This is the first in an on-going series about secrets, truth-telling, and my boyfriend being in prison. The essays that follow are a raw, open, deliberate look at life lived and liberated. And just a touch uncensored.
I remember the first time I was told to keep a secret. My mom said there were some things you don’t share outside the house. In this case I had announced at the local general store that my parents were fighting. I was three years old.
I kept a lot of secrets after that. Secrets about my neighbor’s stepfather performing oral sex on us. We were four years old. Secrets about my best friend’s father sneaking into the den where we slept and fingering us. My favorite live-in “uncle” holding me on his lap while he had an erection. When I spoke to him about it many years later he told me, “You were a very provocative five year old.”
I made sure not to tell anyone.
I felt disgust growing inside of me, a plague for one. My body held onto all those secrets and turned them against me. When I was twelve, I lied about having a boyfriend at summer camp, so I could feel worthy. Because something always felt terribly wrong with me and I was desperate to hide it.
I talked a lot to deflect attention away from that feeling of wrongness. I ate too fast and too much, in an attempt to bury the secrets and the lies. And I threw it all up again so I could feel light and free.
But the disgust always returned. Because I kept the secrets. Even from myself I kept the secrets, and I replaced my knowledge with the belief that there was something wrong with me instead.
And then I got tired. It took a lot of years, but finally I couldn’t hold down the secrets anymore. And I started telling all of them. To everybody. To myself.
And I discovered something amazing.
When you tell the truth, you feel better.
So I don’t keep secrets anymore.
That’s why I tell everyone I meet that my boyfriend is in prison. I just announce it everywhere I go. To the guy helping me choose the right jumper cables at the local tractor supply store, I tell him I’m happy he’s here to help me because my boyfriend’s in prison. To the young teller at the bank when she asks if I live with my boyfriend, I say, No, I don’t, because he’s in prison.
I tell them the whole story if they’re interested, and I have every intention of telling the whole story publicly at some point. Not today, because I’m not ready yet, and we’re right in the middle of it, and because I don’t feel entirely safe sharing the details openly when there are legal proceedings happening.
And that’s part of the process of becoming a fierce truth-teller – being patient with yourself, letting things unfold, noticing new truths as they surface. Allowing the flow of truth to happen, and being loving with the parts of you that are scared.
And finding people who are guardians of the truth to support you. That’s hugely important.
My boyfriend would be fine with me sharing it all openly.
“Tell everybody anything you want!” That’s what he says.
If I had to name one reason I am crazy about this man it wouldn’t be his flashing blue eyes or unbelievable confidence. His ability to build beautiful things by hand. Or even his hunky biceps and the way he says things to me like, “If you were a flower, every petal would be a different color.” No, it would be his unflinching honesty and directness. The idea that I’ve finally met someone who loves to tell the truth as much as I do is the biggest relief I’ve ever known.
“I can’t do it anymore,” he says when I ask him why he’s so direct. He says he startles a lot of people (I know the feeling), but he just got tired of pretending, and doesn’t have the time to waste anymore.
I don’t have the time to waste anymore either. On lying to myself or making myself look a certain way to outsiders. On overeating and purging in an attempt to feel ok.
Because what happens when you start to tell the truth is that you clear out all those old lies you’ve been dragging everywhere with you. Lies that tell you you’re not good enough. That you’ll never get it right. That what other people think about you is more important than what you believe about yourself.
Once you start telling the truth, all those lies disappear. And you’re left clean, right down through your center. You have an open heart. Your bones and teeth and blood sing with the lightness and freedom of truth, instead of being clogged with pretending.
And you become a clear channel for the voice of God. You finally get to claim your birthright as a beloved child of the universe. (That’s the biggest truth of all.)
So what’s a secret you’ve been refusing to tell? Admit it right now, inside yourself. Then find somebody to tell. If they panic at your truth-telling or put a disgust vibe all over it, tell someone else. Move on!
People who insist on secret-keeping still believe in shame. They believe that what other people think is more important than anything else.
But you can believe differently. And you can always tell me.
Because you don’t have any time to waste.