In another of my “field trip” meetings last week, the chairperson talked about his initial fear that he might be one of those people described in “How it Works” as unable to be honest with himself. His remarks got me thinking about my own journey towards external and internal honesty.
When I came into the program, truth was selective. I told one portion of the truth to my mother, another segment to my sort-of-ex, while I told myself yet another version. I would’ve claimed cash register honesty, but that wasn’t true given that I’d been using my boyfriend’s money (before he became the sort-of ex) to fund my lover’s meth lab. I wasn’t stealing from stores, but only because I didn’t have to, and truthfully, the thrill of shoplifting was one of my earliest adrenaline highs as a kid. I’ve kept a journal/diary since 5th grade, but even in my private writings, wasn’t always honest about my behavior, until, finally, I couldn’t hide from myself. The day after my scrawl literally fell off the page, I wrote about my addiction. I noted that I’d been on a self-destruct path since age 14, and couldn’t imagine what I’d done to deserve the level of punishment I’d been inflicting on myself since then. I did not make the, what now seems obvious, connection that at 14 I started drinking and my behavior deteriorated exponentially as the years went on. I had such a hard time admitting that I was an addict because I knew that meant I’d need to stop and I could not imagine what was on the other side. The process of fully conceding to my innermost self started with that journal entry, however winding the road to treatment a year or two later.
My honesty level vastly improved the minute I got sober because I stopped doing things I needed to lie about. In treatment, I came across a bit of paraphernalia in my belongings. I hesitated for a moment, thinking I could pass it on to one of my druggie friends, but realized that if I hung on to it, I was hanging on to the possibility that I might use it again myself. When I got home, I was no longer shooting dope, so didn’t need to lie to my mother or my sort-of ex or my best friends about what I was doing. I was honest with my new friends about the meth cook lover as I wrestled with how to either help him get clean or let him go. Getting to the place where the truth converged and I told the same story to everyone, because it wasn’t a story, was more liberating than I would’ve imagined.
Emotional honesty was another thing. I wasn’t consciously trying to be dishonest with my feelings, but I didn’t exactly know what they were. I remember cringing in meetings when the topic was “Emotional Honesty” because I literally had no idea what they were talking about. The idea of truly knowing what I was feeling, and trusting enough to share that with another person, was a halting journey. Scared. I knew scared – of you, of the unknown, of the “what next?” question. I knew when I was excited/agitated – from too much caffeine, that cute guy across the room, the thrill of waking up clear-headed. And I knew sad – mourning the ending of the relationship with the man who’d put me through treatment, grieving my father’s death without the buffer of chemicals, thinking of the “what if’s” that I’d squandered along the way. I knew the feelings, but couldn’t always connect them to what was really going on. I blamed you, or him, or the great big world. I distracted, with caffeine or activity, or impulsive decisions. Eventually, and I do mean eventually, the spinning top that was my psyche slowed to a stop. It wasn’t until I could hold still that I could listen for the quiet voice, the internal knowing that had been buried for so long. It was then that I was able to unravel the emotional ties to my past and to my childhood, to make the connections between history and present reactions, to be able to answer the question, “How am I feeling?” honestly and openly. I wasn’t trying to be dishonest with myself – I just didn’t know what I didn’t know.
How does emotional dishonesty manifest in my life today, now that, theoretically, I do know what I know? I think of times that I expect my spouse to read my mind, or when I fib on my food plan. I think of the times I believe the whispering lure of isolation, or busyness, or when I think I should push on instead of resting. Emotional honesty today means accepting that I am a human being, not perfect, not striving Every.Single.Day, just a person on the path – sometimes strolling, sometimes skipping, sometimes on my hands and knees. In the past, I wanted to already be there, wherever that was. Today, I am more appreciative of the journey itself.
How have your views, or your practice, of honesty with self and others evolved over time? Do you have at least one person who you can be real with about your feelings, your fears, your hopes and your dreams?
** On 8/4, aaagnostica.org will publish a piece of my writing on being sober a long time. I’m grateful for the support, and say, “Welcome!” to any of those readers who find their way here. Please, join the conversation...