Uncomfortable Authenticity

I am a huge proprietor of authenticity. I strive for it, I preach it, I attempt to practice it…most days. But something struck me this past week.

We all have had struggles in our lives in some form or another. Some of us struggle with dark pasts of abuse, depression, suicidal ideation. Others struggle with sexual, gender, sexuality identity. Yet other people might struggle with poverty, or immigration status. In some way most people have endured some type of struggle that required resilience and perseverance. So why don’t we hear more of their voices?

I got stuck on this while I was at dinner with a friend about a week ago. Most people who know me know that I have a “past” but many are unaware as to what that entails. It’s not that I’m ashamed or unwilling to talk about it. In fact I have written numerous articles, posts, and have had many open conversations about it. Yet it seemed that there was still a shroud of mystery surrounding my history of being sexually abused by an older man in my childhood.

I realized that it wasn’t because I felt uncomfortable talking about it, it was because other people are uncomfortable listening to it.

Have you ever had that happen? A more common example might be where someone says, “Hey how are you?” They do so in passing hoping that you’ll give some mundane answer of, “I’m Great/Fine/Wonderful. How are you?”

This happens every single day. I mean think about it. Are you thinking that someone will be honest and authentic with you? If you are then I would consider yourself to be in the minority much like myself. Because I am authentic and honest. If someone asks me, “Hey how are you?” Im gonna tell them exactly how I might be feeling in that moment. That could be a myriad of emotions ranging from angry to sad to afraid to genuinely happy.

But it’s not unusual that when I respond with a non-ecstatic emotion that I am immediately shut down with sayings like:

“Oh…im sorry to hear that,”

“Well hopefully it gets better,”

“At least [insert anything that is meant to make you feel like your troubles are invalid],”

I mean surely this has happened to you right? It is the fastest way that we choose to disconnect ourselves from the people around us. It’s easy to respond with these sayings in passing. We blame time by saying we don’t have enough of it to just take a moment to be genuinely interested in the well being of someone else.

Now extend that to these more pervasive situations that require us to be more vulnerable. Opening up about a past of childhood abuse, subsequent severe depressive episodes, an emotionality disorder, and attempted suicide are not light topics. They require a skill to navigate. A dexterity of sorts to know what you can say and what is better left for another time.

The interesting thing, to me at least, is the idea that other person’s level of uncomfortableness is so penetrating that it causes silence in me. They don’t have to take this home with them every night. They don’t sleep in a bed of cotton sheets that have soaked up your tears from misunderstandings. They are not the mirror of your bathroom to whom you speak each morning to keep going, keep fighting. They are not the pieces of clothing that hide your shame and insecurities beneath layers of woven threads.

So it amazes me that I haven’t been fully heard or understood in my story. Mostly because it’s easy for people to push away what they can never understand. I am guilty of this too though. Of not quite knowing what to say or how to react to someone’s revelations of who they are or why they are that way. I have been in the opposite position, I have been the uncomfortable one. But I owe an apology to the people whom I have affected in being that person. Because it doesn’t feel good.

It feels like absolute sh*t when you walk out onto a branch thinking it will support you and it snaps in two. It burns like hell fire through your being when you open up and tell your story to someone who doesn’t hear any of the words that come out of your mouth. So we silence ourselves and we fail to tell our stories. Which I think is a damn shame, because we are more beautiful human beings because of the things we’ve experienced.

So if this has happened to you, I encourage you to keep getting up. Keep trying to tell your story. Eventually you will find people who will listen. I have met a few who are genuine in their interest in knowing how this has impacted me. How it affects me everyday. They are my tribe. We all deserve people who know us, all the parts of ourselves that we keep secret and yet still love us.