to be honest
cw: childhood abuse, discussion of lying, abusive relationships
As a survivor, lying can be a huge trigger for me. Lying has been weaponized to keep me silent, deny my experiences and isolate me. And, in year where I am surrounded by lies about who I am and what I have done, I have chosen to try and hold complexity about why people lie, including myself.
We all lie.
To be clear, I am not saying that we lie about having experienced harm. I am in full support of unconditional belief of survivors. The harm is always real and true. These thoughts are not a way to dismiss the actions of those who have caused harm. We all should be accountable in real and meaningful ways for the harm we do to others. And, I think this becomes more possible when we do the reflexive work to think about how we survive, and the ways that the system can infiltrate our survival in ways that do harm.
And sometimes, lying is a harm-reduction strategy, a way of coping and surviving. Sometimes, I need to lie to myself. I survived my childhood by blocking out the violence and abuse I was experiencing: lying to myself that everything was okay. Short-term this was a brilliant survival strategy that protected me from emotions and truths I had no skills or support to deal with.
And sometimes, lying is a way to get your needs met. And your needs are super legitimate. For me, I lied a lot as a kid about being sick. This meant that I didn’t have to go to school, a place where I was bullied and ostracized and felt very unsafe. Lying and saying I was sick meant I could stay home, a place where my need for safety was better met. And being sick meant it was more likely my parents would engage with me, meeting another important need, the need for attention.
And sometimes, lying is a way to establish boundaries. For many of us surviving violence from people who were supposed to love and care for us, it is incredibly difficult to establish boundaries with people we are connected to. Wonky attachment means we often stay connected to people in unhealthy ways, no matter the harm they are doing to us. Lying can make it easier to disconnect. We don’t lie about the person harming us; we create fictions about that person in order to support ourselves ending that relationship. We reduce people down to only their bad behaviors, denying ways they may be kind, or reasons that they perpetuate harm. This is lying, and it can be what makes it possible for us to justify protecting ourselves.
And sometimes, lying is a way to get your truths recognized. In our culture that systemically doubts and isolates survivors, we are conditioned to believe that our experiences of harm are not enough to be recognized. Especially for folks who experienced childhood abuse, we expect that we are not worthy enough to not be harmed and/or that our traumas are not bad enough to be recognized. Myself, I carry so much hurt, intense sadness and shame around the abuse I experienced that has not been recognized. And I know that I have projected this pain on to other situations. These situations were harmful. And their impact was directly related to triggering the truths of my childhood abuse I have never had recognized. I have lied and blamed the person involved with the smaller harm for all the pain because I needed it recognized. People can be accountable for the harm they have done, for the actions that trigger me; I don’t think they can be held accountable for all the hurt and anguish that comes up when I get triggered. But sometimes I want them to be.
I am sure that so many more reasons that we lie; legitimate reasons that allow us to survive in a world that is set up to erase us, harm us and delegitimize our identities and experiences. I think it is important to acknowledge the value of lying as as survival strategy while simultaneously beginning to reflect on the impact of these lies. Personally, I know I have done great harm to myself and others. And I have been greatly harmed by the lies of others. Beginning to think through the complexity of lying is an act of self-love and cultivating compassion for others. My goal is to hold more space for myself and others to be able to reflect on our actions as survivors, our actions as communities, and hopefully transform our ways of being to reduce the harm we do and expand our access to healing.
things I am trying to remember as a survivor of abuse:
– my hurt is real and true AND I don’t want to project this hurt onto others
– I have a tendency to use controlling behaviours to hurt others, using my history as a justification, which is abusive
– my desire for punitive measures against others is understandable based on the hurt AND does not work towards the kinds of community I desire
– somewhere in my body I believe that people can grow and change and while it might not be my role to support this in people who have perpetrated against me, i don’t want to prevent them from having these supports and connections
-while it scares me, I value when people call me out/in for my abusive and controlling behaviours, many which emerge from my experiences of violence, as it helps me work towards healing and reclaiming my actions from trauma.
In all this I want to recognize that survivorship is a really complex and diverse experience. These are important rememberances for me and won’t apply to everyone who is navigating trauma and survivorship
My needs and wants are real and legitimate.
And I am responsible for the ways I meet them.
The legitimacy of my needs does not negate the necessity to engage with the harm that may come about from meeting them.
I can continue to learn better ways to meet my needs that not only cause less harm to others and myself but simultaneously increase others’ abilities to meet their own needs.
I can find transformative ways of meeting these needs that expand the very limits of what I think is possible for myself and the people and spaces I relate to.
I needed to take a break from writing. I have been really enjoying learning to write about my trauma, my grief and pain and I am starting to understand it as another important tool for healing, coping, sharing and connecting with others. And it’s fucking hard.
I took to last week to care for myself in the other ways I have learnt over the last few years. Taking myself for walks, spending time with people who see all of me, solitude, physical activity, treats like Sour Soup and hi-chews.
Today is the first time I have sat down to write in almost a week. The prompt that caught my attention was “What condition is my heart in?” Here is some of what came out.
– – –
My heart is hurting. It throbs with a perpetual longing for connection, for healing, for safety. Safety in ourselves, in others, in community. Hurting heart.
My heart is bitter. In protecting itself, it has become judgmental, mean. From all the times I thought I would get what I needed, that I was going to have connection, care, community. Bitter heart.
We are tired of thinking there are places for us. Places for broken hearts. Places for hurting hearts. Places for bitter hearts. We can sense we aren’t the only bleeding heart in this room, in this community. But like us, those hearts are guarded by sharp-beaked, short-fused egos. By frontal lobes, brains of great dominance, our survivor super organ. It gets us through, protecting our hearts, keeping us moving. We’re mean. We’re insecure. We’re defensive. We’re protective. We’re malice. We’re insecure. We’re heartbroken.
I am a fine connoisseur of over-developed ego. I am the president of the Protective Brains for Feeling Eradication Association. And I am hurting. I am heartbroken. Broken hearts let egos run rampant. Big brained. Broken hearted. Dangerous. Reactive. Unpredictable. Hurting. Lonely. Trauma-bodied, Survivor-brained.
– – –
My heart is an exile. Rejected by community, by relationship, by self. We don’t survive when we hurt. We don’t survive when we feel. Just need to think, to plan, to get in control. My heart lives under the reign of the fascist powers of logic and reason; subject to the judgement, the violence of my brain, my ego’s internalizations of your expectations.
Think. Act. Do.
Reason. Logic. Explain.
No feel. No affect. No flow.
Surviving is “one step at a time”
One calculated, logical step at a time
In the Right direction
God forbid backwards.
Only one self
One brain, no heart
Tin Man ideals
Hold yourself together.
Put yourself back together
Like there was a before
Be the best cog you can be
Functioning means thinking
Means going to work
Means paying your rent
Integrate into society
Not with yourself
Segregate your pain
Eliminate your hurt
Think. Act. Do.
Play the game.
Make your mother proud.
– – –
I have a stronger relationship with my heart than I used to. A direct relationship. Before, I would speak my heart with my brain, know my heart with my ego. Ego knows nothing but itself. Like a politician speaking “for the people” ego only truly speaks for itself.
My body is much better at speaking my heart. My body has always been speaking my heart, even before I understood what it was saying. In anxiety. In panic. In chronic pain. In nausea. If I pay attention, body is always speaking heart. Swollen fingers, swollen heart. Nerve pain, heart pain. Nauseous stomach, nauseous heart.
I have been working hard to learn to listen to my body, to understand the messages my exiled heart is sending through this embodied morse code. I have been learning to decipher the code. And learning to send messages back, learning this body code so that I can care for my heart even when I cannot connect with it directly. This secret code has kept my ego out of it, protected my heart from the violence I enact on it when it directly shows itself.
Put your feet on the floor
Take these bones for a walk
Listen to your inner voice
Soak these muscles
Put your feet on the floor
Touch the ground, look to the sky
Dirt between your toes
Take these bones for a walk
To the library
Touch every book you desire
Listen to your inner voice
What aren’t you saying?
Write it down, yell it out
Soak these muscles
Stretch them out
Open up the channels again
– – –
My heart knows when people are hurting. We can register another broken heart from a miraculous distance, across mountains, across oceans, across conflict, across isolation. We can perceive this hurt, this intensity with such complexity, with such reverence for the pain, the trauma, for those things ego could never speak. My heart always believes you. My heart always knows it’s true.
Sit with it
Be with it
We see you
all of you
If you stopped right now
you would be enough
There is an otherworldly intensity to the deep dark blue A blue that not only registers in your eyes but in your heart, in your body, in your soul. It has a weight to it, a density like no other. The deep dark blue holds you in this way you never have been held. You are sure it will crush you, demolish you, extinguish you. But as this deepest blue engulfs you, it holds you. As it swaddles you, it reminds you of your wholeness.
Being engulfed in the deep dark blue collects you in a way you have not felt since before you thought about feeling. The deep dark blue surrounds you until you become nothing and you are able to become something again.
– – –
They tell you not to dive into the deep dark blue. They tell you to fight it, to swim against it, to tread water no matter what. They tell you that to sink into the depths would mean you have lost, you have let the sadness and pain get the best of you. They never stop to think that maybe the sadness and pain are part of the best of you.
They tell you to avoid the deep dark blue, to find ways to erase it from your life. They tell you to cover over the deep dark blue. They tell you to not let it have a say in who you are and what you do. Wipe the slate clean. Let the past be the past. Start anew. Move on from the deep dark blue.
So you decide to lay planks, to construct a wall between you and its depths. You can still feel it flow beneath you. So you amass a collection of distractions: things, people, relationships, habits. Ways to ignore the ocean that rolls and creaks below your wooden blockade. You become determined to prove you don’t live on the ocean anymore; to prove you have done away with the deep dark blue.
Overtime, you begin to forget about the deep dark blue. You come to believe that its depths were a dream, maybe a childhood story someone told you. And maybe, you even begin to forget the fantasy itself. You learn to practice a denial so skillful you don’t feel the slight sway of the deep dark blue under your planks. And in time, you even erase those planks. You aren’t at sea. You aren’t afloat. You are solid. You are grounded.
But one time when you are alone, maybe laying in bed, maybe reading a book, you feel this ache. It starts somewhere in your pelvis then spreads to your chest. This pain is strangely familiar, alerting you to something missing. Your brain tries to brush it off as something from your day, something you saw on tv or heard in conversation with a friend. You brain tries it hardest to keep you forgetting.
But this ache persists. Not all the time, not in everything you do. More like an unexpected hiccup: it pops up when things seem quiet. You sporadically hiccup this pain for a while, it getting harder and harder for your brain to find excuses. You begin to ache more often, until it is almost a continuous pain. Until there is nothing you can project it onto. Until there is no practical answer to its cause.
This amplifying ache, this intensifying loss undefined, pain unexplained, begins to take over. It becomes panic. It becomes mania. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just do my regular things? Why can’t I fix this? What’s my problem? Anxieties bombard you as you remain numb to the sway of the deep dark blue beneath you.
So you set about fixing it. You set about gaining control by controlling yourself. You make an inventory of good and bad parts of you. And then you go about eradicating all the bad. And each time you complete a cull, each time you think you have purged all your evil, the pain arises again. Louder and more overwhelming. You must not have been honest enough with yourself. You must not have worked hard enough to fix it. So you intensify your self-extermination, letting less and less be good. You sever almost all of yourself from yourself. And yet the ache persists.
You are all but gone and the pain is still there. You are barely surviving all the violence you have inflicted on yourself. And, while you lay there, almost gone, almost nothing, you notice the planks. You are too tired to maintain the denial. You feel the woodgrain of the rotting planks underneath you. You begin to feel the sway of the deep dark blue.
The planks, like you exhausted from years of lies and denial, give way. You feel your battered body slip into the deep dark blue. You are sure this must be the end. Finally. You are sure this will extinguish what little light is left in you. Thank goodness. You let go.
But it’s not the end. It’s the deep dark blue.
As you sink into it you feel the banished parts of yourself return. The parts you defined as too much. The parts you extracted to try to be okay. They are not too much for the deep dark blue. They are exactly what the depths desire, what they crave. The ocean collects you, holds you, embraces you, lets you be. All of it truth. All of it you. In the deep dark blue you have become nothing and everything. You have come home.
you know my histories
you know my traumas and pain
you know touch can be trigger
and touch can be pleasure
you know that sex is a risk for me
and you want all of me
not me in spite of it all
I get to choose to wade in
choose to take risks
sometimes I get triggered, and we need to stop
sometimes I get triggered, and we need to try something else
sometimes I get triggered, and I want to keep going
I want to hold this trauma
with this pleasure
to be able to be in it
even if part of me isn’t
to try to stitch together these holes
with desire and connection
I want to decide what all of it means
how all of it is connected
I want to define it for myself
my triggers get to be my own
you don’t take them personally
you get that I get triggered
not that you are always triggering me
you don’t take on what is mine
it doesn’t always work
it often doesn’t work
and you aren’t scared of me
when pleasure becomes trigger
you don’t run
when shame creeps in
and all I can do is cry
you make space for me
reminding me that all of this is intimacy