Years ago when I was blogging anonymously about same-sex attraction and other personal struggles, I coined my own term for the “real life” people who knew everything — my “Deep Dark Secret Club,” I called it. Or DDS Club, for short. Now working with kids in wilderness therapy, I recently rediscovered what I thought was my acronym right there in my staff manual. It described a “DDS group” to have with the kids where they’d reveal some deep dark secret from their lives, spawning further vulnerability in the group.

Funny how that works — not my employer stealing my acronym, but that whole bit of vulnerability begetting vulnerability.

The art of vulnerability remains a bizarre paradox I don’t fully understand. The reason we even have our deep dark secrets is to keep others at bay — either set in a clean friendship box or locked away altogether.

We grow so convinced of our grossness, our depravity, and our utter unappealingness to humanity. Or at least, that’s how I’ve always felt.

How could sharing my deep dark secrets possibly draw people deeper into a relationship with me?

And yet, time and again, my vulnerability has begotten further vulnerability from another. I share about my struggles with gay pornography; he shares about straight pornography. I open up my mountains of self-doubt; she discloses her own insecurities. Our stories connect further, and the shadowy pages seem less sinister.

It’s like we enter a fourth dimension for our friendship, learning things we never knew before, seeing each other anew not through odious eyes but understanding ones.

That’s not to say vulnerability will always be some magical cure for our guilt and shame. Clearly, there are people we should not include in our Deep Dark Secret Clubs. We need wisdom and good judgment with others — because once it comes out, we can never take it back.

The stakes are huge with vulnerability. What’s done is done; what’s said cannot be unsaid.

I’ll be honest here — sometimes, my vulnerability has backfired. Not in the moment. I can’t think of a time where my vulnerability was met with outright rejection. Over the years, I’ve been blessed by family and friends alike who have heard me, asked questions, prayed with me, prayed over me, and otherwise passed the entrance exam to my Deep Dark Secret Club with flying colors.

But with the art of vulnerability comes the art of relationship-building. Writing a book and on this blog seems to have made me a self-proclaimed expert at the former, while the latter remains an ongoing challenge.

It’s one thing to confess some deep dark secret in the soil; it’s another to tend this secret garden for weeks, months, years afterward.

Weeds form.

Drought comes.

Relationships take work. Unbearable work.

Several members of my Deep Dark Secret Club aren’t even my friends anymore. It kinda breaks my heart.

If you’d have told me at the time of my vulnerability that one day I’d no longer be friends with Person A or Person B, I don’t know that I’d have initiated them into my esteemed Club in the first place.

Why waste each other’s time?

Nonetheless, I’m a firm believer that nothing is wasted in this life. I’m grateful to have crossed those relational bridges with them. We may not be friends anymore, but they helped me get here. And I’d like to think I also helped them reach some higher relational plateau in their own lives.

I hope their Deep Dark Secret Clubs grow larger by the year.

I hope I continue reaching out to others despite the inherent risk that comes with love and relationships.

I hope humanity’s collective vulnerability continues to beget beautiful vulnerability.

Who’s in your Deep Dark Secret Club? Have you ever had an experience in vulnerability backfire? What’s keeping you going, or what’s holding you back?

* Photo courtesy alles-banane, Creative Commons.

  • Sometimes I think I must get an award for the comment-or with the most to say. Lol. I can’t resist; forgive me.
    I love this: “I hope I continue reaching out to others despite the inherent risk that comes with love and relationships.” I hope so too, Tom.
    And thank you for this site and the opportunity to exchange with others. I’m sure you will see, if you read my comments, that I’m pretty good at being vulnerable. Nothing prideful, just saying. I think it might be a weakness, rather than a strength anyway. And I do it in real life as well, though perhaps more cautiously than on internet. It is easier to share on internet sites where you are not known personally.
    And, yes, there have been times when the vulnerability has boomeranged and knocked me flat. More times than I really care to remember. But that won’t stop me sharing. Sorry! You just going to have to put up with me or ban me. But I do so agree with you that without it relationships are doomed to flounder, and sometimes even with it, as you indicated. I’ve never labeled it a club like you, but it’s there none the less. And what a tremendous freedom it is to be able to unburden a deep, dark secret. So often, too, one finds the deep, dark secret that you were thinking was too awful to share, is not regarded as such when you do share it.
    The worst is when someone takes the deep, dark secret and shares it with another that is not in the club and now it becomes the juiciest, latest, best titbit of gossip, often embellished so as to not resemble the original a great deal. Sometimes it even has, “The Lord showed me …” attached to it. That’s a hard one! Happened to me once and I told the person that if the Lord really had shown them, then He would have shown also how they could help instead of hinder. So what did the Lord say about that?

  • I heard a pastor once say, “Give the gift of going second.” Opening up about your most gaurded part of your life is huge. But most people, when they see someone else do it without dying, will step up. I believe that’s why vulnerability leads to more vulnerability.
    Will it always work out? Well, no, just like you said. But should we still share? Yes, as the Spirit leads. Making it about Him takes the pressure off of us and refocuses this whole thing back on God, where it should be.

    • The gift of going second. I love that. I think I’ve heard you describe it that way once before, and I’m glad to be reminded of it here. Returning vulnerability for vulnerability truly is a gift for the first person.

  • There are only 3 people in my DDS club so far. The latest one was an
    example of vulnerability leading to vulnerability. I came out to him
    via email, and in the responding letter, he both affirmed me and our
    friendship and shared some of the things he was really struggling with
    in regards to his family. I think it’s the most candid he’s ever been
    with me. I was really moved by that.
    I’m trying to let more
    people into the club, but I’m apprehensive. I spend a lot of late high
    school and early college trying to be open about my thoughts and
    feelings (tho not about sexuality), but I was also struggling with
    depression and I think I waded into vulnerability too deep and too fast.
    I don’t think my friendships were ready for it and most of them have
    since fallen apart. I’m trying to give my friendships more time now
    before jumping into things (which can be hard when you’re starved for
    connection.)

    • Glad to hear about that returned vulnerability, Steven. Isn’t it amazing when that happens? Vulnerability definitely needs to be eased into with an air of sacredness. I too can resonate with the “too deep too fast” imagery you described. One relationship at a time, brother! Thanks for sharing some of your journey with us here.

  • I didn’t have a DDS club for very long before I spilled my guts and let everyone know. I really wanted a DDR club for a while, though, but by the time I started getting into that game, it was on its way out.
    There have been people who knew my deepest secrets whom I am no longer in touch with, and it is a little disheartening. But like you said, they did help me at that time in my life. I like to think that my vulnerability with them helped them become more comfortable with vulnerability itself and also realize just how pervasive and close-to-home SSA struggles are, even in the church.

  • Seven years ago I confessed the true nature and history of my sins to our Parrish priest, and he encouraged me to “reach out” for help. So I finally contacted an addiction counselor about my “internal mess of a life”, and discovered “online” support groups for men abused in their childhood. A couple of the men I met online became my DDS club. And then I joined a sex addict recover group (SA) where “deep dark secrets” were shared routinely in the group meetings, and then some of my subsequent sponsors (yes I had “sponsor” issues – a story for another time) were my in my DDS club. I really don’t think I could had made it through that period of my life without being able to “bare all” to these friends. I even extended it to include my younger sister (who grew up in the same family mess as me), and also to my father who I was able to “open up” and share the “real” me. I did this about a year before he contracted a neurological condition and he eventually passed in 2013.
    I agree that there is power in vulnerability. There is also potential for pain and rejection. Much of the issues I had in early adolescence was the result of acting out my impulses, with a naive sense of trust. Which backfired in very bad ways. Today there are “select few” in my DDS club, and though I have “experimented” with emotional vulnerability with my wife, I know now that real intimacy with her is not “in the cards”, and that is a painful reality.
    My spiritual (and addiction) struggles continue. Is God in my DDS club? In a very real sense yes… He knows all my stuff. But God obviously doesn’t NEED me, so there is much that is a Mystery with my perception of His distance. I do know though that many of my friends have reflected God’s love towards me – at least their understanding of it. So there is another “level” of intimacy I may be able to achieve. Perhaps.
    I am thankful for my DDS club friends. I am also surprised no one has mentioned Brene Brown’s Power of Vulnerability talks/books. Google her TED talks, they are intense.

    • Brown has a lot of good stuff to say about this subject! Thanks for mentioning her. Perhaps a follow-up post on her TED talks or books will be in order. Thanks for sharing some of your journey with us, Jim. I’m thinking about joining some sort of therapeutic/support group myself.

  • I grew up in the largest evangelical church in my city, the code of silence about my struggle with homosexuality was suffocating. That coupled with the fact that I lived with the senior pastor created a environment that did not lend itself to a open and safe environment. As a large church we were on the forefront of the fight against gay marriage. My adopted dad (the senior pastor) was often the featured speaker at these rallies. I suffered in silence for years, often times I would wake up with puffy eyes from crying all night. I had to make a choice either allow my silence to kill me spiritually or step off the edge and trust God! It wasn’t until I finally opened up that I finally experienced some relief. Though years of venerability and openness I finally come to a place where I’ve allowed God to love me for who I am. I came to realize that there is a difference between a Christian that struggles with homosexuality and a homosexual who struggle with “Christianity”, these are both very different journeys. Silence was deadly, it lead to a place of lowliness, darkness and isolation. When we trust God and open up to Him and those who are safe, we experience unspeakable joy and an abundant life.

    • Thanks for sharing, Ray. I can’t imagine what growing up in such an environment would have been like. Indeed…silence IS deadly. I’m glad you’ve learned to speak out. Prayers for the continuing journey!

  • I have shared my story with maybe 100 people and they spread the word to many more in my church, so I can’t call it a deep dark secret any more. Still, there are only about 5 people I regularly share with in depth about my day to day struggles with SSA. All are Christian guys and 4 of them have never dealt with SSA. Those guys in my DDS club are a blessing from God!

  • I remember way back in my early 20’s when I shared my masturbation struggle with a couple of friends. Each one immediately changed the subject and I felt like I had REALLY big problem because they did that! Wasn’t until years later that I felt God spoke to me that my vulnerability had freaked them out because they were struggling too but didn’t want to admit it. (I would have liked to have known that sooner!) I’ve had various men in my DDS club over the years but it’s been a difficult thing for me to maintain which is frustrating.

    • Maintaining vulnerability is the latest chapter in my “growth journey,” I’m realizing. For a couple years the thrill of revealing my struggles to people felt like growth enough. But now it’s time to start watering those gardens of vulnerability more regularly. I hope you pursue a similar course, Mark! Thanks for sharing about your masturbation struggle and the ensuing talk with your friends. In that moment you showed more masculine strength than they did!

  • Thomas Mark Zuniga

    When I don't wander away for weeks at a time, I live in Asheville, North Carolina – the Jewel of the Blue Ridge. I'm YOB's cofounder and editor, and I also host our two podcasts. I've written a couple books, including a 2013 memoir in which I came out to my readers. Once upon another universe I anonymously blogged about my faith and sexuality under the Xanga username "twoBeckonings." I'm an INFJ, Enneagram 4w5, and my spirit animal is the buffalo. My favorite place in the world is the one where coffee and vulnerability meet.

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