There is an art to hiding addiction. I liken it to a snapshot that is continually being Photoshopped. The original image is marked with scars, bruises, cuts, and dark undereye circles. As the addiction progresses, so does the need for editing–a desperate attempt to airbrush the pain from the picture.
But at some point, the eyes no longer look like yours. The attempts to layer “happy” and “okay” over the deterioration are no longer successful. People start to question the photo. “Are you okay?” they ask with curiosity and concern. “I’m fine,” you reply with your mechanical smile.
The scars of my own alcohol abuse deepened to a degree I could no longer mask. The facade I’d so carefully crafted was beginning to crumble at my toes, leaving me with only two options. I could own up to my problem or I could allow what remained of my spirit to be completely snuffed out. I chose the former.
I would like to say that my approach was seamless–that I informed the necessary family members gracefully and eloquently that I’d decided to stop drinking. But, I’d apparently exhausted my welcome in the “Scripted Life Club” and, instead, spoke straight from my heart.
The phone call with my mother went something like this:
“Hi Mom. I’m heading into the bookstore. What are you doing?”
“Just running some errands. Everything okay?”
“I CAN NEVER DRINK AGAIN!”
“Oh-ummm-okay-is that something you’ve decided?”
“Yes-I decided it with my therapist today. I’ve been self-medicating for too long and I need to get my (expletive) together.”
“Well-okay-I’m a little caught off guard, but I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks-I’ll fill you in more later. Love you. Bye.”
Subsequent conversations with my sister and father went similarly. I’ve come to think of these disclosures as “blurts.” I entered the dialogue with the news of my sobriety dancing on the tip of my tongue and, at some point, simply spilled it out. Sharing my decision to get sober carried extra weight. Not only was I verbalizing my commitment to get well, but I was also admitting to a problem that very few people knew I had.
With each new awkward disclosure, I further cemented my resolve. Making the inward commitment to sobriety was huge, but saying it out loud made it real. And for once, my people-pleasing tendencies worked to my benefit. If I’d told my mother, sister, and father that I was never going to drink again, then, by God, I was going to hold myself to it.
Whether you’re a functioning addict who painstakingly protects your secret or an “out of the closet” substance abuser, sharing your quest for sobriety is a tremendous step. It’s quite easy to forecast the reactions of others, assuming they will be judgmental, skeptical, or disappointed. I found my own predictions to be quite far off-base. My family (and later my friends) responded to my disclosure with curiosity, compassion, and ultimately support. In more cases than one, my honesty has empowered loved ones to make positive changes of their own.
Once the disclosure has been made, you are in the driver’s seat. For your family and friends, this may be unchartered territory. Reassure them that any new boundaries you establish are necessary in the early stages of your recovery. First and foremost, you must protect your sobriety. If that means laying low at family functions where alcohol is present, simply let them know. As you adjust to new parameters, recognize that they are new to your loved ones as well.
Rest assured, a script is not necessary when you involve family members in your recovery. Speak from your heart and know that enlisting others to walk beside you in this journey will ultimately lighten your load. And as for that over-edited photo of yourself that you once clung to like a security blanket? Throw it away. It’s time to take a new picture. This one is an action shot and it captures you beautifully. You’re reaching outward–face to the sun–on a road that will ultimately lead you home.
Jen Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), sobriety coach, former alcohol enthusiast, and writer living in Florida.