Saturday, May 5, 2007

Speaking my truth with intention

I run an art program at a homeless shelter. The program is self-sustaining: the art is sold and 60% of the monies go to the artist, 40% returned to the program. In addition, every second week, one of the clients goes to several companies in the downtown core and picks up bottles for return to a bottle depot. Those funds, minus $10 per hour for the client, are also given to the program.

Over the past several months, one client has taken on the task of doing the bottle depot run. We'll call him Jack. Jack is about 51 and a gambler. His addiction is what drove him to the shelter. Art is his path out. Since I started the program a year ago, Jack has turned up every week and is prolific in the art he produced. He's gifted. Creative and relentless in his pursuit of developing a portfolio that will allow him to move on with his life. As of June 1, Jack will be living on his own. He's got an apartment, a vendor's license that will let him sell his art on city streets, and a commitment to himself that he will stay 'clean and sober' and not fall back into his addiction.

Yesterday my assistant walked into my office and said, "I've got a really tough question."

"What's that?"

"It's Jack. He picked up the bottles last week and raised over $100. He hasn't turned in the money and has avoided me all week until I caught up with him this morning. When I asked him for the money he said he'd get it to me between 2 and 3 today. It's now 4 and no Jack. No money. One of the supervisors suggested we should bar him for a few days, which also means he'll lose his bed on the transitional housing floor."

"That's a serious consequence." I said. "It seems out of proportion to the crime. He is a gambler. This was always a possibility. Losing his bed will have grave consequences on him. Are you willing to do that over the money?"

"I don't want to," she said. "But he has broken the rules. If we don't bar him, we undermine the authority of the staff, and we are letting Jack act out."

We tossed the issue back and forth and agreed that Jack would have until the following Saturday to raise the cash. As we're having an art show next week, it was a feasible solution. If he did not pay back what was owed, we would then consider barring him.

My assistant left my office in search of the supervisor -- and Jack if she could find him -- to tell him of our decision. The supervisor agreed it was a feasible plan, but Jack was still missing in action.

Later, as I was leaving, I went through the day area on my way out. Jack happened to walk in at the same time.

"Hi Jack. We were looking for you earlier. You were to have brought the money in from last Friday this afternoon. Do you have it?"

He looked surprised. "No. Not with me." He searched for words. "It's in my bank."

"You had committed to bringing it in by 3 o'clock today."

"I did? I don't remember saying that."

I took a breath. "Jack, not turning the money in has created a problem. We need to deal with this so that it doesn't continue to create a problem for you."

Jack shrugged his shoulders, looked around the room as if someone else held the answers.

"I'll get it for you right now," he said and turned to walk away.

"You have the money?" I asked, surprised. I would have placed bets he'd already spent it.

"Yeah. Yeah." he said, waving one hand at me as he walked quickly towards the exit. "I'll be right back."

"Great," I said, relieved that he was 'turning up' and paying attention. "I'm on my way out. Just leave it in an envelope at the security desk."

Jack disappeared and I went in search of the floor supervisor to let him know the results of my conversation. By the time I got to the other end of the floor I realized my mistake. I had believed Jack when he said he had the money. Inside me, I knew he didn't. I wanted to believe him when he said he did, though, so I let him convince me.

This story is about turning up, paying attention, speaking the truth and staying unattached to the outcome. It is not about what Jack did. Nor is it about the money. It's about accountability.

Jack is an addict. He is working towards staying clean and sober, but I already know he often spends time and money on the slots. He's told me. When asked if he's trying to quit gambling why does he continue to feed his habit, his response is always, I've got it under control.

Addicts do not control their addiction by skirting the edges of what gives them pleasure and pain. An alcoholic cannot have just one sip of booze. That one sip leads to many. For Jack, one insertion of a coin into a slot machine, feeds the beast who craves the excitement of winning and then losing so that he can try again.

For Jack, the truth is what will relieve him of the burden of his shame that he has let himself, and in the process, others, down.

As I left the floor I told the supervisor that Jack had committed to turning the money in. "I believe it's an empty committment", I told him. "It's not about the money. I understand if Jack has spent it already. What I need from Jack is the truth. To work this out I need to be able to deal with facts, not Jack's stories."

And that's the crux of it. Jack is lying because he doesn't want to face the truth. He's lying because he doesn't want to deal with his reality and would rather pretend I can't see through his lie. I can't see him. When I support him in his belief, I am supporting the lie.

When I was in an abusive relationship, lying to myself and everyone else was integral to my being able to maintain the illusion of everything being 'a-okay' in my life. Lying was the only way I could avoid facing reality -- I was drowning and didn't know how to stop the water streaming in over my head. To face reality meant I would have to do something to change it -- and I couldn't see a path out of the hell in which I was living. So, I kept lying about what was happening.

For Jack, the truth is he has acted out his addiction. He cannot heal or change what he cannot acknowledge.

When I spoke with Jack yesterday, I had the opportunity to deal with reality, not Jack's myth. Unfortunately, I wanted to believe he had the money. I wanted to believe he would do the right thing so I supported him in his story -- even when I knew he had not done the right thing all week, I wanted to believe that suddenly he would. I have no idea if the money will be there this morning when I go in for the art program today. I have no idea if Jack will be there or not either. I'm hoping he will, with or without the money. My goal is to create an opportunity for Jack to heal and grow and change. To support him in his growth, not tear him down in his brokenness. I want him to know that by speaking the truth of what he did, he can get real. The consequences of being real are so much more advantageous than denying, or bluffing his way through.

And that's the rub. Jack is a gambler. In his mind, there's always a way out. You just have to find the right angle to bet on.

In my past, there were times when I bet on the angle to get me out of being accountable for my integrity, truth, honesty and trust. Sometimes, they were little white lies meant to not hurt someone else's feelings when asked to tell them what I thought about... a new dress, haircut, decision to go somewhere.... etc. -- but they were still untruths.

Today, I'm committed to being responsible for my truth, and letting others be responsible for theirs. Recently, a friend bought noise sticks to use at a party. I hate noise sticks. We were asked to pay $5 for them. I told the friend I don't like them and that's why I wouldn't buy any. Surprised, he said, but you can use earplugs. True. But I still didn't feel like spending $5 on something I would only throw out. Later, someone came up and told me how my comment to this friend had triggered his feelings of being less than -- the tapes in his head were firing off about his lack of worth, about always doing things wrong, about how everyone was thinking he was stupid.

My intent in speaking the truth was not to trigger his tapes. I can't take responsibility for the voices in his head. What I can take responsibility for is how I delivered my 'truth'. In walking up to him, bluntly stating, "I hate these things." I did not considered the effort and creativity he had put into having them made. I was so determined to speak my truth, I did not consider what I was trying to create; harmony or discord.

Had I spoken my truth with intention, I would have first thought about what I could say to him that would honour what he had done, while still honouring me. I thought what he did was very creative, very clever and a good idea in a situation where celebrating the event with as much noise as possible was important. There were other, more constructive ways to deliver my truth that would have felt like a hug, not a punch.

To speak our truth, we must turn up.

To speak our truth we must be accountable for how we deliver it.

Today, I hope to have an opportunity to be present with Jack and to create an environment where he feels safe to be present too. In recognizing his woundedness, I am honouring his spirit. By knowing my intention is to help build him up, not tear him down, I will ensure my words and actions leave room for the possibility for growth -- based on reality, not on the story as he'd like it to be told.

To be accountable in this situation, I must let go of my fear of confrontation, and step into my power. This isn't about making Jack 'fess up', or change his ways. It's about making a difference in my life and his by being honest, truthful and caring.

Jack can make a difference in his life by turning up, paying attention, speaking his truth and being unattached to the outcome. It is not his norm. It is not his comfort zone. I can help him in the process by being fair, caring and open to speaking the truth, and not playing into the myth tht he hasn't done anything wrong. I can let go of the story he'd like me believe -- "he's a'okay" and be truthful about the reality of today. I know he's not a'okay. He has avoided dealing with this issue all week. He is an addict. And, he lives at a homeless shelter. No one is a-okay living in a homeless shelter.


Jimena Torres said...

Thank you... I feel so many bad things because of the relationship I decided to be in. I'm having a terrible time... feeling guilty, sad, so depressed and trying to find solutions for something I know is wrong. Thanks again and please keep writing everyday.

M.L. Gallagher said...

Hi Jimena, Have you forgiven yourself? You couldn't know when first you met him that he was not who you imagined, who he presented himself to be. Close your eyes, softly whisper, "I forgive me for everything I've ever done that's hurt me." Repeat as often as you need to until the words feel like a warm healing shower of love falling onto your heart.

Forgive yourself Jimena. You deserve to be free.