To Thine Own Self Be True
Mar 16, 2012
Stories. We all have them. We live by them. We tell them to ourselves and we tell them to others, we tell ourselves stories about others and we tell others stories about ourselves. We live like they are true, even when they aren’t.
Before I got sober five years ago, I had no real awareness that I was living, entrenched, in my stories. I had done a lot of work on myself, and I had an intellectual understanding about it, but I couldn’t really get behind the stories to the truth of myself. About 10 years ago, I did a workshop that proposed that, at about the age five or six, something happens to us, all of us. It could be as horrifying as physical abuse or seemingly benign, such as not getting chosen for kickball, but the severity is all relative. It was a defining moment where we went from feeling like we were enough, just as we were, to believing that we were not enough, and that something was terribly wrong with us. We were suddenly not smart enough or pretty enough or thin enough or good enough—and this is true whether we are alcoholics, or addicts or ‘normies’. At that moment, we write the script of our life. We spend the rest of our lives compensating, overcompensating, for that moment.
People who felt abandoned will become needy, or the opposite. People who were not included or accepted into the group will decide to do everything in their power to be on the outskirts of the group or society (tattoos, mohawks—well, back when those things ostracized one from the pack. Not like modern days—this stuff is normal business attire nowadays…) Or, if they didn’t try to fit out, they did everything in their power to fit in—status seeking, ambitiously over achieving, people pleasing. Women who were mistreated would trade themselves for validation. The scenarios are endless. We all have our modus operandi, our way of navigating the world according to our story.
I am not saying that this explanation is exactly 100 percent true, but it bears consideration, and it sounds plausible to me. We do start to tell ourselves stories. And then we become our stories. One of the main features of the stories, however, is the built in sabotage factor. Limitations are crafted and woven into the fables of our lives, and it becomes nearly impossible to see them and separate them from reality (because they ARE our reality), although the sadder part of this equation is not that we can’t or don’t see them, it’s that we are attached to our limitations. Some would even say we are addicted to them.
I will gladly give examples of this in my life, especially ones that I have done work on and am starting to be liberated from. I have, for many years, swaggered around saying that I don’t want a relationship, that the whole love thing is BS. I created an untouchable, emotionally unavailable persona. I thought I was cool, that I was untouchable, that I didn’t need anybody or anything. To make matters worse, I wasn’t alone. Many women I knew had their own version of the ‘untouchable swagger’ going on- their own guards and survival tactics, their own self sabotaging armor, and what we would do is get together and talk about how emotionally unavailable men were. We couldn’t even see that we built the walls of our own prisons, brick by brick, and lamented how distant and unreachable others were. There came a time when I was called out—it doesn’t matter how it happened, except to say that in sobriety, we just get to know ourselves, we get known by others. And the process of knowing oneself is rarely anything but messy and uncomfortable.
What I discovered is that really, I have very traditional values, and did believe in love and finding a lifelong mate, and in the necessity of family. I’m actually fairly old fashioned, truth be told. And here I was, 3,000 miles away from my own family, who I see every eight years or so, divorced with two kids, and determined to be romantically detached, the sole breadwinner, and never to co-habitate with a man again. What total bullshit! Seriously, I had told myself all these stories that were so NOT in alignment with my core self, all to protect myself from being hurt or disappointed. It’s the ‘you can’t fire me, I quit’ syndrome. Or ‘sour grapes’. As long as I could fool myself that I didn’t want it, then it wouldn’t bother me that it didn’t work out anyway.
Like I said, it gets messy when you are getting to know yourself. You have to look at the life you built on the stories you’ve told. Honestly, it wasn’t the life I would have endeavored to build, if I had been honest with myself from the start. But it’s my life, and I love it; I wouldn’t be who I am if it had gone any other way. I am happy I got to wake up and see it for what it is, and also what it could be. I would hate to die and suddenly, as the curtains are closing, suddenly remember who I am and think, “No! I need a re-do! I didn’t mean it!”
Now what happens when you get to the truth and you are surrounded by the old life? You simply begin to live your truth, where you’re at. It shows up in your actions, and interactions. And parts of the old life start to crumble. Sometimes it really hurts to let it fall apart. The impulse is to fix it, to go into a panic and try to tape all the pieces back together- it is, after all, the only life you have ever known. But if you are committed to living your truth, you begin to have faith in the process. You let go and let it unfold. It sounds passive, but acceptance is not passive, far from it. It’s hard work to trust. You have to fight your own self and your deep rooted fears. Your Ego/Disease flares up and starts laying on the lies and laying them on thick. “You aren’t good enough, you can’t do this, what are you thinking? You might get hurt!”
To Thine Own Self Be True
Here is what I’ve decided. I might get hurt. Yep. In fact, I probably will. Maybe I won’t, but the thing is, so what? Can I not survive it? I think I can. I know I can. I don’t want to live a life where I am not risking the BIG STUFF. Not just romantically; I don’t want anyone to think this only applies to romance, it’s just the example I used. I could just as easily have talked about career, finances, mothering, legal issues, family of origin drama, body issues, anything. There is just no sense in playing small here. I wasn’t put on this planet to walk on eggshells.
When I was active in my disease, all I ever did was walk on eggshells. Every drink, every pill, every line, was another layer I was hiding behind, tiptoeing around the truth of me, hoping it wouldn’t wake up and call me out. We are very brave to get sober and drop that first layer, willingly. And we are braver still the more sober we get, and the closer we get to the truth of our very being. One thing I can tell you—we won’t be disappointed by what we find to be true, only that we kept it covered up for so long.
We run from what matters most to us. We hide from the truth that calls us from the moment we are born. This is why it is so often said, “Know Thyself.” And then, “To Thine Own Self Be True.” Or, as my friend Mikey said to me once, many years ago, “You don’t have to be anyone that you isn’t. Aren’t. Ain’t.”