(The following article is based on the new book: The Accidental Truth, by Lauri Taylor.)
In 2006, I received dreadful news. My mother, Jane, had died under unusual circumstances. Her body was found on a remote desert in Baja, Mexico, and her death was being investigated as a murder.
I felt shocked, and then profound grief kicked in. Emotionally raw and battered, I could no longer pretend I was okay and that everything in my life was perfect, because clearly it was not. Truth, it turns out, begets truth — and soon, my whole life was about facing truths I had been too afraid to see or too afraid to accept.
Searching For the Truth
The first truth I faced was that I could not rest until I hunted down my mother’s killer. Never mind that there was a murder investigation being conducted in two countries and that I was a suburban housewife with zero investigative credentials. I became nearly obsessed with finding the person responsible for my mother’s death. My grief gave me permission to find a voice for my mother and for myself. I asked investigators difficult questions, demanded answers and got them.
Truth, it turns out, begets truth — and soon, my whole life was about facing truths I had been too afraid to see or too afraid to accept.
When I say “difficult questions,” I don’t just mean questions about murder weapons and blood stains and killer’s motives — although those were part of the mix. There were also tough questions about my mother: Why did she have a tattoo across her hips that none of her family knew about? Did she have a secret lover? Was she a drug addict?
Beyond the investigation, there were also devastating questions about our rocky relationship: Had I let her down? Was I in some way responsible for her death? Did she even love me?
The answers were not always easy to accept.
For four years, I worked to find out what had happened to my mother. I hired two experts, including a former FBI profiler, to help me crack the case. In the end, what I discovered was shocking but ultimately freeing: there was no killer to blame. The evidence pointed to the fact that my mother had taken her own life.
Uncovering A Mental Illness
The news was so devastating that I sought therapy to understand what was happening to me and what had happened to my mother.
My sisters followed suit, and that led to a whole second, far deeper layer of truth telling. We discovered that our mother had most likely lived with Borderline Personality Disorder. The diagnosis was ascertained by a therapist who counseled all of my sisters and me, and determined that our upbringing, “our normal,” was not entirely normal by therapeutic standards.
A light turned on and many of my own patterns of behavior suddenly made sense to me. I was the consummate people pleaser, often at the expense of my own happiness. As the child of a parent living with a personality disorder, I had learned that my caretaker’s happiness was my responsibility. This caused me to live in a perpetual state of inauthenticity — only happy when others were happy with me and guilt-ridden when they were not.
Living inauthentically is living in denial, unable or unwilling to face and accept life’s hard truths. And it is like quicksand. Not only do we remain stuck, powerless to grow or move forward, we begin to sink into the abyss of a false life, lacking connection and purpose.
Using Experience And Finding Wisdom
Life experience has a way of shaping us, though. We are all older now — older and a little bit wiser. Maturity gives us the courage to stand firmly, facing what is scary and uncomfortable rather than turning away and pretending it is not there. In this way, we gain control over it and it loses its power to hurt us any longer. I found this to be the case while writing my memoir, The Accidental Truth, a deeply intense, yet cathartic undertaking.
When I began to outline the book, I struggled with whether I had a right to even tell my story. This confusion was a natural extension of what I had learned as my mother’s child.
Did I have a right to do anything solely for myself? The answer was a resounding, “yes.” I was fortunate to work with an amazing book coach, Jennie Nash, who teaches memoir at the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program, and also coached me one-on-one. Jennie walked me through the process and gave me the confidence to tell my story respectfully and compassionately, but also with total authenticity and transparency.
In the last chapter of The Accidental Truth, I share a personally-defining moment where wisdom and maturity helped me to face my fears and finally let go. One night on a dark road near my home, I came across an accident. A dog had been hit, and the driver had run. I pulled over, got out, and for a brief moment, felt that old familiar wave of guilt — as if it was my fault, as if I was to blame, as if I could have somehow made this accident of fate better.
But that night, I stopped those old patterns and rested in the new way I had learned to look at the world. I could not control someone else’s fate. The truth was the dog was dying and there was nothing I could do for him other than to be present to comfort him as he took his final breaths.
To be present for life’s sorrows and pains, and accept the truths left in their wake — that is where I have at long last found my peace.
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