One Timeline, Two Ways

A couple of years after my high school beau ended our relationship for good by attempting to end my life, I wrote an assignment in a personal essay class with the gist that though the word “victim” tended to be applied to people like me, I was refusing the title. Thanks but no thanks.

As is so often the case, I had the intellectual understanding dead to rights. It would take me many (many) more years, though, to stop acting like a victim. That’s to say, it took me a long while to tell a different story than, “He did this to me. He is bad. My contributions are thereby burned on the altar of his misdeed.”

That every story has two sides is a well-worn aphorism and yet it’s incomplete. There are countless ways to tell any given story – an iteration for every player but also countless ways for a person to interpret their experience.

Another equally true way to tell the story of being attacked is that a person I loved who was experiencing a lot of pain from a traumatic childhood made a very, very bad decision. Luckily for both of us, his attempt was unsuccessful. And while he went to prison for a handful of years and then was released to a world of few opportunities and little forgiveness for a person with a violent felony on his record, I was well resourced. My family paid for fantastic therapy. I had access to meaningful medication. I attended college. I got an apartment in a nice neighborhood near school. I fell in love with a kind and patient person and was also nurtured by kind and patient friends.

We all have this multiplicity of iterations within us; fortunately, the drama of an early morning attack is not a requirement by a long stretch.

I, for example, started my first proper business at 25, a personal chef service called Dining with Ease. I had my longest-running client for four years but the bulk of the business lasted for two; I closed without ever netting a penny in the midst of feeling nearly-paralyzing anxiety at the start of every cook day. Failure, right?

Right?

Or: After a number of food service jobs and a whole lot of dreaming of both business ownership and cooking professionally, and with the financial and emotional support of my then-spouse (married only months at the time!), I started a personal chef service. It was a hands-on school of business where I learned networking, marketing, bookkeeping, customer service and more. And while I decided after a couple of years that cooking for a living wasn’t the joy I expected it to be, I was able to take all of those skills with me, both into my subsequent businesses and in supporting clients who were also business owners.

Still a failure? I don’t categorize it that way.

And on and on, every story and experience in its turn.

Here’s the most important bit, though: Moving from “I don’t want to be a victim,” to “I’m not a victim,”  and from “I failed at business,” to “I learned a lot from a business that I didn’t want to continue,” weren’t the consequence of thinking happy thoughts and pretending that there wasn’t profound pain and fear along the way.

Instead, and perhaps counterintuitively, those massive shifts came from more fully accepting the pain and fear and heartbreak that were inevitable along the way. They came from taking responsibility for my role in those outcomes. And, particularly in the case of the attack, shifting perspectives came from forgiving him for his terrible decision making and forgiving myself for mine.

Perhaps counterintuitively, it has been moving toward the fear and pain – moving toward the gremlins – that has lifted the weight from me and freed me to step so much more deeply into my baddest life and become so much more of my biggest self. And, friend, there is so much joy and fun here.

If you’re ready to experience the joy and pleasure that can come from changing your story, I’m all in.

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