Honesty in Recovery: why it matters
6th August 2019
6th August 2019
Every major religion, spiritual teacher, elementary school teacher, and parent tells us not to lie. Honesty is a respected trait in every culture, and for good reason: building and maintaining trust is a fundamental cornerstone of healthy relationships and societies. It is especially important for those in recovery who are trying to build healthy lives from the rubble of addiction. Let’s take a look at why honesty is so important to the recovery process, and how to make honesty a part of your life today!
The BIG truth
Entering into recovery is an act of breathtaking honesty. After years of excuses, omissions and outright lies told to family members, bosses, and friends, you’re admitting that substance abuse has taken over your life. It is incredibly painful to admit that your choices and decisions have led you to powerlessness and loss of control when it comes to your addiction. But it is also profoundly freeing. You’re letting go of a dark and shameful secret and working to ensure that it never harms you again. “You’re only as sick as your secrets” is a fundamental tenet in 12 Step programs. It’s also a truth that can set you free. A commitment to sobriety goes hand in hand with a commitment to honesty!
Dishonesty: a lifestyle
Most addicts and alcoholics spend years lying to themselves, along with everyone else in their lives. Researchers have noted that lying is extremely common among people with addiction. Why? Lying, like the substance they’re dependent on, offers an escape from pain, unpleasantness, and reality itself. But like opioids or alcohol, the short bursts of relief they provide come with a terrible long-term cost. They trap the liar in a self-perpetuating cycle, where revealing the truth becomes riskier and scarier as time passes.
John Bradshaw, best-selling author of “Healing the Shame That Binds You” wrote that “I used to drink to solve the problems caused by drinking. The more I drank to relieve my shame-based loneliness and hurt, the more I felt ashamed.” Bradshaw felt that shame was a primary cause of addiction. The sense of shame that leads addicts to use also makes lying a way of life. And lies, shame, and substance abuse feed off of each other, trapping the addict in a downward spiral. When you enter recovery, it’s necessary to be mindful of the fact that you need to free yourself from dependence on dishonesty as well as dependence on a substance.
Breaking the cycle
By entering recovery, you’ve taken a stand. You’ve looked into the mirror and admitted to yourself that drugs or alcohol have been destroying your physical and mental health and that you’re ready to begin a new life. But along with dealing with withdrawal and cravings, it’s imperative that you develop the habit of honesty in every area of your life as well.
If we are being honest as treatment providers, we must admit that relapse is common for people in recovery from addiction. But a steadfast commitment to truthfulness can sharply reduce the risk of using again. A recent article in the “Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine” on preventing relapse identifies three stages common in those who begin using again: Emotional Relapse, Mental Relapse, and Physical Relapse.
In the first two stages of relapse, stages which occur before the addict begins using again, it is common to isolate oneself, avoid sharing in meetings (and going to meetings at all), minimize the consequences of past use, concoct schemes to better control future use, and start lying. The researchers at Yale have noted that many addicts are “reluctant to even mention thoughts of using because they are so embarrassed by them.” A commitment to honesty can help guide the addict through these turbulent times.
The Yale researchers concluded that thoughts of using while in recovery are completely normal. While treatments like iboga can dramatically reduce cravings, it is extremely unlikely that any addict will never think of using again throughout their lifetime. This is why it is essential that those in recovery talk to their therapists, their sponsors, and their peers fearlessly and honestly. Millions of people have normalized and developed coping skills for, their occasional cravings. These strategies allow them to acknowledge, deal with, and let go of these toxic thoughts and feelings quickly. Keeping them secret or denying their existence will only give them more control over you.
The path of honesty
The first step in developing honest habits is to admit that you have had a problem with lying. Next, we recommend that you find someone you can be completely honest with about every aspect of your addiction and recovery. This person could be a counselor, a sponsor, or a friend. Then, start keeping a journal. A journal will offer you the chance to reflect on all of your actions. If you tell a lie, reflect in the journal on why you did it. Think of how you could have behaved differently, and develop strategies for dealing with similar situations in a truthful manner. Through this, you can become aware of automatic and habituated thoughts and patterns of behavior that are leading you away from the truth. You can also explore the consequences of the lies you’ve told. Reflecting on the consequences of the trust you’ve broken can help you to reconcile with those you’ve hurt, and begin to repair your relationships. At Iboga Tree Healing House we have also seen the power of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to overcome the behaviours that keep one mired in addiction and replace these behaviours with new, better ones which increase the quality of one’s life
There is power to be found in revealing one’s true self, living in truth, and forgiving oneself for the dishonest behaviours of the past. This is the foundation upon which a true healing process can begin. Returning to the lying and dishonest behaviours of addiction is a sure way to begin the downward spiral leading to relapse that anyone working to overcome an addiction should be seeking to avoid at all costs.
Realizing the painful consequences of past dishonesty can strengthen your commitment to your new way of life. By developing honest habits and learning to deal with shame, anxiety and awkward situations in positive, healthy ways, you’ll become a stronger and happier person. It’s not just the best policy, it’s the only policy for those looking to heal.