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“Soul is about authenticity. Soul is about finding the things in your life that are real and pure.” — John Legend
People love to indulge in fantasy about the rich and famous, the powerful, sensational murders, and other human tragedies. Entertainment media shows, like TMZ, provide titillation that whets the appetite of millions. Tabloids as old as the National Inquirer and more recent as Page Six or Perez Hilton provide tidbits of gossip to satisfy the insatiable palate of those who keep the paparazzi thriving in business. There is an illusion that if somehow you can know the intimate details of someone else’s fame, fortune, or tragedy you can live vicariously through them.
This form of fantasy is a self-defeating illusion that leads to empty living. When you blink your eyes and wake up to reality you realize that your life is in no way close to what you spend much of your time daydreaming about.
One of the common disclosures that I hear from addicts is the experience of feeling like a fraud. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde experience of addiction leaves an addict painfully lonely and hollow inside and feeling like an imposter. This would be true of anyone, not just addicts. The longing to be authentic and true to oneself is a common thirst and hunger among all. As novelist Richard Rohr put it, “We all would like to find the true shape of our own self.” (Immortal Diamond)
There is always a struggle to separate your True Self from your False Self. True Self is what you really are, that unrepeatable miracle of God. It is that divine DNA about you, your organic wholeness, which is manifested in your destiny. The False Self is the image you put forward in impression management. It can be promoted by way of your vocation, what you wear, where you live, who you know, and how you live. It falls short of being the real genuine you.
There are “wannabes” in every social setting. There are wannabe recovering addicts, wannabe marketers, wannabes around the rich and famous called “groupies” etc. The truth is that there is a kind of wannabe in every person in existence.
The question is am I willing to fulfill what is required to be the person I wanna be? Many of us prefer to live in fantasy and delusion. So if I am 5’7” tall it is unlikely that I will ever become a star in the NBA. That said, I won’t have a problem sitting in the middle seat of an airplane either, whereas it is a nightmare for the NBA player. When you live in fantasy it is difficult to sift and sort what is real. Your False Self identifies with the imposters around you. When you are not your True Self, you feel inadequate and ill-equipped to be authentic. It has been my experience that when you are real and genuine, you feel and even fit better in your own skin. Like in The Velveteen Rabbit, the Skin Horse tells the rabbit —the “real never rubs off, it lasts forever. A False Self is never truly satisfying. It triggers addiction and the need to keep trying to be more to keep from being less. The False Self makes a person hyper-vigilant from a fear of being caught not measuring up. It triggers people to get stuck with image management. When you ground yourself in your genuine, authentic True Self, you let go of these anxiety-producing behaviors. You feel more at peace.
The greatest challenge to the True Self is living an incongruent life. When what I feel is different from what I say and what I do, I can get stuck in incongruent living. Everyone is incongruent sometimes. But when it happens over and over again, this spells trouble as you begin living a double life. This is the dilemma that an addict must unravel in order to establish consistent long-term sobriety. When what an addict thinks and values is in tune with what s/he feels, this begins to harmonize with what s/he says and does, resulting in sobriety and serenity.
There are many strategies to help you anchor yourself in your authentic self and avoid getting stuck in self-delusion
#1: Manage Paradox. While congruent living is the goal, the reality is that everyone is inconsistent, incongruent, and hypocritical in some ways. I have not known an addict in recovery who has always been consistent with every recovery task. Paradoxically, authenticity is about recognizing failures, personal flaws, shortcomings and accepting the reality of being human. For many people, confusion and uncertainty trigger incongruent living and hypocrisy. The footprint of hypocrisy treads through everyone’s life. Sometimes the impact is major or at times less so. It underscores the human condition. Paradoxically, the way to become anchored and centered in values is to recognize that the opposite is not only possible within you but is real. The beginning of managing unwanted traits that exist within you is to recognize and accept their presence. Only then will you be able to manage your false self and anchor to your true self.
#2: Live in consultation with accountability. When incongruent, inconsistent, or hypocritical behavior appears, you’ll want to have someone or a group hold you accountable. Consultation is foreign to most addicts. In seclusion, they make every decision and have learned to depend only upon themselves. Their best thinking may have gotten them stuck in destructive behavior but it is familiar territory and is difficult to change.
The strength of accountability keeps human weakness in check and can be humbling when the reality of shortcomings sets in. So, rather than impersonate sobriety or serenity, an addict in recovery can humbly confess their shortcomings knowing that the power of accountability will call them back to a centered, congruent life.
#3: Authentic living requires listening to what’s inside. Feelings are magic and prescient. When you listen to your feelings and not try to escape they will provide the wisdom and understanding of not only who you are but also how to express who you are. Pay attention to your deepest desires. When you feel hollow inside ask what would bring fulfillment to you.
What brings exhilaration and enjoyment? What do you know, deep inside, that you can be really good at? What is it that sometimes burns within you to be expressed or done? The answers to what we can be, what we must be, come from within through asking ourselves these questions. It comes through listening to your feelings. Learn to not avoid whatever you feel. The solution to your pain and frustration, however valid, is to acknowledge your feelings. Learn to sit and listen to unwanted feelings like shame, anger, hate, grief, loneliness, and anxiety. Embrace and feel every one of them. Once you validate their truth let go and find peace within yourself. The process is not assembly-lined. The deeper the hurt, the longer the process. Yet when you go deep with listening to what is inside you will gain wisdom for the next step in your life. Happiness is not controlled by another person, even though we may have convinced ourselves it is. You will only experience true happiness when you learn to listen to what is inside. Listen to your feelings.
#4: Practice Telling on yourself. To preserve your True Self, practice telling on yourself. For addicts at 12-Step meetings, once you tell everyone your deepest, darkest, most shameful secret and feel the acceptance of those attending, it is difficult to return and tell the same people that the behavior you committed to not doing—you did again. There is a fear of rejection and embarrassment even though you are in a room full of addicts. If you have had weeks or years of sobriety, and have become a sponsor or a trusted servant in the meetings, there is even greater fear of rejection if you need to honestly disclose that you have been acting out against your values. It is difficult to tell on yourself. Yet it is absolutely necessary in order to establish congruency. Beyond the confession, what is required is a commitment to self and to the group that you will do whatever it takes to recenter and live a sober life.
The same dynamic is true for an entrepreneur who has announced a bold declaration but has miserably failed to follow through. You will need to come clean with yourself and a selected group of support in order to reclaim your true authentic self. Although being your True Self takes hard work, it is the only way to establish the confidence needed to build an authentic foundation and avoid getting stuck in self-defeating illusions.