“Lies are a natural and virtually automatic way of life for addicts. As a result of denial and diseased thinking, addicts (often very convincingly) lie to their loved ones to keep them around, to the world to avoid stigmatization, and to themselves to preserve their drug habit. They lie about the big things and the small things – to feel important, to avoid rejection or judgment, to keep up appearances – until they’ve created a fantasy life that is far more tolerable than their current reality.” ~Dr. David Sack, M.D., “No Addiction without Lies, No Recovery without Truth” One of the basic concepts of a life in recovery is honesty and openness with others, because truth creates an atmosphere where addiction cannot continue to flourish.
The Danger of Keeping Secrets – No Addiction without Lies
Addiction is a disease that thrives on denial, deflection, deception, and dishonesty. Keeping secrets and substance abuse support each other. Having a secret can open the door for addiction to come back into your life. Think about the secrets that you tried to conceal during active addiction:
- How often you used to drink and do drugs
- How much you consumed
- The amount of money you spent on your addiction
- Your whereabouts
- The people you were associating with
- The time you spent acquiring drugs and alcohol
- Your behaviors when you were under the influence
Each of these secrets allowed your addiction to worsen.
Keeping a Secret Means Holding onto Shame
A person struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction becomes adept at blinding keeping secrets from others, but they are not always as successful at lying to themselves. Even when they “get away” with hiding their behaviors, they still are aware – at least on some level – of the wrongness of their actions. This guilty knowledge creates a sense of shame, resulting in poor-self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. In turn, these negative emotions create a need to self-medicate with intoxicating substances, perpetuating an ever-downward spiral of addiction.
Keeping Secrets during Recovery Can Become a Dangerous Obsession
One of the most dangerous secrets you can have during recovery is renewed cravings for drugs or alcohol. When you are feeling tempted and you keep those feelings to yourself, you magnify the impact that they have upon your life and your sobriety. Without outside help or distraction, those cravings will only become more pronounced, and attempting to deal with them by yourself is a recipe for disaster. Addiction is always more powerful than the individual. This magnification can happen with any unhealthy secret you keep when you are either actively addicted or trying to recover from addiction.
- You HAVE a secret
- You continuously worry about how to KEEP the secret
- You must LIE EVEN MORE to preserve the secret
- You continually REPLAY the secret over and over in your mind as you obsess about being discovered
- Again, you self-meditate to quiet your obsession, thereby creating the need for MORE SECRECY
Keeping Secrets Also Keeps You from Getting the Help You Need
One of the most well-known concepts about addiction recovery is that the substance abuser needs to first ADMIT that they have a problem. Since the existence of that problem is usually the biggest – yet worst-kept-– secret possessed by the addict/alcoholic, denial only gets in the way of treatment. Yet, even when that admission has been made, it can be far too easy to hold onto ANOTHER secret – the true extent of the addiction. Minimizing is another unhealthy attempt at control and manipulation. It’s counterproductive to recovery, because if the addiction specialists aren’t aware of all of the pertinent information, then their efforts at drafting an effective treatment plan may fall short.
The Importance of Honesty – No Recovery without Truth
Much of the recovery process – including the 12 Steps – focuses on “rigorous honesty”. This means telling the truth and being completely open, refraining from:
- Telling lies
- Practicing self-deception
- Keeping unhealthy secrets
In many ways, honesty may be viewed as the very foundation of recovery – honesty to one’s self, honesty when dealing with others, and spiritual honesty to one’s personal concept of a Higher Power. Again, look at the first step of recovery – the admission of a problem. People trapped in active addiction and denial will not usually confess freely to having a problem with drugs or alcohol. They will minimize how serious their condition really is, downplay the effect it is having on their life, conceal their self-destructive, addiction-driven behaviors, and ignore the concerns of other people. Conversely, when a person can step outside of the circle of deception, positive possibilities open up. The person who has the honesty to admit that they need help will often learn that it becomes available.
Reveal Your Addicted Secrets to Remove Their Power Over You
Step 5 of the 12 Steps of Recovery directly addresses the need to break free from toxic secrets – “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” “Another human being” can refer to a trusted friend or family member, a priest, a physician, a therapist or a professional addiction specialist. Have you ever noticed that when you have a secret that is consuming your thoughts, and you share that secret with another person – that it loses almost all of its power? It is the same way with shameful, toxic secrets. When something is bothering you or eating at your conscience, in time the burden of that secret may overwhelm you and trigger a drinking or drug binge. But when you step away from negative secrets, you also divest yourself of the burden that is holding you down and holding you back.
In Recovery, Honesty Is the Opposite of Fear
For people who remain mired in active addiction, the acronym FEAR has a negative connotation – “False Evidence Appearing Real” This means that you are falling victim to the empty promises of addiction. It means that you believe every lie addiction has ever told you – that feeling better temporarily is better than healing, that you are beyond help, and that you are too damaged to be worthy of recovery. While your head is filled with those fallacies, there is no room for the truthful promises of recovery – that you ARE worthy and that life DOES get better. And, when you release those self-destructive secrets, you then become open to a another, more positive meaning of FEAR – “Face Everything And RECOVER”…