If you attend 12-Step meetings you’re bound to hear a bunch of corny sayings like “Denial is not a river in Egypt.” You’ll either laugh or roll your eyes dismissively. Where you’re at with your recovery has a lot to do with how information gets filtered through the addict-mind, what your ears pick up. For example, if you’re at your first meetings because of coercion, either by family members or the court system, the inner response to pretty much everything said is, “This is bullshit”. Not everything bounces off a closed mind though. Usually something seeps in that might create a desire to check out another meeting one day. The truth has a way of finding a crack in the armor. Besides, it’s hard to dismiss a roomful of people who are no longer imprisoned by the isolation of active addiction and alcoholism.
As a recovery coach, I’ve attended a lot of meetings with people in their first 30 days sober. Listening to their takeaways helps me gage whether or not the disease (the addict/alcoholic mind) is losing its grip on them. I’ve seen clients fall asleep whenever a speaker has a powerful message or whose story is similar. No joke. It’s like the disease shuts their brain off to protect itself. If their takeaways shift from tales of inspiration to focusing only on how many times members relapsed before they “got it” I know the disease is hatching a plan. When the only thing they get out of a meeting is that it’s normal to relapse a bunch of times before finally staying sober it’s usually a matter of time before they relapse. Their mind is filtering out the recovery message and the disease is starting to make a case for drinking again. For the record, I believe this is a powerful disease and takes a lot of work to stay sober in the beginning. Relapse happens. It’s important to keep coming back because recovery is possible for anyone with a desire to stay sober. My point here is that when someone experiences a shift from having an emotional connection to what they hear at a meeting to only hearing relapse histories what they don’t factor in is that they’re only hearing from people who made it back and stayed sober. They aren’t hearing from the ones who never made it back.
In my opinion, the saying, “You’re only as sick as your secrets” is the greatest “how to remain sober” tip you’ll ever hear. I was inspired to write this essay because a particular topic turned up in several conversations over the past few days: how dangerous it is to not come clean when you have slipped. We were talking about the person who drank one night or took a Xanax that wasn’t prescribed to them because they “need” it to get on an airplane who continues to celebrate their pre-slip sobriety date. How do they convince themselves that it didn’t count? I’m curious how they’re able to reconcile in themselves their ability to dismiss it as “not using” while at the same time protecting it with secrecy. Is there such a thing as a “freebie” that doesn’t have later consequences? Evidence seems to prove otherwise.
If you’ve been clean and sober for a while, you’ve encountered people who’ve lied about their clean time – whether it’s someone who sneaks a benzo for travel anxiety, takes an occasional Ambien to help them sleep, an Adderall to finish a school paper or gets drunk one night after a break-up to the person who’s using while sponsoring others and holding prominent meeting commitments. Usually we learn about this sort of behavior when a speaker with long-term recovery shares about the insanity of celebrating 5 years sober knowing they really only had 6 months. I’ve had friends die who I knew had been lying about their clean time. Rather than admit they were using, they eventually stopped coming to meetings when they couldn’t keep their using under wraps. It’s only when the long-term consequences of having a secret – usually a major relapse further down the road – is followed by a return to the program as a newcomer that the truth is ever exposed.
Maybe someone reading this has kept their slip a secret. I’d love to hear back in the comment section from anyone who has personal experience changing their clean date, especially if it felt like they could get away without changing it. And from those who maintained the secret who now have a new sober date.
(For clarity – I am not talking about medication prescribed to people in recovery that has being taken as prescribed. I am referring to sneaky behavior. If you are engaging in sneaky behavior that could result in dire consequences at a later date, this essay is for you.)