“…the problem with reservoirs is that they take a very long time to fill but they can be drained by one hole in the dam. The actions of one person can destroy what took hundreds of people years to build.”
James Comey, A Higher Loyalty
Recently, I watched The Comey Rule on Showtime. I initially thought this miniseries was going to be centered around the presidency of Donald Trump. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was actually about the former FBI director James Comey, who was fired shortly after Donald Trump became president. The quotation above is one Mr. Comey spoke to a group of prosecutors who were beginning new careers. He wanted them to know how important their jobs were in keeping the confidence and trust of the American people in the values of the criminal justice system. Theirs would be a job built on years of work that others before them had been building. It was their responsibility to make choices that would continue to protect and not harm this reservoir of trust. No matter what you may or may not believe about James Comey, there are a lot of different opinions about him since Trump fired him from his position, what he said is still true. Trust takes much time to gain, but can be lost in only a moment.
While I do not have anything in common with James Comey, reading his biography has been a healing balm to my soul. His words resonate deeply with me, and I am sure with others who believed in any system that left them feeling hopeless when the reservoir drained.
When we lose faith in the systems we once believed were good, truth can become very elusive and so can hope. This can be true of any kind of system, whether it is the criminal justice system, a religious system, or even our family systems.
Lately, in a trauma coaching program I enrolled in, I have been studying about the effects of a dysfunctional family system on the individuals who are a part of it. Just as reservoirs of trust can be built and strengthened through generations, so can unhealthy systems of denial that place loyalty to the system above anything else. This was the kind of system that I grew up in. I felt a responsibility in it to keep it’s secrets safe. This pattern continued into adulthood and later resulted in me becoming a part of another dysfunctional system in a church.
The sober reality is that unstable systems continue until individuals in them are able to recognize the faulty system and find the courage to bring about their own individual change.
Making those individual changes is the work that I have been engaged in for the past several years through therapy and education. It has been a long and difficult journey, and one that I could not have survived without the support of safe people who were trustworthy.
Learning how to trust again can be a most difficult task after having been a part of a system that proved to be untrustworthy, especially if this system was your family or your church.
If you spend much time watching the news or scrolling through social media these days, it can seem almost impossible to find even a trustworthy source of information that isn’t skewed towards one political side or the other. This can be a re-traumatizing reminder that people are more loyal to a faulty system than they are to what is most important.
Finding trustworthy people is a process that begins by asking ourselves what is most important to us.
These are some of the questions that I have asked myself on my personal healing journey:
What did you really want from your parents that you never got? What did you long to hear from the abusive church leader who you initially believed was good? What did you hope to accomplish when you decided to join the church?
I think if we all could sit in a group together and talk we would discover that most of us want the same things; love, acceptance, validation, belonging, truth and safety are just a few things that come to my mind.
This is why James Comey’s book has meant so much to me. He refused to compromise the value system built by many faithful members before him for the sake of loyalty to a broken political system. He knew that any system not held together by the integrity of it’s members was sure to eventually fall and crush everyone who was a part of it.
I have discovered the journey of learning how to trust begins with learning how to trust myself again. I have been able to do this by honoring my own values inside of myself first through self-compassion.
People like James Comey have taught me that there are others who are committed to a value system higher than the broken ones we see. This gives me the courage to continue to believe that a better way is possible.
Jesus was another one Who believed a better way was possible, too. Despite the abuse I have seen in His name, I still believe that the truth will set us free and that love will be the force that will change the world. He is the only who promises a full reservoir that will never be drained.