When my son was in kindergarten, his class created “Character Awards” in which they could choose an attribute to celebrate. He chose “Honesty” and gifted me with the “Honesty Award.” I don’t know that I’ve ever been more proud to receive an award, to be honest.
One of his aunts was over at the house when he brought it home to me. She teased him that she didn’t get an award, which was totally unfair. His response tells you everything you need to know about my parenting:
“Oh, don’t worry, Aunt Lea, ” he said. “If I had made a ‘Patience Award,’ you totally would have won that one.”
I promised my son I would always do my best to be honest with him. Sometimes this has been a hard promise to keep, as I often wish I could protect him from absolutely everything harmful in this world. But I can’t. To pretend I could would be a lie.
But I wasn’t always this way.
My father grew up in an abusive household. When I was very little, I remember him laughing a lot, and though he did have a temper, it rarely erupted. But a few situations occurred in which he failed at his oldest wish— to protect me from all harm like the harm he encountered as a child. I wish he would have told me then that this was his goal; even so young, I knew such plans were futile.
He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Because of many cultural and societal expectations, he did not choose to be treated. And when the depth of his failure became apparent he went through a psychotic breakdown and was never the same again. It was painful to remember that at one time I was his pride and joy.
His temper became the daily norm, rather than the weekly exception. He abused me in ways that he abhorred and then told me I should never let anyone do that to me. I began to craft a reality in which I clearly had multiple fathers who kind of looked the same. I tried my very hardest to understand why he was sometimes a monster but also sometimes so kind and encouraging.
This set me up to live a disassociated life. I began to lie constantly. But not about big things—I would lie about my favorite color, or what I wanted to eat, or whether or not I was tired, or how I was feeling. I had noticed that my father’s sadness often triggered his temper, and so above all, I lied about whether or not I was sad.
But this was followed up by a very big lie: I did not tell most of my friends when my father died. When people asked why he wasn’t around, I told them he was on a sales trip. I decided I would not tell the truth about this unless I had to, as the few people who did know made it clear to me that having a deceased parent was as abhorrent as having a contagious disease.
This plan was thwarted when I went to a new Sunday school and the teacher, who had clearly been talking to my mother, introduced me as “this is Audra, and her father died last week.” Beyond this being horribly embarrassing and violating—if my behavior indicated anything it was the need to own my own stories—it was also the nail in the coffin for my original plan. So, I made a new one: I told my friends at church the truth, but I lied to everyone else.
And so a dual existence was born. I had my “good” self and my “bad” self. I had a place to store all the things I hated about me, and no one would ever know as long as I kept all my worlds apart.
I have since gotten (a lot of) help. I am now able to live an integrated life, and when I am not able, I am honest about that to the best of my abilities and knowledge.
I am sharing this for two reasons. One is for me: once I learned to own my stories, I learned a bit of magic—when I confess the truth about who I truly am, I find freedom the likes of which I did not know to hope for. I did not fear the truth because of your possible reaction; I feared the truth because of my own reaction.
But the second reason I share this is for you. I see strong dis-associative tendencies in our culture these days. We lie about everything. The facts of what happened, how it made us feel, how we take care of ourselves, how we are coping. I get it; there are a lot of reasons to lie when one is dealing with authority figures who have given themselves over to madness.
But I encourage you to live a truthful life with yourself, even if you can’t do so with others. Begin here:
How are you feeling? Are you:
Don’t worry about what someone else might expect you to feel. They don’t pay the daily cost of living your life. You don’t owe this story to anyone but yourself; it belongs to you. But if you need help during this holiday season (which is often so hard for so many) it might be worth sharing your story.