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Monica Bielanko
A chronicle since 2005 of my marriage & move to Brooklyn in my twenties; becoming a mother in my thirties; moving to Pennsylvania and learning to amicably coparent after divorce in my forties while living 3 doors down from my ex-husband in a small country town.
That's What She Said
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Thursday
Aug012013

The Past Is Just A Story We Tell Ourselves

"I never cease to be amazed by (and grateful for) the way we think we know what happened in the past, only to later discover that the past is just a story we tell ourselves to make sense of the way things went down. We make sense. And because the past is a story, it can and should be revised. Please. Don’t just gloss that sentence like it’s an apparent cliche. What you think happened – it did not happen. It’s nowhere to be found. You can’t point to it. It doesn’t exist. The past is what we say it is."

Guy whose writing I like conjured up that group of sentences up there. Exactly what I've been thinking about for the past little while, but not necessarily with the positive connotation the author originally meant. My feelings about recreating the past and adopting it as my official history are mixed.

When I think back on stuff I did BC (before children) the first thing that occurs to me is the story I've told myself in all the years since the stuff happened. The story I slowly recreated in the wake of the event to make myself feel better about whatever it was that happened and my role in it. But if I really stoke the fire in my brain and think, really think, about the shit that happened I can almost see it in an objective light. Okay, not exactly objective as anything I think about will always be distorted by my perception of it, but as unbiased as I can possibly be while still viewing things in the only way I can; from my perspective.

A lot of what I see when I attempt to think as objectively as possible about different events from my past bothers me. Example: the way I treated an old boyfriend who I've spent years vilifying because he broke up with me, a first for me at that point in my life. Yet, when I look back and really evaluate my behavior I realize I was such a flaming bitch, that he had every reason in the world to kick me to the curb. I've spent so much time being defensive and insecure. But I didn't realize it! At the time I thought I was being honest and open with people (and myself) but that was just the story I told myself. The idealized version of myself I created and continued to believe.

I don't really know what the hell I'm trying to say here. Am I even making sense? It's hard to tell what with limited brain function over the past few weeks. It's like the fetus is holding 75% of my brain cells hostage until it can develop its own. Give them back, dammit! I have shit to do!

I just spent the past hour or so re-reading old posts here, posts I wrote while telling myself how honest I was being but now I realize they were just bullshit. Okay, bullshit might be a bit harsh, but the posts were me trying to convince myself of certain things or me trying to convince others of certain things or me trying to create or justify a past experience. I dunno.

There's this small blog I've followed for many years and the woman who writes it published a really eloquent post years ago about how much she loved her husband, how 'meant to be' they were and how grateful she was to have him in her life. It wasn't long after when she announced their separation which ultimately led to divorce. I immediately flashed back on that post. But they love each other, I thought. And then I recognized the post for what it was. The marriage was crumbling, she didn't want to believe it and wrote a post trying to convince herself of her love, their love. While writing the post she wanted so badly for it to be true and maybe even managed to convince herself that it was. For a while. Then the truth became inevitable.

Some might think a post proclaiming your undying love for your husband a few months before your separation is disingenuous but I totally get it. That's what I mean about writing posts to convince yourself of certain things even though you might not even be aware that it's what you're doing at the time.

Sometimes I think the only time I ever really write completely honestly, without an ounce of an agenda, is when I write about my kids. But yeah, re-reading some of those old entries and the comments beneath them was awful. My mindset and attitude then makes me so uncomfortable. My shoulders were up around my ears the whole time I was reading. The flip side is to be grateful I wrote through it all or else I would never be able to look back now and realize how far I've come.

That said, it's hard not to be defensive in the face of so much public judgment about your actions, even when you've technically invited the judgment by writing in a public forum. Especially when so much of the judgment isn't constructive, is, in fact, straight up mean. But I'm trying.

Reader Comments (8)

Never let the wisdom you gain through maturity rob you of appreciating your life as that garden where it all happens. Life is like that fruit, and some of it is not that nice. Worms...rotten spots. Unpicked fruit are wasted opportunities where you could kick yourself. Regrets. All this stuff can go back into the ground and actually enriches your life. Look at manure. It's crap but it works out for good. It's like everything you have experienced is grown in soil which is mixed with sand and garbage and crap. We all make choices and respond to situations in ways which in hindsight seem wrong. I can remember screaming at the top of my lungs at my ex and then getting out of the car in the dark, a snowstorm, and walking for miles until I almost FROZE to death. An idiot. That's where I was at the time. I don't know if I would do that again given the same circumstances but it happened...I have done horrible things I could never bring myself to write about ( you are brave to be that transparent), but you all the better. It all went into making you the awesome lovable person you are. The good, the bad, the ugly. All the crap in the hat. Life. I love your story.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergeezer

This post and ones similar to it are why I come back to your blog, I think. I've never commented before. Sometimes I've wanted to, to tell you how much I liked a post or to tell you to stop being so hard on yourself and others. But when you write things like this, it reminds me that you seem to be always searching to get to the bottom of the thing, whatever it is. And then you seem to hit it and it opens up my eyes to the same truths in my own life. You have fantastic writing abilities and when you choose the "introspective" subject matters, I think your writing shines the most.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

"You have fantastic writing abilities and when you choose the "introspective" subject matters, I think your writing shines the most." so agree with elizabeth here. funny i've been thinking about the same recently, for me life is like a labyrinth of choices and you're always in the middle of nowhere with all these choices so you put one step forward and two back, you know. and maybe that's why life could be sad, annoying, happy, etc....

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteranajo

Thanks for posting this, Monica! This is exactly how I feel about my personal blog writings. I go back trough and cringe at most of the stuff I wrote BC as well. It's like I had no clue how petty and selfish I was. And yet there I was, day after day, writing posts about why the world was treating ME so poorly. Why my husband just didn't understand ME. It's that "Me" mentality you lose once the kiddos come along. And it's like the fog lifts and you can finally see what is truly important and what stuff you should just let slide off your shoulders.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Hey this all kind of reminds me of a certain pair of plaid pants I loved to wear ( almost every day) with a certain turtle neck sweater under a sweater vest,topped off with a big plastic ivory elephant medallion glued to a red plastic backing hanging on a heavy chain. Ain't the past grand? That very same year, mom had all of my long blong hair cut into s shag. Not that shags were in but lice were there year. Okay so sometimes the story wilts...but it all grows back and one day we get some new clothes. It's all not good...I mean It's all sorta GOOD! Kinda...in an embarrassing way you hope nobody else remembers and then somebody you thought was your friend posts it to facebook.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergina

most relationships seem to start out with two people, each like a type of fluid choosing to combine like chocolate milk in a glass. The glass is the commitment two have made, and life is what is going on inside that glass or visa versa. Maybe life is the glass and the stuff within are the two committed souls.. Either way, here are these two imperfect souls blending their lives together putting themselves out there on display and hoping that spectators (who have their own glass of life) understand and respect the fluidity or at least the glass. Hopefully, they too are hanging onto their own glass and enjoying the stuff within. So...Life sloshes around in that glass or sometime nothing happens and either way it feels so unsettling. The syrup settles at the bottom and begins to separate. Sometimes a fly will come along and complicate or even contaminate things, maybe even poop in the delicious choco-milk. Some will immediately drop that glass causing the relationship to splatter and everything they have worked to achieve is all over the floor. My idea is that in a truly serious relationship you have less of this thin liquid and adopt more of a jelly or pudding consistency. I prefer a nice cold flan or crème brulee' consistency. Others are like angel food with fresh fruit topped with fresh whipped crème. Or chocolate cake batter poured into the bundt mold of life. What dessert you decide on is up to you but it's such a shame to see the whole thing abandoned. How did I get to this from a simple metaphor? No idea. Carry on.

August 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergina

I think you could write and believe and mean a post about your love being meant to be and still get divorced. We are human - we mess up in so many different ways, all the time. I read once that relation ships are either getting better or worse all the time and I think, "My God, what is mine doing".

Anyway, we write in moments - we know they will be read -and we do the best we can, because emotions are always changing.

I TOTALLY agree with the quote - and your reflections. I have many stories I have told myself and discovering what those were has always been an interesting experience.

August 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLiz aka EDW

Please consider the following when constructing and deconstructing stories about your past, including the story about the past existing only as a story (or series of stories).
Such storytelling easily devolves into what can be described as the ego defense mechanism of denial. Functional as this mechanism is, its overuse can result in difficult to mange psychological pain.
And as difficult and challenging the process may be, it is possible to gain clarity on one's feelings--deeply buried as they may be--as a source for accessing truthful information.
This does not mean the "final, absolute truth" is discovered (I can't make any claims on this matter), but the relative and personal truth of your feelings with respect to their connection to past circumstances can become available.
While there may be much to learn and unfold throughout the lifelong process of gaining clarity on one's emotions, please do not minimize the process as only storytelling, as if these so called stories are without merit and validation of your sentient self.
Indeed, the sentient self, the self understood via the innate capacity to feel, has much to teach us when listened to and honored.
Wishing you well,
Steven

August 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

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