Dear Anyone Feeling Betrayed,
This could be an open letter about Anna March. It could be about any relationship with a person who hides giant, important aspects of themselves: their addictions, mental illness, infidelities. For anyone who feels betrayed. Humiliated. Conned. Dumb. Like they thought they were too smart for this. It would never happen to them. Because they have a nose for these things. But then it happens anyway.
I was 22 and a virgin when I met Jack. I’m using a different name, because I don’t know why. I loved him. He was an alcoholic, like my father, he was trouble, but he was everything I thought love was supposed to be. He was smart. We talked all night. We drunkenly and viscously fought. He thought I was gorgeous and told me so when I was sure I was the fattest girl in the room. He relentlessly pursued me until I acquiesced.
Anna March threw a huge fancy party for herself when she moved to LA, and everyone in the LA literary community went, because everyone else was going, and because the drinks were free. This is one of the ways she bought herself credibility, how she made us think she was a generous, good person—someone we could trust. Melissa Chadburn and Carolyn Kellogg recently wrote a deeply reported piece about Anna March’s long con.
I’m not here to talk about Anna March. Not really. I’m here to talk about betrayal and trauma, and how the former (whether its a new or ongoing betrayal) brings back into your present the latter.
Anna March hurt a number of people. She scammed people out of money. Often those people were young writers, people of color, victims of trauma. And the thing about trauma is that the feeling of it often comes back, and inside your body it feels like you are back in that traumatic place. Sometimes this comes out of nowhere, and sometimes it’s triggered, and sometimes something similar—like a betrayal, or confirmation of a betrayal, or everyone on your twitter feed talking about this betrayal, brings you right back to your trauma.
A lot of people on my social media feeds have said “I knew it,” “I had a gut feeling,” “I wouldn’t let myself be fooled.”
I was fooled, though I had a gut feeling too. I backed away from her because something seemed amiss. But before that, she was kind to me. She made an effort to see me, and to make me feel my writing was worthwhile, during a time when it was easy to tell myself I was no one and nothing. I believed her. Why else would someone take an interest in me? I had nothing to offer. She never asked me for money. I know she asked others. She did promise me jobs that fell through. I did do work I was never paid for. But I sort of expected that. It seemed she took on more than she could handle. She didn’t betray me, but she did betray others, and I was fooled too.
My ex-boyfriend fooled me as well. He took my virginity. A year later, I learned I was the girl on the side. I crumbled. My entire sense of self was erased. I did not trust men, or human beings, but most of all I didn’t trust myself. And I wouldn’t, for years. I hadn’t seen it coming. I didn’t have a gut feeling. I had let myself be fooled. I missed the red flags or watched them pass by because I was in love and I wanted to be loved. And when I walked out of his house, and I watched his main girl search his pockets for his keys, and they drove away, I screamed one continuous scream because how could I have been so wrong? I clearly had no idea how to judge reality, could not even discern if love was real or not, if love was just a very intricate construction of absolutely nothing, I could not trust my own body or my own mind or the world around me or the touch of anyone or any kind word that had ever been spoken because I was a mark, a moron, an idiot, a fool, a dumb girl conned out of her virginity.
And I was back to my childhood, back to learning about what men do to women in my family, learning all the men in my family lie, cheat on and humiliate their women, learning none of them can be trusted.
But in the end, that was not the story I wanted to tell myself.
To my friends, to my community of writers, to anyone hurting, I want to say that if you have been betrayed, you may have been fooled but you are not a fool. It may not have been the reality you thought it was but that doesn’t mean you are not a good judge of reality. All it means is that you have an open heart.
Was I naïve? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe my heart was open and I wanted to be loved. And that’s a good thing. After my ex, I shut down my heart. I refused to trust anyone again. I would only assume the worst of people. That’s how I would protect myself.
One of the best decisions of my life was to open my heart again in spite of him. To work to figure out what an open heart looked like. To trust again. Especially to trust myself again.
I tell myself even now, and this was the only way I could heal: He did love me, albeit in a backwards, incomplete, twisted, and deficient way. They all did: My ex, my family, even the worst members of my family, they did love me once, they may still love me now, and it was real. I wasn’t a fool. Neither are you.
The betrayers, the liars, the thieves—they have not devalued you. You have not been abandoned, though I know that’s what it may feel like. Their shortcomings have nothing to do with you. Because you have been betrayed doesn’t mean you are any less of a person.
For my own emotional well-being I choose to believe Jack loved me, he loved me once in a while, he loved me when he could, our connection was real. I didn’t imagine the relationship into being. It was all real. It just wasn’t enough to not break my heart.
I worry those who gave money to Anna March, or who simply accepted her compliments, are berating themselves for their foolishness. Please don’t. Keep your heart open. Keep writing. Keep dreaming. Keep making connections and nurture your creativity and your community.
I wasn’t just betrayed by an ex-boyfriend. I was constantly betrayed by family too, family that often acted as if they were enemies. I remind myself to accept that this is the way things are. I am not broken for it. I am not beyond repair. I am not unworthy of anything good. I am not less of a person, or a woman, or a writer than anyone else. And neither are you.
The bad was real. The bad was very, very real. But so was the good.*
*Another way to say this is, “Take what you like, and leave the rest.” Something said at every Al-Anon meeting. Al-Anon is a meeting of friends and family of those who have addictions (and often those with mental illness) Meetings are free, everywhere, and every day: https://al-anon.org