was fully extroverted and free to be me!
I still have to remind myself to enter new experiences or relationships with a blank page. This is extremely difficult after being in an abusive marriage for so long. When someone tells you that you’re too much, too dominant, too talkative, too sensitive for so long, their voice begins to sound like your voice and that narrative becomes the baseline for every single story you tell yourself. It’s instinctual to run through a myriad of possible reasons why someone didn’t respond instantly to a vulnerable text you sent. Maybe she’s working. He could have left his phone at home. She’s probably busy with the kids right now. I bet he’s not the type who always has his phone on him. And on and on and on. Each part of the story we tell ourselves will either validate or debunk our worst fears, but either way, we’re subconsciously focusing on our fears. So, we pick one possible reason why she didn’t respond immediately and we either leave it at that or usually, we keep writing a story. Yeah, I think she’s working. She will probably get my text at lunch. Lunch comes and goes, no response. Maybe she saw the text and doesn’t know how to respond. Crap, I said too much. Or maybe she doesn’t check her phone until after work. I mean, how likely is that though? It’s 2018, who doesn’t check their phone until after work?! She saw it and it was too much to process. She probably thinks I’m crazy. I should have just waited. Dangit! And so we keep telling the story… because that one time that other friend didn’t respond because things were rocky in your friendship and she needed a day to think about it confirmed your worst feeling- relationships aren’t easy, life is difficult, and sometimes texting isn’t the best form of communication. But the story we write usually says She didn’t respond because I’m exhausting her with my sensitivity and pushing for connection. I’m just too much for her to deal with. Our friendship probably isn’t worth the hassle I’m putting her through.
Drama, insecurity, and tension are all byproducts of bad storytelling. And I have about 17,000,000 other examples of storytelling gone bad that I could share with you, but I think what we all really want to know is how to create better stories. Ones that give us peace and confidence; ones that support our true selves and love others well. How do we write those kinds of stories?
A friend of mine said to me the other day, “The awesome thing about creating your own stories is that you can erase them whenever you want.” There lies the key to better storytelling. Erase the bad ones, and start telling new ones. Put a filter on your mind that pays attention to the old story habits and stops them as soon as you recognize the janky narratives. Once you stop them, you can reassess what facts and data you actually have and create a truer, often shorter, story based more on reality and less on your past, your assumptions, and your limited perspective. It’s not complex at all and given a little attention and time, you’ll have a whole new story about yourself in no time.
Unconscious storytelling can wreak havoc on self-confidence, healthy relationships, and mental stability. Tuning into the narratives we play in our minds is the first step to being free from self-inflicted pain, drama, and neurosis. Clear the page, bring only the facts into your narrative. If you don’t have enough data to create a full story, then don’t fill in the gaps with speculation and assumption. Be patient as you get more data over time. A good story is always worth the wait.
The story about my Posse- those little humans that keep following me… everywhere.
There is a constant inner dialogue happening in my mind. I am really trying to get more control over this epidemic, but it is proving to be a very trying task indeed. I have been this way for as long as I can remember- and I have a very good long term memory. Only recently did I realize that everyone doesn’t actually think as much as I do, about as many ridiculous things as I do nor in such vividly detailed story form as I do… This was nothing short of absolutely shocking to me!… Honestly, even now, I am shaking my head because I just cannot fathom not living with colorful pictures being painted and wildly entertaining and heart-wrenching backstories being noted with every human interaction I have ever had- the store clerk, the new friend from the park,… the very slow walker in front of me at Six Flags that I never quite saw a frontal view of, so had to fill in a few extra blanks as I imagined their life story. They all have start to finish speculatory stories written in my mind that they are completely unaware of.
Anyways, because I’m this weird, I find it instantly infuriating when a good storyline is interrupted. Whether it’s the phone, adult responsibiliities, or… my children. As you can imagine, epic tales are constantly brought to a screeching halt with “I need water… he’s hitting me… where’s my other shoe… are we there yet…” types of nonsense. My children are amazing kids, but heaven help me, I get a little claustrophobic sometimes with all the pawing, pulling, screaming, bouncing, needing, and whining!
So today, as they bantered back and forth about some nonsense toddling behind me as I entered the grocery store, it dawned on me:
I have a posse.
Me. Little ol’ me. I have a crew. A gang. A following of loyal, unwavering fans. I could cut left and they would, without blinking, follow left. I could duck behind a display of Halloween buckets and they would instinctively do the same. I could turn around and race back to the car and they would immediately follow suit. These are my followers. And I… am their super hero.
That’s right. Yesterday at Kroger, I just realized I’m actually famous. I’m a celebrity. And I’m not going to lie, I appreciated those little humans a little more. What used to feel like a force dragging behind me whenever I was trying to accomplish anything– laundry, errands, a workout… sleep– now is starting to feel like a fan club. Sure, it’s an overly-obsessive fan club with very few personal boundaries, but they have their high points. Like loyalty. And adoration. And cuteness.
I am a leader. And Thing 1 and Thing 2 are my people. I am a super star. And they are my unwavering fans. Pretty freaking cool.
My new plan of action: Next time when my fans interrupt my inner dialogue, I will bow and thank them for their undying love, blow them a kiss, and scurry off behind the curtain to escape the uprising of those crying, screaming, straight cray-cray groupies!
Stay safe, parents. My heart goes out to each of you.
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