By Stan Bumgarner M. Div., Counselor
In a matter of days I will open my front door to find small groups of witches, zombies, Captain Americas, and princesses on my porch. Faces, hidden by masks or make-up, will shout “trick or treat,” greeting me with plastic pumpkins or expectant pillow cases. I will dutifully share equal amounts of treats with each child. It’s fun. I love seeing all the different costumes, and I eat more than my share of the candy.
The kids’ costumes do seem more elaborate these days. When I was a kid we were pirates or hobos. I recall my fifth grade year my best friend and I decided to go as mummies. We wrapped ourselves from head-to-toe in toilet paper then, one foot dragging, an arm raised, moaning, went door-to-door doing our best impression of Boris Karloff. It was a damp night in Birmingham. Our costumes didn’t last long. What didn’t melt right onto our clothes unraveled two blocks into the night.
I’ve worn masks as an adult that are made of much stronger material, but worked about as well as my fifth grade mummy costume. I found it helpful to hide behind them—the sports hero, the happy frat boy, the successful business guy, Don Juan the famous lover, the guy whose feelings are never hurt, the guy who has all the answers, the guy who never makes mistakes, the funny guy, the serious guy—my masks go on ad nauseam. I wore them to mask the real me: the self-doubter, the one who is never good enough or who is afraid to be exposed as a fraud. This seemed like a successful strategy until I discovered the most powerful masks of all, alcohol and marijuana. Overtime, these became the most destructive masks.
They weren’t as easy to shed as a toilet paper mummy costume. Alcohol and marijuana became a second skin. They were so integral to my life they became part of who I was at a cellular level. It was a painful way to live. Thank goodness there were people who had the skills to see beyond the masks and pull me out of the morass I had created. Through outpatient treatment, individual therapy and immersion in the 12-Step recovery community my true self began to slowly emerge and continues to grow.
Those old masks still live in my closet though. On occasion I will pull one out, put it on and wear it for days without realizing it. Then, one of my recovery friends will hold up a mirror helping me see what I’m doing. What a gift! Today, I am blessed to have a network of sober people in my life. They love me, imperfect as I am. I plan to remind myself of that as I hand out candy on Halloween this year—my friends in recovery are the greatest treat I’ve ever received. All I had to do was quit trying to trick them.