Today will probably go down as a very significant day for me. I told a friend about my addiction; the first time I have told a non-family member.
To date, the only people (other than those who I have met in SAA) who know about my addiction are my wife and my sister (and her husband). All three have been incredibly supportive.
Since learning more about addiction, and understanding that addictions thrive in secrecy, I’ve always wanted to tell people, I just wasn’t going to rush it. I want to remove the shame and secrecy from being a porn addict, and that means unifying my secret addict persona with my public persona. Until I do, how can I really know who the ‘real’ me is?
I relate to plenty of commonly-documented traits of various addiction that make telling people hard. I have low self-esteem, so I don’t think other people will care to hear my story. I have low self-worth so I don’t think I should waste other people’s time having to listen to me. I have developed a solitary approach to life which means I distrust others and that in turn makes me fearful of their reaction, expecting the worst at all times.
However, as part of breaking down the above pre-conceptions I have of myself and the world, I knew I wanted to tell the important people in my life, and slowly remove the secrecy. Having told my sister and wife, it felt natural to tell close friends. Unfortunately, and as a specific and cruelly ironic by-product of my addiction, I don’t really have any friends any more. I did in the past, but I’ve been unable to maintain those friendships, as I unconsciously prioritised my addiction, and the personality traits that enhanced it, further and further disconnecting me from other people until it was too late. In fact, the loneliness is by far the single biggest pain I feel, and the single biggest impact of my addiction. It only further enhances my feelings of inadequacy, as only the other day I caught myself thinking, “if I have no friends because of my addiction, why would my wife still choose and love me?”.
Anyway, back to the point. Having thought long and hard, there are really only two friends who, despite only seeing them a few times a year, I consider to be special and who I think will always remain part of my life. One is my best friend from school, and the other my best friend from my post-school life, met the year after I left.
It is she, the second friend, who I told today. We met up and spent an hour walking the banks of the River Thames, where I told her everything. She was so incredibly supportive. I shouldn’t have doubted it. She hugged me, told me how brave I was for dealing with it and telling her, and offered her unconditional support.
Not only that, but she was able to share stories about times in our lives together that relate. She could provide feedback on my personality and other traits as I talked about how they related to my addiction, and it was really interesting to hear her take on it.
For example, when I met up with her about 6 months ago, I was at a stage where I was starting to talk to people about emotions more, as a way to break down the secrecy without going the whole way and admitting to the addiction. So I had talked to her about my father and my relationship with him, and about self-confidence. Today she told me that after that conversation, she left realising that was the first time she had heard me talk about emotions. Obviously she only told me that today because of what I had now confided in her; otherwise I doubt she would have mentioned it, but it was interesting to hear. She essentially confirmed my understanding of my past, in that I had built up a very successful persona that was in no way connected to an emotional capability. I have partly attributed this to 10 years of boarding school from the age of 8, where I was basically taught that the priority of life is survival at all costs, and that emotions, weakness and honesty are not only irrelevant but detrimental to that goal (kids, don’t go to boarding school – your parents should be the ones tucking you in at night, not a matron).
In my experience telling people, I have learned two things about how others react, no matter how supportive they may be:
- Even if I tell them that they can ask me about how my recovery is going at any time, and that this should not be a taboo topic, it is very hard for people unfamiliar with addiction to pro-actively raise this in conversation. Where I have hoped those I have told would pro-actively ask me how I was, that hasn’t materialised, yet when I raise the topic myself, they are really engaged in the conversation and continue to be supportive. I have accepted that this is simply a very difficult thing for some people to introduce into a conversation and I accept that, so I make an effort to bring it up.
- Perhaps caused by my ability to rationally articulate my struggle, it is possible for people to not realise quite how sensitive the information I’ve provided is. One example is when I told my brother-in-law about one theme of my recovery (being cynical), and the next day he made a joke when I said something he thought was cynical, and joked that he should prod me every time I am. I wasn’t prepared for a topic of my recovery to be used as a joke, and I took it really personally and was really offended. I blew up, but apologised the next day. Reading the above, it may not seem like that big a deal, but trust me, the exposing of the fundamentals of who I am is a difficult and sensitive thing to do, and while of course I actively encourage discussion on it, making jokes out of it, perhaps not quite with my own interests at heart, is not ok. So, when I told my friend today, I told her this – i.e. don’t be flippant with this information.
So that’s it. One more person in my life now knows about my addiction, and is a step closer to knowing the ‘real’ me, or even to helping me find out who that really is.