Rewriting the Narrative

I used to live in Boston. Every time I made my way back home with the exception of the blizzard in 2009 - also that is a decade ago now but it feels like yesterday - I took the bus into New York. We would roll through the Bronx, down to Morningside, and slide right into Penn Station. I remember watching the skyline appear and disappear behind trees and buildings as I listened to artists belt out their love for the city the means so much to so many. 

It’s been nearly six months since I left in a flurry of hurt and broken. When I left, I knew that it was time to let go, no matter how hard that task would be. I’ve done so much work in the direction of healing over these last six months but I still get anxious going back to a place that holds so much significance in my life. It’s the place where I started to come into my own. I made more mistakes than I can count, learned more lessons the hard way than was necessary. But I’m stubborn and I believe in doing the right thing so the consequences of that are sometimes things are challenging.

When I came back in August for a shoot, the plane landed on the runway and I had an anxiety attack. That’s the reality of what I left. It was complicated and overburdened with feelings and thoughts that didn’t make sense. I was so distraught that I asked my friend to stay with me in my hotel in Williamsburg so I didn’t have to be alone. I know many people don’t enjoy being in New York in the summer, but I love it. I love Citi biking everywhere. I love the sweat and the humidity and the sunshine. I love the sports bra tans and laying in the parks reading and thinking and talking. But when I came back in August, all I could think of was how I was going to avoid the people that hurt me so thoroughly, destroyed my confidence, and broke my spirit. I was preoccupied with trying to push those feelings aside so I could do well on the Amazon shoot. Those frenzied three days back left me needing Los Angeles more than ever. 

I’ve come back once again - this time, to rewrite the story between me and New York. One of the most power lessons I’ve learned this year is rewriting the narrative. This concept doesn’t mean lying to myself about the truth of what happened. It doesn’t mean pretending that trauma and hurt did not occur. It is, rather, the act of framing my part in my own story less as the victim and more as an active participant in my own narrative. Events happen to victims. Protagonists create the action. I am ready to be the protagonist. 

Are you ready to engage with the story of this last year and rewrite your narrative? If your 2018 was as deeply traumatic and painful as mine, this is your opportunity to turn all of the incredible hurt into lessons. 

  1. Act It Out. When I went to acting school, we did this activity call Life Rivers. It’s the culminating exercise in Kristen Linklater’s Freeing the Natural Voice. In the Life Rivers exercise, participants choose six beats of their lives to explore through song, movement, dialogue, and creative reimaginings. At the end of each beat is a “what I wish I would have said” moment. This is the opportunity for participant to reclaim ownership of the story. Perhaps this beat happened at a time in their life when they felt powerless or had no voice or survival dictated that they remain silent. In this part of each beat, the participant has a chance to voice what they couldn’t in the heat of the moment. It could be a heartfelt apology or a sincere expression of gratitude. It could also be a moment of standing up for one’s self and one’s dignity (since I adopted this practice into my own life, there is rarely a moment where I feel like I have not fully expressed myself. If I haven’t fully felt heard or seen, I have no qualms writing a letter or a text or an email that clarifies my positioning. It is definitely uncomfortable and takes a fair amount of courage, but I find that I would rather have less “what I wish I would have said” moments in my life). What makes the Life Rivers exercise so powerful is that there are a room full of people witnessing the reclamation of each participant’s personal power. They support the actors in the deep moments of struggle and create an environment of safety that perhaps was not present in the original circumstances. The idea of the Life River is to physically act out the moments or beats that feel salient. By physically redoing the events, it gives each participant an opportunity to live an experience again, learn from it, and finally move on from it. The Life River offers an opportunity for peace and healing.

  2. Write it Out. I get it. Not everyone feels comfortable or has a group of people that would be willing to do the life river exercise. It is incredibly vulnerable work and could benefit from having a skilled facilitator. The qualities of the Life River though can be translated into a writing exercise. Are there moments of this year that you continually ruminate on? Write them out the way you remember them going. At the end of each moment, take a paragraph - or five - to write the things you wish you would have said. Perhaps circumstance made it impossible to speak or social conditioning has taught you to care more about other’s opinions of you than your own. Whatever the case, get out on paper whatever you could not say in real life. Then, read it out loud. With feeling. With intention. Read it as if the person could actually hear those words. Finally, choose to close that chapter because you’ve said what you need to.

  3. Go back and Make New Memories. New York is a large hub for my work. I will most likely - I’m putting it out in the universe because I want it to be so - return frequently for work. But if every time I land at JFK I have an anxiety attack, well, that arrangement won’t be super sustainable. So I’ve devoted this trip to doing the things that I love, exploring the pockets of the boroughs I never visited while I lived here, creating new memories in the the places that once brought me to tears. For the last few months I lived here, I refused to walk around the village for fear of running into my ex. I was filled with anxiety every time I ran across Brooklyn Bridge, which made my sprints way faster so that was definitely a plus, because all I could see when I ran was the time we walked across at midnight, my first time ever crossing that bridge, and that memory felt like it was ripping me apart from the inside out knowing that it was all a lie. This trip, I made a point of running across that bridge at sunrise and fully taking in the the beauty of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Now when I think of the Brooklyn Bridge, I think of the best welcome back run, the sun hitting the buildings and the water, the crisp winter air. I’m doing that for every place in this city that feels full of heartbreak and turmoil because it wasn’t New York, it was a set of circumstances and people and experiences that pushed me to leave. So, if I can now make pleasant and fulfilling memories on top of the not-so-great ones, I can allow my relationship with this place to evolve once more.

There are five days left in the year. Instead of throwing them away and feeling like what is done is done, use these last five days to rewrite the most devastating parts of this year. Turn those memories into lessons. Turn the lessons into blessings.