Imagine a scene from the movie, Halloween.”
“I don’t know,” I muttered as I slumped down in my seat. This was my honest answer to a question resembling ‘how did this happen?’ My cigarette was burning out as my Dad and a friend attempted to persuade me that an emergency extraction was my best option. This meant rehab. They were probably right, but the cocaine was wearing off and I was beginning to panic that the anxiety would set in before they were done talking. Imagine that, having anxiety about anticipating anxiety.
It increased when I remembered I had totaled my Mercedes the night before when I failed to circumvent a center median. But this didn’t bother me nearly as much as when my account balance showed $23.17. I refreshed it, hoping as if by some miracle the $45K I wasted on the elusive feeling of comfort over that 5 months would suddenly return.
Nope, this was reality.
It is important to know, for context, that I was a maladjusted young man before drug use.
I had a very casual attitude about anything I found to be uninteresting. Some of these included, but were not limited to: most people, how they felt, how I could be helpful, anything I didn’t want to do, and most moral boundaries I found to be inconvenient but not reputation damaging in the advancement of my well-being.
I really was being honest though.
I had no viable explanation for how this happened. Six months ago, I thought my life was good. In comparison to present day, it was spectacular. I had everything, including a constant feeling of uneasiness I was familiar with. What had happened here was a slightly more appalling version of what always happened; given the swiftness of the decline.
I couldn’t stand the way I felt, didn’t know how to fix it, and eventually would decide that I needed relief.
What I thought was an inability to cope with life was really a lack of understanding that a moral code was the cement for a foundation that a life of principle could be built on. Off to detox I went, again.
It all started with a Cheez-It.
There I was, in rehab, going through the motions, again. When I wasn’t eating, I was usually thinking about myself or how many more days until I could get laid again. I tossed back a few Cheez-Its, missing one that fell to the floor.
I was supposed to be in group, but no one was in the kitchen to monitor.
As I walked to the trash, to throw out the bag, I stepped over the one I had dropped on the floor. I made sure no one was around and headed up the stairs back to group. I kept thinking about that one that I dropped. I thought about a lot of weird stuff that first month, this being no exception. When I reached the door, an interesting thought crossed my mind.
“Maybe I should pick that Cheez-It up.”
This was followed in rapid succession by a familiar voice saying, “What? Who cares? No one will know and it doesn’t matter anyway.” After a millisecond of pondering such a big decision, I turned around to throw it away.
As I headed back up it suddenly dawned on me how out of character that was. I remember feeling oddly accomplished by it.
This was the first, conscious, thought of integrity that I can remember.
That action uncovered my first fundamental flaw. My perception of the true value in every decision I made was not defined with any consistency or aligned with any set of moral codes. Instead, it was defined by how convenient it was or if it would have any potential repercussions on the image of myself I wanted you to see.
Not on the effect it would have on my own self-image.
What I hadn’t accounted for was the repercussions it would have on my self-esteem and self-worth or how that would factor into a decision to return to a lifestyle I knew was destined for disaster.
I had never defined a code of conduct I lived by.
I had plenty of reasons to get clean; but never to stay clean because those negative feelings never left when I did. However, it was never the physical consequences that would motivate me to change.
Ultimately, it was the unbearable pain of the emotions I felt and my inability to conceal them any longer in the drug induced stupor I was living in. The feelings of self-hatred, guilt, and shame would always, inevitably, rear their ugly head and no amount of chemical consumption could alleviate it.
I continued this cycle because of an inability to comprehend that the perception I had on the importance of integrity was greatly flawed. As a matter of fact, it was completely foreign to me. Had I not had that experience, I might have never lowered my pride enough to admit that I didn’t have all the answers or asked for someone else’s help.
Worst of all, I might have continued to exist in a world I was always uncomfortable in with a false assurance that it was always going to be that way.
This is what I learned.
Integrity is a decision made from moral obligation as opposed to a decision based on a calculation of the relevant risk it has in harming or impacting others, however minimal.
In other words, it’s a decision to do the morally right or honest thing regardless of how insignificant, absurd, or nominal it may seem. To achieve it, you not only need to be conscious of it, but you need to understand the consequences of ignoring or minimizing it, unless you’re a sociopath.
The smallest exception can lead to the biggest disasters.
I like finding shortcuts, a lot. If I found one that had a minor breach in my moral code but could advance me in some way without being discovered, generally, I would take it. The more I learned about integrity, manipulation, and justification; the more I understood how impossible it would be to handle the big things if I couldn’t even handle the smaller ones.
This was one of the primary reasons I walked around uncomfortable.
The more leniency I gave myself with integrity, the bolder my tolerance for dishonesty became. First, a failure to appear where I said I would be on time. Followed by a false story to cover up my embarrassment for not doing what I said I would do.
Finally, a lie I must remember to continue looking consistent.
Accumulate a few of these and see how comfortable you feel out in the world. Perpetuating this problem to a large scale always, eventually, required relief. Fortunately, when I make mistakes now, so far, I have had the sense to not let the error turn into nuclear weapon.
“To thine own self be true.” No one knows but you.
When we implement integrity as the forefront of importance in daily life, it starts reward us with self-esteem, self-worth, authenticity, and certainty. Integrity is a gift that comes to those who value sustainable personal fulfillment over instant gratification.
Mistakes don’t define our character but how we respond to those mistakes does.
Complete integrity is not something that comes naturally to most humans.