Central to my new life now is a serious effort to be authentic in everything I do, taking advantage of every opportunity to be real with people.
And believe me when I tell you this is not my natural setting. It’s something I have to work to do well, like practicing my golf swing or playing chords over and over on my ukulele. I suck at both, but it’s the same principle - creating muscle memory by repeated effort.
Because I’m naturally introverted but have rejected that label and even felt social pressure to be otherwise, I lied sometimes. My lies were never designed to hurt or deceive anyone intentionally, but rather to protect me and keep me from having to face potentially uncomfortable situations.
I had it in my head that lying kept me from looking like a jerk, when in fact, that’s exactly what I was.
I lied about a few big things, but more often than not my lies were about silly, insignificant shit. I made up excuses when invited to parties and gatherings, often telling friends I was busy or sick. I did this semi-consciously and over time it became my default setting, aka muscle memory. And while this may not seem like a huge deal, it often made it necessary for me to tell additional lies to support that simple fib. And that led to carrying around much larger, complicated fabricated stories. Those were challenging to keep track of and I was sometimes caught with my pants down, all because I didn’t know how to express myself in genuine ways. “No thanks” and “Here’s how I really feel about that” were just not in my vocabulary.
“They wouldn’t approve if they knew!”
I believe this behavior stemmed from growing up in a family where it was important to keep up appearances. We never wanted people to think we were less than. Problems were kept secret or swept under the rug. When grandma and grandpa came to visit, we didn’t tell them that we never went to church and instead suited up in white tights and shiny shoes and pretended we were holy on a regular basis. They wouldn’t approve if they knew! We didn't let the neighbors know that my brother totaled the family car in a drunk driving accident when he was sixteen. We can’t let people know we have problems! My dad lost his job in his late 40s and still we kept the fancy cars. What would people think of us if we let them in on our best kept secrets?! If we pretended everything was ok, then it was.
Growing up this way taught me to keep the ugly side of life inside myself and create a picture of we’ve-got-our-shit-together-aren’t we-pretty on the outside. I believed this was the key to living in this world and it led to an inability to share my feelings. Telling someone how I really felt made me feel weak. This wreaked havoc in my relationships with friends and boyfriends.
Because it was automatic to lie, I became disconnected from why I wasn’t telling the truth in the first place. In other words, I no longer knew why I didn’t want to do something, because I didn’t let myself feel or explore the root cause, but instead quickly defaulted to the lying mechanism. And this became easier and easier over time.
All of this falsehood resulted in me being a rather unreliable, bullshitty person in others’ eyes. I often couldn’t be counted on to show up for people. I nearly always had an excuse and everyone saw right through it. I was fooling no one, and looked like an asshole trying.
What I’ve found through 12 step work and recovery, is a balance; contraction and expansion of myself in ways where I can feel comfortable within healthy boundaries. Sometimes I want to be around people and connect, other times I need to be alone and recharge. And it’s all ok.
Now I listen to myself, realizing that being uncomfortable generally means that something is wrong or out of order and needs to be addressed rather than ignored. I trust my own feelings. And over the last 400 days, I’ve let go of filters and facades and this has been really freeing. I’m more human and real with people and they have begun to trust me.
Now, when I say no, i do so with confidence and an understanding of why. They say the truth shall set you free, and that's how I feel, free.
Jennifer is an entrepreneur, a mother, a writer, and an alcoholic in recovery with a sobriety date of September 14, 2015. She is a former human resources professional, which means she’s seen it all, in and out of the workplace. She has a daughter in college and a dog curled up on the sofa. She’s naturally inclined to use foul language and believes there aren’t enough women in positions of power in this world, and she’s looking to change that. Her writing here will shed light on what it’s like to be new in recovery.