Reauthoring your Stories, Narratives and Uncovering Beliefs

Louisa Leontiades On Writing, Women Writing Memoir to Release Trauma

So you’re here at last. Right now you may have no inclination as to what re-authoring looks like or feels like. To see different plot patterns in your stories, takes a great deal of distance. To do so you must also have gone through the grief cycle to mourn your trauma, or maybe even several.

Have I done it? Yes… and no. There are always more patterns to see as you move through life, always more perspective to be added as you get to know yourself better.

Have I included it in my memoir? Yes… and no. Lessons in Life and Love to my Younger self was published alongside the second edition of The Husband Swap (both now included in the compilation A World in Us). It is the clearest example I have as a piece of re-authoring and it happened after seven years reflection. I did not want to repeat history. Other perspectives on newer memoirs have been integrated more or less into the text. I think it makes them better, but I’m only one person.

This re-authoring–added perspective, seeing the gifts, secrets and lessons in the past, or however you like to call it–is valuable to you. It may also add great insight to your audience, but must be used sparingly if you are not to drag the story down. Few like the feeling that they are being ‘taught’ but they may like the feeling that they are learning something whilst being entertained (although that’s a bit of a weird word to use when speaking of trauma). Many of those who read your book, may have gone through trauma themselves. Your silver linings may also cast light on theirs if they’re are ready and able to see them. Personally I believe that it is difficult to choose to be ready. The mind builds traumatic pathways and mental models in order to protect itself and trauma will always leave its legacy. But I’ve found that you can devise healing narratives so they are available to choose and co-exist with the original ones, when you are ready.

I wrote Lessons seven years after I wrote the first edition of the memoir. And oh boy, did I feel better after having written it. As if I could see more clearly, as if it was a release from pain. It was a way to stop blaming everything on others (which was nevertheless I felt an imperative step in my healing and one of several ways I used to get all of my anger out), stop being the victim and start taking responsibility for my own reactions and feelings to the events which happened. Not, I hasten to add, a way to absolve others of their responsibility for their actions, simply a way to take more control over my life, my emotions and my future. For that reason I focused solely on what I could learn from the past in my lessons, not where I believed others acted unethically.

Below you’ll find a chapter–the shortest!–from the memoir, followed by the secrets and lessons learned when I re-examined the story…

Chapter 28: The Bombshell

My thoughts turned to my marriage once again as I discussed with Gilles what we could possibly do to save our situation. We had reactivated date night in an effort to spend some quality time together. The problem was that I needed three glasses of wine to feel remotely sexual. A sad truth was that breaking up with Morten meant that I missed his touch. And no one else could replace it. Not even my husband. I was going through hell but thought it was unfair to burden Gilles with it.

Gilles and Elena had had a conversation that would become known as “The Bombshell” and were yet again on a break. But they had done it so many times now that no one believed them when they said it was over.

Gilles had broken up with Elena on five separate occasions before The Bombshell. The Bombshell, a.k.a the sixth breakup, was different. Because this one had been initiated by Elena. There had been no warning of what I was to read in the email that Gilles had forwarded me. It was the transcript of a chat conversation that looked mundane and ordinary like every other. But as was Elena’s wont, it started bluntly:

“Gilles darling. I just wanted to let you know that I asked Morten for a divorce.”

Several seconds had passed, as denoted by the time-stamps on the chat messages. Then Gilles said,

“Did you mean it?”

“Morten and I are best friends,” replied Elena. “But my romantic relationship is with you and has been for a long time. Your relationship with Louisa is crumbling. Why don’t you just admit it like I have? Louisa and I don’t seem to be able to share the same men. She has a big problem.”

“Louisa has a problem with you. But you’re the one who has a problem sharing your men. You can’t share your men with someone who has a problem with you. She has never asked me or Morten to choose even though she can’t get along with you.”

To which she replied, “We all have to choose our futures because I for one can’t live like this anymore.”

“Me either. But I still love Louisa and I am not willing to lose her just because we are having difficulties.”

“OK…But if that’s your choice then you will lose me.”

“Just to be clear—are you telling me that if I still want to be

with you I have to leave Louisa?”

“Yes.”

“You are asking for an impossible choice.”

“But don’t you realise that this has been an impossible choice for me too? I love Morten as well as you. I wish we had never met. I can’t be with you anymore and I can’t be with my husband. My heart is doubly broken. Louisa has both of you and I have no one.”

“Louisa doesn’t have both of us. She gets to work on her relationship with me. She and Morten have broken up.”

“They’ll get back together if I leave though. He obviously loves me more than you do.”

“Well, I love you. I don’t know what you mean by ‘more’”

“I mean that he is willing to leave her. But you are not. So this is goodbye.”

Lesson (seven years later):

This is hard to write. Even now. Because books only tell one side of the story. It’s not untrue…but there’s more here than meets the eye.

Gilles forwarded this message to you—you shared everything. And when you finished reading it, you felt a grim satisfaction: satisfaction that Elena had said exactly what you wanted to say. Why hadn’t you done the same as Elena, and forced your partners to choose? It wasn’t because you were some wise enlightened being, that’s for sure. I know you believed in freedom of choice. But back then, you hadn’t realised that in order to be a true proponent of freedom of choice, words and even actions weren’t enough. So you hadn’t said the words. But that didn’t mean you hadn’t participated in creating the situation.

There’s this thing we do, those of us who are who are taught to suppress our own voice and communicate passively. Because communicating passively isn’t understood by those who haven’t been brought up in the same way, it doesn’t always get the results we want. And you wanted to be out of the relationship with Elena. From the beginning, she had brought up all your issues. You felt threatened, exposed, and insecure. Nevertheless, you were accommodating to a fault, at least in the beginning. You compromised and pretended, until in silent but screaming agony, your pretence turned to hostility. I really sympathize. You were in terrible pain. But in your own way, you had created a situation where her ultimatum was almost inevitable to break the deadlock.

After all, you couldn’t stand to have Elena in your home. You couldn’t stand to interact with her. And knowing how she was, you could have foreseen that it would be she who would take action first. She was the go-getter.

I know that’s painful to hear. And once more, with all your conflicting personalities and issues, I don’t believe it could have been any other way. Have you learned anything? Or would you still let the situation escalate out of control, until your only recourse is breakdown?

Giving too much at your own expense, pretending that everything was ok when it wasn’t, relinquishing your dreams, compromising your integrity – in short, being dishonest about your own fears, desires and needs – led you to this point. And just like George Bailey in A Wonderful Life, a situation of your own making drove you to drink and madness.

Lesson: Being the martyr and capitulating to a situation that’s hurting you, doesn’t help anyone in the long run. You must care for yourself and set your boundaries, otherwise you risk destroying yourself and hurting everyone else in the process.

***

Why did I act like the martyr? Partly because I didn’t care for myself? Because I had low self-esteem. How did I improve my self-esteem during that time? By writing (see post on Help! My memoir isn’t good enough)

Figuring out other stories, narratives and hidden beliefs

Therein lies the rub. Identifying the multitude of truths that are contained in our stories takes practice. And honesty. Yet I do not mean to imply that we are dishonest, only that denial as a protection mechanism often protects us from many painful truths. I believe that the safety and self-esteem that I re-cultivated in writing and publishing my stories allowed my denial to fall and helped me to dig deeper. It’s not easy, because your stories are many, the underlying narratives are many, and so are the lessons you might take from them.

The story of what was going on at school when you were a child has several underlying narratives, as well as the story of how you were figuring out your sexuality, the story of you trying to make it in your chosen career, the story of falling in love or dealing with a breakup. They all have underlying narratives, and within each of these stories lies intersections with every other story, and that intersection is you. How you reacted, how that impacted other stories, what you learned from every single interaction, or can see with hindsight. Yes, hindsight is a beautiful and terrible thing.

On several occasions as a child I stole money from my father’s wallet. That is a true story. But the narrative given to me at the time by my adopted parents was that I was morally bankrupt, broken with bad genes from my biological mother–and in the absence of any other I believed it. That narrative, unbeknownst to me, became a default, go-to narrative. All the events in my life were interpreted to fit this narrative and anything that didn’t fit was excluded. Anything that attributed my actions to an abusive upbringing were ignored. Telling a lie? Immoral. Making out with a boy? Immoral. I became attracted to people who treated me like shit, because I believed I was too ‘broken’ to ever deserve anyone better. This was a very simplistic narrative and as it turns out, an untrue one. But narratives are powerful enough to affect your life and doesn’t matter whether they are ‘true’ or not only that you believe in them. The question you should ask yourself when looking for new ones, is not whether they are true per se, but whether they are healthy and helpful. Believing I was broken helped me in no way. Years later I look back on my stealing as an act of a suppressed child, who wanted nothing more to escape the situation and force her parents into recognising that I was a person. They paid little attention to me as a ‘good girl’, so I believe that I was trying the opposite tactic.

What could be considered a healthy narrative within a story of trauma? A narrative which empowers you, which encourages self-compassion, which re-affirms your boundaries and potentially, changes your self-limiting beliefs.

I’m not an expert on identifying your limiting beliefs only on identifying my own. Here are three common ones, which can be found with any internet search.

  1. I’m not good enough
  2. I’m not loveable
  3. Mistakes and failures are bad

There are tons of programs out there which can help you change your limiting beliefs–if it works for you go for it. Personally I did it and continue to do it through writing.