As black women – we often define ourselves by our suffering. We often cling to the stories of racism or abuse or poverty that have permeated our lives and those of our ancestors.
Sometimes, we even try to “outsuffer” one another. My pain is greater than your pain! Who do you think you are? You don’t know my life! Actually, maybe I do. There are so many of us who have been through so much, or have seen our mothers/sisters/friends experience such deep hardships, that sometimes, we become the story of hardship. We become the story of suffering. We become the figurative mules of the world that Zora Neale Hurston wrote about in Their Eyes Were Watching God.
For a long time, I held myself hostage inside this angry box of resentment about the way I grew up. About being raised by a teen mom and living in the projects. About my father committing suicide when I was six. About having an alcoholic stepfather to come along after that.
I was so bitter about the story I was choosing to tell myself (and others) about my life. I felt that I had been dealt a bad hand, and as a result, there was this ever-present melancholy chip on my shoulder.
But once I decided to start being a happier person, I realized that all the baggage I was carrying with me into the world was self-inflicted. Yes, there were events that happened in my life that I had no say in or control over, but I was the one who was letting the past wield so much influence over my future.
By telling the same miserable story over and over, I was holding on to the misery that those events generated for me. So, the new story that I began telling myself (and others) was a story of triumph. A story of a woman who had experienced adversity, but who had also experienced significant accomplishments. A story of a woman who refused to let past nightmares stomp out the fire of her dreams. A story that started off shaky, but will finish strong.
If you find yourself using your past as an excuse for why you can’t get ahead in life…
If you feel exhausted from trying to outsuffer everyone around you…
If you’ve been letting your own pity party paralyze you from taking action toward new beginnings…
…it might be time to revise the story you’ve been telling yourself about your life.
During this process of revision (and anytime, really), it’s OK to talk to a therapist. I did. Why? Because sometimes your family and friends are just not enough of a support system for the healing that your heart deserves.
Though it may be impossible to delete the narrative of the past, it is possible to write yourself a new future. It may be impossible to forget the terrible things that may have happened to you back then, but it is possible to remember that you are the only one who can make sure that better things come into your life right now.
In this way, you rewrite the story of your life.