Series Two: Blog Seven
“Soul is about authenticity. Soul is about finding the things that are real and pure” — John Legend
I like to think of myself as a frank, forthright and honest soul. Yet, the most difficult journey I have ever made was going below the surface of everyday thought into the deep caverns of my heart. To demonstrate transparent honesty in those places, to embrace the intimidating, and sometimes the ugly truth about reality has always been a difficult struggle for me. However, without going deep in the pursuit of my personal truth about life and the world around me, it would seem like being an Olympic swimmer confined to an inflatable kiddie pool trying to figure out creative ways to utilize water wings.
Going deep includes embracing paradox. At times it means knowing when to quit, even, coming to terms with personal limits, realizing you can’t do or have it all. It can feel like bushwhacking in an uncharted thick forest. It always goes beyond your comfort zone as you go deep into the uneventful and unspectacular. It can be like going on an outdoor adventure with the most meaningful part being you sitting under a tree watching an ant crawl up your leg while you contemplate the possibility of connecting to your own finite obscurity. In the end, going deep is essentially about coming home to yourself and learning to be true to your heart.
Authenticity is about knowing who you are and living a life committed to congruency under the pressure of disapproval and outright rejection. The litmus test is not another person’s moral code or a framework of “gotta do’s and have to be’s” but is always about being true to your own heart. There are so many fudge factors in life, particularly in adult living. Children learn to do what they are told and find security and predictability as they conform and do what is expected. As life matures into adulthood each individual is required to go deeper and determine their own criterion for what it means to live life with congruency. Do I maintain the rules and regulations taught to me as a child? Inevitably, there will be at least some changes or often drastic shifts away from what was taught and learned during early childhood. As an adult, you can believe and act the way you want to in a much broader context than as a child. The capacity to fudge on life principles is an enticement all adults must weigh and address. Many people stray from principles that have been taught early in life only to return to the basics, albeit with a reorganized focus. The Dalai Lama once remarked that one should learn the rules very well so that as you mature you will know how to break them effectively. Who were your mirrors during your young impressionable days and what values did they mirror back to you? Addicts often grow up in dysfunctional families. There is a powerful 12-step community, Adult Children Anonymous (ACA) that addresses many of the dysfunctional rules and unhealthy behaviors that impact those who have experienced the distortions of unhealthy action and conduct. In ACA you learn to uncover the shield around those who said that you were unwanted, stupid, and bothersome.
We lose ourselves at a very early age. I recall losing myself as a young impressionable 8-year-old trying to play football for my older brother who was 10 years older. To play for him, I had to play without a helmet to prove that I was tough. I did that from a desire to conform to his expectations in order to belong.
I lived with the mixed message that I need to be good at sports but not so good that I would surpass my brother’s success. Once while playing ping pong with the same older brother, I beat him. In rage, he destroyed the table and net and smashed all the balls. So I learned to let him get way ahead and then concentrated on making a big comeback, only to let him win at the end. I so much wanted to be included that I never considered no longer playing with him. Much later in adulthood, I found myself in a padded cell in a psychiatric hospital beating the hell out of my Bible turned to the 91st Psalm— “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. (2) I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” This wasn’t my experience with my family of origin. What began to peek through this broken state was my true authentic self underneath the facade of a false self trying to belong, please, and be accepted.
Slowly hypervigilance to be loved and accepted began to peel away to the embrace of authentic courage of congruent living. Impression management faded in preference of being true to my heart. It wasn’t overnight and in some areas of life is still being fleshed out.
One of the common disclosures that I hear from addicts is the experience of feeling like a fraud. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde experience of addiction leaves an addict painfully lonely and hollow inside, feeling like an imposter. Of course, this would be true of anyone, not just addicts. The longing to be authentic and true to oneself is a common thirst and hunger among all. As Richard Rohr puts it, “We all would like to find the true shape of our own self”.
There is always a struggle to separate what your True Self is from your False Self. True Self is what you really are, that unrepeatable miracle of God. It is that divine DNA about you, your organic wholeness, which is manifested in your destiny, whereas the False Self is the image we put forward in impression management. It can be promoted by way of your vocation, what you wear, where you live, who you know, and how you live. It falls short of being the real genuine you. A False Self is never truly satisfying. It triggers addiction and the need to keep trying to be more to keep from being less. The False Self makes a person become hypervigilant from a fear of being caught not measuring up. It triggers people to get stuck with image management. When you ground yourself in your genuine authentic True Self, you can find your true identity.
There is much pressure to yield to someone else’s expectations even when you have discovered your true self. The apostle Paul counseled “don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould”. Subtly, you can give consideration here and allow compromise there, and before long you have given away your power, and then position yourself as only a shadow of what you once were. This occurs in relationships in which you seek approval and worth. This outside strategy will betray inside awareness of who you are and trigger you to give your power away to others’ desires and expectations. Before long you will lose sense of self. This is where addictive relapse occurs every time. Here are some age-old reminders to help anchor your authentic self.
You might think that once you have done this it should be simple and easy. It is simple but not easy, ever. Sometimes in recovery, you can spill out a cathartic share and want to linger with the release and relief. However, recovery is an ongoing dynamic and not a static experience of arrival. It requires that you show up emotionally naked each and every time in recovery community with a commitment to tell on yourself. So, you must keep a short account with your recovering community and tell on yourself when you get snagged with image management or tell surface truths in order to avoid the impact of deeper truths in relationship with someone you are afraid will reject you.
Everyone in recovery strays from center. It’s about being human. Not if, but when you lose focus and drift from center, you must know to bring yourself back to center. Everyone struggles with incongruence, inconsistency, and hypocrisy. Overcome defensiveness, blind patterns and avoidance by living in consultation with accountability. The interchange can break through image management and cultivate humility so necessary to working an authentic program that will lead you back to your true self.
Shameful messages from addictive recollections blur the vision of who you really are. It’s easy to lose your way thinking you must do (whatever) to prove that you are worthy of being. The reality of authentic true self is that you are and have always been an unrepeatable miracle of the universe. This will never change. Yet, reminding yourself of this truth requires the discipline of bathing yourself with positive affirmation. This is the mental hygiene that will preserve your authentic self.
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