Deconstructing the Narratives

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Bethany Suckrow -Narratives3

In June, my husband and I purchased new phones. This may not seem particularly noteworthy to some, but you have to understand that by the time we finally got new phones, I had had my iPhone 4 for nearly four years. It had a shattered screen, it had stopped saving my text messages, it had never picked up cellular signal in my house, it kept shutting off randomly. A payphone might have served me better at that point. Or a carrier pigeon.

After two years of multiple part-time, low-wage jobs, I had finally found a full time, salaried job with excellent benefits in May. So there we were in June, upgrading our phones, the first of many planned upgrades. We didn’t want to go crazy, we just wanted to take care of ourselves. New phones and a better phone plan. Repairs to my car. A savings account. Paying off debts. A car for my husband, because he had been carpooling with a coworker since March when the mechanic declared his 1998 Mercury Mountaineer terminally ill. Actually *using* our health insurance to go to the optometrist or the dentist.

A few days after my husband and I got our new phones, the weirdest thing started to happen: I started to have a recurring dream that I smashed my new iPhone and couldn’t afford to replace it. Some of these dreams were so innocuous as to seem real–the phone slips off the counter and smacks the floor while I’m making dinner. Or more surreal ones, where the iPhone is as big as a laptop, and I accidentally drop it in a swimming pool while hanging out with friends. Or the phone flies out the window while I’m driving on the highway.

I couldn’t understand why I was dreaming about this. I would wake up, heart racing with anxiety and think, “OMG BETHANY, IT’S JUST A PHONE.”

But one morning after waking up from yet another anxiety dream about my smashed iPhone, I had a depressing epiphany: It’s not about the phone.

It’s about my life.

It’s about my security.

It’s about my future.

And it feels really fragile. This new job, this new state of having enough to move forward, feels like it could be taken away from me in an instant. In my entire adult life, I’ve never earned this much or had this much guaranteed stability. And honestly, I was beginning to think I would never have it. And now that I do have it, it doesn’t feel real. It feels like I’m going to lose it at any second.

It’s been months since I had that epiphany, and I’m still working through it. I will turn 30 later this year, and as I look back on my 20’s, I’m realizing that the recurring theme of the last decade has been Deconstructing the Narratives. And the recurring question has been: What is my relationship to this thing/idea/institution/person/group of people, and what do my recurring interactions say about my beliefs about it/them? Or, what do I believe is true about myself and my life? Where did that belief come from, and is it really true? Is it helpful? Is it good?

Through every transition and new opportunity, I’ve had to ask myself these questions. It’s exhausting work, but it’s transformational, soul-bearing work.

It’s helped me reorient my faith and my politics and navigate my relationships with people and it’s helped me understand myself in new ways. These past several months, I’ve been working on deconstructing my narratives around money and security. For instance, I’m realizing that I’ve always equated those two things. I’ve always been waiting on enough money (whatever that is) to feel secure enough to change my habits. And I’ve always believed that no matter how hard I work, something could get taken away from me, so why bother trying? *Ugh.* Why do I believe this? Where did that come from? It might be because of what our family life was like growing up, and how I saw other people handle money and security. And it’s almost definitely because we exist in an inequitable economic system that thrives on our failure (banks make more money from our mistakes.)

I’m still working out what to do, now that I know this about myself. My temptation is to obsess over making All The Right Choices, as a way of making myself feel secure. But we are two weeks into the new year, and all our resolutions and self-mandates for perfection are starting to crack, aren’t they? Mine definitely are.

My one hope for myself this year, and for all of my sisters reading this, is that we handle our lives with more grace. Let’s pay closer attention to the cues our bodies and brains are giving us. A silly recurring dream may have a lot to tell us about what we really believe and value. Let’s deconstruct the harmful narratives and rebuild with more compassion–more kindness, more patience, better questions and more forgiving answers.

So tell me: what are the narratives you’ve been deconstructing lately? How are you taking care of yourself through it? What are you choosing to do differently this year?

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Bethany Suckrow
I’m a writer and blogger at at bethanysuckrow.com, where I shares both prose and poetry on faith, grace, grief and hope. I am currently working on my first book, a memoir about losing my mother to cancer. My musician-husband, Matt, and I live in transition as we move our life from the Chicago suburbs to Nashville.
Bethany Suckrow
Bethany Suckrow

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Bethany Suckrow
  • It’s so good, Bethany, to hear the exhale of settling into grace in your voice.
    For me, I probably won’t do many things differently in 2017, but I’m looking more carefully at WHY I’m doing what I do.

    • Yes, the WHY is as important as the WHAT, Michele. Thanks for commenting. <3

  • oh my gosh, so good to hear someone else articulate this underlying fear. I got my first full time job post-motherhood and move to USA as a teacher and I had that major sense of unreality about the whole thing and bizarrely my son voiced my own fear saying “what if they called back and said you didn’t have the job!” just as we were walking out the door to celebrate my job offer!!! I’ve been working the job for nearly 6 months now and still battling the fear that I’m going to mess up daily. It’s exhausting!

    • Morag, I can relate! And sometimes the worst does happen – when my husband and I moved to Nashville two years ago, the job he had lined up fell through almost immediately and we had a terrible time trying to find a safe, affordable place to live. But by the grace of God and good friends, we made it through that. It’s a double-edged sword, because on the one hand, circumstances like that are what drive my fear that everything we’ve built will fall apart, but on the other hand, it’s a reminder that in some ways, the worst has already happened and we survived it. And even better, we learned from it. That’s why grace for ourselves is so important – it gives us the resilience to keep going. Wishing you the best in your new job and your new home. <3

  • fiona lynne

    A friend reminded me a while ago, that reconstructing is a lonely place to be. Many people go through deconstruction (rejecting whatever they grew up with) and then stop there. It takes courage and effort to reconstruct something new and positive and healthy and life-giving. And so we give ourselves grace in the process, and we say thank you when we find someone else on the same path. I’m grateful for you! x

    • Thanks for commenting, Fiona. So grateful for my SheLoves sisters to deconstruct and reconstruct with. <3

  • PAYING ATTENTION IS CRAZY POWERFUL. Ahem. I mean, I am so with you on this. I’m such a deconstruction junkie. And it has borne some amazing fruit in my life.

    • CRAZY POWERFUL. It’s hard sometimes because I feel like I can’t “turn it off”, but I wouldn’t change it. The fruit is too good.

  • I needed this…. I recently quit my part-time job to fully stay home with our two young girls. It’s been such a relief but such an identity shift. Since it was part-time I didn’t realize how much of my identity was tied to it. But it was. And yet, I feel much more open and ready for the unknown. I think it’s going to be a good place.

    • Annie, I’m not a mom yet but the part where you mention realizing how much of your identity was tied to your work really resonates. Every changing season of life requires a little bit of metamorphosis, don’t you think? Shedding versions of ourselves to meet new opportunities and realizing we’re capable of change. Have fun spending more time with your girls! <3

  • Joy Howard

    Yes, and yes and yes. I am reconstructing almost all of my narratives right now and I so need grace. Sarah Bessey wrote awhile ago: “Going off-brand can be terrifying. Daring to change our story when we find our primary identity in that particular story feels like we are losing our own sense of self. It’s more than just changing an opinion or a way of life: it’s changing who we thought we were.” For me, it is changing who I thought I was (I thought I was a professor) and changing who I think I am (maybe I am a writer?) and changing who I think I want to become. And the big question is: where is God in all of this? And so your reminder for grace, wow. Yes. Thank you.

    • Love this comment, Joy. Thanks for sharing Sarah’s words – I remember that post and it’s given me a lot to contemplate too. It’s funny you mention going through a change of who you thought you were professionally, because that is part of what I’m working through right now too. I always thought I’d be a creative writer and artist that just has a day job to pay the bills, and for a long time I was satisfied with that, but I’m realizing now that I want something more, something else. I’m realizing that this idea of who I thought I was meant that I had taken some options “off the table” (like grad school, for example). I had been settling, because once again, I thought I wasn’t allowed to have more. And I didn’t believe that God would help me find a path forward. Thank goodness I’m wrong. Wishing you all the best as you keep deconstructing/reconstructing. <3

  • YES. I totally get the anxiety over the phone, and the relief of clarity when realizing what it is actually stemming from. When I’m feeling vulnerable in life as a result of things outside my control, I start clinging to things, objects, schedules, that I feel like should be within my control. I’ve started to realize it as a trigger and when it comes up to sit and reflect on what it really throwing me off kilter. Then trying to move forward. Thank you!