Family Secrets

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A friend asked me what my parents’ reaction was after I told them I was published in the Huffington Post. I crinkled my eyebrows and said of course I hadn’t told them. I haven’t told them for a lot of reasons. Some of which are that they wouldn’t realize what a big deal it was for me, how proud I was, what an accomplishment it was for me. How this validated my suspicion of talent all these years. How this satisfied an itch, a longing, I’d had since I was a child. They simply wouldn’t understand, because they still view me as the child who never met their expectations. I’m an enigma they just can’t understand. I’ve come to peace with that. They’ve tried as best they know how.

The other reason I haven’t told them though, is that they would be absolutely horrified. My best writing comes when I’m the most vulnerable. When I share my insecurities and fears and mistakes and poor judgment and losses. I have found through this journey of writing, that I am most beautiful in my weakest moments. Which ironically is where I find my strength. It is when I embrace and share my pain and my truth that the beauty arises.

In my family, and in my culture, quiet, dignified stoicism is valued. Anything less than perfect was to be hidden. Not even acknowledged. It was shameful. I grew up with a lot of secrets. Questions were not to be asked. Details of anyone or anything or everything were never to be shared. Disappointments hung heavily in the air. So I stuffed it all down and chased it down with a couple shots of Shame.

It took years for me to be able to utter these sins— imperfections and mistakes and wrongdoings of my family members and myself–in the secrecy of therapy. I’d always found solace in writing, in journaling. But saying these things out loud…well, it was blasphemy. It took many  more years to say them out loud to others, and own them as part of my history, my truth, my self.

I have worked hard at recovering from perfectionism. I’ve worked hard at accepting and embracing my flaws and mistakes. I’ve worked hard at not personalizing other people’s issues and thoughts and judgments. I’ve worked hard at forgiving and being love. I’ve worked hard at putting down the facade of who I wanted the world to think I was, and instead be who I really am. I’ve worked hard at doing these hard things.

And I know you’ve done hard things too. Which is why I share in my struggles and triumphs and frustrations. I don’t share to dishonor my family. We all share common moments of everything falling apart around us, of almost drowning in despair, of feeling Not Enough in some way, of feeling like I was the only one that… My family does too–fall apart, despair, feel inadequate. They just don’t talk about it. My Shame hangover was hurting too much for me, so I stopped. And started writing. Out loud.

My family would be horrified that I was airing dirty family laundry out in public. They would not approve. This would be the ultimate failure of me in their eyes. And yet this is one of my crowning moments of pride. And this is when I am reminded that we love each other the best we can. And we need not like everything about someone to love them. So I am ok with not sharing this success with them, ironically keeping my own secret. And trust me, they’re more than ok with not knowing. And we end each day knowing we love each other the best way we know how. That is not a secret.

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17 Responses to Family Secrets

  1. dray0308 says:

    Interesting to learn of cultural differences. I enjoyed, good read!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for giving voice to the “Shame Hangovers” that so many of us experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. pennysrice says:

    “So I stuffed it all down and chased it down with a couple shots of Shame.” That is one of the most perfect sentences capturing it exactly. I’m probably old enough to be your mother and I am so very, very proud of you and your ability to express it so wonderfully. I think this column will touch a lot of people right where it needs to be felt. Extremely well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Be out, be proud, be honest, be open. Shame and secret serve little constructive purpose. If one remains tethered to cultural roots or societal expectations, how does one use their voice to help others grow? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Congrats on fulfilling your dream to write and kudos on your honesty, vulverability and loosening the grip of perfectionism. I’ve been working on my perfectionism for a long time. And maybe sometimes keeping something private is a measure of kindness and respect. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Michael says:

    Congratulations, Susanna! I enjoyed your article “How I Became a Shadow of Myself.” I think not only our best writing, but our best living comes when we’re vulnerable… It creates bridges, whereas the dignified stoicism can too often (it seems) produce islands…

    Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  7. OH, I relate so very much to this. My family is from South America and it took me many months to let them know I have a blog. I worried so much of their judgement for “airing my dirty laundry”. When I finally worked up the courage to tell them, via a group email, my hands were shaking as I hit “send”. I don’t think they “get it”. I don’t think they see the value in what I am trying to do. They think I’m doing it just for me. But it’s not…it’s an effort to make a difference. Telling my life-stories is not an attempt to dishonor them (just as you wrote) but a way to let others know they are not alone; that if I have found resilience through all of my life’s obstacles, so can they. If I have learned life lessons, so can they. Sorry, I’m rambling…it’s just exciting for me to find a blogger who has such a similar family dynamic. Thanks for hearing me out. Lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not rambling at all! (And apologies for such a tardy reply. It has been so busy here!) I’m so excited you were so brave to let them know! I hope they understand and accept your truth! Keep writing! Thank you for sharing your story with me, and keep sharing your truths to the world!!

      Like

  8. Flyychick says:

    What you write about culture and airing dirty laundry resonates with me a lot. My family is (traditional) Chinese and I was born and raised in England. We do not tell people about our innermost thoughts and feelings. We do not reveal our secrets or failures. We have to think about reputation! I don’t know your heritage but I feel we have a lot in common. I have studied psychotherapy, although I’m not fully qualified. I’m a single mother. I also have a blog but don’t make that public because some of what I write is too too private.
    I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Congratulations on your courage to write a blog! Who you show it to does not matter as much as the courage it takes to put down in words your Truth. Yes, I’m Chinese as well, and we grew up not acknowledging feelings and personal thoughts. I learned that simply because you don’t put words to them, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist! I’m glad we’ve connected. I hope some of my other essays resonate with you as well!

      Like

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