John 8:32 “and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
Growing up, I was continuously reminded at every opportunity that lying is literally the worst thing I could ever do. This Bible verse was repetitively hammered into my frail bones like it was the answer to every adult problem I could ever face. I will never forget the first time I was caught in a lie. My brother and I had been playing in our backyard and we decided that it might be fun to play our version of Power Rangers, a show we weren’t allowed to watch out of fear that it was too violent. A little while later, our mother appeared on the scene and demanded to know what we were playing. I was too afraid that I would get in trouble for playing an innocent game she disagreed with, so I lied. If I think hard enough, I can still remember the taste of the bar of soap and the way it made me gag as it was shoved in my mouth as punishment for my lie. The scraping of the top layer against my teeth. The bitter taste burning the back of my throat and making me dry heave. The acid that burned my stomach. There was no calm reprimanding. It was threat level midnight on first offense with my mother.
Or the incident a few years later, when Harry Potter became a mainstream obsession. Shortly after the first movie came out, I remember shopping at Target with my mother and brother. They had a television in the kids section that was playing a loop of the movie on silent. Our church had banned Harry Potter out of fear of the presence of witchcraft in the books and movies. As we were shopping, my mother noticed my brother had begun focusing his attention to the movie looping on the screen. She told him several times to stop watching it, and he assured her that he wasn’t. He was caught in his lie. Returning home, he was gifted with a fistful of belt thrashes.
There were endless conversations about the consequences of lying. The reminders that those who lie are hell-bound. The assurance that even white lies count, and yes, there is never a lie that is ever effective to keep anyone safe. Because lies will never keep anyone safe.
The troubling thing for me now, as a survivor, is that lying seems to be the only way to keep myself safe. The only thing that lets me sleep at night some weeks. The troubling thing for me now, as a survivor, is that lying seems to be the only thing keeping my shame at bay enough for me to even perform the act of surviving.
..for me to even perform the act of surviving.
You see, I spent 19 years holed up in a vortex of silence. The echo of truth banging against the walls inside the black hole we called a home. I was told that the life we were living was the truth, but no one else could have a look inside. Those who did not live there were not allowed to have access to the keys. They were shut out–metaphorically and literally.
Indoctrination does a funny thing. It brain washes you. It convinces you that what you are being taught is absolute truth and there is no point in questioning, because it is just the way it is. It makes you feel that the world is actually a warped Picasso painting, and that you are obviously a righteous, stable statue of perfection and purity outsiders are not quite ready to accept. It is an absolute mind-fuck of epic proportions. I watched as my parents told me over and over that I should despise those different from us. “Be not of this world. It surrounds you, but do not let it become you. ” Reminded that I was alien, not born of this world, but of a blessed bloodline I should be terrified others would taint.
Apparently, so blessed that I was not allowed to discuss my problems with other family members with whom I was extremely close with. Once it was discovered that I was having knowledgeable conversation with my cousins about topics other than the Bible, we were discouraged from spending time alone together. We were constantly interrupted, for fear I would be someone who removed the blindfold. I was repetitively wrist-yanked by my mother into the bathroom for harsh scoldings about my behavior. I think they were afraid that I, as the oldest, would be the one to make them all aware of the blindfolds that had been placed on our eyes in the delivery room. That somehow I had figured out their big secret, delved beneath the poison of their indoctrination and found fresh air.
The troubling thing to me, as a survivor, is that the truth has NOT set me free.
This week I have struggled with just making it through the long days. I have fought with sleep overrun with nightmares about the abuse I suffered, waking up in panic attacks that feel like I am being choked from the inside out. I have found my head in a constant cloudy reminder that my shame will always be the strongest chains, binding me to the past. Chains that I currently do not have the tools to break, so I do my best to paint them pretty colors so other people don’t notice their ugly hue clashing with my attempt at a bright exterior. Chains that I try to disguise by pretending their existence isn’t hindering my daily life, yet knowing they are.
There will always be the shame. The first emotion poured into the empty vessel of my soul as a baby, and the warning about not numbing my conscience. I think I will always feel guilty for exposing the truth about my past. I will feel forever consumed with the worry about what my abusers will think, and the inability to come to terms with the remainder of healing I still have yet to accomplish as a result of that denial.
I have always felt like I am being choked by a force far greater than myself.
When your parents are your abusers, you wonder if you will ever be able to untangle the complicated weaving mess of your relationship. If you will ever be able to dissect the shame and decide if you want to have a real relationship with them despite all those feelings or as a result of them. You will spend what feels like centuries, wading through old conversations in your head trying to pick apart the moment you realized that you were drowning in a sea of shame so deep you worried you would never be able to breathe again.
As a survivor, the truth never set me free. The truth only tangled things.