I was 25-years-old at the time, and had spent 24.9986 years believing that only freaks went to shrinks. To me, parking outside of a psychiatrist’s office was similar to parking outside of a strip club…Pray no one sees you getting out of your car and keep your head ducked until you’re safe and sound inside. Except when you go into a strip club, you’re probably happy to be there once you’re inside. Not so with a shrink. It only gets more embarrassing inside because they make you talk about shit.
(For the record, I’ve never actually been to a strip club. Strip clubs have always struck me as a great way to end up remarkably frustrated…like working up a good appetite, grilling a delicious steak, and then just staring at it. No thanks. Not to mention that I’d sit there wondering what the stripper’s backstory was, who had wounded her emotionally, whether she felt terrible about herself, I’d want to walk up on stage with a robe and tell all the oglers to have some decency: “She’s a human being, you assholes!” Around the time my friends tried to cheer me up with a lap dance, I’d probably start crying because I’d feel so sorry for the girl. I’d apologize that I didn’t have anything bigger than ones to tip her with. I’d promise her she was worth far more than ones as I shoved all of my dollar bills tearfully into her G-string. She’d feel bad for me and probably hold me while I cried, causing her to lose a lot of good tip money. Which would make me feel worse.)
But back to the shrink’s office, inside of which, sadly, I found everyone to be fully clothed. So after I made my way inside, I kept my head buried in an issue of Psychology Today until I was my turn to join the ranks of the certifiably crazy. When I got into his office, he didn’t make me lie down on a day bed, thankfully. I was allowed to sit up while he sat across from me and opened the conversation with the most direct question one could ask, I think: “Tell me your secrets.” He didn’t even have the courtesy to kiss me first. But, whatever; I’ve had worse first dates.
This was twenty minutes before I was diagnosed with OCD, so what I didn’t realize at the time was that the hyper vigilant internal survey I took of my twenty-five year life in the following four seconds was a symptom of the very thing I was there to treat: obsessive-compulsive disorder. I actually started to panic a little bit, wondering if the secrets that came to mind were “good enough” secrets to land me in this man’s office. I worried that if I told him the real secrets, he’d laugh at me and say, “Are you kidding? That’s all you’ve got? You don’t need to be here. Have a good life, loser. And get some better secrets!” Then again, what if my secrets were so bad that he’d have the opposite reaction: “You WHAT?! I’ve never heard of someone doing THAT. You are unfixable…warped…demented…you’re HOPELESS, Tim. Get out!!!”
So I told him I’d never been to a strip club. He suggested a few of his favorites, and I thanked him and went on my way.
Actually, what I told him is none of your damn business, but he diagnosed OCD (still the only diagnosis I feel entirely confident of despite having racked up about ten others now), and he prescribed Paxil. This subsequently killed any sex drive I had (for a twenty-five-year-old male, this “feat” would be akin to successfully making Donald Trump humble), and I quit taking it after about two weeks. I saw that doctor one more time, told him I didn’t think this was “for me,” and never went back to Dr. TellMeYourSecrets.
And here I find myself, fourteen years later, in a group therapy program, still trying to dig down into the secrets that are killing me. The therapist routinely tells us that “we are only as sick as our secrets.” As she says, when we talk to the group, we practice telling the truth to other people in a safe environment. We literally are there to practice saying our secrets out loud…And this does take practice.
We in the group have some remarkable secrets: most are about sex, drugs, or rock n’ roll. Excluding the rock n’ roll. You can look around the room and almost see the secrets hiding behind people’s eyes, wanting desperately to come out of the closet. But if you look carefully, you can see the anguish on our faces as we work up the courage to say what’s true – the thing we’ve never said aloud before. You can watch our eyes dart between the anonymity of looking at the floor and the risk-assessment of looking at these strangers, wondering how they’ll judge what we’re about to say for the first time ever. We’ve never said it to family, friends, spouses…even other therapists. It’s almost like the secret won’t really have to be true if we just don’t put words around it that somehow make it capital-T true.
So the secret sits there, festering, oozing, bleeding, never getting any better. Getting worse actually. Getting harder to say aloud with each passing day. The thing that one of us chose to do, or that was done to us…the thing that happened just yesterday and therefore is very raw and fresh…or the thing that happened fifty years ago that has lived inside for so long, it seems like the sunlight of exposure will hurt too bad to survive…whatever the secret, the secrets are what we are all dying from in that room.
What’s amazing, though, is how easy it is to start healing from a secret. All you have to do is tell it. You can do it right now, or you can wait until it’s got such a stranglehold on you that you need to enter some sort of a program in order to try to overcome the fear of telling people who you really are. Either way, the cure is the same: say it out loud. This truth is so powerful that there’s a rather famous website called “Post Secrect” (www.postsecret.com) where people anonymously tell the world their secrets. Given that it’s anonymous, I doubt it does them a ton of good, but it does show how profoundly we feel the need to tell our secrets to someone.
Mark Twain once said, “Mankind is the only animal that blushes…or needs to.” Animals aren’t afraid to poop in front of you, to have sex in broad daylight, to groom themselves without needing privacy, and so on. They are who they are. They don’t have secrets. They don’t blush. They don’t have any reason to blush. Mark Twain also called humans the “lowest animal” in a satirical essay entitled, well, “The Lowest Animal.” From a completely non-theological basis, Twain criticizes the Theory of Evolution by arguing that humans are evolutionarily inferior to animals in a moral sense, basing his belief on the fact that animals never kill more than they can eat. Meanwhile humans kill far more than they can eat, not to mention that they kill things they have no intention of eating.
Twain’s point, and mine: Humans are full of complex motives and desires. We are also filled with inscrutable sources of shame and self-loathing. Between the things we do to others and the things that are done to us, most of us have a secret or two stashed away somewhere that probably needs to see the light of day. Putting words around the memories that have been hiding inside of you will be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. But once you’ve done it for the first time, the second time will be about 1/50th as hard, and by the 5th or 6th time, it won’t feel a whole lot different from admitting that you had a sip of beer at age 14 when your dad left his drink unattended for a few minutes or that you held someone’s hand before you were married (interlocked fingers, too!). Each time you say it out loud, you’ll realize that, first of all, most people don’t look at you like you’re Hitler, as you had feared. Second, even if they do, their judgment doesn’t kill you as you thought it might. In fact, their judgment doesn’t feel nearly as strong as the relief you get from telling the truth.
Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner is a perfect example. Yesterday, Vanity Fair published the first picture of her as a woman (I just felt some of you cringe that I said “her”; you should get over this J). She (Caitlyn) said that her secret had been killing her for sixty-five years, and she knew if she laid on her deathbed without telling it, she’d have wasted her life. Whether you admire her decision or condemn it, what matters is that this human being was being crushed by a secret. She told her secret and now says that this new person, Caitlyn, doesn’t have any secrets. She’s at peace. Think what you want about being transgender, but my point is about secrets, not LGBTQ issues. Bruce Jenner, quite literally, had to kill himself slowly in order to reveal a secret that was, ironically, killing him. I’m sure he wishes he had told his secret many years ago. But it ain’t easy to look the world in the eye and tell them you’re a liar. Ironically, though, it’s the best thing you’ll ever do for yourself.
So I’m ready to tell you my secret. Here it is: I prefer bottled water to tap water, even though I feel guilty about the plastic bottles that go to waste. I judge people who drink from a tap, who say, “It’s all the same!” One should never kiss someone who drinks tap water. This is how every plague in history has begun: with tap water.
Ok, ok, that isn’t my secret. I’m still not going to tell you my secret(s). Sorry. I still have more work to do before I quit being afraid of your rejection, and I’m thirty-nine, not sixty-five, so I’m still twenty-six years ahead of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner. But stick around awhile and maybe I’ll be bold enough to do so someday down the road. Maybe I’ll show up at your door as a female…You never know. For now, I can just promise you that the truth really will set you free. (And no, mom, I’m not actually a woman.)
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