Secrecy: Addiction’s Favorite Fuel

Hoping to heal from the deadly grip of addiction without revealing what is going on in your life is like asking a doctor to make you better without revealing your symptoms, or asking firefighters to put out the fire without telling them where the flames are. It can’t be done.

Addiction – which includes alcoholism, folks – is a vicious, nasty, deadly, thing.

There is a well worn and accurate expression in 12-step programs that says, You’re only as sick as your secrets. It’s true. The extent to which you are keeping things hidden may be an accurate measure of how far you need to travel to get well. A simple fact to understand? Yes. Simple to reveal what is going on in your life? Anything but.

For the moment, think of secrecy as darkness, the absence of light. Addiction grows with a vengeance in the darkness that is secrecy. It sinks its poisonous tentacles deeper and deeper into the flesh of your being and workings of your mind until it is the conductor of your daily life. Conversely, if the movements and patterns of addiction are brought into the light, it will perish if it is kept there. Keep in mind though, when first brought into the light it will get angry and strike back, often attacking those who’ve revealed its presence in the hopes that they will be villainized and driven off so addiction can slink back into the darkness of secrecy and resume its role as the daily conductor (destroyer) of life.

One thing I have noticed, and I am quite sure I am not the first to notice it, is this. The use of secrecy is often driven by the wish to avoid the anger of others. I know this to be true because I’ve lived it. Anything, please, but having someone angry at me. Anger becomes the controlling presence and, in doing so, promotes the use of secrecy. You’ll hear, I drank today but please don’t tell my wife, she’ll get mad at me. And so you don’t tell his wife because, you tell yourself, you are keeping a confidence. I actuality, you have chosen not to tell his wife that her husband is continuing to take poison. And what is the underpinning for your secrecy? Your fear of enduring the anger you will no doubt absorb when you make the sober choice and let his wife know because if you don’t tell her you are enabling the disease that is trying to kill the very person who confided in you in the first place.

It is hard, deeply hard, not to take the anger personally. Anger hurts when it is aimed at you. Even when you know it comes from the addiction, it is deeply painful, especially when it is inflicted on you by people you love. But there is another expression common in 12-step programs: this too shall pass. And it will. In the meantime, use love and patience and honesty to the best of your ability. Stay in the moment you are in. As a close friend once told me, the moment you are in is the only place you have to be.

Look, none of this is easy. There are no pain free ways of freeing yourself from addiction. I wish there were, believe me. I recently celebrated seven years of sobriety and it has not always been a cakewalk. Helping others, while anything but a cakewalk at times, is well worth it, and helps me shore up my own sobriety, even when I make mistakes, albeit honest well-intentioned ones, along the way.


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