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“Don’t take it as metaphor for your life.”

That’s what me and my sisters always say when something crappy happens and one of us reads too much into it!

We started saying this because one time one of us sisters was going through a really REALLY difficult time, both personally and professionally. We made “sister cookies” (homemade chocolate chip cookies made with browned salted butter especially made by sisters for sisters…yummmmmm) and after they finished cooling we were excited to enjoy this particular simple pleasure! …Except when she picked up her cookie it slipped to the floor and crumbled into a million pieces. My sister burst into tears, all the things falling apart in her own life mimicked by this cookie that couldn’t keep it all together.

As she burst into tears I felt mad at the cookie, mad at the situation, sad for my sister, wanting at least one perfect cookie for her. Then I rememebred we had a whole sheet pan of cookies! I realized (like Freud, I guess) a cookie is just a cookie, and there are more cookies available. That’s when I told my sister (in the bossy fashion of the firstborn that I am) “Don’t take it as a metaphor for your life!”

The humor lightened the mood but it also snapped us back into a healthier perspective. When everything is difficult it’s easy to start believing a negative storyline about our lives. We notice broken cookies and use them to prove our negative storylines. The thing is, we only do this when we don’t believe there are more cookies. We forget there is always more available to us whether we realize it or not. We have a choice to believe all is lost OR to clean up the mess and reach for another cookie.

Easy advice to give, not as easy to take. I used to have cystic acne. My mom would take me to a dermatologist and I would get steroid injections because the huge painful cysts would last for weeks on my face. In high school. You can imagine how fun that was.

I don’t like to think of myself as dramatic, but the combination of acne, adolescence, and high school insecurities created fertile ground for exaggerated thoughts. After months of no relief, I began to imagine there was something really bad inside me, something so sinful and wrong that I could hide with good behavior but still showed through the painful sores on my skin. I was afraid the acne was a metaphor for my life: doing everything I could but the “truth of my ugliness” still showed through.

As I bought into this story I found “proof” in other places. I misunderstood examples from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, about how the law says don’t kill but if you still have hate in your heart then you are guilty of murder.

I remember thinking I was worse than even murderers because, despite knowing better, I still felt mad sometimes. I didn’t understand the difference of being mad about something and feeling hatred, and in my emotional immaturity I took the acne was a metaphor of this deep negativity in my life.

What a load of crap: not only dealing with acne and negative emotions, but then adding guilt and shame to the mix. I don’t believe Jesus’s intention was for me to take my cystic acne as a metaphor for my life- I now know that story is a total lie.

I’ve learned to not be afraid of my emotions; to pay attention to my feelings instead of judging myself for them. To hold them up, examine them with curiosity, and learn from them. Often a negative emotion is simply the uncomfortable expression of an unmet, valid need.

What if the emotions I felt had nothing to do with my acne? What if the acne was simply a result of changing hormones and adolescent stress? What if my emotions were an expression of pain from being misunderstood, or the desire for connection in relationship? What if the anger was not murderous hatred but a signal of where my boundaries are? What if I could choose to believe a positive, not negative story about myself?

You may never have had the same exact thought, but all of us sometimes latch onto negative stories as metaphors for our lives. If this is you, let me share some good news: If something negative happens, you don’t have to take it as a metaphor for your life. You get to choose the metaphors you want for your story. You can be as free as you allow yourself to be.   

The stories you tell yourself matter because your life matters. What stories are you telling yourself?

Elisabeth

Thanks to @hopewriters for the 12 day writing challenge that inspired this post. Today’s word was: Mantra