After a few days offline and a few days of analysis paralysis, the big resounding thought in my head is how did we get here? The bigger one that comes after is how are we going to recover? The latter question is the one that scares me more than anything Trump can really do. Seems strange to feel that, but I have plenty of proof in my own life as to why I feel that way. It all goes back to the beginning.
What it’s like being raised by a pathological liar.
When I look back on my upbringing I can’t help but think of a huge pool of muddy water. Thick, slimy muddy water. When I look closely, I can see me and my other siblings lurking around underneath the surface. Every once in while, one of us comes to the surface for a much needed breath. Passersby look down and wonder what on earth are they doing? Don’t they see they are swimming in disgusting water?
What the people don’t see, behind the pool, hidden in the maintenance closet, is our mother filling bucket after bucket of muck and mire. Anytime any one of us finds our way to the surface, finds any clarity, she is ready to pour more mud. As she pours she tells us not to worry. I love you, I’m protecting you, the only person you can trust is me. How do these 5 people accept this? How come they don’t just see what’s happening to them? It’s because it didn’t happen overnight.
It took time, effort, persistence, cruelty and gaslighting.
Back when I was young and the water was clear I loved my mom. Just like every other kid, I trusted her. Admired her even. Anything she would say I took as truth. So, when she began telling me that I was too shy to make friends, I believed her. When she would tell me don’t even bother, people won’t like someone like you anyway, I believed her. When she told me that her husband is just a touchy guy and my discomfort was silly, I believed her.
Slowly, she started putting little tablespoons of mud into the pool with me. With each little lie, another tablespoon. When I was a little older, middle school age, I started to see some things that were confusing. I had some friends. They seemed to like me. I was good at basketball. The coaches seemed to think I had potential. I was sitting in health class in 8th grade when I realized that my relationship with my stepdad wasn’t normal. Maybe she was wrong all along. Maybe I am smart, athletic and funny.
Then, I didn’t get asked to dance at the first after school dance. I came home crying to my mom. In that moment of vulnerability, my mother told me, ‘see, I told you. Nobody likes you. You’re too shy to make friends. You’re best off here where nobody can hurt you.’ And, like most kids, I believed her.
By this time, the water was murky. It was hard to tell what was true and what was false. We would go back and forth between my mom and dad’s house. Life was so starkly different between the two. My dad was predictable, consistent. After a couple days of being there I could start to see the harm my mother was doing.
I would go back to her, try to call her out on her lies and deception only to be gaslighted and confused again. Enormous fights would erupt after she pitted me and my siblings against each other. I would always be the first to cry. She would turn to me and call me weak. She would taunt me, ‘awwww, you gonna cry now? Is Sarah just too sensitive to deal with her life?’ At the end she would hug and comfort me.
It’s confusing to want comfort from the thing that hurts you, but I did. I grew up paranoid that something bad was going to happen at any time. I was afraid of being stabbed in the back by my siblings. I had to keep my guard up to make sure my ‘weaknesses’ weren’t used against me. I became desensitized to sex and privacy to get through my days. The only thing she could think about was herself and it didn’t matter what happened or who got hurt as long as she came out ok. After years of emotional and sexual abuse, pathological lying and deception, I couldn’t tell up from down. I couldn’t see that I was swimming in a pool full of slime.
How was I going to overcome this situation?
My solution was to escape and never look back. I got married young, moved out and tried to pick up the pieces. I was still in a muddy pool. I still don’t know up from down. The only thing that has changed is the person filling the pool is gone. What do I do with the mess that is left? First I had to drain the pool. That takes time. Years of counseling to try to sort out what parts of my life were a complete lie and what parts were real. Great, the water is gone. I looked down and saw that I was still covered in the filth that was left behind. How do you clean that off?
With counseling, a lot of guessing and checking (HUGE mistakes) and time (10 years!), I was able to figure out basics like right from wrong, how to hold a job and to trust other people. The road to recovery was almost harder than living through the deception and abuse. It took constant effort to change my worldview. The crazy thing about recovery is it’s never finished. Every once in a while I will still find some dirt left behind that needs cleaning.
The country is going through the same thing with Trump.
Oddly, the experience with the Trump administration feels very similar to this period of time for me with one major difference. This time I am a passerby. I look into the cesspool of all things Trump and think how does anyone believe this guy? How can he gaslight so shamelessly and people just fall in line? How does he have so many people hoodwinked that we are abandoning basic principles like ‘be nice to one another’? The parallels between my mother and Trump are uncanny.
Here are a few examples:
- pathological liar
- incapable of feeling empathy
- fosters an environment paranoia amongst people close to him
- over sexualizes his own daughter
- disrespects women
- taunts and bullies people he views as weak
- spends most of his time convincing his followers that the only person that can be trusted is him
He does this by design. At this point, he could shoot someone on 5th Ave. He’s got a pool with half of America in it and he’s the one muddying the water. Lucky for us presidents come and go. My fear is that when his reign is over and the water drains, what will we be left with? How much time will it take to recover? Who is the person that is capable of dealing with the filthy aftermath? If the recovery is going to be worse than the damage, we are at the tip of a very ugly iceberg. Hopefully I’m wrong.