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.