WHOSE STORY DO YOU TELL? THE ONE YOU THINK YOU SHOULD.....
or perhaps the one they think you should? I was rushing about the flat, when I stopped, and had to listen to the radio. It was the story bit on Radio 4 after the intellectual debate at 9.45 that's hard to grasp when you're washing up. 'An Examined Life' by psychoanalyst, Stephen Grosz has been serialised, and it's a gripping listen, even if you normally 'don't like that sort of thing.' I love that sort of thing.
TELL THE IMPORTANT STORY
Here's what he says: 'the most important stories sometimes can't be talked about directly. People don't have the words, maybe nobody ever helped them to talk about their experience. They are...trapped in some unhappiness or fear, frightened, anxious and in pain....everyone else needs them to be neurotic, depressed or aggressive.'
DO YOU BELIEVE THE BAD STUFF?
When I look back, I realise I hid my true story, as I hid my true self. I would re-write it depending on who was listening. It was a kind of a death. That's a high price to pay for editing out the bits I thought other people wouldn't like. We all do this to some extent, but when we begin to tell ourselves the rubbish, that perhaps our parents, friends and partner have told us about ourselves, it is easy to believe the bad stuff.
LASHING OUT AND LASHING IN
We then act out. Lashing out at the unfairness of it all, playing the victim, blaming everyone else for our trauma; abusing others and raging at the world. Or we can 'lash in' and punish ourselves for the fact that the stories we are told we SHOULD be telling, don't match our own truth. So, we must be wrong. Next stop, depression. We can also say nothing at all, in the hope that if we stay silent, what we think are the nasty bits will simply go away. They don't. They seep out like poison, killing our relationships, and ultimately killing us.
ESCAPE INTO MAGIC LAND
Then there are the fantasies we/I have used to escape a painful reality. The fairytale endings and the love story that beats all love stories. I spent most of my childhood with my head buried in a book or 'making up stories' to escape a tough family environment. Humour was allowed, so I learnt to be a clown. Anything was better than facing my true inner story with its trauma and ugliness; at least that's how I saw it then.
This narrative unravelled at great speed last year. It felt like a death of sorts. An old self dying as something else tried to get out. I called it the Alien experience - when the baby monster explodes through a man's stomach; messy, bloody and agony.
A great deal of the time I had simply given away my story for other people to write. Therefore I tended to attract controlling people, inflexible jobs and my life really was not my own. People wanted me to play a certain part in their lives, and I tried to oblige, losing myself in the process, and blaming them for it. You can't blame others for trying to colour in the blanks, after all, that was probably their coping strategy. They became the 'big boss', always with the right answer, because they were terrified of vulnerability and exposure. Who had given them such fear, I wonder?
Stephen Grosz believes that it is possible to re-interpret our truth in a way that is honest ,though inevitably painful. Sometimes we may need a professional to help us do that.
'THE REALITY IS....'
I have learned that there is no 'magical other', that when someone says 'the reality is'..that's their reality, not mine. And my favourite; 'it's just common sense.' To them, maybe, but not always to me.
At midlife it's time to stop hiding and come out of the story closet. This may take time, it is always an ongoing process and there's no avoiding pain. But the price of being and living what we're not, as I have discovered, is simply not worth paying anymore.
An 'Examined Life' is on each day this week on BBC Radio 4 at 9.45 A.M. (7 - 11 January 2013) And, of course you can listen again: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01pnmwy
It's published by Chatto & Windus, costs £14.99, although you can get it cheaper on Amazon.