You live in a dream world.
You have always lived in a dream world.
You have never known anything but this dream world, so you think it is ‘real’.
And it is real.
But it is ‘a’ reality.
Your problems arise because you think it is ‘the’ reality.
Consider the story of Jane.
Jane was restless as she had been many times in the recent past. Her husband was behaving mysteriously. He was putting in long hours except that … he wasn’t. She dropped by his office one evening to surprise him and suggest having dinner at their favorite joint and found out that he had left hours before. He mentioned a heavy workload when he finally got home, and she said nothing.
Their twenty-fifth anniversary was coming up next month and she was feeling particularly vulnerable. Their only child had just left for college, and they were alone. Money was tight and college tuition hurt more than expected. She was also painfully aware of sagging flesh and veins that were discolored and stood out. She was still attractive but no longer turned heads as she once did. So, she relied ever more heavily on colorings and potions and the unguents dispensed by cosmetics companies and then she felt guilty about such expenditure.
The next day she waited at a discreet distance from his office and followed his car. He drove into a residential, and upscale, part of the town and parked in front of a mansion. He walked to the door and rang the bell. The door opened immediately. She was young, blonde, beautiful, and long legged. She was dressed in shorts and barefoot. He walked in and she shut the door.
Molten lead appeared from somewhere and settled in her stomach. She could barely breathe, and it felt as if bands of steel were clamped around her chest and growing tighter and tighter. When she was finally able to look up her eyes were moist and there were pools of tears on the rubber floor mats. It was three hours before the door opened again, and her husband walked out. She drove home hurriedly and made it a few minutes before he did.
“What took you so long today?” she asked him. She tried to make it nonchalent, but her voice was as taught as a bandsaw. However, he was pre-occupied and did not notice. “Just some stuff that came up,” he replied casually. “I’ll probably be late quite a few times more before we leave for our cruise next month.”
The next day she flipped through electronic Yellow Pages and picked a matrimonial lawyer. She met with him that afternoon and asked him to prepare divorce papers. A cold vicious fury consumed her. Accountants were dry non-romantic persons. They did not have affairs.
But they did.
How could she have been so wrong? How could she have been so completely unaware of what was going on around her?
A blinding rage would not let her be and she found herself outside the mansion the next afternoon. She did not know why she was there. In the back of her mind was a vague notion that perhaps the slut was married she could unmask her to her husband. Let her suffer as well. Let them all suffer the pangs of Hell!
She jabbed the bell so hard she almost broke it. The door opened. She stood there silently noting that the woman — almost a girl, really — was even more good-looking up close. With a start she realized that the other was saying something. “Do I know you?” the woman asked.
Tightly she introduced herself waiting to see the other woman shrink in guilt. Instead, she smiled welcomingly and threw open the door, “Come in,” she said and there was genuine warmth in her voice. They walked into the living room and the woman asked her to relax and what would she like to drink and how glad she was to have met her and how she absolutely had to have something now that she was here.
Jane was bemused. Guilt Unmasked was not supposed to behave like this.
“So, I guess the surprise didn’t work,” the woman said conversationally as she brought in the drinks.
“No, it didn’t” Jane replied, puzzled but holding on to her presence of mind. “But tell me all about it anyway.”
It turned out that the woman’s husband ran a wholesale jewelry business. He was a recent immigrant and innocent of reporting and record-keeping requirements. And he worked long hours and traveled constantly and ignored his mail including official letters. He didn’t realize how messed up his affairs were till he was hit with an IRS audit notice.
“If it hadn’t been for your husband we might have gone out of business,” the woman said matter-of-factly. Most of the papers were in the basement and her husband had spent hours marshalling and collating them so they told a story of honest error instead of deliberate fraud. He was negotiating with the IRS on their behalf and, that very morning, had settled the matter for a modest fine.
“He is so talented,” the woman gushed. “We got off far lighter than we expected.” He had also set up a record-keeping system for them so they would never get into that kind of jam again.
The kicker was the tiara. He was doing all this so he could get a diamond tiara for his wife. She recalled mentioning to him once how much she wanted one. It was a long time ago and he paid no attention, and they never had that kind of money and he paid for her father’s hernia operation and now they had ivy-league tuition to cover and so she forgot all about it.
But he hadn’t.
He had noted it and remembered and now he was getting it for her on their silver anniversary.
The two quickly became friends and she picked a tiara from the catalog.
“I’ll tell him that he can’t go wrong with this one,” said the woman conspiratorially. “He doesn’t need to know that you picked it yourself. In fact, he doesn’t need to know you were here at all.”
The molten lead turned to ice and the ice melted. The bands of steel broke with an almost audible snap. A vast happiness sprang up from somewhere and engulfed her.
Life was good.
On the way home she stopped by the attorney’s office and asked him to tear up the divorce papers. That was easily done since he had not yet started. She still owed him a consultation fee and her heart sang as she wrote out the check.
Jane built an entire edifice of deceit and betrayal and revenge in her head. And then she lived in that structure and suffered in it. And, like Samson, she was ready to pull it down to cause general destruction.
What about you?
What is the story you are telling yourself that is causing you untold suffering?
Don’t get hung up on trying to determine if your story is ‘true.’ Tell yourself a a different story that serves you better.
This is the underpinning of The Alternate Reality Exercise in my course and more than two-thirds of the participants achieve their first major breakthrough while doing it.