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No More Secrets

Susanne Johnson
| May 25, 2018

In the moment, it feels like it doesn’t matter why someone becomes an addict or alcoholic. Once we are in that circumstance, it’s necessary to deal with the matters in front of us rather than dwell on the past. On the other hand, it can be an essential step in the healing process to find the roots of the problem, so healing can begin and sobriety can be maintained. For example, if a traumatic event is at the root of an individual’s addiction, true recovery cannot be found until that event is uncovered and addressed. It’s not uncommon for addiction to stem from traumatic events such as childhood sexual or physical abuse. Shame and guilt almost always accompany trauma, and many people affected kept it a secret for too long. It is the secret that is often the biggest hurdle to overcome, as it can consume an individual, year after year, day after day, manifesting in sleepless nights, nightmares and sometimes PTSD. Frequently, the only thing someone with alcoholism knows to do is continue coping through the recurring thoughts, emotion and pain.


Substance abuse isn’t the only thing linked to this type of trauma — in other cases, it also has the potential to lead to eating disorders or process addictions. Regardless of how it presents itself, each of these conditions is an outward expression to find healing within through various external means. Tears are quietened with alcohol, memories temporary disappear while gambling, emotional pain is substituted by cutting, or dreams fade with pills.


Unspoken secrets are unfortunately also often the cause of families becoming increasingly dysfunctional. If a child is raised to smile in public and suppress negative emotions, it becomes normal for a young person to think that any experience that could be perceived as shameful should also be hidden. “We are as sick as our secrets” is a slogan we hear often in 12-Step meetings along with encouragement to share those secrets with God and another human being to take the power out of them. A listening therapist or counselor is a great starting place to finally get those secrets out for the first time, and your treatment facility will provide the help you need. In the long run, it is a beautiful thing to trust our support system/ family enough to finally share these secrets that feel like a ton of rocks lying on our chest.


Family trauma could also reach further than anticipated, especially if other family members have a history of alcoholism, mental health issues or suicide. If someone has a family history of alcoholism that was unaddressed, it makes sense they would have trouble processing the various experience stemming from their own disease as well. The shame of the family becomes the child’s shame and he will carry it all his life if he does not seek help and initiate the grieving and healing process.


Predictably, parents of individuals with alcoholism may struggle with deciphering the truth from lies. If families agree to be honest and stop withholding secrets, the pressure of recovery is less for all involved. No more secret bottles, no more secrets about where someone went, no more secrets about living against personal values and morals. It is a relief if the addict can finally admit that he stole money from his parents, a shameful fact that followed him around for years. He didn’t want to do it, it is against his values, but addiction overruled his wise mind. By letting this secret out, maybe paired with amends and a suggestion on how to make up for it, the feeling of shame and guilt is not gone, but drastically reduced. Families who choose love and forgiveness help their loved ones begin recovery with a blank slate.


Shame and guilt are primary contributors to addiction. If someone struggling with addiction isn’t able to let these go and begin to heal, he will have a hard time staying sober and the old ghosts will continue to come back.


If you are discussing the recovery of a loved one as a family, try to encourage honesty from all involved. Try to get the secrets out, walk on the path of forgiveness, and let love, not pain, rule recovery.


The existing stigma still associated with addiction is creating a barrier between the person seeking help and the recovery process. Secrets fuel the stigma, and stigma fuels secrets. We need to stop those to find healing and reach out toward the light and recovery. Please do your part in breaking this stigma. A person suffering from addiction is not a bad person, he just suffers from a bad disease. Help by sharing this message with those who need to hear it and support those who want to get rid of their secrets and start a new life.


We do recover.

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