By Shay Huff
Integrity: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. The state of being whole and undivided.
It seems so simple and unassuming. Be honest, have strong morals. Be steadfast and unwavering. At times, my mind still cannot grasp the full meaning of these definitions. I mean, what does it mean to be whole and undivided? It's like I can hear the words and I recognize the meaning of them individually, but when assembled together, they become another language altogether. One I cannot fully understand.
The longer I live in sobriety, the more I start to see what integrity could mean for me, what I hope it means for me; peace, freedom, acceptance, love of and comfort in self. Being able to differentiate between right and wrong and then choosing right. Doing no harm. Owning my mistakes, openly admitting to them and seeking to correct myself when needed. Honesty, even when itʼs hard.
Honesty, even when itʼs hard. How do I do that without letting shame and guilt bubble up? How do I do that when Iʼm terrified that you will not accept me as I am? When I risk being viewed as different? Iʼve learned that I have to let go of what others think. Iʼve learned that I have to tell myself over and over again that poor choices do not make me a poor human, and I have to believe myself when I say it. I have to remember that my sobriety is more important than fear. I have to remember that forgiveness is optional.
Learning how to live with integrity is like watching a flower open up to the world, or rather being that flower. It requires time, action and patience. With each new unfolding petal comes an opportunity to explore how I may better understand and live a life that gives joy to myself and others. Iʼve spent so much of my life living in survival mode that lying, manipulation and selfishness come naturally. To behave otherwise feels foreign in a way. The good news is that this is changing, slowly and with effort, but the change is there. Those initial gut reactions become less and less comfortable. In that awareness is where I find comfort. Iʼm grateful for that.
I have long lived under the illusion that my actions hurt no one. In fact, I have hurt many, myself included. I have caused harm, even in sobriety. I find that my capacity for selfishness and dishonesty has not left me just because Iʼve removed alcohol from my life. It remains the same if I am not actively seeking to do something about it. I say actively seeking because it is one thing to pray for my character defects to be removed. It is quite another to follow up that prayer with action. For me, this means vigilance, constant honesty and accountability. It means giving myself over to something bigger than myself. It means acknowledging that my ego, if I let it have its way, would have me isolated in my disease. It means doing whatever I can to stay one step ahead of it. It means taking on the full package of recovery. This works for me. I keep doing what works.
When I got sober, I was convinced I was a good girl whoʼd be wronged by the world and almost every person in it. I was always the victim, never responsible for any of the chaos in my life. Here I was this honest, selfless, open-hearted and loving woman whoʼd gotten a bad lot in life. I fully believed I was a kind spirit with the best of intentions, a woman who did not judge,
accepted others as they were and gave freely of herself. I so badly wanted all of this to be my truth. The level of ignorance and at times downright denial was alarming and detrimental to any success I envisioned for my life. The interesting thing about intentions is that for them to have any true meaning, our actions must match them.
The errors in judgement Iʼve made in sobriety hurt more. Being sober doesnʼt mean all your problems go away. It just means you get to view them differently. There is a sense of clarity and our decisions have more weight. Whether we know it or not, we have more power than we did when we were living in our disease. Consequences hurt more in sobriety because we feel all of our feelings, but also because we know better now. I know better and still willingly participate in certain behaviors that have the potential to hurt myself and others. This is both fascinating and alarming. My need to feel wanted, validated, loved and fulfilled puts me right back into that same worn pair of shoes I was wearing when I was running from myself and trying to hide my feelings of inadequacy from the world around me.
Eighteen months ago, I was given a chance to create a life that allows me to live with some modicum of self respect. After what seemed like eons, I've somehow managed to become a woman who can look herself in the eye, even love herself. I am in awe of this. Things are different, not perfect, but better. Iʼm able to forgive myself when I err in judgement. I embrace my imperfections. I do not hide in the shadows. I do not let my past define me. I look to the future with hope. My process of growth has taken time, more time than I would have liked, but Iʼm learning that a turtleʼs pace is just the right pace for me. I seem to learn better that way.
One of the hardest things Iʼve learned how to do is to be honest with myself. This also happens to be one of the biggest gifts Iʼve been given in sobriety. Honesty and integrity seem to go hand in hand. One cannot flourish without the other and it seems that the more I lean into honesty, even when itʼs hard, the more I am able to see integrity, like a living thing, breathe into my life. On the mirror in my bathroom are the words “do the right thing even when nobody's watching.” Thatʼs the closet Iʼve come to understanding integrity. For me, thatʼs a really good start. As I move through this process, I can see peace, self respect and love awakening. Iʼm feeling less torn between who I was and who I want to be. Iʼm learning to accept “her”, all the former versions of myself, misguided, confused and half awake. The choppiness of early sobriety is starting to settle and life seems to flow more naturally these days. I feel connected, to my spirit and the world around me. Maybe this is what being whole and undivided feels like.