As they say in the rooms, “We’re as sick as our secrets.” Thank goodness for twelve-step programs, for spiritual communities, and even for the sober blogosphere, all of which provide safe places for us to share and release our deepest and darkest confidential matters.
In gratitude, harmony, and support,
Chipping Away At My Secrecy
I’ve started letting people into my drinking secret. A tiny amount, with no plans to expand it substantially. But this is a big deal.
Like a lot of you from what I can tell, I went to comical lengths to hide my drinking. I guess it’s part shame. And for me it was also related to the basic fact that I drank to try to achieve privacy. Some weird not-grounded-in-reality need for privacy, because I drank even when I was as alone as humanly possible. Like, in a tent in a state park in Maine where the nearest person who knew me was hundreds of miles away. I drank then. In an idyllic place on an idyllic vacation. A topic for another post.
I’m sure somebody suspected something some time. Like maybe my friend who dropped by unannounced one summer afternoon after I’d had four beers and we talked on the front steps. I’m guessing she thought something was up. But that sort of thing happened really rarely. If I was drinking excessively around other people I covered it up — such as when, several years ago, a group of my friends met at my house every Thursday for a few months and we always had beer around, and I wanted more beer than what I was willing to be seen imbibing so I’d start early. Or I’d drink my wine at a party out of a ceramic mug and fill it often. That stuff.
In my late teens and twenties I had a binge eating problem that I also kept hyper-secret. I am unfortunately pretty practiced at this. But I’ve long been aware that it would be better to not be so completely isolated in my quitting drinking project. Accountability and camaraderie. I mean, you guys are great. But wouldn’t it be amazing if I could talk to someone in my real life, face to face, right here in this room?
I haven’t been completely silent. I told a therapist that I was concerned about my drinking back in maybe 2011. (He didn’t comment too much on that (and why?), and then when I quit gluten and dairy and suddenly didn’t have those bright, shining emotional pains to try to figure out anymore, I stopped seeing him.) I told my writing coach two or three years ago. It’s nice to know that she knows, but we don’t talk about it directly. And I met another sober blogger last summer, which was beyond wonderful!
But as far as people in my daily life — nope. (Freudian typo that I just back-spaced over: “hope.”)
Until just now. A month ago I had dinner with close, close friends since age 18 — two of my college friends and their high school- and college-aged daughters — and when they offered me the standard beer, rather than simply saying, “tea would be great!” I said that I had quit alcohol (and tea would be great). I blamed it on the sleep-wreckage and headaches even after a beer or two (true, just not the whole story). My comment prompted one of them to start talking about a program at the college where he works that’s designed for undergrads who come to college with a severe drinking program. It was all very nice and interesting and nonthreatening to me. Also around that time I went out for a “beer” with another dear friend, who I suspect may have something of an alcohol dependency going on (she reminds me of myself), who asked as we were leaving whether quitting alcohol for me was a temporary or permanent thing, and I heard myself saying, unpremeditated, not the headache thing, but that I had found myself starting to self-medicate with alcohol and I didn’t like that. (Starting to…. HA!) Inching a little further into the truth.
But the big deal was two days ago. I have been thinking of telling the real story to a couple of people — my brother, who I see a few times a year and who had his own alcohol rock-bottom in around 2004 and has been sober ever since, and my downstairs neighbor, who is around my age (~50) and quit alcohol in her twenties. So I told my neighbor. We were emailing a week or two ago and I told her that I wanted to talk with her about a non-house-related thing when I got back into town. We got together for tea this week and were talking about various things, and I had every intention of telling her about this and had no earthly idea what I was going to say, and she said, “So. You had something else you wanted to talk to me about?”
And I told her. Not all my details, but not the varnished version. It wasn’t hard but was other-worldly. So strange. After all this time. All this time alone with my secret.
She said I could call her anytime. She said that she also had felt a weird awkwardness (which I’m feeling and it won’t go away) and said that she had it for a couple of years. (Which was so nice to hear. Two years is a long time but it is a discrete amount of time. It’s an integer and not infinity.) I can read that and read that and read that, but to hear it from a person I know in real life is something else.
I do still want to tell my brother. Like I say, I don’t have any big plans to expand this disclosure thing that much. But just opening the door a crack is a big big deal, and it makes me happy.