I’ve been a liar all my life. It started in childhood when I learned that I could tell stories to get what I wanted. And to conceal who I was from the world.
I wasn’t always successful. My mother caught me more than once, face smeared with chocolate ice cream and a tall tale on my lips about how I’d rolled in the mud while having so much fun playing outside as instructed to do. In my teen years I would lie to her about all the clothes in my closet and how they got there. “No, this isn’t new,” I’d say. “I’ve had this dress forever.”
Shoplifting was a way to adorn my life with all I believed I didn’t have. It was a way to be someone I felt I was not. My parents didn’t have much money during these years, and I ardently wanted to be like everyone else who seemed to live in excess. Who cared if I didn’t feel the part—I could look it and that was what mattered.
This desire to fit in—to belong—compounded my lying to an absurd degree. It became an exercise in survival, and nothing would not be sacrificed to maintain the ruse. I lied about the age at which I lost my virginity (the opposite way of what you might expect because I waited a long time to mark this passage). My drug use (both ways, experimenting with inflating and denying my experiences as the situation required). I lied about my school attendance, my music collection, my likes and dislikes, my desires. I was constantly looking to others and measuring their potential reactions before I spoke, shaping my narrative the way a sculptor massages a woman from a lump of clay.
Only I wasn’t a lump of clay and I had no idea of my true shape beyond all the manipulation, the dishonesty. I wasn’t really lying to others—that was incidental. I was lying to myself every moment of every day.
I read a beautiful line recently that goes something like this: There is not a lie that has been told that hasn’t been told in fear.
Anyone who has lied their way through life will immediately grasp this, and it was the fear that haunted me most of all. Fear drove me to the small, protective place that had become my reference point—the reference for my life and for my very self. I had no idea who this self was except that she was as foreign to me as the idea of not pausing before speaking to assess how best to spin the next moment into gold.
How would I stop lying?
Necessity is the Mother of Intention
The day I realized that my marriage was a lie marked a day of profound change in me. I’d stopped lying superficially years before because the charge in it had vanished. I didn’t get off on silly little lies anymore, but the big lie of my life was a different story. I was living a marriage I thought I needed to make me myself, a marriage I didn’t want.
This was the hardest lie of all to confront. I’d met the perfect man ten years earlier and since then I’d loved him the way you love a dear friend. We were companions. Sympatico. More than that, twin souls. We helped each other beyond measure, but I knew the first time we were intimate that the other—the “in love”—wasn’t there.
It was subtle, this realization. And as a practiced liar, I knew my way around it. I told myself it didn’t matter, that the connection would change and grow into the kind of love my heart wanted in a partner. Then I told myself it was my fault that this connection hadn’t been made. I was broken. Walled in. It wasn’t so important, after all, was it? Millions of people live out passionless marriages.
This is the thing with a lie. It spins its own world, pulling us out of the authentic one in which we live. This half world is peopled with our fear and with the versions of ourselves we have invented. It is a dimmed mirror of what is, and it is the quickest road to depression.
I had to see the lie to confront it. I had to accept it as something I had made. The release lay in this understanding. It was something I had made, not something I was. Shoplifting was something I had made way back when, and my big lie as an adult—my marriage—was the same.
I remember staring into the bathroom mirror at a woman in her mid-thirties who had got everything she set out to acquire. I had the loving husband, the savings account, the mortgages, and a rough plan of how the next decade would go. All of it dissolved in an instant. I could not live this life that wasn’t mine.
The glimmer of authenticity also began in that instant. First there was the destruction of all I had known. So many tears and for so may different reasons. Denial, rage. A vast and dragging sadness that what I had built would not hold.
Still, authenticity. I laid myself bare to my husband and to dear friends for the first time ever. They saw me exposed and raw in my true self. I told the truth at last and it gave me permission to go on telling it. Somehow the strength and circumstance showed up to help me make the toughest decision of my life.
I had made the decision to cross into authenticity.
Leaving was an authentic decision. Agreeing to become myself at last was the most powerful change I’ve ever made. It brought me no gain in the measurable sense. I wasn’t getting any richer or more successful with this, and there are still days when it feel as if I am galloping backwards.
Yet the beauty of the authentic life is that it isn’t subtle. It feels as solid as the truth on which it is built. Thoughts, fears, and emotions may cloud it, but the earth of it is there all the while. It has roots, this authentic life. Ever growing.