by Una A. Slater

Along my journey for the past two years, I think I’ve come face to face with all the things that were built, compressed and rationed through my body and spirit since childhood.

There must have been something magical about the number 32 because when I hit it, the story began. The plans, the move, the transitions—the embarking on a journey that promised as much heartbreak as laughter. A trip that would take me back in time, as much as it took me toward the future.

If it seems I spend a lot of time talking about these past two years, it’s because, so far in life, they have been the two biggest years in lessons for me. Years of schooling could never have taught me the things I’ve learned. And it’s only now that I can fully appreciate them—the tears, the laughter, the pain and the promise.

The word that seems to have taken on new purpose in my life is integrity. Specifically, living my life with it, and never compromising it—for anyone. I crave it like I crave air. I challenge others around me who seem to suggest I should compromise it. I cling to those who challenge me when I seem to stray from it.

Something about pain, shame and sadness makes us, as adults, willing to sacrifice our integrity, as if the notion of it will bring us some sort of peace, or reckoning, or deserved punishment for what we perceive to be our own transgressions.

Many of those perceived transgressions are mere fiction—things that were told to us, by us, or by others that we chose to accept as truth. At least this is my theory. In order to mask the pain, or to make sense of things that are purely illogical we make lies of our actions.

We lie to others and we lie to ourselves. Each and every day we deny ourselves the joy of being the best of who we are truly meant to be because it terrifies us. Instead, we create our own neat and tidy universe and lock our issues away in a crock pot on a slow burn.

And we burn…and burn…and burn.

I look around me, at people, friends and others, now that I’ve taken the lid off my crock pot. I let the contents bubble over, down the sides, into the stove, the pilots, down the front of the oven and onto the floor. I allowed it to be the mess it always needed to be.

After I cleaned up the mess of things that had been festering since childhood (as much of it as I could impact), I found that integrity became my new lens. A hunger for the truth of things. This truth prohibits me from the life long habit of trying to swallow the lies I so desperately wanted to take on faith. Now I look around me at some of the happenings, and I shake my head in disbelief. The beautiful veil I draped over many areas of my life has fallen away.

Where’s the integrity, and how is it that there is so much fiction, around me? Where is the truth in our actions? In what we say, and lead others to believe? And why are so many people lying about things that could be inconsequential if just confronted, and conquered?

If only we all were brave enough to live in our own truths and embrace them without fear of judgment instead of being so eager to point out all the flaws we believe everyone else has because it’s so much easier to get in someone else’s nonsense than it is to clean our own.

Why does this supposed enlightenment I have feel so incredibly powerful and yet so incredibly alienating? Why is it, the better I get, the more dreary things appear, around me? The filth I used to allow myself to sit in now feels as foreign to me as men’s shoes. I just can’t step into it. And my ability to see it coming from a hundred miles away has turned my myopic vision into something quite distinct.

As I grow older, I have a strong aversion towards situations and things that suggest I abandon my own sense of integrity. And I can also see how many events and people in my life have asked me to do it, and to assist them in their own fears and dramas.

It’s not intentional. But on this leg of my journey, it’s become critical to me not to sacrifice my integrity, for anyone or thing. The more you cling to the notion of it, the more it is required that you have difficult conversations with people who will not understand the shift.

Each difficult conversation gives you courage to remain true to you. Each confrontation makes the next one easier. It’s called cleaning house. And I think it’s probably the hardest thing in adulthood to ever be done. But it’s also the only way to open yourself up to the things you truly want.

It requires taking an honest inventory of what you keep around you and having the courage to cut away the nonsense that brings you negativity. It’s having the courage to say, “This element within my life doesn’t serve me. It doesn’t reward me, it never has and it’s never going to. It attracts the very venom that keeps me from my own true happiness and content. So as amusing as it may have been, it’s time to go.” It’s transitioning from the sandbox. It’s waking up from the matrix. It’s the difference between girl and woman. It’s the difference between floating and swimming. It’s the difference between existing and living.

I don’t want to be a part of obvious fiction. I don’t want to assist others in remaining in gray. At the end of the day, we are all individuals who will make our own beds and lie in them. We will all be challenged to live with integrity, and there will come moments in life when that challenge seems bigger than life itself. Even in those moments, the quest will remain the same.

To thine own self be true. The biggest fools are those who try to deny themselves their own happiness.