Several slogans and sayings get chucked around in health circles, which some people find helpful, and other people find both helpful and irritating, depending upon their mood.
One of the most common sayings, although not an actual slogan, is telling people directly or indirectly that they are as sick as their secrets.
The message behind the saying is that people need to open up and tell either an individual or a group what is going on in their life, or what it is from their past that is troubling them.
People will rarely question this message, in part because the process of 12-step recovery does involve an individual realistically assessing the past, sharing it with someone on a one-to-one basis and making amends for harm done as a basis for moving forward and staying sober.
A degree of defensiveness can often mask a sense of underlying anger, which in reality is often protective rather than confrontational.
As Sick As Your Secrets?
The problem with telling people that they are as sick as their secrets is that it often moves away from what is suggested in the book Alcoholics Anonymous to a different level.
This either puts significant pressure on people to share at meetings or pressure on people that they should be telling everyone everything about their lives.
This is a hugely important issue and unsurprisingly really has to do with boundaries.
When anyone starts the process of getting sober and staying sober they are quite likely to have experienced a significant degree of isolation, often both physical and emotional, often for a significant period of time.
Any emotional isolation is likely to have had a fairly devastating effect on the individual, often making them highly inward-looking and secretive about their lives.
Telling individuals like this that they are as sick as their secrets can seem to make sense, as they will often think that they have to force their way out of that isolation in order to share and get better, otherwise, they will drink again.
The process of an individual freeing themselves from this type of isolation is as detailed in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. It is not a forced process and never should be.
A sense of moving out of this type of emotional isolation can only come from the individual feeling safe enough to let go of the various emotional coping mechanisms that they have set up within themselves.
These coping mechanisms are essentially what the isolation involves, and need to come down so that the individual can have a healthy sense of understanding what their issues are.
What is key is that they come down from within, not as a result of being pressured from outside.
Whenever an individual is starting a process of getting or staying sober, either in a rehab or in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, it is a fair bet to say that the last thing in the world they need is any more external pressure.
Whilst every individual’s life is different, and their circumstances different, it’s a fair bet to say that they are already experiencing a high degree of internal pressure, as well as probably external pressure as well.
Telling people that they are as sick as their secrets invariably puts pressure on them. They either feel that they have to share at meetings, or that they need to share things that they are not ready to yet own themselves emotionally.
This type of pressure and the ensuing belief that people have to tell everyone everything about their lives often replicate the type of enmeshment found in alcoholic homes.
This is not surprising given the number of AA members who grew up having been affected by someone else’s alcoholism.
It is important to realise the distinction between privacy and secrecy and to realise that this is fundamentally a boundary issue and one that can be hugely important in people’s recovery.
The bottom line is that putting pressure on vulnerable people is always a no-no, especially when it potentially takes away from them one of the main things that they need to get well, a sense of safety at meetings where they can simply learn to be themselves.