Letting the Truth Loose

A couple of days of not writing turned into a few weeks. Honestly, I still don’t feel like it. The world feels like a terrible place again just now, and it  makes writing that much harder for me.

Writing – blogging, specifically – requires a lot of vulnerability. The more honestly and transparently you choose to write, the more vulnerability it requires to follow through. It’s a hard road to walk, even if you feel called to it.

But, there are a few things nipping at my heels. One is that I went to a friend’s poetry reading recently, and the brave act of her standing there emotionally bare to share a sliver of her story punched me in my core. I was confronted, again, with the penetrating truth that it matters that we share our experiences, pain, and authentic selves.

I recently came across this statement made by St. Francis of Assisi, and it both challenges and troubles me:

close up portrait of lion

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“The truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself.”

I don’t know what to make of it, really. On one hand – on my practical, cognitive side, I know that’s how it works. “Truth will out.” But on a more personal level, it hasn’t exactly been my experience, ya know?

I’ve never been as glad to not be on Facebook as I have been through the whole Judge Kavanagh/Dr. Ford debacle (stay with me – this post is not about that issue). And not even so much because of the situation itself, though horrendous, but because of what the masses choose to do with situations such as these. People constantly wonder why survivors never tell, or wait so long, and yet we see Why play out constantly in the news and on social media: because people will do whatever they feel like doing with someone else’s story. One of the hardest parts of deciding to tell your story as a survivor is the fear that you won’t be believed.

We tell our kids it’s always best to tell the truth, and that we’ll believe them (and other desirable side effects), but very little in the world we live in validates the notion that it’s safe to tell the truth. That’s not my experience on a personal level in many ways, and it’s not my experience as an observer. I made the mistake one day recently of scrolling through my FB feed briefly, and in just three minutes or so, I stumbled across the opinions (many shared as facts) of people I know personally on situations they weren’t present for and the experiences of people they do not personally know and haven’t talked to. And that hits very close to home, because it just confirms my narrative (my fear) that people will and do judge me, and minimize, discredit, or/and dismiss my experiences. Me.

The question, I suppose, isn’t really about the validity of what I know to be true; I was there. The question is more about why I care when people just arbitrarily decide whether or not I’m telling the truth or if there’s even a truth to be told. Why does it bother me to be judged? It does, by the way. I feel it in my bones.

Should how people choose to handle the truth be a factor in whether or not we tell it? 

Is someone’s reaction to the truth about the truth teller, or about the reactor? If someone decides to judge, minimize, or flat out dismiss, does that mean the truth teller should stay silent? Should people not tell the truth because there will always be people who can’t handle it?

Maybe what St. Francis was getting at was that the truth isn’t the issue. That, like a lion, truth does all the revealing when it comes to people’s convictions and character and knee-jerk nature. It isn’t the truth that needs defending, so the question then becomes Why do I feel like I have to defend myself? Answer: because of the way people respond. But here’s the important distinction, in my estimation: people aren’t responding to me or to you, really. They’re responding to information they don’t like (and don’t have), and it’s easier to make the issue about the messenger than the truth. The truth tends to force us into areas of discomfort, either ideological or moral or personal. If someone tells me something that challenges what I understood a situation or person to be, it means that I then must entertain the possibility/accept the fact that I believed a lie or a series of lies. Or that someone wasn’t who I thought they were. Or, that they were, and that good people can do horrible things. Most of us aren’t ready to head down that uncomfortable road when we choose to, let alone when it’s not in our timing or of our making. So, instead of dealing with the truth, we treat it like it’s optional. We default to what we can readily accept – “They’re making it up” or “He’s crazy” or “I don’t believe that for a second because ___________ ” or “So-n-so isn’t capable of something like that” or “She’s just doing it for attention” or “He has ulterior motives” ………..

Part of what makes coming to terms with the truth difficult, let alone telling it, is that there tends to be an element of denial – which includes a sometimes-paralyzing self doubt. I remember it clearly, but my perception of what happened must be wrong. Or I’m just being dramatic. Or So-n-so wouldn’t do that. Or I must’ve provoked it, or deserved it – in which case, it wasn’t abuse, it was simply what I deserved. You basically parrot what society says about other people and other situations when they can’t deal with the truth, and exact it on yourself. The problem is compounded by the fact that others will also respond in this way to you. It’s easier to deny difficult things, and the reason we fear being believed is the mountain we had to climb inside our own minds to believe ourselves without a single other voice weighing in. We’ve heard them weigh in on others’ situations, which informs our fear; we anticipate people’s reactions to our situation based on how we’ve seen them react in others. It’s very hard to talk yourself out of a belief/fear that’s based on experience.

Is it possible to tell the truth, and not defend yourself when people can’t (won’t) accept it for what it is?

Is it possible to not care what people say or do because they aren’t willing to do their own work?

Is it possible to not care when people judge you without ever asking you a single question, and when they form opinions and make comments and take actions about or against you without ever including you in the dialogue?

Is it possible to let the truth loose, and be okay with letting it defend itself?

It is, as evidenced by people doing it every day. It really isn’t the telling of the truth or people’s acceptance of it that constitutes the bigger goal. The thing that’s most important is living the truth. It’s living with the truth, and living with the consequences of it, incorporating it into your story in a way that enables you to live your best life and help others to do the same. It’s not about other people’s approval or acceptance. You’re not telling the truth to be believed, you’re telling the truth to be free. When people don’t endeavor to learn or accept the truth in your situation, do you really want to value their opinion anyway?

Every time I witness someone letting their truth loose, I am reminded again of how important it is to do. My friend’s poetry reading (my friend) changed my life by sharing her story and her pain. It was beautiful, sacred. moving and raw. And the impact of her sharing reminded me again that, if I really care about people and I really want to help people, I must let my story loose as well. I don’t need to defend it, it’ll defend itself. And I don’ need to defend myself for telling it nor for the content of it, because it’s not wrong to tell the truth. It’s not mean to tell the truth. It’s not abusive or vindictive or insensitive to tell the truth. It’s just my story. It’s how I came to be who and where I am right now, and I don’t need to defend that. I don’t need to apologize for who I am, or what was done to me. Telling about trauma or abuse isn’t wrong, abuse is wrong (as is covering it up, so be careful about being complicit in that ……..).

Ann Lamott said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.” You’re not hurting people by telling what happened. You don’t cause a car accident by talking about it, nor do you spread an illness by acknowledging the symptoms of one. Things are what they are, and it’s not dishonoring someone by telling the truth about circumstances that involve them. We can dishonor someone by how we tell, and I guess sometimes possibly why, but never just by telling the truth. In other words, it’s a choice to dishonor someone in how you deliver the truth (and for sure by using truth to gossip), but the act itself of telling the truth is not dishonoring. Actually, it’s everyone’s best hope of growth, healing and change. Truth is where freedom waits.

I’m not there yet. And I don’t necessarily have to be there – I don’t have to tell anything I don’t want to (ever!) as much as I need to get to where I don’t care about being judged, talked about, or dismissed. I currently still care, but I’m working on that. What happened needs to be more important to me than how others deal with it. It’s a tall order, but, in my observation of others, a liberating one.

For those like me, and I know you’re out there, you have a right to own what happened to you. You don’t have to defend it, and you don’t have to defend who you are. People have struggled with truth since the beginning of time and will continue to, and I think that may be all the more reason to keep telling it.

(Maybe just not yet….)

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