“If you shut up truth, and bury it underground, it will but grow.” Emile Zola
Do you know that feeling of walking through life trying to function and look okay, but on the inside being a complete mess? That was me during most of 2009.
Of course, a select few knew my secret but, at that point, I wasn’t ready to publish my truth to the world. I was just trying to get through each day, if not each minute, the best I could.
That February, a breast cancer diagnosis had gone off like a bomb blast in my life. I lost body parts, but could cover up the physical and emotional damage with clothes and an “I’m fine.” It was a lie and I told it because I thought acting strong was how to “move on.”
No such luck. Every time I stepped out of the shower, my fifteen inch hip to hip scar, missing nipple and asymmetrical, scarred breasts screamed “DAMAGED” at me. Emotionally, I was angry, lonely, fatigued and teetering on depression.
That summer we were invited to friends’ house for dinner and I finally confessed to my husband that I was exhausted emotionally from telling people I was fine when I wasn’t. I felt like I was lying all the time and I just didn’t want to do it anymore.
His answer, “Tell the truth.”
It was a radical idea and, when the inevitable question came up, I took his advice and was surprised by the empathy and compassion I received. That was the moment I realized burying the truth didn’t make me strong. Being strong required telling the truth and taking small, concrete steps to honestly live it:
- Show Up to be Supported: No one knocked on my door to offer support during my early days of covering up and acting strong. Support didn’t come until I admitted I needed it and showed up to get it.
- Tell Your Story: When I started telling my story I felt heard. Being heard made me feel validated and validation helped me heal. There was no shortcut to emotional healing that let me get away with not telling the truth.
- Practice Gratitude: All I had to do was say, “thank you.” Letting others know how much I appreciated them, even when it made me feel vulnerable, brought more goodness into my life.
- Give Back: The first time I shared with another cancer survivor I was shocked to realize my cancer experience was actually worth something. Putting my suffering to work in service to others was, and still is, a win-win.
- Say “Yes” to Yourself: Before cancer I was extremely risk-adverse. When faced with something new, I’d come up with a million reasons to say “no.” After cancer, I honestly faced my fears and asked just one question, “Why not?” The answer lets me know whether or not to take the leap.
- Move Your Body: Before cancer I wasn’t athletic. I’m still not athletic, but I’ve discovered yoga and walking. Getting active gave me back some control over my body, with each yoga session bringing a stronger connection between body, mind and self.
- Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness brings me into the present without judgment. When I focus on the now, rather than replaying the past or worrying about the future, I have clarity and much less drama.
- Make Time to Play: There is no falseness in play. When I play, I am joyfully living in the moment and everything I am is true.
- Take Every Opportunity to Laugh: Laughter is the crystal clear sound of joy. You can’t laugh and not feel joy and, at least for that moment, joy is your truth. Try it!
- Cultivate a Sense of Wonder: The world is a wondrous place. When I open my eyes to it, I let myself truly believe in possibilities.
Back in the day, I thought insisting I was fine and hiding the truth of life with breast cancer made it so. I was completely wrong.
If you’re struggling, how do you show up for yourself in honesty and truthfulness? I’d love to hear from you; please leave me a comment below.
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Debbie Woodbury is the founder of WhereWeGoNow, author of You Can Thrive After Treatment and How to Build an Amazing Life After Treatment, and a Huffington Post blogger. She is an inspirational speaker bringing hope to cancer survivors and the patient experience to medical professionals. Debbie gives back by working with the Cancer Hope Network, The Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project, and the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center Oncology Community Advisory Board at Overlook Medical Center, Summit, NJ. Debbie is a wife, mother, and a former very stressed out attorney. To learn more, join her at WhereWeGoNow and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Featured image courtesy of Fatma .M.April 25, 2014