We all have secrets — the inappropriate crush that no one knows about, the intimate relationship with your refrigerator after hours, the family drama no one is privy too, the credit card charges no one would understand — but given that there are two sides to every coin, where do all the secrets unexpectedly show up? After taking such care to hide them, where do they reveal themselves?

Whether that secret crush is creating fear and insecurity or a secret habit is stirring up guilt, secrets come with a cost that more often than not far outweighs the benefit. So what is this cost? Added emotional weight that pulls you down emotionally and physically.

Big or small, it’s virtually impossible not to have any secrets in life, but they can and should have expiration dates. This “date” should mark a time at which you have accepted that truth reigns supreme, a time at which fear is transformed into courage, and a time at which you are ready to lose the emotional weight. And remember, like anything with an expiration, if used after its date, a secret can go sour. Let’s take a moment to look at two examples of the emotional weight of a secret.

Always a hot topic for tabloids and celebrity blogs, recently Angelina Jolie has been making headlines not for her red carpet fashions or where she had milkshakes with her kids, but for a secret, very personal struggle. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Jolie revealed her decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy following her mother’s losing battle to breast cancer and an assessment of her own risk. For three months, Jolie underwent various medical procedures, all while continuing with her work and managing to keep her decision private. We don’t know what the day-to-day repercussions of Jolie’s secret may have been, but we do know that the secret had an expiration: when she shared her story with the world in hopes of self-healing and helping others.

Secrets can, of course, be revealed and expire without making the New York Times. I had a friend, let’s call him Ryan, who began inexplicably distancing himself from our group of friends, a group that had been tight since college. With his every refusal to hang out with the old gang, we all became increasingly upset and confused by what seemed to be a friend ditching us for no apparent reason. But Ryan was keeping a secret, a secret that was weighing on him and ultimately on us too. We finally confronted him about it, and lucky for us, expiring the secret (revealed below…) lifted all of our emotional weight.

Without these expirations, that small secret seed can grow into a cancer that spreads throughout your mind, body, and pervade your daily life. If you feed fear and guilt (even the tiniest kernel), they can grow quickly into regrets and anger that can become bodily stress, disease, and a “heavier” life. Expiration dates exist for a reason: to inform you as to how long something can exist as its best possible self. If you let a secret (like a piece of fruit) exist after its expiration date, it will begin to spoil, rotting from the inside out and eventually, affecting those near to it in a negative way. You wouldn’t eat a moldy peach, so why would you allow yourself to live allow a mold to grow in your life?

Angelina Jolie, a woman whose secret centered around cancer prevention, went public with her decision to inform others who might be suffering in silence and perhaps to prevent her own secret from becoming a cancer itself. In her piece for the New York Times, she said, “I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer. It is my hope that they, too … will know that they have strong options.” Her secret had an expiration date, and since the publication of her op-ed about genetic testing and breast cancer prevention, the conversation has been opened wide, causing her and hopefully many others some relief.

As for Ryan, we found out that he had spent the last several months getting himself into a great deal of credit card debt trying to keep up with a social life that he loved but couldn’t afford at the time. He was too embarrassed to admit that he had lost control of his spending and could no longer commit to regular movies, concerts, or happy hours, so he shut us out. This decision weighed heavily on him and on the group, but as soon as Ryan accepted the truth and shed the secret, both sides felt lighter. We got our Ryan back! And, our friend in need got the support he needed but had pushed away. With small and simple adjustments, group hangs didn’t need to involve crazy spending. Why go to the movies when you can rent on iTunes or stream from Netflix? Both Ryan and our gang lost some weight when his secret expired.

I know it’s been quite some time since my last post. I’ve been dealing with a secret of my own. But its expiration date has come and gone, and I’ve gained acceptance and dropped the emotional pounds; I now feel the freedom and urge to write again. Let your secrets expire, allow your fear to become courage, and shed the weight.

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