When I crawled into Al-Anon over thirty years ago, grasping the refrain resounding in my head – “Tell me if he’s an alcoholic. There’s no way I would ever be with an alcoholic.” – this was one of the simple, yet powerful, slogans they offered me. “We are only as sick as our secrets.”
Back then, I didn’t realize that I had deep, dark secrets eating me up on the inside. I knew my childhood was weird. I knew I could make you laugh with stories about both of my parents. I knew it wasn’t “normal” (whatever the hell that is). But I had no clue what was really going on. I could not articulate the utter shame that simmered deep within me, that drove my nearly every action.
In Al-Anon I learned to share my story, and share my story, and share my story. It was healing. “Garbage in, garbage out,” someone also said to me, as I spewed and spewed and spewed.
At some point, I guess, I felt that I’d shared all I needed to share. That I’d revealed my secrets and found compassion, acceptance, and community in the rooms. (It is a hugely freeing feeling when you share the ugliest skeleton in your closet, and someone says, “Me too” and you know you’re not alone.)
And then, for some crazy reason, I wrote my memoir, and I found the shame – at times – creeping up again. Or spewing out again. Or knocking me blindsided again. This overwhelming sense of somehow just being inherently WRONG. It’s an old familiar feeling. It amazes me when it overtakes me, and then I get the backlash of shame that I can still have so much shame. The double-whammy.
What will people think when they read it? Will they think I’m whiny? Will they tell me to just ‘get over it?’ Should I just ‘get over it?’ Did I say something stupid at the reading? Did I write something stupid in their book? On and on and on, dumb, dumb tapes are once again resounding in my head. And sometimes no words at all. Just that absolute sense of being WRONG.
So, I watch the shame. I feel it. I name it. I do my best to allow it to pass through me. I put my hand on my heart. I reach for all the self-compassion I can find and allow it to pour over me and through me.
I remember that I wrote and am promoting my book because, I believe, we all have secrets, and we’re all healthier when we can let them out and let them go. Too many people walk around with too much shame and self-loathing (or at least self-judging and self-disapproval). I’m not alone in having a harsh inner-critic. Too, too, too many of us suffer from that. A neighbor emailed me after watching my interview on Megan Kelly Today. “Thank you,” she wrote, “for giving us all the courage to share our childhood secrets.”
We are only as sick as our secrets, and there is great healing in opening those secrets up to the light of day. People nearly never judge us as harshly as we judge ourselves. So let’s stop judging ourselves (and judging ourselves for judging ourselves).
Let’s just stop.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, and please share this post with others if it resonates with you!