The Cost of Secrets

 (Fourteenth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)

When Breaking Bad was released in 2008, our son, and most of his generation of young people, watched it. He told us about it and encouraged us to watch it while also warning us that there would be some parts we wouldn’t like – but to keep watching. We did and he was right. But JL knew that we wanted to be connected to his life through the media he viewed and so we became fully engaged and finished the series.

When I think back about it now I realize that we didn’t fully ‘get’ why JL wanted us to watch this series. I believe now that he wanted us to understand the complications and conflicts that drug use brings into a life, perhaps knowing it would reveal secrets that he just couldn’t talk about with us directly. His life was complicated and so he lived with many inner conflicts. It is the inescapable nature of any addiction.

Several months after our son died, we found an IT technician who could get past his security code and unlock his phone. I tentatively sorted through some of the photos, unsure of what I would find, unsure if I really wanted to see what was there, but very sure that I would continue to wonder if I didn’t. He kept his phone secure and very private. There are reasons people keep secrets. With a sudden death, that privacy is lost, and many well-guarded secrets are exposed.

A recent study entitled The Experience of Secrecy (link below) reviewed ten studies on the psychology of secrecy. We normally consider hiding a secret as something we consciously decide to do while interacting with someone. This study shed light on the cost of keeping secrets due to our minds spontaneously and frequently wandering to them – subconsciously –  which happens much more often than the intent to conceal.  And the more frequently our minds are drawn to our secret, the lower our well-being in relationship satisfaction, authenticity, and physical health.

Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets. – Paul Tournier

Secret keeping affects our overall quality of life by weighing us down with emotional burdens. We use energy to resist thinking about a secret, and we become anxious and depressed when we consider what would happen if our secret is revealed. According to the seriousness of the secret, we may isolate ourselves from others, our sleep can be disrupted, we can have real difficulty focusing on our work and goals. Our brains are preoccupied in survival mode which is intended for only short stints, not marathons.

We keep secrets due to feeling guilt and/or shame for any number of reasons, valid or invalid. But something miraculous happens when we are finally able to reveal our secret to at least one trusted person: the secret loses its death grip on us and we find we are able to move ahead by thinking clearly and making choices and changes with the help and input from others. We are no longer alone. In retrospect, we wish we would have made a more open and accepting environment surrounding our son’s drug addiction so that he would have felt safe sharing secrets that were weighing him down. We didn’t realize how important it was to JL to not disappoint us. He probably felt if we knew everything about his drug-life, we would have thought less of him and that would have added to his guilt and shame. If he had been confident that we would listen empathetically while offering support and advice, we might have had a son alive and in recovery today.

Author: Jude DiMeglio Trang

My husband, John, and I are parents of a young opiate addict who died of an accidental heroin overdose at 25. These are our credentials for writing and working towards reversing the exponentially rising statistics for opiate addiction and deaths in our country and the world.

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