My friend Ted was a very private person. He often confided in me, but always with the admonition not to tell anyone.
“Who would I tell?” was my usual retort, and he would recite a list of our friends.
“They wouldn’t care,” I would say, and he would mutter something under his breath. But he knew I was trustworthy, that I would not tell.
I am good at keeping secrets. My eight years of working for the FBI gave me lots of practice in keeping all kinds of secrets. Plus, if we had a family coat of arms, our motto would be Don’t tell. I came to the FBI as a fully-formed secret-keeper.
I was such an obvious secret-keeper that people sought me out to pour out their hidden lives.
True confessions was how I thought of those occasions when co-workers would reveal to me their deepest, darkest secrets. The stories usually began with “I have never told anyone this, but….” I knew who was having affairs, who had had abortions and who had been abused as children. I knew of betrayals and dashed hopes. I knew the fears and anxieties traumatic life events could create. I listened and kept their confidences.
Somehow, I seemed to have the capacity to receive these sacred sharings. It felt like a God thing—and a mystery to me, the way people sought me out. People needed to talk, and I could listen. And after hearing someone’s confession, I released what I had heard, offering it as a prayer to God for healing.
These were one-sided conversations, though, because I kept my own secrets to myself.
Then, in my late twenties, I heard the slogan, You are only as sick as your secrets. If my secrets were the measure of my health, I was in deep trouble, because I kept lots of them. I knew government secrets from working at the FBI, other people’s secrets and my own.
When I heard that slogan, something shook loose inside me. I began to consider my secrets.
Mine were not so different from those others had confided in me. So, why was I holding onto them so tightly? What was I protecting? I looked for someone in whom I could confide and took baby steps in revealing my secrets. With each true confession, I felt lighter, freed from the burden of the secret.
I came to understand that what happened in the past could not hurt me in the present, and I came to see myself as a survivor. Sharing helped me see my strengths and showed me how resilient I am.
Over the years, I have shared more and more of my past and now I am quite public.
If I had a family coat of arms, I would want my motto to be Nothing to prove, nothing to fear, nothing to hide. I want to be transparent and to accept myself as I truly am. I see that as the way to health and freedom.