One of the first homework assignments my therapist assigned me was to write down all my secrets on a sheet of paper. I don’t remember if I wrote down the three that had haunted me for so long, though I probably wasn’t brave enough at the time. “I don’t need to see them,” she reminded me. “Then we will say a little prayer over them and shred them all right here in the office.”
The pretty part of me was thinking, no biggie. I’m an open book. I’m vulnerable. I’m genuine. I’m real, always have been. The problem was that I had not always been. It’s a nice thing to tell oneself, that people really, truly know you; and if you ask the people closest to me I believe they would tell you that unredeemed Claire (read pre-rehab) was real and deep.
Maybe I wrote things like: I wasn’t a virgin when I got married. I stole more than just five pills from David. I’m an adulteress (not literally, but then again, I guess maybe literally?) These were things that at least one person, if not many people, already knew though. They were my pretty enough secrets. We did the exercise and I remember thinking, wow, what a great exercise, what a brilliant starting point to begin my journey to healing and redemption. It was, too. I remember seeing themes and threads on my page that gave us real insight into where most of my shame was burrowed. Like I said earlier, the pretty part was okay with most of the dirt, but three stains remained and I just couldn’t get them clean. No amount of charm or beauty, no amount of “vulnerability,” no amount of service work or prayer or church or working out or good house-cleaning or good child-rearing or altering reality was working.
So a little over a month ago, while journalling about the discord inside me and how confusing it felt, the three things nobody knew popped into my head and out of my pen onto the page. I gasped. That deep deep deep part of me, the ugly self was ready. Right then and there I texted my husband, David and asked if we could talk.
“I have three secrets, and I am flipping out…”
The following poem was written right after that exchange.
I had three.
layer after layer of cement on top of them
I ran out of cement
and I couldn’t keep up with the labor costs
and I’m pretty sure others could smell
And I love myself.
“I need to tell you three secrets” I said.
“Give ‘em to me” he said.
Now, instead of avoiding the deep chasms in the pavement
instead of fearing what the uneven surface would do to my wobbly ankles
I get to dance
And I am fully known
“I love you still!”
Then I exhaled for the first time in my life.
Some of you, like David, might not have the kind of secrets I had. His were smaller, daily shames about small daily failures and comparisons. They still defined his worth, just like mine did, and to him, they weren’t small. Or maybe you’re like me, and you feel like there’s just NO WAY someone would still love you or choose you if they knew. Maybe you’d love to tell your secrets if you only had someone to tell? I will pray that we all have someone with whom to share our secrets. (Side note: way to go Catholicism RE confession)
Your ugly part, your stains that won’t wash out, your shame— Jesus has been dying (and actually died) for you to let him run it through his washing machine. I never understood why the song “Amazing Grace” captivated the ages until last month. Maybe it’s the deepest need we have, this need for Grace? The need to know that despite all the secrets He still chose and chooses to love us, delights in loving us? If the Force of the Universe loves me, then surely others can? Surely I can learn to love myself? Surely, this would change the world.