We have the ability to choose how to respond to every situation that presents itself to us. While we have no control over many things that happen in life, we do have control over the story we tell ourselves about what happened and how it becomes woven into the fabric of our lives.
I believe this – deep in my heart, I do.
And yet I’ve found this to be one of the most challenging practices. Sometimes I can recognize it in the moment and pause to consciously respond. This might look like taking a deep breath and walking out of my kid’s room instead of giving in to the enormous pull inside me of that wants to shout, “I’ve told you to get dressed ten times already!”
Sometimes though, the capacity to make the choice about how to respond is beyond our reach. We get stuck in our reptilian brain. It happens in daily living when our defenses are down and it happens when we are hit with big, life-changing events. We are simply unable to light up those neuronal pathways in the more evolved part of our brain that requires advanced thinking.
For a long time, I saw this as an opportunity lost. I had the chance to make the choice about how to respond and I failed. I made the wrong move, reacting blindly and instinctively instead.
What I’m learning is that the choice to respond does not go away over time. It stays with us and we can exercise that choice at any point – even years later. I was 18 weeks pregnant with my son when he was diagnosed with life-threatening congenital heart disease. We were thrust into the wild, wild west of pediatric cardiology. Virtually no evidence-based medicine existed to help guide the choices we had to make. We made huge decisions along the way, but most of it felt completely out of our hands. It didn’t dawn on me until much later that I actually had a choice in how I responded to what felt like my life and dreams spinning far out of reach.
Four years later I had an opportunity to tell this story on a national stage. I surveyed other “heart” parents about their journeys and poured over the blog that I had kept during that time. What proved to be most impactful was the interview my husband and I did together, podcast-style. I spent hours carefully editing the audio and setting it to music. This part of the experience, telling and preserving my story in a beautiful way, was my choice in responding to my child’s diagnosis. It happened years later, but it was incredibly empowering all the same.
We all have life experiences that feel incomplete – those that take up precious mental energy and leave us feeling drained as they play on repeat in our heads. Even if years have gone by, we still have the power to make a choice about how the story ends and what it means to us. Consider how you might document, share or narrate your own story. I hope that you will experience a gift of healing when you do.