The Story

Everyone has a “story.” 

Our stories are created from personal experiences collected throughout our lives. Moments and memories serve as scraps of paper that, when strung together by our own hands, become a blueprint of emotional reactions.

Through our stories, we attempt to to make sense of the world; to create a deeper understanding of ourselves and find meaning in our lives. These narratives also offer us a sense of familiarity. We become comfortable flipping through the pages, the previous scene serves as a compass, pointing to our next line. But, when too rehearsed, even great stories lose their spark of aliveness and limit the players

My story both troubles and humbles me. It helps me explain the choices I make and the way I feel. It speaks to me of grief as well as resiliency and it sounds something like this:

“My father, ‘Stanley,’ was violent and abusive. When my mother was six months pregnant with me, Stanley picked up his round-bellied wife and hurled her against a wall in their home. Later, in the delivery room, he became so belligerent that the doctor threw him out and he missed my birth.

The abuse escalated as I grew into a young girl. Though she was fearful Stanley may kill her for it, my mother found the courage to leave him when I was four. During the next several years of unsupervised weekend visits, my father began grooming me for one of his other despicable behaviors; pedophilia. He would later serve multiple prison sentences for his crimes against children.

During my childhood I was seen regularly in my pediatrician’s office for chronic stomach aches, headaches and chest pains. I am told that it was my sweet disposition and charming sense of humor that masked the blooming depression and anxiety which would be left untreated for two more decades…”

The spiel goes on from there, often with a bit less sensationalism. It speaks of how deserted and ashamed I felt when my father disappeared from my life altogether and how my mother’s own trauma history manifested in panic driven rages. My story points to the severe bout of postpartum depression that shattered me and the awakening that brought me back from the brink.

Compelling? Maybe. Dramatic? Sure; it has been for me. 

And all of that did happen, but to know who I really am I must be willing to put the story down and live beyond its pages. Continuing to read from a worn out script obscures who we actually are. Our tendency to over identify with our stories negates an important fact.

WE ARE NOT OUR STORIES!

The real “me” exists in the only moment that counts; THIS ONE. Without my story, all there is of me is who I am right now. The embodied me is not the naive, dewy, free spirit I once was or the successful author I hope to become. In fact, I am a wildly radiant, sparkling spirit brimming with hard-won wisdom, intuition and compassion. I am a dancer, singer, artist, writer and healer. I am a best friend and champion for my husband, Craig. I am a playful and solid parent to James and Mackenzie. I am inspired and am also an inspiration. I am regularly exhausted by life. Often I am either wound tight with anxiety, tense with agitation or overcome with inexplicable gloominess. There are patches of time when I bum cigarettes from my neighbor after the morning school bus has whisked our children away. I go on carb frenzies, use too many words, and often opt to read a book instead of go for a hike in the woods.

Heart pancil 12Some of us work so hard to make our human lives on earth “count,” or are so in fear of judgement that we forget that our story doesn’t actually tell us who we are or demonstrate our degree of worth. We forget that:

WE ARE ALREADY ENOUGH.  

So why do we hold on to the story of ourselves rather than embrace what truly is? Perhaps we have not had an adequate opportunity to process and honor all of the chapters. Maybe we do not know how to exist without our story or are conditioned to never slow down long enough to wonder about it. Or maybe we are afraid of the vastness found in truly knowing our magnificence.

Regardless, if accepting ourselves as we are is the path to illumination; if knowing our “enoughness” is the doorway into freely living the lives we imagine then what do we really risk in putting down the story?

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Valerie R. McManus, LCSW-C is an intuitive psychotherapist practicing in Howard County, Maryland. She is the author of “A Look in the Mirror; Freeing Yourself from the Body Image Blues” and is seeking literary representation for her memoir entitled, “The Boy who Birthed me,” currently being published on <www.lulu.com>.

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Releasing Shame through Dance

After expertly breaking down the next sequence of moves in hip hop class, our dance teacher asked, “Any questions?” Before I could consider the appropriateness of the words, I blurted out, “I was wondering how old you are?”

I could attribute my occasional impulsivity to having been diagnosed with ADHD, but in fact, we all say and do obscure things from time to time. It’s human. What I was not prepared for was the intense wave of heat that quickly traveled up my body, landing in my chest and head, when the class understandably began laughing heartily. I don’t fault them for their reaction. It was an odd time for such an off-the-wall question, not to mention a bit of a boundary pusher. None of that really even matters.

What matters is where it lead me—SHAME. Immediate, intense, powerful shame. I was suddenly so shame-filled that I lost track of the dance moves and instead noticed the whole slew of harsh criticisms suddenly slamming around in my head:shame

“I’m the old lady in this class. No one else is afraid their knees will hurt from doing the floor work.”

“I’m crappy at this. My moves have no flavor.”

“I can barely keep the steps straight and everyone else has it all down. I look like an idiot.”

The belief is simple, “I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH.”

Dance has consistently offered itself to me as an invitation to greet–head on–my greatest insecurities. Through it’s raw body-centered expression it nudges out all my old judgements, perceived flaws, lingering fears.  Because my body loves to move, because I found a studio whose teachers profoundly honor their students, because dancing enhances my vitality and creativity, I accept the invitation over and over again.

Having the tough stuff triggered, while sometimes intensely painful, is not a “bad” thing. It’s an opportunity to do the work of life, the work I am wholly committed to from within and as a transmitter of healing in my personal and professional life. Each of us has an internal landscape strewn with golden nuggets of beauty and truth as well as those of uncertainty and criticism.

One day, I just might gracefully dance my way through it all.

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Story of my Body

During a rest break at an indoor water park this week, I found myself suddenly awed by the many half naked bodies all around me. So many shades, shapes, sizes, abilities, and challenges. I found myself captivated suddenly by the elaborate stories potentially told by each person’s human form; where they had been, what they had overcome, in what ways they were soft, angry, vibrant, frightened. For a moment the entire beings of these “strangers” surrounding me were completely visible through my simple observations of the skin and flesh making up the human form.Now-Foundation-Love-Your-Body

I hugged my knees into my chest and rested my head there. Immediately my own story began to unfold from my body. My belly, my center–the round cushion of protection with which I most struggle. She tells of a shock to the system, of the fear and desperation endured. She also speaks of a soft, sacred place, a land of wild femininity. Within my belly is a vault of stored up kisses regularly placed there by my children. Their love begs me to treasure the sacred story contained within every inch of this frame.

My body is colored by the brush strokes of experiences captured along my travels. Each stray hair, each crease, line and curve offers information, tells of another territory visited on the map of my life. Some of these visited places grew me warm, open, radiant and smooth. Some nations have proved more treacherous, laced with betrayal, despair and terror.

Our bodies speak of insight and wisdom and simultaneously of terrain still waiting for its time to heal. Our bodies are evidence of all the beauty and time that has unfolded since we manifested into physical form. The seasons themselves are revealed in our cells. Perhaps most amazing, these bodies reflect a commitment we made to do more than simply exist but rather, to live a life.

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