How many secrets can we keep when we love someone struggling with addiction? There’s no limit. We keep hundreds. We keep THOUSANDS. We don’t keep track because that would drive us insane but think about it. We don’t want people to know where our mom really is, rehab. We don’t want them to know that, sure, our dad is hilarious when he is at the club drinking but when he is puking at home it’s not as fun. We lie about why they can’t make it to events. We lie about where they are, how they are doing, things they did for us growing up. We lie all the time. We lie about their professions, we lie about reasons things happen, we lie about anything. We lie about everything.
We also lie to them. I remember not telling my mom and dad about events at school that parents were invited to attend. I remember trying to keep Parent’s Night away from them my senior year. I remember telling them the reason I didn’t have people over was because they were afraid of our dog. I told so many lies growing up, I couldn’t keep track of where the truth was. The truth and the lie became intertwined. The reality was somewhere in there but I couldn’t see it and I didn’t want to see it.
I thought the lie was helping me. I thought it was for my benefit. I didn’t want to be embarrassed, I didn’t want people to feel bad for me, and I definitely didn’t want people to judge me. I thought my secret keeping was for my own sake. I also thought that it would help get my mom get sober. I didn’t want her to feel bad. I didn’t want to add additional pain to her struggle. I realize now that it hurt me and them more. These secrets weighed me down and kept me from being able to function. I have shared before in previous posts that sharing these things with the wrong people was also harmful but not sharing anything at all was equally painful.
The lies weren’t helping me. They certainly weren’t helping my mom. It was feeding her addiction. Every time I covered for my mom, every time I protected my friends from being exposed to this, every time I pretended like things were fine I was nourishing the monster that is alcoholism. When my mom lost her job for drinking during work hours and passing out in her car, I told people she stopped working because she didn’t need to and we could afford for her to stay at home. When she missed family’s birthday parties, I would blame it on her being sick. When she would be missing for a few hours, I would tell her friends that she was sleeping. I was so good at lying and keeping these secrets to myself. We wouldn’t even need to talk about it because my mom knew I would take care of everything.
These secrets completely took away my mom’s motivation to get sober. Why should she? No one was going to find out, I was making sure of that. She didn’t have to apologize to anyone. She didn’t have to admit this embarrassing disease was controlling her life. She didn’t have to face any consequences. My secret keeping that I thought was for myself was doing more harm than good. Sure, I struggled with how people reacted when I shared with them. A lot of the time it was incredibly painful when people didn’t know how to respond or responded poorly. I don’t suggest opening up to every single person you meet but I also don’t recommend lying for the addict. It isn’t doing you or them any favors.
My family tried to make me feel really guilty when I stopped lying. I was “embarrassing the family”. My “shaming her was going to trigger a relapse”. The guilt she felt from others would “make her want to drink more”. BULL! My mom got so upset because she knew when I started being honest about what was going on, she would actually have some consequences. Honesty was her enemy and she still fights hard against me for being truthful. Luckily, with the strong support from my fellow ACOAs, my husband, and my friends, I know now though that lying for her and keeping all those secrets is for the addiction’s gain.
Be honest with yourself and don’t lie for them. The only way we can break this stigma people have against addiction is to talk about it.
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