Addiction is Wearing the Masks: Recovery is Removing Them


By: Marilyn L. Davis


“Everyone wears masks. They come in all different shapes and sizes. The only problem with trying one on is, does it fit? How easily we fall into the trap that we don’t have to be who we really are. How easily we convince ourselves that we need to cover up what we were born to be. It’s a tragedy that fear keeps us from our destiny. It’s hell when the person you were created to be is covered up by some cheap impostor” ― Rachel Van DykenToxic

from addict 2 advocate marilyn l davisWho Are We Behind the Mask?

Addiction forces us to wear a mask, or present a false image. We smile, when every fiber of our being is screaming in pain. We posture as friendly, when all we want to do is get our dope and leave. We pretend that we have it all together when we take our children to school or football. We show fake emotions because we are so embarrassed and frightened by our authentic ones. 

Many of us were not just trapped in our addiction, but learned as children to adopt certain roles. We fostered a false facade to the outside world. Unfortunately, some of us did not outgrow our roles and carried it into our addiction.

Children Adopt Masks to Cope  

Children take on roles or masks to survive in dysfunctional family systems.  Unfortunately, in our addiction, we often keep up these roles because we have not recovered our authentic self. The six basic roles are:

Hero  or the Good Child

from addict 2 advocate marilyn l davisThe Hero child makes good grades,participates in healthy social and sports activities, gives the family a solid reputation, and dedicates their actions to make the family function by assuming many of the responsibilities of the parents and often acts as the surrogate parent to their siblings. In their addiction, they are the one labeled the control freak.  

Sadly, they think that if they can control external aspects of their lives, they don’t have to acknowledge the inner turmoil.

Scapegoat or the Problem Child

This role bears the brunt or blame for the problems within the family or the family’s poor standing in the community.  Oftentimes this child is an underachiever, prone to moodiness, angry outbursts, feelings of abandonment and low self-esteem. Prompting some of their actions is often a feeling of less than within the family and acted out as, “if you think I’m bad, I’ll show you bad.” 

Problem children often grow into problem adults.  I do not think I have ever met an addict or alcoholic who would not qualify for the problem adult label.

Yet, it’s too easy to overlook the wounded person beneath when we’re dealing with problem people. 

The Caretaker

from addict 2 advocate marilyn l davisThese children are in charge of the emotional well-being of the household. They comfort siblings and parents after arguments, soothe feelings between other family members, and becoming increasingly isolated in their own feelings of sadness that no one addresses.

Feeling the burden of the family’s emotional health, they often continue wearing the mask of sweet, kinds, and caring into their addictions while harboring resentments.

The Clown

from addict 2 advocate marilyn l davisThis role is the release for the pressure cooker family system.  They are articulate, funny, and willing to play the court jester to diffuse the tensions within the family.

Realizing that if people are laughing, they may forget the drama and chaos within the family system, these children create humor, often at their expense.

In addiction, this role will do anything for a laugh, even when they are crying inside.

The Mastermind

Scheming, making notes on the vulnerabilities of other family member, hold information to use at a later time, this role manipulates situations and people to their advantage.

In addiction, they continue manipulating the feelings, vulnerabilities, and take advantage of people for their pleasure and gain.  

The Lost Child 

from addict 2 advocate marilyn l davisBy staying quiet, never needy, these children stayed clear of the chaos. They don’t make waves, seem self-sufficient even at an early age, and are often the most neglected member of the family.

In their addiction, they do not trust that anyone has a solution for them and will often reject caring attempts to get them help. After all, if their family didn’t care enough to notice them, why would a stranger?

Remove The Masks: Show Our Authentic Self

When you can name which role you played, you can take steps to remove this false identity in your recovery. Discovering the authentic self in recovery is initially about finding all the character defects and self-defeating behaviors within. When we find them, we change them, and in the process, we begin finding our better selves. We remove the layers of old negative messages, limited beliefs, and not being afraid to acknowledge that certain aspects of our personalities need a makeover in our recovery.  

“In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be eliminated, nor become a light for others.” ― Brennan ManningAbba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging  

My Dark Side

from addict 2 advocate marilyn l davisWithout this painstaking process, we will never get to our best self. When I show you my dark side or reference my masks, it gives you permission to expose yours. We give hope and strength to one another when we each look at our masks.

We are no longer trapped in our addiction and have to present a false front to others.  In our recovery, we can allow our authentic self to emerge as it is no longer caught up in the web of addiction and deception. 

Recovery gives us a new and fresh beginning; shouldn’t it also give us the go-ahead to show our true face to people?  And what if, during the process of healing, we find that we are okay? 

Writing, and recovery heals the heart

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