The Story About Stories
You love stories. You love them so much that even when you're asleep you tell yourself amazing stories with awesome video. You dream. You love stories the rest of the time, too. The average American spends something like $3000 a year on entertainment and watches over 6 hours of video every day.
Why do we like stories so much? It's because that's the way we understand the world. If I ask you about almost anything, you'll tell me a story. If you're trying to figure out what to do, you'll imagine different ways or different things you might try and play them out in your mind by creating little stories. You'll think about your stories and decide if they're believable or about which one is best and then decide what to do.
You have your own personal stories. You have ones about growing up, meeting people, school, jobs, who you are and everything else important to you. None of these stories are completely written out in your head, but if you're asked about something, you can immediately tell a story about it.
You not only tell other people your stories, you tell yourself your stories, so it's time to talk about some of the stories you tell yourself, especially the stories you tell yourself about your past.
These are some of your most important stories, because they shape the way you behave with other people, make choices and think about your future possibilities. They even shape your moods and your values. Your stories about the past can help you make life better, hold you back or even keep taking you further down.
Your Life as a Movie
Let's imagine your life as a movie. It's made up of a lot of scenes, some of them might be scary and some exciting or happy. Some are sad, depressing or tragic, but most of them are routine or boring. We want to pay attention to the key scenes where a lot of feelings are involved. Pick one and briefly write a little bit about it in your journal or just on other blank paper.
The Players in Your Movie
Your movie has many actors. You're the star, but who are your costars? What are the characters they play like? Have they changed over time? Make a list of some of the key players wherever you've been writing your responses. Make sure to include the ones from the key scene you wrote about.
The other actors in your movie are actually starring in their own movies. If they're your costars, you're probably one of their costars, too. You're all shooting your scenes at the same time, but they might look dramatically different, or at least feel dramatically different, when they are experienced in the middle of a different movie. How do you think the key scene you've written about looks like or feels like in one or two of your costar's movies?
How Your Stories Create Problems
You get stuck, or start getting in trouble, when you don't know, or you forget that your story is just a story and you think it is THE STORY. When you believe that your story is really real or is reality, you lose the chance to see it differently. In terms of your movie, you can't reshoot the scene and you may have problems with getting the story to move on. You might even get stuck in a cycle of scenes that just keep repeating.
How do you rewrite and reshoot parts of your movie? Here are some suggestions. Start by imaging a scene or a few connected scenes in the context of your whole movie. Where does it fit in? Is there anything going on in the big picture that changes your perspective? Think about your costars. Imagine them in their movies. Does your perspective shift now? Imagine a friendly audience is watching your movie and that they know your costars' movies to some extent. How do you think they might put your scenes together differently? Write a little bit about how you might rewrite or reshoot your key scene. You can even experiment with a few different versions.
Acceptance – Your Director's Eye View
Learning to see your movie with the eye of a director means that you need to develop a way to see your past and the people and things in it in a way that is less colored by your feelings.
Being less judgmental and reactive is being more "accepting." This doesn't mean you like what happened or who did it. It doesn't mean you don't have strong feelings either. It just means that you can stand back from it all enough that you can accept that it is what it is and begin to work with it and learn from it.
There is a saying: "Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die." The last major part of letting go of the past is forgiveness. Whether you need to forgive yourself or others, you need to forgive for your own sake. You need to get poisons like resentment, bitterness or self-hate out of your system. Like acceptance, forgiving doesn't mean everything is just OK now, or that you no longer have feelings about whatever it was. It just means you're really choosing to let it go the best you can.
Forgiveness isn't always a once and done thing either. When strong feelings are triggered in the future, we may have to remember we forgave, and we may even need to forgive in new ways that we didn't see before.
If you need to seek forgiveness or make amends for things that you've done or been part of, please read the article by John McDougall that is attached below.
Journaling to Rewrite Your Movie
Keeping a journal can be a good way to work your way through your movie and figure out how to put it together in a better way. After you've been writing about your life for a while, you can start to reread your journal and start putting more of your life in perspective. You will know your "style" and be able to write about your past differently. You'll start to move on and start letting the difficult parts go.
Questions for Journaling
- What grudges are you holding or what baggage has come with you into your relationships?
- Who are some of the people you need to make amends with?
- How do you need to make amends with or forgive yourself?
- If you could rewrite one scene, chapter or episode of your life, which one would it be? How could you see it in a different light?
Donald Davis, How the Story Transforms the Teller (TEDxCharlottesville)
Tiffany Southerland, Your Story Is Your Strength (TEDxVillanovaU)
Gerry Valentine, Embrace Adversity (TEDxBoulder)
S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport, Effortless Journaling: How to Start a Journal, Make It a Habit, and Find Endless Writing Topics (2018)
James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D. and Joshua M. Smyth, Ph.D., Opening Up by Writing It Down, 3rd Ed: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain (2016)
James Pennebaker, Ph.D. and John Evans, Ed.D., Expressive Writing: Words that Heal Paperback (2014)
Verses of the Week
Therefore talk about your sins with each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
(NOTE: The word translated as "sins" literally means "missing the mark" in target practice, so the word "sins", as used here, includes faults, weaknesses, shortcomings, personal failings and human limitations.)
…I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race…
But forget all that – it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.
2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.
I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for good and not for disaster to give you a future and a hope.
I praise you because I am awesomely and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
A Prayer for the Week
I'm thankful for who you made me to be. I thank you that you are at work in me, so that I can choose the things that help me to become all of it. Help me this week to see things in a clearer healthier way. Help me to remember that I can have hope, build a better future and, with help, even work all the stuff from my past together to make something good in me from it. Help me share the good things that are developing in me with those around me. Amen.
Making Amends in Your Steps to Recovery
JULY 23, 2015 By John MacDougall, D.Min.
Restoring justice as much as possible
Addiction creates moral wreckage. People who become addicted to alcohol or other drugs might lie, cheat, or steal in order to get and use their drug of choice. Often what's left behind is a trail of shattered relationships.
In this situation, apologies won't do. Alcoholics Anonymous calls for making amends instead. These are mentioned specifically in several of AA's Twelve Steps, including:
Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Carrying out these two steps is a delicate process that calls for guidance from a sponsor or counselor. In an interview, John MacDougall, D.Min., a Dan Anderson Renewal Center presenter, answered questions about making amends.
How do amends differ from apologies?
An amend has to do with restoring justice as much as possible. The idea is to restore in a direct way that which we have broken or damaged—or to make restoration in a symbolic way if we can't do it directly.
Say, for example, that I borrowed 20 dollars from you and never paid you back. If I go up to you and say, "Gee, I'm sorry I borrowed your 20 dollars and spent it on drugs," that would be an apology. Making amends is giving your money back to you.
Why does Step Nine suggest that people avoid direct amends in certain cases?
For instance, you don't run home and say to your spouse, "Gee honey, I had a wonderful time in addiction treatment. I learned all about rigorous honesty, so I want to apologize to you for an affair I had five years ago." That's clearing your conscience at the expense of someone else who's going to feel terrible. In this case, your amend can be an indirect one. Stop having affairs and bring your heart, your energy, and your attention back home where it belongs.
Are direct amends simply impossible at times?
Yes. Say, for example, that someone gets drunk, drives, and kills somebody in a traffic accident. You can't go back and "unkill" the person who died. Instead, you can fill out an organ donor card. This is an indirect amend that can give life back to someone in the future. Remember that with crimes such as drunk driving, people might need to go to court and take a punishment. That's part of making amends as well.
You've mentioned direct and indirect amends. Are there other kinds?
Sometimes people talk about "living" amends. This simply means that we live differently. Amends are about a genuine change in our behavior instead of the patchwork of an apology. We take on a whole new way of life. We stop accumulating fresh insults to ourselves and others.
What are the benefits of making amends?
If we've continually harmed people and haven't made any effort toward amends, then we've got a lot of people, places, and things to avoid. Large areas of life become closed off to us. When you're willing to make amends, those areas open up again. You don't have to avoid people anymore. This is true not only for people in recovery but for all of us.
The book Alcoholics Anonymous mentions the promises of recovery. They come right after the explanation of Step Nine. "If we are painstaking about this phase of our development," it says, "we will be amazed before we are halfway through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace."
That's what happens when we bring justice back into our lives by making amends.