Being Myself in Public

Louisa003 Rewriting the Narrative, The Adoptee Journey

I live on an island in the safety of a community driven by altruism, threaded by common values and bound by camaraderie. But like Avonlea, everyone knows everyone else’s business. To leave the island there is only one route; the ferry. People see who comes and who goes. Who accompanies them and what they bring. Is it a new cabinet from Ikea? Or is it new lover from the city? They know. In a population of 800, there are far less than 6 degrees of separation. But it’s one of the things, if not the thing, that makes it my paradise. Even if once it would have been my nightmare.

For years I was a compulsive liar. Protecting myself from critical judgement, embarrassment and the rejection I suffered so often during my childhood. Avoiding punishment, delaying the inevitable conflict and creating a story that made myself more acceptable in my parents’ eyes (and my own). At least that’s how it started. But once you become accustomed to lying you start to realise its power. Your power. It may not be conscious, but it is intentional. I started framing my achievements in a light that downplayed any failure and eventually creating stories about drama in order to get the attention I so desperately needed to survive. I mistook it for love. But of course it wasn’t.

People lie for very few reasons. It starts with low self-esteem, which leads to desire for admiration and popularity; eventually turning towards control and manipulation. And lies become a cage (or if you’re feeling fanciful, yes, the matrix).

But it means that not only is any attention you get, a result of manipulation and therefore invalid, it isn’t even for you, the real you, whoever that is. Having to be a liar during your youth as a matter of survival, prevents the development of your Self. Instead it forges an identity which a mishmash of expectations (others’) and aspirations (your own). A false self, which lives inside a creation of pure fiction.

In a liar’s life, there comes a turning point. My own was on the discovery of my biological father. A pitiful, despicable man who manipulated the world and the women around him with lying and deception. He was, what I was in danger of becoming. But how to change the path? I was already 21. Formed without substance. Alive but dead. The product of excruciatingly low self-esteem and a passive communication culture where no one says what they really mean.

Over the course of years, now almost two decades and as long as it took to create the liar, I have separated myself from the people with whom I couldn’t be myself. Those who remain with whom I cannot be myself are beyond my intimate circle and I am rarely in contact with them. Some of those are old friends who reject my approach of radical honesty. Some are even family. It’s been hard and painful work for me and for others. The person they knew has changed. Abandoned them, and not always with compassion, to say the least. Like a baby being exposed to searing sunshine, it has burnt badly, before it has healed. It has also been the most important work of my life. For my sake. And for the sake of my children.

I tell the truth consciously, purposely; I avoid deception at (almost) any cost; I constantly re-examine my motives exposing them ruthlessly to the public eye. I am highly aware of my integrity when interacting with people who lie, by omission or otherwise. I know that if I am not explicitly honest, there is a possibility that I am being dishonest (usually for the same reasons I used to lie). If I enable a lie, it will take away a piece of me. Sometimes I think I am driven by sensationalism – a hangover of my desire for attention. That’s a part of it (and that’s the truth). But my experimentation with life, my experience, is my own way of determining what makes me happy outside of what society tells me makes me happy, and what makes me, me.

The key to who I am, lies in the intersection of my willingness to experience life and my ability to truthfully express myself about my experience.

In order to forge my identity and shine my light, I must experience life. Unceasingly.  Uncompromisingly. It is my responsibility, and as yet I see no other way. Like a wax rubbing, you can only see what is underneath the crispy paper of lies, who you are, by the friction you cause rubbing yourself into life. Once experienced it must be expressed, to enable analysis, vulnerability and introspection. Because the truth of I am, unless expressed somewhere, to someone, remains hidden even to me. And without it, I risk living a lie, just by omission.

And so everyone on the island knows my truth if they choose to do so. Some don’t and that’s their choice. Some draw limits around their values to separate them from mine. That’s good, we define our own boundaries. But what’s ultimately important is that the person who knows my truth nowadays, by constant trial and error, is me.