“You’re a liar.”
It hit me hard, deep in the pit of my stomach. The feeling resembled more of a horrendous stomach flu after some bad roadside tacos than a short, four-letter word cast in my direction.
We traveled north up the California coast on the Pacific Coast Highway. The narrow road wrapped around the rugged coastline. And around every corner, a landscape that would make any postcard jealous.
It was the place where liar became a four-letter word.
As we made our way around one corner, a display of colors provided by Mother Nature appeared. It mirrored that of a Bob Ross painting and encouraged us to take a break from our drive. We soaked up the sunset, one that left us staring, open-mouthed, in awe.
Accompanied by the light show, energy from the crashing waves exploded up the cliff and tree-lined shoreline. The mountains acted as an amphitheater sending the thundering sounds of the waves back to the vast ocean they came from. And left the echoing sound in our ears.
As I stood cliffside, gazing off into the sunset, I snapped a photo for social media. And I’d whipped up a witty line, filled with positivity.
Moments after I posted it, the words rang out:
“You are a liar.”
I was currently battling my demons. And this post reflected none of this.
Just the opposite.
It was a lie. Just like the many before it. An inauthentic post, sent out to the world, hiding my truth.
Whether it was the raw power of nature, my friend’s words, the timing—or the combination of it all. This trip would forever change my life and be the start of a search for answers.
A few weeks later as I was traveling for work, I was driving across the Midwest and jumped on a phone call with a friend. When I asked her what was new, she mentioned, “I’m about to start a writing apprenticeship.”
Her tone came across in a playful, energetic way. Similar to that of my young nephews’ voices telling me about Santa Claus the weeks before Christmas.
Her excitement for the opportunity piqued my interest.
On this trip, and as part of my new journey, I was camping with some friends. As the day became night, we went our own ways. I ventured into my tent, surrounded by only the sounds of nature and my thoughts.
The four-letter word from weeks before, came rushing back. And a self-talk battle ensued.
It was time to do something about it.
I checked out something my friend mentioned to me earlier during our call. As I turned on my computer, the lights from my screen replaced the moonlit, star-filled night sky, as if to focus all my attention on the words in front of me.
Elephant Academy, Elephant’s Fall 2016 Apprenticeship appeared on the screen.
As I scrolled down the page, the “Apply Today” button glared at me.
Fear and ego teamed up to build a story: “I am published and I do not need anyone to tell me my grammar sucks.”
Then that four-letter word rang out in my head, screaming like that of ambulance siren in a busy city.
It was the push I needed. I clicked the button and sent in my application.
It may have been the very first meeting or video from Waylon Lewis where the word “authentic” appeared.
But for the remainder of the program, it acted like a billboard on the side of the highway—not that one-time billboard promoting the next fast food chain—rather the one we see over and over again for the entire trip, telling us to not text and drive.
It was part of the program, encouraging us to live an authentic life. And not just for the program, but for ourselves.
In the beginning, I blew it off. I resorted back to my comfort zone. Putting up my “fortune cookie” style quotes. Telling the world everything was “great.”
When in reality, I was on an emotional roller coaster ride.
Then the day came. The darkness caught me. The feelings that hit me cliffside a few months before revealed their ugly head in the most unsuspecting of places.
My truth wanted to come out. And I was getting closer to sharing it.
That night we had our peer meetings for the apprenticeship program. It was a place where we would check in. Take on some writing tasks and learn as a group.
But on this night, something bigger happened. I decided to dive deep inside and put a glimpse into of my real world out there.
As we signed off for the night, that feeling that was with me earlier in the day disappeared. I felt a huge weight lifted off my back.
But that feeling would soon sail away and be replaced by emotional battle, keeping me from finishing the piece.
Some nights I would be on the verge of tears, ready to quit and walk away from the program.
“F*ck it. It is not worth it. Why should I let anyone know this sh*t? No one wants to hear about my problems.”
Back to the land of lies is where I wanted to go. And where I always went.
Because the piece I wrote that night challenged my character and the willingness to be okay with that guy looking back at me in the mirror.
But I was not ready. And I needed time.
During the ebb and flows of these battles, I was managing a social media page. I would read through the articles on elephant journal finding authentic content for the page. Stories that resonated with me.
This is where I started to understand a bit more about myself and the struggles I had, as the articles I read were not about a fairytale ending, but real life. An authentic life.
It was about a month later where I allowed myself time to sit and finish the story that was patiently waiting for me.
As I finished, I re-read it. And then again.
Those same feelings of fear came back. I was about to show the world that my positive, public self has a dark side.
I hit send and that four-letter word seemed to lose its strength. But it was quickly replaced with a different feeling.
Like when we meet that new, amazing person in our life or interview with the company for our dream job. The wait for a response back—sucks.
Even though I was given an honest timeline, I found myself hitting refresh on my email. Every two minutes. My patience was gone, as I needed to know—now.
And then it happened. I received the message.
The editor had gentle, kind words filled with positive feedback.
But also, the dreaded, ”almost there,” line.
Frustration. Anger. Disappointment.
All of those negative traits that we could all do without. And a question paraded through my mind by my ego: “Why am I doing this?”
This rejection in the past would have sent me on a rant. Away from the truth.
But instead, I tried something new. I stepped away.
The next day, I came back to the email and story.
The word “liar” took on a positive role as if it dangled in front of me to provide encouragement to share my story.
I pulled up the story I submitted. And the one from the night with my peer group. They were two different stories. One was my truth, the other a fabrication.
The piece being rejected was not elephant journal rejecting me. They were asking me to look deeper. Was the piece I submitted the authentic story I wanted to share? No. I added flare to it to make it more appealing. Just as I have done with my life over the last few years. And it lost authenticity.
The first story. It was my story. No filter. No bullshit. Told from a place of vulnerability. It was my truth.
And this authentic version, is the one that needed to be finished—for me.
This journey, into the land of authenticity is not an easy one. There are days when I am afraid. Where I want to block everyone out. Go back to the land of “everything is good.”
But I am learning how to work through these days. To fully understand and embrace them for what they are.
Sometimes I write. Sometimes I go to yoga or meditate. And sometimes I just sit.
Maybe I’ll post or write about it. Or just keep it with me.
But the days of the cliches, and lines of bullshit, are fading away.
Because that four-letter word…changed me.
Author: Jeramie Vaine
Image: Flickr/Ingrid Richter
Editor: Travis May