Last week, Kiddo selected The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski as part of her bedtime reading. It’s a story about a little girl who reads a magical book without words, because the words fell out on her way home from school. Frustrated at the absence of words, she hears a whisper (a fox perched outside her window) who instructs her to imagine the words of the story based on what she sees in the book’s lush pictures (the beginnings, if you will). The little girl makes up a new story with each page turned. The next day on her way back to school, the little girl encounters the fox, who returns the lost words to her in a bundle and explains how she caught them in her net. She then asks the girl for a small favor, which the girl happily grants.
On the last page of the book, we discover that the fox is from Aesop’s tale The Fox and The Grapes. Except she has changed the ending of her story from one of defeat and sour grapes to a story imagined differently: one of success and contentment (thanks to the favor granted by the little girl). I might add that as a clever fox, she also learned that in order to gain a favor she had to grant one first.
All these layers. In a children’s book.
Oh, The Stories We Tell
As Kiddo settled into sleep, I found myself thinking about how from a young age, we start telling ourselves stories about who we are and our place in the world. Sure, there is the environmental factor, like what we see around us and hear from the people responsible for raising us into civil human beings. But it is what we do with that information, the moving pictures that surround us, that is so impactful.
Like the fox, we can be clever (and kind to ourselves) if we imagine our story differently and seek our greatest good instead of settling for sour grapes (a mere perception, mind you).
The Impact of Self-Dialogue
We often speak words to ourselves framed around “I am ___________”.
I am (fat, afraid, unhealthy, a douchebag, stupid, boring, worthless, needy, too important to be bothered, busy, a failure, etc.).
However, “I am” is a very powerful statement, meaning there is power in it. It is a declaration. The Infinite (God, Source) even says, “Be still and know that I AM.” “I am” is a name. His name, my name, your name. I am Ilana Hulsey Rea. My being is Ilana Hulsey Rea. So when I say, “I am worthless (sick, slow, stupid), I am naming myself and giving myself the attributes of that name. I become what I name myself.
A Matter of Perspective
As a person with an insatiable desire to learn and move and try all the things all at the same freaking time, I often get myself twisted up and feel fractured. It has been in the last ten years of major back-to-back life changes (marriage, trying to conceive, having a child, major career challenges, marital struggles, giving up the career to stay home, etc.), that the story I told myself changed. It became:
I am too busy. I am stressed. I am tired. I am really tired. No, f— it – I am exhausted. I am sick. I am really sick. I am unbalanced. I am unraveling. I am lost. I am dying.
And so I was.
I had a clinical case of adrenal fatigue and a mind that would not settle. My body even manifested this story through chronic back and neck stiffness from continually holding my body in a defensive posture.
A Change In Story
I have slowed down, way down with the guidance of a functional medicine doctor and self-study in adrenal fatigue, Ayurveda, yoga and meditation. It also helps that Kiddo has started kindergarten so that I have time for a routine of self-care and hearing my own true voice again. That voice has been screaming for a while now, “I want to be more than just alive. I matter. I want to LIVE.”
I have worked over the last 8 months (hence the gap in blog posts) to be still and to re-craft my story into one that feels like the real me, not that sham, shriveled, overworked and over-stressed version, who had nothing left to give to anyone. My story looks something like this:
I am healing/healthy
I am balanced
I am comfort/a comforter
I am content
I am blessed/a blessing
I am safe/safety
I am strong
I am wealthy
I am generous
I am grace
I am beautiful
I am a giver
I am peace
I am love
I am Big Tree and these are my roots.
A Life-Long Process and The Stakes
Have I “arrived” in all these areas, you ask? (Shrugs – Why does everything have to be a freaking competition?) I don’t hold myself to a standard other than to pay attention to the stories I tell myself every day, and auto-correct when needed. But, yes, to satisfy you, I am seeing a huge difference in how I move and interact in the world. It’s sort of like a detachment from the noise and distraction and a tuning in to what matters: health, family, making the most of this moment. It’s a joy and contentment with the now. And it’s a lifelong process.
The stakes are high: I have an unformed child, this precious gift, to mold and form. As her mother, I am the primary role-model and filter of all of the information and attitudes coming her way; the co-programmer of how she sees herself in the world.
Therefore, I must model self-compassion and self-care. Not martyrdom or self-destruction.
I must pay attention to the names I give Kiddo, usually phrased as “You are________.” You are (amazing, learning, doing your best, a pleasure to watch in gymnastics, helpful) versus (naughty, a disgrace, in the way, irritating, etc.). How do I communicate to her – with my eyes glued to my phone or laptop? Gulp. Getting much better at that one. She has my permission to call me out in this area, and does. she. exercise. it. With quiet authority. Um, excuse me. Please put away your phone.
And, I must listen to and guide Kiddo on the stories she tells herself – she who has always worked hard to learn and perfect new skills and beats herself up along the way, unwilling to give up until she succeeds. But her name does mean Perseverance, so what did I expect?
What stories have you told yourself? If they have not served your highest good, how can you change them? If you need it, I hereby grant you permission to do so. You. Matter.