Truth, Responsibility and Freedom

It’s 4.30am. Somehow the waves seem louder at this time of almost-day. The voluminous crash washes over my half-made thoughts. It’s a welcome intrusion. I try and use it to rinse the anxiety already waking up inside me. I am waiting for 6am, looking forward to our newly habitual walk to freedom, somewhere between 6 and 9. These walks leave me thinking about what it means to be truly “free”. To be told when you can and can’t leave your home is not real freedom, even though it feels like it for now. But, I get it! It’s my “responsibility” to stick to the rules. Although, whose responsibility is it to feed the people? We pass a man ploughing a pop-up suburban field. Now that is a man with a better contribution to make than me.

We take a long walk to a local farmhouse to see if we can buy chicks. The freedom to walk where you choose is one thing. But, the freedom to walk and talk alongside someone that you feel you can be so completely open with and they will still love you, is an entirely different thing. Just like we should have more than one word for “love”, we should perhaps have more than one word for “freedom” too. There are many freedoms.

A few people have asked me to write more about my divorce. I’ve had to think about this and why I have not written more before. One reason would be that it is far from over yet. The unfortunate thing about relationships that end badly is that everything that was bad remains and everything that was good evaporates into a vague ether. You start to wonder if it was even real. There’s an odd kind of grief to finding fictions in your own reality. Something vacuous about realising that it was other than what you thought or hoped it would be. I am sure for her, just as much as for me. However, there is perhaps no greater freedom than the truth. For me, divorce has been my greatest act of truth so far. There is freedom in truth, no matter how painful it is at first.

I can remember that moment that the truth first distilled in me. I was with, then, friends in the Transkei – walking. I felt free. The realisation felt free: I was not happy and yet I felt I should be free to be happy. I no longer wanted my life to be entirely hinged on a responsibility for someone else’s happiness. That is an easy mistake for a therapist to make. To make the happiness of other’s your responsibility. But, that doesn’t start in your psychology training, that starts in your childhood. I find myself sitting with my son, asking him why he doesn’t want to tell his mom the truth “I don’t know,” he sobs “I just don’t want to upset her even more.” I watch the shaping of myself in him.

As I sit here, my phone is heavy with messages received in the night. As I unlock my phone, I open the door into other people’s lives. What an odd yet beautiful freedom? To share in the lived experience of other people’s lives. A client writes: “Random thought, easier to type…I feel like I want someone to get me, to understand my shitty choices, to empathise, someone I don’t have to explain them to. Someone who doesn’t question but just accepts me for all my broken bits. I feel like this is everyone’s goal. In my aloneness I am actually exactly the same as everyone else. Except I don’t have my person. I should, but there are so many caveats. Mostly the ones I’ve put there because he has so many limits. That’s heartbreaking.”

I asked her if I could share this because I think it speaks for so many people. And, yes, this is “everyone’s goal”. To feel alone within your relationship is the real “lockdown”. In these situations it is not about the choice between staying or leaving. It is more about the question of what the truth will do. Along what path will it take you? Clients come to therapy because, somewhere inside them, they are finding the courage to take that path. It takes you where you need to go.

“I am just going to roll with it.” Another client tells me this week. She has started to recount her entire life and how feelings of “responsibility” run deep into her childhood. Fortunately, she is doing so with great compassion for those in her life story. Sometimes, however, finding compassion for ourselves (especially our younger selves) is not so easy. I asked her to think of herself as a young girl. What was she going through? “I can’t even imagine her”, she answers. The feeling of responsibility for our parent’s can rob us of aspects of our own childhoods.

What is our individual responsibility? What is the actual truth? What does it mean to be free? These are the questions we will find ourselves having to answer.

“The strength of a person’s spirit would then be measured by how much ‘truth’ he could tolerate, or more precisely, to what extent he needs to have it diluted, disguised, sweetened, muted, falsified.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

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