Nobody will believe you. Those were the words of my defense attorney. More specifically, “[nobody] will buy, for a second, that you are somehow the victim in all of this.”
This was his response when I asked whether I could tell the truth in court. Those were the moments he grew the most irate. He never seemed too agitated when the prosecutor would spin lies in legal briefs or when some mistruth floated about the media. He was always so calm and cool then, steadily advising me to remain silent.
But something about telling the truth triggered him. He would get aggressive, raising his voice and questioning my faith in him. When that didn’t work, he’d reach out to my family, complaining how I’m acting erratically. Funny enough, those tactics worked, though I never understood why it did.
It was apparent to everyone except me that I had lost all credibility the moment I got indicted. So when I spoke, I couldn’t comprehend how poorly regarded my words would be. I didn’t see what everyone around perceived me to be.
I thought I was the same person, but I wasn’t. We forget how dependent we are on each other. Sure, we talk about the importance of self-esteem and not letting others get you down. But it’s empty rhetoric. We say one thing and forget it the next minute.
In reality, our self-esteem is intrinsically linked to how others treat us. It’s how we form our identity. The way people treat us determines how we treat ourselves. So when my lawyer treated me one way, it defined how my family saw me. When the attorney told me I had to plead guilty, that’s what my family came to believe. If I resisted, I was derided.
“You’re still not getting it”
“Have you even said you’re sorry”
“Who do you think you are, arguing with the attorney”
These were the refrains that formed the song of my life. I heard them over and over until accepting them was all that I had. But the funny thing about lies is that no matter how many times they’re told, they’re never fully accepted.
Sure the veneer encrusts over to where it feels real, but the cracks are there, subtle though they may be. The cracks were where I hid throughout the legal proceedings and my time away – parroting lies as necessary, but holding on the truth however I could.
The moment I was free and able, I ripped apart the cracks, laying waste to any pretense that I would accept what I always knew was a lie. Reflexively, the refrains returned.
“You still haven’t learned anything”
“Look at what you did to your family”
“Even after all this time, you haven’t said sorry”
It still hurts to hear, even today. But enduring a life of lies is far more painful. So I speak out. I tell the truth to whoever will listen. In reality, it would be easier to go along with the lie. I would simply tell the world I’m sorry and the world would believe me. And we would all go along for the ride.
But I somehow can’t get myself to conform – even when I’m speaking to someone who I know doesn’t believe me. I can tell by the cut of the eyes and the contours of the lips. Those are the tells. I’ve encounter it far more often than I care to admit. The world prefers a comforting lie over the painful truth.
“Honesty is stronger medicine than sympathy, which may console but often conceals”, wrote Gretel Ehrlich. Nowhere is this quotation truer, ironically enough, than in healthcare, which is still grappling to figure out why nothing seems to curb the escalating overdose rates.
Those who know have been silenced or discredited. So nobody believes them. When I challenge the prevailing narratives, I’m challenged. When I discredit the legal case against me, I become discredited. Lies are funny like that. Even when we know they’re lies, we accept them and conceal the truth.
My attorney was wrong for what he did. But he was right about one thing: I’m not a victim. No, I’m a good physician. And somehow, I’ll reveal the truth even if for now nobody believes me.