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What is a story?

In our work at Perfect Avocado Retreats, we talk about the stories we tell. I’m not talking about the stories that Amy and I tell for laughs at cocktail parties. I’m talking about the ones that each and every one of us tells - to ourselves. Weirdly, we tell it pretty much every day, and yet, we are completely unaware that it’s being told at all. It’s kind of like water to a fish - transparent, always there, but invisible.

Sooo, what is a story? That is the question that Amy and I are always trying to find new and better ways to answer and explain to our people, clients, and listeners. We say ‘there’s what happened, and then there’s what you made up about what happened’ - that’s your story. You didn’t consciously come up with this strategy, your lizard brain did. There was an event and you felt threatened, or your younger self couldn’t make sense of it, so you subconsciously came up with a story that protected you. We say that each of us has a root belief about ourselves that is a distortion, and it informs how we react to and interpret events and the actions of others. There’s no choice in this, it’s just the script of your life, and it's completely unconscious. If you never unconceal the story, it runs your life. Decisions made throughout your life are first run through the filter of your particular brand of distortion. Most often, you won't ever figure out where that root belief came from, or what was the original catalyst, but you can still find the ‘story’.

For the purpose of distinguishing what a story is, I'll share one from my own ‘Pamdora's’ box. My mother was an abusive alcoholic. She was fun and funny and mean and dangerous. I remember her as one of the best storytellers I’ve ever known. She was an amazing adventurous cook. Janet loved to entertain and she was good at it. Most people in our circle only knew her fun side. The other side was a secret. That's the side that was dangerous and unpredictable. No one else was there when she picked a fight and then addressed her beloved firstborn daughter with the foulest mouth. No one else was around when she fell asleep at the dinner table. No one who’s ever been in an abusive relationship will be surprised when I say that I loved her fiercely. Because she was mine - the good and the bad, especially the bad. She did not inflict physical or verbal pain on anyone else the way she did with me. I came up with a belief that intimacy involves pain, and that secret pain is actually a sign of real love. See that right there? That's the story. So I bet you can see how that may have been a warped perspective with which to begin a love affair, right? Maybe that affected my choice of lovers?

What happened was that my mom would get drunk, start an argument, call me horrible names, make accusations, and hit me. Those are the facts. What I made up was that her behavior was a sign of love. And, there's the distortion.

My mom died when I was 26, eight years before I met the man I would marry, and 22 years before my divorce. And that’s when I was finally present to the reverberations of the story that I made up about love.

Yeah, so that's what a story is.

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