Honesty is such a lonely word– Billy Joel
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you
I spent the vast majority of my life in the strangest of paradoxes. I strived, at every turn, to be “the” authentic Ben in all situations. Home Ben was the “real” Ben, Church Ben was the “real” Ben, Work Ben was the “real” Ben, you get the idea. And with few exceptions and necessary nuances related to where I was and what I was doing, I would have considered myself “authentic”. If you knew me in one of my “worlds”, you would not have been surprised at anything you would have seen or heard if you encountered me in any of my “other” worlds. Sounds good, right? Where’s the paradox, Ben?
THAT Ben, who was consistent across the board, was inauthentic to the core. And it hurts to type that, because I am a good person and have always been seen as a good person who does good things. And it’s not that I DON’T or AM NOT, but that “reality” of myself was a construct designed to extract love and acceptance from others. Fear of rejection, disapproval, or any kind of general “pulling back” from me kept me firmly ensconced in an existence where the “authentic” Ben was a big, fat, lie.
Honesty is likely a word people would have chosen as a trait they admired in me. Which is cool. Except it was wrong. I was SO AFRAID that what I thought, how I felt, what I believed, had I been open with it, would have caused people to withdraw their love and approval from me. And I just couldn’t bear it. So people saw a pretty “consistent” person (what you see is what you get), but that person was built around who I thought others needed and wanted to see, rather than who I really was.
So that’s the paradox. Ben of the first 40 years was the “real” Ben just as much as 40+ Ben is the “real” Ben, but they are two completely different people. Ben “A” was earnest, but not genuine. Ben “B” is thoroughly genuine (to the horror and discomfort of some) but has to spend MUCH less time being “earnest” because life just… happens.
(Side note: I think there are significantly more than the two “A” and “B” iterations of “Ben” throughout my life, but that will have to wait for another entry. Watch for an entry called “Ben 5.0” or something like that.)
I’m trying to decide where to go with this from here. What can I write that will expand upon what is above and also add value as I write and as your read? I think I might go with some bullet points. What were the “lies” I believed and told myself that caused me to live as someone to YOU other than who I really was?
- “If you knew the real me, you wouldn’t love me”
I believed that to my core. I would be and do ANYTHING, to the point of denying real and true self needs, to make sure you would “choose” to love me. Fear of rejection or abandonment is a powerful motivator and behavior modifier. It’s a motivator that draws some kids into the the “wrong” kinds of activities and groups of people. For me, it drew me into groups where I would be most likely associated with all things “right” and “good”, which saw me end up steeped heavily in conservative evangelical Christianity.
I wonder now which group of kids got drawn into fellowship with the “wrong” kind of people…
I’m actually abandoning the bullets now, because I think that first bullet says it all. But that BIG statement begs the BIG question, “Who was the real me, so desperate to secure love and acceptance, that I would NOT be him in order to to get and keep that coveted love?” (More bullets)
- The one that became most obvious to me from my teenage years on and the easiest one to identify today is my sexuality. In the family, church, age, town, school where and when I grew up, being gay was simply not an option for me. AT. ALL. I mean, of course it was, and maybe a stronger person would have chosen differently in spite of the environment, but it was not an option for me. So deeply buried it became. That’s definitely a big one. And the fairly recent self-acceptance of my identity as a gay man and the even MORE recent decision to be open with everyone about it have brought the “real” me more into the light than ever before. And that was really the biggest blockage needing removal to start excavating the rest of it…
- “I alone am responsible for your happiness, and if you are not happy, I am a failure”. And OY. That applied to EVERYONE: God, parents, siblings, teachers, pastors, employers, coworkers, parishioners, friends… pets! Let me tell you something: it’s exhausting. I didn’t even know how exhausting it was until I realized my entire life was oriented around living this untruth. And now that I have unclenched a little bit (baby steps), when I watch others LIVING THIS LIE FROM THE PIT OF HELL (sorry), I’m exhausted for them. And really, this probably should have been my first bullet, because it feeds everything else. If it is my responsibility to make and keep you happy, and me being gay will make you (or God, or my friends, or my parishioners) UNhappy, then I will subvert it to the greater goal of KEEPING EVERYONE HAPPY.
That’s it – that’s enough bullets. Put the second bullet first (I can’t change it because it’s a “Stream of Consciousness” exercise, but YOU can move it into first place and realize, if this is a lie you believe, it drives EVERY OTHER piece of inauthenticity in your life.
It crushes the ability for you to live in honesty.
Happiness is everyone’s individual responsibility and choice. Yes, I can do things that will make you happy and vice versa, but it is not the reason either of us exist. Let’s be frank, you’d be a dick if you didn’t do things for others’ happiness. But don’t let it be your reason for existence. Don’t let it be the reason you choose to be someone you are not. Don’t let it be the reason you eat yourself alive with anxiety and depression. YES, IT’S GOING TO FEEL REALLY FUCKING SELFISH when you start to act in a way contrary to this lie. It’s not easy. It takes time. Have I mentioned I’m 52? I was 38 the first time I had a therapist tell me “You are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness”. Do I wish I had found that therapist at 8 or 18 or 28? Absolutely! Was I afraid that admitting the weakness or imperfection of “needing” therapy might jeopardize someone else’s happiness or damage their opinion of me? Also yes.
And there it is.
Honesty IS such a lonely word.
It’s not anymore, for me.
It doesn’t have to be.
And it’s mostly what YOU need from you.
Your Friday prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday is “-sty.” Find a word that ends in “-sty” or use the word “sty.” Enjoy!
#SoCS comes from the website of Linda G. Hill.
Here are the rules:
1. Your post must be stream of consciousness writing, meaning no editing (typos can be fixed), and minimal planning on what you’re going to write.
2. Your post can be as long or as short as you want it to be. One sentence – one thousand words. Fact, fiction, poetry – it doesn’t matter. Just let the words carry you along until you’re ready to stop.