Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Emotional Bulimia

So my spuah-star friend S, her husband, and I went to the Post Secret lecture at the University of Redlands last night.

It was very cool and Frank Warren was a very poised, simple speaker that seemed to be the most amazed at the Post Secret phenomenon than anybody else in the room. There were about 300-400 people there and I'm guessing the average age was about 21. It was kind of funny being in line and having this involved conversation about economic imperatives and globalization while the kids around us supplied a good amount of "whattha? whotha?" looks.

Post Secret is a fascinating concept. Frank started passing out post cards at night to random people in Washington DC and put his home address on it and asked people to write down their secrets and to his amazement a lot of people did. He stopped passing out post cards but they continued to come and not by 3s and 4s but by 50s and 60s and soon the 100s. He said now its a regular thing for him to receive 200 postcards a DAY.

There have been books published and art exhibits and people have been changed by being able to read the deep workings of other people.

He recounted the story about an exhibit that they had at Georgetown where they were displaying the secrets and there was a girl there that was holding one of the postcards and came up to Frank in total amazement. It had been written on a picture frame insert and had said that "I wish my life were as simple as a picture frame insert" and she said that she had recently broken up with her boyfriend because she realized she was in an abusive relationship when she read another postcard that said "my boyfriend is so abusive I have ceased to have any opinions of my own" and she sent in the picture frame insert postcard as a reaction and they happened to be displayed right next to each other at this event.

That, I think, is the ethos of Post Secret and why it's so remarkable. It's this private, respectful, shared catharsis and it's beautiful.

Frank's mantra is that "we don't keep secrets, secrets keep us". They keep us from being ourselves. Also that there are two kinds of secrets, the kind we keep from others, and the kind we keep from ourselves. As an example he shared a moment he had with a secret similar to the picture frame insert girl. When he was reading a secret about someone else's humiliating childhood experience and it surfaced one from his own past he hadn't realized he was hiding. So he wrote it down on a postcard and sent it away. It came right back to him but that process was very freeing. In turn, he tries to treat people's secrets with great respect. There isn't any advertising on the site, it's totally funded by the book sales etc.

However, that kind of sincerity was not there last night. Frank and his presentation were lovely and beautifully sincere, but for the last portion of the night there was a mic set up for people to come forward and tell a secret if they wanted to. It was the last part of the lecture and, after a night's worth of reflection I'm not sure a single secret was really shared.

People got up and said "I sent you this secret and it looked like this and I wrote it this way and I want you to know that blah blah blah". That seemed to defeat the entire set up of Post Secret to me.

Another stand out one was a woman who got up to say "I'm 33 and wonderful and have a plethora of friends both online and off and they think I'm amazing and wise and spiritual and perfect and I'm afraid to tell them that I drink it all away and I can't stop and if they knew that that they won't think that I'm super or wise or smart or spiritual anymore". She spent a good 5 minutes "telling her secret" with a line of 20 or so people and only 20 min allotted for the mic. It didn't feel or sound like a confession at all. It felt more of a display. I think her real secret is "I'm an alcoholic" and as S's hubby smartly pointed out, "I'm an alcoholic who doesn't want to change". She didn't want to say that or she doesn't realize it yet. Either way - it left me wondering.

Wondering if she really thought that that was her secret, like, if she had diluted herself enough to fear being thought of less by her friends than alcoholism, and why she had to take so much time to paint that picture that she did, and how I felt that kind of pomp and circumstance diluted the gravity of her secret whatever it was.

I brought this up to S and her husband on the way home along with the concept of "emotional bulimia" and S was open to exploring the idea with me. Emotional bulimia is a Patrick Phrase. It's kind of a family joke. We all talk to each other so much about the tiniest tedium of things and there are a few of us who almost manically grind up bothersome things over and over and talk about them to us over and over that by the end of the issue we're all exhausted with it and numb to the reality that it really has for that person.

Like, I think that airing out secrets in such a manner of robs them of their reality to a degree. What I love about Post Secret is that it's a private way of letting go of your secrets. The mic portion of the evening taught me that element of the project hasn't permeated the majority of the people who subscribe.

It also left me wondering why people (going back to the alcoholic girl) would emotionally flail around like that, especially publicly, and among their peers.

Were they not given enough attention as a child? Were they not hugged enough? Were they not taught respect for their feelings or the feelings of others? Are they not even literate about what they feel? Are their problems not real unless 1000s of people know about them? Do they not feel alive or human or worth something unless someone is listening? Do they not know themselves at all? Am I one of them but in an opposite manner? Do I just not talk about anything remotely close to any nerve centers? Because that has to be just as unhealthy.

Frank encouraged us to share our secrets with the people we were with on our way back to our cars etc and we didn't really. We talked about what brats we were essentially. I shared something I never shared before though that had to do with why my friend and I were brats. So that's a secret I guess -

We were sitting by an open doorway close to the ladies room and when the presentation started we kept hearing strange sounds coming from the hallway. They were vocalizations but not utterances. S and I both looked over at the doorway the third time one erupted and she finally got up to investigate and it turned out that there was a deaf woman in the hallway communicating with an interpreter. S wanted to see what was going on so she could know what she was getting annoyed at but I just stayed in my seat and painted a picture in my mind of what could possibly be going on.

I was hesitant to investigate because when I 21 and in the MTC I was brushing my teeth in the community bathroom and I heard someone in the stalls heaving and throwing up behind me. Now emotions run pretty high in the MTC, especially in the sister's dorm and the food there isn't so easy on people's systems so I wasn't too surprised. What concerned me is that it continued for about 5 minutes. And later that night I was walking by the bathroom door and heard the same thing and I realized that whoever was in the stall wasn't ill, she was making herself throw up. However, I did nothing. I said nothing. I just realized how sick this girl was and kept walking. Two days later the other 5 sisters in my district were talking about it and how the girl went home. The whole floor knew about it apparently but I still feel bad for doing nothing. Not approaching the girl, not approaching my coordinating sisters, nothing. I suppose every time I've tried to approach someone that's struggling in their disease I've been snapped at or worse so I've learned to keep my distance. But it's not out of respect like I tell myself it is, its out of fear. She needed help and I did nothing.

So I suppose that's a secret. I'm a wimp.

I better go tell a 1000 people.


Quixotic Healer said...

So interesting. I love that site, there is something special about each secret, even the ones I consider "bad." It's funny, I'm still so glad to read them.

I guess I just can't help rejoicing in honesty.

--I'm a coward. That's one of my secrets. I remember when my brother had his heart broken. I woke up in the middle of the night to his wracking sobs. I'd never seen/heard him cry before. I lay in bed and did nothing. Eventually, my mom woke up and went to him, but that situation is one I've found myself in often. I don't like intruding, but mostly I'm afraid to deal with sadness/anger/fear or other uncomfortable things.

....hmmm. And I thought I didn't have any deep secrets.

Liz W. said...

Post Secret is such an interesting concept.

I've always wondered if telling a secret really has the effect people are expecting.

I should probably tell one to see what happens...

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