The lies continued, and they became hard to keep straight. I became whoever I had to be to fit into a group of people. I didn't remember who knew what.
The first lie I consciously remember telling was in elementary school. I told everyone at school that I had been a Gerber baby. Not only was this patently untrue, it was actually laughable because I had been born eight weeks premature and looked a lot like E.T. for the first several months of my life.
It's the first lie I remember, but certainly not the first one I'd told. Lying has been second nature to me my entire life. Maybe it's why I eventually became a writer, because I love to tell stories, spin webs of words, and inhabit worlds that I don't actually belong to.
I lied about everything, both big and small. I would lie about what color underwear I was wearing, if given the chance. As I got older, my lies became bigger. In high school, I made up a boyfriend that didn't exist. When my friends became skeptical, I cut out a picture of a guy from a magazine and insisted that it was my boyfriend; that he was a model. Needless to say, they didn't believe me.
I lied because I felt wholly inadequate being who I was. I lied because I didn't feel good enough; because I hated myself. I lied because I wanted to be anyone other than who I was. I was trying to fill a giant hole in my soul and I thought that I could create the person that I wanted to be.
But people are not as dumb as they seem, and eventually, they started to catch on to my lies. I went through groups of friends at an incredible rate, as every time the truth was exposed I'd run away and start over. I traveled halfway across the country for college, determined to start over and be someone new, someone cool, someone funny, someone popular. Anything other than who I really was.
The lies continued, and they became hard to keep straight. I became whoever I had to be to fit into a group of people. I didn't remember who knew what. My professors got lie after lie about why my assignments were late, my friends got story after story about why I'd forgotten about their birthday party. I lied about how much alcohol I was drinking, I lied about how many people I'd slept with, I lied about scholarships and awards I'd received.
The thing was, I thought I was an incredibly honest person, because I also lacked any sort of social filter and just said whatever I thought. If I didn't like you, I told you. But that wasn't honesty — that was meanness. That was unnecessary truth that hurt other people, and only served to make me feel better about myself by making others feel worse.
Some of my lies became so second nature to me that it's taken me years to figure out the truth. There came a point when I started to believe my own lies, when I ceased to be able to tell fact from fiction. Living that way, as someone who is full of shit, is not sustainable. There is only so long you can be a fraud before the truth is discovered. And there is only so long you can keep up the charade before your life comes crumbling down around you.
Which is where I found myself — surrounded by lies, including the ones I was telling myself. Untangling the web of deceit I'd created was one of the hardest and most embarrassing things I've ever done. And though I knew I couldn't go on living the way I was, being honest went against every instinct I had, everything I'd ever known. The first step was to get honest with myself, about everything. This proved harder than I could have imagined. What I learned about myself is that I am full of crap, through and through. I also learned that I absolutely hated that fraudulent person — it didn't feel good to be a hypocrite. It didn't feel good to manipulate the people around me. And it didn't feel good to know that no one knew me for who I really was, including myself.
The next step was getting honest with other people, with the exception being if it would really hurt them to know the truth. I didn't tell everyone I'd cheated on that I'd been unfaithful. Some truths are better left unsaid. But it did mean telling a boyfriend that I'd intentionally hurt by telling him I'd had an abortion that it had never happened. It meant telling a former employer that I'd stolen from him when I worked for him. And it sucked, a lot. But it was also a huge weight lifted off my shoulders once the truth was out in the open.
The final step has been living an honest life going forward. For me, that's not easy, because it's been learning a whole new way of living. It's meant not trusting my instincts, because my instinct is always to lie, whether it's because I think you'll be mad if I tell you the truth, or I think you'll like me more if I make something up. It also means that, when I do lie, I have to go back and tell the truth (which is really embarrassing and a good motivator for being honest). It’s also been possible because I feel safe to be honest, and I know not everyone has that luxury.
I have the kind of relationships today that I've always wanted to have. The people around me trust me. I am employable. I have friends, I have a spouse, and all of them know that they can believe what I tell them. I live an authentic life, and I feel freedom that I never had when I was lying all the time. I told myself that I didn't care when I was getting one over on someone, but the truth is that I did care. It weighed on my conscience and ate at my soul and eroded me from the inside out.
Today I know that, for me, honesty really is the best policy, and there's nothing that can't be dealt with if I just bring it out into the light. It turns out that I’m only as sick as my secrets, and today I choose to be well.