“Matt, you’re not having a beer?”
I’d never been more afraid in my life to answer a question. A few months earlier, my wife had caught me downloading pornography on our home computer. This event exposed a secret that I had hidden for years.
I hated doing it. And it was getting worse. I was spending more time on the computer each night searching. And the porn was getting darker. I also hated the lying and hiding that went with it.
All I remember from that night was my wife said,”I know this is not about me… but you need help.” I did. I had tried on my own to kick the habit. But every time I would end up doing it again, feeling more defeated. Porn robbed me of any confidence I had on the inside. I was powerless with it.
So I joined a recovery group and started going every week. The group had one rule: we had to abstain from alcohol. They didn’t want us replacing one addiction for another.
Which is why the question about the beer was so scary. I was sitting with all my coworkers at happy hour, and I had a choice. Make up some B.S. excuse or tell the truth.
I told them the truth.
I don’t know what I expected. That they would reject me or think I was a freak. Maybe they would want to argue about whether porn was a good or bad thing.
They did none of those things. They listened and were supportive. They didn’t understand everything, but I left that night feeling seen. I wasn’t hiding my weakness anymore.
From there I started being more open about my struggle with porn. I told people at church and even my family. The more I opened up about it, the more I felt acceptance in the part of me that I covered up for so many years.
There are three benefits we get when we are open about our weakness.
There is a prideful part of us that wants to try to manage things on our own. As men, we want to act like we have it all together. But that is what keeps us stuck. That’s why it’s so easy to keep doing the same thing and getting the same results.
When we are honest, that prideful part of us dies and brings with it humility. Sometimes we think that recovery will mean an absence of struggle. But it’s quite the opposite. As we become more whole, we are free to be honest about ongoing weakness.
In recovery, I make mistakes, but I am committed to honesty and openness. This has made for some hard conversations with my wife after relapses.
In the early days, my wife would ask me about how I did during an evening alone. My first instinct was always to lie and cover up. But an hour later, I would confess. First, that I had crossed a boundary with porn, and second to the lie. It was painful. But with each relapse, I learned again the power of not hiding my weakness.
2. A Chance to Ask For Help
With our weakness in the open, we can then ask others for help. Our addictions many times are poor substitutes for emotional needs. A need to not feel alone. A need for affirmation. Needing love or nurture. When we develop relationships based on honesty, we can ask for the things we need.
This past summer, I was feeling down about getting laid off from my corporate job. One day I called a friend and said, “I am just feeling a lot of rejection from what happened. I need some encouragement.” It was simple. But I asked for what I needed.
3. Acceptance, Not Rejection
When we open about our weakness, people respond more times than not, with acceptance. They will even thank us for our vulnerability. Because it makes it safe for them to share their weakness. What they see in us is the real authentic self. Not the broken addict or the mask we wore when we were hiding.
And that’s when the magic happens. They affirm us and mirror back the good they see in us. And we receive it. Because they know about our weakness and are still saying these things.
Now, I am still a work in progress. I still struggle with looking weak and asking for help. I think it’s natural. But I have marked all the real progress in my life from being honest about my weakness.
I will leave you with a favorite quote I have from this past year,
“The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness even our wholeheartedness actually depends on the integration of all of our experiences, including the falls.”
Brené Brown, Rising Strong (2015)
Do you struggle to be open about your weakness?
Photo: Flickr/ Nathan Congleton