Updated: Aug 30, 2020
But first it will piss you off.
My readers...and others...tell me they find my shameless self-disclosure comforting. I sure hope so. My internal censor and ability to sugarcoat reality, even for my own benefit, seem to be sorely impaired. As our country unravels and the election looms, I feel compelled to turn this uneasy spotlight on our collective selves. In typical Isabella fashion, I will combine navel-gazing with compassionate criticism to highlight the rampant lack of honest, humble self-reflection that is sinking our ship in a big way. Our denial is simply killing us. My intention is not to cast blame, incite or humiliate, but to help promote the healing that can only come by exposing wounds to the light.
Denial: More than Just a River in Egypt
I seem to have an uncanny ability to see the truth about things. Honestly, this has been a bit of a mixed bag (read, really awful). See, mostly, we humans really aren't interested in the truth, myself included. We prefer denial and delusion...about ourselves, the people we love, cherished beliefs, money, and retail goods. We want to believe what we want to believe, almost unto death. This syndrome has gotten way worse, a subject of my recent blog on the subject. We are paying dearly for indulging it. With this series, Don't Shoot the Messenger, I'll be challenging some of the BS. Be forewarned: I'll be drifting dangerously close to politics and irritating the hell out of some of you.
Life lessons from the Isabella Chronicles.
Early in my career, I had a job at a tiny company owned by a brilliant couple. The wife was a melancholy, pensive PhD pessimist. Picture Eeyore. The husband was an intensely exuberant and visionary optimist. Picture someone who needed medication. The business was experiencing growing pains and assorted challenges borne of the owners' differing views. They hired a consultant to plan their next move and I was included in the initial strategy session.
At the end of the meeting, the consultant declared without much finesse that the wife was the pessimist, the husband was the optimist, and I was the realist. Things kind of soured after that. Nobody wants to hear their smarty-pants 25-year-old assistant has a better grasp on reality than the 60-year-old bosses. In fairness, I think they did just fine without my insights...Imagine!
I have been a woefully underappreciated truth-teller many times over (not-so-funny LOL). In short, it sucks. But it's just one of those things one cannot effectively avoid being even when we want to (another tome waiting to be written). Back in Bible days, so-called prophets (yes, I know it's a really creepy word) were concurrently feared, followed, reviled, revered, persecuted and praised. These days, too. Think of whistle blowers who one day are media darlings and the next are exiled to Siberia. Given some of our current struggles, I'll cite Abraham Lincoln and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King as embattled prophets.
In my own tiny sphere of influence, the role has been less loaded but still unpleasant.
My beloved older brother Rick was a drug addict who died of his disease at 25. I alone confronted him with his addiction and at times, I truly feared he'd kill me for it. Obviously, my truth-telling didn't save him...because I was alone in facing it. I remember my then-therapist telling me that unless my parents were on board, my intervention was useless. Indeed it was. A wretched reality.
It’s uncomfortable to be able to see things in others...or in myself. What makes it worse is the ability to recognize that if I can spot it, I got it. How terribly annoying! The upside is that if I can quiet my ego long enough to identify, it diffuses my feelings of superiority. In turn, I can feel compassion, do my part to course correct and repair, and join the imperfect human community. No better or worse, just subject to my own unique combination of nature and nurture by no fault or credit of my own. (Some call this original sin, our inherently imperfect state).
This formula--simplified as "face it + fess up + fix it = freedom"--is not new or unique. For instance, in recovery circles, for example, the 12 steps offer a handy method. Nor is it limited to the confines of our own homes. It works on all level of consciousness with all the same benefits.
Diva of denial.
But as insightful as I may be, I've been on the wrong end of this practice, too, conveniently overlooking cold hard facts about stuff in my world. Even so, I confess that most of the time I was aware of the truth all along. I just chose to ignore it, numb it, hide it or yes, sugar coat it, mostly for my own sake.
I remember at age 11 my then best friend's brilliant and chilly mom said to me, dispassionately, "You have to come to terms with the fact that your mother is insane." Ouch. Kinda harsh for an 11-year-old to hear. She was right, of course. Could facing it it have spared me a couple of decades of wheel-spinning codependent heroics? Yes, but but I just didn't want to see it because at 11, I didn't have a good solution if I did. Plus, I really loved my mother to pieces, even though she was schizophrenic. Denial was the only available option. Agony.
As a teenager in an increasingly chaotic home, I took my first drink of alcohol at 15 and discovered it dulled pain and anxiety (which I had by the bucketful), so I drank to a black-out the very first time. With a family fraught with alcoholism, I pretty much knew I had a problem right out of the gate, but certainly didn't want to deal with it just then. After all, the anesthesia worked for a while, enabling me to cope, "enjoy" some respite, and excel for many years...until it stopped working.
It took several more years, Jesus and recovery to get me to see the truth that I was powerless and needed help. Stone-cold sober, I really, really needed supernatural support to face all I'd been trying to avoid. I have indulged denial many times since then, even as a person of faith. I just didn't want to deal with whatever it was. That is, until the pain of consequences outgrew the comfort of voluntary blindness.
4 O'Clock Faith: "Coping" & Addictions
As a nation, our misguided coping mechanisms include, but are not limited to, finger-pointing self-righteousness, cancel-culture, gluttony of the alimentary and financial and everything kind, hoarding, conscience-numbing entertainment, plus-plus-plus.
Flag on the play.
Moreover, with denial as the conscious or unconscious endgame, we're all also likely to look for or overlook the evidence to support our obstinate obliviousness. We may find scapegoats for our mischief or conversely, find Yes Men to rubber stamp our bullshit. Add some ulterior motives to the mix and oh, boy! What fun! Denial for days. Or is it something more devious? Throughout human history, many evils have been perpetrated by this system.
When the end justifies the means.
Sometimes deceit is disguised as denial. We convince ourselves so thoroughly of the rightness of our perspective that we will quasi-knowingly persist in lying to ourselves and others to achieve the end we have in mind. Throw in a little bona fide fear and it's a spark in the armory. Confronted with tangible evidence that challenges our ruse, we will explain it away or relegate the messenger to that Siberian gulag (real or figurative) to conceal our deceit. Overtime, sometimes only the briefest period, we become willing to throw anyone under the bus to protect the plan.
Witness how quickly we Americans have become shrill, hate-spewing enemies over the use of masks or other Covid precautions? I don't think I'm exaggerating much when I say it's a lot easier to recognize how the ordinary citizens of Nazi Germany could turn on their Jewish neighbors in panicked self-protection. We're seemingly on the brink for the likes of a really bad flu.
This may not be altogether lying because our extraordinary capacity for self-justification may obscure clarity. Our conscience can be seared; even our collective conscience--think groupthink or mob mentality. After all, we tell ourselves, the end justifies the means.
I once had a client who sold a pseudo-scientific gadget intended to help all manner of ills, particularly children with special needs. There was just enough compelling research and testimonials to support its effectiveness, along with a charismatic leader to deliver the sympathetic sales pitch. Desperate parents were compelled to lay down a pile of cash for the basic gizmo, then thousands more for add-on's and training. I suspect the inventors believed their earliest claims and maybe saw results where there were few. Over time, self-delusion gave way to greed, leading them to quasi-knowingly inflate their healing claims and fine new ways to bilk money from devoted parents--and others--longing for hope.
Unchecked fear, greed and lust for power are all corrosive.
But mercy triumphs over judgment. We'd make more healing headway of we could lovingly face the truth about ourselves and others, making it safe for all of us to come clean. After all, denial is to truth what pain receptors are to injury. Protection. In fact, self-help author Melody Beattie warns against stripping a person's protective blanket of denial even while her books offer a mirror in which we can see our true selves.
The fact is, we have to see the truth for ourselves. That's why ranting at the raging addict or messy child or megalomaniac demagogue or self-righteous social warriors (etc.), doesn't work. Only seeing and suffering the natural consequences of our choices has any hope of working. And that's really hard for all involved. We're living it.
Fact is, the truth eventually catches up with us and we have to face it or die, either literally or figuratively. The dull anguish and slow demise of a life lived hiding or the conflagration when our denial catches up with us.
2020 is a cosmic weenie roast and we're the weenies.
I don't mean to be a Debby downer, or a Karen for you hipsters (sorry for the sexist euphemism all you Debby's and Karen's), but hang with me, cuz there's a happy ending. Possibly. Depending.
The truth will set you free, but first...
As I dust off my soap box, self-disclosing mirror in hand, please know that my motive is LOVE. I truly believe our national crisis--cuz that's what it is, folks--can herald a sweet new beginning!
Brace yourself...for love & peace!
It's my heartfelt conviction and first-hand experience that God never ever brings things to light to condemn us, but to free us. In the cosmic courthouse, getting caught, unmasked, drawn out of hiding, is intended to liberate and restore us to ourselves, to the community of mankind and to a loving God. Humble honesty is a great equalizer.
If we cooperate with this process, we can know a deep sense of peace-filled liberation plus-plus-plus other good stuff. If we recoil from the light and persist skulking around in the darkness, well, things usually go rather badly.
In the extreme: Think of Jeffrey Epstein, Bernie Madoff, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Ellen (sure hope not) or less glamorously, some more mundane infraction closer to home. "Consequences“ this side of heaven or beyond.
If the notion of Jesus or God is simply too much for you to bear right now, consider exploring a 12 step program and plugging in anything over which you feel powerless. You can choose a Higher Power of your own understanding which need not be of the mystical persona variety.
Banish fatal fakeness fatigue forever!
Moreover, falseness is poison to our souls. Hiding from myself or others gets increasingly uncomfortable. Call it conscience or fakeness fatigue. It is true that we can grow accustomed to it-frog-in-the-water-style. I have several times with my super-high pain threshold. Then we're just a fraction of the person we're meant to be, living a fraction of the life we're meant to live. Or global wrecking balls.
Case in point: My marriage. A benign fiction I sustained for nearly 17 years with lots of unintended and far-reaching consequences for all involved. Mind you, God being gracious, He blessed us anyway--not the least of which with awesome kids and many years of relative contentment. But I know that I know that I know that my denial did a lot of far-reaching harm. Coming into the light has opened my heart and life in unfolding ways I cannot describe with positive ripples for others.
I don't want suffer needlessly, wreak havok, or miss out anymore. Do you?
So, I hope you'll join me as I embark on this rather unsettling journey of Unfiltered reality checks. Racism, greed, xenophobia, gluttony, social welfare, religion, etc. Yes, I'm going there and it is aptly timed for the run-up to November 3.
However this all plays out, remember, God loves you and so do I!