I am a huge fan of Brene Brown. If you aren’t familiar, google Brene Brown Ted talks to get an idea of who she is and what her message is. I’m currently reading her most recent book, Rising Strong, which is resonating with me even more then her others; all of which have changed me! In this book, Brene talks about the importance of sharing our stories, especially those that we consider failures, as they often lead to success. She also suggests that in writing our story, we start with what she calls a “Shitty First Draft” (SFD) The SFD is our current story as we understand or feel it; the story we think is true. She goes on to say that it is only in writing this SFD that we can begin to truthfully examine what is true and what isn’t.
I am working on my SFD and yesterday I had an interesting example of what an SFD might be for me. In my family of origin, I am the screw-up. I am the one who makes the wrong choice, is overly “sensitive”, is needy, and is generally a mess. There have been times in my life that this wasn’t true, but they were all short-lived, so my title of screw-up generally remains intact.
I was talking to my sister today about our recent trip to visit our parents in Florida. While we were there, a tornado hit about 30 miles north of where we were. A few days after we left, another hit, even closer to where they live. The result of the 2nd tornado was a small tsunami, which my mother told me about this morning. As soon as she mentioned it I asked if she had gone to see it, because my 1st thought was “I’d love to see that”. She replied that no, she had learned about it after the fact, but that there were pictures of teenagers surfing the waves. Later in the day, while telling my sister this story, I repeated that I was disappointed not to have been there to witness the tsunami first hand. What an outstanding example of nature in all it’s fury and symmetry. As is our usual pattern, my sister pointed out the insanity of my desire to witness a tsunami first-hand, pointing out that those who had done so in Thailand had suffered death. She went on to describe, in great detail, how those individuals waited for the sea to recede to obtain the fish left behind, only to be swept away in the aftermath. As is also our pattern, I laughed and said “well that’s me – the queen of bad choices. If there’s a wrong and a right choice, we all know which one I’ll make”. We both laughed and changed the subject.
Later, as I dove further into Brene’s book, I started wondering if this was my SFD. This is definitely the family party line – if there is a decision to make, count on me to make the wrong one. I think there are some family members who rely on what I would choose to decide what Not to do! But where did this story come from? As I ran through my SFD in my mind I realized that the story came from me. When my marriage ended, no one in my family blamed me. No one claimed I was responsible, or could have changed the course of the past 23 years in any way. That story came from me. I’ve made some really bad choices over the past year and 10 months, and not once has a family member blamed me for it. To the contrary, my family has been ultra-supportive. With each bad choice they have said the same thing: “you are in a terrible situation and of course you’re reeling and not sure which way to go.” (which, by the way, is very unusual for my family! goes to show everyone can rise to the occasion when necessary!). The idea that I always make the wrong choice is my idea. I use this idea to cover the shame I feel for each wrong choice I make. I won’t go into every wrong choice I’ve made, but suffice it to say that it has taken me almost 2 years to calm down and start thinking rationally, and a lot of choices were made during that time period. And that doesn’t even delve into choices I made as a teenager! Those were some real train wreck moments!
My SFD is that I am an incompetent, irrational, fragile loser, doomed to a life of poverty which will ultimately end in an early death. And for now, that is usually the first story I think of when under the gun. It’s also the story my ex reinforced to me, over and over. I was the one making the wrong decisions for our family, holding him back from creating the wealth we truely deserved, holding our family down, and making us all suffer.
After I hung up the phone with my sister I got to thinking about the tsunami. What happened in Thailand was a disaster, and thousands of people lost their lives. But that is not what happened in Florida. What happened in Florida was a small tsunami. No one died, but many got to surf. The more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that wanting to witness 1st hand a small tsunami is in no way comparable to what happened in Thailand. Had I gone to the beach that day, I would not have been swept away by a raging ocean. I would have witnessed a rather mild demonstration of the power of nature. I am now sure, it would Not have been the Wrong Choice. It would have been fascinating, educational and awe inspiring.
I am, without a doubt, different then the others in my family. I am much more likely to see the strange birds that suddenly appeared out of nowhere, or the sand crabs that never used to show up on our beach. I am the one who found, purchased and lit the lanterns that flew out over the ocean in a beautiful display of fire and wind drafts. I am the one who came up with the crazy idea to make our parents each a video, remembering our fondest, or most dramatic, memories of them for their 80th birthdays. I am the one who, on the rainy day at the beach, gathers everyone together for board games and card games, turning the day into a blast instead of a dreary, tense day. I make those choices.
I have also made some terribly bad choices. I chose to use my lawyer and accountant as therapists during the past 2 years, running up huge bills. I am the one who told my children, the day after we announced we were getting divorced, that I was selling the house immediately, an impossibility as we need to split up our joint business, which takes time. I am the one who accepted my ex’s explanation that all of our family woes were because of my choices.
Have I made bad choices at times? You bet. Have I made different choices then my family members? Absolutely. Do I always make the wrong choice? Absolutely not! I am just like anyone else. Sometimes I make the right choice and sometimes I make the wrong choice. As I look back over my life, especially the past 23 years with my ex, I realize that I made the right choice for each situation I was in. Sometimes, the price is tremendously high, and the pay off nonexistant. Just as many times though, the pay off has been exactly what I needed at that point in time. Sometimes, the payoff has been the emotion on a loved one’s face when they have seen something they never thought they’d see. Sometimes the payoff has been a simple, great day, in which every laughed and felt grateful for having each other. Sometimes the payoff has been the witnessing of a phenomenon we never would have seen.
So, I will re-write this part of my SFD. I will re-phrase my choices as this: I make the unusual choice. I choose to drive through the flooded town to see what it looks like. I choose to try things I have no business trying (surfing at age 54!). I choose to make a crappy day into a great day. I chose to marry the wrong man, for the wrong reasons, but have 3 wonderful children as a result.
My choices are different, and sometimes they bite me in the ass. But my choices are mine and mind alone. And I won’t stop making them. And I’ll try my damnedest not to put myself down for making them.