When the Heart is Sick

Over the past few years, our family has had some real health scares.

My sister got diagnosed with breast cancer.

My sister-in-law had a heart attack.

And my dad had triple bypass heart surgery.

Fortunately, today all 3 are better than ever, but each of those experiences was super scary obviously.

My dad’s in particular was alarming. The night before he checked himself into the hospital, he was in my backyard gathered around a fire with about 20 guys.

I didn’t know this at the time, but he walked up our hill that night to go home and about collapsed right behind our house.

The stubborn old man (love you dad) went home, went to bed, and then drove himself to the ER the next morning when his chest pain hadn’t gone away.

Only to find out that one of his arteries was 97% blocked. He had a ticking time bomb in his chest.

I’m not sure how many of you have seen people after massive surgeries, but let’s just say it’s way different than sitting around the Thanksgiving table talking to them.

It’s freaky quite frankly.

My dad’s skin tone was off, his body was swollen and once he started coming around, his voice sounded like some weird mix of Frankenstein and a robot.

His heart was sick. And it was taking everything he had to get it healed.

I’ve told a few people these past few years, that my dad’s real open heart surgery occurred the exact same day as I had a heart surgery of my own.

I’ve hinted at that October two years ago several times now. And really, I’m not even sure why I’m compelled to share it and why Brooke is ok with me doing so.

I’m sure my motives are mixed between wanting to help other guys like me who have the same sickness, or maybe it’s therapy for me, or maybe the story just needs to be told.

Surely, it’s some mixed up cocktail of all of it.

But the day my dad laid in that hospital bed, I got a call from Brooke that at the time I wish I never would have gotten.

I was in the waiting room, waiting.

She called and I assumed she was checking on my dad.

But the tone in her voice told me that wasn’t on her mind at all.

She asked a very specific question.

And I gave her a very specific answer. Which, unfortunately, was a lie.

She asked the same question a different way.

I manipulated my words to match the story in my brain and gave her the same answer in a different way.

Another lie.

I can’t be as transparent as I’d be telling you this story over a cup of coffee, but let’s just say the line of questioning from Brooke that day opened me up to some stuff I thought I could keep hidden in the cobwebs instead of dragging it all out into the light of day.

On paper, the “stuff” we’ve been working through isn’t the end of the world, certainly not the end of a marriage.

But it was stuff that included a messy mix of my insecurity, my lack of honesty, some secrets mixed in and loads of unresolved things from the past.

For years though, I ran for the hills and hid instead of doing the uncomfortable part of telling the truth.

For me, truth telling has always been fairly fluid. Not quite so black and white. A strategy I picked up along the way that served me well.

My ability to be somewhat truthful, which is really not truth at all I now know, allowed me to dodge major bullets, win friends and influence people.

“I’ll be there in five minutes bro,” was my avoidant way of saying, “I’m really sorry I got a late start, I’m 11 minutes away still…”

“Yeah boss I gave him a shout, I’m just waiting on his call back,” was code for, “Dammit, I totally forgot to do that but I’ll call him immediately after I walk out of your office before you call him yourself and find me out…”

“It’s going to be OK, I’ll figure something out,” was my terrified half-truth for an early on failed business idea of mine when I should have said, “Yeah Brooke, it’s really bad. Like $30,000 in debt bad…”

Deep down, I felt (and still do at times when the days get really dark) like the real me, you know the REAL real me, would get laughed out of the room, kicked out of the club and thrown to the curb if he was to make an appearance.

The kind of appearance when the masks are all dropped, the strategies are all dismembered, the truth flows like good wine and the games all quit being played.

To me, the fear of rejection and abandonment was so deep and so subconscious that quick white lies, half-truths and sometimes even no-truths were the go-to ninja move.

I was a liar.

Not all the time, everywhere, but seeing that in black and white is sobering.

I told lots of lies. Literally, almost all of which, were never called out.

Which reinforced the tangled web by adding some more tangled webs.

That day in the hospital though, something changed.

My dad was maybe going to die. I wasn’t sure.

And I was exhausted of half-truthing my wife to death. This façade of a man I had worked so hard to carefully craft (and certainly believed deep down I was) started to crumble that day.

The false self, if you’ve read any of Richard Rohr’s stuff, had to break to make way for the reclamation project of finding my true self.

A beautiful, painful effort.

So as hard, clumsy and awful as it was for me (and if you’ve always been an honest, full truth teller, no matter the consequences then you’ll never understand this), I started telling the truth that day.

Like the real, ugly, consistent truth.

The truth that exposes and lays bear the stuff you thought you’d keep locked up nice and secure.

And it’s been the hardest two years of my life.

My heart was sick.

Like my dad’s, mine was a ticking time bomb. Waiting to explode and take down those closest to me in the process and ruining every bit of trust that had built up over the years.

I didn’t get up there willingly, but I climbed up on the open-heart surgery table that day too.

It’s been awkward, clunky, painful and a horribly slow surgery, but I’ve told lots of truth these last two years.

Even when it’s been terrifying to do so.

So if you’ve ever been in that same white-lie boat as me, stick around and I’ll share more of our story.

Because as a good friend told me when my knees were wobbly and my spirit was weak, “Radical honesty is the only way out…”

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