If you’re moving into recovery, you’re likely being asked to open up, to be honest, to share who you are, and to be open with yourself, with your friends and loved ones, and with your therapists. The thing is, that’s hard. Some of us have secrets that hurt to share. Even talking about addiction can be incredibly difficult. It can feel shameful, it can feel like letting people down. That becomes exponentially worse when you also have to talk about hurting people, lying to people, slipping up and relapsing, or even how long you’ve been abusing. It’s incredibly tempting to just share the bare minimum to get help. After all, you’re getting help right? Why can’t you keep secrets in recovery? While you’ve likely realized by now that the answer in this article is a definite, “no, you can’t keep secrets”, it’s probably also important that you understand why secrets might be bad for your recovery.
Secrets Keep You Sick
“Secrets Keep You Sick”, “you’re only as sick as your secrets”, are long-held mantras in Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step groups. These groups base these mantras on the fact that recovery, real recovery and personal change, involve being honest with yourself and open about your life. That means opening up to yourself and admitting who and what you are and what choices you have made to yourself. Logically, once you admit things to yourself, it becomes difficult to not be honest with your friends and family without lying to them.
AA also approaches this from a point of finding humility, asking for forgiveness, and moving on with your life. You can’t move past something if you ignore it. You can only pretend it doesn’t exist and hope it doesn’t come back up (Chances are, it will).
While the types of secrets that we can keep can be incredibly diverse, nearly any kind of secret will get in the way of your ability to be honest with yourself, your therapist, and your loved ones. Withholding one thing will lead to withholding other things, it will impede your ability to trust, and it will drive you back into behavior that you are trying to avoid.
Addiction Pushes You to Keep Secrets
Substance use disorders can significantly impact the psyche and the ego or sense of self. Both men and women react differently to the pressure asserted by drug and alcohol addictions, but both respond by hiding and denying their addictions.
Why? Most of us associate addiction with a sense of shame, of personal failing. Decades of tough love, cold turkey, and “alcoholism is a choice” treatment have left us with a public picture of substance use disorder as a personal failing. And it’s easy to believe that people struggle because they are inherently flawed because that means it can’t happen to you. The thing is, it can happen to you and when it does, that attitude makes it much harder to accept and to move on. The result is denial, to the self and to others. Nearly any addict can remember a time when they’ve said something like, “I can quit anytime I want to”, “I don’t use that much”, “I haven’t had any in X days” (a lie).
Lying about our drug or alcohol use disorder to others allows us to lie to ourselves. If no one else knows we have a problem, we don’t even have to admit it to ourselves. That’s important because it eventually becomes one of the foundations on which your sense of self is built. Women going through rehab have massive issues rebuilding their ego and men have massive problems bringing the ego back inside themselves instead of reflecting it onto other things that take away from the “shame” of substance abuse. How does that relate to recovery?
If you continue the patterns you maintained while addicted, you have a greater chance of continuing the addiction. If no one knows you’re in recovery, no one can fault you for relapsing. If no one checks up on you, no one will notice you slipped up. If you’re not accountable to anyone, you’re not letting anyone down.
Opening up and being honest with the people in your life is a major step in breaking patterns and moving on to a new life.
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Building Relationships on Honesty
Recovery isn’t just about quitting drugs or alcohol. It’s about creating a new and better life for yourself. It’s about building a life where you don’t need drugs or alcohol to be happy or to feel good. That means building relationships on a platform of honesty and openness. If you can’t talk to your friends and family about your life problems, like addiction and recovery, they aren’t really your friends. While there’s a time and place for everything, it’s important to disclose your recovery to your inner circle so that they can be there for you, so they can support your recovery, and so they can support you changing yourself.
This also holds true for your therapist and your care team. If they don’t know what you’ve used, for how long, and your experiences, they can’t help you. This remains true whether you’re withholding how much you’ve used or when or what or withholding a traumatic incident. Every part of you is part of your recovery and it’s crucial to disclose it during your intake, during follow-up, and throughout therapy.
Recovery is About Moving On
What do you need to let something go, to move on, and to be truly happy and comfortable with it? Most people need everything out in the open, full awareness on the part of every party involved, and acceptance of a resolution. If you haven’t achieved that, you likely haven’t achieved closure and you won’t truly move on. Consider what you want to hide and why. Consider who it affects. Consider if you feel guilty, or bad, and why.
Having discussions with friends and family, writing letters of apology, and truly opening up about your problems and your past are part of treatment, and also part of your recovery. Most drug rehab or alcohol rehab treatment centers will incorporate these practices as part of their programs, and they become a centerpiece of ongoing recovery as well.
Withholding secrets at any stage of recovery will likely inhibit your recovery. You’ll be less open, less trusting, less able to give yourself fully in therapy. You’ll also benefit less from family therapy and relationship building, will benefit less from efforts to improve your relationships with friends and family, and will have less support as you move out of recovery. Being open, honest, and refusing to keep secrets is the best way to move forward and to build a healthy life for yourself.