During lunch with a friend who I have known since I was three years old, I find myself sharing what has brought me to this juncture. We talk about the mental and emotional work that I am taking on, which is all part of becoming a sober and fully-realized man. She asks what I want to get out of all of this work. I hold my breath for a moment and then the truth pours out and over the table like water from an overfull water glass.
“I want to be able to see myself as others see me,” I say as my eyes start to burn. I look down and blink repeatedly.
“Do you want to know how I see you?” she asks with love in her voice.
“I don’t think so, because I know it will make me cry.”
My eyes well up. I know what she will say. She will say things that I hear often. Adjectives used to describe me that seem as foreign and incorrect as saying my skin is the color blue. For as long as I can remember, these words (which are kind and lovely) enter my brain, twist and turn, and morph into lies. The image of “me” that lives inside my brain and heart does not match these statements. I do not believe them about myself, so I cannot accept them from others as being true.
For the most part, people in my life think positively of me and say very nice things about me. Normally, I do not feel grateful for the words they use to describe how they view me. I feel shame; shame that comes from lies that I tell myself – things I believe about myself – and actions and behaviors that mask my true emotions or provide a false sense of power when I feel powerless. It comes from a society that condems who I am and who God made me. Shame comes from not living a fully honest life. From fear of people not liking me. I have not been fully honest with myself or with others, and I have not always been honest when it matters most.
Honesty is a hard value to uphold. It influence ones morals. However, where does one draw the line at what one considers a white lie versus a fib, a stretch of the truth versus a full-blown lie? Is it OK to lie in order to protect others or myself, or protect the perception that others have of me? What is the difference? Does it matter what I keep secret and what I make public; and, when does a secret evolve into a lie?
Keeping secrets is a protective reaction. This I know. Secrets protect against ridicule, persecution, harm, shame, or oneself. I am coming to believe that secrets are a form of dishonesty. They are about withholding information, reserving it, reshaping it, or limiting disclosure. This is typical when trust is a concern. But, when do secrets start to make you sick ... the deep sickness that is true shame, guilt, and self-loathing?
Dishonesty comes in many sizes and shapes. Dishonesty can be big or small. For example, when someone asks, “How are you?” and I respond, “Fine” even though I am not, I am not being honest. Maybe I want to spare them the sob story, maybe there’s no time for details, or maybe I just don’t want to accept that life is hard to live on life’s terms. I find that I say, “Fine” often, but I try now more than ever to respond with an honest fact. “I am happy it’s warm today.” “I am little sleepy.” “There’s a lot going on. More than I can share right now.” And, yes, maybe it's just none of their fucking business.
Honesty is the focus and foundation of my sobriety. I am now finally honest with myself about who I am, who I want to become, what I do, and why I do what I do.
I am working to undo damage from what others say that is untrue about me – statements that, after hearing them enough, I choose to believe. Some are in response to my behaviors and some drive my behaviors into being. Statements like, selfish, stupid, not committed, inadequate, a loser, dishonest and not trustworthy, lazy, unreliable, arrogant, or condescending. Those statements make it hard to believe when people say that I am caring, considerate, loving, handsome, funny, articulate, an intellectual, smart, fun to be with, sexy, creative, talented, or a good person.
I am learning that I base my responses on how I feel people will judge me and our interactions. I am a people pleaser by nature. I have lived my life with low self-esteem and with a corrupt self-image. I want other people to like me because I do not like myself. I need others to admire me because I am jealous of what they may have. I surround myself with nice things and present myself as perfectly as possible in order to mask the inner turmoil that is in my head. If my flatware drawer is in perfect order, then of course my life is!
This work requires a great amount of personal evaluation and soul searching in order to discover what makes me tick. The more I dig into who I am, the more I uncover who I am not. It helps me define who I am now and who I will become tomorrow.
This work makes me more able to see myself as others see me. This work helps me hear and believe the words said about me, especially those words that bring tears to my eyes when said by a life-long friend during lunch.
The tears do come, but not because I do not believe the words. They come now because, in this new view of myself and my life, I am starting to hear them as truth.