“Truth and courage are not always comfortable, but they are never weakness.” – author, Brené Brown, PhD
If I had shared this quote with my 18-year-old, eating disordered self, here’s how it would’ve gone down:
On the outside, a smile. A nod. An affirmative, “yes, exactly. It’s so important to always be honest and take risks in life. I always encourage others to do so.”
On the inside, heart pounding. A feeling of being exposed. An internal dialogue that would have included, “yeah, that’s a lie. It sounds nice, but the truth is that you are an emotional, needy mess. You are the definition of weak. And you can never let anyone see that.”
Now, more than 20 years into recovery, I often find myself encouraging clients to embrace authenticity. Own their stories. And in the spirit of honesty, its sometimes really hard. I know what it’s like to have people tell you everything will be okay. That you can say what you feel, what you think. Trying to absorb that while every fiber of your being is – and has always been, thanks to a harm-avoidant temperament – paralyzed by the fear of, among many things, judgment.
The real truth is that finding your voice is an exceedingly, painfully hard thing to do. At times, it sucks. We struggle to find the words, and when we do, we struggle to say them. We debate about who to say them to. And people don’t always understand. They sometimes don’t “get it,” and, worse, they sometimes judge.
I spent the better portion of my youth and young adult life living in fear of judgment. Having every decision I made be filtered through the fear-based, emotional meat grinder of my mind. The result? Whatever came out usually didn’t resemble anything close to what I was really feeling or thinking. It didn’t resemble my truth. Safer? In some situations, absolutely. But it also felt exhausting. And lonely. And sad, boring, and fake. I lived a life that wasn’t really mine. I spent a lot of time pleasing everyone else, and periodically breaking down, shutting down and isolating; in an attempt to disconnect from my disconnected life.
So, what’s the lesson in all of this? That living an authentic life is full of so many wonderful, connected moments – and also very hard, uncomfortable ones. It’s a mixed bag either way. “Truth and courage are not always comfortable,” to be sure. At times, I still do feel very weak and weary with emotions, but the power of connection inevitably shows up. And authentic connection is worth it.
So, here’s your challenge for today (or some time this week): ask for help with something. Especially if it’s something you feel uncomfortable asking for help with. See if you can do in person, retina to retina, without the use of social media, email or text. Asking someone to help with a project, a decision, an errand – anything, so long as it makes you a tad uneasy to do it – might just be a bid for connection. There is no guarantee that the other person can or will, but that’s honestly not the point. Sure, it would be nice if, after sitting with all your discomfort about asking and finally doing so, s/he responded with a resounding “yes, I’d be happy to help,” but we can’t ensure that will happen. All we can do is push ourselves out of our harm-avoidant comfort zones a bit, and in the process, take a step further down the path of recovery. That’s what valued living is about.