November 15, 2011
By Geoff Steurer, MS, LMFT
Director, LifeSTAR of St. George, UT
One of the most significant recovery tasks for both addicts and partners is having the courage to open up to others about their struggles. The thought of having to tell other people their story fills them with fear and dread. Of course, this is why most addicts and even partners, stay quiet for so many years, hoping that the problems will just go away.
Some of us may have been taught in our families to not share our problems with others. Perhaps we have had bad experiences opening up, or being caught, and vow never to experience the same rejection and humiliation.
Regardless of the reasons, it is a fact that something important happens when you open up to a safe person about your story. You begin to experience relief that you’re not the only one carrying the secret. Dividing up the weight of your story with other people is one of the best ways to begin healing from addiction.
This is why 12-step programs work so well. You walk into a room and instantly feel like you’re not the only one in the world struggling. There is a sense of relief that you’re not alone anymore. This relief is only available to those who have the courage to open up and talk to others about their struggles.
Now, I don’t recommend you open up to just anyone. The safest places to start are with professionals and support groups. These environments will almost always be a positive experience. However, it’s not going to be enough to only talk with professionals and groups of anonymous people. Your next step is to take the risk and open up to someone in your natural support system.
When you open up to your family and friends about your struggles, you want to make sure that you’re telling those individuals who can actually support you. Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection warns that “if we share our shame story with the wrong person, they can easily become one more piece of flying debris in an already dangerous storm.” Make sure that person is someone who has earned the right to even know your story.
Additionally, if you’ve harmed other people through your addiction, then those individuals need to hear from you as well. They need to know that you’re taking the appropriate steps to make amends and that you’re fully accountable for the impact on their lives.
Sharing your story with safe people will reassure you that you’re not a bad person, only that you’ve done bad things that need to be corrected. There is a big difference between feeling like you’re a bad person versus recognizing you’ve done some bad things that can be corrected. The relief you’ll feel as others love and support you will be worth the risk of opening up about your story.
Secrets are the lifeblood of addiction and will only serve to fuel the addiction even further. Try reaching out and opening up to others as a way to get real relief from the pain of addiction.
Let me finish with one more thought from Brene Brown: “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”