I talked to my sister briefly on the phone last night. After I hung up, I realized that probably 2/3rds of our 10 minute conversation had to do with her past as a user, her addiction, and her recovery. It made me wonder if that bothered her, because it seems like our conversations go in that direction a lot. Its not that I think I should try and skirt the issue, but does she really want it to come up in just about every 5 minute conversation? Probably not.
But then I had the realization that, even if we do try and skirt the issue, its still going to be there. For the rest of her life, she will be a recovering addict. It doesn't define her, not by any means, because she is so much more, but it will always be a defining factor. Her past will never go away - the choices she made, the hurts she caused, the people she associated with - will always be there. And while I think that realization still bothers her, I think she is beginning to accept it. And acceptance is key.
When I first found out she had the addiction and was going into rehab for the first time, I was ashamed. I felt like if people in my life knew, their view of me would change, that they would think I was a low-life because my sister was an addict. So I hid it. I didn't tell many of my closest friends, I was terrified (and that's putting it very mildly) of the possibility of Jeremy's family finding out, and I sure as heck didn't want people at our church finding out! I felt like this was my private battle to fight, and I didn't need the stigmas on top of the crisis. I wanted to have people to talk to about it, but I was too afraid. It was my "dirty little secret."
The same thing happened a year later when I suffered my breakdown. I was trying and trying to hold everything together, but I wasn't. So I did what most depressed people do and I withdrew. I didn't want my kids' friends' parents or schools to find out I was depressed because I was afraid of how they would view me as a mother, or that they would treat my children differently. I didn't want pity. And again, I didn't want my friends or in-laws to know, so I did my best (very feeble) attempt not to show that anything was wrong. It was just one more major "dirty little secret."
But the problem with secrets is, they follow you anywhere, and they make you paranoid. It took me close to a year after diagnosis to let my mother-in-law know that I was on medication and had been diagnosed with Bipolar II, a more serious form of chronic depression. We get along well, and I know now that she wouldn't have viewed me any differently, but I was too afraid that she would judge who I am as a wife to her son and mother to her grandkids, which was a consequence I couldn't live with. My in-laws still don't know the extent of my sister's addiction, but its only because its never come up, and I don't really feel they need to know anyway. What do the nitty-gritty details add to their lives anyway, you know? But if asked, I would be 100% open and honest.
Today, both these issues, my Bipolar and my proximity to my sister's addiction, are things I am okay talking about. They are big parts of me, but they don't define me, nor dictate who I am and the values I have. It doesn't change the fact I am a good wife and mother, or a Christian, or a productive member of society. It makes me drastically different from 90% of people out there, sure, but its the hand I've been dealt, so its something I have learned to be okay with. If people can't look past the stigmas that follow me, then that is their crying shame, not mine. I can't live my life as one big "dirty little secret." If people know these things about me, then fine. I'm no longer out to hide them. In fact, I use my experiences as examples to say, "Hey! No, I don't fit the "mold" of what these things say I should be, so let me educate you and show you that a label doesn't define nor limit you." If people want to think I am trashy because my sister is an addict, fine. In my heart, I know I'm not, and neither is she. If people want to think I am an unstable, unfit mother because I have Bipolar, then whatever. They don't have all the facts; I am on medication, and so long as I don't go off them, I am a really good parent. If people can't see past my stigmas and accept me for me, then they are the uneducated, closed-minded ones, not me.
The "dirty little secrets" will always follow. You can't change the hand you're dealt, and you have to lay in the bed you made. But you can control your attitude about it, and eventually you have to accept it and move on with life, because the secrets never go away. Its what you make of them that makes all the difference.