I've spent three magical days at Brooke Shaden's Promoting Passion Convention that have exposed a big fat lie I was telling myself. More, I was called on it and made to understand that as long as I keep repeating it, it'll be true simply because it's the story I believe and make others believe, the story that I've been told by adults when I was a child, the story that's been running most of my adult life, the story that continues causing me pain. And guess who the source of this pain is. Me.
And the story is, I'm a liar.
After I've given my lecture on how writing made me happy (the video of which should at one point become available, after Devin does his editing magic), dredging up the ugliness of my violent childhood, so many of you have come up to me to tell me that you went through the same ordeal, I nearly crumbled under the weight of your stories. But it wasn't until the next day that René asked to speak to me and said that she'd been gutted by my story, but that she couldn't make sense of it in the context of me repeating whenever I was onstage that "my job is to fool people," that "I'm a professional liar," that "people pay me for my lies." She told me she counted. She said I have repeated it at least nine times. Then she asked me a question. "This story you told us about your childhood, was that a lie too?" And if it was, she said, how could I do this to you? To all of you? How could I cause you so much pain only to laugh at it later, saying I'm a professional liar? That stunned me. She was right.
I've been told so many times by my family that my stories are lies, I came to believe it myself.
When I started remembering my abuse, in bits and pieces that were hazy and uncertain, my first reaction to it was, "It's all a lie. My mind is making this up. This couldn't happen. It simply couldn't. It's too horrific." Even after I talked to my father on the phone, even after I told him I remembered it was him, even after he told me, "Yes," I still didn't believe it. I still tried to convince myself that it's all a big fat lie. And every time I speak about it, every time I try to delve deeper, I split in two: my mind and my body. My mind tells me I'm lying, my body tells me I'm telling the truth. And then my mind overrides my body, and then my body gets sick to override my mind. My bladder acts up, I become sensitive to touch, I stop sleeping, I lose all desire for sex, I get sullen and withdrawn, and ultimately I start thinking about a way out. It'd be so easy just to kill myself. Then my mind rebels. As soon as I start thinking about death, my body wins, and my mind believes it. I have to get to the bottom of depression for my mind to stop resisting what my body has been trying to tell it for years. I get better. My bladder stops hurting, I start sleeping, we make love with Royce, all is good, until the cycle begins anew. It's an endless torture I subject myself to, because it's familiar. It's the misery of confusion I have lived with for so many years, I didn't even see it anymore. Until René pointed it out.
Thank you, René. I was blind to this. You saw the disconnect between my truth and what I believed was my truth. You made me see that I wasn't telling my story. I was repeating the story of those who didn't want to face the truth. I was repeating their lie. And I was hiding behind the mask of being funny. "I'll just laugh it off," I thought, "it's no big deal." But it is, and it's not funny. It's tragic. I'm licking off tears as I type this. And they keep rolling and rolling. By laughing at my story and joking that I'm a liar, I was devaluing the stories of those who suffered like I suffered. This was my survival technique, my way to be accepted by my family. I've learned to be a clown, and I still am. I'm often hiding behind my sarcasm, afraid to say what I really want to say, and I don't realize that I'm hurting you the way I was hurt. Pain was laughed off as no big deal in my family. Pain was dismissed. Pain was never talked about. To this day I have trouble listening to someone whine over something small, insignificant, like a bruise or a paper cut. I think, "How come you whine about this, when it's nothing compared to what I lived through?" It makes me angry. And to hide it, I laugh. I make a sarcastic remark. I did this to my children countless times, the way it was done to me. Instead of acknowledging their pain, no matter how small, instead of showing compassion, I laughed at it, thinking it was the way to be. René, you have made me see this lie.
You made me see my story.
My story is, I'm telling the truth. It's my job as a writer, to tell the truth no matter how ugly it is. This is what stopped me from taking my life. This is what made me want to live. This is what my clever mind keeps resisting, trying to slip back to the old ways. This is my daily fight. And if not for you, I'd still be blind to it. It's what happens when we listen, truly listen to each other, and call each other on our shit. This is what families do. Real families. Families of people who love.
You are my family. All of you. Over these three days you moved me with your stories, and you pushed me to listen to my words, truly listen to what I was saying. I'm heartbroken that I can't hug you and hold you every day, and be held and hugged by you. I miss you. I love you. But I will stay in touch with you through my books. That will be us holding hands. Sharing stories. Together. Over time. Over distance. Over all these lies we tell ourselves. That's we're bad, undeserving, unworthy. It's a big fat lie, and it's so damn hard to fight it alone. Through stories we will fight it together.
I hope I get to see you again. I hope we continue the conversation about storytelling. I started thinking about holding a writing workshop, a kind of a three-day thing with borscht and vodka, where you come to expose your truth and leave with one completed story, leave believing you're a writer. I don't know yet how to make this a reality. When I return to Seattle in two days, I'll dive back into writing TUBE, which will take me another month to complete. Then I have to write a new synopsis for Janna and work on it with my writing mentor, and only then I will have a week or two to think about this, before getting back into editing TUBE. Which will probably be in December. For now here is the PDF of my writing workshop, in case you missed it. And if you have ideas or suggestions on how to make the writing workshop a reality, share them here. One way or another it will happen. I know it will. Because I have committed to it, and many of you have too. You told me you will come.
Thank you, Brooke, for creating space for this conversation to happen. I love you. Let's keep talking.