When I was a child, I was a pathological liar. At least, that’s what I’ve told myself my entire life.
It’s true that I lied about a lot of things: I tried to deny it was me who forgot to flush the toilet, or said I’d brushed my teeth when I hadn’t, or claimed it was my brother who burned the pencils over the furnace pilot light (granted, we did it together).
When my aunt took over custody of my siblings and I when I was nine, she not only picked up on my habitual lies, but she saw the confusion on our faces when she tried to explain why we couldn’t live with our mother anymore. She felt that a little family therapy was in order.
She was right. There were plenty of positives that came out of that experience. It’s strange though how the negative experiences often stay with us and have a disproportionate affect on the rest of our lives.
At one of these sessions, I blurted out something unexpected: that a boy and I had been, for lack of a better word, inappropriate with each other. Of course, I had no understanding at the time that it was inappropriate. The boy in question was close to the same age as me, and discovering each other’s genitals was just another adventure to have out in the woods near my home.
It wasn’t a big deal, I thought. I didn’t feel traumatized or violated. Neither of us were old enough to know this was wrong, let alone feel uncomfortable about it. But the moment the story escaped my lips, it all seemed to spiral out of control.
The boy was dragged into therapy and asked about it. He said it never happened, perhaps wisely ascertaining that it was becoming something bigger than the two of us. He suggested I had dreamed it, or that I had made it up.
I was adamant that it really had happened, but my aunt brought up an excellent point: I was an habitual liar. A girl who lies about something as small as flushing the toilet would surely lie about something as big as this. And the counsellor believed her, because parents know their kids best.
I can’t tell you why they reasoned it this way. Maybe it was because he was a bit older and therefore a bit wiser. Or maybe it was some ingrained bias that told them girls are manipulative and boys are confident. It could have simply and literally been that they trusted him more than they trusted me.
No matter the reason, there came a point in all the back and forth that I just wanted to stop talking about it. And, honestly, there came a point where I wasn’t quite sure anymore that I hadn’t dreamed it or made it all up.
Therapy, of course relies on trust and honesty to make any progress. I’ve been to therapy many more times since then, and have had many counsellors take my words at face value.
Still, I often second-guess myself, doubting the truth even when the facts before me prove otherwise. My ex-husband once asked me if I’d cheated on him and I truthfully told him that I hadn’t, but for a split second I doubted myself. Was I forgetting something? Was I having trouble distinguishing reality from the dream world? Could I be lying not just to him, but to myself?
To this day, I couldn’t tell you with absolute certainty that that boy and I ever did anything inappropriate with each other. My childhood memories are a blurry, shadowy world of doubt and disbelief. I often double-check my memories with others, shaping my childhood through their perspectives because I don’t trust my own.
All I can tell you with absolute certainty is that I never felt traumatized until I realized that I wasn’t trustworthy. But don’t believe me, I’m a liar.