There’s been some stillness on the head space home front in recent weeks, probably the greatest contributor to my first blogging gap. I would not say this is a bad thing, merely what has happened can be summed up in four letters: life. I recently completed my first year of ministerial school, traveled to Missouri, visited with my folks who came into town for a brief “pick me up”, and celebrated my 34th birthday. The past few weeks I’ve been giving myself permission to just be without an agenda. 34 years and I’m beginning to see this is perfectly acceptable, as is not blogging for weeks, or packing on a few extra pounds, or laying down for a nap at 4 PM. If I were to step back and witness myself attempting to launch over the invisible hurdles of self-created expectations, I have no doubt in my mind it would merit a hearty southern “Bless your heart.”
Ah, the standards and stories we tell ourselves. There are so many intriguing facets within the human mind, one of which is an incessant need for narrative, and if we can’t find one or don’t like what is being presented, then we consciously or unconsciously make changes. Neuroeconomist and researcher Paul Zak, Ph.D. says,
“There’s a real interesting neurologic trick in which we begin to embed ourselves in the story.”
I believe that when we recount our role in stories — privately or aloud to others — we cast ourselves in one of three roles: the victim, the hero, or the neutral. And sometimes we have no role in a story we hear from others but two of the three roles are jockeying to get off the sidelines of the dance floor and be put into the narrative whilst neutral looks at the behavior of the two, the story itself, and concludes “now isn’t that interesting?”
Neutral doesn’t judge, but victim and hero, well, “bless your hearts.”
I managed to change my story with a recent date I’ve considered traumatic. 8 years ago, I was the victim of an assault, and 7 years later the victim of a broken heart. Even as I type these words my nose crinkles a bit…victim. Now I’m not saying that I deserved to be harmed — no one does — but until I became willing to cast myself in another role I remained [his] victim again and again, and I’ve spent the past 7 years hating my the days leading up to my birthday as its been a reminder of this event year after year. As for the relationship, although I didn’t see it coming, I do understand today why the dynamics needed to shift, which could only happen when I engaged with neutral. It’s not a good situation or a bad situation. It just is. And what set the ball in motion for me was to take out a dry erase marker and write “Do something fun” on my wall calendar at work. And that’s exactly what I did.
That day I took care of a few things on my to-do list I’d been putting off for some time. I cranked up the volume on a CD I love and joined in song as I drove down the highway. My heart led me to demonstrate a random act of kindness and I left the interaction in tears because it felt so pure, so good, and the right thing to do. I went grocery shopping — another place I am frequently a victim — *dramatic hand across forehead* oh the dread of lines and shopping! — and spent the afternoon meal prepping before cooking myself a nice dinner. I checked in on two friends simply because they were on my mind, and went to bed early because I was tired and ready to rest. In none of those circumstances was I the victim or the hero. In none of those circumstances did I think I have to do this because this day needs to be different, so I don’t perpetuate the pain, rather I just did so because I wanted to. And in all honesty,
there was nothing magical about it, but boy did it feel good to drop the rope and do something else with my time and head space.
My willingness to become willing to do something different for years shifted into the action of doing/seeing [this] differently. And I’m so glad I did. I’m learning to celebrate my birthday and existence again, a small but significant step this year. I’m learning it’s okay to move forward, to move on, and to move into what wants to happen next.
I will say that letting go didn’t make me a victim, it liberated me; however, I am not under the impression this is a one-and-done situation. I don’t have to look much further than Facebook photos of happy couples traveling and looking longingly at each other for victim to engage me and say “Look at what I no longer have, and what I’ll probably never have again” or see a news article of a person who has been raped for victim to say “Me too. Sadly, me too.”
And so, I begin the process again and again of holding space for myself, and for those walking through their pain while not allowing my trauma to hog the spotlight.
I understand empathy as the recognition of witnessing someone’s pain while holding a neutral role — not a victim who gets in a hole with them and not a hero who thinks I can save you. This, too, is not a one-and-done situation. It’s the tango we do with our role in a story.
So who are you asking to dance with you in your story? The victim? The hero? Or the one that says “sure”? All three dance very well, as do you. What is important to remember is that you’re not stuck with your partner until the song ends. You may get tired after an hour or after decades. You’ll know when you are ready to give some space to something hurtful that has happened to you or someone you care about. You’ll know when you are ready to do something different, choose a different partner, and see how the story unfolds as a result of being the one who asks, “May I have this dance?”