“Family secrets, Andrew.”

Andrew Atkins.

Andrew Atkins

One of my uncles recently told me of a time when I was in elementary school, and I ran out of the house on my way to the day’s adventure. My mom called after me: “Family secrets, Andrew!”

I can think of a few reasons why she might have said that to me. One, my sister never knew when to stop talking, and I inherited that. Two, I habitually overshared. Three, some things that are (in retrospect) harmless could have landed my family in hot water.

Case in point: My dad had a convertible.

The backseat had a gigantic hole burned in the upholstery from a cigarette or something, and the entire interior perpetually smelled like smoke and gasoline.

My dad, in all his nonsense, decided to lend this convertible to a 12-year-old neighborhood boy so the kid could practice backing up and down the driveway.

Yes, I know a 12-year-old doesn’t need to practice driving, but that’s a moot point because my dad was drunk and my mom wasn’t around to pump the brakes because of the joint custody situation.


We all piled into the backseat, careful to avoid the foul-smelling hole and enjoyed the excitement of going backward ten feet and forward ten feet — very slowly.

Of course, this was incredible to me. I went into my kindergarten class and told anybody who would (and wouldn’t) listen about this fantastic adventure I had in my driveway.

My teacher heard, and a very nice woman called me into the principal’s office and asked me to share this adventure with her, too. How could I stay quiet?

So that’s the story of how my mom got a very unhappy phone call from the office of the very nice woman.

Reflecting back, I realize I haven’t lost this habit of sharing, but this applies to so much more in my life than just the — relatively — exciting things.

I’ve never been particularly adept at keeping “family secrets” — at least not the kind that exclusively apply to me.

Sharing the things that hurt me most has always been one of my greatest sources of healing, and I’ve often found it particularly helpful to let out the feelings I’ve been bottling up.

And let’s face it, bottling things up is a coping mechanism that works for few people.

Leon Seltzer for “Psychology Today” notes that while venting doesn’t always work, it’s typically a useful way to calm yourself.

“Generally, it’s better to let things out than hold them in,” he writes. “And doing so feels almost akin to problem-solving — in the moment, at least. Venting your frustrations alleviates tension and stress. You almost always feel better — and ‘lighter’ — after sharing some perceived threat, indignity, misfortune or injustice.”

He goes on to note that too much venting,can actually negate positive effects, but we have to start somewhere.

I’m of the opinion that we should work to destigmatize sharing things that make us vulnerable. You don’t have to share it with the world, but I encourage those difficult conversations with the people we trust most.

Our vulnerabilities are what make us human. We shouldn’t try to be anything but.

Andrew Atkins is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].