Where was she now? My rambunctious and sneaky Sophia was nowhere to be found. Still in her footie pajamas, it was easier for her to be stealthy. I retraced my steps through the house. When I came back down to the living room the quiet was eerie. I heard the slightest shift of her. From where? Behind the chair? I knelt onto the chair with both knees so I could peer over the back. In the corner, nestled behind the chair was my two-year-old, her face full of cookies. She didn’t just get caught with her hand in the cookie jar, she had the entire cookie jar in her lap.
In my mind’s eye it could have been twenty minutes ago instead of over 14 years. Of all the millions of memories I could have of my girls, this one is a favorite. I have wondered why this one has stuck with me. It strikes me as strongly today as it did back then, how surprised I was that she instinctively knew to hide her shameful behavior. At only two, she already knew that when you are literally indulging in bad behavior you should hide it.
I see that we never outgrow that knowing. I see spouses all the time hiding money, hiding lovers, hiding habits, hiding addictions, and hiding feelings. They do it during the marriage and continue when the marriage is ending, and it is always the shameful behavior that is pushed into the darkness. I have accepted it as human nature. We do not want people to know that we have devious urges and worse yet, that we act on them. And yet we all do it. Every single one of us.
As a divorce lawyer, one of my job requirements is to support people to bring their shame to the surface. This is important for healing, for a fair and right outcome, and for restoring integrity as they move toward their new future. In some ways my office serves as a makeshift confessional as men and woman spill out their truths through sobbing and sorrys. I have been curious more than once about what could have happened if they hadn’t waited until the end and instead had been brave in their present and confided in their spouse. Would it have changed the outcome they so dread now? What would it be like if we did evolve from our two-year-old selves and confronted the truth instead of worrying about getting caught?
I see firsthand the sheer relief that washes over someone when they share their shame. When they have finally uttered the handful of sentences that have consumed their worries. I watch as they realize they are still breathing, and the reaction was not nearly as severe as they expected. They then can put a plan in place for apologies, amends, forgiveness of themselves, or simply acknowledging that behavior no longer needs to define them.
When we come out from behind the chair in the corner and return the cookie jar to the counter, like my sweet Sophia, we can say “I am sorry.” With the truth revealed comes the release of our shame, and a new path forward to follow.