Secrets of addiction: What you didn’t know

By on May 18, 2016
Photo by Captured Memories Photography Don't come home to this secret. This is a staged photo based on everyday addiction scenarios.

Photo by Captured Memories Photography. Don’t come home to this secret. This is a staged photo based on everyday addiction scenarios.

“Secrets of Addiction” is the fourth feature in a monthly series on the addiction crisis that our society is facing. The series is written by Janice Ballenger, who works at Retreat at Lancaster County, a premiere 160-bed addiction treatment center in Ephrata. While working closely with addicts, she has a burning passion to raise awareness and offer hope to all. It should be noted that none of the following stories are in any way related to, nor submitted by, any patients at Retreat. Also, none of these stories are being shared to be used as enablers, but rather to hopefully be used as preventive measures. Some names have been changed to protect their family’s privacy.

It’s not a secret that many people addicted to drugs and alcohol often try to keep their addictions a secret. Once their secret is exposed, these addicts will often tell you that they lived to use and they used to live. Very simply, an addict is anyone who craves something when they don’t have it. Right now you might be craving some chocolate but you don’t have any. Do most people panic in that situation? No. There is a huge difference between cravings, obsessions and addictions. Food addicts often hide their food and eat in secret. Porn and gambling addicts are all around us. Obsessions consume many reading this article. Would you give up your cell phone or your coffee?

Addiction is when these cravings and obsessions result in a negative impact on a life. This series is on drug addiction and the devastating effect it is taking on our society. Drug addiction is the continued use of a mood altering substance despite the adverse consequences. Carrying deadly secrets and the guilt and shame that addicts feel is like them carrying a backpack filled with rocks. It requires an enormous amount of energy to keep hauling these secrets. Sharing your secrets will lighten your load and facilitate your healing.

Secrets can become toxic when not revealed to anyone, ever. Why do so many people keep carrying secrets, even when they desperately want to tell someone and get some help? There are many reasons: fear of being rejected; protecting themselves and those they love; fear of getting in trouble with the law; fear of losing their job; but mostly, they are scared and filled with shame.

Filled with guilt, addicts that acknowledge their existence can begin the process of emotional detox. As they say in AA, “You are only as sick as your secrets.” An addict is not a weak or bad person. An addict needs help to overcome their addiction. Too many people picture addicts as sad, homeless people who only live for their next fix. But they often want and need help; they just don’t want to reveal their secrets. Following are some of the letters and messages I received since “Beth’s Story” was published.

Ben wrote, “I parked my truck at the rec center, grabbed my pen and paper and began writing my suicide goodbye letter. The feeling that I had while writing this letter is impossible to describe unless you were ever in a place where the greatest scenario was finally dying and no longer hurting those you love. A gun to my head had zero influence on me. I had been living only for my next drink and the one after that. I had been booze smoking for years. A ‘friend’ taught me the trick of inhaling alcohol using my cigarette vape. That way it is absorbed instantly into my lungs and brain. I knew it poisoned me faster and there is no way to expel it. My vomiting had stopped. It was my drug method of choice, in addition to my shots and bottles of beer. So now I was an alcoholic and a smoking alcoholic. I pulled the trigger and woke up in an all too familiar place, the emergency room. My first thought was ‘I can’t even kill myself right, now what?!’ I won’t lie to you, I still drink. I’m trying to cut back. But now my secret is exposed and some have reached out to try to get me help. They tell me there’s a good rehab near Akron. I might take them up on that, just not today. I need to go get a drink right now.”

Anne’s e-mail had me adding a few more names to my prayer list. “Why do I hit, yell and scream at my innocent, beautiful, loving eight-year-old daughter, but I treat my drug dealers like they’re gold? To be honest, my drug dealers are my gold; they hold the only possible thing that can encourage me to live one more day. Sometimes the drug itself is not the high, but receiving his text that he has pain meds for me instantly make me feel better. I think alcohol and drug abuse addiction is the only disease that tells you that you don’t have a disease! I love my daughter but that doesn’t stop me from having my secrets. She doesn’t know I hide my stashes in her piggy bank or that my pills are in my Altoids container and my lip balm tube. A neighbor didn’t steal her Girl Scout cookie money, I did. My inhaler isn’t really for asthma. It conceals pills. I don’t want my daughter to bury her mommy, but I can’t stop using.”

Sara shared, “My 25-year-old best friend is a butt chugger. I caught her soaking her tampons in vodka before inserting them into her body. She drinks the hand sanitizers in public restrooms. I Googled ‘drinking hand sanitizer’ and learned it contains 62 to 65 percent alcohol. If it was pure liquor, it would be 120 proof! Only a few swallows are needed to become intoxicated. It can cause diarrhea; blindness; memory loss; brain, liver and kidney damage. I yanked the sanitizer from my apartment and I’ve sent letters to our local establishments begging them to remove their containers. Excessive alcohol consumption kills at least six Americans a day. I don’t want her to be one of those six.”

John’s father, Bill, was a distinguished veteran. He began drinking to erase the horrific sights he witnessed. Bill tried hiding his alcohol problem, but John knew they weren’t using 30 bottles of mouthwash a week.

John shared, “One day I was trying to get a pen to write. As I disassembled it to check the ink level, out fell marijuana joints! I talked him into going to the VA, where he was given a discharge paper with his diagnosis: alcohol dependency; cocaine abuse; marijuana abuse; bipolar disorder; GERD and tobacco abuse. He was sent to a rehab for five days. Five days! That’s all our government would give him, along with a recovery plan: ‘Bill will find a group; attend meetings; offer help at the meetings; develop a healthy lifestyle and get a job.’ But my dad had his own plan. I returned from work to find he had killed himself. He left a suicide note apologizing for all of his secrets and told me how much he loved me, and still loved our country. I am angry at myself for not noticing his secrets.”

Secrets to look for in suspected addiction include: dilated pupils; restlessness; twitching; paraphernalia (rolled up dollar bills with residue on them); mood swings; abscesses on the body from injecting heroin; serious tooth decay; isolation; changes in behavior; abandoning old interests and not replacing them. Check your household product ingredients. Many addicts sniff aftershave and hairspray. Dramamine may cause a euphoric state, as may the fumes from a gas oven.

Liz had one of the best kept secrets: “My parents knew I smoked cigarettes in senior high school. I held a 4.0 GPA and excelled in sports, so they had no worries. They didn’t worry when Amazon delivered my package, not knowing it contained a ‘stash lighter.’ They were proud of me for keeping a flashlight on my nightstand, not knowing it contained my pills in the battery compartment. That flashlight and my personal deodorant, with my pills hidden under the deodorant roller, went with us on our family camping trips. My Mountain Dew had mom’s codeine cough syrup mixed in with it. I inhaled the fumes of our mothballs. No one questioned why I was carrying a large purse, when I never carried purses anywhere. We had great camping trips!

“Off to college I went, the perfect daughter. My parents were so naïve. My new room-mate introduced me to Jager Bombs, an often deadly combination of Jagermeister and Red Bull. As my addictions progressed, so did my bizarre behavior. I learned that drinking fresh dog urine would cause me to vomit, as well as giving me a great high. Another great high was playing ‘vodka eyeballing.’ We poured vodka into our eyeballs directly from the bottle. Yes, it was painful, but it was an instant high. Then heroin became my daily friend. I trusted my dealers, but one of them was cutting fentanyl in with my heroin. Both are major respiratory suppressants. They can, and one batch did, shut down my lungs within minutes. Fentanyl is 80 percent stronger than morphine. My parents should have buried me but I ended up in a rehab facility and today, by the grace of God, I have finished college and I have been clean for 11 years!

“Parents and friends, don’t be naïve. Don’t always believe us when we say everything is okay. Question why we’re wearing long sleeved shirts when it’s 95 degrees outside. Don’t think you can hide anything from us. You can’t. Mom, when you broke your arm and called the doctor asking why your pain pills weren’t working, it was because I had switched them with Vitamin C pills. Please don’t hate us. Hate the disease but please try to help us. Our secrets may kill us.”

Janice Ballenger can be contacted via email at Her next article, to be published in the June 23 Record Express, will be “Out of Tears … from Parents’ Perspectives.”


One Comment

  1. Janice

    May 21, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    Please email anything you are willing to share to me. No names will be used. Thank you!

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