I posted a quote on my newsletter from a book I'm reading by Martha Beck. The book is called the way of integrity. In this book, integrity doesn't mean doing the right thing; it comes from integer, which means whole. Being your whole self, your authentic self.
You're trying to act in ways that don't feel right to you at the deepest level. Emotionally, we feel grumpy, sad, or numb. Physically, our immune systems and muscles weaken; we might get sick, and even if we don't, our energy flattens. Mentally, we lose focus and clarity; that's how it feels to be out of integrity. -Martha Beck
If you've ever been out of integrity, you know it because something is "off."
After sending out my newsletter with this quote, I got this response from a friend: You have inadvertently diagnosed me, Hope! I'm out of integrity. This describes me to a "T." I want it back! I'm out of focus and too tired to retrieve it. I can fake it beautifully that all is well. The good news is that mostly all is well. I'm ashamed to complain. I have an abundant life. When I was younger, I was (occupation) and felt like I was doing exactly what God intended for me to be doing. Perhaps this is just aging...
It's not aging. It's not hormones; it's not a mid-life crisis. I hear this over and over from my patients and friends. "I just don't know what's wrong with me. I feel "off," I have "brain fog," I can't sleep, I am medicating with food, alcohol, etc. I am falling apart physically.
I hear it with my podcast guests. The only difference between them and you is that they listened. When their integrity was so out of whack their lives started suffering, they listened. They don't all have it figured out, but they listened. My friend I interviewed Saturday, Rachel Lee, said when she finally showed her true self to the outside world, she felt like she'd unzipped the suit she'd had on for years. She felt like she was letting her 16-year-old self out, the part of her who was creative and irreverent. Rachel says if you've lost yourself or don't recognize yourself, it's time to let that part of you come out of hiding. Reclaim yourself.
Martha tells story after story in her book of people who were chasing after the wrong things. They were pursuing all the things they thought they should be pursuing. Money, career accolades, an airstream, bigger boobs, a new spouse, even things like adopting a baby. Any of these things like job, money, a family, love can be in alignment with your authentic self, but they can also be out of alignment if your intentions aren't true.
Here's a simple exercise Martha gives in her book. Think of something you want, a purchase you haven't let yourself buy because of cost. Imagine it down to the last detail. How would it feel to hold it/ride in it/use it? What are the emotional sensations you feel when you get it?
Okay, I imagined a new mac laptop. Apple has done a phenomenal job with their marketing. Researchers have shown that when you open an apple product and take it out of the box and touch it, the same parts of your brain light up as when you're in love and looking at your beloved. Seriously??? But I did the exercise. I imagined the computer. I imagined the gleaming surface, the smell, and I imagined the emotional sensations I'd feel: giddy, elated, buoyant.
Then, Martha says to imagine yourself lying in bed in the dark. What do you yearn for? What is the thing or things that bubble up from the depths of your being that you truly yearn for? Imagine any emotional sensations associated with having this thing. Then imagine any physical sensations you'd have. I was writing this exercise, so I wrote down what I yearn for: joy, freedom, peace.
Look at the difference in the way you felt. When I imagined my new Mac, I felt a giddy, greedy full feeling--like when you see there's a piece of cookie cake in the breakroom and you realize no one is around, and it's all yours! Maybe this is just me. Anyway, when I imagined joy, I felt lightness and fullness at the same time. I felt filled up with peaceful energy. My body felt physically lighter.
Martha says when we're not distracted by culture, we move directly toward fulfilling our innate longing. When we're craving things we've been taught to want, we lose track of our inner motivations and may spend a lifetime pursuing rewards that ever make us feel truly fulfilled. She said regardless of which country you live in and regardless of your socioeconomic status, people yearn for are the same worldwide—peace, joy, love, and freedom.
I loved Rachel's description of unzipping her outside "Rachel suit" and letting her authentic self come out. When you do this, you'll also start to find your tribe. I remember walking into my neighborhood yoga studio for a meeting on yoga teacher certification. I immediately thought, "These are my people." My friends Amy Jones and Alison Heacock are both PAs. They both completed a lifestyle medicine certification. When they described going to the conference for lifestyle medicine, they both agreed they immediately felt like they'd found their tribe.
Stand and look in the mirror. Ignore your eyebrows you haven't plucked in two weeks. Look into your eyes. Who are you really? Are you zipped up inside, or are you the person everyone gets to meet and interact with? Where's the true you?
It's hard for our fake self to come out on paper for more than a page of writing. Get in the habit of writing down your true feelings daily. You can google Morning Pages if you want more directions. You'll be shocked how your authentic self communicates on paper without you even knowing it until you go back and read it.
Look at the people around you. Are these your people? Do your relationships feel authentic? Do they really know you? When have you felt the most seen and known? When I had my first job out of PA school, it was with an old-school internal medicine practice where the doctors wore long white coats, ties, and slacks. I wore heels most days, a white coat, and button-up shirts. I just wanted to fit in. I love that the office I'm at now has one provider with purple hair, and I'm allowed to wear my Danskos. I painted glitter red like Dorothy.
Would your 9-year-old self even recognize you? If you sat down with your childhood self, would she think you were a sell-out? What would she try and get you to remember about what kind of person you are deep down?
Look at what you're wearing and how you're wearing your hair. Does this feel authentic? I was shoe shopping with my kids, and I saw a pair of Doc Martin black combat-style boots. Those of you who know me now would be shocked if I walked into a PTA meeting in those boots, but I actually felt myself being pulled towards them. I allowed myself to try them on, but my daughter shrieked in embarrassment, and I put them back. Rachel describes putting in her three earrings on one ear and going to work. She felt like her true self was slowing coming out of the closet.
If you were to "come out of the closet" and show your true colors, what would this look like? I had a frail old lady as a patient once, and I was asking her about life. She told me she used to ride her motorcycle across the country. She showed me a creased, faded photo in her wallet of her skinny blond self on a Harley. I couldn't believe it. After she'd revealed her authentic self, I no longer saw her as a frail little old lady. I treated her like the badass she was, and she became one of my favorite patients of all time.