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Rewriting Your Past

by Justine Haemmerli October 12, 2020


We all have people in our lives who are longer present. Perhaps they have died, perhaps the relationship came to a mutual end, perhaps there was a separation that happened gradually and that we don’t understand.


Whenever a relationship ends, for whatever the reason, we are going to create a story around both the relationship itself, and its cause for ending.

Woman Staring into Traffic Waiting

For myself, I have the examples of my parents who have passed away, partners with whom I broke up, and friends I drifted away from.


Some of the stories I carry regarding these relationships are around the person I was to, and for, them.


What kind of a daughter was I?
What kind of a girlfriend was I?
What kind of a friend was I?


Some of the stories are around why that person is no longer in my life, and many of these stories hold judgments in them.


These judgments have helped me to make sense of these endings, and give them clarity and purpose.

That’s not to say that these stories feel good - but that they take something that otherwise feels unbearably random and entropic, and helps me to try to give a reason, and an explanation to something that at the time (and even sometimes now) feels dizzying, pointless, confusing.

Here are some examples:


  • If my mother had been less vain and more on top of her health, she would have lived longer and would still be here with me and my children.


  • My dad and I didn’t really know each other or connect at all for most of my life, because he was overwhelmed by being sick and other things like work and church were bigger priorities.


  • That relationship ended because that person didn't love me enough to fight for us. I wasn't important enough to them to get them to try to make it work, so they were OK with it just fizzling out.


  • This friendship ended because when I started to have different interests, suddenly I wasn’t as fun to them any more and they didn’t want to still be friends.

Woman Despondent Staring Down

As you can probably see, there’s a lot of anger and hurt feelings in these stories.


These are the stories that a child created to make sense of scary hurtful things.


These are the stories a young adult made to try to understand her world falling down around her.


These are not empirical facts. These are stories.


There are other stories I could tell about these people and these relationships, too.


  • My mother tried to find every solution she could from the vantage point she had, while also living her life and continuing to be herself.


  • My father had a very difficult childhood and parenting felt uncertain and edgy to him - work and spirituality were places where he felt comfortable and secure, and so he retreated into them while fighting cancer.


  • That relationship ended because we didn’t make each other happy or bring out the best in each other, much as we loved and appreciated each other, and they didn’t want to force something that wasn’t going to work or make us happy.


  • That friendship ended because I reoriented my priorities, pulled away, and stopped engaging in things that were important to my friend and no longer important to me; despite all of this, we stay connected still, even minimally.

Woman in Red Shirt Staring Off-screen Right

There are other stories we can tell, that allow the other person to have a fuller personhood; that sometimes absolve us of all the responsibility and guilt for a situation, and sometimes give us more responsibility and take us out of victim mode.


These, too, are not empirical facts. They are also stories, told about the same relationships, equally true, but different in perspective and flavor.

Stories of the Dead: Rewriting Your Past


Today, I’m going to give you two ways to think through your own “Stories of the Dead” - not literally, but stories of people who are no longer in your day to day life.


The first way will be a quick 5 minute activity.


The second one will take about 15 minutes, and I’ll also be giving you some ways to do continued five minute reflections throughout the week, to build on what you start today.

5 Minute Reflection Activity

Ready to get started? Here we go:


  • Write down the names of people who matter to you, and are no longer present in your daily life

  • Next to each name, write down the story you have about why they are no longer in your life. Try to push past the “facts” and uncover the story you tell around their departure (ex: not just “we broke up” but the story you tell yourself around the “why” behind the breakup). Don’t judge or assess this story, and don’t overthink it. Just write down the first thing that comes to mind.

  • What is the common thread that ties all these stories together? For example - are they all related to family? Perhaps connected to a particular feeling, such as anger or guilt? Do they all connect to a certain time of your life? Do they all relate to a concept, such as freedom, responsibility, security?

If you were to sum up in one word what part of life these stories all touch upon, what would that word be?


If you're feeling super stumped - or want a way to think about this more deeply - here is a one minute video of a card draw of Topic Cards from our Clarity Deck. Pick whichever you’re most drawn to and then watch me flip it over to reveal your Topic Card.


Take a moment to then write down how all these people - and the stories you have around why they’re gone - relate to the Topic Card you chose.


Once you have an answer to what that common thread is, read this card from our Clarity Deck.

Write your response to this card for three minutes.

Write whatever comes to mind.

Read over everything you have written.

What lesson does your writing present to you right now?


When you feel you have completed this section, head on over to the Final Reflection.

15 Minute Deeper Reflection Activity


Hello again! Alright - let’s set aside 10-15 minutes, and work through this guided journaling/reflection activity.


You can download and print this template for free below, or make your own.

Rewriting Your Past - Worksheet

Ready to get started? Here we go:


  • Write down the names of people who matter to you, and are no longer present in your daily life

  • Next to each name, write down the story you have about why they are no longer in your life. Don’t judge or assess this story, and don’t overthink it. Just write down the first thing that comes to mind.

  • When you are done writing all these stories, read this column again. Underline any words, phrases, ideas, feelings, or images that you see repeated.

Look at the words you underlined.

How could you summarize the main ideas tying these phrases together, in 1-2 sentences?

Write these at the bottom of the column.


In the final right side column, for each name, write a different story you could also tell, that feels equally true.


If you are stuck, try to write what someone looking at the two of you from the outside, who didn’t know either of you well, might say to describe the situation. You can also try to write what the story might be from the other person’s perspective.


If you want more inspiration, here is a one-minute video where I offer you three Topic Cards to choose from the Clarity Deck. Pick whichever you’re drawn to, then see me flip over the cards to reveal the Topic you picked. Then, write about how the people whose names you listed all relate to this area of your life on the Topic Card you chose.

  • Once you have filled this column, read through what you wrote. Underline any words, phrases, ideas, feelings, or images that you see repeated.

  • Look at the words you underlined.

How could you summarize the main ideas tying these phrases together, in 1-2 sentences? Write these sentences at the bottom of the column.

Look at the two summaries you wrote, at the bottom of each column.

What are the major differences you notice about what is at the heart of the first set of stories, and what is at the heart of the second set of stories?

As you consider this difference, what does it teach you about yourself?


Let’s dig deeper into this last question, because it is where the growth happens.


Both of these stories are on equal footing. One is not more true than the other.


For you, the first column will probably feel more true, because it is more familiar. This is the story you have kept in your back pocket for years, possibly forever.


The second summary, the second story, is newer to you. Maybe you’ve been working with it for a little while, or maybe just now is the first time you’ve articulated it, seen it, heard it.


But both are true.


As you juxtapose these two sentences, what are the big differences you notice?


These could be a difference in tone, in perspective, in imagery. A difference in energy - perhaps in emotion. A difference in what is at the heart of the story - what is being focused on, in each.


What do you notice? What is this here to teach you?


If you are having a hard time seeing the lesson, OR you would like a fun way to explore that lesson more deeply, watch this two minute video where I offer you three Question Cards to choose from our Clarity Deck.


Pick whichever you’re drawn to, then see me flip over the cards to reveal the question you picked.


I then invite you to write down your first responses to the card you chose.


I’ll come back to myself as an example.


My first set of stories was all about people pulling away from me, not prioritizing or valuing me.

The second set of stories also has a common thread: people in my life were taking care of their own happiness, and I read this as a rejection of me. Sometimes their happiness had nothing to do with me, and I took that personally.


Because I find much of my purpose and happiness through my connections to people in my life, their pursuit of happiness without me stung.


Especially when it was my parents, and caretakers, it was hard for me to see them putting their own interests and happiness ahead of their relationship to me - and that is reasonable to be hurt by as a child.


But, since we are so often upset by behaviors in others that mirror what we need to learn, this also teaches me that I need to spend more time considering how I take care of my own health and happiness on my own, independent of others.


These two sets of stories - and the valley between them - are encouraging me to explore my relationships. Specifically, these two sets of stories nudge me to consider:

  • What my expectations are of people I’m in relationships with - familial, friendly, romantic, professional - and whether those expectations need to be revisited.

  • How often I read into a situation that I’m being rejected, even when that isn’t necessarily the case (this has been a surprising insight from this activity - I didnt’ know this was such an issue for me!)

  • What it means for me to take care of my own health and happiness, on my own, and how to do this in a way that doesn’t feel selfish or unpleasant.

Feet Snuggling together on Throw

Some Unplanned Magic . . .


Want to see something crazy and fun?


So, after I wrote all of that, I went to the Clarity Deck to pull some cards to help me think more deeply about these lessons, and to use in this blog post as examples.


I pulled this one and laughed at how pertinent it was:


Then, I pulled another one at random, and look at what I picked!

Kwanzaa Holiday Celebration

While every card in every Girls Gone Happy Deck is unique, there are cards that get at the same idea from different angles, or approach the same topic in different ways.


When you draw two of these cards one after another, to me this is affirmation that this is what you should be working on/thinking about. So I suppose this is the universe telling me I’m right on track!


Would you like to play around with a little of this magic? I chose 6 cards from our Clarity Deck that I think are spot on for this part of our activity, so I laid them out for you. Choose whichever you’re drawn to - don’t overthink it. Make a note of which number card you picked.


Then, can click through to see all of them turned over, and then a close-up of your card, and discover the question you chose - and that chose you!


What did you choose?


How does this Question Card deepen your understanding of what you are meant to take away and learn from this experience of comparing two stories, and learning about yourself in the process?

Final Reflection Activity


OK friend, I have one final card and reflection for you in closing.


Let’s talk about that first set of stories for a second. They may be limiting. They may not fit your life or your level of consciousness any more. They may not help you live your best life right now. But they did serve a purpose. You created them for a reason.


Maybe it was to protect yourself; to make sense out of the senseless; to bring order to chaos. Maybe you created those stories when you were a little child, working to understand the world around you.


Perhaps you created them as a teenager struggling to understand your identity and the role you fill in the world.


They could be stories from younger adulthood, as you navigated new responsibilities and challenges and relationships.


Whatever and whenever they’re from, those stories were there to help you, and even if you don’t agree with them or like them, they are familiar to you.

It can be hard to let things go when they have been a part of us for awhile - sometimes for so long that we think theyare a part of us. So it is normal to have resistance around releasing these old stories, and tentatively, shyly perhaps, inviting these new stories to make themselves at home and stay for awhile.


I know I personally experience a lot of resistance around the releasing of old stories and the acceptance of new ones, because I tend to believe that my old stories are facts and that my new stories are made up bullshit.


So for me, this card from the Loss Deck is always right on time and super, super helpful in creating a little compassion around the difficulty of this process, and a small path for how to walk through it:


If you’re confused about how to use this card here, think of the phrase “this loss” as referring to the release of your old set of stories.


Funnily, again, I had sat down with the Loss Deck while writing this blog post, closed my eyes to ask for guidance in finding a helpful card for these exercises, and drew this card at random.


I laughed again at how on point it was. I then noticed that a Topic Card was face up, tucked in among the overturned Question Cards. Can you guess what it was?


HELLO! WHAT!?

So I guess these decks are screaming at me today to get me to listen! So, I can make this pair for myself:


This is kind of uncanny since all the writing I did above for my examples is largely around my parents… so, to continue the example, here is how I would allow these cards to guide me in deeper inquiry:


I resist these new stories around my parents, because my old stories allow me to keep telling myself that my parents didn’t make a relationship with me a priority out of self-centeredness. The new story tells me that my parents were emotionally unable to make our relationship a priority.


The old story says my parents were consumed by their own interests, to the detriment of our connection.


The new story says that my parents reverted to what was comfortable and familiar in the face of scary illness, and that neither had the emotional finesse or bandwidth to nurture our bond while trying to make it through the tough days.

The old story says that people who deprioritize me are selfish. The new story says that people who deprioritize me are human.


In the first stories, I am the victim.


In the second set of stories, I am an innocent bystander.


Sometimes, negative attention is preferential to no attention at all, and being a victim is better than being an afterthought.


Moving away from a victim mentality can be really hard, and we can experience a lot of resistance there. I really enjoyed this overview about victim mentalities from Harley Therapy in particular:


You might already see the pattern of what the true benefits of being a victim can be. They are:

  1. Attention
  2. Feeling valued
  3. Power

Dealing with victimization means you must then face the anger, sadness, shame and fear that playing the victim protects and hides you from.


I’m not sure what your old stories are that you are releasing, but if they are stories in which you are the victim - or are on the receiving end of others’ poor actions - then this can help elucidate why it’s hard to move past these stories.


As I was mentioning above, these stories were there to help and protect you in some way - often to avoid having to deal with big and difficult feelings, and as a way to help you make sense of things and feel more in control.


For me, my anger and hurt feelings make it hard to get rid of that judgmental first story. I resist moving from the old to the new becuase that would ask forgiveness and compassion of me, and I have been to angry and hurt to forgive.


This shift is asking me to understand that acceptance doesn’t mean agreement. I don’t have to like what someone did in order to feel compassion for them.


Where to Go From Here


So, where do we go from here? I would invite you to write down a few key ideas that you are left with after doing this activity. Perhaps they are questions that have popped up, feelings you are experiencing, ideas that have just occurred to you. Write them down.


I would then invite you to return to this writing each day for five days, to continue down the path of exploration you’ve started upon today. If you feel comfortable writing from the head and the heart, terrific.


If you want more guidance, you can try one of these card draw videos each day, to help focus your writing. Simply choose one of the cards turned over, and write for three minutes once you see your card flipped over, in response to the question you chose.


You can also purchase your own Clarity, Money, Motherhood, or Loss Deck so you can pull your own cards whenever you want and use them in whatever manner feels supportive and natural to you.

Group Experience: Hosting a Circle Using this Activity


One last way to continue this work would be to do it with friends, which is probably my absolute favorite way to use our Card Decks.


The above reflection activities could easily be tweaked to become a really powerful and special group activity, which you can also do with the photos and videos included in this blog post in case you don’t already have your own Card Deck.

First, I would suggest downloading our FREE Virtual Circle Guide, because it has a ton of really helpful tips around how to host an online gathering that feels special, different, and is a space where folks are comfortable sharing deeply and connecting with each other.

It’s totally free and something we love sharing, because we believe in the healing power of friendship and it’s more important than ever that we stay connected during these crazy times!


Alright friends, so there you have it, we did a ton here!


We covered:
  • 5 minute guided reflection to name and shift old stories you’re carrying,
  • 15 minute guided reflection around shifting old stories,
  • A week’s worth of guided reflections to continue exploring this topic throughout the week,
  • Working through any resistance that comes up around releasing old stories,
  • One hour group workshop around shifting old stories and a free guide for creating your own group


I can’t wait to hear which of these you’re using and how it’s helping you to fully embody the energy of the autumn, of Halloween, of letting go, and stepping into your own newness. Drop a comment below, and take care!

BLOG POST SUMMARY:

  • We’re being asked to let go of so many things right now: Plans. Priorities. Support systems. Expectations. Some of us are actually grieving the passing of friends and family, often from afar. It’s hard to know how to let go under normal circumstances; but right now, it’s even harder.
  • Women are letting go so much in the current epidemic period: from marriages and relationships to careers, and everything in between.
  • We understand that this is a marathon and not a sprint, and that we need to find ways to continue to live and be ourselves within this situation that isn’t going to disappear soon, we also need to start reintegrating the things that bring us peace and pleasure.
  • If sadness, anger, disappointment, or melancholy bubble up, know that it is completely normal, and not in any way a sign of failure.
  • Whatever it is you’re angry about, you are allowed to feel that anger! It is healthy and normal for you to feel angry about having to be in a situation that is uncomfortable, unfair, and out of your control.
  • As you get to understand the anger you’re feeling, the answer of what this anger needs in order to be recognized, validated, and expressed will become clearer too. We want to allow anger to move out of your body not because there is anything bad about anger itself, but because holding on to it inside your body can cause illness, discomfort, and dysfunction in the long run.
Justine Haemmerli
Justine Haemmerli

Educator, Consultant, Founder of Girls Gone Happy


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