We hear a lot of marketable voices on social media encouraging us to “live an authentic life,” but for many that’s easier said than done. And recently I’ve discovered the missing element to that overused turn of phrase: to live an authentic life, we must also reckon with the lies that bind us in the first place.
A “Necessary Evil”
If smartphones are the addiction of our generation, social media is the bong we can’t stop hitting. And like all addictions, we tell ourselves (and each other) that we “need” our smartphones. That we can’t live without them. Every once in a while I’ll even hear someone refer to smart technology as a “necessary evil.” Because we have been simultaneously conditioned by news media to believe the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, we agree. The evil is necessary. (Surprise! No it isn’t.)
I have a bit of a history for refusing to let the news media control what I believe. In fact, I made a whole film about it. So once I became acutely aware of where I was relinquishing control in my use of social media, I made the conscious decision to put the proverbial bong down. And I started with 3 questions:
1) What and who am I allowing to pull my energy?
2) Who deserves my time?
3) What needs and desires of my own am I neglecting for the sake of others?
Now you can learn more and stream my film, A Chance For Peace, for free!
With these questions at the top of my mind every time I unlocked my phone, I began mindfully excavating myself from the tight grip of social media algorithms. (More on that in my next post). Now, three months later, I’m seeing a disturbing theme. Peppered throughout my feed, I see numerous self-help upstarts and established professionals posting watercolor blot images with dainty cursive reading, “Live an authentic life,” and “Double Tap if you are living authentically,” as though the problem with the world and humanity is that we aren’t living genuinely enough. This dangerous and nebulous “advice” is pervasive among self-help influencers and it’s not helpful to those most in need of support. And you know what? I’ve had it.
Two months ago my Mom called me in a frantic state of shock. TRIGGER WARNING After a lifetime living and suffering from his own addictions, my stepfather committed suicide. He was suffering from the moment I met him, but none of us ever understood what traumatic influences were tugging at his mind. Now that he’s dead, his unspoken pain has moved on the living to cope with, heal from, and overcome. To do that, I’ve reached out to my network of social good entrepreneurs and mindfulness practitioners. But no matter how well-intentioned they are, every time I see one of them post a “live an authentic life” post, it makes me want to scream.
As a closeted gay teen, I contemplated suicide myself. My obsession then wasn’t three questions, it was three lies: I’m ugly. No one wants me. And I’m alone. It was an addictive, depressive loop that I dared not speak out loud. Were these thoughts going through my stepfather’s head in his final moments? We’ll never know. But what I do know is that if I were to encourage him to just “live an authentic life,” he would have far more than three lies to reckon with.
And that’s when the investigation began.
Spurred by my Mom’s relentless fervor to find out why he took his life in such an uncharacteristically violent way, she and I began researching. It didn’t take us long to trace his secret shame back to his childhood at Chicago’s Sacred Heart Catholic School. Thanks to the wealth of information gathered by a number of resources, including bishopaccountability.org, we discovered that the priest that my stepfather served under as altar boy had numerous counts of child abuse and molestation brought against him before his death over 20 years ago. Questions about my stepfather’s distanced relationship to religion, his insistence on leaving Chicago behind, and his strict request to not have a funeral, wake, or service were all answered.
And just like that, my stepfather’s authentic life was found – not at the bottom of a bottle, nor the bottom of a gun barrel, but at the top of a list of priests evoking God while subjecting innocent children to their own brand of “necessary evil.”
A New Beginning
Armed with this new knowledge, where I stand now is uncertain. Knowing my stepfather’s cycle of abuse doesn’t make the grief of his suicide any easier. I’m triggered on a daily basis by my own traumas and addictions, and ruminate often about what could’ve been; questions asked to the ether that will never be answered. But what I do know is that his truth has offered me a chance at the freedom he didn’t get to enjoy for himself – a bittersweet consolation prize passed from the dead to the living.
Without also advocating for healthy boundaries, it is a dangerous idea to say that happiness simply lies in living our “authentic truth.”
Over 3 months since freeing myself from my addiction to social media coincided with my stepfather’s suicide, I still happen upon that incessant drip about living authentically. Now, after my stepfather’s suicide, I find myself retorting, “How do you tell someone who never had a chance at freedom to ‘live authentically’?” I’ll tell you how – you don’t. Telling someone to live authentically without addressing the unspoken pain, shame, torment, and daily toil to survive is like telling a giraffe to lose its spots. Who needs camouflage when you can be authentic!
We all do. And without also advocating for healthy boundaries, it is a dangerous idea to say that happiness simply lies in living our “authentic truth.” What if my authentic truth is that I was raped as I child? What if my authentic truth is that I never knew a time when I wasn’t suffering from some kind of trauma? Then what?
Then we are forced to think differently.
A New Credo
To assume that living authentically is easy, isn’t support – it’s a trap. So here’s my new credo on authenticity: we cannot talk about living authentically if we do not address the spiritual, economic, cultural, and emotional trauma we are fighting against on a daily basis. Name the problem if you’re going to offer a solution. And if you can’t, then sit down and listen.
Your authentic self doesn’t have to be written out in cursive, just make sure it isn’t written out in blood.
We’re all looking for a way out of our pain. But on a daily basis we are also dealing with entities and “brands” attempting to hijack our vulnerability and ride it all the way to the bank. That pain, that vulnerability is ours and it’s personal, and it’s our own unique pathway to liberation. So as our attention, focus, and sense of self gets pulled like taffy with every scroll, remember that if the most authentic feeling you can muster is anger, loneliness, or shame, it’s okay. I stand with you. And I know, in spirit, my stepfather stands with you, too. Your authentic self doesn’t have to be written out in cursive, just make sure it isn’t written out in blood.
None of us are ugly, unwanted, or alone, and sometimes the most human thing we can do is suffer. But don’t stunt your growth by repressing how you truly feel or give in to some hackneyed phrase posted to cover the social media calendar on #WisdomWednesdays. When you’re ready, tell the truth because you feel safe and ready to be free. And don’t do it for anyone else but you.
I am a survivor of depression and suicidal ideation.
I am a survivor of an alcoholic, traumatized, and tortured stepfather.
I am a survivor of sexual assault.
I am a steward of peace.
I am a writer and a diarist.
I am in a loving, committed relationship with a beautiful man.
I’m still freeing myself from the lie that I am alone.
And although I may have lost sight of my own personal power, I refuse to lose my integrity.
I’m sure you, like me, have so many more truths to be told. So join me. None of us can do this alone. Please share this post with someone who needs to hear it (below). And if you’d like to join our community, please subscribe below. All are welcome here.