(Re)write Your Story
(Re)write Your Story
Host Anna Borges (The More Or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care) is joined by Dr. Renee Lemus and Dr. Christina Rose–hosts of Las Doctoras podcast–about rewriting the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and rewiring the messaging that comes from the world about who we’re allowed to be.
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Anna Borges: Let’s kick things off by reading an old journal entry of mine from freshman year of high school. And I guess that comes with all of the disclaimers that you would expect.
[sighs] All right… I wrote…
I need to get my shit together. It sounds so easy, but why have I always failed so miserably? I don’t know how I let myself get so far behind, or why I can’t delay instant gratification, or when I got so fucking lazy. I know what I have to do. Why can’t I just do it? What is wrong with me?
I know I only wrote that in freshman year of high school because of the date at the top of the page. Because to be honest, like, I’ve probably written some variation of that a hundred times over in the decade and a half since then. And maybe you have too? Berating yourself for something - for not being good enough, or fast enough, or a million other things. And for me, it was my inability to focus, to accomplish my goals, to function, basically, the way that I thought I should be able to function because it seemed like everyone BUT ME could do it.
It was a recurring subplot in my journals for years.
And then, eventually—like 15 years later eventually—I got diagnosed with ADHD.
[laughs] So…yeah. Which, that cleared a lot of things up in hindsight.
And while I felt some relief at having an explanation, I also felt this, like, sense of grief for this person I thought I knew. Like, how could it be that all of these core beliefs about myself, as unkind as they were, were suddenly just…wrong?
What do you do when you discover you’ve been an unreliable narrator of your own story this whole time?
Hey friends, what’s up?
I’m Anna Borges and this is Mood Ring, a practical guide to feelings—even when your feelings about yourself feel like cold hard facts.
Every episode, we’re exploring one new way to cope — with our feelings, with our baggage, with our brains, with the world around us. And with the unkind stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
And today, we’re talking about how the stories we’ve told ourselves about ourselves can burrow their way into our brains and impact our self-worth and even our whole self-concept. And a lot of those narratives come from messages we get about who we’re supposed to be, or how we’re expected to function, or how our lived experiences fit the mold of what we’re told is normal or acceptable or right.
After my diagnosis, I started to wonder, like: how many of us are carrying around stories that we believe wholeheartedly, stories that tell us we’re not good enough or smart enough or talented enough or worthy enough?
So this episode is about stories. Stories we tell ourselves and stories others tell us ABOUT ourselves, and how we can do the work to untangle it all.
To help us with all that untangling, I reached out to Dr. Renee Lemus and Dr. Christina Rose. Together, they host the podcast Las Doctoras and run a writing course that seeks to help students decolonize their writing and use storytelling as a form of healing. Through their work, they help people reclaim their voices and rewrite their stories in a way that’s authentic to them.
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Anna: Dr. Lemus and Dr. Rose, thank you so much for joining me today! I'd love for us to just dive right in and start talking about these narratives that we have about ourselves and where they come from. Specifically, it can be this feedback loop, you know? Of … stories that we've been told about ourselves that we then go on to tell the world about who we are or tell ourselves about who we are. So kind of a big question, but how does the outside world and all of the messages that we receive from it impact our own messaging?
Dr. Lemus: You know we're, we're gender studies professors, right? We're women's studies professors. We're always going to have that feminist perspective on things and add that lens. I think a big, we've always named that a big part of what we do in our classes is to give language to our experiences, right. But I think we live in a world that wants to say that if we experienced oppression, it's our fault. It's something that we did wrong or we didn't do something right. And I think, or, or wants to gaslight our experience and say, no, you didn't experience that. Like, that you're [Anna: yeah] you're just being too sensitive. And so I think we always come in to say, like, to validate that experience and say, yes, you experienced sexism. Yes, you experienced racism. And to give language to things that we already know in our bodies, right. And, and validate those experiences as some, and to know where to place, not the blame, but to place our frustrations. And so I think for us, we, when it comes to our story, we can feel empowered to tell our story, because we know that … we're not the only ones experiencing it and it's not our fault. Right. It's not, it's not a flaw in us that we can't meet every need of our household and our children, because the structures of society don't give us enough support to do those things!
Anna: I, I, I work with therapists all day. So like, I'm like putting the answer out there as though I know it, but like, I imagine gaining awareness of these type of narratives and messages that you've internalized has to be this first step, because otherwise, how can you start to rewrite them? And so how, how can we start to gain that awareness?
Dr. Rose: Well we're learning, I think to check in with our bodies, you know [Anna: yeah!] I think our bodies can really tell us those things, you know? I think that, you know, again, that narrative that would have us basically sacrifice ourself for any cause, anything or just, I don't know. For, for labor, for, you know, the common good, for religion, for family and all these things. Really takes a toll on our whole being. And sometimes it is our body that can, can really give us the, the truthful and not like not, or a real, like it doesn't. I say, my, my body doesn't lie. You know, it's like the, the book, that, My Body Keeps the Score or something like that. But if my back hurts, you know, or if my shoulders hurt, like, that's undeniable, it's like, it's kind, it's not like I can, from this air, you know, earthy air perspective, kind of convince myself. I can just think about my feelings, right. We were talking about that too. Like, I actually need to feel them. I need to cry. And that's, so I know when I'm crying or I know when I actually do some things for my body that could be movement. It could actually be like artwork. It could be like meditation, it could be stretching. You know, I think that's, that's where I know I'm doing, I'm taking at least the first step, you know, and when my body talks to me and I listen, maybe that's even the, the, the step before.
Dr. Lemus: If we're tired, we're tired. Right. And we're going to, so I, I definitely think it starts with really just a lot of self-reflection. I wanted to say, I think another important part of this is like, where do we start is community. [Dr. Rose: Yes!] Who you [laughs] you, you've surrounded yourself with, because I mean, and, and I would say like, for me, there's different communities, right, that I'm in, and some give me this certain part that I need and this other, you know. But I think again, when you're in academia, right, or in any kind of, let's say mainstream or even corporate or whatever kind of environment that you don't feel is like your safe environment. You need somewhere to feel safe, where you can let go, where you can [laughs] you can call and rant and say, oh my God, I experienced this thing, you know? [laughs] Which is basically what our podcast is, is just about ranting about things. But I think community where you can feel safe, where they can validate your experiences. Where you have very similar values. Where you're invested in the same things and feel supported so that … you're not always having to be productive. Where you can pick up where each other left off. Because I have community, I'm able to validate my experiences more and I'm able to feel empowered in my story more because I'm not being gas- like society's gonna gaslight us all day long. So when you have a community and somebody to say, no, yes, you deserve to rest or you deserve … it's okay that you're angry. Then that just, ugh, it feels like you can, you know, rest a lot more. [Anna: oh!]
Dr. Rose: I just want to name that that's intentional too, like, you know? Just, you know, society, or like the Western framework really wants us to be like an, like a disembodied head that just like, like does stuff, you know, produces things…
Anna: …and questions our experience too.
Dr. Rose: And also yes. And it wants us to be isolated too. Like, it's, they do wanna create this abusive relationship dynamic where you can't reach out to your community, like you should handle this alone. So I just think those messages are real. And I just wanna, I wanna know, that everyone to know that it's not, you, you know, and, and liberating yourself from that, you know, reaching out and to other people and, and, and to your body is, you know, radical, radical feminism.
Anna: It’s really stuck with me, the point Dr. Lemus and Dr. Rose make about how these harmful narratives we have about ourselves can fester in isolation. Because I don’t know about you, but when I’m alone, I don’t stop to question the voice in my head that says I’m defective. I don’t think to ask, “Wait, who’s voice is that and how did it get in there?” And when those thoughts go unchallenged for long enough, that’s when they become part of the story I tell myself about myself.
After the break, we’ll talk about what it means to rewrite our stories—especially when we’ve believed a different narrative for so long.
Anna: Hey, welcome back to Mood Ring. I’m Anna Borges. Before the break, we were talking to Dr. Renee Lemus and Dr. Christina Rose about rewriting the self-destructive stories we tell ourselves. Let’s get back to it.
Anna: I like to say in therapy and like, you know, when we talk about stuff like narrative therapy, for example, which is kind of like the brain process that I, I, I followed for this episode, but. I like to say when my therapist and I talk about doing this kind of exercise of like rewriting my story, I get super overwhelmed, trying to figure out, I'm like, which part of my story, whose story, what, what does rewriting it mean? How do I write my story?
Dr. Lemus: Yeah, this is, this is where, I mean, we would say, this is where ceremony comes in. This is where, writing is the small part of it, right. It's to say, first, you have to be present in your body. Right. So whatever that means to you, whether it's meditation, whether it's dancing, whether it's… doing some art, like, whatever that looks like to you, that it means to be present in your body. Kind of letting go of [Dr. Rose: past] you know, all the other things. Yeah. And just being in the moment. So part of my meditation practice, and part of something that Christine and I do in our courses, in our meditation or our like grounding centering practices is to call in our ancestors, is to call in whatever spiritual guides, you know, you're down with. And, or even calling in our inner child. [Anna: yeah] Calling in our higher self. Right. All of those, all the parts of us that sometimes we forget. Our imagination. Like, that's a big thing that we do in our courses is we think that … [Dr. Rose: Intuition] Intuition, like we think, like kids are so imaginative they're so in their imagination. And then at some point we let that go, cuz we think we have to be realistic. And so we're like, how can we tap back into that? And so it's, it's yeah. It's getting centered, you know, calling in maybe whatever spiritual guides you have. And then just kind of, yeah. I start just asking myself, like, if I was interviewing myself, like, how's it going today? Or, you know, or maybe I am pissed about something and just like ranting. And, and what that does. And again, something else we do in our course, is we do like these warm up writing activities, just write without thinking. And many, I mean, you can, you can look up prompts, online, whatever. And in doing that, it gets those juices flowing. And then what you really want to write about kind of comes through, but it's hard to do that when you're like sitting cold, right. You're like, I'm gonna go write. And you're sitting there and you're like nothing’s happening, right. Or I don't know what to do or-
Anna: Or why can't I run this marathon right now? [laughs]
Dr. Lemus: Yeah. And so it's to say like, give yourself grace, you know, it doesn't have to be perfect. Just kind of literally just write anything, anything. Sometimes I will even read something and I'll like rewrite just to have that … that somatic experience of writing something, even if I'm like quoting another book. And then once my body starts getting going, I, my, my voice starts to come out.
Dr. Rose: And it doesn't have like an end goal either. Like I was even thinking, you could begin with recording your dreams, you know, in some way [Anna: ah that's a great place to start] You know, cuz I think, or even just listening, listening to your dreams, you know, and waking up and it could be, it could be like a journal. It could be written down or you could just voice memo it, like this is what I dreamed, you know, like that's a beautiful, that's a beautiful space of listening and hearing and listening and writing, you know, recording.
Anna: Love that. So we've been talking about writing and now I would like to talk about metaphorically rewriting because for me, like I'm a big journaler and what I, what I've been thinking about a lot lately is when I journal that's often the first time I'm telling my story to myself, you know, it's like seeing my own thoughts in black and white and conversing with myself. And I also like to reread my journals a lot and going back and saying like, oh, okay, like, this is how I thought about this at the time, sometimes it's changed. And sometimes I'm like, oh, that is how I thought about it at the time. And how it's, I've been thinking about it ever since. And like, I would like to rethink about this thing that I was telling myself. And so I'm curious if you have any sort of like, if that shows up in like in your work, in like a literal way too, like how you literally rewrite or retell your stories yourself when you found out that the first one was not the story that you wanted to tell yourself.
Dr. Lemus: I think it's just having grace for your own growth. Like grace is such a big theme for us is just like really giving yourself permission to just be where you're at now. I, that's what I tell my students. I say, wherever your relationship is with, you know, whatever, like the world it's, you know, it's not gonna always be like this. It's going to evolve. It's going to change and that's okay. You know, even your identity, right? Your relationship with your identity, that's gonna change. That's going to evolve. Nothing is stagnant. And so I think just giving yourself grace for what your story used to be. And, and, I was telling some of my students cuz we were rounding up the semester and they were like, oh I think I'm too confrontational. Cuz I, I'll call people out on too much. And I'm like, I'm too much.
Anna: Oh, big narrative I see a lot.
Dr. Lemus: And I tell them one, you're not too much. Two, I said, I was like that when I was in my twenties and I am much more discerning now of where I put my energy, but I am so grateful to my 20 year old self for being so confrontational with people because it allowed me to set boundaries. So I think it's like, yes, I have evolved. But I'm also really grateful for those times, those things that I did, or even those stories that I would tell myself because it helped me to, to evolve, right. Those, because I got those stories out of me, then I was able to like make room to process and grow.
Anna: What's so funny is that's I think the process I go through when I reread by journals, you know, I think, I think of my past self in a certain way, usually like a not very nice way and like rereading how I was telling myself the story and the time, now that leads me to like that kind of thing. Like, oh, okay. Well my new story is like, no, I didn't used to be like XYZ, negative thought. There are too many to pick from right now, you know, it was actually this. So, Christina, what would you add?
Dr. Rose: I was thinking of the danger of the single story, you know, this sense of that. And, and I'm, again, this world that we were raised in believes that even like we only have one narrative going on in ourselves, you know…
Anna: Multiplicity who? We are one, never changing person.
Dr. Lemus: Right, monolithic.
Dr. Rose: And one of the exercises that we often do is, we, week six or something in our, you know, eight week course, we'll take a look at something we wrote in week one or two. And we'll look at it from a perspective of, like, a loving adult, which we are, you know [laughs] you know, coming to that, coming back to a piece of writing from a place of grace, I love that love. And as, and, and as if we were, you know, the, the parent of the person who wrote that or the caretaker or the abuela or the elder, you know, but from a place of the love that we give to other people, you know, the love we give to those that we take care of. And so I think that's a, so that … exercise is such a shift in perspective for me too, you know, because yes, when I do go through my journals, I don't do it annually. I do do it like, probably every seven years or so. And it is a big deal and I do cry and it is, you know, it is, and it's beautiful. And it's also like heartbreaking. I'm like mija, like what the heck were you giving your energy to that person? Like, like no more, you know, it's, it's a big lesson, you know, for me. And um, and I do try to make it a ceremony too, you know, because I need, in order to come from a place of love, often I need my guides, I need my ancestors. I need the spirit world to be like around me, those who love me, you know? So that's what I would add.
Anna: Before we wrapped, I was going to ask if someone was listening and just was like raring to go start scribbling where they would start. But I, I love both of the things that you just outlined, whether it's expanding on something with curiosity or writing to, to your younger self, your inner child. Those both sound like great places, so unless you have something else that you would suggest to our listeners for like one last writing prompt,
Dr. Lemus: One last one last writing prompts is to like, do an outline of a children's, like a children's book where you're the main character, right? Like, and what would her superpowers be or their superpowers be and what would their environment be like? And yeah.
Anna: Ahhhh! That is, is so good. I, I wanna go do that like right now, but this has been such an amazing conversation. I wish it could go on for like two more hours. So thank you for, for joining me today and talking about some of my favorite things and sharing some of your beautiful insights that I wanted to go write about now. So.
Dr. Lemus: Thank you. Thank you for having, for having us.
Anna: There’s a reason I think of my later-in-life diagnosis when I think of the importance of rewriting my story or how I tell my story. It’s that, like, our understanding of ourselves is always changing. Or like Dr. Rose said, we don’t only have one story. We’re made up of stories, past and present, and rewriting isn’t about like denying the truth of our experiences at the time or correcting ourselves in retrospect—it’s about releasing the false narratives that we’re still holding onto as true, you know, so we can make room for the stories we want to tell.
And… I mean, I don’t know about you, but I think the next story I want to try telling is that children’s book Dr. Lemus was talking about. So…who else is in?
Thanks for listening to Mood Ring, a production of APM Studios and Pizza Shark. We’re a new show, so it really helps if you rate, review and share this episode with your friends.
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Mood Ring was developed by Kristina Lopez. Our executive producers are Maria Murriel, Isis Madrid and Beth Pearlman. Our story editor is Erika Janik. Mijoe Sahiouni is our digital producer. This episode was produced by Jordan Kauwling. And as you know, I’m Anna Borges and I write, host and produce this show too.
APM Executives in charge are Chandra Kavati, Alex Schaffert and Joanne Griffith. And finally, our music is by Mat Rotenberg.
Thanks again for listening, and I hope to see you next episode!
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