Another marker of a dysfunctional family is keeping secrets. These secrets could be very personal like incest or it could just be the way parents tried to control the family. Chances are this control might continue psychologically for decades even after the children leave home. In recovery there is a saying, “We are only as sick as our secrets.” When someone has a secret they are usually hiding something unhealthy.
My family had secrets. One of those secrets was that we were not attending school or even doing a home study–even though we were told to tell the church members and nearly everyone we met that we were home schooled. Because of this secret, we had to lie to church members.
We also had to hide below the car windows if we went somewhere during school hours. We had to hide in the shed when someone came to visit our parents. We had to freeze behind the curtains if someone was knocking on the door.
One time I stepped on a garden rake in the shed and it flipped up and knocked over a bunch of stuff. My mom came out as soon as the company was gone and said, “If we were living in Nazi Germany right now, we would all be dead because of you.”
I don’t tell this because I think my mom was being mean, she meant well, but that is how seriously we hid. We were told our parents would be arrested and we might have to go to foster homes so we had to lie and hide like our lives depended on it.
I know my parents wanted to do God’s will. I realize poverty had a part to play in this lack of books. I know they only wanted us to be safe and they were afraid public school would ruin us, but the fact we were discouraged from talking about it decades after we left home was more painful than the actual experience. It was an unspoken rule to never discuss it and we rarely did.
Two of my siblings only had a first or third grade education depending on how you figured it. I wish we could have talked about it in our twenties. I was trying to go to a Christian fine arts college and it took me years to discover there were adult education classes at the community college. I never told my advisers that I only had a sixth grade or possibly 8th grade education. They had no idea and wondered why I refused to take math and science classes.
Isolation was as painful as the lack of education. As a young adult, I spent years trying to figure out how normal people lived. I wondered how people got up, made breakfast and kept on a schedule–something my family had never done, but I never told anyone until I met my husband.
Keeping my teen years and past a secret was hard because I always felt I had to be extra diligent and have the most ideas and work the hardest to fit in. I’ve had a few friends who thought I was simply nuts and over board and maybe a little bossy when we worked on projects. That was because I felt I had to prove myself over and over. One lady in our church lovingly asked me why I always had to do things over the top, but I never told her my secret.
When people asked where I went to high school, I continued to tell people I was home-schooled even in my forties. Then one day I heard my voice talking, but I couldn’t recognize it and I cracked. I had modified the original lie to say, “But they forgot to buy the books,” but even that could not calm my conscience.
I went home and screamed into the mirror that day, asking God why couldn’t I just be myself? Several years before this, my husband had thrown away his secrets and told me everything about his porn habit. He was so much happier and free and I wanted to be free too. I decided from that day forward not to pretend anymore. No more secrets. I wanted to live free. Healing spreads.
Families who have gone through homelessness and poverty and hard times need to be able to talk about it. Children who have been molested (not in my family, but I have friends who have endured this) should be able to share with their siblings without being attacked and accused.
Kids who were isolated and refused schooling need to be able to discuss how to survive and find a normal life in the real world. My siblings were my only peer group and social circle for most of my teen years. We are the only ones who know what we went through and it’s not fair to ask us to stop talking about it.
As a family, we should have been able to talk about the events which formed us and discuss how they are affecting our lives today. Most of my siblings have struggled with obesity. It took me years to realize it was not what I was eating, but what was eating me.
We should be free to look back and say,”Wow, we are survivors! Look what we endured and how we grew from what happened 30 years ago.” We should be able to celebrate our healing together, but that can’t happen if no one acknowledges the past.
Some people say you can’t truly forgive unless you forget, but we can’t really forgive unless we first remember. So not talking about what happened. Holding those secrets inside has only caused many wounds to fester and not get cleaned out. When we do heal in some ways we can forget more easily–but only after we have faced our pain.
If you are part of a family that says you must keep the secrets or they are not interested in hearing what you felt, you can find new family and support in recovery groups and church groups. If someone is truly sorry and apologizes. they won’t put a muzzle on your mouth. A truly repentant heart will empathize with how they have hurt others.
It is not wrong to remember the past. Those broken years were years of your life and you have every right to remember them. It’s not wrong to talk about your pain. It’s not wrong to speak the truth and tell the family secrets. We are the grownups now. And we get to decide what needs to be healed.
I’ll be honest with you, I’m no expert. There are people in my family who are upset about my writing. They feel what happened should never be spoken about in the family or in a blog. Sadly, that has cost our relationship because life is too short to pretend, lie and fake it. Keeping secrets almost killed me and I won’t do it anymore.
Jesus said, “You will know the truth and truth will set you free.”