The other day I was talking with a friend about middle school or contraband or possibly both and I remembered a tin I used to keep in my desk drawer at home. Once in seventh grade, I came home to find the tin sitting on the kitchen table, lid removed. The pina colada Jelly Bellys, dried pineapple, and No-Doz I’d hidden inside were exposed.
The most embarrassing of those is the dried pineapple — what kind of kid hoards dried fruit?? — but the reason I’d kept it and the jelly beans hidden is because I had braces and chewy things could ostensibly rip the brackets from my teeth.
The most telling thing I hid were the NoDoz, which were a big thing in 7th grade, probably because huffing hadn’t hit mainstream yet, thank god. Why on earth I’d wanted to turn myself into a nervous, jittery wreck when I was already halfway there is another mystery, but that probably speaks to being so uncomfortable in my own skin that I looked to escape any way I could.
So I got busted that time, but there were plenty of other secrets over the years. One of the first entries in my first diary was “I like ice cream cones and secret good things.” I loved secrets as much as ice cream! Even as a kid!
In high school this manifested as James Bond stuff, like the hole I cut in my jacket lining so I could stow a pack of cigarettes, plus chewing gum and perfume. Or all those times I snuck out of the house to meet my very first lover, although calling him lover is as much a stretch as comparing myself to James Bond. Most of my secrets were more sad than cool, the first sign that I was doing it all wrong.
Secrets aren’t particularly good for me, and it’s taken 38 years to realize this. The burden is one thing, but I’m not talking about that. It’s more that I tend to make incredibly poor choices when I am accountable only to myself.
In talking with other alcoholics, I’ve learned secretive behavior is pretty common. I’ve heard men speak of stretching out their best pair of socks to smuggle in a pint to the ballet. Almost every morning drinker has had more than just coffee in their travel mug. I’ve met basement drinkers and garage drinkers and even trunk drinkers. I love hearing their stories not because I’m perverse or because some of their ideas are ingenuous – I love hearing them because it makes me feel less alone.
Now that I don’t drink, my love of secrets has come full circle to the ice cream cone. I sneak candy in sticky handfuls and, for awhile, got up in the middle of the night to eat ice cream straight from the tub. The shame I felt was all too familiar, though less. It is legal to suck down Sour Patch Kids while driving, even if it is absolutely pathetic.
I’m doing step 3 work with my sponsor now, and one of the things she had me write about is my higher power and what I need it to look like. I love this about the program — I get to build my own spiritual center like a kid with an endless pile of Legos and all the windows and doors and wheels and good parts you normally run out of first. How exciting!
When it comes to secrets, I need my higher power to be patient and non-judgmental with a strong moral compass because my natural inclination is always to go with the thing that tastes good and feels even better, but only initially. My husband and I were talking about rice cakes the other day and he said “why don’t people get addicted to things like rice cakes?” and I said “because they suck.” No one sneaks a bowl of rice cakes in the middle of the night.
Right now about the only thing I have left that makes me feel good and is good for me is exercise. There are far worse things to be addicted to, plus coming home out of breath and sweaty is hard to hide. It’s always going to be something with us alcoholics. For me, if I don’t have to keep it a secret, it’s probably okay.