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On keeping secrets

Nobody works 15 years in psychotherapy with thousands of patients in confidence without taking away some basic truths. This one may not be formal research but it is clinical and an extrapolation from experience I know for certain:

Everybody has a secret.

When you gain rapport and trust with people in pain they may eventually honor you with its revelation. And if you have any integrity, you will be thankful and keep your mouth shut about it forever except in session.

So no, I’m not going to share any anonymous case conversations shrouded to protect their identity for the sake of this story. So shame on you if you thought there might be a juicy tidbit to follow here, you misjudge me. But everybody has a deeply held, highly concealed, eat-a-hole-in-your-soul “i-had-no-idea!” secret.

I’ve had a couple and discovered much too late in life that secrets are deadly. Even more tragic: the prevailing belief you should keep them at all costs.

Sarah dies a little more each day, especially today. Now 36, tomorrow will be the 18th anniversary of the child she never knew and there will be no party, just her private celebration of regret like she’s done for the past 18 years every day and on this day. No festivities will be attended by family, friends or co-workers, the guy at the coffee counter she visits each morning nor the postman who brings the mail at 3pm today and every day without a single birthday card for the someone she never knew. No one will send salutations or gifts and none will know that her party is a very private one.

Keith has known since he was a little boy and has spent almost 20 years perfecting his own patterns of deceit, denial and plausibility. It’s a delicate façade he puts on each morning and runs with all day, every day. But at this rate, it’s taking more and more effort to maintain and costing way too much to repair the leaks and holes in its ever thinning facade. His soul is going broke but he’d rather live an impoverished inner life than enact any revelation of his secret because it’s his only known defense which ironically keeps him alive yet dead to his real self.

And their unrequited rampages continue unreported, for their secrets simultaneously make us all, like Sarah and Keith, both the victims and the killers of ourselves.

Everybody has a secret, and while the one who can keep a secret may be skilled, he’s not half as accomplished as the one with no secrets to keep. The greatest tragedy of keeping personal secrets from others is the belief that doing so keeps us alive.

Not so long ago I would have rather been caught dead than to reveal my own. And the irony of that belief was that indeed, dead is what I already was. I am a gay man and a Meth addict. Both celibate and sober for 12 years now, I have regrets, but no shame.

My secrets are no big news to most as I’ve spent the past dozen years of my life telling my stories and in turn, discovering that like Sarah and Keith, I’m not alone. As such, the friends I have maintained are much closer, my freedom to live is much richer, and the vast amounts of energy once wasted on concealing the secrets of my existence have been freed for use on more fulfilling things like helping people and writing short stories like this.

As a practicing therapist for 15 years treating those held captive by their secrets, watching their slow and painful deaths seated in front of me every fifty minutes for years, I concluded that most clients rarely escaped the same way they came in. I made a good therapist but a much better friend. Both roles were highly effective helping interventions for those seeking freedom from their haunts and lies.

People are dying to tell their secrets to those they know have had their own. Revelation of yourself produces revelations from others.

Can you keep a secret? I suppose so. But too many good people take them to the grave quite unnecessarily and thus, the moral of this story is no secret:

Share yours with a safe someone and be forgiven and free. You’re not really alive until you do.

Don’t be surprised if they are the ones serving your morning coffee or bringing your mail. They may be dying inside to share with you just a just little more.

it’s inside us

Christmas scares me.

Not the holiday itself but that each successive year, despite its ever earlier encroachment, it takes me progressively greater effort to summon the holiday spirit or conjure up a bright seasonal emotion which for decades seemed effortless.

Before Halloween has always been unreasonably out of the question, but before Thanksgiving they say, is now increasingly expected if you’re to enjoy the full value of the magic season even though half the country is still well over 73 degrees.

I say it’s just a little scary when it takes this much work to be merry.

So I went to WalMart.

If anything says Christmas in October, it’s WalMart, but then I found myself shopping retail for the best buy on a holiday goods soon to be marked down.

Then I turned on the radio station.

As if I wasn’t snapping into the season quick enough, 24/7 carols sang the tune, but then I questioned whether a song alone could or even should make such an instrumental shift in my attitude.

Over time, I tried several other near misses, disappointing myself at every turn. Baking, decorating, bad sweaters, none seemed capable of the transitional trick.

I once talked with my Mom about it and she shared with me some memories of earlier Christmastimes when the magic didn’t seem so difficult to come by. I called my kids and chatted about it some and we laughed a little at remembering their first Santa Claus moments. But if I recall, it wasn’t until my son, away at school at the time, said he was coming home for the holidays. That was when I felt things inside me change, much like that Grinch moment where he had encountered an obvious truth.

Christmas isn’t created by things and stuff and trappings. It’s inside people.

It’s our special stories, our humored histories and the secret gift searches we Google in talks with one another as the weather begins to change to hot chocolate and we all grow just a little bit closer.

And then suddenly one morning, that little something tips the scales just enough to conjure that Spirit we sought all along. And for the first time of the season, and certainly not the last, we utter our first “Merry Christmas” to a stranger, and indeed, it has arrived.

End times.

What people don’t seem to understand is that people have been living in the end times ever since we knew there would BE end times. Truth is, we have never not been living in the end times.

Signs predicted so long ago have been evident across every one of the thousands of generations since the beginning of mankind with each proclaiming that their years were the end times with fear and trembling and waving of hands.

We all have been absolutely correct in recognizing the signs both then and now. What’s been missing, however, is a more poignant discussion and critical call to action instructing us how to avoid being among its casualties.

the power of a good disposition.

It all started at 4am in an otherwise empty convenience store with my cheerier-than-usual “good morning.” It ended 30 minutes later, late to work but with a new best friend.
Miyisha was working graveyard on just two hours sleep as a fill-in for a sick coworker, but our last magical half hour together where I went for coffee unexpectedly amounted to a bond like lost siblings reunited.
I don’t usually click with people less than half my age but we ended up sharing life details of our years without edits, sang together to a song on the radio and showed the surveillance cameras just how badly we could dance.
We vowed to meet again without too much passing of time and hugged a happy Tuesday to one another before I drove across town to start my workday while hers was ending.
Though I’d come for coffee, the power of a good disposition and a genuine interest in the life of a stranger is what filled my cup. It reminded me of how church should feel, with unlimited free refills.


For no immediately apparent reason except having some free time on my hands, I did a weird thing. Very few of you are surprised.

I took inventory stuff I’ve allowed into my mind over these many years. Far from complete, it included thoughts, ideas, considerations of evil and good, the unspeakably secret, the imaginations and images, and the themes, worries, hopes, dreams and beliefs I’ve allowed to consume so much nogginmatter, complete with smiles, sweat, tears and all.

I do this kinda thing every so often. I find it’s the quickest and most efficient method of pride and ego control at times when I may be inclined to think a little more of myself than I should. A real humility builder.

The list is long. Really long. And while it contains many recollections of things good, noble and clean…the dirt, filth and sewage was a clear overpopulation.

As a man thinks, so his heart shall be. Proverbs 23:7

Your thoughts shape who you are.

Fortunately, most of my sewage is from years past and are long since forgiven. Changing the way you think about the world and your experience in it can mold a new perspective for your own future and for influencing those around you.

Resting easy.

This weekend I’ll be coming home with a little less baggage than I brought.

Visiting your kids might just be less about a vacation away from work than worry.

As a parent, we want to ensure for ourselves in person that they’re doing okay in the most important things. Like seeing that their marriages are solid and loving. Their kids are happy, well adjusted, and kind by nature. That the family business is thriving and providing for their needs. And that they’re engaged in doing good things for the world we live in.

Coming home with resolve in these matters is a unique kind of rest only parents can know and enjoy. The kind of lovely assurance that brings peace to our existence.

So my load home will be a little lighter and my heart will be a little merrier, and isn’t that what vacations are all about?


Not A. Not B. Not even a better C.
On the last day of vacation I chose to take a call right during the middle of a boarding pass competition like it was a sixth caller radio contest for Taylor Swift tickets.
The three minute delay placed me at the last boarding position on today’s flight home.
Was it worth it?
It was to the 81 year old widower 2,500 miles away looking for help to keep his power on so his oxygen machine would continue working.

Some choices we make.
Some choices are made just for us.

Goliath dreams

If they are allowed, needed, or even still relevant at all when I arrive in heaven, I need to ask God a question about dreams and why some are so disturbing, because even after a dozen years clean from meth, I’m still haunted by people and situations from my past that don’t end well. Waking up, I’m not tempted to use, but the experience leaves me with feelings I can’t explain like a Goliath of a tornado leveling what might otherwise have been a beautiful day.

Chutes ‘n Ladders

Most days I live my life on an upswing of hope and vision, yet only 40 years ago I never would have envisioned the changes I’ve seen and experienced to date in American culture.

While I may only have about 20 more remaining lucid years on board, life seems a lot more like chutes ‘n ladders these days.

I can spend what’s left watching this slippery slope continue its slide downhill from the bleachers or contribute what’s left of me from the sidelines for the building of a better, more formidable staircase.



You know what happens when you buy breakfast for a homeless guy?

He eats.

More than that, he doesn’t feel overlooked or avoided by everyone for yet another day of his invisible life.

He smiles.

His faith in strangers is renewed just a little, maybe even enough to bring him out of hiding into getting help for his mental health or addiction.

He cleans up.

Washes his hands and face for maybe the first time in a week while the food’s cooking and feels better for doing so.

He’s surprised

when you extend your hand for a shake after the meal, for no one has voluntarily reached out to touch him in a very long time.

He’s still homeless.

No plan, no pathway, no purpose, just one early morning experience of fellowship where many seeds were planted that may make the continuing of his dismal existence a little less attractive and his options for help a little moreso.

Then he walks away.