I’ve always had an active imagination.
When I was younger, I would sit on my bedroom floor and write stories – weaving whole worlds with words and building complex characters with varied vices and peculiar strengths I secretly envied in others.
I began reading voraciously at ten. I would sneak into my sister’s scholastic book stash and steal one book at a time. I learned to read quickly and quietly in the hours before she woke up on Sunday mornings. I turned the pages carefully to avoid ripping or tearing the delicate paper. To keep it out of sight and flatten the fluffed pages I’d leafed through, I would hide the book I was reading beneath one of the heavy encyclopedias from my daddy’s prized Britannica Collection.
It wasn’t until I was in high school that I realized my sister always knew I was reading her books (I’ve never been good at sneaking). She started college the year I started tenth grade. While she was gone, I frequented her vacant bedroom and her still-stuffed book shelf.
I read for hours at a time, the stories unfolding behind my eyes with each turning of the page. I fell in and out of love with fictional characters. I longed for places I’d never visited and cried as I mourned the passing of people who never existed. I experienced disappointment, heartbreak, sorrow, and shame at the hands of prose on pages. I aged decades in the time it took to consume the words between two soft backed covers. I felt inexplicably changed with each epilogue.
I learned to imagine, to dream, to describe, to express, to convey with written words. I learned the power they hold through the stories I read.
While I was reading stories, I was also beginning to weave my own in the recesses of my mind. I was beginning to tell myself things, as we all do. Words have always seemed to have their way with me. I’ve always swooned in their wake, surrendering to their inherent power. I loved them fiercely, but never knew how to resist them, even when they hurt me. I always believed them, gave them space to roam and be free inside me. I picked up errant words like lost puppies and took in careless phrases like stray cats. I let lies live in me the way my organs do. And, of course, they changed me.
I noticed in my early teens that the inside of my head was not a kind place. I didn’t like living in my head. I didn’t like hearing what I thought about myself. The confined space of my psyche was fully occupied by my distorted self-esteem. I constantly grappled with the words, what was true and what wasn’t. The very gift I had been given was turning on me.
My imagination wasn’t an ally anymore, it became instead the place I went to escape. I would hide there, desperately trying to fantasize my way into a life I loved: into a body I thought was beautiful, more fit, with smaller hips, into relationships with people I believed really loved and accepted me, into a future I thought I deserved and would enjoy, into a mind that wasn’t wrought with constant sadness or marred with silent tears. I would wander away from reality, up into the clouds, leaving my skin and bones behind and surrendering to the world I weaved inside my head.
A world with no roots, where nothing was solid, nothing was sure, nothing was real. I thought I was safe, but I didn’t know that what William Paul Young said in The Shack was true, “Without wisdom, Imagination is a cruel taskmaster.”
I would give way to Fantasy, and then I would crash into two truths named Here and Now that always threatened to derail me.
Depression slid into the cracks my consistent wandering had allowed to open. It empowered the lies I’d allowed to live in me for too long. It spoke to me, loudly. Its voice reverberated day and night, telling me horrible things about myself. And when I was down, it didn’t kick me, it whispered. It whispered quiet, but awful things to me that I believed.
For more than twenty years the lies lived in my mind. The unspoken beliefs I had about myself that governed my interactions with strangers and the people I loved, shaped my outlook, molded my insight, and dictated the rules of the world I lived in were comprised of lots, and lots, of lies.
I went to dinner with a friend of mine this summer. He’s known me since I was thirteen. He sat next to me at a sushi bar and asked me how therapy was going. I stopped fiddling with my chop sticks and looked at him.
I had one of those moments that we all have: the moment when we’re trying to decide how deep we want to dive with someone. I have these moments often, and I’ve regretted my decision to take a chance more than once. I knew he could handle the truth, but I didn’t know if the truth was the ride I wanted to take that night. But something in me knew I needed to say this to him. I’d said it to other people, but I felt the gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit to share with him specifically.
I decided to tell him.
“I think I’m weak,” I said. He looked at me with an expression that said, “Go on.”
I turned in my chair to face him, even in three-inch heels my short legs still dangled over the side of the bar stool. “At my core, I have a deep, unsettling belief that I am a weak person. And that because I am weak, I will never beat the sadness. I’m afraid I’m too weak to ever be happy.”
I studied his face the way I always do after I’ve vomited my deep, dark truth all over a pristine conversation, after I’ve sucked the lightness out of the air with something I’ve said.
Regret and shame immediately begin to fill the silent space between us. I want to unzip my skin and hide beneath the bar. I want to rewind the clock and say, “Therapy is going great,” like a normal person. I begin to berate myself inwardly, “You always do this!! You run people off with all the depression talk, everyone is sick of this, they’re sick of you.” On and on and on it went, the inward hazing that happens when I take a chance on intimacy and feel like it was a flop.
I’m used to a range of reactions from people in these moments: resignation, frustration, anger, shock, annoyance, pity, great discomfort, overwhelm. But the only thing that painted his expression was confusion. His brow furrowed as he expertly picked up a piece of sushi with the chopsticks, “Why would you think that?”
His response threw me for a loop. My mind went blank as I tried to find the supporting evidence that would surely hold up this belief I’d held for nearly my entire life. I felt my face go blank. Why would I think that?
On the drive home he asked me, “Well, if you think you’re weak, who do you consider strong? What makes them strong?” Again, my mind went blank while I searched for the evidence.
“I don’t know,” I whispered. “I just think I’m weaker than everyone.”
It sounds too extreme in my ears, too big, falsely absolute. The comparison I’d been making between me and every other person I knew that seemed so foolproof that I’d staked a large portion of my itentyt on it seemed completely illogical. The words hung in the air, and I realized they had no roots, no legs, no spine, no face, no substance.
We drove in silence for several heartbeats.
“That’s not true,” I said into the quiet car.
“Nope,” he said.
I learned something vitally important that night: sometimes you have to say a lie out loud to stop believing it.
A shift took place that night that has revolutionized the way I’ve gone about approaching the battle in my mind. Since then, I’ve been strategically saying the worst out loud. I’ve been saying the thoughts, forcing them to face the light of day through declaration.
I’ve been shocked and startled. The act of saying out loud the lies I’ve always felt and believed about myself, others, this world, my life, and my future has absolutely changed the game.
I’ve watched decade-old internal declarations be leeched of their power as they hang in the air just outside the stronghold they erected in my mind. I’ve heard myself say words that sound strange and immediately expose themselves as false. I’ve felt the weight of terror drop like anvils falling to the floor after I’ve dared to verbalize its voice. I’ve been interrupting the violent reverie in my mind in all the places. Whenever they dare to bully me, I dare to expose them to the Truth. I write the stubborn ones down on pieces of paper and read them out loud when I pray. I let the Word loose on them and watch them begrudgingly release more and more of the real estate of my mind.
Once spoken, they just float, stripped of their silent armor, their quiet rampage interrupted. Once externalized, they have no backup, they have no fuel, they have no protection. They must defend themselves against the onslaught of wise council, of encouraging community, of honest telling friends that reinforce what is actually true.
But you have to talk about it.
You have to say the things that scare you. You have to bring them outside yourself. Release them in spaces that believe in you, that see the best in you, that perceive your purpose and are rooting for your ultimate success. Trust your tribe with your inner narrative, and see if the lies can bear the light of love.
And the most amazing things happen when we let the lies loose: truth has room to move in. And can I tell you, it feels so much better to have truth living in me than lies. The Truth changes things, it rearranges things, it fills voids, it FULLfills, it eases pain, it soothes aches, it makes whole, and best of all, it fights the lies that remain. Truth fights for you, it wars for you, it wars IN you, it secures your peace.
And the truth shall make you free…
I finally understand and believe that, because I live that. The Truth is making me free – one declaration at a time. If your inner narrative is overweening you, and you’re bubbling over with negativity and harmful internal banter, trust me and try to talk about it. Tell someone what you’re hearing and believing, and see if it can hold up outside of you.
Before you go one more day letting lies live in you, talk about them.