The year our oldest son dropped out of high school and became an addict was a very dark and difficult year for us. It was also a time of deeper exposure to life’s most important lessons. I didn’t fully realize it until much later, but it was during that anguished time that I gained a greater understanding of humility, honesty, courage, trust and grace.
In this week’s post I want to continue sharing with you what I learned about honesty
Honesty is the capacity to tell the truth about ourselves. It is the ability and choice to let ourselves and others know what we are observing, what we can do and what we can’t do, what we are thinking and feeling, what we are wanting and what our behaviors have been. Honesty is reality unadorned, the truth with no spin. What Jesus taught us about the truth is that it will set us free.
Honesty is a twin sister to humility. It is the freedom to let go of attempts to manage what others think of us. It is the relief that comes with being real about our limits, our flaws, our poor choices, our sin, our fears, our shame, our longings, our love. It is the joy of being able to let go of the self-image we may be attached to and to allow ourselves to be an ordinary human being.
The truth we need to let ourselves know and speak is, most importantly, the truth about ourselves. The first step of honesty that I had the opportunity to take when our son was using drugs was to stop focusing on his insanity around drugs and to focus instead on my insanity about him. In my attempts to control what was beyond my control I was playing God. As a result, I became increasingly out of touch with reality, obsessed and irrational. I had to admit my own insanity before any positive change could take place.
The second step of honesty became possible for me once I admitted that I could not control what was out of my control. Paradoxically, this admission allowed me to take a much clearer look at the significance of what was happening. There was a problem. Our son was in trouble. I had to stop minimizing and denying this truth. I had to see and admit to myself, to God and to others the existence of this problem. And I had to let myself see clearly its enormity, its progressive nature and its life-threatening reality.
The third step of honesty I needed to take was to acknowledge that I was a part of the problem. This can be tricky territory because we often want to take either no responsibility or total responsibility for other people’s behavior. And because usually neither of these is the truth, we end up in confusion and continued chaos. I had to sort out what was my part and what was not my part of the problem.
The clarity that humility brought me made it easier for me to see that the choices my son was making were not my doing. I was not forcing the drugs into him. He was doing this; I was not. I did not cause these choices; I could not control these choices. His addiction was his problem.
There were ways, however, in which I was a part of the problem. First, I was part of the problem because I had passed on burdens of shame, fear and guilt to my son long before I knew that I carried these burdens myself. Like all parents, there were ways I had hurt my son and had failed him. The inherited burdens of shame, fear, guilt and unresolved pain that he carried were, in part, what made him more vulnerable to making self-destructive choices.
Second, I was part of the problem because I continued to try to fix or control my son and his problem. In doing this, I continued to slip back into minimizing or denying his drug use, wanting to avoid the truth because I didn’t want to face the pain.
Third, I was part of the problem because I was not taking good care of myself. I was so busy with all the insanity of the situation that I neglected some of my own basic needs.
Telling myself and God and a few other people these basic truths helped to free me from adding more shame and fear and guilt to my life or to our son’s life. Honesty freed me from getting lost in self-blame or from needlessly blaming others. Shame and blame only add to the problem. Telling the truth, however, is like shining a light in the dark. It brings a simplicity and a clarity.
The simplicity and clarity that were evident when I told the truth was that there was a problem of great significance; our son needed help; I needed help; our family needed help. Truth, when we find it, is always freeing.