Tag Archives: guilt

We are only as sick as our secrets

Secrets have been on my mind for the past year, ever since my mother revealed a secret she had been keeping for almost fifty years—which sparked my own awareness of a secret I had been keeping even longer.


Since then, I seem to be very aware of others’ secrets and how often people shade the truth or tell half-truths to frame things in a different light.

For example, I recently attended a talk about Etty Hillesum, a woman who lived in Amsterdam during World War II. The speaker talked of Etty’s affair with her professor but failed to mention that Etty had had an abortion. I wondered why. Etty wrote about the abortion; it was not a secret, yet this person recalling Etty’s life left out this detail.

Was she trying to protect Etty by not talking about the abortion? Did she have feelings of shame around abortion that led her to omit it? This presentation was at a Catholic retreat center, and I wondered if the setting and the audience prompted this omission. But why did she include the details of the affair? It was all a mystery to me.  


Secrets abound in the British detective tv shows I watch. Often, some secret is being kept which is key to solving the mystery.  “Why didn’t you tell us?” the detective asks in exasperation when the secret finally comes out. The detective doesn’t care that the grandfather had a child with the maid or that the mother had a wild past or that the children have squandered their inheritance. The detective just wants the facts and not an edited version of history.

It seems that we can be our own worst judges when it comes to our secrets, believing that the worst will happen if our secrets are revealed.

The truth is that we are the same people we were before our secrets were revealed, and those who love us will continue to love us once they know our secrets.

People may be surprised or even shocked to learn of some traumatic event in our past. They may have to adjust their image of us. They may review the relationship in light of new information, but if they really love us, they will get over their shock and adjust their image. They will remember that we are the same person we were before they knew our secrets.

I have always been open about being a rape survivor, but not everyone in my life knows about it, mostly because it does not come up in everyday conversation and because I have moved around a lot. The “getting to know you” phase of new friendships don’t usually include talk of rape or other traumas, so while my history is not a secret for me, it usually doesn’t come up until a relationship is established.

My goal is to have nothing to fear, nothing to prove and nothing to hide. I desire to live transparently, holding nothing back and keeping no secrets.


What I Learned from Reading The Kite Runner

I love “aha” moments, those flashes of insight when a deeper truth is revealed through some random event.

A number of years ago, I had one of those moments while reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. If you haven’t read it, here is a spoiler alert: I am about to reveal a pivotal scene in the story, so stop right here if you plan to read the book (and I highly recommend it).

The story is about two boys growing up in Kabul. One scene involves the narrator as a boy, witnessing his friend being set upon by a gang of boys and raped. The narrator watches in horror, but neither tries to stop it nor runs for help.

His inaction leaves him with a deep sense of guilt, and that guilt has a powerful impact on the rest of the narrator’s life.


Like the narrator, I, too, was present when my childhood companion was raped. She was just weeks shy of her thirteenth birthday. The rapist ordered me to stay still, and I obeyed. After he raped her, he warned us not to tell anyone. I offered her comfort and then moved us along to a safer place, fearful he would return. I never told anyone what happened and we did not speak of it for more than twenty years.

Then she came to me with a request. She was in therapy and her therapist suggested that something had happened to her when she was young which had altered the path of her life. She had no memory of anything happening, only a sense that I would know.

I knew, and I told her.

Another twenty years passed and then I read The Kite Runner.

New thought: what if being present during a rape forty years earlier had had a profound effect on me? What if my feelings were as buried as her memories had been? What if I felt guilty for not running for help? Could that incident explain some of the beliefs I held about myself? And some of the choices I had made in my life? Had my life path also been impacted by that incident? Had her trauma been my trauma as well?

I had to talk to her.

By then, we lived on opposite sides of the country and by the time I got around to visiting her, she had cancer. She asked if we could wait until she was finished with her treatments to talk about it. What choice did I have but to agree to her request.

She died before her treatment was finished, and we never talked about it.

If this were a novel, there would be some kind of tidy resolution, but it is not a novel and I am left with my questions.

I am also left with gratitude that The Kite Runner has unearthed this buried event from my past. Bringing it to light has helped me to see myself from a different perspective.