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Holding Onto Secrets in Recovery

As recovering addicts, many of us have become quite familiar with harboring secrets over the years and using secrecy as one of our many coping mechanisms to deal with the difficulties in our lives. We keep our addictions a secret from the people in our lives because we’re afraid they’ll judge us and think less of us. We keep our addictive patterns a secret because we don’t want our loved ones to worry about us and fear for our safety. We struggle to be upfront about anything going on in our lives because we fear the potential ramifications – people distancing themselves from us, losing relationships that are important to us, and dealing with the rejection and isolation that can come from divulging our secrets. As we work to get sober, we learn to become more honest and transparent about our struggles with addiction, because we see firsthand how harmful secrecy can be to our recovery and our mental health. We feel the weight of the guilt of withholding important information from the people in our lives. We feel ashamed of ourselves. We feel burdened by our secrets. When we’re in recovery, many of us have begun to divulge our many secrets, and we feel a great sense of relief and release. We no longer feel overwhelmed by how painful our secrets have become. For many of us, though, we continue to turn to secrecy as one of our coping mechanisms, even well into our recovery, but as with many coping mechanisms that are misguided and self-destructive, we realize that we’re doing ourselves a disservice and that our secrecy is actually detrimental to our healing.

We often will hold onto secrets not because we are trying to be deceitful with the people in our lives or because we have any malicious intent but because we think that’s what we have to do in order to protect ourselves. We’ve grown accustomed to protecting ourselves from judgment, rejection, and condemnation. We’re used to feeling shunned and ostracized, so we keep the details of our addictions and mental health issues a secret from anyone we don’t feel safe and secure around. Because our fears and our need for self-protection have become so ingrained within us, we feel the need to protect ourselves even from people who would embrace us unconditionally, who would continue to accept us regardless of the things we’re most ashamed of. It becomes a default defense mechanism for us to keep our secrets locked away, deep within us, where we tend to bury and suppress them with patterns of denial and avoidance. We aren’t truthful even with ourselves, keeping the extent of our addictions hidden from view so that we don’t have to acknowledge how much pain we’re in and how severe our problems have become.

Our secrecy becomes a pattern we can’t extricate ourselves from. Once we’ve kept things a secret, it’s hard to finally reveal what we’ve hidden and to divulge the truth, both to ourselves and the people in our lives. We’re afraid of what people will think. We’re afraid they’ll stop loving us. We’re afraid of their anger. We’re afraid of loss and abandonment. We’re afraid of feeling even more inadequate than we already do. We’re struggling with intense fears of unworthiness, and we don’t feel deserving of love and acceptance, so we convince ourselves that in order to be loved, we have to keep certain parts of ourselves hidden where no one will discover them. When we’re trapped in these patterns of secrecy and withholding information, it’s very hard not to continue, because we think we’re protecting ourselves from more harm down the line. To give up our secrets would mean facing up to the truth within ourselves, and that can be one of the hardest things we’ll ever do.

As we’re recovering, many of us keep the truth of our progress a secret from the people around us, including the people tasked with helping us get better. We might lie to our recovery coaches, treatment center staff members, doctors, and sponsors. We might relapse but keep it a secret, not wanting people to be disappointed in us and ashamed of us. We have a hard time reconciling how much shame and embarrassment we feel, and so we keep all of it a secret. We learn with time, though, that our secrets have the power to overtake us and to totally derail our healing work. The shame we feel accumulates until it’s too much to bear. Our secrecy can contribute to breakdowns in our mental and emotional health until we can’t hold onto our secrets anymore because they’ve simply become too painful. We learn that true healing requires honesty, openness, and transparency, and if we want to get well, we’ll have to abandon the defense mechanisms of secrecy and avoidance we’ve been using to try and protect ourselves. We’ll have to learn how to be honest with the people who are helping us, who love and care for us. We’ll have to be honest with ourselves, and be brave in the face of potential criticism and judgment- hiding the truth of who we are is keeping us from accessing the power of true healing. When we aren’t open about who we are or where we are in our recovery journey, we’re allowing shame and fear to hold us back and stifle our growth and our potential. We have the power to turn our lives around and to get well, and learning to be honest is a major part of reclaiming our power from the many secrets we’ve accrued while struggling with our addictions and mental health issues.

The caring, compassionate staff of The Guest House is here to support you as you start your journey to recovery and healing. Call 855-483-7800 today for more information.