I read a book in August, laying on the fake beach in downtown Chicago while my daughter and her friends went to Lollapalooza. This, for a 48-year-old female who has almost fully raised three children and survived cancer, packs all the fun and excitement I need to thoroughly enjoy myself. Of course, it was some heavy content–Stephen King’s young adult book Gwendy’s Button Box. I read all 164 widely spaced pages in 2 days (don’t judge….I am a slow and simple reader). I have already talked about one of the book’s major themes in my blog on “English as a second Language”. I have been saving up the second one for a time that felt just right…now is that time I guess.
Let me give you the sentence from the book that has been stuck in my mind since August:
“Secrets are a problem, maybe the biggest problem of all. They weigh on the mind and take up space in the world.”
Gwendy has this thought as she becomes aware of the tremendous pressure she lives with after being given a box covered with buttons that hold power to control her immediate surroundings and even on the other side of the world. She has to keep it safe from others who might find it and use it for evil, as well as keep it safe from her own whims, fancies or resentment fantasies. She has been given strict instructions by the giver not to let anyone know about the box. It becomes a veritable weight, a constant burden and distraction as she tries to go about her life, trying to look and act normal. She is ever mindful, even as she dates and succeeds in school and sports, of her box and its safety, always worrying someone might find it or telling tales to her loved ones about where she is going so they won’t know she is checking on the box. The secret consumes her every thought.
Take a moment, or several, to think of your “box”, your biggest, scariest and darkest secret.
Does it “weigh on your mind and take up space in the world”? It probably won’t take you long to identify it, because it’s just always right there. Even when you are fooling others, you are not fooling yourself. And it is slowly crushing you, robbing you of your freedom and your joy. Causing you to be imprisoned by your fear that someone might figure our your hiding spot. You can’t let people too close because you wonder if you slip up or let yourself be vulnerable and you give away it’s hiding place. You have imagined it over and over-the potential outcomes if this should happen: people might think you’re an ogre, a hypocrite, a monster, a victim, someone unlovable, disgusting, unredeemable, unforgivable, unworthy. They might reject and shame you. These possibilities keep your resolve to hide it in strong force. You protect it at all costs. And that cost is pretty high.
What reignited my thoughts on this topic, was an event my husband arranged for us to attend last month. I thought more people were aware of this New York Times best seller than there actually are. When I told people we were going to hear Frank Warren, the author of the “Post-Secret” book at the college, most had never heard of him or the book. We have had this book as a coffee table book for at least 10 years. And fun fact that I learned at the event: Frank Warren grew up in Springfield, Illinois (any of you Springfielders know him?).
Here’s the premise: in 2004 he passed out post cards to strangers with his home address on it, inviting them to share a secret. The only rules were that “it had to be true and it had to be something they had never shared with anyone before.” It’s also anonymous. After the first week he posted a few of them online and had 1,000 views. After week two he posted a few more and had 10,000 views. After week three, there were 100,000 viewers. The rest is history. Look it up. Today he has millions of postcards, filling an entire room, stacked almost to the ceiling.
I attended this event the night before I was to do one of my first “talks” to a local group of about 50 women. It reinforced that what I say and why I write is not only necessary for me, but for countless others who have often thought, “I am the only one.”
The despair that comes from feeling like we are alone in our brokenness, our pain, our secrets, is crushing. It causes physical and mental illness, loneliness and even death in our churches, our schools and our town every single day. When we have secrets and keep them we slowly deteriorate.
In Recovery programs there is a saying, “we are only as sick as our secrets.” You cannot work the 12 steps successfully without passing through the steps that help you puke that junk out and let someone love you in spite of them. We have to reveal our secrets to God (which is redundant, since I believe He already knows), ourselves (which means we have to be alone with ourselves and reflect once in awhile) and to another person (the key to freedom and release).
Frank Warren continues to offer hope by giving people this same opportunity. He says, “secrets have stories; they can also offer truths. After seeing thousands of secrets, I understand that sometimes when we believe we are keeping a secret, that secret is actually keeping us.”
At the end of the event he opened up 2 microphones and invited people to share their Post-Secret live. There were lines curled around the corner and at one point he had to cut it off for sake of time. People were brave and cried and hugged perfect strangers, and some, their best friend who they had kept this secret from. That is the reality of our world. Even though some of us have what we consider a “best friend”, we are still in hiding and living in shame and fear, always trying to figure out the safest hiding place for our secret.
So, maybe today is the day of freedom for you. Or at least the beginning of it. Maybe you could start by sharing it anonymously with Frank. But eventually, I think sharing it with a person with skin on who can look you in the eye and tell you “you’re not alone and you are still worthy of love”, will give you the most freedom. You have to be discerning about who that person is. Discretion is important, as well as the potential impact on the other person. Unloading the burden of your secret onto someone else who might be devastated by it, is not loving or wise. Pray about it. Seek counsel. Your goal must be for you to be free, but not at the expense of putting someone else into captivity.
I want to close this out by sharing a quote from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I practically have it memorized, because I think it applies to anyone willing to expose the darkest places of their past in order to bring light and warmth to their present:
“We should be only too willing to bring former mistakes, no matter how grievous, out of their hiding places. Showing others who suffer how we were given help is the very thing which makes life seems worthwhile to us now. Cling to the thought that, in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession we have-the key to life and happiness for others. With it you can avert death and misery for them” (and for ourselves, I might add).
(A portion of all Post-Secret proceeds having been going to Suicide Prevention since the first of 5 books published in 2005. Don’t let your secret bring you to such a place…)