8: The Power of a Secret

8: The Power of a Secret

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

The Power of a Secret

There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.

~John Holmes

I once had a secret that was so shameful it almost destroyed my health. I was always on guard, protecting the secret that would surely hurt my family if it saw the light of day. Ever alert, I changed the subject when a conversation got a little too close for comfort. I had ready-made answers in case I was caught off guard with a question. I tried to avoid socializing whenever possible.

It has been said that you’re only as sick as your secrets. Mine led me into a bout of depression, gave me high blood pressure, and caused chest pains that sent me to the emergency room.

My secret was changing me. The positive person that I once was had become a hopeless shell of my former self.

I couldn’t continue down this path. My family needed me to be healthy. I had to find a way to live with the painful secret before it destroyed me and my entire family.

My sister was one of the few people who knew what was going on and she was deeply concerned. She found a place that she thought would help so we went to check it out. Upon entering the room, we were greeted with friendly smiles and warm welcomes. I felt comfortable.

The session got underway. I listened as other people shared pieces of their lives. Some of their stories sounded very similar to mine. My heart began to feel safe amongst these strangers. Then, it was my turn to speak. For the first time, I said out loud, “My name is Rose and I am the mother of an addict.”

My sobs came fast and furious until I could no longer speak. My throat felt like it was closing in, trying to hold on to words that were too painful to be spoken. I waved to indicate that we should move on to the next person. The members encouraged me to continue.

I finished my story using all the energy that I could muster. The kind, caring people surrounding me were so supportive. They understood how painful this journey was, how one day you are a regular mom to a beautiful child with hopes and dreams for the future, and the next you are the mom of a child struggling with addiction who may die before his time. They understood how your dreams become nightmares. Every person in that room had experienced this transition. I no longer felt alone. The weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders for the first time in a very long time.

That was the beginning of my healing process. My secret lost its power to destroy me when I realized that I was not alone. I continued to go to support groups, and I read everything that I could find about addiction. As a result, I got stronger and healthier.

I was ready to take another big step. I wanted to go public with our family’s “secret” as a way to raise awareness. My hope was that other families might be spared the heartache of addiction. There was one big thing standing in my way: I was gripped by a lifelong fear of public speaking. I was also concerned about what others would think of my beautiful family if they knew the truth.

I was determined not to let fear stand in the way of doing something that might save lives. I was going to start talking publicly even if it killed me. As far as what other people would think, I came to realize that no amount of stigma would ever hurt as much as watching my son slowly die from his addiction, and feeling powerless to save him. If I could make it through that, I could make it through anything!

Within weeks, I was invited to speak to a university class about our family’s experience. The reality of what I was about to do hit me hard. I was terrified!

I began to have self-doubts and second thoughts but I worked through them. The silence around addiction was deafening and deadly. I needed to use my voice. I had so many things to say, and I was determined to say them.

When the big day arrived, I mentally prepared myself for the fact that I might pass out in front of the class or not be able to speak at all because of my intense fear. I was willing to take that chance.

The classroom was full. I took a seat while the professor introduced me. My heart was pounding. This was the point of no return. My secret was about to be shared with strangers who might or might not understand. I was opening myself up to judgment and stigma. It was about to get personal but I was ready. I said a little prayer to myself: “Dear God, please let the words that I want to say, and the words that they need to hear, be the words that come out of my mouth.”

I walked to the front of the class, thanked the professor and stood at the podium. I looked into the eyes of the students. At that moment, I felt a calm come over me like I had never experienced before. It started at the top of my head and worked its way down to my toes. I no longer felt nervous. Instead, I felt empowered. I knew with every ounce of my being that this was what I was meant to be doing. It was my calling. That defining moment changed my life.

I have spoken publicly many times since then. I am a passionate advocate who works hard every day to give a voice to the voiceless. Now, instead of my secret having the power to destroy me, it has the power to help others. It is a powerful weapon that fights stigma, gives hope and saves lives each and every day.

~Rose Barbour

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