For as long as I can remember, grey has been my favorite color. I don’t think it’s an aesthetic-only preference. I’ve rarely been able to see the world and its complexities in black and white. My viewfinder is constantly set to shades of grey and at times that can be maddening. I’m a fence sitter, right on top, usually perfectly balanced and almost never teetering towards one side or the other. I’m the human equivalent of Switzerland in my stance on most issues. I can see it your way and my way, his way and her way too. And because of that, I’m often left feeling like I don’t know which way is up or which way is down. I’ve shied away from important decision-making and resisted contributing to policymaking, I love to assist but detest being in charge and I’ve never been politically active; all because I’m not sure which way the wind is blowing.
I’m finished feeling like my inherent neutrality is a deficit or defect. I believe that our biggest perceived weaknesses are also our biggest strengths and which way they present themselves all depends upon how we apply them. If there’s one thing I find myself saying repeatedly, it’s, “Both things are true.” Things are almost never just this way or that way, but almost always both ways at once.
A classic example of this for me is motherhood. Motherhood is too much and not enough all at the same time. I come across this shared sentiment all the time in books, blogs, articles, in social media and scratched on restroom stall doors and I could not agree more. Motherhood is excruciating in its execution and tedium and exhilarating in its expression and reception of love. It’s the shit and it’s shitty. It’s one of the hardest things we will ever do and one of the most rewarding. It’s touch and go and nerve-racking and it’s a privilege and a gift. It’s all of these things all at once.
Unless you purposefully and repeatedly hurt other humans, I will probably get you on some level. I will understand your beliefs and your actions at least in partiality. Probably in no small part because I want to be understood. I don’t want to feel unmoored and alone and I don’t want anyone else too either. So when I am reminded that our stories are not for everyone, I get all the reasons why that can feel true. Our stories about our mistakes and our missteps and our trials and tribulations and our regrets and remorse will cause a stir. We will be judged. We will be ridiculed. We will be misunderstood. We will be abandoned. We will be declared less than, unfit, a nutter. By some. It will happen. Fo’ sho.
But….if in sharing our stories we can reach even one person that needed to be reached, in the exact way and at the exact time they needed it, and that reaching creates a compassion connection, then I’m in. I can’t keep quiet and not reach that person anymore. Because I’ve been reached, in the precise way and at the precise moment I needed it. The universe seems to be designed to facilitate this and it’s so beautiful, but it only works when we participate. We have to share and we have to listen.
A year ago, part of my story was told publicly, without my consent or participation. The invasion of my privacy left me feeling gutted, shell-shocked and ready to relocate to a remote and distant cave. The ravage of having the story of my husband’s affair told in the media will never leave me. I will always remember the sickening dread that accompanied the dawn of the realization that our kids could not be sheltered from his actions.
Will you pause here and try to imagine going through something personally devastating and nearly impossible to navigate at the onset and then, before you can even catch your breath, watching it play out on television news? Then hearing it on the radio and seeing it in print? And being aware of it taking on a life of its own on social media? Our first amendment affords us a necessary and glorious fundamental right AND it can work to grab you by the throat and fling you around like a ragdoll. Both things are true.
When your story is told for you, you can get a little feisty. As no one can tell your story the way you can. You alone have the insight, accuracy and acute recall of the details and emotions, of the background and turn of events, of the effects and the aftermath. Just you. But we don’t always tell our stories. Even if we are inclined to do so, it can take a long time before we are strong enough and then willing to share on a level that leaves us utterly exposed and vulnerable. I don’t know if I ever would have told this part of my story to anyone. First and foremost, to protect my children. Further, to protect my husband. And finally, to protect myself and the allowance to hurt and to heal and make decisions away from the public eye.
It took me longer to recover because this story of mine was told for me, without my knowledge it was going to be told and without me having the benefit of even knowing yet what the entire story was or how it would end. And I recovered more quickly because my story was made public and accessible to others. Both things are true. The number of people that reached out to me in love and support, in understanding and empathy, in grace, mercy, compassion and warmth was staggering. The number of people that expressed anything negative, directly to me, was zero.
If my story had remained with me, festering inside of me, it may very well have destroyed me. Through engaging and weighing in, in telling my own story (albeit against my will) to those I trusted and valued, sharing became the initial mechanism I used to begin to heal. At that point I felt I had no choice, if I wanted people to know what actually happened and how it was actually affecting me and my family, I had to talk. I cannot express to you how much I resented that. I cannot express to you how liberating and cleansing it was. Both things were true.
That experience reshaped my thought process about telling our truths. I don’t know where I’d be today without the support I received, support that I had planned on denying myself by keeping quiet. No, that’s not true, yes I do. I was hurting and full of shame and I felt alone and scared out of my mind and that’s where I might still be today. Instead, I am surrounded, loved and protected.
When I hear others sharing their truths and laying it all out there as once-wounded human beings now on the recovery continuum for the sake their own healing and for the sake of other humans; I rejoice. I feel their stories opening up new passageways in my heart and firing newly generated neurons in my brain. It resonates as right. Necessary. Important. As survival and self-preservation and as tremendously useful for the greater good.
I have found solace in hearing the hard, the heartache, the hurt and the healing others have come up against. I’ve been made to feel less alone and more understood. I’m going to pay that forward, by continuing to tell my stories. From devastation and destruction can come restoration. From heartbreak and losing our way can come revival. From betrayal and pain can come renewal. From restoration, revival and renewal can come unprecedented reparation and growth and deep, strong, fortified love. All of these things are true.
And all of those things can come quicker when we deny shame’s hold on us, when we disavow embarrassment, when we devalue stigma and when we embrace the healing power of telling our truths. It works. Try it, even if it’s just with me. I will get you. I will see you as imperfectly human. And I will see you as me. Both things are true.
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Featured image: piotr mamnaimie “rail fence”, (CC BY 2.0)