I can keep a secret. In fact, you can tell me something, and it’s like stashing it in a vault and losing the combination to the lock. I honor secrets and remain loyal to the tellers of secrets, sometimes almost to a ridiculous point. On more than one occasion, I have heard ‘the secret’ that I am supposedly keeping , from someone else, only to realize that the teller has moved on and divulged the news to others. Only then do I realize it’s no longer sensitive information or military clearance level intelligence, and yet, the secret remains tucked safely away. Yes, it’s true, I can keep a secret.
When we were kids, my brother, older by 9 years, found it entertaining to ‘torment’ his younger sister in a variety of ways, endlessly sending me screaming, “moooom” even though it meant he’d get in trouble. On nights he was supposed to be ‘babysitting’ me, he would have his buddies over and they would inevitably end up smoking in the garage or backyard. I, of course was terrified into secrecy and true to form, held that secret ever so tightly. Even when he teased me to a point of despair, my loyalty remained firmly in tact, as if some code had been imprinted upon me. As a teenager, he tried once to light a match on our bathroom mirror and despite the fact that I can’t remember if that even works (does anyone know?), what I do know is that for years of Saturday after Saturday doing chores with our mom, during which she would ask if I knew anything about the two scratches on the mirror, I would just shake my head and tell her I had no idea. I kept that secret for over twenty years; not divulging my knowledge of the truth nor confessing my lies over the years until on a visit home from college one summer.
What is the knocking at the door in the night?
It is somebody wants to do us harm.
No, no, it is the three strange angels.
Admit them, admit them.
Why keeping secrets comes naturally to me is something of which I am not entirely sure. The upside of this, of course, is that your secrets are safe with me. The price is that I am equally adept at keeping my own secrets, and the cost is assessed when I hold my own secrets so tightly because I am unable, or unsure about what to share, when to share, and how much and with whom.
It’s been said, we have all heard it, and perhaps used it with our kids; the truth will set you free.
Recently, when I shared some secrets I had been holding, tucked away tightly in the vault, for years, I was met with a couple of surprises. First and foremost, it was news to me that my secrets weren’t so secret after all. I chose to confide in a small handful of people and unanimously, they each responded with their own version of “I am not surprised”. In the first conversation, when I heard this response, I raised my eyebrows; in the the second conversation, the eyebrows arched a little higher. During the third and fourth? Eyebrows remained suspended and my jaw dropped, with OMGs falling out. My secrets were apparently not so secret. Except from me, it seemed.
But what surprised me the most? Upon telling my own secrets, out tumbled – one by one – the secrets of those in whom I confided. I was moved by how my once hidden truths, now exposed, seemed to serve as an invitation to each of my companions to open up and let their own secrets come out. And yes, they remain safe with me.
I found that as the secrets merged from the shadows, into the light, they no longer held the same power. I had allowed the secrets to envelop me in embarrassment and fear, not to mention, an inability to take action. But when I realized that the burden of holding it all in outweighed my impulse to avoid the truth, I knew I had finally arrived at a place where I was no longer afraid of these secrets – truths really – and could finally open the door, and admit them. To myself and eventually to others. It was a series of tipping points that nudged me every step along the way, and once the truths were out, it was as if I were Dorothy when she doused the Wicked Witch of the West with water…the gripping power they had held over me just seemed to melt.
I had it wrong all these years. After spilling my beans…
…I felt a hundred pounds lighter each time I opened up and shared the truth.
That makes sense.
…I felt a hundred times closer to the friends and family I already trusted.
That makes sense.
…I felt a hundred times more trusted, by the other person.
That makes sense.
…I felt a hundred times more empowered, more free.
It makes sense now. The truth can set you free.
I learned about my friends and family in new ways as they learned about me and we each allowed the other to spill our messy secrets upon the table we shared.
In each instance, I felt a new depth in our connection, emboldened by truth and transparency. Things we had never dared bring to the table, into the light, suddenly connecting us in ways unanticipated. Somehow, truths shared normalized the experience of the other and I realized how much we under estimate our impact on others. How much I look to others is perhaps how much they look to me?
Honesty begets honesty. Truth begets truth.
From one of my favorite books, Broken Open, by Elizabeth Lesser:
D.H. Lawrence begs us to pay closer attention …
Perhaps you have been turning angels away from your door.
Perhaps the dangerous desires, the Sleeping Giants in the basement of your life –
are really angels come to deliver you from your shrunken dreams and your anxious self doubts.
The safe keeping of the secrets of another is a responsibility we owe to those who place their trust in us.
Keeping our own secrets from those whom we love, admire and trust, especially ourselves, is perhaps equivalent to harboring Sleeping Giants, allowing them to take up space somewhere under own surface, keeping us from our dreams, being free.
Perhaps it is only when we recognize the Sleeping Giants for who they really are, and admit them, are we able to let them roam free, and in turn, set us free?
Do we dare to open the vault?