When you are suffering from an addiction, you’re likely afraid of sharing that information with anyone. However, if you keep your addiction a secret, there’s a chance you’re not going to ever recover from it. It is important to admit that you have a problem and take steps to get it resolved as soon as possible.
But what is compelling you to keep your addiction or even your recovery a secret? And how harmful can it be to keep secrets? How can you break your silence and reveal your addiction secret? The answers to these and other questions are discussed in-depth below.
How Addiction Stigma Compels Secretiveness
Language is an incredibly powerful tool for communication; the words that we use control the way we think about everything. For example, take a look at some of the common terms that are used to describe someone who suffers from addiction:
- Coke head
- Meth freak
- Garden-variety drunk
What images and emotions do these words conjure up in your head? Reading or hearing these words probably makes you think of a dangerous person who is morally impaired and who deserves their addiction. It might even make you think these people enjoy their addictions or that they should be punished for them.
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That Stigma Extends To Rehab
While shows like “Rehab” and “Intervention” have helped present a more nuanced understanding of addiction, even these shows can’t help but create an exaggerated or sensationalized version of addiction and recovery. As a result, the stigma of addiction can extend into other areas of recovery, which poses a major problem.
After all, it doesn’t leave people suffering from addiction with very many choices. Not only do people often feel they have to keep their addiction a secret, but they also tend to keep their recovery a secret or find a way to beat addiction on their own. The false narrative created by many Hollywood movies and television series is that a person MUST defeat addiction on their own to be successful.
And while plenty of people do have the ability to beat addiction by themselves, many others do not. Yes, the prime personal strength and change need to be self-motivated, but it can also be guided by a professional who can help streamline the process and make it more effective. Rehab should not be scorned with a negative stigma but embraced as an effective treatment.
What Professionals Think About Keeping Addiction And Recovery Secret
Alcoholics Anonymous (or AA) is one of the most effective and efficient rehabilitation groups in the world. They have helped millions of people beat alcohol addiction, and through Narcotics Anonymous, they have helped even more people beat addiction to other drugs. Their policy on secrets is illuminating: they state that “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”
What this means is that they believe you should reveal as much as you feel comfortable revealing in each meeting. For example, people who attend meetings are never required to stand up and discuss their addiction. They are encouraged to do it, but not forced. The only thing they ask for is that you reveal your first name (to make it easier to address you in conversation) and that you are honest and open about your addiction. Once you share, you are encouraged to reveal what you can without holding secrets.
Yes, AA will honor your privacy and your anonymity by never releasing or discussing any of the information you share in a meeting. But within a meeting, they aren’t big on keeping secrets. They believe that keeping secrets only causes your addiction to fester and get worse and that you can’t heal past it if you aren’t willing to share.
The “Advantages” Of Keeping An Addiction Secret
Just for the sake of argument (or playing a little devil’s advocate), let’s go over a few potential benefits of keeping your addiction or your recovery secret.
- Loved ones won’t suffer with you
- Bosses won’t know and won’t fire you
- Friends won’t judge you or look down on you
- Drug and alcohol use can continue unabated
Each of these so-called positives likely helps people with addictions justify keeping silent about their problem. However, each of them is problematic.
For example, your loved ones won’t be protected from suffering if you keep it a secret: instead, they’ll suffer from watching you hurt yourself and them without having a context for why your behaviors have changed. This is true of your friends: any friend that looks down on or judges you for having an addiction or treating it should be cut from your life anyway.
And keeping addiction a secret from your boss is a major mistake because while they can fire you for doing something illegal (such as buying and using cocaine or driving drunk), they cannot fire you for seeking rehabilitation care.
Lastly, continuing to use is not a healthy or safe option, and chances are, someone will find out whether you tell them or not, which can lead to more serious issues.
Why Keeping It A Secret Is So Dangerous
People who keep secrets are often suffering from a huge psychological burden. This can be any kind of secret, but this is especially true of addiction. Living a secretive life (such as shooting heroin every night while living as a successful executive during the day) makes a person feel like they are “living a lie” and that they aren’t who everyone thinks.
As a result, they’re likely to lose a lot of their self-respect and motivation. They may even begin feeling excessively guilty about their secret. They will wear themselves out trying to keep their addiction a secret (hiding bottles of liquor, traveling hours to buy drugs, etc.) in order to maintain the façade that they hate. In desperation, many of them may turn to serious criminal acts to keep the secret.
Even worse, it keeps them from getting the rehabilitation care that they need in order to recover. Sharing this secret is going to be a hard task for anybody, but checking into rehab and getting treated can help you beat your addiction and regain the healthy life that you deserve. It can also remove the emotional and psychological burden of keeping a secret.
How To Share Your Addiction Secret:
- Hold a meeting with people who you think should know about your addiction
- Break the silence by admitting you have an addiction and need help
- Discuss how addiction has impacted your life and the lives of everyone there
- Ask for suggestions regarding your treatment, including treatment type and location
- Choose a treatment that you think will work for you
Reading through that process makes it sound like it’s a walk in the park. Know that it is not and that it is going to take a lot of courage on your part. You are not only admitting that you have a problem, but that you need help solving it. This is a difficult moment for anyone to take and it will require all your strength to do.
However, breaking through your silence will bring you a sense of personal satisfaction and alleviate your psychological burden. You’ll be shocked at how good you feel and how positive your emotions will be about recovery.
Who Should Know About An Addiction?
When it comes time to discuss your addiction and your recovery, you need to be open with as many people as you feel comfortable. No, not everyone in your life needs to know about your life problems, but most of them should. For example, you should tell your:
- Spouse or partner
- Closest friends
- Work boss
- Adult children and/or parents
- Coworkers who rely on you
Basically, you should tell anyone who you trust to not share your private information and those who absolutely need to know these things in order to live their lives, such as a spouse whose finances may be in jeopardy as a result. So, no, you don’t have to tell a coworker’s secretary and keeping it from young children (who may not understand the implication) is always a good idea.
Remember: your addiction and your recovery is private information that you need to protect. If it seems hypocritical or confusing to say you should “protect” your information while not keeping it a secret, that isn’t quite the case. Keeping it a secret is telling absolutely nobody and pretending like nothing is a problem.
Protecting information is keeping it only from people who don’t need to know or who could use it to hurt you. Letting your loved ones in on your recovery will only encourage its success while protecting it from people who shouldn’t know keeps you safe from rumors and other problems.
Open Up To Us Today
If you’re afraid of breaking the secrets barrier or need someone to talk to, please contact us at Vertava Health today. We can offer you the caring, non-judgmental ear you need to open up to about your addiction while helping you get the recovery treatment you need to beat addiction for good.