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Author Interview Q&A

John Howard Prin, Addictions Counselor

Q: Tell us what you mean by the term Secret Keeping.

Everybody keeps secrets, but some people live secret lives that are completely unknown to others. I call these people – anyone whose unhealthy secrets become so compulsive that they must hide their activities from everybody – Secret Keepers.

Q: OK, so just what is a Secret Keeper?

Secret Keepers are wounded people who see the world as hostile and have retreated to a place where they can have power and control. They function publicly in the real world as husbands, wives, co-workers, and neighbors but – when nobody is looking – they "steal hours" to act out their fantasies and cravings.

Q: Sounds creepy. Are these people weird or mentally ill?

Not at all. They could be the shopper ahead of you in the supermarket line. Or the driver beside you on the freeway. Or someone you work with or live with. They act and behave normally in everyday life, but are wearing masks that cover up their double lives. And nobody has a clue.

Q: How many Secret Keepers do you think are out there?

I estimate about one in fifteen people is a Secret Keeper. In America today, that's about 20 million people.

Q: That's quite a few. Can you give us some examples of people we might know?

Sure. Bill Clinton carried on a secret life for many years…until Monica. Charles Lindbergh fathered a family of three children in Germany whom he kept secret for decades. Charles Kuralt, the CBS roving reporter, had a 29-year affair with a mistress who made herself known at his funeral. Princess Di kept her bulimia hidden more than 15 years. Sara Jane Olson, a.k.a. Kathleen Soliah of the Sibionese Liberation Army, kept her identity secret for 24 years until she got arrested. The list goes on.

Q: I get the idea that secret keeping takes many forms.

That's correct. Secret Keepers are seeking escape in the pleasures and thrills of their secret lives, whether the hours they steal are centered on drugs, alcohol, sex, food, or money. Think of the person in your office who sneaks hours at their work computer gambling online. Or think of the woman who shops for 400 pairs of shoes that she brings home but never wears. Myself? I used to get drunk at home alone on weeknights for years and nobody ever knew.

Q: Really? Did you get up the next morning and go to work?

Absolutely. Never missed a day. I'd have a throbbing headache and feel like throwing up all morning, but I would put the mask on and fool everybody. Like I said, Secret Keepers function in the real world and still do good things like earning a living, going to their kids' soccer games, and paying taxes.

Q: And you did this for years but nobody knew?

That's right. I have an identical twin brother who is four minutes older. My secret keeping started when I was about 12 – doing things other than drinking – and lasted until I was 52, but he never once knew. Even my wife didn't have a hint or clue about most things. But that was then, and now is now. Nowadays I want the world to know there's a much better way to seek meaning, joy, and fulfillment in life.

Q: What do you mean exactly?

I mean that secret–keeping ultimately destroys the individual – as it nearly did in my own life – and as I've learned it does in so many others' lives. My mission today is to help people who are caught in their secret–keeping traps to get free and to guide them to live authentically…what I call the H.O.T. life – the Honest, Open, Transparent life.

Q: What are some key factors that can lead to secret–keeping?

It took me some years in my own recovery to sort these out. One factor is what I call the Lure of secret–keeping Emotions…the excitement of breaking rules, the pleasure of indulging in what's forbidden, and the delight of not getting caught. This can start at a very early age or any time, like stealing a cookie when nobody is looking
Another is what happens when we grow up from childhood to adolescence – a term I've named Developmental Deficits. These are hurtful situations during our stages of growth when something vital goes missing or gets twisted sideways, and we learn self-defeating ways of dealing with these deficits, then carry them into adulthood. Eventually we learn to hide doing the shameful things we feel guilty about in order to avoid disapproval, but end up dividing ourselves mentally and emotionally. The cost for this cleverness is very high…we split our psyches and risk great damage to our relationships and reputations.

Q. What are some clues to identifying a Secret Keeper?

It's not easy, because Secret Keepers present well. They are heavily invested in a positive image; they sense much is at stake and polish their reputations; they seldom have criminal histories. They are experts at "impression management." They're great actors who dress well and have good hygiene. Often you don't identify them until they're found out, or until they get tired of living two lives and come clean.

Q. You've written that Secret Keepers attempt to maximize pleasure and minimize pain and that is their problem: what then is the solution?

Good question. I present six stages of what I call the Blueprint for Gaining Freedom and devote a full chapter to each concept. Briefly, these stages are:

  1. SURRENDER secret–keeping habits and attitudes
  2. ACCEPT your duality and start understanding it
  3. PREPARE to state the true facts
  4. DISCLOSE the true facts (your secrets) to somebody
  5. TRUST in a new world view
  6. ACCOUNT for your present and future behavior.

Q. So, is it possible to change?

Short answer, yes. Is it easy? No. But many former Secret Keepers whom I've interviewed and profiled have done it. I have myself. The help is available if you will only be open to it.

Q: Do you have some do’s and don’ts for disclosing secrets?

Yes , several. (See lists on pages 193-195…) The key is, the Secret Keeper has both power and control over who, what, when, where, and how much to tell.

Q: How does your book help Secret Keepers and those who are living with secret keepers?

I have included multiple checklists, and activity sheets, along with numerous case histories. I think readers will see parts of themselves in these stories and the wisdom of getting help. Sadly, even after progress has been made in some cases, relapse can occur. I include a list of 12 things to watch for and my company, TrueYouRecovery, is dedicated to assisting people who want healthy minds and emotions to reach that goal.

Q: What one thing, or step, can a person take if they want to change and be free of their secret–keeping?

Get honest. Find the courage to stop your insanity and admit your need for help. Write down the truth about your secret life in a letter or journal…describe the details of the mess you're in and the people you know you are hurting…then describe the freedom you would feel if you didn't have to carry the burden of your double life any more. Next, mail the letter to yourself and read it. Read it like it was from sent from a stranger. Feel the full dimensions of it. End the battle with yourself. Then find a safe person to confide in and tell your story.

Secret Keeping

Secret Keeping

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