Friday, March 11, 2011

Holding onto Shame/Letting Go of Secrets

It comes in phases. 13 years later, it still creeps up on me, rattles around my mind, strides across my memory. Lately, it's lost its power. I can say the words without a racing heart, sweaty palms or fear of judgement. 13 years later, it's not as tangible as it once was. Breathe.

Most of us grow up learning there are certain family secrets that we don't share with people outside our family.  Then there are the shameful bits that we don't discuss outside our immediate family, if at all. As we get older, we begin to collect our own secrets, our own shame, develop our own list of indiscretions. I have come to believe that the healing begins when you can refer to it as a bad choice. When you are no longer the victim, but a willful participant who can accept an appropriate amount of blame, and still recognize that while not a victim per se, we were not alone in the situation.  When it no longer makes you hang your head, no longer weighs on your shoulders, pops up in the middle of your day- that is when the secret, the shame loses its power.

Throughout the last 13 years I have battled with my secret. I tell some, then not others. I had nightmares, saw faces in a random crowd, feared confrontation: a bitch-slap in front of my in-laws, a drink thrown in my face while out with friends at a bar, worried about being side-swiped while driving through the town where much of it all happened. This is all very dramatic and unlikely to happen, but I still feared it.

I recognize that not everyone would understand. Most of us can't fully empathize unless we have been through a similar situation or know someone who has. That is human nature. It is easy to judge when you hear a story third-hand or without knowing all the facts. Regardless, I admit that my secret involves me being selfish, fearful, ugly and dishonest. The years immediately following my secret, I made a hundred terrible choices all in an effort to distance myself from the shame, to build up a wall to block it, to prove to everyone else that I wasn't that bad of a person. None of those hundred terrible choices made me feel the shame the original secret did. The funny thing is, if you talk to enough people, my secret is not shocking, it's not outrageous, not everyone thinks I'm doomed to spend eternity in hell, because many people have experienced something similar.

Also, I admit that at this point, it's not much of secret. Enough people know about it that it's becoming just an event in my past...and less of a shameful secret. I'm the girl who drinks too much and then spills all my dirty stories. I'm a drink and purge kind of girl-not vomiting, but confessing my deep, dark past to the people I feel connected with. It's a way of unburdening myself, and testing the friendship. It's the method I used when I met Husband. Right away I told him everything because if he wasn't willing to stick around, I wasn't interested in pursuing it. Laid it all out on the table, well, the bar. If he couldn't handle it then he was free to go without either of us having invested much time. Lucky for me, he stuck around.

This is a rambling post, but the point of it all is this: 1. We all have secrets that feel heavy to us, but in reality aren't that big. 2. Shame only exists if we allow it to, but it's a hard thing to shake. 3. Women carry the secrets, we carry the burden of our family secrets and our own. We hold the key to acceptance, forgiveness, absolution. Women hold the power in a family and that comes with responsibilities.

Recently I have discussed my secret, and while I believe it caused distance in one relationship, it went unnoticed, unjudged in two others. There is something lost for me because I am not the perfect, untouched, undamaged person that the relationship needed. It makes me angry and resentful, but also, I give up on trying because it's out of my hands. If I'm judged on a bad choice I made 13 years ago, then that person's affection/approval is not important to me. I recognize there is danger is sharing secrets because while you may feel unburdened, the other party might take on that burden because they don't know how to handle it. Yet if they care, they will find a way to make it unimportant because your relationship matters most.

Thank you to my friends for letting me share and not making me feel judged. Thank you to my friends, and my husband, who love me despite my bad choices in the past, who understand that those choices made me who I am now.

1 comment:

  1. This is exactly how I feel.
    I let my family know about my mistake, an abortion, and I lost a lot of people in my life.