I do not know why it has taken me this long to write about this aspect of sobriety, but one of my new friends inspired me through her writing. She wrote about her secret life of addiction and it reminded me of the role secrecy has played in my own addiction, as well. I have talked with a lot of people since I quit my addictions. I have heard many torrid stories about people's lives, and how addiction hijacked their ability to exist in a "normal" society. I have seen the physical and emotional destruction caused by people's inability to overcome their addiction. One of the things I have not heard too much about is the true inner workings of a person's mind in addiction. We all know the stereotypical stories of addiction, we have heard them a hundred times. My friend's book got me thinking about the things we do not hear about very often. Even though we all know many of our secrets have the power to help others, we do not generally divulge them, especially to strangers. I took some time to think about my experience in addiction. I asked myself, "What role did secrecy play for me?" The answer is, it played a big one.
I kept secret, for the better part of my entire life, an attraction
I was aware, to some extent, of the secrecy I was holding in regard to my addictions. I remember thinking, at times, why do I do that? Or, what is the point of my acting in such a manner? I was never able to find sufficient answers to those questions, so I generally just brushed them off as non-issues. I mean, if I cannot figure out the answers to the questions, then the questions must be the wrong ones to ask. As I have said many times in the past, I was very good at rationalizing anything. As I look back at my life through a clean and unobstructed lens, it is easier for me to see the two most prominent secrets I held. The first was a need to hide the amount I used of any of my addictions, from friends, family, and especially significant others. The second, well this one is a little harder to articulate. I kept secret, for the better part of my entire life, an attraction for self-destruction.
Keeping our addictions secret from people close to us is nothing new. We have all done it and we all know the potential ramifications of those actions. The interesting aspect of this type of secret-keeping, though, is why? Why do we keep our addictions such a secret? The easy answer is because we don't want people to think we are a drunk, junkie, or loser. It scares us to think of people thinking of us in that way, so we hide it to avoid the inevitable scrutiny that accompanies our addiction. It makes sense, but is this the only reason we hide our addictions? For me, I hid my addictions for very different reasons. One of the things I have learned about myself since getting my shit together is I was not a very good person. It still stings to write or say this, but I believe it is okay to own our truths. One of my not so great qualities was my uncaring attitude about how my actions affected others. It wasn't really that I didn't care, I just couldn't see outside myself long enough to know what was happening to others. Because of this, I developed beliefs that did not benefit me or those around me.
I was not trying to lie to anyone, I was trying to convince myself
I was strong enough to control my own life
The reason I kept the secrets of my addictions was very personal. It was about control. Looking back, it makes sense how I needed to find control where ever I could. Ever since my childhood, my life always seemed a little bit outside of my control. Whether it was my family, sports, friendships, girlfriends, or even work, I always felt I was at the mercy of someone else. So, when confronted with the possibility of addiction, either personally or by someone else, I always had the same answer. I'm fine, it is under control. I am not really sure where this began for me, but I believed my problems were my problems alone. I was meant to deal with them by myself. I sometimes wonder if it came from an effort to not bother people. I do not really know, but I know this; I would not let people help me with my addictions. To a fault. What I mean is this; my belief to handle my own shit was so strong, I lied to people about my addictions because, in my mind, it was none of their business. It was my problem and I could handle it, alone. This was something I could never adequately explain to loved ones who caught me in my lies. I was not trying to lie to anyone, I was trying to convince myself I was strong enough to control my own life. Obviously, I was wrong.
The other, even more pestilent, secret I held was my attraction for self-destruction. I have tried to explain this before, but I do not know if I have ever been successful. I will try again. I used this example in one of my earliest blogs. I used to smoke. Whenever I thought about quitting smoking, an image hijacked my brain and I could not let it go. The image was of me sitting at the bar in a low lit dive bar. I was drinking and smoking. For some reason, the scene was always black and white. I held a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The smoke from the cigarette enveloped me while it rose into the air and created a cloud of smoke above the bar. This image was so attractive to me, I was angry with myself the moment I quit smoking because I would not be able to be a part of that scene any longer. Now, you might be thinking, that is not very self-destructive. Let's break it down a bit. First, I am drinking alone in a dive bar. Red flag. Second, I am willfully drinking poison. Third, I am knowingly inhaling toxic smoke into my lungs with the knowledge it will, with certainty, kill me at some point. If that is not self-destruction, I do not know what is.
When I became numb to those feelings, I would do them more
often and in more quantity in a constant effort to
re-experience those sensations
Another way I have tried to describe my secrecy is in my desire to engage in negative behaviors. Whenever I tried to quit an addiction, one of the most visceral reactions I had to it was missing my ability to partake in something bad or negative. More specifically, it felt good for me to harm myself on some level. I know some people take this feeling to much greater extremes than drinking and smoking, but there was just something comforting in the act of knowing I was hurting myself. To be clear, I never considered suicide in the traditional sense, but if you think about it, the difference may not be as significant as you think. I liked when the smoke burned my throat on the way down. I enjoyed the sting of chewing tobacco on the inside of my lip. I looked forward to the burn of alcohol when it was introduced into my mouth for the first time of the day. When I became numb to those feelings, I would do them more often and in more quantity in a constant effort to re-experience those sensations. I missed them when I could no longer find them.
If I am honest, those two secrets were the bane of my potential for change for most of my life. They were until I realized, once again, those secrets too were a choice. I chose to hold the perception I held of those secrets because I needed them to feel in control. Once I gave myself permission to let go of my negative perceptions of myself, my addictions, and my life, I was able to see more clearly why I held them in the first place. Some people like to say control is an illusion. I guess that is entirely dependent on a person's definition of control. One of the definitions of control is; the power to influence or direct the course of events. If you have successfully quit an addiction, I am sorry, but you most certainly have some semblance of control. I found control in the absence of self-destruction. I found control in the need to reach out and ask for help. I found control in the positivity that began to influence my outlook on people and life. I found control in the goals I have and am achieving. I found control because I gave up trying to control something that was not controllable. I could not control my unwarranted need for control. What I could control was my perception of what control looked like to me. It was in my new personal definition of control that I found freedom.
There is nothing more powerful than the feeling accompanying freedom, especially freedom from our own self-destructive behavior.