An ally called honesty

I think anyone kind enough to travel these lines deserves to know the hands tapping out the words belong to an honest man. 

While I am unquestionably! a flawed being, honesty is my ally. In short, it is the greatest ally I’ve come to know in life. It is, for all intents and purposes, my higher power. I asked a close friend once, how best to identify a higher power. He said, “As long as you know it’s not you.”

I knew exactly what he meant. Stay in the moment as best you can, keep your head where your feet are. Understanding that the moment you’re in is the only place you have to be; finding the gift in that experience.  Sometimes, moments of peace. Tranquility may be the better word. Peace has had itself mangled by its nearly umbilical attachment to war.

Tranquility’s sound matches its meaning; it would no doubt be played by the woodwind section of an orchestra. 

Without honesty, there can be no tranquility. At least not for me. Dishonesty distorts reality. Reality’s tough enough as it is without adding dishonesty to the mix.

I’ve been away from this blog for a bit, coming to terms with some things in life, like we all do. I can tell you this, I am grateful for every single one of you who has been kind enough to travel these lines with me. And that’s the truth.

A matter of allegiance

There is little I value more in someone than kindness. Few things move me more than witnessing or learning about real acts of kindness.

Kind is defined in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary as “having or showing a gentle nature and a desire to help others : wanting and liking to do good things and to bring happiness to others.” The definition is incomplete. Kind is also having or showing a gentle nature and a desire to help yourself by being kind to yourself; wanting and liking to do good things and bring happiness to your life as well as to the lives of others.

I was in the sauna  at my local YMCA recently when I heard a conversation going on just outside the door. One person was offering a helpful suggestion to another person who’d been dealing with a painful condition for some time. Hearing the kindness and compassion in the voice of the one offering support coupled with the heartfelt emotional tones of appreciation in the voice of the one receiving the support brought me to tears. There are many things I love about life, moments like these are among my favorites.

Like you, I’ve witnessed acts of kindness and cruelty. Never too much of the former, always too much of the latter. As a writer I instinctively pay close attention to the world I live in. One component of that world is the interaction between people, their patterns of thought and emotion, the multitude of ways in which they interact with and treat each other, as well as the ways in which they interact with and treat themselves. It is not possible to have a healthy relationship with life absent a healthy relationship with self.  It is not possible to have a healthy relationship with self without an allegiance to honesty.

Now, if I told you I’ve always had a healthy relationship with my life my nose would respond with a vigorous Pinocchio response and make a sizeable hole in the monitor’s screen. So, I won’t lie to you. I won’t lie to you because, one, I am committed to living an honest life, and, two, I’m rather fond of my monitor.

It would be understandable if you’re wondering how an essay that starts off talking about kindness has somehow meandered its way to honesty and dishonesty. It’s done so because I believe when dishonesty is one of life’s underpinnings, acts of kindness are often self-serving, designed to make an impression or illicit a particular response. There are times apparent acts of kindness are rooted in unhealthy antecedents which, by their nature, are destructive. To the person offering the “kindness” and to the person receiving it.

This brings me back to allegiance. Is it healthy or misplaced? That’s the question.  For years dishonesty was an underpinning of my life because my allegiance was to alcohol and drugs. In short, to addiction. When anyone is caught in the addiction web – a web that can include addiction to food, work, sex, shopping, etc. – life becomes about protecting the addiction rather than protecting the life. A lifestyle like this leaves nothing  in its wake but carnage.  A carnage that includes the destruction of relationships, friendships, families, children, jobs, careers, education, hopes, dreams, and, life. I could name many – some of whom I loved and love still – who are dead because of  addiction. I know some today who will no doubt add to these numbers unless they shift allegiance from addiction to self.

Stepping out from behind the dishonesty mask is a scary. It is also the first step in reclaiming – or for the first time claiming – the right to one’s self. For me, the thought of reaching the end of my life still entrenched in the addiction web and hidden behind the dishonesty mask was far scarier – it also made me blisteringly angry. First, I would die without ever  fully living life as myself, and, second, those that wounded me would’ve had control of my choices right up to the moment of my death.  They don’t deserve that kind of power.

And then there is this: I know no kindness greater than saving a life, including one’s own. As I said, there is little I value more in someone than kindness and few things move me more than witnessing or learning about real acts of kindness, including those that are self-inflicted.

The trust reward

There are many things to be grateful for when you live a sober life.  That I still have my life tops my list, thank you very much (smile). The fact those who know me trust me because they know they can is right up there. To be trusted is quite the gift, especially for someone like me who for years would lie and spin tall tales without batting an eye. It was a unhealthy way of life. It was so ingrained in my character there were times I either didn’t realize I was doing it or times when the lie was so silly it baffled even me. If I read 25 books one year I’d say I’d read 26. Crikey!

Many  believe (I did) the moment you stop using (alcohol and or drugs) you are sober. Not true. You have to stop using to then get sober. It took time for me to learn how to live a sober life, an honest life. Dishonesty itself is an insidiously addictive substance.

Being honest does not (by any stretch of the imagination) mean I am always be right. Far from it. In fact, one of aspects of honesty I appreciate the most is the relative ease with which I can admit when I’m wrong, and, when appropriate, apologize. There is something comforting about honesty.

Now, the fact I am honest does not mean people always believe me.  Though they are not always pain free, moments when people think I am being dishonest with them are absent the presence of guilt (now there’s an emotion that will erode one’s sense of worth) and therefore less stressful and complex moments to manage. Not always easy though. While honesty does not make life easy, it does make life easier.

“No legacy is so rich as honesty,” wrote William Shakespeare (“All’s Well that Ends Well”, Act 3 scene 5).  For me it is a legacy within reach, and one I’d never thought possible.

True to self one day at a time

There is no place for perpetual cruelty, dishonesty or disrespect as constants in my life, no matter the perpetrator, even when the perpetrator is someone I love very much.  Having been all three at times in my life there is nearly always an open door to my life for someone willing to take responsibility and makes amends. Absent that, no healthy relationship with the person is possible. I am a realist. I know the best of us get angry and may say things or do things in a moment of anger (or fear) that are mean and nasty. One is responsible for recognizing these moments, owning them, and meaning it when they apologize. Dishonesty is another ball of wax altogether. And one worthy of real attention.

It is important to note that dishonesty serves a real purpose. First, when someone is being dishonest they are not being truthful about who they are and there may well have been a time when being truthful about who they were was dangerous. Dishonesty became a kind of armor, a survival mechanism that had to be used simply so the person could survive, so the child could protect himself or herself from abuse, for example. What is so terribly difficult to learn is the defense system that was once your greatest protector  is now one of of you greatest vulnerabilities. I have great compassion for those who include dishonesty in their life-management repertoire. This does not mean I’m always able to have them be constants in my life, nor does it mean I don’t hold them accountable.

Having a healthy relationship of any kind with someone who uses dishonesty is like to trying to sculpt solid objects out of smoke; it can’t be done. One of the things I am most appreciative of in my life is people trust me because they can. They really can. Believe me when I tell you this was not always the case. I’ve been sober now a few strides past 11 years and I can tell you there was a time I thought no one would ever trust me because there was a time there was little reason to. I remember being dishonest in ways in which raised my own eyebrows. If I’d read 31 books one year and someone asked me how many books I’d read that year, I’d say 32.

It is easy  to get angry when someone is cruel, disrespectful or dishonest in their behavior towards you. A former girlfriend of mine (now a close friend) once asked a friend of mine we were having dinner with, What do you see make Peter angry? His answer was spot on. Two things mainly. Being treated with disrespect or seeing someone being treated with disrespect, being denied their rights.  It’s true.

A short time ago I wrote a piece for this block called Beware the distance makers. Distance makers are not people, at least not in the context that essay and this one is talking about. Distance makers are habits, patterns of behavior that, by default, prevent others from getting close to us. Individuals laden with distant makers are engaging life with highly edited and twisted versions of themselves.  Stepping into the open as our true selves, flaws and all, can be a steep climb. Tragically, too steep for some, or so it seems. But, once achieved, it is a wonderful place to be. Far less stressful. Your relationship with the world around you and those in it becomes healthier, more loving, and more fulfilling.

The most painful thing of all for me is when someone I love, someone I genuinely care about, is trapped in this kind of destructive lifestyle. I can’t be close to them because it is dangerous for me. But, even more painful is witnessing people whose real truths are breathtakingly beautiful go through life trapped in the exhausting and endless task of juggling untruths, and, in doing so, confirming their inaccurate self-image that they’re not worth very much. Many reach the grave that way. I still love them, deeply so, and the door to my life is open. And while I can’t make another person get well, I can always believe in them and pray for their capacity to do so. And, if they do so, or truly start to do so, I will be there to embrace them, encourage them, and help them reclaim, or, perhaps for the first time, lay claim to the life they truly deserve. A life where they can be true to themselves, one day at a time

A word on friendship & honesty

Yesterday I had the chance – and very real pleasure – to talk with a woman that used to be my girlfriend and is, I am very happy to say, my friend. It had been awhile since we’d talked because, as happens between friends from time to time, honest misunderstandings stumbled us up a bit. There are certain indelible truths about this woman that anyone who meets her would be wise to make note of. She is intensely courageous. I’ve seen the courage she brings to life’s challenges up close. The specifics of those challenges have no place in this missive because it is not my place to talk about them and, she is my friend, which means I won’t tell you.

It nearly always makes me shake my head with sadness when I see people trying to manage their lives by spinning webs of misinformation (or telling outright lies) rather than staying on the path of honesty. Yes, this latter is not always easy, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that honesty is a powerful ally. As one who lives a sober life, it is an ally I have no intention of betraying. The woman I spoke with yesterday is cut from the same cloth. She is courageous, honest, and, it must be said, the kind of mother to her two daughters that every child deserves.

Those managing their lives with dishonesty often attack and villainize the ones who love them the most because the ones who love them the most hold them accountable for their choices. Those who love them are wise not to lash back in kind. Pray for the person you love and hold them accountable.  Stay out of the poisonous web of deceit. It is not healthy for you. Equally important, it is not healthy for the person you love who may genuinely no realize honesty is one of his or her best allies.  The most painful experience for those of us who love someone who manages life with methods short of rigorous honesty is we  oftentimes need to disengage from them.  And loss, even when necessary, is painful.

Thankfully, none of this holds true with my friendship with the woman I spoke with yesterday. Talking with her was a breath of fresh air, it usually is.

If you love a person who is caught up in an unhealthy lifestyle like this, leave the door open. People truly can change. It is hard work, not easy, and takes courage. But if you love them, they deserve a second chance. People gave me a second chance (and then some) after I got sober.