“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ~Nelson Mandela
She hurt my feelings. She was leaving soon to live in another country for up to six months. I knew that if I held on to my hurt, this resentment would fester, and my best friend would be the recipient of my anger.
I prayed for courage to find the right words. I didn’t want to hurt her. I knew I had to say something or I would allow my hurt to manifest into something huge.
The courage came, and I acted immediately. I dialed; my heart pounded. I was so afraid.
She answered. The lump in my throat made me silent. I began to weep.
I gently uttered, “I’m calling to tell you that you hurt my feelings. When you didn’t show up for my big event, with no phone call, no communication, it hurt my feelings. When I asked for your opinions on my new gig, you didn’t respond. It hurt my feelings.”
I stopped and let the silence set it in. Within a few seconds she responded.
“That was the bravest thing I have ever heard you do. That took so much courage. I’m sorry. I’ve been self-absorbed.” And the story went on.
She ended by saying that she, too, has been seeking to speak her truth, and that I had just provided the greatest example of how to do it gently and with kindness.
The woman I called is one of my best friends from childhood. Believe it or not, making that phone call was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my new way of living. I’m a recovering alcoholic, and I’m learning how to feel and how to communicate.
I spent my first forty-plus years sugarcoating my life and my feelings—putting a beautiful spin on everything and avoiding controversy at all costs. But that didn’t work, and the ultimate cost was I almost lost my life to alcoholism.
Growing up in a dysfunctional and alcoholic home, I developed the ability to shine things up at an early age. I spit polished every word that came out of my mouth.
I painted a thick coat of pretty on every fear that besieged me. When asked how I was doing, the simple “fine” or “great” would ward off further inquisition.
There was a lot at home to worry about back then, but I believed that worry was for the weak and that I was stronger than worry, so I locked it in a steel-cased compartment deep inside of me and threw away the key. Things were just fine.
And I did not even acknowledge anger. I can’t tell you where or how to access the anger that has burned slowly within me for decades because I have never given it a voice.
“Aren’t you angry?” a therapist would ask me on occasion. With a genuine and convincing smile on my face, I would nod no. I didn’t feel angry, but the truth is that I really didn’t feel anything.
I learned at an early age that it was just easier to get along in this world by placating everyone. I didn’t realize that while I was overly concerned about not hurting others with the truth, I was sacrificing my soul.
I know now that I was an incredible liar. I lied all of the time and to everyone. And while a lie about how I was feeling may have seemed insignificant, it wasn’t. Those lies were the most powerful and did the most damage to my psyche. They continued to reaffirm the idea that I did not matter.
I had my first drink at thirteen. I was a blackout drinker from the start, and alcohol let me escape from my fraudulent life.
I was a high-functioning alcoholic for many years achieving much success in my career and personal life despite my drinking patterns. I could mold the veneer of my life into whatever I thought would earn society’s approval.
After years of heavy drinking, I was graced with the gift of sobriety at forty-four. Let me tell you, getting sober is like growing up all over again, and it’s a rollercoaster of a ride. There are many days when I simply feel like a little kid, paralyzed by fear, overcome with sadness, or gleefully happy.
One of the many gifts of sobriety has been discovering my true self and creating new habits and patterns for living.
Over the course of my journey, I’ve regularly struggled with two issues—faith and honesty. I will leave faith for another post, but learning how to be emotionally honest with myself has been a brutal and slow process.
Like peeling away the skin of an onion, I find that I have to peel away my old habits and walls that I have in place to shield me from the truth. Every time I think I have it mastered, another opportunity arises that challenges my commitment. I find I actually have to practice being honest with myself.
A good friend of mine who has helped guide me in this new way of life constantly reminds me to pray for and meditate about courage. During my first summer of sobriety, I did this constantly.
I’ve had some hard conversations. Actually, the terrifying part was imagining how those discussions would unfold, but in reality, they weren’t that difficult. And, I found that people tend to admire and respect someone who can be completely honest.
These are the steps I take when I face emotional honesty. It’s a simple process.
- Identify and connect with my emotions.
- Identify my part in the situation.
- Pray for the courage to speak honestly, with kindness and authenticity.
- When courage hits me, act immediately.
We may think that it’s easy to tell a little white lie to save someone else’s feelings, but is it? Wouldn’t it be easier to just tell the truth?
It’s funny, but I relish the opportunity to practice honesty now. And, it is becoming more of a natural way of life for me. If I feel overwhelmed by the truth I have to share, I begin praying for courage immediately.
I also have learned to speak with compassion and without hate or anger.
When I told my friend that she had hurt my feelings, I was overcome with relief, as well as a feeling of gratefulness for her friendship. By speaking up, it allowed us to grow closer, but I had taken a stand for me first; I had demonstrated to both of us that I matter.
Each day we are given a precious gift—the gift is that day. What we do with it is up to us. I choose on this day to be authentic to the world. It’s all I can be. It’s freeing just being me. I choose to remain vulnerable by speaking my truth and sprinkling love wherever I go.
When we learn to speak our truth, we become courageous, we value ourselves, we shine our light from within, we become worthy, and we feel, share, and connect on a more intimate level. We can inspire honesty in others.