In recent years I’ve become increasingly aware of what it feels like to carry something that needs to be said. When I have this feeling, it’s palpable, visceral, something caught inside that wants to get out. It creates disquiet, anxiety, and a sense of urgency.
In the past, I would often wait and hope that someone else would speak the truth. I would feel betrayed by those who I felt owed me more truth, insulted, injured—and yet it was I who felt the need to speak.
I didn’t have the presence, the courage, the voice that I needed. I wasn’t my self enough to speak with confidence. This lack of self of a sense of self is its own deeper truth, another story for another time. It’s also true that, as with everything else, we get good at what we do. I simply lacked practice.
A couple of years ago, nearing the age of fifty and feeling this feeling of needing to saying something arise yet again, I dug deeper. Whereas in the past I might have sat with the anger, the darkness inside that came from the words not spoken, now I allowed the words to take shape.
In this case, it was a question that I needed to ask my parents: “Did you know what I was doing as a teenager? Did you know how much I was drinking and using meth—did you know how desperate I was, how much damage I was doing at the age of fourteen, fifteen, sixteen? And if you did know, why didn’t you say anything? And if you didn’t know: how could you not know?”
Now that I had the shape of the words, I asked myself, where was my resistance to speaking them? Was there anything about what I wanted to say that I was unsure of? What was I afraid of?
What I found was that I was afraid of discord, of disturbing the peace—and I also knew that the peace was uninteresting, that the peace was not serving me, or us—that I needed to ask this question, that I would be doing no harm by asking it. I realized that I had no resistance, other than my fear of going into unfamiliar ground. I was no longer afraid; I found myself excited to speak, and to hear their response.
Something that helped me get past my hesitation was to practice first in a closed environment—visualizing myself asking them, and then sharing my question with other men as friends and in groups.
As I’ve seen so many times, and here yet again, fear is just a message—and turning towards fear often transmutes it into excited anticipation. I also know of myself that I respond well to deadlines and it occurred to to me to give myself one: If I hadn’t discovered a real reason not to speak by Monday, I would speak on Monday. The phrase scrolled across the screen of my consciousness: Let Monday be Truth Day. I felt a sense of calm relief, and of open interest in what would come.
Monday came. I asked, they answered, and we had a deeper, more interesting, and more healing conversation on the subject than we had ever had before.
What I’ve only come to realize more recently is that truth is a form of energy. If I resist, if I hold it inside, the energy remains bound up within me. I feel frustrated, anxious, resentful, angry. I resent this truth that I have to hold alone, roll it endlessly in my mouth, a jawbreaker that never shrinks but only grows. It creates an aching in my gut, disturbs my sleep, and gnaws at my focus.
When I speak, or write, this energy is released. No longer bound inside, the “truth” that is simply some part of what is my self is expressed, shared with the world, free to be in dialogue with other energies, reflecting, transforming, a creative force. I have also learned that this is how we make art: by expressing the energy of our selves into the world, where it can be seen, reflected, and integrated.
So now, when I feel this anxious energy within me, I remind myself that I’m here to tell the truth. I dig for clarity, and if I haven’t found the courage or the right time beforehand, I let Monday be Truth Day.
I’ve found this practice to have another dramatic benefit. Not only does it release internal energy, allowing it to become relating and perhaps even art: speaking the truth frees up space in my psyche for more of my self to emerge. With less overhang, less psychic debt to carry, I am more free.
The authors of one of my favorite books, The Courage to be Disliked, refer to this in the context of what they call horizontal and vertical relationships. Their position is that “all problems are interpersonal relationship problems” (think about that for a minute! All problems! Could be true!), and that we can avoid interpersonal problems by being acutely aware of emerging verticality—that is, inequality—in our relating, and working to keep all of our relationships horizontal, of equals, between peers.
If in my relating I sense that I’ve left something unsaid, or that there was something that I wish that I had had the presence to say, then I can feel the relationship drifting towards verticality. I now know that the way to rectify this is to bring truth back into the field as quickly as possible, even if the larger truth is still unclear. Just naming the fact that I feel that something is unspoken can help keep things horizontal.
The feeling of a clean slate, of having mostly—or all—horizontal relationships is truly remarkable. I can tell you that sitting here right now I have very few, if any, lingering to-do’s in my relating, and this gives me an incomparable feeling of security, calm, and, above all, freedom much stronger than any anxiety that I might feel about an upcoming Truthday.