You are not your story. If anyone’s life illustrates this, it’s Tina Dupuy. She joined Alcoholics Anonymous at the age of 12, got sober by 13, and learned to tell her story so well at events she became “AA Famous.”
Yet, at the age of 33, she had a sudden realization that made her question the very story she was famous for. A compulsion to drink began to build inside her. It wasn’t the same type of compulsion she might have had as an addicted teenager. Instead, it was curiosity to see if she could enjoy a casual drink at dinner without falling into some sort of downward spiral?
With the support of her husband, it took Tina six months to gain the confidence to have a couple sips of wine. She waited. Nothing happened. She had a drink another night and waited. Still nothing happened. No addictive cravings set in. She didn’t have the urge to binge, or shirk her responsibilities.
Taking this leap put Tina on path to confront the story she’d told herself all her life. Had she really been an addicted teenager? Looking back, she remembered drinking, but not to the point of losing control. What she does remember were the fights she had with her mom, and the institution her mother put her in to “straighten her out.” Soon, Tina realized that the story of being an alcoholic helped her make sense of her unhappy life. It gave her pain context and (in a bizarre way) meaning. Joining AA brought her a community that believed in her, and loving support she’d never really known.
Tina lived 20 years believing she was someone she was not, as a way of making sense of her world and the challenges she faced. She’s one of the lucky ones. Some of us spend our entire lives believing the stories we or others have told us, such as “I’m not smart enough,” or “People only love me for what I can do for them,” or the ever popular, “Money only comes with hard work and sacrifice.”
We know from extensive research that the brain operates in patterns. Stories we tell ourselves are the patterns the brain uses to explain the world around us. When we experience situations that seem to reinforce a story, it grows stronger in our minds and, like a cancer, it envelopes more aspects of our lives. Soon we’re taking actions and making decisions based on those stories, without verifying them with information outside ourselves. Then we create companion stories to reinforce our beliefs. Before we know it we have dozens of unfounded stories bombarding a situation and leading us into a downward spiral.
Luckily, stories can be refuted and reversed. Just like how Tina Dupuy tested the foundation of her story by having one drink, we too can take a leap of faith and refuse to buy into a story. Consistently testing the stories we tell ourselves — if only to see what happens — is an excellent what to bring yourself out of your emotional fairytale. In the light of objectivity, your stories can fall away, and you can enjoy a life of just bring yourself.
When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first story you tell yourself ABOUT yourself? How does that story continue to play out the rest of the day? What outside verification can you find to bolster or refute this story?
“If you want to learn about a culture listen to the stories. If you want to change a culture, change the stories.” – Michael Margolis author of Believe Me.