Beyond the Mask

Beyond the Mask

As a child, I dressed up as Tinker Bell and Cinderella for Halloween. Back then, there was less emphasis on realistic depictions of fictional characters. And I had a few major strikes against me. First, these two characters were both blondes; I had brown hair. And then, there was the plastic-y kind of “costume,” resembling more of a picnic tablecloth than fairy or princess attire.

And the topper? Well, that, of course, would have to be the cheap plastic mask, fastened to a child’s head through a painful elastic band. Somehow, that notorious head band was always hanging uncomfortably around the ear area and snapped with slingshot ferocity each time one tried to adjust the mask, in vain attempts to make the costume more comfortable and wearable. I have many memories of misplaced eye holes askew as I tried not to bump into the other kids and the neighbors’ front doors.

There were mixed results.
If any of you have had similar childhood Halloween memories, you know that those cheap plastic masks were not fooling anyone. No kid ever looked like Tinker Bell, Cinderella, Batman or the Incredible Hulk; no one was fooled into believing the child was a particular character. It was obvious. It was a mask.

Years later, dealing with my personal recovery from eating disorders, the mask issue takes on greater significance. We’ve all heard about masks; we wear different ones to function in society and our individual life roles. In fact, for a lot of us dealing with addiction and recovery, the masks contributed to our poor choices and our addictions. And, as is the case so often with addiction, we, the mask wearers, were the last to know and see it. As we struggle to navigate our lives, trying not to bump into calamities of our own making, everyone looks at us, unconvinced of the image we try to project. We may believe we’re presenting a together person, but other people only see our eyes poking out of askew eye holes.
Like John Lennon once sang, “one thing you can’t hide is when you’re crippled inside.”

The dictionary definition of mask is as follows:
“face covering to hide identity: a covering for the face, worn by somebody to conceal his or her identity.”

But how many of us get that confused with our real selves? And, in doing exactly that, how many of us hit snags and relapses in our recoveries, that is, if we even start one in the first place?

This time of year is a reminder of masks; Halloween is all about pretending to be someone or something else. But there’s a difference between pretending and lying. When it comes to our recovery, pretending, to the point of lying, never promotes health and healing. We may see or believe that the image, the lie or the relapse appears in a certain light, even a flattering light. We look out of askew eyeholes, never quite seeing things accurately. However, sooner or later, we will stumble over that mask. Scripture states it best…

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known…” 1 Corinthians 13:12-13

Truth pops up. Even in our most sober and on track states, we’re still not getting the whole picture. So, then, what would ever make us think we could see things clearly when we’re in the midst of a chaotic relapse?

Answer? Pride. Ah, yes, one of the subtlest threats to any recovery- our own pride. Pride convinces us we don’t need to stay on our programs, connect with our sponsors, attend meetings or be honest. No. Pride reassures us we’re in great shape, we’re doing okay on our own. Pride tells us to be lone rangers; pride shames us by condemning the need to get and maintain help in our lives. Pride keeps telling us, “You have it under control. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

But pride always overpromises and under-delivers. Again, the famous scripture about pride itself goes as follows…
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18

And then there are these two little ditties…

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace…” Proverbs 11:2

“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud…” Proverbs 18:12

Yeah, it might do us some good to pay attention to those warnings.

I know, back when I was in a manic bulimic phase of my eating disorder behavior during college, I believed no one else could see what was going on with me. My increasingly puffy face and my one hundred pound weight gain were, certainly not obvious. Oh, no. Pride kept telling me I was doing okay. After all, I was still regularly keeping up with my classes and making the dean’s list. So, no problem, right? Meanwhile, my desperate behaviors caused me to not only binge and purge, but also steal my roommates’ food and dumpster dive for garbage when my compulsion for food ran rampant. How do you convince others you really have it so together when you’re caught scrounging the garbage for food? It’s not such a believable mask then, is it?

Pride came. Pride brought disgrace. Pride made sure that a downfall was poised, waiting to happen at a moment’s notice.

But all is not totally hopeless. For as much as we may have wrongly relied on our addictions, disorders and deluded, masked states of pride, we can also make another choice. The Book of Proverbs is often regarded as a book of wisdom in the Bible. And, one of the things I love about it is that it isn’t just a list of “don’t do this” instructions, it also contains a healthy, positive “do” option. For instance…

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Proverbs 11:2

“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.” Proverbs 18:12

Humility is mentioned more than once. Hmmm. There seems to be a theme here.

Twelve Steps Programs are built on that exact theme.

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

There’s no mention that pride, image or masks of any kind whatsoever will improve our lives. Honesty, humility and reliance on God though? Well, that is mentioned everywhere!

So, where are we with that reality? Again, the Halloween holiday focuses on masks, and pretending to be someone or something we are not. How do we live that concept, beyond Halloween? How do masks infiltrate our lives and our recovery from addictions and disorders? Are we wearing the mask or is it wearing us?
Replace the mask with the truth. After all, the famous scripture goes…

“…the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

Let’s wear the truth, instead of the mask in our recovery and in our lives!