On my journey down the long and winding trail of self-discovery during the past five years, I’ve often heard the maxim, “You are only as a sick as your secrets.”
The sentiment behind such an exceptionally wise statement is this: if you’re living a life of deception on any level, you can’t possibly be a spiritually and emotionally healthy human being. And in my experience, unhealthy means real fucking unhappy, too.
Fortunately, on my path to becoming a better person, I have been afforded many opportunities to unburden myself of all the major secrets that have kept me sick, through sharing them with my higher power (the ol’ HP) and others I trust who are on a similar journey. And what a gift that has been!
I’ve tried very hard to live a good and honest life since my spiritual awakening, but I know I can always get better and be better.
On that note, this week I’m joining a group of women who also want to be better in a study group of sorts. We’ll be reading, writing and sharing about a different core principle each week for the next 12 weeks. This week, the principle we’re discussing is honesty, so I’m spending some time delving a little deeper into what it means in my life today.
To be clear, my secrets and lies have historically been pretty vanilla by normal people’s standards. Nothing illegal, immoral or depraved. But keeping even those relatively innocuous secrets ravaged and shamed me to a degree that I did not fully understand until I let go of them.
At my core, I think I am basically an honest person. As a child, I was taught that there was no greater infraction than to lie to my parents. I took that shit seriously. Because of that early moral compass, I was terrible at it and got caught every time.
To this day (thanks to the fire-and-brimstone religion I was raised with and the ass whoopin’ I got at age 9 the one time I tested my Daddy’s stance on the topic), I still have a very guilty conscience and zero propensity to bullshit.
I feel physically ill on the rare occasions that I tell a fib — my body betrays me with a dry mouth, cold sweat and the shakes. There is simply no chance that I could ever be a successful criminal, car salesman or professional card shark. To sum up: this girl ain’t got no p-p-p-p-oker face.
While you can rest assured I will never tell an outright lie to your face, I’ve come to understand that dishonesty isn’t quite so black and white. It’s not simply a matter of telling a friend I missed her wedding because I had a stomach bug when I really just wanted to watch a marathon of “Sex and the City” instead. (I have never done that, by the way. Just sayin’.)
No, there are lies of embellishment. Lies of concern and consideration. Lies of omission or of self-protection. Sometimes, these kinds of lies are practically mandatory in given situations, but DAMN … I sure do struggle with feelings of remorse whenever I engage in them.
So yeah, if a friend is really down on herself and could be buoyed by a compliment, I give it, whether it’s 100 percent true or not. Also, when my son was small and needed to feel safe in an intimidating situation, I told him everything would be OK, whether I believed it not.
And two years ago, toward the tail end of my marriage, I found myself in a precarious position where I felt I had to protect myself and my son at all costs. Let’s just say that a relapsed drug addict is a terrifying creature, and I needed to convince a judge to remove him from my home.
I did NOT outright lie, but I had to effectively translate my fear into a court order that would persuade a stranger to take action.
Everyone around me supported my choice, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. But it has taken me the years since then to get over the guilt I felt related to a few minor exaggerations. It was only a couple of months ago when I was finally able to make peace with my actions under those exceptionally shitty circumstances.
Oh, and here’s something that’s been a tough lesson, but a very valuable one: Turns out that just because someone asks me a question doesn’t mean I have to answer it. Hunh.
Yeah, I can deflect and refuse to answer it at all, or I can chose how much to reveal. Turns out, my life is none of your business and it’s OK to say that out loud. I also don’t have to explain myself. “No” is a complete sentence. How about them apples?
Really though, the lies I tell most often are the ones I feed myself. Half the time, I don’t even realize I am doing it until it’s too late, or it dawns on me after the moment has passed. An apt example: I stayed with my ex-husband WAY longer than I should have. I was in total denial about how far down the rabbit hole he had gone, not to mention how far I had let him drag me with him.
Speaking of my ex, lies are ultimately what destroyed my marriage — both times — so I cannot abide a liar in any of my other relationships, romantic or platonic. Aside from always telling me my butt looks good (even when it doesn’t) I need to hear the facts from you, no matter what they are. For real and for true, every time.
And for me to stay healthy in my mind and my heart, my goal is rigorous honesty in all areas of my life. It’s hard to do, and I will never be perfect at it. And I now realize that honesty is not an "either or" proposition ... there’s a lot of gray area in between. No human being is 100 percent truthful all the time. Not friggin’ possible.
Just like anything else, though, in the dance between truth and fiction, balance is the key. So I figure as long as I am always respectful and kind to others (and myself), whichever choice I make at any given time will be the right one.
And that, my friends, ain’t no lie.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.