Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if everyone knew everything about everyone? It’s a pretty hard concept to imagine — a world with no secrets. I’m not referring to secrets like a surprise birthday party or not wanting to be told the sex of your baby during an ultrasound. I’m talking about the secrets that live in the shadows, the ones that make us feel shame, humiliation, isolation and fear.
Fear — that simple four letter word that lurks at the bottom of the deepest, darkest chasms of our beings.
Fear, it is such a powerful force in our lives. Most people live controlled by fear and secrets their entire lives. That might seem like a judgmental generalization — however, I believe it to be true. Some would argue that their days are not at all influenced by secrets and fear. They believe they are in balance in their life and they go on each day living comfortable with the way things are. But are they? Aren’t their secrets really controlling their lives? Don’t secrets control all of our lives, and not just the secret alone, but the fear of the secret being exposed?
Would exposing all of our secrets, be a good thing or a bad thing? There are probably some secrets about your friends that you wouldn’t want to know about. Secrets make us uncomfortable and we judge people’s worth by them because they remind us that we also have our own secrets. I wonder what people would think of me if they knew all of my secrets? Not only do I wonder, I try to live in a way that allows me to find that out. Not because it is easy, not because I need the attention, not because I want to be judged or ridiculed — but because I want to make it okay for others to do the same.
What kind of secrets do people keep that control them?
Some secrets might seem small and some might seem large, but all of them cause distress to us when we keep them hidden. Secrets can be as simple as feeling guilt from taking money from our parent when we were a kid, we might feel guilt from telling our friends we had a date with a good-looking man — when we didn’t. We might secretly take pens and printer paper from our work. These may seem like small secrets, but the more and more of them we keep within ourselves, the more we give shame power in our lives. We feel if people really knew us — really knew all of us and all of our secrets, they would stop and point and laugh and sneer and ridicule and possibly leave our lives completely.
Exposing the inner shadows of who we are isn’t an easy thing to do for most people and it has taken me years of baby steps to get to a place where I am okay with sharing who I am in hopes that others, especially women, will feel okay in knowing that transparency doesn’t equate to ostracization. It may cause change in your life and the characters and roles of the people in your life may change, but there is nothing more empowering and liberating than opening up to the world the parts of yourself that feel small and shameful. It feels like walking into Grand Central Station and stripping off all your clothes and standing there completely exposed for everyone to see and judge and point and snicker — and you let them — you let them because what they think does not matter.
Throughout my own life, I lived in secrets and shame.
It was the coping mechanism I was taught in my family — just shut up and don’t ask questions. I got very good at living behind masks, but inside I was a tormented, lonely and confused child. By the time I was a teenager I was tied in knots and had no idea how to change it. I was anxious, stressed, afraid, angry, powerless, and no one really knew. By the time I was in my late teens I was bulimic, suffered from anxiety and depression, had run away twice, considered suicide, slept with a gun under my pillow for protection, drank to numb myself (I’d even brought alcohol to high school), and pushed most people away so I was lonely and isolated — but on the outside I was just a sweet girl. I continued this way of existing throughout my life. One person on the inside and another on the outside. I got pregnant and had an abortion, I drank all the time, my bulimia increased and I became obsessed with fitness and began to starve myself. I would challenge myself to see how long I could go without food. I would wake in the night and sleep eat. In the morning on the kitchen counter would be a half eaten bagel or a piece of toast and I wouldn’t remember having gotten up to eat it. I’d long to feel loved more than anything in the world, so I’d have sex with all the men I dated because I somehow thought that would make them love me.
When none of this worked and I got lonelier and lonelier, I tried a completely different tactic. I tried religion. I stopped drinking completely, I began going to church and I immersed myself in being what God wanted me to be. I did everything I thought God wanted of me. I read scriptures and went to classes and changed my way of being. I got married and had kids. I played a new role of the happy homemaker. I stayed home and baked and raised kids and taught Sunday school classes and made gift baskets and took meals to families in need — you name it — I tried to be it. I was miserable beyond description! Although my soul was supposedly in alignment with what God wanted — my Spirit was dying — if not dead already.
Fast forward to now. I learned through years of study and personal spiritual work that the only way I could ever truly be happy was if I was truly me.
Being truly me meant that had to include all of me. All of me meant that had to be the parts of me I didn’t like and didn’t want people to see — my secrets. So, I started exposing those parts of myself. I started showing the parts of me I didn’t like. Yes, I did lose some people in my life and sometimes I did make a big mess of things too. But what I gained was priceless. I gained new people in my life who are okay with my transparency. I gained freedom from so much of the fear and shame within me. I gained a deeper respect for the fear others live in. I gained the knowledge and skills to accept others fear and shame and not judge them either. And most of all, I gained the knowledge that fear and shame only have power when I let them have it. When I am ready to expose another secret, another part of me that is aching, I open the door and say “Hello world, here is my secret — see it.”