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We all have stories. We create these stories throughout our lives.
Our experiences — good, bad, or horrific — provide the fabric of our story. We're not aware we're creating these stories; it's just something we do. "I’m not good enough," or, "I don’t have enough time," and "I can’t do it, they'll be mad at me." The list goes on and on.
These stories provide commentary for the little voice in our head. We hear this voice remind us that we're not good enough, don’t have enough time or that we simply can’t do it (whatever “it” is). That little voice in our head reminding us of our story can kill dreams and relationships.
My story is that I’m not lovable. This story follows me every where I go. Being raised by alcoholic, abusive parents who chose alcohol and their own stories over me provided the fabric for my story. The little voice would say, I’m a burden. I don’t count. I’m not special. These comments all add up to: I’m not lovable. This story became so real to me that when the little voice in my head spoke up, I listened. My thoughts created my actions. I live assuming I’m unloveable.
I never realized the impact these stories had on my life until I started my own business.
The program I created came as a result of being diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I was a personal trainer at the time of my diagnosis. I thought that as soon as treatment was over, I'd get back to work and fitness. I had no idea how hard it would be to become a “survivor” both physically and mentally.
I started MovingOn, a rehabilitative exercise program for breast cancer survivors to help them rehabilitate their post-treatment body. What started out as an exercise class quickly morphed into a support group/exercise program. I was thrilled to be supporting women go through what I had to struggle through. As this program grew, I started getting some attention from newspapers and local news programs. I would walk in to a hospital to teach a class and be stopped in the hallway by former participants. They would tell me I changed their life, that I was their inspiration to move on from cancer. I started getting invited to speak at events. Never in my life, have I experienced this type of open, loving admiration. The voice kept saying, “If you only knew,” and, “You must really have no one in your life if you're following me.”
As the articles were published in magazines and the tv shows aired, I started getting even more attention. The more positive attention I got, the more negative comments my little voice would make. Because I was more comfortable with the negative comments I was hearing in my head, I gravitated toward any negativity I could find. This vicious cycle left me angry and depressed. I was angry because I couldn’t be with the people who were showing me positive attention. And I was depressed because finally, for the first time in my life, I felt like I had a contribution to make to the world and I couldn’t be with it.
It all came to a head when a class participant who became a good friend told me something that completely blew me away. We were talking about how women open up in my class and share their feelings. I mentioned that I'm sometimes concerned that I might be sharing too much; I want to make sure the class is about the participants, not me.
Debbie looked me squarely in the eyes and said, “Actually you deflect any personal questions you're asked.” I couldn’t believe it. I thought I was pouring my heart out in this class, only to learn I was avoiding sharing my true feelings. I love teaching this class so much that out of respect for these women who trust me to get them through a difficult time, I started working on myself.
I began to take apart my story and the little voice. When I heard the voice, I started to pay attention to the situation. I started a practice of asking myself three questions.
What is this voice saying?
Is it valid?
What is true in this moment?
Once I answered these questions, I was free to choose my reaction. I learned in these moments that reminding myself of the day’s date helps me to remember I’m in the present, the thought is coming from the past.
I still have my story (and hear the little voice) and sometimes I still get plugged in to it. But I’m learning. I’ve started by allowing people to love me. And I love them right back.