To all appearances, Tim was one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. He rarely said a bad word about anybody. His style was smooth, soft-spoken and quiet. If there were disagreements with his wife, he generally agreed and then did what he wanted anyway. He rarely fought with anyone and if pushed would withdraw or disappear. His anger occasionally would leak out in chronic negativity, complaining about work or immature demands.
He stopped drinking and grudgingly went to AA a while back at the insistence of his wife. This episode lasted about six months before he started cheating, both with booze and other women. He kept this secret for most of a year, until he got caught. Once the dust settled, he agreed under orders from the boss to return to AA.
Tim was hard to read. He never talked personally, only talked about “not drinking” and even that not very happily. He shared nothing of his emotional life and didn’t socialize with other members. He never really stepped into the program with both feet but always kept a distance. Tim was vague, and vague usually means there’s more to the story. He got a sponsor to keep “the AA police” off his back but never spoke to him. He went to his “mandatory” one meeting a week, and he kept the same set of drinking and partying friends, much to the dismay of his wife. She, for her part, never quite believed Tim was doing it for himself, and for good reason, because he wasn’t.
Tim had a secret life. He had never stopped seeing other women, and although he wasn’t drinking, he was hiding. He was not only hiding current activities, but the shame about past activities. He also was hiding a volcano of resentments and fears. Tim’s only coping mechanism was withdrawal and hiding, and finally his disease demanded something stronger.
Tim started drinking again, at first at parties and social events. Some would mistakenly think this is when Tim relapsed. However, Tim had never really gotten sober. He actually was an angry, disappointed man who felt badly about himself. His mistake was he hid that behind a mask of “nice” instead of seeking the relief that comes with the admission of the truth about yourself. He never got real relief, and so he continually sought it elsewhere, and that path only worsened his condition. Tim never got the relief that comes from joining the human race, so he continued to sneak and drink and avoid the one thing that would help.
As wise people in AA have been heard to say, “We’re as sick as our secrets.”
• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor. He hosts the weekly radio show Straight Stuff on Addictions at recoveryinternetradio.com. He can reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.