We often speak of honesty in addiction treatment. The masks of addiction that people wear, are almost always evident on the faces of those who seek out rehabilitation programs for addictions. Somewhere along the line people have not only become addicted to food, substances or anything else, but they have also become addicted to their thinking. Rarely does a person leave their formative years without being subjected to hiding emotions and feelings from people. The minute we begin to hide is the moment when the masks go on.
Most of us learn to protect ourselves with defense mechanisms and personality traits that ensure our safety in the world. By adopting certain behavioral patterns, we unconsciously or consciously seek security and stability. We wear different kinds of masks to keep us from getting too hurt. However, in doing so, we close ourselves off from authentic relationships and stay stuck in the scabs of our childhood wounds.
By identifying our protective shields, we can begin to heal from past hurts and enjoy deeper intimacy with our loved ones. While our coping strategies are as varied as our addictive personalities, here are ten of the most typical masks we wear.
Most people start wearing one of the masks of addiction without even realizing it. It is something people only become aware of at drug rehabs, or when entering a therapeutic process of some sort. We become the jester or the clown. We can even become the cool guy or girl, the hipster or the introvert. Masks of addiction take all kinds of forms. Much of the recovery process, revolves around removal of these masks. We peel off the layers like we would an onion. Each false association. Each belief about how we are not enough or how we don’t measure up clogs up our thinking. We become privy to cognitive distortions. We deny, pretend, blame and shame others and ourselves rather than looking more deeply into ourselves.
Being free from masks, is being free from addiction. Even the 12 steps of addiction treatment from alcoholics anonymous attest to the stripping away of the old, in lieu of the new. We learn to let go, and then we find out how to truly live. Masks of addiction are lies we wear around our heads. Have you ever heard of the saying the truth will set you free? Walking naked, sans any masks is how we live in truth and also how we become truly free.
The below poem about the masks of addiction tells a great story. One that we can learn many lessons from.
Masks of Addiction. A poem.
Please Hear What I’m Not Saying – Charles C. Finn September 1966
Don’t be fooled by me. Don’t be fooled by the face I wear
For I wear a mask, a thousand masks,
Masks that I’m afraid to take off and none of them is me.
Pretending is an art that’s second nature with me,
But don’t be fooled – for God’s sake don’t be fooled.
I give you the impression that I’m secure,
That all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without,
That confidence is my name and coolness my game,
That the water’s calm and I’m in command and that I need no one,
But don’t believe me.
My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask,
Ever-varying and ever-concealing.
Beneath lies no complacence.
Beneath lies confusion and fear and aloneness.
But I hide this. I don’t want anybody to know it.
I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed.
That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,
A nonchalant sophisticated facade, to help me pretend,
To shield me from the glance that knows.
But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope and I know it.
That is, if it’s followed by acceptance, if it’s followed by love.
It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself,
From my own self-built prison walls,
From the barriers I so painstakingly erect.
It’s the only thing that will assure me of what I can’t assure myself,
That I’m really worth something.
But I don’t tell you this. I don’t dare to, I’m afraid to.
I’m afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance,
Will not be followed by love.
I’m afraid you’ll think less of me,
That you’ll laugh, and your laugh would kill me.
I’m afraid that deep-down I’m nothing
And that you will see this and reject me.
So I play my game, my desperate pretending game,
With a facade of assurance without and a trembling child within.
So begins the glittering but empty parade of masks,
And my life becomes a front.
I idly chatter to you in the suave tones of surface talk.
I tell you everything that’s really nothing,
And nothing of what’s everything of what’s crying within me.
So when I’m going through my routine do not be fooled by what I’m saying.
Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying,
what I’d like to be able to say, what for survival I need to say,
but what I can’t say.
I don’t like hiding.
I don’t like playing superficial phony games.
I want to stop playing them.
I want to be genuine and spontaneous and me
But you’ve got to help me.
You’ve got to hold out your hand even when that’s the last thing I seem to want.
Only you can wipe away from my eyes the blank stare of the breathing dead.
Only you can call me into aliveness.
Each time you’re kind and gentle and encouraging,
Each time you try to understand because you really care,
My heart begins to grow wings – very small wings,
Very feeble wings, but wings!
With your power to touch me into feeling you can breathe life into me.
I want you to know that.
I want you to know how important you are to me,
How you can be a creator – an honest-to-God creator
Of the person that is me if you choose to.
You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble,
You alone can remove my mask,
You alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic,
From my lonely prison – if you choose to.
Please choose to.
Do not pass me by. It will not be easy for you.
A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.
The nearer you approach to me the blinder I may strike back.
It’s irrational, but despite what the books say about man, often I am irrational.
I fight against the very thing I cry out for.
But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls
And in this lies my hope.
Please try to beat down those walls with firm hands but gentle hands
For a child is very sensitive.
Who am I, you may wonder?
I am someone you know very well.
For I am every man you meet
And I am every woman you meet.
For more help with drug rehabs, addiction treatment or information about masks of addiction, please get in touch. Become a member of Pathways’s support network. Get involved today or come spend some time at our very unique drug rehab center. Namste.