When I was a teenager, I was in this thing called a “small group” within my church. The whole purpose of it was that we shared our individual struggles with one another, and then prayed about them. We developed plans and strategies to combat those struggles. We relied on scripture to give us strength to endure whatever it was. And most importantly, we held each other accountable.
I can admit that I don’t remember much of what I might have shared with my peers. I do know that given how fiercely private I am, and how dramatically I internalize everything, I doubt I shared anything of consequence. Just enough to not raise suspicion. Just enough to be trusted. And in doing so, I recognize now that I robbed myself of something that I struggle with as an adult. I robbed myself of the opportunity to allow other people into my world. The opportunity to have someone truly share in my joys and burdens.
This idea of protecting my privacy, protecting my joy, and protecting my burdens has stayed with me over the years. My coworkers even now comment on how tightly I keep everything to my chest. The last few years of my adult life have been riddled with all sorts of… stresses, to put it lightly. There’s been family stuff, work stuff, and guy stuff. And throughout all of it, I cannot think of one person with whom I shared any of it. Sure, one friend might get a little about one thing, and another friend might get a little of another thing. But I had basically made it my life’s mission to ensure that no one ever got the full, complex, messy picture.
Building those walls around myself led to the obvious— complete isolation. That isolation is something that I have actively been working to rectify. Well, as best as I can. But in order to completely reset things, there is one thing that I keep coming back to:
The definition of “accountability” varies depending upon its context. But it boils down to holding someone/yourself responsible for thoughts, actions, motives. Personal accountability is easy. I make a to-do list on my days off, and make myself feel like shit until I complete those lists. Done!
But allowing another person- a stranger for all intents and purposes- in with the expectation that he or she will hold me accountable, while at the same time, not judge me? That’s terrifying, in a word. In order for there to be someone that I allow to hold me accountable, I have to be willing to tear down those walls that I’ve spent my entire life building up around me. I have to look at every single metaphorical brick, and accept it or discard it. And as I’m surrounded by that rubble, I have to be willing to throw up my hands and let another person not only see that mess, but help me with it.
And who wants to do that. Who wants to allow any other person into those dark, protected places? Who wants to be the person trusted with those dark and protected places? With that kind of unfettered access, comes an insane amount of responsibility. And trust. So much trust.
I have been learning the hard and painful way just how badly I need accountability in my life. How badly I need someone to remind me to do the simple things like eat, and the difficult things like take care of the big and scary stuff.
The thing about that realization isn’t just that I need a person in my life to say “Hey, you said you were going to do this by this day. Did you? Why not?” It is that, ugh, fine, I am not an island. As much as I’ve spent the last ten years feeling like the last unexplored island in the known universe. Because while yes, I do actually need there to be a person in my life that asks me when the last real meal I had was, but I also need someone to make me be honest with him or her.
Accountability doesn’t always have to be a call to action. Even if that’s what it is most associated with. And yes, while we can all agree that that function is at its core the most basic, I want to believe that accountability encompasses more. I want to believe that it also serves to edify a person. Make a person feel safe. Encourage unrestrained honesty.
In a world where we are encouraged to be cold islands, void of emotional expression, lacking in empathy and compassion, I want to be grabbed by the shoulders and told to not let my heart and soul harden. Told that walls will only make everything darker. I, if I’m honest, crave that desire of emotional intimacy. Because at the end of the day, I recognize the importance of that. While I shun it, I also crave it.
That’s a funny contradiction. I get that. I read and reread those words and think to myself gosh. In that church group that I attended all of those years ago, when talking about the joy of accountability, there was also always the talk about keeping your heart and soul soft. I mean, religious stuff aside, it is something that has always stuck with me. That fear of walling myself off to the point that nothing can get through and everything is hard.
So now, what do I do? What steps do I take to be a better and more open person? Because it isn’t as simple as standing up in the office and saying “Guys! This is what’s going on! Listen to me! Help me!” No, this requires careful thought, but not as careful as it has been for the last lifetime. There is a danger to letting everyone in; letting everyone see and touch and handle all of what makes you you.
And yes, I am self-aware enough to know that there is literally NO way in hell that I’m going to pick a person and just let it all out for them to sift through. That isn’t how it works, either. Every day, it takes a conscious decision to get up, get out of bed, and to answer questions honestly. And on other days, it’s going to take reaching out and extending a careful invitation to the person sitting across from me, to the person on the other end of the phone line, hell- to whoever. Those baby steps. Because if walls don’t go up overnight, they aren’t going to come down overnight either.
Someone out there gets it. So here’s to opening up, even if it’s one baby step at a time.