Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Blessings and Curses of Being Honest

Several weeks ago I received an email from a subscriber who wrote, in part: “… Some of your thought processes are not very pretty and sometimes conflicting. Why do you share on such an intimate level? ...”
It’s a good question and those of you that are subscribing to this free weekly message deserve to know a little more about me. It may help you interpret or integrate these messages into your own life. Conversely, it may cause you to decide to run for your life!
I am a recovering alcoholic with over 25 years of sobriety. I used to be an active Presbyterian minister. Today, I remain very spiritual, but not very religious. Those who have read my book and/or listened to my Audio CD already know this.
Several years into AA’s program of recovery, where the acceptance I found transformed my life and accomplished what all the religious dogma and biblical studies never did, I relived a repressed memory from my days in high school. A girl became rather sweet on me and, during a band trip, shared how much she both respected and liked me. All the time she was telling me this, I remembered thinking to myself: “The me she believes she’s talking to isn’t the real me.” Exploring this memory, I discovered that that experience was a classic symptom of toxic shame – a phrase coined by John Bradshaw in his book Healing the Shame that Binds You. 1988.
It was a very, very sick feeling – believing that my “me” that you responded to wasn’t really me. And if it was not really me, then who was it? Who was I? I had no earthly idea, other than knowing I had this hollow empty feeling deep inside that I was living a lie and was a very incomplete person. Unlike you.
In AA meetings I heard many different people describe this same feeling as “…having a hole in your soul.” Very apt, I believe. How do I fill that hole? Honesty – real honesty. I found honesty in meetings, with my sponsor, working the steps, making amends.
In AA meetings for the first time in my life, I experienced the ability to be really me, nothing held back, and still feel supported and accepted. That totally transformed me. I will never be able to repay the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous for that tremendous gift of Grace God gave me – speaking through the voices in those rooms.
In personal computing there is a term used in conjunction with printer technology called WYSIWYG (“What you see is what you get”). That’s exactly what I want to be in my life. That’s the only way I can feed the real me and starve the feeling that I have a hole in my soul.
So I want to restate the concluding paragraphs from an anonymous author who published, through the Hazelden Foundation Press, a booklet entitled Shame: Understanding and Coping, 1981, pp. 61-62 [ISBN: 0-89486-131-X]. This author says, much better than I, what I’m trying to communicate.
“…I would like to share with you in [the] conclusion [of this pamphlet], and out of gratitude, something that I came across recently. Its author called it ‘an alcoholic’s meditation on honesty, pain, and shame’:
“Honesty involves exposure: the exposure of self-as-feared that leads to the discovery of self-as-is. Both of these selves are essentially vulnerable: to be is to be able to hurt and to be hurt. But something tells us that we should not hurt: that we should neither hurt others nor hurt within ourselves. Yet we do – both hurt and hurt, both cause and feel pain.
“When we cause pain, we experience guilt; when we feel pain, we suffer shame. The pain, the hurt, the guilt of the first is overt: it exists outside of us, ‘objectively.’ The pain, the hurt, the shame of the second is hidden: it gnaws within, it is ‘subjective.’ Neither can be healed without confronting the other. A bridge is needed – a connection between the hurt that we cause and the hurt that we are. 
“That bridge cannot be built alone. The honesty that is its foundation must be shared. A bridge cannot have only one end. Without sharing, there can be no bridge. But a bridge needs a span as well as foundations. The bridge’s span is vulnerability – the capacity to be wounded, the ability to know hurt. ‘I need’ because ‘I hurt.’ – if deepest need is honest. What I need is another’s hurt, another’s need. Such a need on my part would be ‘sick’ – if the other had not the same need of me, of my hurt and my need. Because we share hurt, we can share healing. Because we know need, we can heal each other.
“Our mutual healing will be not the healing of curing, but the healing of caring. To heal is to make whole. Curing makes whole from the outside: it is good healing but it cannot touch my deepest need, my deepest hurt – my shame, the dread of myself I harbor within. Caring makes me whole from within: it reconciles me to myself-as-I-am: not-God, beast-angel, human. Caring enables me to touch the joy of living that is the other side of my shame, of my not-God-ness, of my humanity.
“But I can care, can become whole, only if you care enough – need enough – to share your shame with me.”
I share with you as intimately as I dare because I have to. That’s who I am. That is the road to my salvation and to my humanity. Honesty. Exposing who I am. Risking the vulnerability that entails. I do this because the alternative – living a lie, projecting a “self” that is not truly me – is no longer an option if I want to be alive.
Thanks for listening, and – as always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#5 September, 2012
Copyright, 2012

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