Family secrets

Family secrets

What happens when a family keeps a secret about a tragedy buried for decades?

That’s the premise of Dani Shapiro’s new novel Signal Fires.  Reading it for a book club, I couldn’t help but overlay that question on my own family’s history.

What if I had never disclosed – to anyone – that my son had an addiction?  What if I had admonished his older sister, let alone his father, NOT to mention Jacob’s “issue” to anyone?

From mid-adolescence to young adulthood, Jacob robbed us – and himself – of some of our best years.

But what if we had lived all the years that followed ducking any question about him, avoiding gatherings where it might come up, too ashamed to let anyone – even my closest relatives – know our “shameful” family secret?

How would our lives be different today?

Of course, we will never know.  Publishing a book about Jacob’s condition and my own path to healing clearly uncovered the “secret.”

But what if I hadn’t written that memoir?  What if I hadn’t shared with anyone who cared to know that my family lived, even briefly, with a secret that made us all sick with anxiety, loneliness, loss and fear?

Yet I did share.  And thanks largely to Al-Anon,  here’s what endures:

  • A bond, enriched with respect and pride and joy, with the son I have today.
  • A tighter bond with my husband, daughter, family and friends
  • The freedom to talk about addiction, and – whenever it presents itself – the opportunity to help others.
  • A deeper empathy with anyone living with a chronic illness – of any kind.
  • Humility born of living with a loved one’s life-threatening condition that I didn’t cause, could neither control nor cure.

As the saying goes, we are only as sick as our secrets.

Why keep them?