FINDING MY TRUTH


truth“To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert

I have a tattoo on my ankle that I had inked right before I turned 45. Ironically, the thought of getting a tattoo turned my stomach and I never understood why people would permanently mark up their bodies. Yet, almost overnight, my position shifted and I felt an even stronger urge to imprint on my body something that was so overwhelmingly important to me. Perhaps it was the fact that I was in the midst of a powerful journey to discover my own truth and had just suffered a hairline fracture in my ankle (resulting from some foolish sparring in a karate class). When I was back on my feet and thinking about the significance of the injury – it was the first bone I had ever broken because, for the first time in my life, I was getting in touch with my athletic self – I had no doubt in my mind that I needed to symbolize the shift in my life. I wanted to honor the movement towards a new space in my life. I implicitly knew that the tattoo could only say one thing “Truth.” I settled for a Chinese symbol and am reminded every day how powerfully important truth is in my life.

Writing, for me, is a form of truth-telling. It is, for sure, a healing process – an attempt to declutter my mind. I write to sort out all of the experiences and related emotions that sit heavily in my mind, often blocking me from clarity. I write to expel toxins that are cleaner and more palatable in the written form than as random musings in my head. I write because I have to. When I am not writing, I get backed up and weighed down. Because the process allows me to find and convey truths about myself, the absence of it somehow robs me of my authenticity.

As a relatively private person, it is challenging to find opportunities to shed the blankets of lies that were the hallmarks of my life growing up. When I share my stories and reveal the truths about where I come from, I feel lighter and the healing process continues. I vowed not to perpetuate the sins of my parents and the only way I can insure that I don’t step into the traps left behind by them, I need to transform myself with full transparency. And that takes effort and courage and requires an endurance for pain that often seems beyond my capabilities. Writing feels like a safe shuttle to move me towards my destination but I know that, by doing so, I am shedding my cloak and letting the world see the shards of glass that surround me from the shattering blows I endured day in and day out for so many years. And that can feel a little bit uncomfortable.

I’m not entirely sure why I have exhausted so much energy trying to convince everyone that I am ok. I suppose it started as a shield to prevent anyone from looking any deeper because I was not prepared to reveal how broken I was. Then, as I became more accepting of my truth, the act of convincing others helped to enable me to believe the tales I spun about how I had healed and figured everything out. My brand has been that of a survivor. I have prided myself on my ability to rise above the storm and escape with only a few minor cuts and bruises.  Nothing that a band-aid and some rest can’t fix. I should be able to go on and lead a normal life.  My life should look just like everyone else’s.  I could fall in love, get married, raise kids, have a career, make a home for us, have friends and be joyful and fulfilled. I have always assumed that if I wove this tale artfully and set my intentions to create this existence, it would come to be.

Those were not truthful words. Instead, just a load of bullshit. Here’s the truth.

*************

My life sucked as a kid. I was born into a marriage that was destined to fail before it even began. My parents met while my father was a police officer walking a beat in the Bronx and my mother was a secretary. It was the 1950s and they were both married to other people at the time. They engaged in a very indecent affair that, for my mother, was exciting and validating because she was always living in the shadow of her decidedly more attractive and more acceptable older sister. Her rebellious self was pissing off her parents – Orthodox Jewish immigrants – and her insecure self was winning over someone else’s dark, handsome husband. My mother’s sole desire as a young adult was to escape her home life and she accomplished this by settling for the first Jewish boy to come along. She would satisfy her parents and seek refuge. This began a series of impulsive acts that would lead her down a path of destruction, taking out all who got in her way. My mother made choices that served her needs at the moment and did not have the emotional capacity to examine or understand the impact of her actions. She behaved like an adolescent through much of her life but never more so than when it came to affairs of the heart. Her neediness for the acceptance of men to validate her and attempt to erase her deep insecurities overshadowed everything else in her life. This rose to the top of her needs hierarchy, resulting in neglect in anything that did not drive her towards fulfillment of these objectives. At the age of 18, right after she finished high school, her parents threw her a beautiful wedding and she married a man she never loved – and probably never expected to. It met her needs at the moment and, until something better came along, she was willing to make that sacrifice. My mother was never formally diagnosed with any specific mental illness but she clearly suffered from some type of narcissistic disorder, resulting in erratic behaviors for which she was incapable of any remorse.

My father, born in Italy, emigrated to the United States as a young boy with his parents and younger brother and sister. They were traditional Italians who valued family above everything and worked hard to create the American dream. My father, a high school dropout, ended up in the military and, upon release, found his way to the police academy along with many of his fellow veterans. Being a police officer in New York City in the 1940s and 1950s was both exciting and revered and he quickly adopted the lifestyle. He also married young and he and his Italian wife started their family right away, bearing a daughter and son. My father was a handsome man and had no problems attracting women. Between his good looks and the cop lifestyle of drinking, gambling and philandering, it was no surprise that he ended up engaging in an affair with my mother who was quite taken with this man who was so very different from the world she came from. Their entanglement was exciting and taboo and built on lies and indiscretion – the unfortunate building blocks that formed the foundation for my family. As I uncovered the truth of my parents’ early life together, I never clearly understood how they met and ended up with each other. In fact, it was only when I was much older did I learn how their relationship began and that it produced a child. forcing them to make decisions which would shape the lives of those of us who came later. So began the lies. The lies that created more lies and, ultimately, destroyed all of us along the way. When both of my parents died several years ago, they left behind, collectively, five children, five spouses and an array of grandchildren, all of which were encompassed in the pile of lies that could fill the fiction aisles of thousands of libraries.

My sister – the product of their affair – became the unwitting pivotal story point in my family and, in many ways, her existence was the lie that held us all together. Her paternity was continually called into question as my mother created different stories, depending upon what she needed or wanted and how it could work to her benefit. The questions around her conception, while most of us ultimately knew the truth, became part of our family dynamic. This lie was the strongest element of our family. And, we all knew that, had my mother never become pregnant, my parents might never have ended up together and our family might not have existed. Throughout my childhood, I tried to piece together all the confusing and contradicting facts that I discovered while eavesdropping on conversations or searching through my mother’s private drawers in her bedroom. Like a sleuth, I was searching for facts to help me understand this life that never made sense to me. While other children were flipping through photo albums and were regaled with their parents’ love stories, sharing how their families came to be, I was searching for the missing clues to piece together the puzzle of my family. Conveying a sophistication inappropriate for my age, even as a young child, I inherently knew our story was filled with lies and I relentlessly sought out the truth. Regrettably and, perhaps, understandably, the adults in my family carefully manufactured alternate realities to preserve their lies in order to protect themselves but their efforts wore thin over time. And, I felt like a puck being knocked around the ice as I was swatted away when I went seeking out answers to the questions that would help me understand my truth.

By the time I was born – 14 years after my sister’s birth – my family was deeply shrouded in a fabricated life that was designed to preserve the truth from escaping. My father was a full-blown alcoholic, numbing himself from the guilt and shame that distanced him from his close-knit family and my mother had become a sociopath, physically and verbally assaulting her children for reasons I will never understand. She needed to maintain control and worked tirelessly to preserve her fictional existence. Anything my siblings and I did to jeopardize that was met with wrath and fury. In fact, as one would expect with someone as disturbed as my mother, there was no clear path to avoid her ire and, depending upon when she felt vulnerable or depressed, we could come under fire for no reason at all. Add to that the instability of the alcoholic who did not suspend his philandering after meeting my mother and the result is terrifying. And no place for any child to be raised and be expected to escape unharmed.

*************

I am no longer trying to convince everyone that I am ok. Because I am not. It has been 47 years since destiny brought me into the life of people who were consumed with lies. For many of those years, I perpetuated the lies and tried to blend into the crowd. But, in truth, most people don’t look like me. Most people don’t share my history. Most people cannot understand or empathize with what I have endured. Many people think I am cold and distant or uncaring and elitist. Others who have taken the time to get to know me and have pushed to unpeel some of my layers recognize that I am kind and loving and overly protective of myself and those I care about. At my core, I am simply trying to get from day-to-day and survive the truth of who I am. I strive to move beyond and live a wholly authentic and honest life and, yet, until I shed my own shroud, I will still be living someone else’s life instead of my truth.

WORDS


wordsWords are my power and, sometimes, words represent my greatest weakness.  There are times when I can taste my words as they linger on the tip of my tongue.  My taste buds pick up on the acidic flavor of those remarks, thoughts, ideas that never make it past my lips.  They linger, debating whether they should jump out but often just roll back down, pushing past my still-intact tonsils and reside so bitterly in my esophagus.  The words marinate inside me, causing acid-reflux, making their voice heard while silencing mine.

I struggle to let words out of my mouth.  I am afraid that they will be unrecognized for their true selves.  I worry that they will reveal a part of me that is too fragile and too tender to be exposed to the air.  My words hang back, waiting for a safe opening, an invitation from the prettiest girl at the dance.  In my head, the words spiral around, forming thoughts, ideas, feelings, powerful messages that often never see the light of day.  They remain locked behind bars, longingly waiting for someone with the right key to release them from their interminable imprisonment.  My words are held hostage by me.  I simply cannot speak what I feel or share the emotions that reside just one millimeter below the surface.  I protect myself, ensuring that my words won’t be used against me.

Alas, I am not silent.  I can talk endlessly.  I simply and strategically talk around my words.  I can be pleasant or funny, intelligent or insightful and, in some cases, mean and hurtful but I fail to utter the words that most need airing.  I choose what I say, holding my tongue, keeping the most critical words in reserve. A wrestling match occurs – a battle to release the words, getting them past my lips.  Invariably, the fight ebbs once I sit down and tap my fingers to the keys.  All at once, the bars are lifted, the gates release, the tide flows out with letters forming together to make words and sentences and thoughts and feelings and images so rich, so powerful, so raw, so honest.  When my fingers are in control and my mouth is closed tight, I can tell stories and share my truth in ways that would never be possible otherwise.

As a child, I lived in my own fantasy world, writing stories that depicted the life I dreamt of.  I escaped to a faraway place invented by my words.  I scribbled on loose leaf pages and in spiral notebooks, believing that I could run away from it all and, one day would wake up in another place – in my imagined life.  My stories existed in a utopian world so far away from my own reality, thousands of miles from my own pain and I could quietly sneak off and experience some peace and contentment.  Nobody knew I was gone.  No search team needed to be sent out to look for me.  But, sadly, one day it stopped.  I no longer had the innocence to enjoy my own stories or suspend my disbelief long enough to escape.  I lost confidence in myself and found my words to be trite and meaningless, unsophisticated and untalented.  I was not a writer and had no business pretending I was.  And, with that, I sealed myself off.  No more words came out. Now I would have to navigate around my words, bottling up all the thoughts, feelings, pain, joy, insight.

Then, 99 blog posts ago, it all changed.  I fooled myself into believing that I would write to share some thoughts – all intellect, no passion – to help build my career.  It was purely business, helping me to become a subject-matter expert and pontificate about matters relevant to my work.  I would cement my place in that conversation.  My words would propel me to another level of professional success.

Silly me.

Unbeknownst to me, quietly, hiding out in crevices deep inside, my real words were sitting, waiting in prey, looking for an opportunity to unleash themselves.  They didn’t wait too long.  They didn’t hold themselves back.  No censorship, no editing.  Blog post #2 was quickly visited by my words – the interlopers.  I could literally hear the exhale as they began to release themselves.  After being silenced for decades, they grew louder until there was no room for anything but them.  My words took possession of my blog and insisted on telling the story that I was unable to share in any other way.  They wrestled control and ensured that my inside voice would be heard.  Today, my stories are candid and honest.  They are vehicles to help me move beyond.  I no longer need to escape into the realm of fantasy but, instead, need to embrace my truth and own it.  I need to let it soak into my pores and I need to write about it in order to make it come to life.  Being honest about my life and all the complications that seem so foreign to so many yet relatable to so many others is not difficult for me.  It requires no special skill.  I need not find a map to figure out how to navigate my course.  There is only one road, running in one direction.  There is one lane and it leads me directly to my destination.  No signs to read, no traffic lights to hold me up.  It is an open road inviting me to travel as fast as my engine will bear.  The only caveat is that my mouth is sealed.  The words must come out through my hands.  The story can only be told in one way.  The power can only be released with one type of force.  I have only one tool in my toolbox.  My words have only one point of departure.

While my words flow so freely through my hands, I still struggle with speaking my truth.  I can stand before you, my closest friend or my worst enemy.  I can look you in the eye and hear the deafening sound of the words in my head.  I may want to shower you with love and adoration, acknowledging the power you have in my life.  I may want to share deep feelings or emotions that connect me to you. I may want to ask you to help me heal my hurt.  I may want to cut you apart, punishing you for penetrating my safe zone.  No matter what, I will likely retreat, still haunted by the words echoing in my ears, desperate for them to come out but scared to let them be heard…using my vocal chords. I contain a battle that wages on between my voice and words.  I retreat to my keyboard to unleash all that is so safely harbored in my port.  I set free the words that scream so loud in my head and hope that one day I will trust myself and others enough to speak my truth.

For now, I will be grateful for all that have come along for the ride, allowing me to process and share through these words.  I cherish the opportunity to enlighten those who know me and support those who feel me.  I am grateful that, for the 100th time, I have been able to string my words together into something meaningful that might spark a thought, a feeling, a revelation, a powerful emotion in another.  I am hopeful that my words serve a purpose, have meaning, offer guidance or solace.  As my words enter the sunlight, squinting to see what lies around them, I hope they are embraced and warmed rather than scorched and damaged.

Thanks to everyone who supported me through my first 100 posts and I hope you will stick around, invite your friends along and encourage you to buckle up.  I have a lot more words anxiously awaiting to avail themselves of this blog.  There are so many more stories, so many more words just waiting to reach you and, hopefully, teaching me how to use my words properly.