When I was in 4th grade, we studied Ben Franklin and Poor Richard’s Almanack. At the end of our studies, we were asked to compose sayings of our own that embodied our philosophies. Mine was “A half-truth is better than no truth at all.” It got a few laughs and a raised eyebrow from Mrs. Glover who disagreed that it was a good philosophy.
It’s said that you can tell an alcoholic’s lying if their lips are moving. My teacher’s comments should have sent a shiver down my spine as the present trod on my future alcoholic grave. I lived by that philosophy for much of my life, using half truth and exaggeration to get laughs and get by.
The worst part, for me, is that I became skilled at lying to myself and believing the half-truths I was tossing out. It took years before I uncovered the truth about my fictions. They weren’t serving me or anyone else well.
Am I always truthful? No. I’m better about seeing the dinginess of my little white lies, but I still have to tell people, “I’m sorry! That wasn’t true. The truth is….” Embarrassing? Yes. But it’s necessary. There are a few truths about myself that I can’t afford to turn into half-truths. The slide down that slippery slope of honesty is pretty quick. Best not to start on it at all.
Here are a few more sayings that I’ve used and retired:
1. One more won’t hurt. That philosophy applied to every bad habit I’ve had or have. It has been responsible for my being late to children’s musicals and meetings. I’ve shed untold pounds with the knowledge that one more does hurt. One more has tipped and toppled the budgetary scale and left me scrambling for funds.
2. It’s not that bad. I was a minimizer before Playtex. It might not be a bad philosophy as encouragement to an endeavor. “You can do it! You’re almost there!”
Used to excuse bad behavior or hastily done work, it’s a killer. That’s the way I lived. I drew plenty of lines in the sand, toe erased them, and moved them further away. I found myself having to erase and move repeatedly until I was against the wall.
I will still do that in an untenable situation. Today, I have to ask for a second opinion. I’m surprised that just putting the problem into words and telling another human being, not the dog, will help me see that it IS that bad. I can’t fix a problem if I don’t think it exists. That’s why telling someone usually gets it into perspective.
3. Another saying that I avoid is I didn’t want to worry you by telling you about that. That could be anything from a problem with the kids to a problem with the bank. It could be indigestion or chest pains, something or nothing. How noble of me to protect you! How caring of me to worry about your feelings.
As my favorite mystery detective would say, “Pfui!” What I did not want was confrontation. What I did not want was to put the truth on the table and make it open to discussion. I might get uncomfortable. To heck with you!
4. Let me tell you what I would do if I were you. I bitterly resent being told what to do. Why do I think that you want to hear what I think you should do? I usually have offered my what I would do without your asking. If you got mad at me, I was “just trying to be helpful” and you were overly sensitive when you were insulted.
One thing that AA has taught me is to share my experience, strength and hope. Not my best friend in the program, not Dr. Phil’s, not my neighbor’s. MY experience, strength and hope. Don’t have any experience with the problem you’ve got? Then it’s pretty hard for me to give you strength or hope.
It’s much easier today to just tell you that I’ve never faced that kind of problem or, alternately, that I have and here’s what happened. This has never been more real to me than when I lost Jack. I found Compassionate Friends to be a port since the men and women there had lost children of their own.
You would be surprised at how many people would preface remarks with, “I don’t know how you’ve feel. I’ve never lost a child. But I think you should…” In the beginning, I stopped hearing when they said they’d never lost a child. (How lucky, I would think. Why have I had to lose a child?) I passed that stage and for a time wanted to carry a brick in my purse to brain them before they could give my their piece of advice.
Today, I just listen. For a parent, the thought of losing a child is more than horrifying. It’s almost like touching home plate to be able to say the words, “I’ve never lost a child.” I do understand.
5. I’m being punished by God (or alternately rewarded by God). Yep. I believed in God the Santa Claus. If I were naughty, I got ashes and switches. If I were nice, I got unicorns and rainbows.
It took a few years sober before I could believe in a God who loves me all the time, who wants only good for me and who forgives me no matter what. Do I think God doesn’t care if I do wrong? The God of my understanding wants absolutely the best for me even when my actions can cause me-and those I love-great pain.
This world has a law of consequences. When I break God’s laws, life will deal out a consequence. If I sow gossip, I may harvest loneliness. If I sow anger, I might harvest physical illness. The law of consequences applies to me and to people I love. I have free will. So does everyone else. That can hurt sometimes if their free will crosses into my life. Did I say hurt? The free will of a drunk can bring incredible pain into the lives of people if he chooses to drive.
Is that God’s punishment? I can’t go thinking in that direction.
When the crashes come in my life-and I have no way to stop them most of the time-that’s when I need God. Not the Santa Claus God. There are some things that just can’t be made okay. God may not give me more than I can handle, but life sure does. I need a God who is bigger than the worst thing that can happen.
By the same token, I’ve been given so many gifts in this life. I’m not sure if I’d recognize the gifts if I didn’t have to pass through the deserts. Are they rewards? I think they embody the definition of grace: undeserved favor. (Thanks, God!)