How much do we tell people about our struggles?

In recovery, we are learning new behaviors. Whenever we learn a new behavior, we make mistakes. Making mistakes is not simply an unfortunate consequence of learning, it’s often how we learn.

Watch children learn how to walk. They teeter back and forth, letting their legs catch up with them. The way they learn balance is by falling, which shows them when they’re leaning too far one way or the other. It’s the same when learning how to ride a bike – a necessary part of the learning comes by making mistakes, and experiencing what it’s like to be out of balance.

This is how we learn new behaviors in recovery.

Suppose we have been withholding our true feelings and stuffing our anger, for example. As we try to relate more honestly, it’s almost guaranteed that we will explode and say something hurtful. If we’ve been too gregarious and flirty with people of the opposite sex, we will shift to the other side and be remote and aloof. It will take time and experience to find the right balance.

When it comes to revealing ourselves, and being honest with the people in our lives, we may well experience a similar struggle to find the right balance.

Most of us have created lives of isolation and secrecy, with no one knowing the whole truth about us. Often, after our secrets come to light, and we start telling the truth, it feels so freeing that we want to tell everybody.

It’s wise to be careful here.

Make no mistake: our spouse, our sponsor, and key recovery friends need to know the whole truth. We need to practice ruthless honesty with ourselves and the people in our program. But when it comes to people outside of our program – extended family, neighbors, work associates, people at church, other friends – it’s good to think about the boundaries (limits) of our self-disclosure.

In the past, many of us had problems with limits. We’ve done some things to excess and neglected other important things.

Sometimes we haven’t had good judgment about what we ought to tell someone or who we ought to tell. We likely have kept secrets that made us lonely and sick. At other times – especially in early recovery – we exposed too much in inappropriate situations and hurt someone else or ourselves.

Developing a healthy sense of internal limits is a change that comes with time in recovery. Gradually, we gain a stronger feeling of self-respect and become more intuitive about when to express something and when not to. We start to develop more accurate perceptions about whether or not someone will be safe to open up to.

Emotional maturity involves having healthy boundaries. One way to think about boundaries in relationships is to think of the balance of self-disclosure and privacy. Self-disclosure allows us to be known. Privacy, on the other hand, is the freedom to choose what and when to confide in a friend. We need both.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your responses – and any stories about this – in the comments.

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2 thoughts on “How much do we tell people about our struggles?”

  1. For me when first learning how to be honest about EVERYTHING i definitely told too many people TOO much information that they did not need to know ha. I felt this need to have everyone(except for people who didn’t believe addiction was real…they are just toxic)see ALL the truth about me, in essence, humiliate myself…..but in a good way.
    Going from skilled manipulator, liar, and the queen of minimization i knew that if i didn’t tell as many people as possible that i would try to weasle my way out of being honest, and i eventually would justify a way of withholding info from people who really did need to know. It was actually very good for me to air out my dirty laundry so to speak to everyone ha. I mean its not like i would be telling everyone at the grocery store or shouting it on the roof tops. But i would speak up in class at church whenever i could, or id share it with anyone i was having a real conversation with. It helped me quickly overcome this fear that everyone will think I’m a monster. Plus i already was in a state of mind that everyone would hate me ANY way so i figured i had nothing to lose by learning to be honest with everyone no matter how bad it made me look. It was freeing to have people know everything, even if the conversation got really awkward times with my forwardness ha, “ooh me? I’m doing ok. I’m an addict, I’m going through horrible withdrawals, i lied to everyone for a very long time, and i had an affair and lied to my husband about that too. But how are you doing?” haha, but surprisingly most people still loved and supported me, actually moreso than before.
    I must say though that once I was in recovery i slowly started to be more selective with who i told, and not because i didn’t want people to know, but because my addict brain no longer had the strong urge to lie to everyone. There was no more shame and fear associated with the truth. And now i see the wisdom in not casting your pearls before swine. I share my life with people who i think it’ll help them, and who really want to know.
    Ha sorry this was so long.
    But I agree with both sides of the coin of selectively disclosing/disclosing to everyone, because they both have helped me greatly!

    1. Dear K — thanks for your comments. I really think that what you’re describing is a common phenomenon for many people. I think there are some more private people who won’t go through this, but other people who are more open will have to work through how much of their struggle to share as part of their recovery experience. Like everything else in life, we learn by trial and error. I suppose the point is to give ourselves grace when we feel like we’ve made a mistake. 🙂

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