Life is a stage and each individual is the star of his or her own personal production. When the curtains open and we begin our performance, our production is sometimes comedic, sometimes dramatic or maybe melodramatic, sometimes a parody but always intensely important to us. In the on-going drama of our lives, we collect props that either enhance or detract from our performance—romantic partners, careers, possessions, children, friends and a set of beliefs that emanate from our core and dictate how we approach the performance of our life. We hope that when the curtain closes on our life’s performance we will be remembered fondly as an individual who performed/lived well. We hope that those who have watched our performance will only remember the times we delivered our lines flawlessly and that they will forget those moments when we failed, forgot our lines or fell.
Life is a stage and we each perform in our own personal production—we live our lives with the curtains open—in the spotlight and full view of others. We have parts of our story that we keep hidden behind the back curtain—out of view of the audience. But for the most part, we live out in the open on the stage of life. From time to time, we need to retreat behind the back curtain of our stage—to lick our wounds, to rest or to contemplate the deeper meaning of our story. We might even invite one or two audience members to the dark recesses behind the back curtain—they are granted a “back stage pass” to our performance. We might eventually gain the courage to bring some of the hidden props out from behind the back curtain for our general audience. You know, our deepest fears, insecurities and parts of ourselves that we are not particularly proud of. When we find the courage to expose these deeper, hidden parts of our story, we often find that our audience loves our story even more. They can identify with the deeper parts and with our vulnerability in exposing them. And we grow more authentic as a performer on the stage of our life.
But there are individuals who never allow the curtain to open but instead their entire life’s performance is conducted in front of the curtain. They create an elaborate series of props, smoke and mirrors to convince the audience that what they are seeing is really behind the curtain; that the performer is revealing himself authentically. And they are so convincing primarily because the props they collect for their performance lend legitimacy to the deception of the performance. They collect relationships and credentials that are impressive, all intended to convince the wary viewer that the facade in front of the curtain is the reality. They become part contortionists and part projectionists. When questioned about the authenticity of their performance, they will contort themselves into believable scenarios in order to convince the skeptic of the validity of their performance. Or they will project their fears and anxieties or blame onto the skeptic and play the victim role.
I was in a long-term relationship to an individual who performed his “life” in front of the curtain but lived his real life behind the curtain. The man behind the curtain had secrets from childhood that he never revealed completely—oh he brought out tiny bits and pieces when they could contribute to the elaborate deception that he had created. But the core truths were never revealed—truths about who he was, what he believed and what he wanted in life. And he was so believable, an academy-award-worthy performance. He had all the props he needed to bolster his position—credentials, education, experience and expertise. And I became another of his props, one that was entirely disposable when it no longer contributed to the ruse. I spent many years trying unsuccessfully to know the man behind the curtain. The more determined I became to really know him, the tighter he held the curtains together to his real life—he was just as determined to keep me from knowing him as I was in knowing him.
Something about his performance didn’t ring true to me and I questioned him gently, in anger and in tears. Each time of questioning led to more pain and estrangement and required me to either believe his performance and deny my gut or leave the relationship. In the end, I grew tired of the effort and was making steps to exit the relationship primarily because I was reconnecting with my gut—that “knowing” in the pit of the stomach. My gut told me that there was more to this man than what I saw in his performance—that there was a lot of hidden life and core issues behind the curtain—that the curtain even existed. Before I had my exit strategy fully in place, however, life came in and tore his curtain down and exposed the hidden depravity behind that fiercely guarded piece of fabric. Suddenly everyone knew his secrets and the ramifications were horrendous.
The man behind the curtain is an incredibly wounded and broken man; a man who has struggled with pedophilia his entire life; a man addicted to child pornography; a man who had learned to embrace and celebrate this part of himself, thanks to a very misguided, unethical and criminal therapist. The man behind the curtain had secrets that he told no one, except for his colluding therapist—not his best friend of 40 years, not his sister and certainly not his wife. He had created such a convincing set of props to support his performance and to add legitimacy to his perverted interest in children; he was considered an expert in child development particularly as it relates to spirituality. This gave him a legitimate reason to study children. Did he accomplish good things? Probably but no one will remember them because of the life he hid behind the curtain. Did he love his own children? Yes, and as one standing watch throughout their childhood, I believe he loved them in all the appropriate and good ways and none of the bad. Was he a good husband? Yes, for a number of years, probably. But that hidden part of his core being destroyed what “relationship” there was long before I was aware that it had been destroyed.
So now I am left with a tattered curtain and the evidence of his hidden life, most days it has been intolerable to examine the fragments that remain. But I am now able to sift through the debris and begin to see TRUTH more clearly than I have been able to withstand up to this point. And I am finding that truth, no matter how painful, is so much better than deception. I am finding that living and soaking in truth is healing and empowering, it is life giving. For far too many years, I lived in the shadow of that performance in front of the curtain, knowing and sensing that there was something deeper behind the performance. For far too many years I had to silence my gut, quiet my fears and go on believing what seemed unbelievable. Now I have been given the opportunity to live in the truth—not the way in which I would have chosen it but I am grateful nonetheless. Because truth sets us free.