we are born storytellers.
There's something magical in the meeting between hot coffee and good friends.
This morning, I met a friend at a cozy little coffee shop down the street. Our conversation began, as most do, with casual check-ins and surface-level small talk, but quickly fell deep, deep, deep into the realm of confidence and body acceptance, shame and insecurity.
My friend shared with me a recent slice in time when she had come face to face with shame. It showed up on a light rail car on a Saturday afternoon. The experience was all-consuming, distracting, painful.
In the midst of her pain and insecurity, shame whispered. It wove a story, one that settled into her psyche as if it were truth. It spoke those magic words... not enough. And she crumbled.
At our core, we are born storytellers.
Story is the way that we make sense of our experience. Our lives are woven in narrative form. We crave a beginning, a middle, and an end. A resolution. A message. Stories are the way that we create continuity and meaning from our lives.
They are born in moments. The poignant bits and pieces of experience that want for meaning. Moments of discomfort or wounded vulnerability. Moments of unspoken judgment or innocent commentary.
In those moments, we weave stories. They fill in the space between discomfort and resolution. They provide the meaning that makes sense of the moment. And, just like with my dear friend, they typically have a common undercurrent... Not enoughness.
Brene Brown calls these stories the Shitty First Draft. They're the stories that our minds first go to to make sense of those moments of uncertainty. Told enough times and they become bound in our minds. They become our truth.
I have a story.
It's the one that replays time and again, whenever I'm feeling uncertain or misaligned, like I've wronged or have been wronged or can't seem to connect. In it, the narrative structure is always the same. I blame myself. I tell myself that I'm not enough. That I'll never be enough. That I might as well give up, raise the white flag, surrender to my own not-enoughness. I travel down the vortex of shame and sadness and wind up curled up and whimpering, sure that the story is true. It cuts through me like a knife, urges me to give up and to claim my own unworthiness.
Here's the thing though, it's just a story.
It's the pattern that my mind has put in place to make sense out of the uncertainty.
And, for a really long time, it worked.
It helped to fill the gaps, to reveal some kind of meaning out of those moments. It was a story that I started telling myself a long time ago, and it cemented in my being. I told myself the story any time I had a moment of disconnect or misunderstanding with a friend, every time that I argued with my sweetheart or couldn't make a loved one happy.
I repeated it when faced with the choice to choose my own happiness or continue along the path of the status quo. It was my go-to line of reasoning, my easy-out of discomfort. Somehow, it was easier to believe that I was innately flawed than to explore the tension in that moment.
That is the power of story.
It's been nearly six years since I started to explore these patterns of shame, these stories that I've built up to make sense of it all. It's taken therapy and graduate school, the daily choice to choose myself and my happiness, and a deep, deep desire to reveal what is true. Not the stories that I'd told myself, but what was really true.
How did I do it? By sitting in discomfort.
By revealing the Shitty First Drafts, actually writing them down, realizing that these stories of shame and insecurity were just that... stories. By beginning to understand where in my history they had begun to sprout. By exploring the inner tension, the squeeze in my gut, the butterflies in my stomach, and having the conversations with those I trust to help me clarify and rewrite those stories for myself. By letting that reflection reveal the patterns that had kept me stuck for so long. By consciously choosing truth.
I still hear those Shitty First Drafts. They float in when I've had an argument with my husband or am triggered by a familiar fear or interaction. They whisk me away from the moment, into my own personal twister of shame and insecurity. They build on the feelings of disconnect and uncertainty, profiting off of their power to distract and distance.
But... when I pull them out of me, when I write them down and take a moment to discover what's true and what's a tall tale, they lose their power. A little more every time.
Want to silence your inner censor? Want to release the patterns and stories that are holding you back from creating and building and growing? Want to finally let go of the blame and shame that keep you from being the partner, parent, business owner, or friend that you truly want to be?
Here's how you do it: write that shit down.
The story that pops into your head in a moment of discomfort or emotional pain? Write it down -- in your phone, on the nearest napkin, on the notebook that you keep by your bed.
Writing is a form of release, and only when we speak the shame are we able to fully rob it of its power and let it go.
In the process, here’s what I have learned. I am an expert storyteller. I can weave narratives out of nowhere. I can make up stories on the spot and let them grow until they’re as tall as a tower and as ferocious as a fire-breathing dragon. I’m good at transforming discomfort into fantastical stories of unworthiness and shame.
But, if I claim my strength as a storyteller, I can also claim my power to decide what stories I am going to write. I can choose to turn discomfort into a confirmation of my not-enoughness... or into an honest inquiry into what’s true. I can choose to weave tales of unworthiness... or write my own stories of wholehearted courage and curiosity.