As Sick As Your Secret

first person testimony

I take the subway from Central Park West down to Brooklyn. I’m headed to a party that some old friends from college are having. These are my chique, New York friends who unintentionally make me feel like a country bumpkin. My winter coat didn’t look so boxy, and my boots didn’t seem that scuffed, until I arrived in NYC where style becomes more apparent. But I don’t care. I love the city at Christmas. I walk briskly from the subway toward my friends’ apartment, past the funeral home with the neon sign, past the Kennedy Fried Chicken. I am freezing, but I feel alive. I am in the middle of my first Christmas season without a drink.

I arrive at the party, ruddy cheeked and out of breath. I surprise myself by naturally joining in conversations. I have things to say! I confidently decline cocktails, wine, and beer, but at this point in my recovery (it is 2004), I have not yet put down the weed. I go ahead and smoke what is offered. I tell myself, “Why not? It’s a party!”, but within a half hour, a mental fog rolls in and covers me in silence.

I bow out of the kitchen and look for a place to have a quiet cigarette. An old friend turns to me and says, “I know you’re not drinking anymore, but I don’t know what your deal is with coke. They’re doing it in the bathroom if you want some,” and she walks away. This is a punch in the gut. I know that doing that would surely lead to a drink. I have nearly four months without one, and I won’t throw it away tonight. I scan the apartment and I feel inferior to all these fashionable hipsters, laughing, drinking, always finding things to say to each other.

I recall a member saying, ‘You’re only as sick as your secrets,’ and I know that I am sick in my secrecy about marijuana.Then I remember my plan is to sleep here tonight. I have nowhere else to stay, but I am done with this party. Now I realize why people in AA recommend always to have an exit plan at a party with alcohol. I curse myself for lacking a plan and I consider calling someone in the program. Since I’ve just smoked weed and have been keeping this a secret from people in AA, however, I decide not to use the phone. I recall a member saying, ‘You’re only as sick as your secrets,’ and I know that I am sick in my secrecy about marijuana. I enter my friends’ bedroom where the guests’ coats are strewn across the bed. Closing the door behind me, I collapse face down on top of all the coats, ignoring the fact that many of them are wool which I am allergic to. The skin on my face and hands winces at the scratchy fabric, but I lay still and hear muffled sounds of the party from the other side of the door. I feel safe on the coats, where I don’t have to attempt conversation or beat myself up for having nothing to say. My only concern right now is the increasing irritation of the wool against my skin.

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I feel a light pressure on my back, tiny footsteps, and a soft meow. Oh no, the cats are in here…all three of them! I am horribly allergic to cats and am now surrounded by them. Almost immediately, I am sneezing, my eyes are burning, and my throat is so itchy that I want to shove the hairbrush on my friend’s dresser down my throat just to give it a scratch.

What a nightmare! I have a choice to make. I could head back into the party and risk the drink, the cocaine, the conversation… or I could stay in here with the cats and the wool. Either way, I am trapped, but I choose the latter. It’s a more manageable, safer kind of pain. I toss some pillows onto the floor and lay on top of them. I allow the cats to strut and traipse on top of me; there’s no stopping them. When party guests come in to collect their coats, I pretend I’m asleep. Before too long, I actually do manage to sleep a little. Tomorrow will be a new day.

Tomorrow is, indeed, always a new day. Although it took me two and half more years, an arrest for possession, and so much marijuana-induced social anxiety, I finally stopped smoking weed in 2007. I also have always attended AA meetings since 2004. Once I admitted my marijuana use to members, I felt a huge weight lifted. The saying about being sick in my secrets rang true for me. Once I could share freely about my addiction to both alcohol and marijuana, I became ready to find real recovery by getting honest and working the steps. It was no longer necessary for me to hide or lie. I am lucky that my marijuana use did not lead me back to a drink or to other drugs, and one thing that helped was that I never stopped going to meetings. I am now nearly fourteen years clean and sober. I like my time alone and I like my time with people. I no longer freeze or shrink with social anxiety, and I’ve become comfortable in conversations, no longer needing to either dominate them or disappear in them. I can truly say I am comfortable in my own skin, especially when there are no cats or wool around!

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Patty Bamford advises recent high school graduates, helping them find their way in college and work. She lives in Rhode Island with her husband and two kids. Please send your 1st Person story to phoenix@thephoenixspirit.com.

Last Updated on May 15, 2021

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