Secrets of the Soul

A former sponsor of mine used to say, “I’m as sick as my secrets.” It took me a long time to really understand what he meant and after a few years in recovery, I think I have a better handle on it. We all have some secrets and they have the power to lead us deeper into darkness.

The secret of my sexuality kept me from living a full and healthy life before I emerged from my closet. ‘What if they find out? What will they think? I have to be careful so that no one will find out.’ These thoughts were constantly with me. It lead to a distrust of others. It kept me isolated, alone and lonely. The only time I felt that I could be released from my secret, earlier on, was when I was high. The rules and norms of society be damned. When I was high I didn’t care what anyone really thought.

Of course, the next morning arrived and along with the spitting headache I had the moral hangover of regret. Over the years, my secrets changed and varied, but they were always there, guarded and hidden. I wouldn’t say I was dishonest and openly lying, only that I wouldn’t disclose my real truth about what I felt or thought about situations. I rationalized that what I really wanted and how I really felt were best left unsaid. I didn’t want to cause pain in others but was unable to see the pain I was causing in myself because I wouldn’t open up. I felt it was better to keep that inside.

I kept my secrets bottled up so that everyone would like me and so that they wouldn’t feel hurt. I wasn’t able to see that they were making me sink deeper and deeper into addiction. My thinking was inverted: I didn’t want to cause you any pain, but it was okay to cause my own and for me to suffer in silence. And my ‘suffering’ was always a good reason to self medicate.

Through the program of recovery I am able to see that my ‘suffering in silence’ was an ego trip, as if my suffering would save the rest of the world. It was all about me and all about my justification for loading up. In the process of Step Five, sharing my past and the ‘exact nature’ of my character with another person, I was sharing my secrets. And a funny thing about a secret: once it is told to another person, it’s no longer a secret.

I didn’t realize how much energy I was using to keep my past thoughts, feelings and actions hidden until I stopped. Going through Step Five, sharing with another person helped me to open up to another person and prepared me for Step Nine where I made amends to those I had harmed. My program of recovery helps me to recognize when I am falling into the same patterns creating little secrets by hiding my feelings and thoughts and to know when I need to talk to my sponsor again about these things. I know that keeping things bottled up inside will lead to resentment, anger, fear and a relapse. The sooner I disclose my secrets, the sooner I return to health.

Thank you Marshall.

Taking the Fifth

A recovery program ‘fifth’ couldn’t be further from the US Constitution ‘Fifth Amendment’ where one does not have to testify to self incriminate. The Fifth Step ask us to admit to our Higher Power, ourselves and another human being the “exact nature of our wrongs” which we discovered by going through Step Four. In other words, we completely incriminate ourselves and own up to the who, what, when where, why and how of our past.

Confession is not only good for the soul, it helps to heal the mind and body as well. More and more we hear about the link between our physical, mental and emotional health. How I think and feel can directly affect my body: my un-ease can cause dis-ease. Research shows that it goes a whole lot deeper than worry and stress causing stomach ulcers. I need to spill my guts in order to regain my health and sanity. I think the Catholics idea of confession is sound. Telling on myself, revealing my secrets, will help to restore my being.

“Why do I have to tell someone?  It should be enough to write my list and talk to my Higher Power.” In reality, it isn’t enough. It’s one thing to say to myself and remind myself what I have done, even when it’s done in a real and spiritual way. And I believe it should be: we can take the time to sit down by ourselves and have a chat with our Higher Power about what wrote in Step Four. However, it’s quite another to say it out loud to another human being. Doing so makes it real. Discussing it helps us to understand our underlying motives, our passions and our humanity. And it helps us to develop a plan of how I can make some positive changes so that I won’t repeat the same behaviour in the future.

Taking the Fifth helps to develop humility, not to be confused with humiliation.  Humility is accepting the truth of what is: I am who I am, no better or no worse than anyone else; I am human. Part of that humanity is having faults as well as virtues and I need to accept both as part of my being. In many ways it’s a relief to tell on ourselves. I no longer have to prove who I am. At least one other person in this world knows my truth. I no longer need to put on a mask or play a role in front of that person: I can be completely honest.

A final thought on taking the Fifth Step. Doing so prepares me for the Ninth Step which, while it is still down the road a bit is when I talk to those whom I have offended and make amends for what I have done. If I have developed some humility and can share all of my past with one person, it will be much easier for me to admit my fault with someone who already knows something about what I had done.

Step Five provides a chance to develop some humility and honesty and demonstrate that to another human being. Once I do incriminate myself and my secrets are out, it’s a whole lot easier to continue the healing process of addiction. I gain self esteem and hope. I know I can change and that I can change how I respond to the persons places and things in my life, discovering the joys of recovery.


Sought Through Prayer and Medication

Chronic depression is a disease, as is the disease of alcoholism and addiction. No one asks for it, the causes aren’t always clear and there are a variety of methods to help to treat it. Often depression and addiction go hand in hand. People with chronic depression often self medicate with alcohol and other substances because they either don’t understand their condition, or they do and believe that they have found a socially acceptable manner of dealing with it. Depression is part of my story as well.

I sought treatment for depression in my late twenties. An abrupt change in career path brought about a time when I could no longer cope on my own and I knew that self medicating with scotch whiskey was no longer helping me. I didn’t want to go the medication route at that time as I had plenty of prejudices against psychopharmaceuticals. I went the route of talk therapy and it helped me through that difficult time and also helped me to look at various self-help programs which I applied to varying degrees of success to my own life. The therapy helped me in putting some order back into my life and the depression lessened. I was able to put down the scotch and stayed dry for the next five years.

Like any other chronic disease, depression ebbs and flows, but it is always there. After that five year hiatus I returned to alcohol, slowly at first, then back with a vengeance as if making up for my dry time. I was always trying to control it, fight it and stop, but I was losing my battle. Depression and addiction worked together in my life creating an ever deepening pit of darkness. I was only able to complete the bare minimum to survive. I would spend hours alone, playing solitaire on the computer because that was about all I could do. I didn’t want to socialize, I didn’t have the energy for it. I could put on a happy face when necessary. “I’m fine!” I’d say when asked, but inside I was alone and dying. I had enough self awareness to know that my addiction was not helping me, but I couldn’t come up with better treatment plan for myself.

After one particularly bad night, combined with a severe physical and moral hangover that lasted for two days, I found the strength to stop everything cold turkey. I don’t know where I found the power to do so, but I stayed stopped. But after two months dry,  and in a deep depression I sought out help again.  This time, I said to my doctor that I wanted medication.  She started me off on a low dose of an antidepressant and slowly increased it until I felt what I thought must be normal. It was working. I felt so normal that after six months I decided that I could start adding alcohol into the mix again. And thus began a downward spiral of depression medication and self medication. I should add that I never told my doctor that I had started self medicating again along with the antidepressants.

Time goes on, I hit my bottom and came into a recovery program. Fortunately I had a sponsor who encouraged me to talk to my doctor and stay on my prescription medication. After about two years in the program and working with that doctor, I weaned myself slowly off of the pills. I have had bouts of depressions since then, but I have been able to work through them with the help of the program.

Most of us arrive at recovery with more difficulties than our addictions. I know there was a tie-in between my depression and my consumption. Everyone is different. I encourage people in recovery to be honest and candid with their medical professionals as well as their sponsor. Many of us use various types of therapy to help us live life to the fullest and there is nothing in recovery that should hinder sound medical treatment. By being rigorously honest we have a much better chance at success in our programs.

I applaud Wil Wheaton who shared his story of living with chronic depression. You can find his story (and the inspiration for today’s blog) here: