It’s the kind of relationship where we tolerate each other for the sake of our mutual friend. We’ve all been there. I wouldn’t hang out with this guy if he wasn’t so close with a good friend of mine. But since he is, we end up in the same place doing the same thing once every couple of months. We have little in common. He is a little younger than me and a lot more confident. He talks about his stuff and never asks me about mine. He isn’t arrogant or aloof, he just doesn’t know any better.
A couple of days ago, our mutual friend brought us together again. As people were gathering and plans were being made, I found myself alone with my friend’s friend. As I was struggling to think of a conversation starter, he told me he heard that I write about addiction and recovery, and that he thinks it is really cool. I was speechless. In the probably 100 or so conversations we have had over the years, this was the first time he’s ever talked about me.
He went on to tell me about his own struggles to moderate his weed smoking, and even shared that he needs to get his sugar intake under control. Not only did he take an interest in a passion of mine, but he then opened up about his own challenges and laid his weaknesses and concerns at my feet.
This little interaction changed our relationship. We aren’t suddenly besties, and I doubt we will see each other unless our mutual friend brings us together. But when that happens, I’ll look forward to it and likely find it much easier to come up with something to say.
And our budding friendship is not a result of my addiction or my sobriety. It is because I am recovering out loud.
We all have secret struggles. Every single one of us. When we struggle in silence, we suffer alone. When we find the courage to open up about our demons, we fight together as an unstoppable community. And that’s when people heal. That’s when we get better.
A long, lost friend found me through Facebook last week. She read my posts about alcoholism and recovery, and she told me she was proud of me. As we emailed back and forth, she revealed that her husband had died of suicide a few years back. I could not help myself, so I pried and dug and looked for a connection between alcohol and his decision to end his life. She confirmed my suspicions, and shared details about two other tragic suicides in her family. It was as heartbreaking a story as I have heard, and I ached for her as she confided in me and exposed her pain.
I suggested that I could help her write her story and share it for the benefit of others who face similarly desperate and hopeless family trauma. She refused swiftly and definitively. There is no way she would ever want her husband’s name published and felt protecting her secret would protect her children. I made no counterargument, and respected her wishes. I apologized for bringing the pain of her unimaginable loss back to such a raw and vivid place, and asked no further questions.
But I can’t help but wonder if the suffering she manages on her own – the pain she absorbs from her children – couldn’t be eased and shared if she opened her heart to the vast community of suicide survivors. I wonder if she has explored the connection between irreversible changes in brain function caused by heavy alcohol consumption and suicide. If she does, could she find the understanding that has thus far proven elusive and haunting?
Nothing will bring back her husband and her other two loved ones, but might honest vulnerability bring at least some peace and comfort to her restless, broken heart?
When did we become so private and withdrawn? Why is hiding our painful stories now the norm while exposure is considered heroic? Do we thank the playground bully for our shyness and cowering? Is it because Eve ate that damn apple? Who made our weaknesses a sign of weakness completely ignoring the strength it takes to overcome?
Why do we prefer silent agony to asking our community for help?
I remember my terror the days before I sent my coming out letter about my alcoholism to over 3,000 people through email and social media. I didn’t sleep at all the night before my coming out day, and I slept very little for the preceding week. I was afraid I would be scorned and shunned. I was scared I would be fired. I was anxious about the retribution my wife and kids might face. I was petrified. But I took a deep breath and pressed the send button. And it was the best decision of my life.
The support I received was overwhelming – far greater than I expected. But even more significant, and completely unexpected, was the number of friends, family members, distant acquaintances and complete strangers who contacted me about the pain they had suffered in their lives. Some shared stories in complete detail, while others just looked at me with tears in their eyes and a knowing expression of pain endured etched into their faces.
In a recent exchange of opinions on social media, I expressed my disappointment when a celebrity was clearly uncomfortable talking about his alcoholism. He had been outed by TMZ photographs of his journey to rehab, and would likely have kept his recovery a secret had the photos not been published. Some fellow recovery warriors countered that some people are more naturally private and deserve to recover secretly if that’s what it takes to leave addiction behind.
No one wants to air their dirty laundry until they understand how fresh and renewed we can feel from the cleansing of our souls.
An alcoholic can never become an in-control-social-drinker, and a secret exposed can never be re-hidden from the world. And we spend our lifetimes thinking both of these facts are unfortunate. Only through the enlightenment of community healing can we understand abstinence in a blessing and the truth will set us free.
I told my coming out story seeking the support of my community. What happened was far more profound. I inadvertently made connections that will give back to my people every bit of support I was fortunate to receive from them.
I knew if I kept my secret a secret, I would have fewer shoulders on which to cry and fewer friends on whom I could rely. What I didn’t understand when I battled my wretched addiction in debilitating silence was that I was depriving my community of the best part of me. Hiding my disease and wallowing in shame was an act of selfishness. By giving my pain over to the network I built, I gave them my discoveries and strength as well.
And that’s where the cure lives. Are you an alcoholic? Do you struggle with suicide or drug addiction? Do you eat too much, or too little? Do you turn to sex or pornography as your only bastien of relief? Do you have a secret pain you hide from the world? Is your truth too shameful to share with your neighbors?
When we keep our secrets, we not only sacrifice our own chance to heal, but we deprive our world of our strength and love.
Maybe there is too much love in the world already.
If you don’t think so, I would love to hear your story and share your pain. Please leave a comment on this blog, or send me an email. We will both be glad you did.
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Now Featured on the Untoxicated Podcast: Ep6 – Relationships in Recovery with Therapist Melissa Ryan