Hang On To Yourself
Truman Burbank: Was nothing real?
Christof: You were real... that's what made you so good to watch.
Lines from the movie called “The Truman Show”, after Truman (played by Jim Carrey) learns that he was the only one in his life who wasn’t acting a part in a world that wasn’t real.
The Truman Show resonates with my discovery that most of my life had been absorbed into my husband’s ugly deception. The movie’s ending grips me—where, after Truman’s sailboat prow accidentally pierces the fake horizon, Truman climbs out of his boat onto a fake lake, and seeing a staircase climbs up to find the “exit” door. The show’s creator tries to keep him from going through it, and after they exchange some words (including the lines above) Truman takes his final bow and walks through the door into the real world—a dark unknown. What would he feel—fear, anger, hope, courage, grief, doubt? All these, but still he chooses to leave the fake life and hang onto himself—because he’s the only thing in his life he knows is real.
Truman hung on to himself. And that’s exactly what you need to do.
When I think back to those terrible early days of disorientation, grief, regret, devastation, despair and wishing that I would just die, I don’t know how I managed to hear any message that said “Hang on to yourself, Diane. Hang on to yourself.” There was nothing left of me, it seemed.
In the early days I searched the internet for information about my husband’s actions and what I needed to do. I stood for hours in the bookstore and library—trying to find resources. Instead I found messages from the treatment industry and its practitioners that were additionally destructive. The “experts” were telling me I had deliberately chosen someone who would treat me like this, I had enabled him throughout our relationship, if I didn’t deal with myself I would just pick another person like this, I was sicker than the addict, I was a victim of my own fantasy thinking, I needed to accept the label of co-addict and identify that way if I was ever going to get better, I would ruin his recovery if I didn’t do what I was told, that when I asked for the truth I was pain-shopping, and more. My husband was a lie. My marriage was a lie. And now, apparently, I was a lie, too. I moved from just wanting to die to standing for a while on the edge of suicidality.
These people were really good at what they did. They took a woman who wanted to die and pushed her towards taking her own life. That woman was me. And they were really starting to piss me off. I decided that I wasn’t going to lie down and make it easy for them. From deep within myself I heard the words, “Hang on to yourself, Diane. Hang on to yourself.” I was so angry at the messages that encouraged me to not trust myself and to let go of my own sense of self-understanding, and left me feeling like I should just die—I dug my heels in and refused to do it.
Still, it wasn’t easy. My colleagues withdrew from me. A few approaches began with assurances that they “knew everything” (which of course they did not). I could not take the risk to try to argue against whatever they thought, or trust that they would not use the information to further discredit me. The few I hoped would reach out never did. It was another devastating truth revealed. Apparently a simple “I’ve heard you’re having a hard time right now, let’s have coffee. I care” was nothing I deserved. It would be many years before anyone allowed me to speak of it. Though I was rocked by severe PTSD symptoms and devastated by being “cut loose” from the tribe, the “Hang on to yourself, Diane. Hang on to yourself” became a message about survival. Over and over again I stood at the exit door, invited to suck it all up and stay. I didn’t. Like Truman I took my bow and walked into the darkness alone.
Pretty much all I did for the first year after dday was survive. That’s it. That was my accomplishment. I did it by staying away from more danger and by refusing to take more risks to my fragile self. People whose best material was to call me names, insult me, diminish my experience, insist they knew everything already, abandon me, blame me and shame me for being a strong independent woman who called herself a feminist—those people did not get my trust. I refused to meet with his CSAT therapist who had already labelled me co-addict/codependent without even a conversation. I refused to attend COSA meetings where I was expected to self-identify that way and accept shared responsibility for what he had done to me. I refused to meet his sponsor’s wife who wanted to explain everything about being codependent to me. Instead I hung onto myself. The hastiness of those wanting me to do the opposite made me suspicious. I chose the path called the “hermeneutics of suspicion” which asks us to challenge prevailing interpretations when those interpretations include diminishing women. (I acknowledge feminist theologian Dr. Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, who pioneered this term with respect to sacred texts and theologies.)
Once I gave my suspicions credence and rejected the diminishing of my identity and the pathologizing of my life through my then husband’s activities and character, my anger started to make a whole lot of sense. Everything about this experience smelled like someone else’s shit. From my then husband’s sexual and sexualized activities to, to the treatment industry’s model and claims of success unsupported by facts, research, or critical thinking—it all stank of misogyny and greed. And I was supposed to make a shit sandwich out of it and eat it in order to get better and get my husband back. “Why was I supposed to want him back?”, I wondered. He wasn’t anyone I would marry if he hadn’t been such a good liar, and the recovery life “experts” described sounded like a living hell. I was deep in grief and trauma but I was not going back for more abuse anytime soon. Even still, the habit of a relationship is hard to change. it took me 2.5 years to fully extricate myself from this marriage and require the relationship to change.
In that time I worked to remember myself instead of abdicate myself. I sought to affirm who I really was. I realized I always was a strong critical thinker. In amongst all the symptoms that terrified me every day with ambushes and predictable appearances, critical thinking had survived. Other strengths I used to count on were in jeopardy, but that one still showed up for work. I hung on to myself and as a result I could grab onto something that had survived the disaster and could help me. So much was gone, but this had remained.
I put that skill to work and researched like a mad woman—reading published material about sex addiction presented as “research” that wouldn’t have made the grade in high school. Once I went to one of the popular treatment center websites (now closed) run by a CSAT who was often interviewed by the media. He still has many blogs about the topics of sex addiction and now presents himself as “pro-partner”. Back then, he had an online questionnaire for wives and partners to test their “codependence”. (This questionnaire was still there as recently as about 5 years ago.) I took the questionnaire. I only answered one question with “yes”. That question asked if I was worried about the financial impact of my husband’s addiction. My results said that I was probably a codependent, should contact them for an appointment, and needed to get to a COSA meeting, pronto! I’m not kidding. The perfectly understandable financial worry created by my then husband’s secret life was enough to land me in codependent purgatory with this “expert.” This was beyond stupidity. It was terribly wrong—a charlatan’s trick to make me afraid of myself and buy what he was selling. In that moment, my resolve to resist and challenge the abuses of CASRD men (and the industry that protected them) galvanized within me.
I believe it is vital for wives and partners to hear that same message that I heard:“Hang on to yourself”. In the noise of people covering up, protecting and advocating for the abuser, the victim needs to take her stand. In the quick reflex of the industry to ask us to doubt ourselves and donate even more to the black hole of a critically unsupported treatment model, join me in the hermeneutics of suspicion and ask why do they need to diminish and disempower you in order to fix him?
The path for healing never begins with a lack of hospitality for your lived experience, a neglect of your safety, or making your trauma care needs less important than his. Hang on to your life. The moment you retain or recover control of your life is the moment you disempower abusers. Of course, that will never make you the popular girl—in your primary relationship, in the treatment industry, in patriarchal faith-based organizations, and sadly, often in your own family.
The premise of the movie The Truman Show was always deeply troubling to me. It was also implausible. How could anyone be so gullible as to believe people participating in a giant lie every single day? It was implausible until the day I ran through the fake horizon of my life, the same way Truman’s sailboat ran through the fake horizon of his life. There was no going back to believing it was real. But the second challenge was to see how the lying rebirthed itself in a treatment industry with no credible research under its assumptions, its model, or its practice to justify any claim that it would actually help you. The relational gymnastics they prescribed protected CASRD men from being identified as domestic abusers, and the wives and partners from being identified as victims of domestic abuse. If I hadn’t hung on to myself I don’t know how I would have kept from slipping over the cliff of suicidality. So unbearable was the prospect of living with the cognitive dissonance required to play along with the lies that I could not have survived it. I could not live knowing that those lies had become squatters on the prime real estate of my heart, soul, mind and body. I would have had to disappear altogether. I didn’t. I hung on to myself.
So where did that message come from in my life and how did it survive the assault to the integrity of my being? Abuse had so deconstructed me over three decades (with the one-two punch of my ex and his accomplice, his mother) that it had finally reached my core. It was a final battle of sorts. My last defence. And at the core of me was the only truth I needed to win that battle—“Your life is sacred. Hang on to yourself.” Wives and partners often lose that battle trying to hang on to him, to a lifestyle, to a fake life, to an image, to someone else’ approval, etc. The first and only order of the day is to hang on to yourself. If you go down, there is no one in this story who is going to come after you. That’s not your part in their script. When you choose to hang on to yourself, you shut their entire script down and start honoring your own life and everything that it is worth. And as far as I am concerned that is the most sacred first calling of your life.
What’s interesting about The Truman Show ending, is that the creator of the great deception perpetrated on Truman his whole life long understood the value of Truman the way our abusers understand us. Here’s that exchange again:
Truman Burbank: Was nothing real?
Christof: You were real... that's what made you so good to watch.
Wives and partners are in the same situation. We were picked because we were real. And part of the CASRD’s pleasure in creating and maintaining a secret life, was our innocence and ignorance about it. We made it good to watch.
Let there be no doubt. A secret life from your wife, partner, family is abuse. But after discovery we can take over the meaning and value of the real person in the relationship. In the face of more of the same from these men, the treatment groups and whoever else sticks their oar in, you hang on to yourself. Be real, and refuse to participate in anything that tries to make you less, accept less, or live for less. No one’s healing can be built out of diminishing another human being. That’s just another lie upon all the other lies.
Hang on to yourself.
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