“Many times it seems that there is no way to move forward in our lives except through betrayal. Along with our suffering comes an awakening to contradiction, a discovery that we can no longer be quite sure of our motives or even our intentions. And so we love, we collude in our own betrayal.” John Tarrant, The Light Inside the Dark, p. 49
Sometimes the only cure for betrayal is betrayal.
When I was in my early twenties, my family was highly dysfunctional. My brothers were doing drugs and/or drinking, getting caught with them, marrying their pregnant girlfriends, etc. During my teen years, I had warned my parents of what was going on. My oldest brother’s wife, I’ll call her “Sally,” pressured me to promise that I would not tell her children any of the family’s secrets. I complied resentfully, not feeling terribly obligated to keep a promise made under such a degree of duress.
Secrets are kind of like dominoes: when one falls, a whole series can tumble. The secrets required lies to maintain them. It reached a point where there were zero “safe” topics of conversation. Maintaining fake relationships to try to have a relationship, however superficial, with my nieces stopped being a worthy expenditure of time and effort. I basically dropped out of the family. It was the only option that kept the secrets and helped me to maintain a shred of self-respect.
The secret keeping was maintained until yesterday. My oldest niece is now in her mid-thirties. Her youngest sister is now getting married (pregnant like their mom decades ago, a hilarious irony). I have always wanted to be friendlier, but I can’t tiptoe around everything. So I emailed her and told her about the promise and told her some of the reality of our family. I told her the she was free to ask me any question and I would tell her the truth because I have no secrets. Who knows what will happen?
I have stopped seeing myself as a little sister and started seeing myself as a middle-aged woman with little to lose, family-tie-wise. I don’t want to enter my fifties carrying this. I wanted the door opened between me and my nieces. My sister-in-law put me in a position where, all these years later, I have zilch to lose by telling the truth. What can she do? Forbid me to come to family functions? Whatever. I am so too old for this.
The only way out of self-betrayal was promise betrayal. My conscience is clearer. Last year gave me the “advantage” of no longer caring whether I live or die. I am a little freer now. And I have moved forward.