In folklore, a sin-eater is a person who, through a ritual meal, takes on the sins of a household, often because of a recent death, absolving the soul and allowing that person to rest in peace. I am very much alive, but I am thinking this morning, of all the selfless folks who listen to the wrongs of recovering alcoholics. They do not ingest our sins, but they listen. Sin-eaters are their closest brethren.
A few months ago, a friend of mine who has been sober a lot longer than me, said something that instantly hit home and niggled at my mind. He said, “One of the most important things you must do to fully recover, is to come up with a list of the secrets you thought you would take to your grave, and tell someone you trust.”
Yikes. I knew I had to make a moral inventory and share my findings with God, another person and myself, but somehow I didn’t think of this inventory as a list of secrets. After all, secrets are defined as: something that is kept or meant to be kept unknown or unseen by others. I tried to come up with a list, but I had buried my secrets so deeply in my psyche, I sat in a chair with a blank sheet of paper and writer’s block. I couldn’t think of a single one.
Secrets are not gossip. Secrets are not sordid stories, or even the honest assessment of the wrongs one has done. Secrets are not a blog. Secrets are shame. Secrets are sins. Secrets are so ugly and dirty they almost never see the light of day: they fester like the blighted roots of a dying plant, causing damage deep below the surface. When I dredged my secrets from the bowels of my memory and wrote them down, I felt ashamed.
As I told my secrets to the one person on earth who will ever hear them, I watched her face for a flinch or a wave of repulsion. I was tempted to leave the worst secret unspoken. But I did it, and when I was done my beloved sponsor said something like, “Look how far you’ve come. That was not so bad. I am proud of you.” She was like one of those beautiful birds who feast on the remnants in landfills, or a sin-eater. And it was as if a thousand pounds of garbage had been lifted from my soul.
One of the things I have come to admire in the past 19 months is the courage of those who are trying every day to recover from alcoholism. Who else looks at the darkest parts of themselves with such bright lights? To reach down into the buried sins of the past is not for the softhearted. It stirs up the brackish beginnings. Some may say, “Let sleeping monsters lie…” I can only attest to the fact I feel better now. Lighter.
And I want to say thank you to the kind people who listen.
God bless the sin-eaters.