Coming Out

When I wrote this post, all I was trying to do was to make sense of my feelings after an upsetting incident last spring.  I wasn’t quite sure why I was as upset as I was and was simply trying to sort out my feelings and set things out in a logical way so I could absorb the lessons I needed to and move forward without grudges or baggage.  I don’t think I ever intended for people to read the post–certainly not people who knew who I was–except for a very very select few with whom I had already shared my deepest confidences.

But for a number of reasons (which hopefully I’ll get around to discussing in another post), I submitted the post for publication to an on-line journal and it went live last week.  And despite the personal nature of the article, I decided to announce it on my facebook page and posted a link to it.

I still am not sure why I did this.  Maybe I was curious whether anyone actually read what I wrote or cared what I thought enough to click through.   Maybe I felt as though I was past the worst of everything and it didn’t matter as much anymore.  Or maybe I was just tired of keeping it a secret.  In any event, about two hundred people–most of whom had absolutely no idea of what I had been through–had immediate access to some of my most private thoughts and experiences.

Anyone who has ever been to a Twelve Step meeting has heard the slogans thrown around–let go and let God, one day at a time, it works if you work it.  While I have a great deal of admiration and respect for the people I know who are in recovery and who have worked the Twelve Steps, these slogans are like chalk grating on a blackboard.  Some of them are as banal as a Hallmark greeting card and the sheer repetition at meetings and on message boards makes them insufferable.

On the other hand, their sheer simplicity makes them effective as well.  I never forgot the phrase “You are only as sick as your secrets.”  Every time I talked to another person about my eating disorder, I kept thinking it might be the silver bullet, that the simple act of sharing might help me kick the bulimia to the curb once and for all.  The day after I shared at a yoga circle, I felt flayed and as raw and vulnerable as a lobster that had just molted its hard shell.  I practiced in tears that day.  But I also felt more open and human and connected in a way that I rarely did, and I knew that feeling came from my disclosure the day before.

Tiptoeing into sharing taught me that at worst, no one thought any less of me and at best, no one thought any less of me. My shame had given rise to a level of narcissism that was completely misguided.  Despite my fears, my eating disorder did not define me.  I was still myself, with all my warts and my blessings.  Nothing more, nothing less.

So it was time.  I wanted to be a writer.  I’ve always wanted to be a writer.  And writing the way I wanted to write meant exposing myself at a certain level. If I waited until I was completely comfortable, I would never do it.  Still, hitting that “send” button was a moment.  I had no idea what to expect, whether I’d be reviled, pitied, or worse, ignored.

What I’ve gotten back since that day has been nothing short of miraculous.  In the past, I was taught that presenting a strong and happy and together front was the best way to get through life.  Yet by presenting the weak and insecure and uncertain side of myself, I’ve received more than I ever have by being (or pretending to be) perfect.  Family, friends, neighbors, even people I haven’t seen in decades (thank you, facebook!) have read the piece, acknowledged it, and wrote words of support.  Some of them have faced the same demons I have.  Now they know they are not alone.

Most important to me, though, has been my father’s reaction.  While we love each other very much, we have had our ups and downs over the years.  Although we were in a better place a few months ago than we had been for ages, sometimes I still questioned whether he cared about what I thought or would approve of me if he could see who I really was.  Now I know.  After reading my article,  he sent me an email that touched me deep in my heart.  He is proud of me, proud that I am a good writer and that I am courageous and insightful enough to put myself out there the way I did.  My father’s eightieth birthday is on Friday and although he is healthy, we both know that every year that passes gives us less time together in the future.  Publishing this article had the unintended consequence of bringing us closer together than any calculated effort on my part could have, and I am so grateful.

I still have my secrets.  I think all of us do.  But bringing this particular secret out of the shadows and into the light has made it lose so much of its power and its oppressiveness that I’m starting to wonder what else would happen if I continue to share.  Coming out of the closet was frightening, but the sense of freedom I’ve been experiencing for the past week has made up for it a thousandfold.  Perhaps what I tell my students is true, that if you face your fears and move through them, you can emerge stronger and more whole on the other side.

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