The healthiest people are those who admit to their illnesses.
The first time I was admitted into a mental hospital, I felt such a sense of freedom. I was no longer expected to be OK. In fact, I was expected to not be OK. Everyone there had a diagnosis, and I was no longer different because we were all struggling with similar issues. The burden to appear “normal” or to have everything together was gone. When the intake coordinators give you the long list of “no-no” items that you cannot have in the hospital, they don’t tell you about the other things you will be leaving behind: facades, masks, and costumes. These were the things I wore every single day, pretending everything was OK, when inside I was broken, afraid, and in so much pain. I left it all at the door and, for once, was free to be me. I didn’t have to put on a show there. In the hospital, we were all actors backstage.
Fast-forward several years into adulthood where I found myself reluctantly attending a 12-step meeting. I didn’t think my struggles required such intervention. I wasn’t that bad, I told myself. These groups were for serious addicts, people whose lives were controlled by their addictions. I didn’t think my problems were that bad, but I went anyway – just to check it out. In that hour, I listened to the members of the group share some of the outrageous things they had done and the horrible things they struggled with. During this time, I realized the most ironic truth. This group of people had such intense issues; yet they were some of the healthiest people I had ever been surrounded by because they were aware of their struggles. They knew they had issues, but they didn’t hide behind a pretty mask. They didn’t try to make their problems look better than they really were. They didn’t pretend to have it all together. In fact, they honestly embraced their current states, and they were aware that their struggles were unhealthy and destructive.
People learn their roles and have their scripts. They wear their masks and play their parts. And the show goes on. Until one day, someone decides to stop acting. They remove their mask, they go off-script, and they change what has always been done. The problem is the people still on the stage, those who are still content living in their denial; they don’t like it much when one of their costars decides to stop acting. It changes things. It brings to light what we are all trying to hide from: reality. But it is the actor, the one who has decided to stop acting, who will win the award. Because she will stop playing the part that was given to her, and she will start living and being the person she decides to be, brokenness and all.
We cannot change our pasts. Some of us were not given good parts to begin with, and that is not our fault. But nonetheless, what we do with it is up to us. We can choose to keep on being these hidden people, living in the shadows behind the costumes and scenery. Or we can embrace who we are – faults, illnesses, and all – and step boldly into the light. We can choose to be unafraid of what people will think or say because we are the ones who are free. Free from expectation, free from stipulation. We are free to say, “This messy, complicated life I am living is mine to live, and I am beautiful and worthy of writing my own story.”
I found that I lost a lot of people in my life when I came out from the shadows. But I also gained people who loved me for who I was and who weren’t intimidated by the baggage I carried with me. Embracing reality is key to making life what we want it to be. I am hurt, broken, scarred, and bruised. But I am beautiful, and today is mine for the making. With every step I take, I become more of a person living in love, light, and truth.
We don’t have to listen to those who ridicule us for being real and honest. We choose the “critics” we allow in our life: the people we listen to and whose opinions we value. Value the thoughts of people who know you and love you, messy life and all. I used to believe the lie that other people had everything together, that I was the weird one with all the problems. But the older I get the more I realize that everyone has their own battles to fight. No one is exempt. We are more alike in our brokenness and beauty than we are in our pretending and perfection. It takes great courage to remove our masks and be who we are really are. But I think if we can find the strength to do so, then we will in turn receive a greater freedom.