This is the seventeenth in a series of posts on a recent experience at Ochsner Hospital - having a cardiac catheter ablation procedure to correct a heart arrhythmia. These posts describe and reflect on various aspects of the hospital experience. This seventeenth post will reflect on a special gift I have received from blogging about this hospital experience: the joy of telling the truth.
This post also connects with my posts on Frank Schaeffer, an author whom I would characterize as a courageous truth-teller. This post connects particularly with my post of August 27, 2009, titled "Frank Schaeffer's Memoir: Self-Disclosure," and with my post of December 26, 2009, titled "Frank Schaeffer's Patience With God: Problems of Integrity with Fundamentalism," especially the final paragraph. In these earlier posts, I marvel at some of the unflattering things Frank discloses about himself in his books and reflect on what might have motivated him to make these self-disclosures.
In this present post, I will examine my own self-disclosures in my hospital experience posts and reflect on how these self-disclosures have benefited me. I will use my above-mentioned earlier posts about Frank Schaeffer for deeper understanding about self-disclosure and truth-telling. It is not necessary to have read my earlier posts on Frank Schaeffer to understand this one.
FRANK SCHAEFFER'S TRUTH TELLING
Here is what I understand about Frank Schaeffer and his passion for truth telling. Frank grew up in a family who ran a fundamentalist Christian mission in Switzerland. Because his parents (Francis and Edith Schaeffer) were esteemed Christian teachers, anything that did not fit with their image as upright Christians had to be kept as a strict family secret, including Francis Schaeffer's depressions and rages and his verbal and physical abuse of Edith. The truth could not be told - it would harm the ministry.
As a young adult, Frank continued in his parents' footsteps and made a good living writing Christian fundamentalist books and speaking on the Christian fundamentalist circuit. As time went on, Frank became more and more uncomfortable with the message he was preaching - it just didn't mesh with reality. Yet Frank was unwilling to give up his comfortable living, and he feared that he didn't know how to support his family in any other way. This inner conflict made him irritable, and he took out his irritation on his wife and children. Eventually, Frank did leave Christian fundamentalism, joined the Greek Orthodox Church, and now makes his living as a secular writer. He has published eleven books (three of them co-authored), and a twelfth book is scheduled to come out in the spring of 2011.
In his memoir, Crazy For God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back, Frank makes some very unflattering self-disclosures. Specifically, he speaks of how he stayed on the Christian fundamentalist circuit for so long simply because of the good money, and he reveals details of his unloving behavior to his family, especially how he sometimes hit his daughter, Jessica, and pulled her hair in anger. At first, it was hard for me to understand how Frank could reveal such things about himself, things that now cause him shame and that he deeply regrets.
I began to understand Frank's self-disclosures better when I read his next book, Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism), where Frank specifically describes his spiritual evolution. In Patience With God, Frank describes the great inner tension produced by feeling trapped into having to proclaim publicly what his heart no longer believed - and his HUGE RELIEF when at last he stepped away from Christian fundamentalism and could finally TELL THE TRUTH. What a sheer, sheer relief it was - after so many years of keeping secrets - to simply tell the truth.
Like Frank, I grew up in a family with secrets. The biggest secret was that my mother was an alcoholic. Apparently, the sky would fall if anyone ever found out about this. It was a very strict secret. So secret was it, in fact, that my two youngest sisters, Maria and Janet, never did know about our mother's drinking problem until our other sister, Sandra, decided that she should tell them - when we were all well into adulthood. (Our mother had stopped drinking when I was sixteen, Sandra was twelve, Maria was eight, and Janet was seven. Our brothers, Michael and Danny, were fourteen and ten, respectively. Only the four eldest - myself, Michael, Sandra, and Danny - were old enough to understand what had been going on, although Danny later forgot that he had known this. After our mother stopped drinking, we never talked about it again - until many years later, as adults.)
So - secrets were the norm in my family. My father didn't even like us to have friends to spend the night. We did sometimes have friends to spend the night, but my father didn't much care for this. He didn't want anyone to know our family business. He once told me that he felt he couldn't run his home the way he wanted to when we had guests over. (My father wanted to run the home with tight control - we were all scared of him, including my mother. I am convinced that this is why she drank.)
One characteristic of adult children of alcoholics is that they have trouble telling the truth. While I don't think of myself as a liar, I do see situations where I find telling the truth difficult, situations where I feel tempted to beat around the bush or to project a better image of myself than is true - even though telling the truth would actually simplify things in many of these situations.
MY TRUTH TELLING
One area where I have had trouble telling the truth has been my over-indulgence in fatty and sugary foods over the last several years. I have tried to hide this, eating healthy foods and moderate amounts when with other people, but eating fatty and sugary foods and large amounts when alone. As a result, I gained a lot of weight, and I now have high blood pressure. The first step in confronting the problem has been to tell the truth - I have chosen to eat poorly and not to exercise, and this has led to weight gain and high blood pressure. Now I need to choose new eating and exercise behavior.
Somehow, it is a great relief to actually say this - to tell the truth. I have felt the joy of this relief in writing my hospital experience posts, especially "Hospital Experience #8: Personal Responsibility and Honesty." It feels good to spell out the truth about what has been going on with my eating and lack of exercise.
I think that tension is produced in our bodies when we don't tell the truth. We may not be conscious of this tension, but it is there, affecting our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. When we tell the truth, we release the tension and experience the joy of being able to relax more deeply than perhaps we ever have. I believe that this is what happened to Frank Schaeffer, and it is one reason that, as he says, he began to treat his family far better when he started to tell the truth. Telling the truth allowed Frank to relax, and a relaxed husband and father is a kinder husband and father.
Also, we expend energy to hide the truth, and this is tiring - even though we may not be conscious of the toll this is taking on us. When we tell the truth at last, all that energy is freed for creative purposes. Frank Schaeffer experienced a great burst of creativity when he began to tell the truth. He took up again the painting that he had loved but abandoned as a young man, and he started writing novels.
Writing these blog posts on my hospital experience and delving into the truth has given me an inkling of the relaxation, energy release, and joy of truth telling. This blog allows me to tell the truth to myself as well as to anyone who reads the blog - the blog is, after all, available to everyone on the Internet! I especially thank those who have read the blog, particularly those who have told me that they have read it. This lets me know that my truth-telling has been heard. Thank you! Some have even responded with comments through the blog's comment function, by email, by phone, or in person - sometimes sharing experiences of their own. This lets me know that my truth-telling has been heard and valued. Thank you!
I want to end with a word of caution, mostly to myself. I do know that truth-telling can be over-done. The truth-telling in this blog gives me joy, which indicates to me that I am ready to make these particular self-disclosures. There are other self-disclosures that I am not ready to make - these should stay in my personal journal, not for sharing. I may never be ready to make certain self-disclosures to anyone but myself. Even Frank Schaeffer, courageous truth-teller that he is, says that there are some things about himself that he chooses not to disclose. This is as it should be.
I also feel quite sure that there are some self-disclosures that I am not ready to make even to myself. Of course, I don't know what these are, since I haven't yet disclosed them to myself.
What I want to do is to continue telling the truth to myself and, as appropriate, to others. (Certainly, truth telling should never be used as a club to hurt someone else - most of the time, we don't need to tell others the truth about themselves but the truth about our own selves.) I also want to encourage others in their own truth telling through supportive listening, as others have done for me. Truth telling can be a great joy. It is even more joyful to share that joy!