The Iron Masque

[mask, mahsk]: a form of aristocratic entertainment
in the16th and 17th Centuries…elaborate productions
delivered by amateur and professional actors.

Addicts are actors. We hesitate to reveal who we really are because we are ashamed, and we develop an act that we perform for the rest of the world.  Friends and family think they know who we are, and initially it may be that a bit of the “real” us peeks through, but addiction changes that.  Every addict is an actor, and we each star in our own masque. The difference is that actors are most proficient at the ends of their careers; we aren’t.

the-iron-mask_2292919As our addictions progress and we become more enmeshed with the substance or behavior,  the circumstances force our masks to harden.  We become secretive to protect our addictions, and often try to hide it with “sincerity” or grandiose gestures.  We make up legends to explain who we are, and why we behave a certain way.  As we do so, we draw farther and farther away from everyone else’s reality, and into a world of our own.  Rarely does the sun shine in, and neither do we shine out.

To begin with we may have taken some pleasure in our acting.  It’s nice to have people think we’re special, especially when we think we’re anything but.  The grandiose tales, however, soon wear thin, and while we may actually come to believe portions of them ourselves because of the repetition, it becomes clear to the people around us that something is seriously wrong.  Changes that may not be noticeable to us certainly are to others who know us.  They wonder where their partner, parent, friend or employee has gone.  The mask is complete, although now it rarely fools anyone.  They see it for what it is, and long to know who is behind it.

There are people who are too far gone in their addiction (and perhaps organic diseases as well) to be able to discard their acts and participate in real life.  Most of us, however, reach a point where we are sick and tired of the game, sick and tired of the drugs, alcohol, prostitutes, shopping, eating, or whatever, and wish more than anything that we could just put it all behind us and be the person we would like to be.  Our loved ones want that, too.  They have seen glimpses behind the mask, and still remember that there’s someone back there that used to be special to them.  They long for us to give up the stage and become just another guy in the audience.

Recovery and the steps give us the courage to drop the act, pull away the mask, and take a look in the mirror.  After we get our feet under us, with the help of a sponsor and perhaps a caring professional, we become able to look at our past and work our way through the experiences that caused us to lose track of who we were to begin with.  As we do so, our inner qualities begin to show through.  The people around us begin to see the real, genuine human being, and they like us!  All that “self-centered fear” (If you really knew me, you’d be disgusted) begins to fade away, and we start to have the courage to be ourselves.  As that happens, we begin to realize that we really are okay, and maybe worthy of that self-love we’ve heard about.

There are two guarantees that go along with successful recovery: (1) if we follow directions and do what we need to do, we will eventually learn to love ourselves; and (2) if we learn to love ourselves, we will then begin to believe ourselves worthy of the love that others long to give us.


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