The Power of Keeping Secrets

I was raised with the notion that secrets, all secrets, were a bad thing, so I shared all. If I didn’t, I experienced guilt and felt as if I were lying by omission. I went to my mom in the middle of the night after I lost my virginity and felt this immense relief after getting it off my chest and confessing to her what had happened. It was powerful. At that time in my life, it felt as if secrets were an infection that needed to be exposed to air so I could be healed.

The very first fiction I wrote was a story about how keeping secrets, those undisclosed hush-hush things, can destroy your life if you hold them in. Not always from the outside-in after their discovery but often from the inside-out from the corrosive power of guilt.

When I write fiction, I keep things hidden and shut away until the right moment, that exact time when the truth being revealed will help propel the story forward into a new direction. With my own life story, I’ve never been really good about self censorship.

As a younger woman, I used to tell new people much of my dirty laundry right away. Looking back, I see it was a defense mechanism to keep judgmental people or those who couldn’t handle a friend with skeletons in her closet from getting too close to me. I felt safer scaring them off and not getting hurt than risking my heart for a friendship that wasn’t worth ever having in the first place.

But I also shared because I didn’t want to lie.

Finally, in my forties, I’m able to keep some of those secrets in longer, and I think writing has helped me with that. I’m more selective about those pieces I let see fresh air. I hold things close to the chest and wait to share them if, and only if, I feel there’s a true purpose in revealing them. Guilt no longer forces secrets from me. Guilt is no longer my reason to share, and I’m grateful for that.

One thing I find I fiercely protect is my fiction. I’m more comfortable talking to strangers about what I write than people I’ve known for years. I’m not ashamed of it, by any stretch, so it’s not that. I’m secretive about it to my child and coworkers because they don’t need to know about it. More than anything, I feel like sharing my writing with people who know me is like flaying myself open and allowing them to see what really makes me tick. Strangers don’t know me well enough to connect the dots that are invariably in my writing, but my good friends do. I don’t mind that my friends know my secrets, but I don’t want them to know everything.

And I’m glad to say I no longer feel that corrosion of self in my gut when I keep something to myself. Confession often just made me feel lighter, but it didn’t make those around me better off.

Besides, some mystery is fun.

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