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Last week I revealed that my husband is in a six-week treatment program for an alcohol disorder. Many of you responded with kind messages of support – thank you for that – however, there was one word that kept popping up over and over again in your notes:
I heard this dozens of times both online and off.
You’re so brave to share your story.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, wondering why an open door policy with our messy truth is often considered an act of courage. Indeed, while I’m no fan of oversharing, it seems to me that under sharing is far more dangerous.
Aside from the fact that no one gets to opt-out of suffering in this life, as any good counselor will tell you, it’s the shame we keep hidden that ultimately has the power to destroy us.
Only what we bring to light can be healed.
Even so, there’s a lot of pressure to convince ourselves and our social media feeds that life is always awesome, if only to sidestep the conversations we’d be forced to have if we admitted it’s not.
This desire to avoid the unpleasant at all costs can be deeply cultural and, as I’ve learned, deeply generational. My husband’s family, for instance, visited him last weekend and – despite the fact that it was the first time anyone had seen or spoken to him in the weeks since he was admitted – no one uttered a word about how he got there.
Instead, we talked about the weather, food, Christmas plans, and other trivialities, while carefully dodging the fact that we were having this conversation in a rehab center.
I suppose I’ve just answered my own question on why sharing the truth is “brave.” Perhaps it’s brave because so few of us know how to do it. And yet… if we aren’t willing to have the difficult conversations, we naturally miss opportunities to emerge closer to each other and stronger on the other side.
In my own family, I’m obviously far more willing to stand by my husband through his treatment because he’s been honest about the problem. If he weren’t, I imagine it would be a different story entirely.
Zooming out a bit, this week it was discovered that the Pentagon had buried evidence of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste. As you’d expect, the waste was a big deal – but the cover up was a far bigger story.
Zooming out even further, could the fact that we don’t know how to talk openly with each other be the root cause of our toxic identity politics?
Again, what’s more “brave?” Staring cold truth in the face – and being willing to discuss it – or pretending it doesn’t exist?
Yes we want to be safe in the way we communicate, but it’s also important to be real.
And, honestly, if I had my choice between the two – I’ll take real any day.