Puzzling Things Out

Recently, I traveled to the beach to spend time with my brother and his family. Their beach house has a puzzle table on which there’s always an in-progress puzzle. One by one, we’ll pass by the table, pause, and search for a piece to settle into the larger frame. Or, on rainy days or after an apré-beach shower, one might sit and devote some time to filling in a section.

The puzzle on the table this summer is called the 1980s. What a fun—not to mention—challenging puzzle. A total walk down memory lane. So many television shows or newsworthy events I’d forgotten were crammed into the image. The Terminator. Imelda Marcos. The Challenger explosion. Ronald Reagan (and his pal Mikhail Gorbachev). Family Ties. All the Ts: Mr. T, E.T., and MTV. Pee Wee’s Playhouse. The 80s were the best of times. And, the worst of times.

I loved picking a section, determined to complete it. My method was to stare at the box lid, memorize the image, and then scan the unused pieces to find matches. Sometimes, I’d locate one piece after another in rapid succession. In others, I’d seek in vain.

Our brains need to solve puzzles

Here’s what I figured out: the brain works in surprising ways to complete the picture. It’s not unlike our minds need to finish a story or fill-in-the-blanks to create something whole that makes sense to us.

The problem is that we usually get things wrong when we fill in the blanks. Brené Brown calls this confabulation. She goes so far as to say that the most dangerous stories we tell ourselves are about our lovability and worthiness.

Man, I can totally relate. Growing up, I had some weird shit happen in my life that resulted in me believing that I actually deserved less. (From where I stand now, this seems so crazy!) It took years of work, self-analysis, and self-love to peel back the layers, one at a time, and get to the root of all those stories I told myself or accepted from others.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. ~ Lao Tzu

How writing for myself cleared space

Writing my in-progress memoir has helped me puzzle stories further. I’ve taken the opportunity to shine the light into the darkest recesses of my mind, to the most shameful corners, and lovingly excavate them. To love me through this process has been transformative. It’s allowed me to shed physical and emotional weight that has weighed me down. I’m able to stand in my truth, from a healed place.

In the process, I’ve learned that I can support others on their healing journeys—and that feels like I’m creating a massive ripple effect of positivity and love. What a gift!

If you’re like me, you know you were born to make a difference in the world. You’ve done the work to heal old wounds and yet something (maybe more than one thing) keeps you from achieving all you know you can. Some of your beliefs—and stories—no longer serve you. Begin today to write a new ending to your story!


  1. Leila

    Thank you for sharing Debby. I totally relate to this.
    I choose to write a new ending to my story.

  2. Debra Oakland

    Awesome article Debby. I love the say you are ‘puzzling’ life out. As you say we are born to make a difference in the world. Each of us has a purpose, just like each piece in the puzzle. I need to find a fun challenging puzzle to engage my brain in – maybe one about the 60’s…that should be wild!

  3. Andrea

    Your title really captured me. My grandfather was one of the smartest people I knew. One of his talents was fixing or building things. His process was slow and deliberate, punctuated by lots of coffee breaks. When we asked him how a particular project was progressing he’d reply, “I’ll puzzle it out.” And he always did. Thanks for a sweet memory.


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