• Jake Russell

A Kind of Prayer, I Think

The way my memory tells it, I was around six years old when I began lying.

I had a friend at school called Timmy who had a real crush on our teacher, and at breaktime he and I would go and sit on the low wall that ran along the edge of the playground where I’d recount the latest instalment from my previous night’s entirely made-up adventures rescuing the object of his desire.

The stories were utterly preposterous. Every episode was a slightly incoherent fusion of scenes from the film, Back To The Future (featuring my hero, the guitar-playing, gilet-wearing, holding-onto-cars-while-skateboarding, Marty Mcfly) and lyrics from my favourite Michael Jackson song, Smooth Criminal. There’s that line that goes, “He came into her apartment, he left bloodstains on the carpet” which, with a slight adjustment to: “I came into her apartment and I found bloodstains on the carpet,” would serve as the opening to every single part of the story (and never seemed to arouse Timmy’s suspicions).

Anyway, after spotting the bloodstains on the carpet I’d invariably find no other sign of our teacher and ascertain through my well-honed 6-year-old’s powers of investigation that she’d been kidnapped (yet again). This would set in motion a quest of unerring heroism and brilliant skateboarding to (yet again) rescue her (presumably, now I’m remembering it, to give credence to the fact that here she was teaching us that day in school entirely unharmed from all the goddamn kidnapping she’d been through).

Yes, the stories were more or less identical every time and just as ludicrous. But Timmy believed every word and absolutely loved them. And I loved telling them. How easy it suddenly was to feel special, admired, accepted, to have someone pay attention. It was a rush, and I fell in love with the sensation.

I began making up more stories, more lies. And I worked out how to protect my lies, how to ring-fence them—by only telling a certain demographic susceptible to belief (providing the hit I craved) and wouldn’t, or so I gambled, mix with certain other demographics susceptible to truth. Put another way, I told my gullible friends stuff I’d never tell my family.

But the years went by, my lying became more frequent, more familiar, less rewarding, the dopamine hit not as strong and I yearned for those early highs.

By the time I was 14 I needed something stronger, something higher stakes.

So, one September I think it was, I told my family a scout from Arsenal Football Club, the team I just so happened to support and be completely in love with, had come to see me play for my school team and he was so impressed with what he saw he signed me as a professional player there and then. Arsenal and my school would work together to privately train me until I was ready to play for the first team. Honestly. I mean, not honestly, but honestly, that’s what I told my family, and quite unbelievably I kept the lie going—with myriad permutations and intricate additions and narrative substitutions that really did my head in trying to keep track of—for two whole years.

Two years. Everyone was so proud of me, my grandparents told all their friends, everyone would ask me how football with Arsenal was going, I had friends of friends of family jokingly ask for my autograph, seeking my opinions, holding me in high esteem. Just like Timmy, my family believed me. What’s more, I felt as if they believed in, and loved, me for it. The rush was immense. But it was also exhausting, the effort at pretence, the come down, was beginning to far outweigh the high.

Knowing I needed out, I told everyone I’d been dropped by Arsenal and that was that. And I really did hope that would be that. Not so. As with all big fibs, sooner or later, the truth must out. And the way it happened still makes me goolie-cringe thinking about it now.

My mum, being my mum, called my school PE teacher, Mr Williams, (a bit of a bully with a hard case of small man syndrome) demanding to know why I’d been dropped by Arsenal. And the rest, as they say, was goolie-cringing history.

Except it wasn’t. Because despite the humiliating pain of having to admit to almost everyone that’d I’d been lying, I didn’t stop. I couldn’t, I was addicted to the feeling it created, compelled to try over and over to fill a void.

And while the void itself never changed in form, my choice of fillings have.

Around the same time as becoming a fictional footballer at Arsenal I began a teenage fling with anorexia. I was a bit flubby, not exactly fat, and I figured the only way I’d achieve the slim physique I coveted, which would once and for all make me fine and desirable, was to more or less stop eating, which I did as far as I could in secret, and kept going for about two years too. In truth, my anorexic fling has never fully flown the nest. I require total honesty with myself, still today, to ward it off. Its insidious little tentacles continually flick and tickle at my soul, tempting me with dishonesty at every chance they get.

More recently, following a heart-smashing breakup 6 years ago or so, I invested my resources of compulsive energy, never far from reach in me, into that most unrewarding scheme, cocaine. I was diligent and committed with it and for three years I really went to town (Shoreditch, mainly actually), living out fantasies of different kinds. Just like the lying and the secretive starvation, it was an expression, mangled and introjected, of rejection and pretence.

Because all along, from story time with Timmy to Cocaine time with just about anybody, my dishonesty wasn’t simply about seeking the acceptance (the love) of others, it was about not being able to accept (and love) myself.

I’ve always had a sense, for as long as I remember anyway, that my relationship with honesty is the central relationship in my life. Because doesn’t honesty represent the grown, adult, loving self? While dishonesty is the little wounded child who believes he’s not good enough as he is.

I no longer tell such fantastic, whopping lies. In fact, a deep, perhaps the deepest, part of my daily practise is to watch for the fork-in-the-road moments that offer the choice between honesty and pretence, and, like a compassionate father, I try to gently guide and encourage that little child who feels compelled to lie, back into the fold of my full being, and embody authenticity instead. I don’t always succeed, but I try my best.

I haven’t written this for effect, for storytelling, for pretence, at least not entirely anyway. I’ve taken a couple of days to check. To make sure it’s not a dishonest act. And in fact, I write it as a kind of prayer I think, to both honour and accept myself and anyone who reads it and might relate, which I have a feeling, might be more than not. Because, far from banishing him to the far away land of history for lying, for telling fibs, for wanting to be thin, for snorting disgusting shit off toilets and backs of bins, I’d like to thank that inventive, clever, young and wounded child, little Jake, who had something missing that he so needed and worked out how to get just enough of to see him through. Good on you, thank you. You did a fine job, my friend, you lying little cokehead. But your work is done, you can have a rest. I’ll take over now to make my way, and I’ll let you come along, in the fold, safe and sound.

So be it, and with love,

(Big) Jake x

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