Happy Halloween—What Mask Are You Wearing?
As October approaches, Halloween approaches with it. It’s admittedly a fun time of year, where kids and grown-ups alike can ditch their everyday attire, get their creative juices flowing and try to out-do their classmates, friends, or co-workers as they dress up in costumes of their favorite characters. Whether it’s nostalgia or the pop-culture flavor of the month, it’s a time for fun. For most of us, the opportunity to wear a mask or costume comes once a year. That’s what makes it such an anticipated event. However, imagine having to put on a mask or costume every day of the week, 365 days a year. Imagine going to work or school or even being at home every day pretending to be something you aren’t, pretending to be OK when you’re not, and wishing each day there was a way to remove yourself from the chains of make-believe. Because you’re not OK, you’re not living the life you are portraying, and you’re tired of pretending.
For years that was my life as an addict. On a rare occasion, I posted anything on social media, it was usually something that facilitated this facade. A picture of me doing something fun or adventurous, portraying me smiling or happy or full of life, a picture of a relationship that appeared healthy but was anything but, or a picture of me and my parents with them appearing proud of me when the reality is they worried about me so much they rarely had a good night’s sleep. That was the easy part, capturing a picture that paints a different story. The hard part was trying to live that fiction because I was too ashamed of who I was to let anybody know what was real. I was too afraid of losing the people I loved to take off the mask and show them what was truly underneath. I knew I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror every day when I woke up, and I was terrified of my insecure perception of myself as a low-life junkie addict also being the way other people perceived me.
So I lived the part. I lived the fictional story of my life, I put on the costume and I wore the mask. Different occasions and settings required a different part. For the people in my life who knew I had struggled with addiction in the past but had received help and was fighting to overcome it, I played the part of the guy who got his life together, the guy who overcame adversity and was now a beacon of hope and a true underdog story. A fictional underdog story as I continued to get high and struggle behind closed doors constantly fearing somebody would see right through my deceit. To the new girlfriend who had no idea, addiction was part of my story, I was the double agent. Around her I did my best to put myself on a pedestal, appear to be the perfect boyfriend full of compassion and care while also strong-minded and dependable, while in reality I cried myself to sleep—a vulnerable mess full of self-doubt and despair wondering how I would get through the week without her finding out I’m an addict who needs help.
A life of make-believe, a life of hiding, a life of pretending to be a person of good character while always desperately looking for a fresh coat of armor to shield me from how fragile and vulnerable my life had become in the grasp of addiction. My make-believe world had become a prison of fear; the fear of dying early, the fear of disappointing every person that ever cared about me and believed in me, the fear of never living the way I intended to live, the fear of never feeling free, the fear of never taking off the mask. But then one day I realized I couldn’t dress up anymore. I couldn’t put on the costume, and I was out of characters to play. I didn’t know what was going to happen in the future, but I couldn’t spend one more day pretending that things were OK. I needed help, and I was finally willing to accept the help and make the changes necessary to take off the mask for good.
It was the best decision of my life. As I shed the world I had created to protect my addiction, as I stopped pretending and simply started living as myself, I realized I no longer have any costumes or masks or characters to play. I’m just me, which means I’m finally free to say “Happy Halloween”.
If you or anyone you know is seeking help, please reach out.