The Power of Secrets


Keeping secrets feeds shame into the addictive cycle and maintains the conditions that lead to relapse and acting out. The power of secrets fades when they are shared with trusted others. For me this began with Step 5 in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. It continues with building my trust in others through participation in the lives of those I love and care about. By sharing my experiences, my shaming secrets, with others I was able to turn my shame into an asset and realize one of the most powerful promises in Alcoholics Anonymous:

“No matter how far down the scale we have gone we will see how our experience can benefit others.” – Alcoholics Anonymous pg 84.

Honor and keeping secrets often went hand in hand during my childhood and early adulthood. I was rewarded by friendship if I was able to ‘keep a secret’. I gained respect from my peers. I believe this is typical behavior; a rite of passage into adulthood and the responsibility associated with it.

As an adult, though, I’ve learned the difference between keeping a confidence and keeping a secret. A confidence is something entrusted to me by another. It indicates a level of trust in me by the other person. I need to protect and guard this confidence. After all, it isn’t mine it belongs to someone else. A secret is the other side of this same event. The confidence I’m keeping is the other person’s secret. My ability to be trusted allows the other person to share his secret. Of course there are some confidences that shouldn’t be kept, harmful or illegal acts for instance. These are not what I am discussing now.

Feeling the need to keep a secret rather than sharing it results from my inability to trust another. When it is knowledge about me it often reflects a sense of shame in who I am. During my recovery from addiction I’ve found that secrets about what I feel, what I’ve done and what I’ve thought have considerable power over my quality of life. They can divert me from the path I’ve chosen and maintain the conditions that lead to relapse and acting out.

I lost contact with my friends and my family during my active addiction. I isolated from them because of my feelings of shame and guilt resulting from my behaviors. Holding these secrets inside reinforced my sense of shame which caused me to continue the isolation. I felt that they wouldn’t love me if they knew about my actions. They wouldn’t understand why I did those things. I didn’t know why I did them how could they?

One model of the addictive system begins with the faulty core beliefs that drive our feelings of shame. These feelings in turn provide the psychological energy for our addictive behaviors. As the cycle continues our behaviors cause us more shame and the cycle is reinforced and repeats with added energy. It is a closed system that feeds on itself and results in a spiritual emptiness.

Sharing these secrets with others is a way to begin the dismantling of the unhealthy edifice fabricated by my faulty core beliefs. I started this procedure when I began working the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Today I have developed groups of trusted and non-judgmental men and women with whom I can continue the process of sharing my feelings, thoughts and actions. I am relieved of the toxic shame and learn to connect with others. I build trust and they know they can be honest with me. My life is richer and more fulfilling when I admit my shortcomings and share my experience with others.

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