How to Tell A Friend a (Terrible) Secret
I had to come clean and tell someone.
I knew from all my work lately and all the books I’ve ever read on being empathic that to keep a secret in would ensure it festered inside me until it rotted and became my very own self-created, self-induced poison.
This poison’s name is: ‘shame’, middle name: ‘embarrassment’. In a heated discussion, I’d said something stupid, something that was against my morals. I’d been unnecessarily cruel. Now I cringed every time I thought of it. Everyone blows up from time to time, I know that. Everyone says things they shouldn’t have. Was it really so bad?
For me - yes. Words are my most precious tool, my most trusted ally. Anything created with them that goes against my moral code can only be considered sinful. I hadn’t been true to myself, and I hadn’t composed myself in accordance with who I know myself to be. I’d been childish, reckless, and mean. I felt awful. You see, it was already making me sick. I’m not even sure the other person had taken offense, and it hardly mattered. What mattered was owning up to my part, my actions, my shame.
I found a friend. A confidante. And I decided to ask her to talk me through it and allow me to take ownership of my shame right in her company.
Being honest was tough enough; it all the harder to admit what I’d done to this particular friend, who was so naturally sweet and loving. It’d be impossible for her to act as I had. I held her in such high regard and I was sure opening up - I was already sweating just thinking of doing so - would make her look at me differently. Not trust me. Think less of me.
I covered my eyes and blurted it out and used all the labels I could think of - guilt filled, mortified, hurt, confused - I let it out.
Once I had, I realized why the act of talking things through with someone else is so vital to our concept of self, and to our growth through our own mistakes. Friendship requires that we foster the best in one another, while agreeing to take a long hard at the worst of each other. She was of course quick to offer support. But her supportive words, though they had retrieved me from my temporarily apocalyptic state of certainty I’d ruined my whole life, was not what struck me. It was her willingness to step into that darkness with me before she even known what she might get into with my secret. When I asked her to talk me through it, she was immediately game. She was willing to see that part of me. Her willingness is what immediately took our friendship to a deeper, more honest and connected level. More importantly, it proved in an instant that the ugly, deep-down-terrible, does-bad-things part of myself is still worthy of the love and support of people as admirable as her.
Now in my 30’s, friendship is a different game altogether. Friends that were my companions for nights out on the town were replaced by friends of a different purpose, sometimes only reachable by phone for long conversations and heartfelt letters. I always thought by this age, I’d have a drama-free policy in my self and my friends. Now I know that drama isn’t the problem; life is a comedy of errors, either hilarious or tragic. What matters is that said drama comes not from stirring up problems where they need not be, but instead from willingness to face the harsh truths of ourselves. Especially when the truth so hard to accept is: even I deserve forgiveness when I mess up.
Can I offer myself the same love, support, and encouragement I receive from the people I consider to be of the highest character and caliber?
Am I brave enough to be vulnerable and honest with the people I call my friends, and can I give them the safe space to do the same?
Do I consciously know my own moral code well enough to admit when I act against it - and can I offer myself the support to explore the emotions when I (inevitably) do?