Yesterday as I was doing my normal trek through friends postings on Facebook, I came across a posting that literally left me breathless. Why this thought had never occurred to me, left me dumbfounded. The passage below was written by Jeff Leavell. He is a writer in Los Angeles, CA and you can find his blog at Jeffleavell.com
I was talking to a friend today. Telling him about some things that are going on in my life. He told me a story and then gave me some advice: “When I was 43 I was sleeping in my car, high on meth, kicked out of Slammer and Melrose Spa for being that fucked up. I was nobody. But I had this idea: all this, it’s just a story I’m telling myself. About being a meth addict, about being homeless, about having AIDS. It’s just a story. And I can decide to change that story. The next day I went to AA. I stayed homeless for a while, but I went to the doctor and within a few months my HIV was undetectable. About a month after that I got a job at a grocery store. I got an apartment. And then, at 44 I had to figure out what I wanted to be. The grocery store, the tiny studio, the beat up car about to die, were just stories I was telling myself: even though I had changed my whole life I was still telling the story of failure: I was a failure.
So I stopped. And I told myself: you’ve succeeded. You are an amazing success. And if you can do this you can do anything. I’d always wanted to be a writer. So I started writing again. Something I hadn’t done in years. And I wrote a lot of really bad shit. And I went to meetings. And the story I told myself was I was a writer. Seven years later I sold my first book. Three years after that I sold my first script. I bought a house. I got a dog. Two years after that I started dating a guy too young for me: but it was okay. I was happy. I wrote another script and then another and then I won some awards. That guy I had been dating, he moved in with me. We were in love. And then I found out he was cheating. And the story I told myself was about betrayal. And lies. And how I can’t trust anyone. We fought for months.
And then one day I thought: I can tell myself a different story, where he’s a just a human being and I’m just a human being and we have been so in love for so long, that maybe we could still be in love. We still struggled, he didn’t buy into my idea of just changing the story line: he needed to work things through, go to couples therapy: but that was okay. That fell into my story: it just showed how in love we were. We got better. We sold my house and bought a house together high up in hills. The kind of house where you could see the ocean on a clear day.
And then he got cancer and my story changed. And I showed up and took care of him. And I was lying next to him, fully aware, holding his hand, the day he died. And my story became sorrow and loss and fear. Until one morning I decided I am going for a hike. And I took our two dogs and I went for a hike and I talked to my dead lover and told him I am ready to change the story.
You, you need to change the story you are telling yourself. That is all. Just change it. It won’t cure you of HIV, it won’t make you instantly rich, it won’t solve all your problems: but it will suddenly make clear things that weren’t even visible the day before. It will change how you relate to the world: and the world will change how it relates to you.”
This reminded me of something that I remember hearing when I was a part of the Assemblies of God church. My pastor at the time was a very kind and gentle man. I would have to say that he was probably teaching me spellwork long before I had ventured into the Craft. He was one, that when you were feeling depressed, didn’t want to hear you talk about how despondent you were…or to hear you say, “I will be ok.” He was one that coaxed you into professing what you wanted to feel like. He didn’t like to hear people talk about how much of a failure they were, he wanted them to look toward what they wanted to see themselves as.
This wasn’t a ‘Name it and Claim it’ gospel for him. He wanted us to be able to look past circumstances and feelings and mentally put ourselves in a place that would offer hope. He never chastised us for having the feelings or being in the circumstances, but he always offered the hope and motivation for moving beyond those things that kept us bound up.
Just after Christmas, I began entertaining an old friend…a friend that I hate and thought that I had left behind 20 or more years ago. This is the friend that always told me that I could never be good enough, that I would always fail, that life just wasn’t worth living. As I would go to sleep at night, I would hear him whisper in my ear that even though my partner would hurt at first, that soon I would be forgotten…only a wisp of a memory. This friend was the master of secrets. I remember feeling that secrets were all I had left. As long as no one knew that I was having suicidal thoughts, then they wouldn’t have to blame themselves when something did happen.
This time around, I decided to talk…no more secrets. I called on my closest friends and told them what was going on…what I was feeling. I forced myself to do things that I felt too ‘tired’to do. This time would be different. This time I was older, had more fight, more resolve. This time the reflection in the mirror couldn’t just be cracked, it had to be shattered.
And then, last week happened. On Monday, I was taken to the hospital from work in an ambulance due to what was later discovered to be a mini stroke. I remember the fear that overtook me as I laid in the floor with coworkers looking down over me. They would ask my name and I could hear the halted slurred speech as it came out. I could feel the weakness in my left side as the EMT asked me to squeeze his fingers. Then later that week, the overwhelming tiredness and weakness of just getting in and out of the shower.
This one time in my life I decided to do exactly as the doctor ordered. I took the time off work. I rested….a lot. I hydrated…I nourished my body. I did crafts to keep my mind and motor skills as sharp as I could. I had my follow up visits and am working with a TIA clinic to put myself at the lowest possible risk of this happening again.
I have been rewriting my story this week too. There are some characters that may need to take their final bows. There are some characters that may need to have their parts fleshed out more. The main character in this book is me…and I determine what the next sentence is…what the next chapter is…how it ends…when it ends.
But I have to strip away all the old thoughts, ideas, and the way I thought it should all play out first.