Suffering from a substance use disorder is unlike anything else. It is hard to admit substance use is happening, so people may want to keep it under wraps and make it a secret. Substance use disorders happen to millions of people. Still, it does not mean when it happens to a loved one, they are likely to share their struggle openly without feeling challenged. Some people keep substance use disorders and recovery a secret. They leave it up to the loved ones to encourage them to be accepting of their disease and their recovery journey.
When Stigma Drives Substance Use Disorders
Language is a powerful communication tool. It allows people to share their thoughts, feelings, and desires openly. Sometimes the things people have going on in their lives are hard to air out in the open, especially if those things, like substance use, carry a negative connotation. Images and emotions compel people to hold others at arm’s length – until it happens to one of their loved ones. People who assume those with substance use disorders enjoy it or think they should be punished for it are in two different camps, but the challenge is to end the stigma and bring people into the light.
Social media and television shows do a great disservice to people with substance use disorders. People often feel they have no choice but to keep substance use disorders a secret if they want to keep their jobs, spouses, and livelihoods. While plenty of people can beat substance use disorders, many cannot do it on their own. The way it is portrayed in media is that they can do it in a few episodes. These portrayals ignore hours of footage that were cut to show the most memorable parts for television viewing audiences. This condenses an arduous process and one that is personal and looks different for each individual. The strength and motivation it takes to change vary, but treatment should not be scorned with a negative stigma. It should be embraced as an effective treatment that brings healing.
The Professional View
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a useful tool based on years of research and millions of success stories of people challenging the narrative of substance use disorders’ hold in their lives and moving forward healthily. Professionals often recommend this group for its ability to help people connect to the community and attend meetings with those who will understand what they are dealing with. The only thing that is required is to use the first name and be honest about substance use disorders. Openly revealing what has happened as a result of a substance use disorder airs it out and helps people feel safe and vulnerable in a group. AA honors privacy and anonymity because it never releases information shared in meetings. Meetings are not there to be placeholders for secrets. Some reasons people hold onto their secrets may include:
- Not wanting a loved one to suffer.
- Friends will judge.
- Substances and alcohol can be used anytime without worry about what others say.
These justifications keep people going and don’t actually solve the challenge of how to move past a substance use disorder. Any friend that looks down on or judges someone for having a substance use disorder should probably not be in your life, but sometimes they are, and they keep adding fuel to the fire.
Burden and Cost of Secrecy
Secrecy in any area of life can be like holding debt. It is heavy, weighs you down, and does not let you feel freedom. Living a secretive life in this way with a substance use disorder makes a person feel like they are living a lie. The person loses motivation and self-respect. They may feel guilty and not be able to navigate healing if they still hold onto secrets from the past. Going to treatment means unburdening oneself to feel the freedom once again of healing from substance use disorders’. The consequences of keeping a substance use disorder a secret can be devastating. Revealing the secret and getting the help needed by enrolling in a treatment program can help ease the cost of secrecy as the healing journey to recovery begins. Loved ones can walk away from relationships, jobs are lost, and people may even go to jail or cause someone to lose their life over a substance use disorder. It is not worth holding the secret when it can be exposed healthily, so the person can receive treatment.
To heal a secret means to let it go. It means to put it out into the world and tell everyone it no longer serves you or has a hold of you. It means holding a meeting with loved ones to share about substance use disorders. It might mean breaking the silence of denial to admit you need help. This might also include apologies and asking forgiveness down the road. For now, it means asking for suggestions regarding treatment and choosing a treatment program that works. The goal is to let it out and let people in who will care for you, stand by you, and be there to support you no matter what. Healing can start when you break the chains of denial and begin the journey forward.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at 800-799-4673.