For me, one of those statements was “secrets make you sick.”
It’s a phrase a teacher and mentor of mine says often. The first time she said it to me was in 2009. At the time, I was severely depressed, experiencing chronic headaches, colds, and back pain. I was lonely, unhappy, and basically miserable. While not exactly sick, I was certainly unhealthy and fast on my way to being sick or dead by suicide.
I wouldn’t have readily identified myself as someone who was keeping secrets, but I was dealing with the stuff that comes with secrets – silence, shame, isolation, and fear of rejection.
That statement by my teacher woke me up.
I didn’t fully grasp why that particular phrase seemed to impact me so powerfully at the time. Honestly, I don’t know that I really understood how much it did impact me until recently.
In January of this year, I made the decision to start a book project called Invisible Mothers that I have been thinking about for several years. It’s both personal and professional and will discuss many of those things I was staying silent and shame-filled about back in 2009. A book about the experiences of mothers who have had their children die and who don’t have any other living children. An experience I have lived since the death of my first daughter and again after my second daughter died.
What I only recently realized is that the catalyst that set me on the path to writing this book came directly from that phrase – secrets make you sick.
You see, at the time my teacher said this phrase to me, no one knew that I had had a daughter who was stillborn. When I found out I was pregnant, my fiancé had just died and I was an emotional wreck. So, I never told anyone I was pregnant. I hid it, kept it a secret for months. Just when I planned to tell my family, my daughter died and I just could never bring myself to say the words.
So, I carried that secret along with the silence and shame and isolation and fear. It shadowed my life until my teacher said that phrase and woke me up.
Shortly after that, I told my teacher about my daughter. Then I told others. Then I told my family. Now I talk about it publicly and am writing this book.
Sharing my secret, breaking the silence and shame and isolation, finally put me on the path to healing. It didn’t happen overnight, but I found my place in the world. I found my joy, my happiness, my amazing friends, the work that I truly love, and a peace inside myself I’ve never had before.
Breaking the silence and shame of keeping my secret didn’t magically make my world healthy and happy and whole again. It’s taken a lot of work to do that and it continues to take work to keep it that way.
But healing can’t start until the secrets that keep us in silence and shame and isolation and fear are spoken and released. Acknowledging and voicing the secrets that we keep – however big or small or innocent or awful those secrets might seem – it’s the first step to healing.
Keeping our secrets keeps us from love. And love is what makes this journey of living worthwhile.
Break the silence. Let in the love.