“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort:
choosing what is right over what is
fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to
practice our values rather than
simply professing them.”
~ Brene Brown
Honesty, Truthfulness, Principle, Virtue, Honor, Ethics, Unity, Coherence, Solidarity, Togetherness
Have you ever been lost? I mean lost in your life with questions no one can answer but you. Of course you have. Maybe you’re in the midst of it now. Each of us shares this experience, something Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey. At some moment in our lives we pass through a “dark night of the soul,” a time when we desperately crave to hear the inner voice of guidance only to be left in silence. My dark night came early and led me to painful places before I could return to integrity, a state of being whole and undivided. Your dark night may not be as extreme but no matter how your path unfolds, we each share a version of this story.
If you know me today parts of this story will seem stunningly out of character, like something fictionalized for shock value. When I reflect on these memories, I feel the same. But I needed to know what it felt like to live without integrity before I could appreciate the profound gifts of living in wholeness.
This post is several weeks late because I am terrified about sharing this with you. I’ve been ashamed to share this past part of myself, scared to let myself or my family think about what could have been. But the time has come, and time has taught me that stories have power, and that my faults are the reason my path today is so meaningful and my gratitude so deep. So today, I share the story with you, as an offering. It’s an act that requires courage over comfort.
These experiences were the testing ground that led me to my life. And, because I know you too have faced a testing ground, or maybe you’re facing one now, you deserve to know what’s possible and what you are capable of overcoming. Let this be a reminder that you are not the accumulation of your worst decisions. Without these dark times and dangerous dances with life’s edge, I would not be the teacher, guide, wife, friend, sister, and daughter I am today. This is the story of discovering the light of integrity. I hope we can share the path together, illuminating the way for each other. May this story be of service to you on your journey to an undivided life of wholeness.
“She is traveling between worlds unlearning
thousands of years of conditioning”
~ Sukhivinder Sircar ~
I have memories. I know they’re mine but they feel like scenes from a movie I saw a longtime ago. The memories are blurry, like seeing through someone else’s eyes. I can see myself. Standing on tiptoes in the middle of the night in my short, pleated, navy blue Catholic schoolgirl uniform blowing smoke into the obnoxiously loud fan above my childhood bathroom toilet. As if that noise was going to discreetly cover up my horrifying behavior.
The swirling white smoke curled around the glass like seductive fingers drawing me in. The blue flame licking the glass, melting the contents into a clear liquid, until the black residue began to crawl over the edge. One quick yet gentle sip of breath and those sweet threads of smoke hit my lungs like a wave of utter surrender and engulfing ease. It was my first and only time smoking speed, alone.
Most people think speed will make you run wild. For me, it nurtured a state of inner stillness and physical peace. A wash of energy ran through my body and embraced me. In those moments my mind became completely clear and I dove to a place where I could finally sit quietly with myself. The voice of uncompromising criticism ceased and the constant internal abuse came to a beautiful, haunting halt.
I climbed off the toilet and caught site of myself in the mirror. Eyes wide and staring. I hated that uniform. I hated that school. And I hated myself. I had become a liar living a two-faced life. I desperately wanted to feel but mostly, I desperately wanted to feel numb. I climbed into bed, closed my eyes and pretended not to be “that” person. With a racing heart, I pretended to sleep.
What started as a desire to escape a lifetime of people pleasing unfurled over the last two years into a dark, desperate dance between narcotics and prescription drugs, between appearing as the perfect daughter and hiding an unhappy, lonely, and lost soul.
People can tell when you’re doing drugs. They’re just too afraid to ask. Class president, 4.2 GPA, high functioning, high achieving, simultaneously holding down a job. There were no signs except some weight loss and dark circles that plagued my face. My misery was chalked up to being a teenager, which was also true.
It didn’t begin this way. I’ve always been afraid of authority, afraid of being caught for not following the rules. Being a good girl felt well…good! Being in alignment with “the rules” gave me a sense of control and safety, it still does. Being placed on a pedestal by parents, teachers, friends, and even strangers provided validation that I was worthy of love and attention. I gained my self-worth through years of doing things the way other people wanted me to do them. I didn’t know the difference between my wants and the wants of others.
Being “good” made my parents, especially my father, happy. As a depressed, often out of work alcoholic I would do anything, anything, to make him happy. My achievements always earned a spark from him. He would regale his friends with my successes, smile, and tell me how proud he was of me. I came to believe this was how you earned love and how I would keep him in the light. I was terrified of the consequences if I failed or disappointed him. Not because he would ever harm me but because I was afraid he would fall into a sadness I would never be able to pull him back from, a responsibility no child should ever have to shoulder.
Then one day as a high school freshman an older boy started trying to spend time with me. Instantly I disliked him. I found him off-putting, slimy, and suspicious. But he persisted. And I silenced my intuition. One New Year’s Eve night he appeared. I felt a mixture of dread and resignation. There was no alcohol. No drugs. I had never even smoked a cigarette, yet. It was just a seemingly innocent night of talking, eventually a pizza, and what felt like connection. I felt seen, heard, and attended to in a way I had never experienced. As summer came and our time together extended, we spent long days at his house. It was quiet. There was a pool.
He slipped a little pill into my hand and I was scared. I had never seen drugs before, not even marijuana. An hour later I was floating in the cool water, gazing up at the summer sky, transfixed by the trees overhead. Ecstasy is just that, ecstasy. Every body part, every nerve ending electrified and alive. The sensation of the water against my skin was heavenly and I was sure this was what happiness felt like, and for the first time I knew it all the way to my bones. The sky was a brilliant blue and the trees danced in the warm summer breeze like old wisemen watching over me. Nature was all around and it was vibrant, singing, and full of longing. Everything was connected and I was a part of everything. It was the first spiritual experience of my life and I never wanted it to end. I came home with wild eyes and dark brown skin. My mother took one look at me and asked, “are you ok?” For the first time in my life I couldn’t care less about breaking the rules. I didn’t want this relief, this long-awaited arrival at peace, to be taken away from me and I bold-faced lied. From that moment forward I began to live two very different lives and fell into a web of deception.
Drugs were not a daily option so I methodically planned my next escape, my next return to relief and freedom. I had academic achievements to maintain, college dreams to reach, and an outward appearance to uphold. Over the next several years I moved between weekend narcotic use and weekday prescription drug use to maintain the emotional numbing and my grades. I felt smart about my drug use, applying the same precise scheduling to my usage as I did to academia. It was exhausting and exhilarating. I was barely holding the puzzle pieces of my lies together.
ADD and ADHD had become popular diagnoses so friends began seeing doctors and faking symptoms to gain prescriptions for Ritalin and Adderall. We took the pills, we felt invincible, and I felt free of so much sadness while balancing it all. I felt like Liv Tyler from Empire Records and I loved it. But underneath I lived in constant fear that my betrayal would be revealed and that my parents’ hearts would be broken. After years of living without a shred of integrity, it was starting to take a more serious toll.
I can’t remember what caused me to suddenly wakeup but it dawned on me that everyone was about to get caught. I still feared authority and following rules was still important to me. I stopped using. I cut it all cold turkey. A few weeks later the call came. My best friend had been dragged out of her bedroom in the middle of the night, forced outside in her pajamas, and violently tossed into an unmarked van. She’d been hauled off to rehab in the middle of the night. The next day, the slimy guy, who had become my boyfriend against all of my instincts, was expelled. And then I was called into the principle’s office where my parents sat. My father was crying. It was horrible. It was my worst nightmare come true. I had failed everyone. I had failed myself. I was drug tested in front of everyone.
I tested clean so no one knew what I had been hiding. I could keep my double life a secret but, I still had to carry the weight of tremendous deception, always afraid my past behavior would be discovered, terrified I would be labeled a druggie, and most horrifically be an even greater disappointment than I already was. Covering my pain didn’t solve it. Hiding my sorrow only made it worse. On a visceral level I began to realize that living without integrity felt unkind, dark, and cruel. I never wanted to feel this way again. I never wanted to cause pain to the people I loved again, or anyone for that matter. I was exhausted from the daily burden of having to hide so much. I buried my dirty secret deep inside of me.
“Integrity is the essence of everything successful”
~ R. Buckminster Fuller
I thought I was in the clear. I thought I could leave my double life in the past and never think about it again and simply move on. But I was wrong. As the title of the book by Bessel van der Kolk suggests, the body keeps the score. In my first year of college I became crippled with anxiety. Unable to leave my apartment, unable to sit in restaurants or be in loud, stimulating places, I fell to my knees in despair. Again and again my heart would race, I would break out in a cold sweat, my vision would narrow, and I would edge nearer and nearer toward fainting or vomiting. The only solution was sleep.
Finally, in an act of desperation, I called my mom. She suggested I start meditating, a practice I had adopted in earlier years but had long forgotten. She suggested yoga and acupuncture. Even though I had returned to integrity in my actions, my body, mind, and heart still held the consequences of years of numbing and betrayal and they were manifesting as anxiety, demanding to be dealt with.
I remember very little about my first yoga class except the critical voice in my head pitifully crying, “are you kidding?” as I crumpled to my mat in a heap, panting, and embarrassed. I could barely keep pace with the lithe people surrounding me. The internal mantra of “not good enough” rang through my mind, a voice I used to numb away but couldn’t escape from on my mat. For the first time I sat face-to-face with my demons and didn’t reach for something outside of myself to silence them. Yoga brought me into relationship with an inner world that needed healing and long sought attention.
Laying down for Savasana, I was overcome. I collapsed on the floor and layers and years of disconnection, unworthiness, guilt, and sorrow began melting away. This was the true experience of ecstasy and nothing outside of myself was needed to achieve it. What I had long craved had always already been right here inside of me.
I don’t remember when I went back to yoga again, but I know I did. I left that first class knowing I had just met my biggest challenge and my greatest gift. The desire to feel whole and happy through conscious choosing and wise action had been ignited. I could feel myself returning to the young girl I knew so many years ago who was complete and absolutely worthy, the woman who was loved unconditionally, beyond any achievement. I was remembering once again what it felt like to live in integrity, to feel my feelings, my body, my entire being, and not run away. I was learning that I could experience the depth of my sorrow, grief, and pain and survive. I was remembering what it was like to be whole and undivided, the definition of yoga itself.
Zig Ziglar once said, “With integrity, you have nothing to fear, since you have nothing to hide. With integrity, you will do the right thing, so you will have no guilt” and it was from that moment I started to LIVE, to speak my truth, and to never hide from my pain or anyone else’s again.
Lying produces stress. I’m sure you can recall at least one instance, or several, when you were dishonest and experienced the physical, mental, and emotional effects. A lack of integrity is bad for your health and can lead to negative outcomes such as elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, elevated cortisol, chronic anxiety, and a depletion of the brain regions needed for appropriate emotional response. Recent studies even demonstrate that people who lie have shorter telomeres, the little caps at the end of your DNA that prevent aging. This suggests that lying actually accelerates the aging process and can lead to a shorter lifespan.
Honesty on the other hand is good for your health! No surprise there. At the American Psychological Association, the results of a study titled “The Science of Honesty” were presented which demonstrated that “telling the truth when tempted to lie can significantly improve a person’s mental and physical health.”
Integrity is defined as “being whole and undivided.” When you live with integrity, your words and actions are trustworthy and reliable. To live with integrity is to be a person others can trust, even when truth telling is scary or hard. To live in integrity is to live YOUR truth, not someone else’s. When you live the core value of Integrity, you live with a greater sense of freedom and connection, knowing you have nothing to hide.
Through the physical practice of yoga, we embody the core value of Integrity by placing focus on the alignment of the body, breath, and intention or Sankalpa. You are called upon to honor your truth – the truth of your spine and anatomical structure, only going as far as possible while still remaining in alignment from the inside out. This is what integrity feels and looks like in the world. If you can know it in your body, you can know it in your life.
And, when you fall out of integrity, take responsibility. I’ve caught myself speaking little white lies. You know, the ones you think are harmless? My husband asked if I enjoyed a second caffeinated beverage one day and without second thought I exclaimed, “No!” when in fact I did. It’s a funny example but an important one. We convince ourselves that small moments of dishonesty are somehow justifiable, even necessary in certain situations to protect ourselves or others, but these seemingly innocuous deceptions are actually the most dangerous. If they accumulate over time you convince yourself that the lie you’re telling is the truth. Scientific studies demonstrate that 50% of your memories are inaccurate. If you lie, even in the smallest of ways, you create a false reality. Be diligent with your honesty, own your missteps, and live your values fully – even if that means the embarrassment of retracing a conversation and admitting a white lie. Deception accumulates and will wreak havoc on your wellbeing if left unattended. The truth always feels better, in the end, for everyone. This has been my greatest lesson. As Brene Brown says, “clear is kind.”
I once read something beautiful that said, “what we reach for might be different but what makes us reach is the same.” In that moment I understood yoga and the healing power of these practices. I understood that while we might feel alone in the midst of the battle to discover the light within, we are all sharing the same path, the same desire for connection. I hope you will trust your own journey and that you will remember in the darkest of hours you are not alone, you are worthy of love unconditionally, and that we are a Sangha, a gathering of truth. You are not the sum of your worst mistakes.
You can follow the outlined practice below or visit Inner Dimension Media and enjoy Day #6 of my program Journey to Yoga for a video of this practice.
Read this invocation as you begin. An invocation sets the tone for your practice and establishes intentionality.
Begin in Savasana… As you close your eyes and turn your gaze within, you step into a state of Integrity, a state of being whole and undivided. Set the intention to practice with clarity in your body, consistency in your actions and truthfulness in your words so that the alignment you experience on the mat becomes the alignment with which you live.
Samma Vrtti Pranayama: Inhale to the count of 4, Exhale to the count of 4. Repeat 4 rounds.
Sunbird: Knee to Opposite Elbow 3x
Repeat Sunbird: Knee to Opposite Elbow 3x on the 2nd side
Plank (hold 5 breaths)
Downward Facing Dog (hold 5 breaths)
Forward Fold at the top of mat
From Forward Fold: One arm twist (both sides)
Downward Facing Dog
Low Lunge (hold 5 breaths)
Prayer Twist (hold 5 breaths)
High Lunge Twist: Place left hand under left shoulder, extend right arm to the sky & sweep overhead (hold 5 breaths)
Warrior II (hold 5 breaths)
Reverse Warrior (hold 5 breaths)
Extended Side Angle (hold 5 breaths)
Repeat the sequence on the 2nd side
Chair (hold 5 breaths)
Twisting Chair (both sides, hold 5 breaths)
Right knee to left elbow 3x
Crescent (hold 5 breaths)
Reverse Prayer (hold 5 breaths)
Warrior III (hold 5 breaths)
Still in Warrior III: Spread Arms Wide
Twisting Half Moon (hold 5 breaths)
Standing Splits (hold 5 breaths)
Forward Fold at the top of the mat
Padangusthasana (hold 5 breaths)
Hook the right big toe, bring the left hand to the left hip
Rise to Hand to Big Toes Pose 1 (hold 5 breaths)
Open to Hand to Big Toes Pose 3 (hold 5 breaths)
Return to Center
Float Back to Warrior III
Step back to Crescent Pose
Prayer Twist (hold 5 breaths)
Step to forward back into Twisting Chair
Repeat the sequence on the 2nd side
One arm Camel (both sides)
Ardha Matsyendrasana (hold 5 breaths)
Half Gomukasana Forward Fold (hold 5 breaths)
Full Gomukasana (hold 5 breaths)
Repeat the sequence on the 2nd side
Happy Baby (hold 10 breaths)
Knees to Chest
Come into a comfortable seat and allow your eyes to close. Take three deep inhales through your nose and exhale out of your mouth. Then, allow your breath to settle into a steady, rhythmic pace. Rest here for several moments as you establish the integrity of your commitment to sit today. Return your awareness to your breath as many times as you need to as you re-enforce the integrity of your commitment.
Begin to call to mind a time when you were outside of your integrity, a time when you consciously told a lie or failed to follow through on a promise you made. As you recall this memory, what did it feel like to betray your integrity? How did your body feel? What physical sensations did you notice? Were you tense, warm, or did your heart rate increase rapidly? Rest here for several moments as you recall the subtle and obvious effects on your mind and your body.
After this experience, were there ramifications? A lack of integrity is often more than just a momentary experience and can have ongoing impacts on your wellbeing as well as your relationships. Did you ruminate on the situation? Were you guilty or concerned that the other person might find out about your misstep? What were the ongoing consequences of this lack of integrity? Do they continue today in some way?
Now, begin to imagine you had told the truth, been honest, or otherwise stayed within your integrity. Even though the truth can be hurtful or hard to express at certain times, as Brene Brown says, “clear is kind.” Return to the situation and imagine yourself moving through the experience again but this time remaining in full integrity, staying connected to your core values.
How would you feel differently? How would this impact you and your relationships differently? Can you sense that even if it were challenging to tell the truth you would be proud of yourself and even be contributing to a deeper trust with this person? Rest here for several minutes.
As you bring your practice to a close remember, we all misstep and we are all capable of reclaiming our integrity. Set the intention to speak clearly and honestly. Explore remaining true to your integrity with kindness, compassion, and deep patience in each encounter you experience this week.