“We don’t tell other people what goes on in this house.” -Mom
I grew up in a house that was full of secrets and lies. I would be mostly grown before I realized that keeping secrets wasn’t normal. The things that happened behind our closed doors not only shouldn’t have happened but probably would have stopped had we opened the doors and windows to our lives and told other people what was going on. Or maybe I should say, “told the right people,” but that is a whole other story.
As a young adult, I was very involved in my local church. It was after college and felt like a time of renewal and coming home to a whole community of people who had been part of my life since I was a child. But parts of me were not fully committed to that life, by parts I mean- all of me.
Eventually, I was living two lives. A secret one in which I was out drinking, partying, enjoying time with my best friend and taking advantage of an active satisfying sex life with many different men, and the other in which I was a good church girl working towards going away to Paraguay on a mission trip. You can imagine one foot in each world was not a comfortable way to live my life.
My secret life was finally uncovered by the leaders of my church. My sin was made humiliatingly public and I was thrown off the mission team. I was expected to conform and be repentant, go back to trying to be a good girl again. Eventually, I did. But what was reinforced through that situation was guard your secrets. Keep them close. Don’t tell people what goes on inside your home.
In my relatively short relationship and marriage to my ex-husband, things were chaotic and often stressful right from the beginning. But my long history of secret-keeping meant I did not tell anyone about the worst parts, so I missed out on the benefit of other people pointing out the red flags I was seeing but ignoring. I had no one to help me see my way out or keep me accountable for taking care of me.
Alcohol addiction and abusive behavior were constantly downplayed. The huge fights, horrific name-calling, and escalating violence were never revealed. When I left him and came home, my best friend was shocked and dismayed when I finally told her the darkest truths of how bad it had gotten. For me, keeping that a secret was just how it is supposed to work, isn’t it?
“So many things to unlearn…”
One of the things I committed to, after leaving him and starting my life anew, was to be more transparent. First to myself and then to the people closest to me. Despite my blogging, I still don’t believe I need to tell everyone in the whole world my problems or bare my soul to total strangers, not everyone can be trusted with my heart and circumstances. But the people I choose to surround myself with are a carefully curated tribe of amazing supportive and heart connected people that I can trust and love deeply. (Thank God!)
As I began to grow from the person whose dreams were a reflection of the way I was raised, not necessarily the dreams of my heart, to a person passionate about fulfilling my true dreams, meeting my real needs, following the path of my desires, I also began to learn to speak the truth and not hide behind secrets. Slowly.
As I learned about non-monogamy and grew in my multiple polyamorous relationships, I realized that secret-keeping was a burden I had trouble holding onto. Having more than one close romantic relationship meant talking about relationships and what was going on with me, a lot. I learned to say what was on my mind, open myself up to scrutiny by the people who love me. They reflect me back and show me things I really need to see and learn and to my utter joy, what is most often reflected back to me is love, not shame, pride not judgment, support not ridicule, and kind words, not harsh criticism.
I’ve become who I am on the inside on the outside. New people I meet, quickly learn that I am a sex-positive polyamorous person. Not because I lay it out in an “elevator speech” but because I speak about my life as it is. If I want to bring up one partner and then later something comes up that reminds me of the other, I say it. I speak both their names. It’s not a shameful secret. It is simply the way I choose to love my people and organize my life.
I committed to being honest with others close to me about struggles in my relationships as well. Even when I am embarrassed because I’m fighting with a partner, or don’t know how to handle a situation, I am better about talking about it. I try not to hide the bad things and just speak the good.
This means sometimes I am embarrassed. I think I should be perfect, or I should be in a perfect relationship. I know sometimes when I speak about a particularly difficult fight with a partner, and I tell my best friend, I risk her not liking him. It’s a risk I am willing to take because I know she loves me and that won’t change even if it means she thinks differently about my relationship.
I am not perfect, I put up with too much, I accept things in relationships that maybe I shouldn’t and I worry about how that makes me look. But I am learning to speak anyway and just be ok. They are my choices and even if they are wrong, I can be safe with the people in my life to speak about my reality. I do not need to keep secrets and put up a good front.
In my most recent relationship, it was something I had to frequently and actively remind myself. I was so in love, so happy to have met someone who sees me the way he sees me, that confessing or admitting to things that just weren’t so great was difficult. But I did it. I said when things kind of sucked, I said when they were sad, and I spoke up when they were fun and great too. I suspect my best friend actually sometimes wished I wasn’t sharing so much, cause I bet it was annoying LOL (See there I go, thinking I cannot tell people my secrets because it’s a burden or it will be too embarrassing for me!)
But I am unlearning old habits. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks! By being open, I often learned to see what I didn’t want to because there it was out in the open. I called my best friend the first time we almost broke up, crying on video chat as he angrily packed his bags in the other room. I told her about our petty fights, about the night he ruined our one-year anniversary after I made an amazing meal, but the timing didn’t suit him, my feelings were hurt, and he stormed out. I ate that truly delicious meal alone with a bottle of champagne, texting her all about it.
The night everything changed for good, I knew I couldn’t keep it a secret. This was too much to keep to myself and I knew if I did, I would regret it. I would bury it as just another secret in a long life of secrets and pretend it didn’t happen. I love him and I wanted to keep enjoying the good things we had together. But I knew, what we had was already over and we needed to find a new way. Keeping secrets was not going to allow that to happen. I also knew if I told people they would keep me accountable to take care of ME, not US or HIM. I needed to know that it was ok to make sure I was ok first. I needed to be reminded of that. I can and more often SHOULD come first. Secrets don’t let you come first, the secret is always there out in front.
Thankfully, I know now, it’s ok to tell people when you are vulnerable. They will care for you and if necessary help you stop what is happening from happening. It’s a good lesson to finally learn.
It sucks. I moved away. Things will never be the same. We are finding a new normal. But I will never regret unlearning the “lesson” my mother taught me all those years ago. I cannot regret the freedom I’ve discovered in being vulnerable, by not keeping secrets. Even as I start again, embark on yet another new phase in life, I can remember this lesson. This time I have a better set of tools to work with. A stronger foundation from which I can continue to become even more me. Stronger. Standing in my truth, speaking it out, and knowing I will be supported and I will be ok. I don’t need to keep secrets anymore.
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