07: Some Thoughts on Lying

man and woman lying on pillows while looking at each other

The possibilities that exist between two people, or among a group of people, are a kind of alchemy. They are the most interesting thing in life. The liar is someone who keeps losing sight of these possibilities.

Adrienne Rich (May 16, 1929–March 27, 2012) 

The first lie was the lie I told myself. In this way, I betrayed myself first andlost sight of the possibilities. Everything following was just an extension of that unease with self. However, the impact of betrayal is the erasure of the sense of self–theirs and ours.

Today I planned to post the second part on Distancers and the Silent Treatment. However, Chef pulled me aside last night and read an article from The Marginalian entitled Adrienne Rich on the Alchemy of Human Possibility and What “Truth” Really Means.

The words haunted me as I slept. Because the essay disturbed me, I reread it this morning and ordered Rich’s book. I recognize anything that leaves me uneasy and restless needs to be treated with respect and honor.

As such, I’m going to start by setting this excerpt from the article below.

We take so much of the universe on trust. You tell me: “In 1950, I lived on the north side of Beacon Street in Somerville.” You tell me: “She and I were lovers, but for months now we have only been good friends.” You tell me: “It is seventy degrees outside and the sun is shining.” Because I love you, because there is not even a question of lying between us, I take these accounts of the universe on trust: your address twenty-five years ago, your relationship with someone I know only by sight, this morning’s weather. I fling unconscious tendrils of belief, like slender green threads, across statements such as these, statements made so unequivocally, which have no tone or shadow of tentativeness. I build them into the mosaic of my world. I allow my universe to change in minute, significant ways, on the basis of things you have said to me, of my trust in you.”

When we discover that someone we trusted can be trusted no longer, it forces us to reexamine the universe, to question the whole instinct and concept of trust. For a while, we are thrust back onto some bleak, jutting ledge, in a dark pierced by sheets of fire, swept by sheets of rain, in a world before kinship, or naming, or tenderness exist; we are brought close to formlessness.”

Adrienne Rich (May 16, 1929–March 27, 2012) 

I’m posting this for a few reasons.

First, I found it beautifully written.

Secondly, Rich’s wording is one of the best descriptions of betrayal’s impacts on another I have read. If you still don’t understand why claiming “I didn’t want to cause pain” simply causes more pain, perhaps this will help you connect more clearly with the emotional impact on others.

Thirdly, as a reminder to self that regardless of intention, both skillful and unskillful habits will have an impact. 

With unskillful impacts, it is not enough to claim remorse and regret. It’s not enough to offer an apology. It is not enough to humble ourselves and own our adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), traumas, destructive attachment styles, or some other factual explanation for our unskillfulness. 

The impact on others of my behaviors is not diminished because of the foundation underlying my unskillfulness. Unskillful habits developed in reaction to my emotional discomforts might explain why my intentions didn’t align with my behaviors, but it doesn’t excuse them. Intentions only matter to me and the men and women invested in growing through their discomforts. 

In reality, if I am committed to personal growth and accountability, I will need to own the unskillfulness by which I betray my intentions and harm others. I must practice the skills and develop habits that align with my intentions. The harsh reality is I will need to invest more resources into getting out of the hole I dug than it took to dig. 

Falling is always easier than getting up. Just as I am not entitled to forgiveness or second chances, I am not entitled to compassion, understanding, or help.

Fourthly, regardless of how the other person responds, growth and accountability demand I do not shirk from what makes me or others uncomfortable while I move towards the truth. The awkward reality is that which can be destroyed by the truth, should be destroyed, including friendships, marriages, and families.  

Developing empathy and insight requires leaving my mental silo and looking into someone else’s emotional sky. Developing new skills depends on developing new connections with my choices and mistakes. The willingness to sit with the risk and uncertainty opens the door to new insights. In other words, sitting in Fear’s gale force winds is how I learned to separate the tempest from the teapot. As Pema Chodron writes, “Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.” 

This essay and Rich’s quotes are uncomfortable truths reminding me of the impact on people that trusted me and loved me and that I trusted and loved.

The loss of trust will cause us to reexamine the universe. For example, I believed my relationship with Painter was as profound to her as it was to me, and I imagined my marriage to Beatrix was non-reconcilable.

In both relationships, I lied to myself to avoid necessary truths and significant discomforts about my relationships with these women. 

It is worth mentioning there are also a small number of men and women carrying stories that I cannot be trusted even when my behaviors demonstrate otherwise. They will imagine intention and apply meaning without any experience or knowledge.

It’s hard to kill a story people imagine; frankly, it isn’t worth the resources to try. You are not defined by what people imagine.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Be not the slave of your past – plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep and swim far, so you shall come back with self-respect, with new power, with an advanced experience, that shall explain and overlook the old.” 

If your life needs to be reformed because the fires of betrayal have annihilated it, let the truth improve the next version of the experience.