Wednesday, March 16, 2011

You Are Only As Sick As Your Secrets

***Submitted by Amy

A note from Ellie:    Amy's latest book Best Kept Secret is due out on June 7th.  It is a timely novel about a mother whose life falls apart when she descends into alcoholism, and her battle to get sober and regain custody of her son.    I applaud when a book addressing women and alcoholism is published; the more people who learn more about this disease, and the unique ways it impacts women's lives, the better.  You can pre-order Amy's book on Amazon by clicking here.  


My secrets keep me sick.

I didn’t understand this concept when I first got into recovery – I thought my only problem was a physical addiction to alcohol. I figured I’d remove the alcohol and thus, remove any illness. I assumed once the substance was gone, my life would resume as it was before - only without the daily consumption of a bottle of wine (or two) and endless hours of self-loathing.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it worked. As I began to do the mental and emotional work of sobriety, (which for me, is where the true blood and guts of recovery lies), it became clear that the secrets I carried had sprung malignant roots inside me. They were a swelling, black ache that wound through my soul, choking my every breath. I drank to relieve that ache, only to discover that the drinking made the pain worse. In fact, after I stopped, I was in more pain than ever. I couldn’t numb it out anymore. I had, as the saying goes, used up my right to chemical peace of mind.

The secrets I kept are not unique. At the time I thought they were. I believed I was the only woman who had ever poured red wine into a coffee mug first thing in the morning, sipping at it to ward off the shakes as I cut up toaster waffles for my kids. I believed I was the only woman who lied to supermarket checkers about the dinner party I was having that night as an explanation for the ten bottles in my cart. I thought I was the only woman to stare in the mirror, not recognizing what I’d become, hating how far I’d fallen, feeling shame so intense I wanted to die.

Still, I held my secrets close. I’ve always been able to keep them. Growing up, whatever I needed to hide from other people, I could. I became what those around me needed. Even when I was drinking, I knew how to play the part and act “as-if” – to convince the world I was a confident, happy woman. (Later, I would call this particular practice “shape-shifting.”)

Of course, I didn’t do this consciously. Morphing into whatever a situation demanded and disguising my suffering from others was something that simply seemed part of my internal make-up, something I sensed was necessary to my survival and came as automatically to me as breath. Any negative emotion I experienced, I pushed down, down, down - always smiling, always laughing. I was the girl I thought everyone wanted to see.

It wasn’t until I got sober and worked up the courage to start talking about the secrets I kept that I actually began to experience some semblance of relief. I told my story and other people in recovery nodded their heads in understanding. Tiny silver threads of connection formed between me and women with whom I shared a common affliction. There was no judgment, no disgust at the things I’d done. There was only compassion, and gradually, I’ve learned to show that compassion to myself and others who have endured the same kind of pain. I’ve learned to be vulnerable, to tell the truth instead of pushing it down. I’m no longer plagued by secrets, and I understand that if I begin to keep them again – from myself or others – I’m teetering on the slippery slope that will lead me right back to the bottom of a bottle of wine.

My secrets keep me sick. My fear of the possible stigma I’d face as an alcoholic kept me from getting help for much too long. I speak loudly now, about my recovery, because I don’t want another woman to suffer the way I did. I want to reach out and speak the truth, to show those still lost in their addictions that there is a life on the other side – a life more amazing and rewarding than I ever could have dreamed. Is it perfect? No.

But it’s mine, and I intend to live it as honestly as I can.


  1. Thank you for your brave truth. I am a recovering gambling addict and I hear my story in yours. I speak loudly now too. I feel that I must hold out my hand to helps others so they understand they aren't alone. Thank you for holding out your hand ...

    ~ Kim Pottle

  2. I can't wait to check out the book! You are a wonderful writer and tell a beautiful story of recovery. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Wonderful post. I like to say that my secrets - the things that I did - were just the things I did. They weren't who I was. Figuring that out was a major turning point in my recovery. I look forward to reading your book, Amy.

  4. Thank you so much, ladies. And Ellie, for having me. I love what you said, Dawn, about those secrets just being what we did, not who we are. I'm going to carry that one with me...and pass it on.

  5. I love this post. That feeling of finally talking about those things that haunted me, caused SO much guilt, in a room full of people and having them nod and understand was the moment my recovery took root. I had expended so much energy with the shame, guilt and self-loathing, that it had been years since I felt a sense of BELONGING.

    Thank you for your post - I can totally relate. And I can't wait to get your book!!

  6. " the more people who learn more about this disease, and the unique ways it impacts women's lives, the better."
    AMEN!!!! Sad, but SO VERY TRUE, that despite how far we've come in our education about addictions, the stigma surrounding the "mother/woman alcoholic" still exists. I share your sentiments Ellie and I have made that my "cause".

    I'm also ordering the book now - I LOVE recovery books about women; own most every one of them :)

    Terrific post! Bless you for your bold testimony

  7. An amazing story. As a codependent I have always carried the secret of the alcoholic. That was, until I didn't anymore. I am the daughter,sister, wife, and mother of alcoholics. Most are in recovery, but not all.
    I was as sick, as their secrets. I only added to them by pretending that everything was okay, and doing my best to make it so. Peace, Jane

  8. so brave. i love hearing your story and I cant wait for the book. thank you so much for writing here and giving a voice to the darkness and giving hope and validation.

  9. Amy

    Thanks for the words of encouragement about getting rid of the shame and secrets. As I start Steps 4 and 5 this is exactly what I am facing and while I know my sponsor can relate to the drinking part of my story I do worry that she will think of me differently after she knows all that I have done. And it’s not pretty. I carry a lot of shame about my past.

    I love reading these stories of hope here on this website. It makes me think that even someone like me can conquer my fears and move on with my life.


  10. This is clear and true. Thank you...just what I needed to read today.

  11. Amy -

    THANK YOU for sharing this blog with me. After reading some very personal and touching stories, I feel like I have a better understanding of the thoughts and actions my father went through -- and now realize, more than ever, that this is a disease and not a choice.

    I can't wait for your book!

    -Lynn (aka Scoobie on the SHRM BB)

  12. You write beautifully about the compassionate responses and how healing they are. I have found this too. Thank you. Congratulations on your book, I look forward to reading it!

  13. Thank you for sharing!!
    Secrets shattered my self respect over time....

  14. Thank you for sharing ~I morphed and acted as if for so long 'it' was exactly who I had become! My secrets and the shame no longer hold me captive, as they once did! I am so so grateful that I found this site. Thanks again for sharing.