So I’ve really been stuck on the question “how did I get here?”
Who I am versus who I’m trying to be. It’s not like I set out to become “that guy.” In fact, becoming “that guy”–the cheating spouse–had been what I had always thought I had been striving against being. I’ve seen the statistics of people, ministers in particular, who have had affairs. It doesn’t matter how “far” it went: an affair is an affair.
I’ve always sort of prided myself in my forthrightness and living in plain sight, yet a good chunk of my life was still pushed into and lived in shadows. It’s disconcerting how easy it is to fall into a life of deception. To where lies become not just routine, but reflex. To where you can deceive yourself to startling degrees. I’m disgusted by how easy it is to be so deceptive, just like those closest to me are so hurt by not only being deceived, but also by not having seen it.
Seeing, hearing, remembering what we want—believing things we know not to be true—in order to justify what you want to do. Justifying the secrets by being afraid of losing everything, by claiming to being manipulated, by believing things you knew weren’t true in order to keep pursuing the course you wanted. Looking back, my life has always had a bubble of artifice about it. Nothing about me was honest.
I’ve always kind of hated the phrase “stumbled into sin.” It made things seem so benign. You have an implied image of “oops, I did it again.” But I see the truth behind it. Most people don’t leap into sins. Those sins sort of creep up on you, though we’re rarely innocent prey.
It starts in the little things. A comment here, a gesture there that you let slide, but it grows. Next thing you know, you’re setting traps for yourself (part of you hoping that you fail because that’s what you secretly want). The lies become deeper, telling yourself that you can handle it. How it won’t hurt anyone if it stays secret. You may even spin it into a positive (“you can better minister to or understand people’s sin because of your own”). Like a person who drank too much and has a regretful next morning, you may develop convenient amnesia. It’s a terrible thing to not be able to trust your own mind. Your own memories.
It’s like there are two yous: the true self and the shadow self. One is cognizant of the reality of your state of affairs (pardon the expression). The one that is aware of the sin you’re involved in. The one that cries out for help all the while ignoring life preservers thrown at you.
The other one lies. It buries secrets, even from yourself sometimes. It’s the one that squashes the pricking of your conscience by the Holy Spirit. You latch onto those convenient lies for your own mental and spiritual survival—so you can go through the motions of looking your wife, your children, your friends, your family, your co-workers, your fellow church goers in the eye as if you were a person of integrity—because all the while, the guilt, shame, and sense of dirtiness eats away at you like a cancer. Until it rots all areas of your life—mentally, physically, spiritually—until it erodes everything you touch.
It’s the side you don’t want to face because it means facing some truths about yourself.
The hardest part was coming clean. The “I know you did it, just admit it” conversations. I’d become so practiced at deception, even to myself, that a straight forward conversation became like pulling teeth. It’s reflex to want to minimize. It’s human nature to want to cover your behind as much as possible, blame other people for your own decisions. But there’s no moving forward without first laying it all out there. Naked truth time.
It’s hard to reconcile who we are (and want to be) and what we do. I always saw myself rather like Alan Shore from Boston Legal: a complex mess of hurt and pain who kept everyone at arm’s reach in order to protect them from him. Put succinctly another way by my wife, I don’t know how to be real.
Or let people in.
So the question isn’t just “how did I get here?” but also “where do I go from here?”
Secret Lives, Secret Shame