Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Power of Honesty

One of the biggest challenges that I have faced as Tyler’s Dad was finding the ability to be completely honest with myself.  And when I say “honest” I mean truly honest and then being willing to own what I was thinking and feeling. 
Throughout our lives I think there are many times when we feel a certain way about who we are, but we create reasons to rationalize our feelings, suppress them, or flat out ignore them.  Perhaps we convince ourselves that we are wrong or have no right to feel the way we feel.  We figure out justifications to continue on the same way and “make it work” the best way we can.  This can apply to our marriage, our job, our children, or other matters that we feel deep in our hearts that we need to evaluate or change.  I hadn’t realized just how much I had done this for so many years about who we were.

As silly as this will sound, Sandals Resort commercials began the honesty process for me.  I would be watching TV and one of these commercials would come on encouraging me and my significant other to drop everything and come frolic on the beach.  Then they would show me these happy people skipping through the surf and sipping drinks, and I would actually become ANGRY with these slobs, thinking to myself “they don’t have a clue how lucky they are to just have the ability to go on vacation like that……they just take it for granted…..why don’t I have the right to do that too?.....after all I too only have one life to live and its not fair that I can’t”.  Then I would immediately feel ashamed of myself.  It was as though I was selfishly dishonoring my son by having the gall to complain about caring for him.  How dare I think about myself when he was the one who needed my help?  So I would suppress those feelings and return to life as normal.  Whether I realized it or not I was doing the Sandals scenario about a lot of things and not just about my wellbeing but our marriage was not what it should be, our daughter was not as happy as she should be, and Tyler was not flourishing like he should be.  We became experts at surviving, but had forgotten how to live. 
One day we had a meeting scheduled with our Case Manager and I had decided to ask her about how we should be planning for Tyler’s long term future.  I had never openly asked about this because of how it would actually sound coming out of my mouth.  It would sound like I didn’t want to care for him anymore, or that I had given up on him.  But I also knew that we were tired, and to degree, so was he.  I was looking around my house and thinking “What kind of lives are we living….when nobody is truly happy”?  I found an opening and I asked the question.  It was as though a cork had been dislodged.  For what seemed like an hour (and it may very well have been) I placed my inner thoughts on the table one by one.  I talked about how concerned I was that the care we were providing was no longer meeting Tyler’s needs.  That we were afraid to admit that we were tired.  That we felt as though we had run out of ideas a long time ago.  That we were afraid of one of us becoming incapacitated and the other being left in peril.  That my wife and I were married for 25 years and yet have never gotten to truly experience a life together.  That we felt our daughter’s happiness was being compromised.  And especially, that I could no longer justify living where nobody was happy.  I was basically admitting everything I pretended to be so damn sure about was just a front.  I was actually frustrated, tired, afraid, and running out of hope.  We were lost and over our heads and I could no longer pretend otherwise.  Our Case Worker was only momentarily taken back by this sudden flood of honestly, but then immediately shifted gears to addressing each point.  All at once I had just made her job much more clear, and now she could help us in ways we never thought possible.  To paraphrase Jerry McGuire…..I helped her help me. 

From that moment on we stopped denying our feelings and decided that we would own them.  Some days those feelings will be hopeful and some days they will be sad and some days they will even be ugly.  But even ugly feelings serve a purpose and we learn from them.  I found that therapy was the best place for me to first allow my thoughts to find a voice.  And instead of my feelings being met with shock and scorn as I had imagined, the reaction was just the opposite.  It was ok for me to want more for everyone, including myself.  I started to share more with my wife and the reaction was not only the same, but she was often feeling the same way as well.  This makes us an incredibly more effective team for Tyler.
We had taken what has proven to be a critical step forward by laying our cards on the table.  It has made it so much easier to communicate with not only each other, but with everyone involved with our transition.  It also allowed us to step back and evaluate each specific concern and make them part of the overall plan.  Some of those concerns have naturally take priority over others, and some have even be tucked away for later, but they have all be given their attention.  Perhaps best of all is the relief of not carrying them around anymore. 

My message for today is to take inventory of those emotions.  They belong to you and you have every right to them, ALL of them.  Give voice to the fears as well as the hopes.  Embrace it all, even when it is painful to do so.  As you let this baggage out, it makes room for more ideas and constructive thoughts to come in.  Lay those cards down on the table one by one and then step back and look at them for what they are. You will become more effective at developing your plan which will ultimately be better for everyone involved.  And most importantly, be honest about where you are, and you will be amazed by where it takes you.

Be well and good luck.  Tom

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