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.


Dear Reader,

Over the past weeks I have found myself so deeply disheartened at the absence of kindness, fairness, compassion and honesty on the part of my country’s leaders I’ve had a hard time moving the pen across the page. On nearly every front: political, business, religious, the media and more, I see choices driven by greed, dishonesty and a lack of respect for human life. I see New Orleans still in horrifying disarray and our young men and women being killed and maimed overseas. We have a federal government more wedded to political one upsmanship then it is to bringing our young people home and saving some lives – ours and the Iraqis. Any voiced concern for the environment, for the life of Mother Earth is, more often than not, an exercise in lip service. And, of course, the oil companies and the military complex continue tearing every dollar they can from the wallets and purses of a hard working public.

And forget about real regard and respect for law enforcment. In my last blog post I called for an Amber-alert type system to be put in place for law enforcement officers. I even sent it to some elected officials. No response. I sent it to some newspapers like the Albany Times Union and the New York Times. They did not publish it. Why? It was timely. State troopers had again been shot in my state and one was killed in the cross fire?

Despite all the aforementioned, none of us can afford to stay silent. I think it was Dante who said, and I am paraphrasing, The hottest places in hell are saved for those who remain silent in times of trouble. And so I will not, and I hope you will not, stay silent.

There are a few things on my mind now, goals I have, if you will, and I am asking for your help in achieving them.

1) I will soon begin publishing a series of essays on living life with brain damage. As most of you know, I live with brain damage as a result being shot in the head in 1984. Living with a brain injury, or a TBI (traumatic brain injury) is different every day. And given that nearly 2 million Americans suffer brain injuries annually (with more than 50,000 dying from them) and given that many of our veterans are coming home with brain injuries, the more people understand what it is like to live with one, the better equipped everyone will be to provide the deserved support. I am asking you to please make as many people as you can aware of these essays.

2) Given the recent Virginia Tech killings and our culture’s addiction to violence, I am looking to begin a college and high school speaking tour. Those of you who have connections in this area, please let me know. I will be acting as my own agent in this endeavor. I have lived a life that has included a wide range of experiences: being shot, homelessness, getting arrested, time in reform school, suicides of loved ones, loss of family, alcoholism, brain injury and PTSD. I have, as many of you know, given numerous speeches and I think life has placed me in a position to help young people (and adults) make the discovery that they need not be defined or controlled by the challenges they face. That their right to a good life does not deserve to be derailed.

3) Needless to say, I will continue, from time to time, to publish sections from the memoir in-progress and other nuggets.

I am asking all of you to please share this blog with everyone you know. Please ask people to join.

Lastly, from my heart to your heart, thank you for reading this blog. It is my sincere hope that joy, good health, happiness, love and a safe life are your constant companions.

I know what I wanted to say in this letter to you, I only hope I have said it.

Warmth and respect,

Peter S. Kahrmann
Berne, NY