Let me tell you about two women I know, and what kind of year they had.
Susan didn’t have a good year. In fact, 2014 sucked for her. Susan is kind of a loser, and 2014 was just another in a long line of years in which she tried, unsuccessfully, to be something else.
Susan fought a losing battle with a mental illness, repeatedly failing to be as productive as she longed to be or relate to other people the way she longed to do. She was lazy and self-absorbed, allowing her depression to keep her from reaching out to others.
Susan was, at best, a mediocre parent. She failed to do so many things she could have done to improve her daughter’s life, and the efforts she did make were inconsistently performed.
She also failed miserably at her efforts to maintain and improve her health. She gained almost 35 pounds this year, a little at a time, by falling to her compulsions and engaging in horrific sessions of self-destructive eating. When she did get her act together, it didn’t last, and she reenacted her lifelong pattern of failure in this arena.
Her efforts to be creative were laughably underpowered. She neglected countless opportunities to spread her work, make contacts, submit efforts and deepen her knowledge.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Just thinking about Susan’s year makes me feel exasperated and tired. I really wish she would get out of this rut and work harder next year.
Then there’s Mary. I admire Mary because she worked really hard this year. Mary is a person with a special inner quality that makes her willing to keep trying, using humility and courage to come back to the game no matter how many times she loses a round.
Mary learned a lot more about her mental illness this year, and continued to grow in both awareness and acceptance. She left her comfort zone many times, doing things that made her anxious or afraid in an effort to improve her life or the life of others.
Mary sat with her daughter and taught her about subjects ranging from Shakespeare to the Napoleonic Wars to algebra. Mary was a mother she could, and did, come to if she felt anxious at two in the morning. Mary made it possible for her daughter to get a more accurate diagnosis for some of her health issues. Mary overcame her phobias and insecurity to call, write, and meet with people to advocate for her daughter’s education, and thanks to Mary her daughter is doing better and making friends.
Despite some really tough struggles with her eating disorder, and the panic and despair they caused, Mary continued her years-long abstinence from drugs. In doing so, she broke a very old pattern of alternating the intensity of these two addictions and making it impossible to progress in healing either. She did not let financial fears, pain, shame, intense depression, bipolar symptoms, or loneliness drive her to put drugs in her body. She showed up for meetings and service positions even when she desperately wanted to hide.
Mary wrote many essays and poems this year, continuing to unearth this neglected part of herself. Some of them encouraged or inspired other people, and all of them enacted the precious ritual of creating something from nothing. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Go Mary. Hope next year is even better.
So, how obvious is it to you that Susan and Mary are the same person?
And that they’re both me?
Crafting these two stories is part of a technique I once studied called narrative therapy. A person is encouraged to “spin” the story of their lives or an event in two or more different ways, noticing just how different in content and tone the stories end up being. It shows us how we filter our lives inside our heads, emphasizing or deemphasizing things to fit a storyline a part of us has already decided. It shows us that the things we think about ourselves are, indeed, a kind of story, and encourages us to experiment with different writing styles.
What story do you tell yourself about 2014, and how is it slanted?
Does it need any alternate versions?
Happy New Year.