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Wendy Bradford Headshot

It's No Secret

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Wendy Bradford Headshot

It's No Secret

Posted: Updated:

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

Having spent time in recovery for eating disorders -- in 12-step programs, group therapy, individual therapy, a hospital -- I don't have many secrets left. "You are only as sick as your secrets," recovering addicts are fond of saying. I don't believe that is necessarily true. For the record, one may be capable, I am only guessing, of deeds or thoughts, or have the ability to become, way sicker than any secret. But I get the point.

It is difficult to leave our pasts behind, and thus ever stop self-destructive and addictive behaviors if we hold tight to the shame we believe defines us. And for all intents and purposes our secrets do define us. Beginning in my early twenties and into my thirties I regularly attended 12-step meetings, doing the required work of the program. I "admitted" many secrets to many fellow addicts. I don't think I shocked one of them.

Sometimes I'd sit in stairwells, with notebooks on lap, and I'd read off my "work" to a recovered person who had read her secrets to a recovered person. Once I read for hours in a spectacular penthouse apartment. Once I read on the beach. My secrets went back to grade school. I had been nurturing them like baby chicks.

And there they were on pages and pages and pages of paper. No more powerful than a grocery list or descriptions of dreams.

I wrote in coffee shops, in the morning before work, for a little while at night. I didn't like it at all. There were moments, however, that I experienced the presence of something greater than myself. -- Wendy Bradford

I wrote for years. An inventory of sorts -- but in essence a list of my fears, my defects of character, and my thoughts and actions over the years that hurt myself and others. It was a long list.

The writing was brutal enough. Although it became routine and in that way, easier. I wrote in coffee shops, in the morning before work, for a little while at night. I didn't like it at all. There were moments, however, that I experienced the presence of something greater than myself. I am not religious; I do not believe in organized religion. There were, though, these times of profound spirit. And I am grateful to have had them.

While I felt connected, supported while I wrote all my "worst" thoughts and actions out, my most intense experiences truly happened later as I read to another person.

I had never heard my own voice tell any of these secrets. It was horrifying. It did not feel liberating or cleansing. Certainly not at first. But it was a critical effort in my recovery from eating disorders. I could not have moved forward having had that garbage in my head, and only in my head. It eventually became the point at which I trusted things -- and I -- would be okay.

Having told another person (several different people over the years) what I could barely stand to think myself proved I could survive other people knowing exactly who I am. I no longer walk around -- as I once did -- afraid of being found out. The worst of me did not destroy me; I would never have known otherwise. I believe it is the reason I am able today to write my blog -- and it is what drives me to write it with the honesty I hope that I achieve.

My secret right now is this. As I am writing, I am also shopping online. As my husband has been entering and leaving the kitchen, I am repeatedly, quickly, and with a good measure of panic, minimizing that shopping window.

Recovery is a personal and individual journey; I am not an expert, and this is not a complete description. Please seek professional advice if you need help with addiction.

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