Relationship Connection: Opening up about an addiction

12 step program


I’ve just started the process of recovering from an addiction and my counselor is telling me that I need to open up to someone about my story. Is this really necessary? Isn’t getting help from a counselor enough?


First of all, I think it’s great that you’re working with a counselor to overcome your addiction. This takes tremendous courage and commitment. I can imagine how strange it must feel to finally tell one person and then have that person tell you that you need to tell more people. As if working up the courage to tell a counselor wasn’t hard enough!

It is hard to talk to others about your story of addiction and struggle. However, something important happens when you open up to a safe person about your story. You begin to experience relief that you’re not the only one carrying the secret. Dividing up the weight of your story with other people is one of the best ways to begin healing from addiction.

This is why 12-step programs work so well. You walk into a room and instantly feel like you’re not the only one in the world struggling to overcome addictive behaviors. There is a sense of relief that you’re not alone in the struggle anymore. The only way to get this relief is to take the risk to open up.

I don’t recommend you open up to just anyone. The safest places are with professionals and support groups. These environments will almost always be a positive experience. Opening up to strangers is just the first step.

When you open up to your family and friends about your struggles, you want to make sure that you’re telling those who can actually support you. Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imerfection warns that “if we share our shame story with the wrong person, they can easily become one more piece of flying debris in an already dangerous storm.” Make sure that person is someone who has earned the right to even know your story.

If you’ve harmed other people through your addiction, then those individuals need to hear from you as well. They need to know that you’re taking the appropriate steps to make amends and that you’re fully accountable for the impact on their lives.

Sharing your story with safe people will reassure you that you’re not a bad person, only that you’ve done bad things that need to be corrected. There is a big difference between feeling like you’re a bad person versus recognizing you’ve done some bad things that can be corrected. The relief you’ll feel as others love and support you will be worth the risk of opening up about your story.

Secrets are the lifeblood of addiction and will only serve to fuel the addiction even further. Try reaching out and opening up to others as a way to get real relief from the pain of addiction.

Let me finish with one more thought from Brene Brown: “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

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