Honesty in recovery is essential. Lies are used to mislead. Lies usually lead to more lies to prop up the first set of lies. And the vicious cycle spirals ever downward. Lies are a way of life for those enmeshed in substance abuse. Telling lies to cover up their behavior becomes automatic; they even lie to themselves. But lies have no place in addiction recovery. If you are an addict or have a loved one with addiction problems, you have probably heard or said one of these:
- “I only use it on occasion.”
- “I can always stop when I want to.”
- “I used to be addicted, but now I can control myself.”
- “It’s not that much.”
- “I’m not as bad as _________________.”
- “I’m not hurting anyone.”
- “It isn’t my fault.”
- “I’m under a lot of stress; I just need to get through the day.”
- “It’s only on weekends.”
- “No one else knows.”
- “It doesn’t affect my job.”
- “I’ll never do that again.”
Lies allow addicts to create a fantasy life that is easier to tolerate than their current reality of uncontrollable addiction. They lie to keep loved ones around, to keep their job, to avoid prosecution, to preserve their habit. But dishonesty has a way of destroying everything important in one’s life.
For the addict who cannot stop abusing alcohol or other substances, lying provides an imaginary shield behind which they can continue their addictive behaviors. To stop lying means they must stop using drugs or alcohol. To stop lying means they must come clean and face the shameful mountain of pain they have inflicted on everyone around them. Often, facing that is far too difficult; it’s easier to keep lying.
The Importance of Total Honesty
Complete honesty is difficult for the addict who is entangled in a web of lies. After telling lies so often that he or she believes the lies themselves, achieving total honesty as part of Orange County addiction recovery will be a slow, methodical process. As with any facet of substance abuse recovery, everything comes in small steps. Progress toward the goal is still progress, however small.
When addicts are engaged in the typical 12-Step recovery process in Newport Beach or elsewhere, the standard is something often called “rigorous honesty.” According to an article on PsychCentral, “Rigorous honesty means telling the truth when it’s easier to lie and sharing thoughts and feelings even when there may be consequences.”
In short, rigorous honesty means boldly exposing dishonesty by admitting to it and pointing it out to others. It is a ruthless commitment to honesty, especially to one’s self. But even this is taken in steps, as revealed in the typical 12-step recovery program.
- Step 1 requires the addict to be honest with him or herself.
- Steps 4 & 5 require the addict to be honest with their higher power and others, especially those closest to them. But it can begin with therapists, doctors, or peers in your Orange County recovery program.
- Steps 8 & 9 require the addict to identify and undertake active steps toward complete honesty.
- The remaining three steps are concerned with practicing honesty on a day-by-day basis.
The overarching goal is to lead the addict to practice honesty in every aspect of life. Just as telling lies to cover their addiction reached into and damaged every corner of their lives, so, too, must honesty in recovery permeate every area.
Can Addicts Be Honest?
Some may even ask, “Can addicts be honest?” Indeed, this may seem a valid question. Many have witnessed a loved one become so entrenched in lies and addictive behaviors that they are all but unrecognizable. Honesty is a significant building block of recovery, but it is a process, not an ultimate destination.
Perfect honesty in the early stages of addiction recovery is unrealistic. Addictions tend to be multilayered, and each layer must be peeled back and exposed, then dealt with. Achieving honesty in recovery typically follows the same pattern. Telling the truth requires practice and constant attention, and this is working against discouragement and the fear of what others already think.
Honesty should not hurt, but it can, especially when it sparks harsh criticism or cruelty. The recovering addict is constantly working against the fear of reprisal as each lie is replaced with truth. Each step into more complete honesty must be celebrated and affirmed by his or her support base. This encourages more truth and less dishonesty.
Is Total Honesty in Recovery Possible?
Looking back into the typical 12-step recovery program used by so many rehabilitation therapists, we see that addicts are to tell the truth and make amends, “except when to do so would injure them or others” (Step 9). Honesty is then not the best policy when it may have adverse effects on another person.
What then is the recovering addict to do? Is withholding this part of the truth not the same as practicing dishonesty? Is partial honesty not synonymous with dishonesty? To those who would press for a hard line to total honesty even at the expense of others, I would reply with these questions for consideration:
- Will harming others help the recovering addict?
- Will this harmful truth add to the damage already done or promote healing?
- What about respect for the feelings and boundaries of others?
Everyone knows that lies have consequences. Even after committing to complete honesty, many people are strewn in the wake of the addict’s addictive behavior, damaged and bleeding. It will already require much time, patience, and work to earn their trust and respect. Revealing truths that may cause further harm is not in the addict’s or their loved ones’ best interests.
It is enough that the recovering addict is honest with him or herself about the damaging behavior toward others, and the terrible wrongs they have committed. Recognizing those wrongs and taking active steps to replace those behaviors with positive ones are enough. A sign of progress for the recovering addict is a concern for others, and protecting them from harmful truths is a positive step in that direction.
Honesty is Not Enough
Honesty in recovery is necessary, but it is not enough by itself. “OK, yes I did those things and lied about it. So what?” That is not the attitude rehabilitation therapists seek to foster. Admission of guilt is only the first step of many toward recovery. Admitting that you are an addict and need help is the important first step of recovery.
But growing honesty requires that steps to prevent continuing or new dishonesty be learned and adopted. Without an ongoing, systematic program of recovery that includes addressing underlying issues and learning new coping skills, honesty alone will not prevent returning to addictive behaviors.
Without honesty, there is no recovery. But honesty must be coupled with action. It requires a valiant effort on the part of the addict and his or her support base. But the end result is reaping the reward of complete sobriety, earned trust, renewed relationships, and a return to a productive life in Orange County that the addict may have once considered impossible.