Secrets Are Kept by Everyone

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Whitaker Arrest Leaves Many Surprised, Looking for Answers

By Helena Paivinen
Guest Contributor

Editor’s Note: Helena Paivinen, a mental health/addictions professional with a graduate degree and over 30 years of experience in psychiatry, family systems, psychiatry and psychopathology, submitted this piece to help people struggling to deal with the arrest of Louis Whitaker.

I have a secret.  Everyone does.  Louis Whitaker most seemingly and allegedly did.

After hearing the unexpected, very public, somewhat dramatic handcuffing and arrest of Louis, I walked along the Malecon and looked at people, made eye contact and wondered what their secret was. I need to remember (but often forget) that everyone has a secret, including you. It is estimated that 97 percent of people have at least one secret at any given moment and people have, on average, 13 secrets. 

In twelve step recovery programs and elsewhere, it is often said that you are only as sick as your secrets

As a mental health/addictions professional with a graduate degree and over 30 years of experience in psychiatry, family systems, psychiatry and psychopathology, I’ve come to appreciate how difficult it is to come forward and share a personal secret with you. 

Several years ago I met an incredibly sensitive, kind hearted male nurse. He was the type who would do anything for anyone and was beloved by many; a humorous soul who could put a smile on anyone, even I imagine, a dying patient’s sad face.

Not many knew his secret. Some of us did. I remember when it was revealed. It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that I had come to know, respect and admire this man when he had a similar secret to the one which authorities claim Louis Whitter allegedly has.

This sensitive, kind, caring male nurse was a human (and yes, he was a human, despite what others might say), hated himself. He loathed, despised what he did. He had no explanation, no excuses. People already disowned, stigmatized and marginalized him for being gay; so imagine what would happen if THIS secret was revealed. 

He faced charges and had asked for some help. While awaiting to see what would happen he was placed into a specialized facility—a rehab in Texas of all places. This rehab treated all addictions; alcohol, drugs, food, video internet gaming was big and you guessed it, they addressed sexual addiction too.  

Here is where I imagine the dialogue to differ. Many may claim that seeking help for child sexual abuse is NOT an option.  You can get a sense of how society feels about this issue by reading the comments about Louis on social media. He was quickly vilified, called evil, a MONSTER (in capital letters too).  

Now, before reacting, justifying and defending these Monster type comments, I want you to consider the twelve year old child, the alleged victim in this story about Louis. Imagine this young man’s brain now. 

Trauma impacts the brain in very long lasting, damaging ways, particularly when it occurs during the very rapid development stages of childhood and adolescence.

For the twelve year old child, imagine what sad or difficult circumstances might have already been occurring for the alleged sexual abuse to happen in the first place. Literature, research indicates there are environmental factors that place some children at greater risk. In these short but rapid brain growth twelve development years, the child in question may already have experienced some brain-impacting things that we ourselves cannot even begin to  fathom.

Imagine in eight short years, this twelve year old child growing up to be the same as his alleged predator.  Imagine this boy now at age twenty, acting upon and doing to another child, exactly what was so unconscionable done to him in the first place.

Who now, do we target and blame.  Do we call this alleged twelve year old boy, now a twenty year old man a MONSTER, (the same age as Louis was during the alleged crime).

Admittedly this is a difficult issue to wrap one’s head around but the worst thing to do is shut down, suppress and deny the damage that already has been done.

The trouble with keeping secrets is that they require energy to push down. Secrets, when unwanted, can become powerful and overwhelmingly strong. The energy required to keep a secret at bay, particularly an unwanted one, can expand and mutate, especially if someone does everything possible they can think of when trying to suppress.

During Grad School, a professor shared that the best (secret) for dealing with overpowering thoughts or emotions of say, anxiety (a secret) before public speaking is to NOT avoid, push down or try to suppress but rather, to expel the energy by disclosing and stating the feeling of anxiety (secret) aloud to the audience instead (it works, try it sometime). 

Secrets, particularly ones that are unwanted can be dangerous to one’s health. They can morph into harmful, unconscious distress. This angst builds up and eventually requires some form of release (think pressure cooker). Sadly, when all other attempts to subvert or suppress fail, the secret might come out sideways in more damaging and unwanted or undesirable ways. 

Think of men who deny they are gay and loudly proclaim they wish to live a “Clean Christian Hetero Married Life.” Some of these men become homophobic and extreme in their behavior by sublimating their unwanted secret by now targeting and becoming aggressive to other gay males instead.  Just like releasing the anxiety (secret) with public speaking by sharing it aloud, these angry expressions toward other gays now provide the man in denial with an emotional release.

Some secrets in society are deemed to be more acceptable than others, like secretly smoking or stashing a stuffed tattered teddy bear from childhood under your pillow. Secrets can be transient in nature particularly when shared, while others when stifled can escalate and become more nefarious and dangerous in scope. 

Secrets are often shaped by social norms. Social norms evolve, they develop. These norms are extremely powerful, they shape public policy, laws, values, beliefs and personal behavior. 

In the 1920’s, 30’s social norms became reactionary, powerful and sometimes extreme. These forces dictated and became laws of restriction and dictation. Men and women were expected to behave, believe and act in specific socially accepted and often, religiously determined ways. 

Social norms became laws and secrets became hidden, unspoken. Prohibition set in and drinking alcohol became a crime. People who once willingly imbued now blamed and shamed while others literally went underground into speakeasies to drink.

Being homosexual was once deemed a crime. Men during the 1930’s had secrets, as women did too. Their secret, if revealed, led to jail, public scrutiny, being ostracized, hated and socially deemed deviant, mentally ill or unfit. 

Feelings of self loathing and confusion arose.  It took years, decades for society to change. Individual courage was required before others felt safe enough to come forward and reveal their own personal secrets to you. 

In mental health history, before we understood the nature of the brain, people with schizophrenia, bipolar illness, dementia, untreated alcoholism and addiction were treated barbarically, sometimes locked up with chains. Even icepicks through eye orbits were used during traveling “roadshows” to illustrate prefrontal lobotomies.

We understand only about 1% about the function of our brain (which influences our actions and behavior). People like to believe we choose all our behaviours yet when I think back to when I practiced as a family mental health therapist with young children who were abused and who were brought to the center for acting out via animal torture or other disturbing behaviors such as bullying, hurting others, I can’t help but to wonder.

For many children, environmental factors and their life upbringing are NOT their choice but unfortunately these surrounding and social aspects DO impact and influence their developing young brains.

Many children who grew up in an abusive home will—IF as adults they do not acknowledge or address the deep neurological impact of their own trauma—find themselves unconsciously reenacting, recreating or re-experiencing their once thought to be gone, childhood lived pain all over again. 

Deep neural pathways can form when exposure to a similar event occurs over and over and over again. Remember Pavolov’s dog and operant conditioning; how a dog could be made to salivate to the sound of a bell—-even after the food was removed. The dog, when the bell rings (the environmental trauma) goes into an unconscious, uncontrollable behavioral reaction of dripping saliva.

Saliva, like sexual actions, are instinctual in nature. Instincts are powerful and at times, beyond one’s control. For example, try to stop breathing. Using all the will power at your command (and no external or other device), try to stop breathing by just thinking about it and telling yourself to do so.

Breathing is a powerful autonomic reaction by the body, based upon the instinctual need for life survival in the brain.  Sexual procreation is another instinctual drive. In order for a species to survive, sexual reproduction becomes a powerful force; one which unfortunately, our society does not to date, completely understand.  

If you still believe willpower, punishment, power or control can change a person’s behavior I have another experiment for you: Go to the local drug store, buy some Ex Lax or other medication which causes diarrhea. Or, for a real solid laugh experiment, go and guzzle a gallon of that good pre-colonoscopy stuff.

After consuming the laxative and doing nothing else (remember this is all about self control and NO external help), I want you to willpower your way into stopping diarrhea.

We also typically underestimate the power of situational forces when explaining other people’s behaviour. The obedience studies conducted by Milgram are a dramatic demonstration of how people can act against their own social values and norms. Understanding the social psychological factors that contribute to people acting in unexpected and unsettling ways are important to help us to help others come forward today.

I recall a story told to me in Puerto Vallarta a few years ago by a prominent, well spoken older man. This distinguished fellow sat down for a couple of hours while sharing his story with me about being one of the first leaders in gay rights in a specific American situation and space (I cannot be more specific here, given I wish to maintain his anonymity now).

After he finished talking and was about to leave, he looked up and said he had a secret that he had not told anyone—it was something he needed to share but sadly, had no one he could trust or turn to.  He felt very saddened, conflicted, lost and confused. In a halting voice and the most powerful yet excruciating manner I have felt, he shared his secret with me.  

He had a son; someone he overwhelmingly loves. This is his one and only child, an once innocent little boy, a baby he had cuddled and cared loving for. His son was an adult, currently in prison for a crime similar to the one Louis Whittaker allegedly has done.  

For the life of him—this man said—this older man who once advocated, fought alone but in a very public way for a specific gay right; he did not know how he could live with this secret about his much beloved only son. He had NO ONE he could share this with; no friends or family who would be understanding or know this heartache of his. Even now while typing, my body/heart breaks for the loneliness and pain that our society has placed upon this kind, loving and always giving to others, distinguished gay man. 

I doubt ANYONE, unless they are irreparably damaged, willingly WANTS to induce pain onto an innocent little child.  

When and where does the pain, the hatred, the misunderstanding all end. 

To deny, reject, push this Louis incident away or shove it down underground can become like another shameful secret inside. In order for society to continue to grow and evolve as it has since the 1930’s, we MUST continue to engage in honest, respectful, transparent and DIFFICULT conversations. We NEED to continue to “come out” and share.

LGBTQ2+ has led the way for many. 

Despite social perspectives, beliefs and thoughts, it took the courage of only ONE to come forward and show others the way. This one became two, then a group—these brave people then stood up against the hate and advocated for love. THIS is what I believe Vallarta and all of us must CONTINUE to now do.

Had no one come forward and said we embody LOVE, well, maybe we would still be in the 1930’s today. Think about the alleged twelve year old boy and of Louis too as he was someones’ baby once, an innocent child too.

We do not know Louis’s whole life story, perhaps he was once the twelve year old boy now in question. We have NO IDEA about Louis and his secrets (well, with one of them alleged, we do).

I for one had put my support and belief behind Louis. After hearing the allegations I stood back and asked myself why. I have come to believe it is because Louis represented what I suspect the whole world might be wanting these days. We have recently survived some very uncertain, difficult years and Louis offered a hint of something from the past, something long bygone…..old Hollywood Charm, the “good ol’ days.” 

Uncertainty makes one look back and yearn for something solid, predictable, perhaps even a bit off color and fun.  We want leaders, people with good clean hearted intentions—something which Louis was seemingly offering by his helping others and his hosting of charity events. Vallarta stood behind what he offered, that is, people helping people.

This whole article came about when I wrote Jerry, offering him thanks for his quick news story about this whole Loius affair (as Vallarta often burns through gossip like wildfire).  I lamented the loss of the promised Hollywood all White Rise Affair…I wrote that if I were not me, I would come forth and take up the lead…..saying that we VALLARTA CAN still and should CONTINUE TO RISE.

I wanted someone, anyone, to brush off the dust and say, it’s a whole new day. let’s not let this get us down, let’s STIlLL come together and HOLD the old HOLLYWOOD all WHITE theme, in honor of innocence.  Let’s say hoorah to more settled, solid days, ones bygone and new upcoming our way. 

We are after all, VALLARTA and above it all, we continue to rise.

p.s. I have a secret, how about you?  I encourage us all to start talking, approaching one another, saying I am here, no matter how deep, horrible your secret might—I, we are here—-After all, LGBTQ2+ is all about love isn’t it, so let’s keep it going that way.

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