A few years ago strange things started happening to me at church. I’d find myself in the middle of a lighthearted conversation with a woman I’d just met, and the woman would make a joke that didn’t sound like a joke suggesting that our family was “perfect,” and that this “perfection” made her feel bad about her family. This happened three of four times over a two week period. Once a woman said “You are so PULLED TOGETHER. It just makes me feel so APART.”
Craig was standing behind me and I looked at him confused and he looked back at me equally confused. If you are friends with us in real life, you know the interaction I’m describing well. It is our signature interaction. I stammered my way through the rest of the conversation and on the way home, Craig and I debriefed.
We were baffled. Craig and I love each other dearly, but neither of us would describe the other as “pulled together.” These women may as well have been saying to me “I’m just so jealous of your HEIGHT and CULINARY SKILLS.” During our debriefing, Craig and I developed a theory that if you are thin and smile a lot, people tend to believe that you have the universe’s secrets in your pocket and also that a raindrop has never fallen upon your head. If you also happen to be wearing trendy jeans…just FUGGED ABOUT IT.
This theory distressed me greatly. Kept me up at night. I do not like to make other women feel APART. And I also like to match. I wanted my insides and outsides to match somehow. But I was scared I’d have to start looking like Pig Pen or Courtney Love to make that happen.
One day I was at the playground with a new friend from church named Tess. That’s not her real name, but it’s one of my favorites, and so is she, so Tess it is. I suspected that Tess was sad, and that she was having some trouble in her marriage. We hadn’t discussed this though, because we were too busy discussing more important things, like soccer practice and highlights.
All of a sudden I heard myself saying the following to Tess:
Listen. I want you to know that I’m a recovering alcohol, drug, and food addict. I’ve been arrested several times because of those things. Craig and I got accidentally pregnant and married a year after we started dating. We love each other madly but I’m secretly terrified that my issues with sex and anger will eventually screw things up. I get jealous easily…sometimes I actually feel sad and worried when good things happen to other people. Oh also, I snap at customer service people and my kids and husband regularly. I feel like I always have rage right beneath my surface. And right now I’m dealing with some post partum depression, I think. I spend most of my day just wishing my kids would leave me alone. Chase brought me a note the other morning that said “I hope mommy is nice today.” It’s depressing and scary, because I keep wondering what happens if that feeling never goes away? Maybe I just can’t handle this many kids. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know those things.
Tess stared at me, long enough that I wondered if she was going to call our minister or 911. Then I saw some tears and we sat down on a bench and she told me everything. Things with her husband were bad, apparently. Really bad. Tess felt scared and alone. But at the playground that day Tess decided she wanted help and love more than she wanted me to think she was perfect.
We hardly knew each other. But we both realized at that moment that we were in this together. We went through some tough times over the next few months. A lot of tears, therapy, separation, anger and fear. But a little army of love circled the wagons around Tess and her family and blockaded anybody from getting in too far or out too far. And eventually, things got better. A lot better. Tess and her husband and their beautiful children are together and healing and thriving now. And I got to watch all of that. I actually got to SEE the truth set a family free.
At that point in my life I was dying to do something meaningful and helpful, outside of my home, but no one would have me. We were rejected again and again when we tried to adopt. Then I tried to become a volunteer at the local nursing home, because I heard they were looking for volunteers to serve lemonade at lunch. They seemed thrilled with me until the background check, at which point they never called me back. Perhaps they thought I had a secret motivation to get all the old people wasted. Then I tried to volunteer at a local shelter for abused women. It actually looked like they might take me until the final interview when the woman said “As a formality, I just have to ask if you’ve ever been arrested.” She never called me back. It’s hard to explain it away as only five times.
I was depressed.
But then the Tess thing happened. And I thought, maybe I could do THAT. Maybe my public service could just be to tell people the truth about my insides. Because it seemed to make people feel better, for whatever reason. It struck me that for this particular “ministry,” my criminal record was a PLUS. It gave me street cred. And I considered that maybe the gifts God gave me were storytelling and shamelessness. Because you guys, I’m shameless. I’m almost ashamed at how little shame I have. Almost, but not really, at all. So I decided that’s what God wanted me to do. He wanted me to walk around telling people the truth. No mask, no hiding, no pretending. That was going to be my thing. I was going to make people feel better about their insides by showing them mine. By being my real self. But I was keeping my trendy jeans. I decided they were part of my real self.
A few days after I told Craig that I was going to “volunteer” as a “reckless truth teller” my minister called me on the phone. My first thought was that Tess had ratted me out. But this is what the minister said: “I know you’re having a hard time with the baby and it might seem like a bad time for you, but I feel like the time is now for you to tell your story to the church. The whole church. On stage. Live.”
Craig sweated and looked into whether or not he could be fired for having an ex -con for a wife. I planned my outfit.
Then I wrote my story, without leaving anything out. And I read it to my church. And it went really, really well. People were shocked. It is so fun to shock people. Lots and lots of people wanted to cry with me, too, and to tell me their stories. And I thought… WELL. OKAY, THEN. Take THAT, NURSING HOME. I DIDN’T WANT TO SERVE YOUR STUPID LEMONADE, ANYWAY. Do you get STANDING OVATIONS AND TEARS OF JOY FOR SERVING LEMONADE? I bet NOT.
I’d found my thing. Openness. I decided, based on firsthand experience , that it’s more fun to say things to make women feel hopeful than it is to say or omit things to make women feel jealous. And it’s easier, too. Less to keep track of and monitor.
I started Momastery a few months later, to tell my truth recklessly to more people. And here, I’ve learned, along with hundreds of other brave women, that the most revolutionary act is telling the truth.
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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