How Keeping Secrets Can Harm Recovery

Keeping Secrets

In recovery, we are often encouraged to reach out to sober supports, to make friends in twelve-step fellowships, and to get a sponsor. Part of the reason for this is that addiction is profoundly isolating and lonely. In order to continue using drugs and drinking in an addictive and destructive manner, many of us have to lie, manipulate, and deceive our family and friends to avoid being held accountable. Keeping secrets can become like second nature in active addiction or alcoholism. When we get clean and sober, that can be a difficult habit to break. But it’s important that we do because keeping secrets can be one of the most damaging behaviors we can engage in during recovery.

The Habit of Keeping Secrets

When we use alcohol or drugs addictively, almost every aspect of our lives and behavioral patterns changes. Someone who is naturally honest, open, and friendly with others may become withdrawn and lie frequently about their behavior. Even when friends and family reach out to help, the tendency can be to continue lying and denying that we have a problem with drugs or alcohol. Keeping secrets is a huge part of this pattern. It can become natural to keep quiet about emotional struggles, the amount of substances we are using, even where we are going and who we are spending time with. This is all done to protect our addiction or alcoholism because it’s often the case that people with substance use disorder don’t know how to cope in any other way besides using and drinking. Once keeping secrets becomes a habit, it can be hard to break in recovery.

The Problem With Keeping Secrets

It’s normal and healthy to be private about some things and to not wish to share certain facts about ourselves with everyone. It’s also ok to decide to share personal things with only a few, trusted people. Being private is different than keeping secrets, and sensitive subjects or struggles only become a problem when we aren’t willing to talk to anyone about them or when we actively try to hide them. The problem with keeping secrets is that continuing to engage in this behavior does the following:

  • It further isolates us from other people and our higher power
  • It prevents others from holding us accountable
  • It causes significant emotional pain, including guilt and shame
  • It can be stressful and overwhelming and can eat away at our sense of peace and serenity
  • Having shame over keeping secrets can erode self-esteem and contribute to a negative self-image or negative self-talk
  • Keeping secrets can lead to addictive behavior or even a relapse
  • It prevents us from forming close relationships with others who can support us in our recovery

In addition to these problems, keeping secrets can also lead to negative contracts, especially in sober living environments, in which residents become close with one another and depend upon one another to keep them accountable.

What’s a Negative Contract?

Negative contracts are similar to pacts, but instead of revolving around keeping a promise, they revolve around keeping secrets. It works like this: if one person does something unhealthy, dangerous, or that violates rules or laws and tells someone else while making them promise not to divulge their secret, the two people have formed a negative contract. Because person B has agreed to keep person A’s secrets, if person B does something unhealthy or dangerous, person A will likely to feel obligated to keep their secret for them, lest they tell others what they confided in person B about. This cycle is known as a negative contract.

For example: say I live in a sober home and I sneak out after curfew. Then, I tell my roommate and she promises to keep my secret. Later, I may find out that my roommate did something really dangerous, like use drugs in the house. Because of our negative contract- she is keeping secrets for me- I may be unwilling to tell the house manager because I’m afraid that if I do, she will tell on me in retaliation. This cycle would put both of us at risk because neither of us is being held accountable for our actions and both of us could end up relapsing over it. Rather than keeping secrets, the healthy thing to do in recovery is to hold one another accountable, to confide in people we trust, and to talk about our feelings before we allow them to take over and cause us to make a bad decision.

If you want to live in a safe, sober environment where secret-keeping is replaced by healthy boundaries and friendships, the Lilly Pad may be the right place for you. Call today at 561-758-1011 for information on our sober living residences.

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