I recently put a blog into the world that I was desperately afraid to put into the world. But it turns out that the world liked it. Really liked it. I heard from high school teammates, college teammates, friends I hadn't heard from in years. Thanking me for being brave. Thanking me for sharing my story. Thanking me because they just so happened to have a very similar story. The people in my life who knew me and loved me didn't view me any differently or love me any less. They just loved on me. And in that moment of putting it out into the inter-webs of the world, I let out a big scary breath of bottled up air and breathed in a massive burst of positivity.
Why was it so scary to post? I thought back to all of the people who had told me their stories in private. Stories that they viewed as shameful, terrible stories, that would be told to me and then buried in the ground. I thought about a television show my grandmother used to watch: "Keeping Up Appearances". I would watch it with her and we would LAUGH. Ugly cry laughter about the ridiculous things that the main character Hyacinth would do. How she would hide her weird family stuff from her perfect neighbors and sweep her dust and dirt under the rug. Literally and figuratively. And we would laugh about it.
It's always better to keep your weird family stuff from your neighbors. It's better that they don't know about your sister's drinking problem and that we don't know that their cousin George is gay. Because then we'd miss out on all of the great conversations about gardens and flowers and stuff. The important things in life.
When you hide the weird stuff, you might look less weird. But you don't feel less weird. Your sister's drinking problem still exists. You just can't talk about it. Your cover-up story becomes your truth, and then everything just gets confusing. It's a way of turning normal things into big scary things. Big scary secrets. If we let these secrets out we'll be exposed, and if we're exposed people will think less of us.
I remember racing at historic Hayward Field when I was a freshman in college. I had run more that year than I had ever run in my life. It was a great year and by the end of May, I was completely tapped out. I remember my coaches asking me if I wanted to race in Eugene. My tired body said no, but somehow the words: OMG ARE YOU KIDDING!? OF COURSE! came out. And so I continued to train for another six weeks. I had some good workouts, but I was mentally and physically exhausted.
When I stepped on the track to run the USATF Junior 5k, I made it 5 laps in before tripping on the inside rail and dropping out of the race. Worse yet, the officials picked me up off the track in a wheelchair. I was exhausted, but I was OKAY. When I finally mustered up the courage to limp over to my coaches, I told them my leg gave out and that my knee had been bothering me the whole race. They knew the truth. But they nodded at my lie. And then my lie became my truth. When people would ask what happened, my story would get more elaborate. I needed an excuse for my epic screw up in an epic stadium.
Why couldn't I have just been tired? Why did it have to be something else? It needed a reason, something more tangible than my body was wiped and I wasn't super brave on that day. When I look back on this race now, I have such clarity. Why did I have to exaggerate in the moment? To keep up appearances? I dropped out of that race because I had logged more miles than I had ever run in my life that year. Because I was exhausted. Because I was afraid to run over 17:00 in my iconic dream stadium, where my running heroes had raced nights before.
Sharing my scary blog post made me realize all of the little things that I have swept under the rug. All the little things the athletes I coached would sweep under the rug. And it made me realize that if we all keep sweeping, eventually the carpet is going to turn into a heaping mound of dirty dusty things that will eventually bust out anyway. So why not just own our stories and then sweep 'em out the door instead? What difference would it make if my knee hurt or I admit that my body was just fatigued and that I wasn't feeling brave?
I'm learning that it's best to own the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth…except for when you hate your neighbors flower garden, then you just smile and nod, because anything else would just be mean and rude….
When we own our stories, we give ourselves a chance to learn and grow and do better the next time. Rather than waiting for it to all fall out. We get to breathe out the scary, the weird, the crap. And then to breathe in the new, the bigger, the braver. So that next time is better. We move on when we do this. And if we're lucky, we encourage other people to do the same. When we tell our stories, we keep it real. For real.