Back in high school, my friends and I would play this game called Two Truths and a Lie. Before the days of meeting up for a beer at Finley’s, we’d unwind in our parents’ backyards, settle in from our long battles of Manhunt and huddle around a fire to warm our 15-year old frames.
“Let’s do Two Truths and a Lie,” someone would let out in-between heaving Your Mom jokes across the fire pit.
“I’ll start,” I’d chime in, “And you’re never going to get this one.”
The point of the game was to share three statements about yourself: two truths and one lie. Then, the others would have to correctly guess which two statements were factual and which one you’d just done a really good job of making up to sound like the truth. Inevitably, mine would end up being something like this:
One. I’ve never been to Europe.
Two. The only time I cried in school was because Tom tripped me in Mrs. Schmidt’s class and I fell flat on my braceface in front of everyone.
Three. I pretty much always cheat when we play Monopoly.
The game, innocent and ice-breaking, was an exercise of closeness. We played to see how well we knew each other. And the strategy was simple: try and make each group of statements sound either blanketly true or blanketly proposterous.
To win, the lie either had to blend in with the truth or the truth had to blend in with the lie.
And so, we got good at this game. And we played until we knew eachothers’ secrets. We knew about both times an unnamed friend took his pants off on the bus in second grade. We knew how each one of us would answer the most ridiculous Would You Rathers and we knew about that time another unnamed friend’s voice cracked when he said hi to that cute girl in the pool in Florida.
We unturned all of them embarrassing stones. And we loved each other better because of it.
Let’s start with a truth: We’ve all got things that unravel us.
Things that stop us dead in our tracks and melt us into a gooey pile of paralyzing fear and delirious angst. There are ghosts of experiences – of those one times, and the remember whens and the I-never-want-that-to-happen-agains. There are trigger points, the things that bring us to our knees and fight to drag us back to that place of despair; to hold us in its grimey grip and to keep us from moving on, forward and ahead.
And there are things that are unfounded. There are fears that never happened. They are not memories or treacherous experiences, rather we have formed them out of thin and lifeless air. We have used the hammers and planks and screws of our imaginations and contrived these fears in our heads. And we give them life and power and leverage over us.
These fears have no roots and they have no cause.
I’m just going to cut to the chase here: I can’t do bugs. To further drive home this point, my reaction to these blasted creatures doesn’t come from a place of not liking them or not wanting to see one scurry up my wall as I marathon season nine of HIMYM. I don’t begrudgingly get off my couch and grab a shoe or a wad of paper towels, kill the sucker and then go about my business like a normal functioning (quasi)adult.
I actually am unable to handle bugs in a socially acceptable manner. My version of “handling”, admittedly irrational and unhealthy and all things therapy-warranting, is nothing short of a total meltdown. Without fail, every time.
In fact, the very first time I saw a Palmetto bug (read: cockroach) in my apartment, I called my friend Kristy and slept at her place until the exterminator came later that week. Two weeks ago, when one creepycrawled out from under my fridge when I walked into my kitchen to leisurely bake cookies, I ran into my bedroom, cried on my bed for 30 real-life minutes and called my 700-miles-away mother for advice. Eventually, I called Kristy (again) and she talked me through a method of bug eradication. After fifteen additional minutes of talking me down from the ledge, I finally worked up the courage to sprint past the bug half squinting, grab my eco-friendly HotShot and hide in the doorframe of my hallway while spraying the bug from 10 feet away. Within five minutes, it was belly-up on my floor and stayed just like that for 4 more hours until my bug-slaying hero of a boyfriend came over that night and graciously scooped it up and flushed him.
If I am being honest, I have no idea why I am so rattled by bugs.
In some post-meltdown reflection, I talked through it with my parents. We didn’t grow up with bugs in our house. In fact, believe it or not, even though I grew up in New York, I’d never even seen a roach until I moved to Charlotte last May. Occasionally, there’d be a spider in the shower that’d cause me (or one of my sisters) to let out a blood-curdling, “Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad! Come quick!” but other than Daddy Long Legs, we grew up without critters. We tried to sort it out; what made me so afraid of bugs and why I couldn’t just step on them and go about my life because “they’re much more afraid of you than you are of them.” We tried really hard to dissect it, but ultimately arrived at no cause, only a matter-of-fact reality. And in a typical dad-like fashion, my pops spoke the truth that my heart was in desperate need of hearing:
“You’ve got to learn to kill your own bugs, Diana.”
Truth number two.
(Go with me here, okay? I need you to be really brave and I need you to let me lead you for just one second. I know it’s scary, but I promise I’ll hand back the reigns before you know it.)
Picture that thing. (Yes – that one thing – the one that just completely un-does you).
Whether it’s a ghost of a what was or a shadow of a never been, get a clear picture of it in your mind. Hone in on that fear you’ve been allowing to come and go as it pleases for all these years, blowing its way into your life when you least expect it – like a hurricane that makes a left turn at the last second and whacks the barrier islands without warning. Get a good look at it. Stare at it and don’t even blink. Let it jostle you around for a split second.
It’s an awful feeling. I know it is. I know the way your stomach is churning and I know the way you’re body is shaking. I know the cold hands that somehow are sweating and I know what it’s like to feel the bad kind of captivated by something. And, look, I really hate to do this to you. But if I could just be honest once more, I think you kind of needed it. I really think you needed one last look at what’s grabbing you by the ankles before you take out your heaviest shoe and smush the lie that this owns you.
That is the lie. That this –this ghost of a past or this phony idea of the future – owns you.
Let me say it again: This. Does. Not. Own. You.
It does not own you or direct you. It does not enslave you or get a stake in your life or where it’s going or how it ends up. And as much as I wish I could be there to whisper it in your ears to drown out the lie day in and day out and day in and day out, I can’t. I wish I could be standing in your room right when your eyes opened in the morning and be jumping up and down with a sign that read, “This doesn’t get to have you today. Today, you get to move ahead.” I wish I could be sitting next to you on a Thursday afternoon at work and when I saw it in your eyes that your mind was starting to wander, I could bring you a cup of hot tea and say, “Nope. Nope, nope, nope. We’re not doing that today, remember? This. Doesn’t. Own. You.” But the truth is, I can’t.
You have got to learn to kill your own bugs.
Because so often, if we’re not careful, life can be a lot like that game I used to play growing up. Too many times, we find ourselves sitting around a fire with the souls we’ve been entrusted with and we sit there and mix up authenticity and falsehood. Somewhere along the way, we’ve gotten pretty skilled at blending truths and lies. For whatever reason, we’ve let the two become identical Siamese twins and deciphering one from the other has become a task we refuse to do on our own. So, we relentlessly enlist other people and things to assist us. Our goal becomes not separating what is real and what is contrived, but shoving them both down so that they are not even considered. We don’t kill the bug, we just let it crawl under the couch and tell ourselves it isn’t there anymore.
We do this when we seek affirmation and attention and acceptance in the wrong places.
It plays out when we put our value in the way other people see us, our relationship status or our job titles.
The lie starts to live rent-free in our heads as we numb ourselves to the pain all while thinking we’ll just capitalize on the joy.
There’s a great grand world out there that’s just waiting for you to waltz out victoriously. There’s a planet filled to the brim with six billion people who are waiting for you to drop the lie once and for all and just let your feet graze every square inch of this place. There are friends – oh, there are sweet, sweet friends – who will always be willing to come to your apartment on a minute’s notice and stomp on that Jumanji-sized spider camping out in your bedroom. But boo, you’ve got to try and do it on your own.
Use them muscles, okay? Not just the biceps and the triceps and the obliques and the glutes, but use the ones that flex when you’re courageous. You’ve got the brave muscles and you’ve got to pump them up. You can kill your own bugs because – and I promise with each of the ittybitty atoms in my 5’11’’ body that this is true – they don’t own you.
The bugs, the lies, the fears, the bygones and the yet-to-comes. Squish ‘em real good.
Photo: Alexis via Pixabay via Creative Commons