My alcoholism was trapped in the tangled web of secrecy and lies. This is the experience of most addicts. It is a world of hidden things. Every lie is victim to the domino effect, “a cumulative effect produced when one event sets off a chain of similar events”. It is an unavoidable slippery slope. Attempting to escape is like trying to getting out of quicksand. The harder you struggle, the quicker you sink. Hiding my drinking and secreting the evidence – bottles – empty and full – was part of a perverse game that nearly drove my wife and I to insanity.
Everybody needs to keep a little piece of themselves secret. A private place they share with no one. I believe that retaining this secret ‘self-ness’ is essential for a person to remain sane. Amongst other things, my addiction warped and corrupted this secret place. In my mind the vain attempt to keep my addiction hidden was necessary, not to say obligatory. A synonym of obligatory is habitual. Dishonesty becomes habitual. This deceit eats away at your soul, shattering your identity.
“A secret is a kind of promise … It can also be a prison.” Jennifer Lee Carrell
I have never been a social drinker. Everything about it was a secret. To be honest, I even experienced a sort of deviant pleasure in the game or, as a very old friend calls it, “a subtle dance of the addict and the enabler that helped no one”. Day after day I obdurately looked my wife in the eye and told the ridiculous and usually aggressive lie that I was not drunk; when I was staggering, hostile, or could not string a sentence together in my slurred speech. “You never believe me”, I would declaim. I would accuse my wife of being untrusting and suspicious, when the fact that I was drinking very heavily was indisputable.
I desperately wanted to tell the truth but the need to protect my addiction and my next drink outweighed this. This continued till the day I stopped drinking. This piece is consciously named with Mike Leigh’s wonderful film in mind. The destructive power of deceit to undermine and destroy a relationship cannot be underestimated. Most relationships do not survive addiction. The trust destroyed by the lying is the thing that takes the longest to repair or rebuild.
Every act of an addict is premeditated. In many group sessions I have attended I have often heard stories, absurdly comical in retrospect, of the lengths my fellow addicts have gone to, trying to hide the evidence. Places to hide the bottles, the planning involved in preparing for holidays, having people to stay or just plain day to day life. The addict constantly has to be one step ahead to ensure access to their drug of choice is unimpeded. That has been the beauty of group work for me, hearing my stories coming from the mouths of others. The knowledge that I was not alone in this farcical behaviour was encouraging. It gave me courage.
I believe the childish desire to be naughty is hard-wired into my neural pathways. Now I am sober I still manifest similar behaviour. I treat myself with pieces of really good cheese. I tuck these away in the fridge, usually behind something more bulky. I am aware that this is the same secretive behaviour as before and I try to be honest about it with my wife, but I make sure to remind myself that this must stop at stilton!
Now, the freedom from the necessity to plot and scheme is not just a relief; for me it is the most beautiful part of my recovery. I can coexist with my family without having to lie, and so it follows that I can coexist with my family with the respect and honesty that they deserve. The longer this goes on, the happier and more liberated I become. Why would I return to that world of pretence and discord?
“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” George Orwell