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Everybody’s got a secret, Sonny
Something they just can’t face
Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it
They carry it with them every step that they take
‘Till some day they just cut it loose
Cut it loose or let it drag ’em down …
– Darkness On the Edge of Town
Bruce Springsteen

Addiction loves secrets, the bigger, the nastier, the better. All the more fertile ground for shame to develop.

Although we use them interchangeably, shame is different than guilt .

Guilt is a feeling about something I’ve done. I feel sorry, but even if making amends is impossible, I don’t give up on myself. I see myself as a good person who made a mistake. Guilt can be a learning experience.

Shame is a feeling about who I am. When I feel shame I feel a certainty that I am not a good person – that I am a mistake. Shame is more than a feeling, it’s a deeply held belief. It strikes to the core of who I believe I am, what I’m worth – usually not very much.

…Where no one asks any questions
Or looks too long in your face
In the darkness on the edge of town.
– Darkness On the Edge of Town
Bruce Springsteen

Compulsive behaviours, acting our sexually or with alcohol or other drugs, overeating, gambling all spawn shame. Someone who feels a lot of shame sees no reason to take of themselves – why not drink or use? It feels better than … living with myself. Shame and addiction – an inevitably downward spiral.

Shame grows with secrets, and addiction loves it.

Addiction is really happy when a whole family keeps a lot of secrets – and feels a lot of shame …

Addiction is protected and nurtured when there are secrets in a family – families that keep secrets in the name of loyalty or for the sake of appearances are addiction’s refuge.

There’s where we stumble, right?

We don’t speak up about our loved-one’s drinking or using out of misplaced loyalty to them and the family … we keep quiet because – what will people think of us? … it will ruin his career … or … everyone else’s kids are doing really well … or … things like this don’t happen in this family … or …

Members of families keep quiet and feel alone. And addiction thrives.

We keep quiet and rescue, control, protect … all meant to make things better only lead to deeper unmanageability.

You’re as sick as your secrets is a well-known slogan in recovery circles.

But if secrets make a person and a family sick, how do we get healthier? How does a family regain some sense of spontaneity and fun?

Unload our secrets. If we surrender to reality and speak up, all that is shamed-based scurries for cover like cockroaches caught in the beam of a flashlight.

To unload our secrets we just need someone to talk to.

Dale MacIntyre M.Div, RCC

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