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
content warning: sexual assault, childhood assault
Today we were asked to give our grief a voice. And I remembered I have many different traumas that I am working through. The ones that came up today were: relating to my mom’s mental illness, surviving my grandfather’s abuse, and the experience of being sexually assaulted as little kid. In trying to give them a voice, I am beginning to realize how connected they all are. And that hurts so much to acknowledge. These have been the hardest words to write so far.
– – –
I just want you to see me. I just want you to acknowledge me. I just need you to say I am worth the time, the effort. I need you to say that you love me. I need you to hold me. I need you to care for me. I need you to take it all on. Take it all on for me.
Swaddle me. Hold me. Kiss me and cuddle me and let me know I am worth it.
Acknowledge me. Look me in the eye. Say my name. Smile when you say it. Come to me. Seek me out. Tell me you are glad to see me. Show me I am worth showing up for. Worth getting through all the other shit in order to love.
Sit with me. Read to me. Hold my hand. Wrap your arm around me. Show me I am safe enough to just be with. And just be with me.
Tell me silly jokes. Make me laugh. Show me that you think I can be fun, I can be silly, I can be light. Show me that I am not just work, I am joy. Show me that you get something out of being with me. Show me that you like loving me. Show me loving me is easy. Show me you’re glad you to be my mom.
– – –
I just want you to believe me. To believe that something is wrong other than me. That something terrible has happened, is happening. Believe me that I am not simply broken, but that someone is breaking me.
Listen to me. Listen to my feelings. Listen to my energy. Listen to my pain. Listen to me even though I have no words for what is going on. Listen to me even though I have no idea how to speak this abuse I am enduring. Listen to my tears and know they are real, they are true.
Do something. Do fucking anything. Hear me, believe me, and then do something. Act. Make it stop. Make it true and then make it stop. Even if you don’t know what it is, protect me. Believe that something bad is happening and protect me. Hold me close, tell me you’ve got this. Even if you aren’t sure if you do.
Stand up for me. Say no for me. Say no more for me. Speak my value. Speak my legitimacy. Set a precedent of love. Set a precedent of care. Show them that you protect your own. You protect those you love, even from others that you love.
Don’t make this about me. Don’t make this a problem with me. Don’t make this some flaw in me, some weakness, some defect. Make it about them. Make about their domination. Make it about their insecurity. Make it about their need for control. Make it about their actions.
No “maybe you should have listened”. No “you can be a handful”. No “you need to pick your battles”. No “you just feel too much”. Don’t make it about me. Don’t throw my pain back at me. Don’t ask me to keep it in. Don’t ask me to be quiet. Don’t ask me to do it myself.
You don’t listen. You don’t believe me. You don’t act. You get caught in yourself. Your pain. Your grief. Your anxiety. You don’t understand so you don’t do anything. If it can’t be spoken, it can’t be real. You don’t want to understand because then you would have to act. You would have to do something.
You would have to admit you played a part in this. You would have to admit you made a decision that caused me so much harm. You would have to admit you fucked up. You made a mistake. You would have to admit you aren’t perfect. You can’t do that.
Instead, you don’t listen. You don’t believe. You don’t act. You continue to make that decision that hurts me. You blame me for my pain. You blame me for being too sensitive. You blame me for being too emotional. You blame me for being too much. If it’s my fault it cannot be your fault.
You absolve yourself by throwing me to the lions. You feed the lions. You feed my doubts, my self hatred, my shame. You protect yourself by taking me out. You finally act. But you act out against me. You blame me. You reject me. You undo me.
– – –
I have hid this for so long I am not sure if it is true. Memory so heavy with shame and hurt I am worried it can only be fiction. And yet, I can feel the truth in it. I can feel the intense need for connection, for attention. To be valued, to be seen, to be engaged with. I can also feel the shameful sadness of knowing somewhere that it wasn’t what I actually wanted. A fucked up surrogate for some need that wasn’t being met. A legitimate need, a legitimate want.
And still, so much shame in the wanting. In some way wanting the violence if it mean that I could pretend my needs were being met. If it meant he would pay attention to me. If it meant I would get the touch I needed. If it meant I could make someone feel good. If it meant I could bring something good to others. If it meant I could be a “good girl”. If it meant I wasn’t all bad. If it meant I could be loved.
I remember the feeling in the back of my throat. And the sense of panic that it induced. The wave of fear that pulsed through my body like fire. I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t want this. But I wanted value. I wanted love. I wanted attention.
I feel so much shame for wanting those things. Shame for needing the attention. Shame for needing to be touched. Shame for needing to touch others. I feel so much shame for not knowing it was bad. That it is was fucked. For not knowing I was being exploited. For not understanding that it wasn’t love. He didn’t care about me. It had nothing to do with me.
I feel so fucked up that on some level I was exited about it. That it made me feel important. Like he chose me. Someone finally chose me. I must be a good person. I must be loveable.
I feel so stupid for being excited that someone chose me to assault and exploit. And I was little. And I needed things. And I didn’t know otherwise.
content warning: suicidal thoughts
– – –
There is that point in it all where there is nothing that feels okay. That point of panic where you need to do everything and nothing at the same time.
Can’t move. Can’t sit still.
Can’t breathe. Can’t stop hyperventilating.
Can’t speak. Can’t stop wailing.
Can’t think. Can’t quiet my mind.
Can’t feel. Can’t stop the pain.
When you left, I couldn’t do all the little things. The littlest of things. I couldn’t sit up in bed. I couldn’t walk to the toilet. I couldn’t talk, even to myself. The grief of you being gone shut down all the things my body did automatically. I would find myself about to pass out, forgetting to breathe. Nothing happened without effort, so most of the time nothing happened.
And when things did happen, they all happened at once. Like flood gates being breached, everything came at once. All the hurt, all the sadness, all the anger, all the emptiness. But also all the emotions that made you leaving hurt so bad. All the love, all the joy, all the silliness. I would spend hours lying on the floor weeping, and all of the sudden I would find myself laughing uncontrollably. Most of the time nothing happened; when things did, they all happened at once.
– – –
It feels strange to say that “I missed you” when you left. It feels insignificant and trite. When you left I was instantaneously dismantled, undone. I felt it coming as I held you, as you slipped out of this world, out of your body. I could feel myself sliding too. I wanted to follow you, come with you. I stayed in my body, but grief erased me in other ways.
For a long time, there was no “I” to miss you. Just this buckling space of panic, fear, hurt, grief. I was nothing. I didn’t think. I didn’t feel. I didn’t move. I just disappeared until the next wave of panic reanimated me.
Living at this point was monstrous. Not being is excruciating. I wanted so badly to follow you, to leave my body, leave this hurt and pain. I wanted to be able to exist again, exist with you again. But alternating between panic and excruciating non-existence exhausted me. It made me too tired to think, to plan, to find a way to leave. I didn’t choose to keep on living; I simply had no capacity to die.