Telling My Own Story


Telling My Own Story

Image credit: Photo by Ventiko

Focusing on renewal and forgiveness

Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night with this thought: Tell your own story. The words came to me along with the vision of a circle of white light that I saw when I closed my eyes, and it made me feel calm. I prayed I would remember those words, and when I woke up this morning, I did.

Sometimes I feel like nothing more than a conduit for the energy of others, particularly in my work as a writer and editor for hire. When I’m not working, I can feel empty and . . . blank. Being a wife used to feel like that sometimes, and being a mom often feels like that. My son is almost 14 now. He’s getting ready to go off to high school, be a teenager, and flex his young-man muscles. I’m already beginning to understand that letting him go is the central mission of being his mother.

So what’s my story? How do I find myself in all this giving, loving, and supporting others?

In my personal writing, I often go back to my memories of pain and heartache. After losing so many loved ones in my family, I have more than enough tales of sickness and death, loss and grief. And yes, I find it helpful to write out my feelings of sadness and longing, to purge out the fear and anger that I’ve accumulated inside me after years of what feels like extended trauma. But I’m not fully defined by my pain. I don’t believe that my challenges measure out the limits of my capabilities.

So what stories do I want to tell? I certainly don’t want to fool myself with bullshit put-a-smile-on-it narratives that obscure the truth of how I’m really feeling. Back in the day when I was doing health-care advocacy work in the sickle-cell community with my husband, we used to call that the “false positive”—a veneer of bravado that folks would sometimes wear to prop up the illusion of being on top of it all. It was certainly a good tactic for getting through difficult moments, but it wasn’t a long-term coping strategy for managing a chronic illness, not by any stretch of the imagination.

These days, I seem to be in a place that is balanced somewhere between delving deep into my sorrow, tapping into angelic inspiration, and indulging in the worst kind of gallows humor. By nature, I’m more of an optimist than a cynic, so I don’t tend to get too caught up in negative thinking as a rule. But who doesn’t have their shitty moments? Let’s be real. We all hit that wall once in a while, some of us more often than others.

This morning, I e-mailed a friend and told her that I was having a shaky morning, feeling weak and sad and not at all in tune with my inner strength. She wrote back and told me what a beautiful, strong woman I was and how blessed she felt to have me in her life. Of course that made me bawl my eyes out for a minute, but then I started to feel better. I began to pick up the pieces of my day and map out a schedule for getting things done. I focused on what I was feeling excited about, and I began to breathe deeply again.

Maybe my story is one of renewal.

I recently did a photo shoot for a friend’s art exhibit. She photographed 100 friends in her artist community, costumed as self-styled “saints,” complete with backstories. These characters were meant to express some unique essence that we each carry. Taken together, we represent a wildly diverse community of creative souls, emblematic of the kind of rich and colorful society we strive to support, protect, and enrich, particularly in these times when people are being targeted for being “other.” My character’s name is Santa Deborah, patron saint of reinvention—a deeply meaningful expression of my personality, indeed, my soul.

As a mother, I often joke that it’s a given that I’m screwing up my child, preparing him for a future in therapy. It’s pretty much assumed that as the mom, I’m the one to blame. It’s all my fault. Everything. Although it’s funny on one level, it’s also kind of humbling to know that although I used to be free to screw up and learn my lessons on my own dime, that’s no longer the case.

So I guess my story is also one of forgiveness. I try to be gentle with myself, but sometimes it’s not so easy. And I do know that the harder I am on myself, the less likely I am to be gentle on my child when he doesn’t live up to my expectations. All that mirroring can get pretty heavy, and I have to remind myself to make a concerted effort to keep things light.

One thing I will say about being a Solo Mom—and this is something that I never expected—is that without the presence of a life partner who is also a coparent, I’m left with the responsibility of creating my own narrative, defining my own role in both my life and my son’s, making my own mistakes, and ultimately finding my own strength. For someone as “boundary challenged” as I have been, historically, this represents perhaps the greatest potential victory of them all.

I do my best. I own my mistakes. I succeed or fail on my own terms. And ultimately, I create my own very powerful circle of love with my son. I’ll admit, the stakes are high . . . but the rewards are even higher.

Do you have a Solo Mom story to share? We’d love to add your voice to our Perspectives section.


Deborah Oster Pannell is a freelance writer and editor who collaborates with other writers, artists, and creative entrepreneurs to develop and promote their projects. She is currently working on a collection of stories and poems about grief, parenting, and sexuality, which, as it turns out, are not always mutually exclusive.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.


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