While this entire week of posts feels exposing, perhaps none more than one on honesty. That is right, despite decades of struggle with anger and adultery, despite two divorces, honesty is what hits home hardest. Perhaps because I know all the rest flows from my inability to be honest. So to avoid any allure of hypocrisy, I am going to talk about me. I am going to talk about my honestly to honesty journey.
Jesus on Honesty
But before I do that, I will start with the words of Jesus:
Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.Matthew 5:33–37, NRSV
Honestly to Honesty
Honestly, these days I work hard to eliminate certain words and phrases from my speech. Truth be told, “honestly,” is one of the words. “Truth be told,” is one of the phrases. Why, because I figure if I have to emphasize how honest I am being, it only suggests that there are times I am not honest. And for most of my life, I have been a liar.
It started out with small things. Like this time playing flag football as a kid. It was a forth down play. I lined up in the center of the defensive line. The other team ran a handoff up the middle. I grabbed the running backs flag after he made a first down. But I intentionally dropped the flag on the other side of the first down line. I have no idea if my coach saw what I did, but he quickly pointed out the location of the flag. My team took over possession.
Even as an adult, I often found myself hiding small errors and everyday mistakes. I found myself terrified of potentially doing something wrong. Even when I did something simple like forgetting to pick something up at the store, I found myself compulsively defending, excusing, explaining, and rationalizing.
And then there were the big lie tactics. Often I would only tell part of the truth. I would say something like, “I met up with a friend.” Or, “I went rock climbing.” What I failed to mention is that the “friend” was a stranger I hooked up with or that I met up with someone after rock climbing. These deceptive manipulations allowed me to be honest on a technicality. What I said was true, but I failed to tell the whole truth.
At other times it was me offering what Kelly Ann Conway once called alternative facts. I insisted that what I said was true despite the obvious falsehood. This would be a line like, “I have no clue who sent me that text.” It was classic gaslighting, aimed to make the other person doubt reality as they experienced it. To quote George Orwell’s 1984 (affiliate), “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.”
There were even times when I insisted something was true with the purest of intentions and desires in that moment. “It’s the last time.” or, “I swear I am done with that.” come to mind. I hated who I was and how I lived. And while that was true when I said it, I said it denying the reality that once circumstances changed, so would the desire to remain faithful.
That is because for many years, illicit behavior was the only effective solution I knew to calm my inner world. Why it worked when other including tactics like meditation and drugs like lithium failed, I do not totally understand. I am sure it flows out of twisted connections in my neurology where childhood sexual abuse intermeshed with a sense of acceptance and love. So when I felt rejected or not enough, I found myself desperately seeking the one thing I knew would made me feel better. Give me a choice between internally raging and a stabilizing dose of infidelity, and I would take infidelity every time.
Moving Towards Honesty
So what changed? What allows me to journey from honestly to honesty? Defying the voice of my abuser who told me not to tell anyone certainly helped. Too bad I waited till forty-four to do what I needed to do at four. So did rejecting the shame-nurturing faith I once embraced. Reprocessing memories through EMDR proved helpful. As did speaking my truth and having people embrace me on the other side. Embracing the second of The Four Agreements on not taking someone’s rejection personally is a regular practice. So is pressing myself to be honest about what is going on in my inner world.
And that is really what it all comes back to. Learning to be honest. Yes is yes. No is no. It seems so simple. But to do it with others, you first have to do it with yourself. That is why one of the values in our community for spiritual misfits, is authenticity.
This post is part of an ongoing series. Link here for a list of every episode in this series.