Why You’re Only as Sick as Your Secrets

There’s a saying in AA that ‘We’re only as sick as our secrets’. It’s not obvious that something like keeping secrets can be closely connected to addiction, but it’s true. Keeping secrets is a major impediment to recovery. That’s why steps four and five are so important. These steps are making a ‘searching and fearless moral inventory’ and admitting ‘to God, ourselves, and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs’. Confronting these secrets is important for several reasons.

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Lying to others requires lying to yourself. We don’t typically think of secrets as lying but in certain contexts there’s little difference. If you want to convince other people something didn’t happen, the best way is to convince yourself it didn’t happen. This means walling off certain thoughts and emotions related to your secrets. This strategy only succeeds in the short term. In the long term, secrets become a burden. You push them down as much as you can but when they do pop up they seem worse and worse. Keeping secrets makes you feel more ashamed of them. The thoughts and emotions you try to wall off come out in other ways. Confronting your secrets is the first step in being honest with yourself.

Secrets isolate you. When you harbour secrets, you tend to feel more isolated. You may feel like you are the only person who has suffered a particular experience or done something you’re not proud of. That’s not true, but you only realise this when you connect with others honestly. Then you see that many people have made similar mistakes and suffered similar trauma. You are not unique in your flaws.

Keeping secrets also makes you more guarded. You feel you can’t be honest with others. You may keep people at arm’s length. It’s hard to make friends while maintaining a defensive position. Coming to terms with your secrets, being unafraid of them, allows you to connect with other people. Having strong social support is essential for recovery.

Secrets are a way of avoiding accountability. One of the first signs of addiction is that you lie about your drinking or drug use. This indicates you know something is wrong, yet you still convince yourself you can keep doing what you’re doing. If you aren’t harming yourself and others by your behaviour, why are you afraid the people who care about you will find out? Secrecy is a sign of mental dissonance. Being honest with others and honest with yourself helps you better align your behaviour with your values.

Sometimes secrets are important. You don’t want to betray a friend’s confidence or give dubious people the power to harm you, but neither do you want to carry shame, fear, or resentment. The less you feel you have to hide, the better you will feel and the stronger your recovery will be.



Smarmore Castle Private Clinic in County Louth, near Dublin was founded in 1988 as a residential rehabilitation hospital treating people suffering from drug and alcohol purposes. Smarmore Castle believes in helping patients lead a life of abstinence through 12 Step programmes, detox and medical treatment, psychotherapy, and complementary therapies for mental illnesses. For more information, please call 041-214-5111. For those who live out of the country, the international number is 00353-41-214-5111.

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