***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.