I recently asked myself this question, when does a personal story become a lie?
The question arose when I realized I had lied to some of my oldest friends. It was during a Zoom gathering when I shared an update on Savoring Life’s Spiritual Moments. I spent most of my life as a shy and private person who preferred to go through life unnoticed. And, this book included quite a few personal stories. When I told the group that the closer I got to the publication date the more my inner turtle started freaking out, everyone’s head nodded. They had heard me say those words, or something close to it, for eons.
Later that night, as I was thinking about what I said, I realized it was a lie. I do enjoy sharing stories about myself. When I do something silly, like go to an appointment on the wrong date, I love to share it with people. My admission usually inspires others to share a story about something ridiculous they have done.
When I spoke the words to my women friends, I was parroting an old story, reflexively saying what I always said. It was only on reflection that I realized I had changed. That story was no longer my story.
That got me wondering, when did I change?
I knew my desire to be invisible began when I was eight years old and my middle brother, who had Down’s Syndrome, was taken out of our home and placed in a state-run institution for children with handicaps. My parents did not explain their reasoning for institutionalizing him and I feared that if I did something wrong, I would be next. My solution was to avoid being seen or heard. If I wasn’t noticed, I wouldn’t be sent away.
As I explored and unwound more of my story, I realized that for a long time there had been two distinct aspects of me. One part was my public persona, which I could take on and off. Then there was the inner me, a private shy person.
I remember in high school, standing in front of bleachers of students with pompoms, leading cheers at basketball games, and checking out the cute boys. Afterwards, at the post game dance, my shyness took over and I hid in the shadows, so the same cute boys would not look at me.
In my 30s, I became a writer and was drawn to writing non-fiction, first-person stories. But in my personal life, I was reluctant to share about family dramas and inner conflicts with my closest friends.
Living in my turtle shell was safe, but not very much fun and staying guarded meant few people knew the inner me. My deep desire was to live more authentically.
When I passed my 65th birthday,, I got a flash of clarity that gave me the strength to declare independence from my former self. If I was ever going to make to the change, now was the time to be more revealing, more open, and more honest with people in my life. I had years of practice doing it in my writing,,when I could say what I wanted, and then be far away when someone read my words. Now I wanted to be able to do it in person. Pushing past my discomfort, I slowly began to care less about other people’s expectations of me and started living more honestly and bravely.
One gutsy thing I did was to book a trip to Savannah, Georgia. It was the first time in more than thirty year that I had taken a solo trip to somewhere I had never been. Then I shared the truth about my adventures and misadventures. I told friends I was so afraid of navigating a new place by myself I could barely breathe and within an hour of landing, I almost jumped on a return flight to Seattle.
The new integrated version of me evolved so gradually that it didn’t always register when my public persona and private self were in sync. I wasn’t aware it had happened with regards to my book until after the meeting with my women friends, when I realized I was parroting the old tape.
I love those successes; those times when my inner and outer persona are congruent. But I am still a work in progress. When I share beyond my comfort zone, my chest tightens and my heart feels like a rabbit on a treadmill. But I keep persevering because my yearning to change outweighs my panic and fear.